Craig Tuffin: Not your average photographer

Meet Craig Tuffin. Based out of Kingscliff, Craig turned to working with 19th century photographic processes including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes in 2006. He is one of a few photographers in Australia working with these challenging mediums to create single and unique images. We got a little insight into his artistic processes.

How did you start off in art? When was the first time you thought “I want to be an artist?”

I think I’ve always been an artist, it’s something you feel attuned to from a young age. It can certainly be encouraged by your family if they have their own experience in the arts, but I think we have an internal mechanism that steers us in certain directions.

Now if you ask “How long have I been a professional artist?”, that’s a very different question. I have been an educator for about 28 years and have taught a variety of things, one of them being darkroom practice. At the same time I was doing some freelance photographic work which were primarily editorial pieces. My art practice was happening behind closed doors whilst other things took the front seat. However, I had a massive head injury in 2007 which completely changed my priorities. It’s not unusual for a life or death experience to act as a catalyst for change and this one convinced me to take my art practice more seriously and focus on it professionally.

What would a typical art day be like for you?

A typical day (when there is one) has me walking down to my local coffeeshop where I order my usual medium double-shot cappuccino, catch up on what’s happening globally in the New York Times and answer emails. I like to be back in the studio to start my work day by 8-8.30am. From there I have a variety of things to deal with from setting up the studio for a shoot, or preparing it for a workshop. Along with making my personal work, I run private workshops on a variety of historic photographic methods from the very first techniques published in 1839 [daguerreotypes] to film development and darkroom printing.

I often have to photograph on location. When I’m doing some of the oldest methods of photography on glass plates, I need a darkroom on location. I have a both renovated caravan that was built as a darkroom in the ‘70’s and a long-wheel base van that serves as both a darkroom and large camera obscura. These need packing and preparing before I can ‘hit the road’.

It’s not always as romantic as it sounds however, there are always menial tasks to perform like cutting, edging and cleaning glass, mixing chemistry, scanning and varnishing plates, and yes, even sharpening pencils.

What messages are you trying to convey with your art?

It really depends on the narrative of each particular body of work I produce. I’m very concerned that the most important part of any series of work is the idea. Refining that idea is essential and can/should take time. I always like to work on multiple projects at the same time with each developing at its own pace.

One of my major series titled Yahna Ganga (Bundjalung Language Yahna: to sit or sit down, Ganga: To hear; to think; to understand) started as a collaboration with the local Minjungbal people and is a contemporary look at the importance of essential cultural tropes and the significance of place. All of the work were singular pieces and was made using a photographic process from 1851. I’m very proud that some of this work is now in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

Other work looks at the significance of minorities. I am currently working on a “Supers” series that’s built on the premise that everyone has the capacity to perform phenomenal acts. People that wouldn’t fit the stereotype of a typical Hollywood Superhero are dressed in appropriate costumes. They never make eye-contact with the camera (and therefore the audience) as they don’t consider themselves or the acts they perform anything significant.

Finally, I’m working on another series titled “My Dream Death” which is essentially a catharsis. I’m visiting the space between life and death as a means to communicate the vague memories associated with the moments in and around my head injury.

I like to make a ‘body’ of work which mean each piece and how it is sequenced within the whole completes the narrative. Sometimes viewing a piece on its own can lose some of its emphasis. I also like to make work that asks more questions than it answers. At the end of the day, the audience and their personal experiences determine the meaning of any singular image, regardless of my reason to make it.

You’re a finalist in the 2020 Head On Portrait award. What would it mean to win?

I am very honoured to be in the final of the Head On Portrait Award. There are some incredible entries in all of the major Australian competitions so to be included is very humbling. I’d love to win but I understand that, as with all art competitions, the final vote is completely dependent on the subjective decision of the judging panel. I’m sure the judges will select a photograph worthy of first place.

I think that the Head On Award committee has set a wonderful benchmark by making the competition online this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It would have been easier to simply cancel the competition and associated exhibitions, but the director Moshe Rosenzveig has shown incredible initiative to keep the award alive.

See more of Craig’s work on Insta @craig.tuffin






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