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Bruce Rae

Bruce Rae

Bruce Rae’s mysterious world

Enter the Lucy Bell Gallery and you walk into a dark, magical and mysterious world. The images arrayed around the walls are the new series of work from photographer, Bruce Rae. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to take a look.

Having seen and spoken to Rae at his previous exhibition, Tableaux Whispers Echoes, I wouldn’t expect anything less than magical. These images are calm, fragile, sensitive and intriguing. Contrasting sharp and delicate textures, introducing reflections, double exposures, different scale and perspective, Rae juxtaposes strange artefacts together – shells, light bulbs, bottles, umbrella, crocodile, plate, paper bag, delicate textiles, brushes.

Looking glass 1 Bruce Rae

Looking glass 1 Bruce Rae

Inevitably, I wonder what he is portraying? What are his stories? Dreams? Are the objects symbolic in any way? He looks bemused, shakes his white-thatched head and says simply, “I just play.” He plays in arranging the tableaux, he plays within the camera and continues playing in the dark room.

He concedes that, “I tell stories to myself, but they are not for other people.” Whatever they are, they are his and he is keeping them to himself. “I’m very content that people make up their own stories to the work but they will be their own stories and that is perfectly fine with me.”

In spite of that response, Rae chooses the individual items and creates the scenarios, so there is some internal narrative – conscious or unconscious. Or perhaps he is mining his emotions. He adds, “I don’t believe that photography has got anything to do with the truth. Not that I have any argument with truth. Photography is supposed to be about non fiction and I am more and more drawn to fiction.”

The whole process is extraordinary – and takes time. With the speed and inattention of the digital age, Rae’s practice seems slow to hardly happening, as he creates his little magic worlds. For hours nothing might happen, “I sit and think and sometimes I just sit. When I begin, I have no idea what I’ll end up with. I have a vague idea what I want to achieve. I start with two or three objects and what happens at the end might be completely different. Or the objects might all go back into the cupboard.” He laughs. “It all sounds very irresponsible.”

To me it feels like he is describing the creative process; serendipity mixed with trust in the process, experience and a vast knowledge of technique.

Bruce Rae

Bruce Rae

Before he begins, he clears his mind, to be as calm as possible, by meditating for about 40 minutes, readying himself for the day. Then having left behind all that mental clutter he is ready to start. Photographing in natural light, he first creates the scenario to his satisfaction and then under the hood looks through the lens of his old cedar wood field camera, seeing the images upside down and back to front. Sometimes he will remain there for 15 minutes or so. Simply looking. Or he may burst into gales of laughter, like when making Charon, studying the brush, hovering over the crocodile scurrying away to safety. “It all sounds idiosyncratic but I instantly recognise the moment when it is there.”

Rae prints his own images. For his last show, the images were salt prints; for this one, he has returned to printing with silver gelatin. But with a twist. He half develops the print, puts it into a tray of very hot water, then the developer for a minute or so, then hot water again, then leaves it under a safe light and goes and has a cup of tea and watches and waits it until he is satisfied with the result. All very precarious and highly unpredictable. Each image is one of ten, but because of this method each one will be unique.

This exhibition seems different; it feels there is a maturing. If maturity sounds stolid, I don’t mean that. This work has been born out of meditation and play and the resulting effect is both playful and meditative. Rae’s last show Tableaux Whispers Echoes was a nod to mortality and it feels as if that theme runs through this series too; there is a definite impression of temporality, stillness and fragility in the work.

Where does Rae go next? At present, this is causing him some concern, if not real fear. “I have never been so tired after this last project. It was going into somewhere new and I don’t know what happens next. ‘Is that it?’ I am frankly terrified. I might go back to taking photographs of  flowers, to portraiture,” and he shrugs, mock-defeated. Fear can stimulate creativity and I am sure thoughts are already drifting through his mind. I don’t think we’ve, anywhere near, heard or seen the last of Bruce Rae.

Looking Glass House is at Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, TN38 0EJ from 16 January–6 February. Gallery open Tuesday – Saturday 11am-4pm.

Silverfootprint There will be a screening of Robin Bell’s film Silverfootprint and a Q&A session/talk between Bruce Rae and Robin Bell at the Baker Mamonova Gallery at 7pm on 2 February. Tickets are £5. Email to book a seat.

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Posted 10:10 Monday, Jan 18, 2016 In: Photography

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