Mathew Prichard is an artist with an interest in a broad range of artistic forms, ranging from dance and photography to illustration, painting and poetry. Currently a dancer with National Dance Company Wales, Mathew also works as a freelance photographer and editor at Cortex, a digital platform for rising creatives. His fascination with movement, physicality and the human body fuels his portraiture work, giving it a raw and meditative sense of motion. He recently released his first book, Malnourished by Overindulgence, a compilation of analogue photography and poetry from his travels to Israel. We caught up with Mathew at his Cardiff Bay apartment on a quiet Sunday morning and went for a wander around the windswept waterfront, chatting about his journey into dance, the connecting thread behind his photographic work and the ideas that are obsessing him at the moment and, before saying our goodbyes, Mathew kindly offered us a wonderful glimpse into his dance practice.
Who is Mathew Prichard? What is your story?
I am originally from Solihull, a town on the outskirts of Birmingham. I started dancing from the age of three, being dragged along to the dance school my sister trained at. I was very active throughout my childhood and I competed to a high level in a number of sports. I attended The Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School for the associate programs. But it wasn’t until I was about 15 years old that I discovered contemporary dance and furthered my interest by joining the Centre for Advanced Training for contemporary dance in Birmingham. I later trained at Rambert School, where I toured throughout the UK with Rambert Dance Company. Meanwhile, I performed with Goldfrapp on Later... with Jools Holland and at Glastonbury Festival. I am a multi-disciplinary artist, with interests in dance, photography, illustration, painting and poetry. I am currently a dancer with National Dance Company Wales and a freelance photographer, shooting predominantly on analogue. I am an editor with Cortex.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I was born profoundly deaf, with a cleft palate. The early years of my life were spent differently to most other children. There is one moment from my childhood that I remember most vividly. My sister was amazing to me as a child and the way she interacted with me in my childhood has had a significant influence on me today. There was one time when she laid a circle of chairs around her room and placed one of her teddy bears on each, with me sat down amongst them. She would read stories to me and although I was profoundly deaf, it was her determination and persistence to interact with me that I still admire today.
What is your definition of dance and what makes it an art form?
This is always a difficult question to answer, as it’s so subjective. I would personally define dance as anything that you intend to be dance. It is a physical expression of emotion and thought, and for this reason it can be defined as an art form.
What metaphor would best describe how you feel when you dance?
When I move in the way I like most, it feels as though I am an undulating current of pouring water.
Tell us about your journey into photography. How did it all start and who or what inspired you to follow this path?
I set up a clothing brand alongside my friend Ewan and so, we did photoshoots for the brand. Shortly after I started studying photography at school, where I initially experimented with digital photography. My dad then gave me his Olympus XA2, as I gained more interest in the medium. I would take it with me whenever I travelled on tour or when I was amongst friends. I would have it in my pocket more often than not. It was street photography; the candid style of shooting in a reactive way that gave me a lot of satisfaction initially. I then started shooting fashion editorials for other clothing brands and this then led to my increased interest in portraiture. It was inspiring that one of my closest friends was on a similar path in photography.
How would you describe your photographic style? What kind of messages or emotions do you want your images to evoke?
My photographic style is ever-changing. This is in relation to my physical surroundings, the people I am close with, the equipment I use and my current artistic interests. Initially I shot predominantly on the Olympus XA2, so this gave my work a raw, gritty aesthetic. This was enhanced by the candid style street documentary photos I was taking. My style has since developed and I now largely shoot on a Canon EOS 5 and an AGFA box camera. The two cameras are vastly different and this gives my work a very eclectic look. I shoot both high resolution portraiture and landscapes on the Canon, alongside grainier black and whites on the Agfa. I want my photographs to evoke a response, but I don’t tend to lead the viewer into feeling a specific emotional response; I prefer this to be open to interpretation. I tend to have a stimulus for what I shoot nowadays, rather than simply being spontaneous. But I do think that both approaches are important.
A large part of your work is portraiture. Why is portrait photography a particular passion for you and what do you seek when taking a person’s portrait?
I am intrigued by people, their imperfections and the expression of the human body. I seek to reveal a person’s habitual self when photographing them. As a dancer I am fascinated by people and the expression of physicality. So, for this reason portraiture is an exciting photographic genre. I like to capture my subjects in a way that they can be open and comfortable to just be who they are. But it is also interesting to take my subjects out of their comfort zone by giving them various tasks. This can sometimes be very physically and mentally demanding, but it is fascinating to see how the subject reacts to being put in this uneasy place. Being a dancer, I enjoy giving my portraiture a sense of motion and therefore my approach can often be less traditional and unorthodox.
How do you go about posing or directing your subjects?
Most often I work with dancers, so they tend to be highly experienced in movement direction. Therefore, minimal guidance needs to be given to the subject, so I tend to guide them through simple tasks without giving them too much information. This is simply because I like the subject to move from a place that is true to them. Rather than them trying to fit the mould of what I am suggesting, and so it becomes more of a conversation.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
I like to travel light when shooting, so genuinely all I tend to carry is my camera and some spare film. Nowadays when I’m out I usually carry a small notebook and a pen just because it’s a great time to be reflective, and this inspires the poetry I write.
You are also an editor at Cortex, a digital platform for rising creatives. Can you tell us more about this project? How did you come to be involved with Cortex and what is the driving ethos behind it?
Cortex is a platform for creative people. It is a place where people can learn, improve on their craft, build connections and be discovered for their talent. Cortex is designed for creatives to gain credibility and knowledge from other like-minded thinkers. It was initially an exclusive Facebook community, and has since expanded into a magazine and a website, which publishes editorials, interviews and features. Multi-disciplinary events are held regularly, bringing together the vast number of creative people within Cortex. I initially exhibited a photo series alongside Ewan Waddell called ‘Same Car’, at Notting Hill Arts Club in March 2017 with Cortex. Shortly after I got to know the guys a little more and started working as assistant editor. I enjoy the task of reaching out and collaborating with creative people from an array of different artistic fields.
What are the greatest rewards of being a dancer and a photographer?
Both art forms crossover and feed each other considerably. Each asks questions of and keeps the other inspired. I think having an interest in a broad range of artistic forms keeps each medium exciting and challenging. It allows me to grow further and become more open minded.
How does the city of Cardiff influence you creatively and how would you describe its art scene?
Having lived in London for three years previously, Cardiff was a refreshing city to move to. It’s always exciting to photograph new surroundings. It is much more compact than London but it does still have an art scene. I have met many other creatives in the city who produce exceptional work. I suppose it is slower pace in Cardiff and this has influenced the way I now shoot. I predominantly use an Agfa Box camera since moving to Cardiff, which has slowed down the process of shooting. There are only eight exposures on each 120mm roll of film, and so it requires much more patience when composing a photograph. I spend a lot of time in the countryside because it’s so accessible to Cardiff and this contrast in surrounding from London has definitely influenced my way of life and fed into the way in which I shoot.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I like to write and this tends to be in the form of poetry. I do it when I feel inspired to write, rather than setting aside time to do this. I also like to drive out of Cardiff either to the countryside or the beach and go walking in the fresh air. My closest friends are all very creative people and spending time around them allows me to unwind but keep stimulated creatively too.
What trips or photography projects would you love to do in the future?
I am currently in the process of researching for a new project. I don’t want to give too much away but it’ll involve a large canvas and dancers, in an open space, which will be documented on both Super 8 and 120mm film. I am intrigued to apply for residencies, as I’d love the opportunity to create multi-disciplinary work and focus my mind solely into a personal project for a period of time.
What are you currently working on?
I have just self-published my first book, called Malnourished by Overindulgence. The book compiles analogue photography and poetry from my travels to Israel. Conflict is the term most often associated with the middle eastern state of Israel. A destructive history; an unstable presence currently. Yet this is a space that can enable one to be relieved from the structured nature inherently present in our lives today. I researched and documented Israel’s inhabitants and its disparate culture. The imagery within Malnourished by Overindulgence explores the juxtaposition between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem and the constraints of ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Words accompany the body of photographs. They are a fragment of my perceptions, notions and desires during and after my visit to Israel.
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
What is consciousness?
What happens after death?
Why do human beings have an imagination?
And finally, what new ideas are obsessing you at the moment and where do you think they will lead you?
I am fascinated by the human body. I am intrigued by distorting the body and accentuating its imperfections and anomalies. This has also fuelled my interest in observing and capturing ‘non-dancers’ move. Someone who has not trained in dance often doesn’t display preconceptions of how they should move, so it can be fascinating to observe them in motion. The choices they make when improvising are often unchoreographed, generating honest movement, which is reactive to that specific moment in time and space. I hope to create a body of work concerning this idea.