Focus: Jarrad Seng 'Alltervatn'
Photographer Jarrad Seng chats about the challenges of being true to his artistic principles
THE exhibition space is busy when I arrive to interview Perth photographer Jarrad Seng about his latest show Alltervatn.
As we chat about his Icelandic adventure and the trials and tribulations of being an artist, people constantly interrupt Jarrad with enquiries and congratulations. And for good reason, the photos took a lot of time and effort to get off the ground… literally.
All of the photos in Alltervatn were taken during a six-hour plane flight over south western Iceland. Loosley translated from Icelandic, the exhibition’s title means “everything is water” and the photos show the impressive river formations and volcanic structures of this photogenic wonderland.
Jarrad has previously photographed Western Australia’s Pilbara region, shot portraits in Tanzania and toured with musicians such as Passenger and Matchbox 20 but said that this new exhibition is probably the biggest risk he has ever taken.
Visiting Iceland with his housemate, the Voltaire Twins’ Tegan Voltaire, Jarrad said the pair would sit each night and Google ideas for the next day’s adventures.
“I was looking for inspiration of really interesting places to go. There were lots of majestic waterfalls and iceberg lagoons but as I took photos there I couldn’t help but think a million people had taken the exact same photo.
“I was constantly seeking something to take it to the next level, something different. I stumbled upon this crazy aerial picture online and I knew I had to do it.
“I did a bit of cyber stalking and I managed to get a hold of the same pilot who had taken that photographer up. We were emailing back and forth for a whole week and a half before I actually went up. We kept trying to pencil in a date but the weather wasn’t right so it nearly didn’t happen.”
When asked if the thought of photographing at dizzying heights ever caused him hesitation, Jarrad laughed.
“Heights I’m ok with, its more the motion. It’s basically like being in a roller coaster for six hours… and I don’t particularly like rollercoasters.
“It was a two-seater plane. I was on the right side and when I saw something interesting I would point it out to the pilot and he would tilt the plane so my side was facing down and then he would circle around.”
“I’d open the window and all the cold air would rush in and to be honest, it’s just not a normal thing for your body to go through that kind of trauma.
“And it got harder as the flight went on. After maybe an hour my initial enthusiasm wore off and my body was not happy. Every time I wanted to open the window my body disagreed. Opening the window meant pain. It meant a rush of cold air coming in. I had to fight the wind. If I went out the window even the tiniest bit the wind would just hit me. I had to strap my camera on so tight. So by the end I had to psych myself up and really pick my moments.”
As you can imagine, hiring a private plane for six hours requires a little more than pocket change. A lot more.
“Nearly every last dollar I had was to put into this,” Jarrad said. “Basically I’m bankrupt at the moment. For the first time ever I wasn’t able to pay my rent on time.”
“I’m definitely going to make some back but to be honest I doubt whether I’ll break even. It’s not a matter of how much profit I will make, the aim is just to break even. That will mean it has been a success.
“But that’s like all the artists I have known - painters, musicians, everyone - we’re all in the same boat. I was talking to Passenger and he was asking me how it was going and I told him I might break even if I’m lucky. He said that if I’m even on the way to breaking even then that’s a success, as an artist. And he knows all about that because he busked for eight years before getting noticed so he is one of my inspirations. And I was talking to Sam from Ball Park Music over dinner last night and he said the same thing.”
“People get the impression that if you’re a touring band or an exhibiting artist that you are doing well and you are successful. For an EP to break even is a huge success… you just expect to lose money with the art that you create and that’s a tough one.”
Jarrad said that art and photographs were particularly hard to make money from because while people will come and appreciate it, it’s very hard to sell.
“I do think people should make art for the joy of making art but it would be nice if you could solely survive on the work that you want to produce,” Jarrad said.
“The reality is that I think there is an adverse relationship in the art world between how much love there is in a project and how much money you are going to make from it.
“To be able to fund something like this I have had to do corporate events and weddings. Which isn’t ideal but at the end of the day I still have a camera in my hand, I’m still taking photos.
As well as the cost of the trip itself, Jarrad said the exhibition’s large cost was also because of the presentation choices he made, with all of the photographs mounted on aluminium.
“It came down to a choice between having it presented the way I wanted or just going with whatever and making some money. In the end I thought I would rather have a really strong body of work on show and not make as much money back. I really wanted it to stand out. This is probably the coolest thing I have ever done so I wanted it to be as good as it could be.”
But despite everything, Jarrad said his hard work has paid off by just knowing that he has created something that will bring people joy; people he doesn’t even know.
“Being able to sit here and watch people, 90 per cent of whom I don’t know, come and appreciate my artwork makes it worthwhile. I’ve contributed something to the world.
“Ninety per cent of what I do in my main line of work with music photography is destined for Facebook. It may have a lifespan of two to three days before it gets lost in cyberspace so this is something that I think is worth doing just so I have something that lasts.”
“Some of these pieces are going to hang in lounge rooms of people I don’t know and that’s a really cool idea. It’s the same with music and musicians, its mind blowing to think that people on the other side of the world are listening to their music out of their home speakers in Portugal or wherever.
“Art can transcend boundaries. And that’s amazing.”
Alltervatn is on display in the new Myre space in Fremantle until November 3.