Photographer Conor Clarke talks of life in Berlin and her recent explorations in romanticism and land surveying.

natural typology

Culture Berlin
Words Hey Vito & Conor Clarke
Photographs Conor Clarke

Conor Clarke is a fine art photographer based in Berlin. Her most recent work sees her exploring humankind's perception of nature. How it is described, defined and relied upon.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I don't really have a regular schedule, I'm a bit chaotic and busy. I head to the studio most days though, which has been a 25 minute bike-ride away from home. But I just moved my studio into the spare room in my apartment so things are going to change up a bit. When I'm not in the studio I'm in Leipzig (1.5 hours by train from Berlin) where I'm a guest student for half a year at the Academy of Fine Arts, or working my day job as a freelancer. To be honest, I don't really make photographs very often, rather reading or writing, planning or logistics.

You live in Germany, so how do your surrounds influence your photography?

I have lived in Berlin for more than 9 years, and Germany has hugely influenced my work. I found making work difficult in the beginning because so much of what I made was connected with suburban New Zealand habits or colonial imposition on the land. Moving here got me thinking about why I made the choice to be in Germany in terms of its important photographic influence on my work. I still make a lot of New Zealand specific work, but I try to incorporate universal themes. For example, at the moment I'm making work about fresh water – water is both site-specific, but also universal, interconnected. Berlin is a very watery city, we have canals and rivers and a really high water table, but despite all this I always found myself longing for another kind of water, for home. This really frustrated me and that was the beginnings of my current project Ground Water Mirror. It's about the expectation we have of nature to find a solution to our urban anxieties, our reliance on the concept of nature. But how can we look to nature as a solution to urban life when nature doesn't exist? Nature is an idea, an act of the imagination, a place we feel the need to travel to in order to find it.

It's about the expectation we have of nature to find a solution to our urban anxieties, our reliance on the concept of nature. conor clarke
Is there an artist that has been a particular influence on you?

I always find this question really hard. Plenty of New Zealand photographers for sure, Haru Sameshima and Mark Adams spring to mind as being very important. They have also become friends. German photographic duo Bernd and Hilla Becher, they exoticized the subject of functional landscape for me.

You are a fine art photographer. Do you have to pursue commercial work as well to help pay the bills?

I have to work a day job to supplement my practice, but I very rarely take photographic commissions. I actually found it really stressful trying to please clients, so I stopped it altogether. I work freelance as a digital operator for a commercial photographer, and also as a production assistant or driver on film, advertising and television productions. Working for other people takes the pressure off, and means I get to travel often.

What has been your recent photographic highlight?

Definitely my residency at the Tylee Cottage in Whanganui! I was so fortunate to spend 5 months there researching and making new work. Whanganui and the friends I made there will always have a special place in my heart, I really mean that. The work I made there was quite different to my previous stuff, less formally rigid. I tried to talk about a lot of different things to do with nature – how we describe it, define it, rely on it and look at it, categorise it and the reasons for this.

What do you find is the best way to market yourself? How do people find you?
I'm not much of a networker, I just make work and hope that some people like it, or associate with it, or learn something. I have a website, and I also just started posting on Instagram for the first time since 2014.
The nature in us, all around us, all the time. conor clarke
Could you tell us a little about your recent show at Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui?

The show is called The End of Wordsworth Street, and includes sound, video and a series of photographs shot in Whanganui, Auckland and around Germany. Wordsworth Street is a small, residential street in Whanganui that ends where the fence around the local freezing works begins. The street's namesake is the Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. I make lots of references in the show to romanticism and land surveying, and the concept of nature they gave way to. The way they continue to mediate how western society perceives the non-human world. Looking to nature as a solution to urban life only perpetuates the old false binary that sets nature apart from humanity, rather than as kin. The end of Wordsworth Street is the start of finding sustainable solutions to looking at and experiencing the real, physical world. The nature in us, all around us, all the time •