Polly Brown captures human transience. Those spaces swelling with a potent emptiness, this young artist manages to craft into photographs of considerable conceptual meaning. After studying at the prestigious Central Saint Martins, this East Sussex native has settled in London. Instilled in her is the importance of a collaborative approach, a trait that has seen her work with ICA, Diesel, Wonderland and Kris Van Assche to name a few. Although separate from it, Brown is fascinated by the “juggernaut of a creative industry” that is the fashion realm. Keeping her distance behind her lens she shot the plants in the offices of the world’s most iconic brands across the world as a further conceptual study of the often strange and transient human behavior she has experienced. While London is her regular backdrop, for this interview she writes to us from the Amalfi Coast of Italy. It’s just another day in the life of Polly Brown.
Hall of Furs: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? You grew up on the south coast of England. How would you describe your childhood here?
Polly Brown: I grew up in East Sussex just outside of Lewes and Brighton. My childhood was a pretty average mix of being a little bit bored, drinking in fields and rolling up your school skirt.
You studied at Central Saint Martins. How has a formal education influenced your practice?
The main thing I took away from art school was the importance of working and talking with your peers. A lot of our course was structured around discussion and looking at each others work which has instilled a community of people who I turn to when thinking up new ideas. It’s a very refreshingly collective and collaborative part of an occupation that is [quite] isolated.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a creative career?
On a bad day this is still debatable.
What was your first camera? Do you still have it and use it?
My first camera was a Canon AE1. I don’t use it much now but it’s still kicking around. I feel we will reunite though at some point for sure.
You are now based in London. How does this city inspire your projects?
I actually find most of my projects revolve around leaving London but I think it is always at the basis of all projects in a weird way. It’s home and to have an adventure away from it you need to have it always there.
What is your definition of beauty? Where do you find it?
I find it in random objects, often in animate things, everyday things.
Your work is very concept-driven. How do you make a concept correlate in your images?
I work in two ways. Sometimes I start with a concept, an idea I want to explore. I work out a way to relay this idea and shoot from there, although sometimes the concept arises later. I take pictures all the time of random stuff, I then go back through them and sometimes themes appear. I’ll look back and realise I’ve been shooting tons of pavement curbs and elbows, for example, and a concept evolves from this.
After photographing plants in many fashion offices and studios, I have to ask who are some of your favourite labels or designers? Do you follow trends in fashion?
I’m fascinated by the fashion industry, it is a potent Juggernaut of a creative industry that can create and explore ideas from the fantastical to the minutest detail. I don’t really follow trends (this is probably purely through ignorance) I do however become fascinated by certain brands, there aesthetic, their logo, and their collections, how they all sit as one. Prada is a favourite for this, Moncler and Céline.
Where do you find inspiration? What do you choose to focus on when informing your practice?
I find inspiration often in transient space, hotels, and airports. I look for a personal, sometimes, reflexive or intimate experience in a public space. I’m interested in creating projects that relate to people, they are individual events or feelings or sights but in a way they are shared.
You’re also interested in the relationship between man and nature. How does a photographing an object like a plant express the identity of the people surrounding it?
There has been a lot of research into personal identification through plants. I also found that when requesting to shoot them people often personified them, gave them names, referred to them as ‘him’ or ‘her’. The plants became not only an addition to the office but an extension of the work force. They were a living breathing part of the company.
I found by focusing on the plants and photographing them stripped back of any of the corporation’s aesthetics, logos or branding, they started to represent the people who constitute the companies. Pot plants are a totem of the day to day, the emails chains, the management meeting, the excel sheets.
What are your favourite plants, out of interest?
I like geraniums a lot and succulents.
For you, what makes a successful image?
There are no rules here. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
Who are some of your artistic icons?
There are many. I’m currently in a bit of a Frank Capa, Jules Verne, George Harrison and Miro love affair.
Where is one gallery you would love to exhibit?
I suppose if I could any where I would chose the Serpentine, as it’s always been a favourite.
You obviously travel a great deal for your work. Where is one place you have been that has been particularly stirring for you?
I love travelling; it is almost the process [rather] than the location sometimes that is the best. However, I am currently in the Amalfi coast of Italy, which is amazing. It’s a little like being in a time warp, stuck in the 50’s talented Mr. Ripley, Campari and soda, sun tans and scooters. It gets under your skin.
What’s next for you and your practice? Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
I don’t tend to work too far in advance but instead project but project. I’m working on a few larger book ideas at the moment one is about EARS and one is about BOYS.
PLANTS is a photographic monograph published by Pau Wau Publications released July 2014. You can purchase a copy here.
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Images courtesy of Polly Brown.