Noel Bowler studied photography in Senior College, Sallynoggin , The University of Wales, Newport and at The University of Ulster, Belfast. He has the recipient of the Gallery of Photography’s Artist Award, The Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Per Cent for Art Award and he was nominated by the Gallery of Photography for the AIB Art Prize. He has also been nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize and for the Prix Pictet International Photography Prize.
Read an interview with this artist here:
When did you begin taking photographs and how has your interest developed into a career?
I’ve been taking photographs since I was 12 years old; the main turning point for me was when I attended a PLC course in Photography at Senior College Sallynoggin in 1999. This course instilled in me a fascination and awe of the potential of the photographic image and for me was to be the turning point in choosing a career in Photography.
Sallynoggin was key to this. Being tutored by Joe Sterling and Christine Redmond, both of whom have shared a life-long passion with photography was central to my development. From here I went to the University of Ulster to study under Paul Seawright.
What kinds of challenges have you faced?
One of the most significant challenges that has faced myself and other photographers over the years is the perception of photography within an Irish context. Ireland has a rich artistic and visual heritage, but unlike the UK and USA, photography has struggled to be taken seriously by major artistic institutions. Historically and traditionally we are a nation of writers and painters. That said, the last few years have seen a huge developments in the education of photography and the exhibiting of world class works in the likes of The Irish Museum of Modern Art, for example. As a practitioner, I am constantly aware of the importance of continued engagement with the public and artistic institutions.
Do you have any advice for artists starting out?
In some ways, I feel art chooses you. All the artists that I know, their craft is a passion or a vocation more than a career. If someone is considering studying art, than I would say there is no rush, in fact it’s probably better to study something else first or at least to experience life. Then you will have something to make art about.
Can you tell us the about the background to the work in the collection of Dundalk Town Council?
The work in your collection is from the series ‘The Joy’ an exploration of the daily lives of men inside Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. This work began as part of my degree show in the University of Wales College Newport and I continued to make this work sporadically for many years after that. The impetus for creating the work was two-fold. Firstly, the physical presence of the landscape of the prison has always been a part of my life as I have passed it nearly every day for most of my life. Simple curiosity and the human need to explore and engage no doubt would have been a pressing factor. Secondly, I have a family connection with the prison. My Grandfather was a warder in the prison, retiring in the 1960’s and my father grew up on Prison Ave (which is now the site of the women’s prison). Childhood memories are dotted with stories of the jail, even childhood photographs of my father have the images of the two Victorian chimneys above their neighbourhood. I think these were all contributing factors to the beginning of the story.
How has your practice developed?
I have been working through photography since completing a degree in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. This course instilled in me a passion for the representative and artistic qualities of photography. Throughout my work I have been interested in studying the familiar everyday landscape and how the built environment and vernacular architecture impact on and inform the landscape around us. I am drawn to photograph interior landscapes where the varied topographic histories merge to build layered images that encapsulate the different economic, social and cultural realities. Portraiture is an important element within my work and acts as a grounding within the artwork which has deepened my own personal experience and understanding of the relationship between people, place and identity.
As a photographic practitioner my work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. This organised approach to my photographic practice has attracted the interest of various award bodies and galleries. In 2005 I was the recipient of the National Gallery of Photography’s Artist Award for The Joy. I received the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Per Cent for Art Award in 2008 and I was nominated by the Gallery of Photography, Dublin for the AIB Art Prize in 2010. In 2011 I was nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize for my project Making Space and again in 2012 for the Prix Pictet International Photography Prize. My work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2009. Most recently Making Space has exhibited at Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown and will host its first UK debut at Impressions Gallery in Bradford in 2012. My most recent publication Making Space offers a collaboration between the National Gallery of Photography and Dr. Colin Graham, professor of English at the University of Maynooth, Ireland. This theme of collaboration follows on from my previous publication IMAN, in which my photographs were published in conjunction with cultural research department of University College Dublin and featured an academic text by Dr. Ian Russell, curator, David Winton Bell Gallery, Rhode Island, Massachusetts.
Find out more about this artist here: www.noelbowlerphoto.com