For the latest in our Artist to Artist series of interviews, Darren Coffield speaks to the British photographer Rachel Megawhat, who is well known for her controversial subject matter photographing religious extremists, hate preachers and even shadowing the former leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, during the recent Brexit elections. She has however changed tack for her new exhibition of photographs opening at Herrick Gallery on 20 April 2017. Here she explains to Darren Coffield how her show and change of direction came about.
DARREN COFFIELD: You are known for photographing religious extremists yet your new exhibition is about flowers and beauty. What brought about the change in direction?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: It arose from the whole fake news debacle. I kept going out and photographing news events and afterwards viewing them online, reading peoples comments that the events were ‘fake’ or that the pictures had been manipulated, “this must have been photoshop-ed.” It was really demoralising when you’ve been out in the freezing cold, photographing extremists all day. So the idea came about to get fake and real flowers and photograph them, as I thought that what had gone wrong was the element of time…
DARREN COFFIELD: You mean the 24-hour news media?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Yes now we have a 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, Instagram etc. Originally you would have a reporter in the field who would report back to a sub-editor, copy editor etc. etc. and the news would go through these filters before it was released to the public, whereas now it is a race to release the news. Everything is immediately released, unverified, with much of the ‘news’ being just opinion, propaganda or filler. I thought flowers were a good subject for showing what is real and what is fake because in ‘time’ the real ones wither and die, whilst the fake ones stay the same.
DARREN COFFIELD: Why did you describe the works as ‘shallow’?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Because on the surface people say, “Oh, how nice, how pretty.” But in fact, flowers represent the deep edges of life: birth, death, marriages etc. Their symbolism in society is huge. On the one hand, it appears ‘shallow’ to photograph flowers when you could be covering hard news or trying to deal with the problems of society. However these works come from an understanding of those issues and at this time I decided it is exactly the way to go, to focus on eternal truths and beauty.
DARREN COFFIELD: Did the flowers that you chose to photograph have any symbolism?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: I toyed with the whole symbolism thing but in the end, they were randomly chosen. I started off going to the flower market but decided they were too pretty, so I ended up taking flowers from the park! Some flowers are really great but don’t photograph that well. I just wanted to make beautiful pictures.
DARREN COFFIELD: I wondered if it was a reaction to having spent so much time hanging around and photographing religious extremists and hate preachers like Anjem Choudary? The war on terror?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Hmm… Anjem Choudary and his sandals… you can’t really fight a war in shoes like that. I got really obsessed with photographing extremists shoes for a while, just from boredom really, and they got very upset, especially the women. “Why are you photographing our shoes? What’s wrong with you?” They really felt I was trying to say something about shoe bombers, which I wasn’t.
DARREN COFFIELD: An exhibition of extremist footwear? Now that idea has legs! There used to be a saying that you could tell a lot about a person from their footwear.
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Yeah! Their footwear is really un-cool. Don’t follow them!
DARREN COFFIELD: This exhibition is about ‘finding beauty and eternal truths to counter the superfast consumer culture.’ I think you have covered that but you are using interesting techniques in your work can you explain some more? Are they shot on film?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: No. The photographs are lit and photographed as still lives and have not been manipulated afterwards in post production. They represent what is actually there even though the colours may seem ‘hyper-real.’
DARREN COFFIELD: They are printed on Chromaluxe?
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Yes, it gives all the colours a really lush quality. They are prints on aluminium and are therefore totally fireproof.
DARREN COFFIELD: Ah, so they are terrorist proof, withstanding fire in an attack!
RACHEL MEGAWHAT: Yes you can buy one of my prints with the peace of mind that if your house ever burnt down, my photograph would still be there for your children to inherit. So in terms of investment, it’s a win-win situation. (laughs)
Rachel Megawhat: FLOWERS Exhibition: 21-29 April 2017 Opening night: Thursday 20 April 6-8pm Herrick Gallery 93 Piccadilly London W1J 7NQ
Visit Exhibition Here