Foggy-headed is not what you’d use to describe Paul Gadd, but that’s exactly how the 50-year-old British photographer felt several years ago.
“A dead bird shoved inside a cage, head first, that was my state of mind. Totally bogged up,” he shares during an interview at The Print Room, his Petaling Jaya studio and gallery specialising in film photography.
He’s not sure how this period of gloom and anxiety began – It just did. But Gadd, the director of The Print Room, was sure of one thing: He refused to find a solution through psychiatric medication.
“My way out of this was through work. I released my stress through photography and that seemed to help. That and a few bottles of wine,” he says with a laugh.
And the results are stunning. Enter Gadd’s aptly titled State Of Mind exhibition, now showing at The Print Room until March 17.
The 30 photographs are a culmination of his work which began in 2014 as a response to developments in his personal life, as well as real-life events and issues that he felt strongly about.
“It’s quite personal and heavy. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea,” says Gadd, who was part of the Artrooms Fair Seoul in October 2018, an international art show for independent artists.
State Of Mind, which marks The Print Room’s 16th exhibition since it opened in 2011, offers a body of work that is aesthetically and visually spectacular, and refreshing.
Indeed, there’s something satisfying and meditative in the painstaking and laborious traditional printing techniques used instead of digital manipulation of images.
As a strong proponent of film photography, Gadd enthusiastically tells of some of the techniques he used to produce this otherworldly series, which includes bleaching, scratching, waxing and painting on each of his images.
Calling the process organic, he says, “Experimenting in the darkroom with my film negatives and with the printing process helped to create the final images in a way I couldn’t have done on a computer.”
“To be honest, you can’t do this on a computer.” he adds. “Every image will be exactly the same because it’s pixels and not grain. So it’s very linear and not raw. With film photography, every print is going to be slightly different. It’s nice to see originality.”
A work like Inhabitants Of Fairyland. shows Gadd’s wizardry of film photography techniques, with a lower grade print and the usage of photographic paint. The image can be mistaken for a painting.
The central figure is a bouquet of flowers, placed to look like a tree, set against a grey background. Underneath are small reddish fruits, and fluttering about the bouquet and crawling on the fruits are insects.
“This piece is about creating a new environment for all the dead stuff,” he says, revealing that it was an encounter he had as a child with what he believes to be a fairy that inspired this piece.
Inhabitants Of Fairyland is also the title of one entire series under the banner of his exhibition. It features birds, insects and plant life, things that he sourced from his own garden and then gave them new life.
The other series, also called State Of Mind, deals with personal and worldly issues. They serve as a means for Gadd to manage his anxiety.
It’s little wonder he took so long to perfect and curate his work. And you know you’re meeting a true artist – or perfectionist – when he says he’s still working on one particular piece after almost two years.
The photograph, depicting a bird set in a paradise-like surrounding, was part of The Print Room’s Encore exhibition in 2017, but Gadd says he has never been happy with it.
“So recently I re-shot it, re-scratched the negative, printed it at a lower grade and covered it in bee’s wax. By adding multiple layers of wax on sections of the image gives dimension to the photograph, personalising the work even further,” he recounts.
“I’m quite happy with it now. It looks totally different from the original.”
That said, Gadd isn’t done yet. He is still taking photographs and doesn’t see a finish line. “For something as personal as this, it won’t stop,” he sums up. “It’s always going to progress. Whenever I feel or think of something, it’s just going to add more to it.”