Dutch darkness


Richard Nolan-Neylan's new series takes a painterly approach to photographic still life, inspired by Dutch masters. He spoke to Sunroom about food, nature and elevating the everyday. His exhibition 'Darker than Light' is open at Sydney's Atrium Gallery until September 24, 2022

Image by Richard Nolan-Neylan

You've dedicated a section of your personal portfolio to photographing the everyday, especially in public housing and shops. This is the first time you've made a body of work around nature and food. And yet everyday objects have held some fascination for you for a while. In what way?

In the everyday and ordinary we can find beauty, balance and personality. As a photographer you interpret what you see and reframe and reflect a view of your own.

In the ordinariness of the mundane, these little snippets of life offer something which at first look all the same, but it's when you look more closely that you find beauty in difference.

What is it about the work of the Dutch Masters in painting that has inspired your photography? And how did your love of this genre begin?

I think the way they use light to reveal their subjects is quite captivating. Their work draws you in, there's poetry in their dark aesthetic. Good photography has a bit of mystery, and asks questions, I like to bring that into my own work if I can.

As a child I had a passion for drawing and painting, this was encouraged by my Nan, whose sister was a painter. I often found myself looking at art books and wondering what it would have been like to have been in those paintings.

Image by Richard Nolan-Neylan

How have you observed our current day domestic life and relationship with nature and food has changed since then?

By and large the supermarket has taken the joy out of food. Every carrot, potato and bean has been standardised. The amount of packaging is crazy. All the meat is cut and packaged.

The path back to a real animal has been removed, and our responsibility with it.

Animals which are culled are just wasted and left to rot. When you go to a farmers market you see what's in season and the food tastes and looks so much more vibrant, its totally amazing sometimes the different shapes and sizes of produce. There is a shift to people wanting to obtain free-range and artisan produce and this can only be a good thing.

Image by Richard Nolan-Neylan

How did you select your still life subjects?

I've been referencing the Dutch masters in style and also their honest approach to depicting the everyday and ordinary. This has in some of my work become the extraordinary and unseen - turning the everyday on its head. I've always tried to keep my work poetic, even if the subject matter has been confronting.

I bought props from auctions and looked for free-range and seasonal food from farmers markets. I wanted to portray food as it really exists and capture its beauty. In the case of the rabbits and kangaroo, I wanted to reflect what could be eaten but goes to waste.

The Dutch masters often had insects in their paintings and I have referenced that here. There is very much a circle of life portrayed, and I've enjoyed developing that in my photographs.

What equipment was critical in bringing this work to life?

I've always been a Canon user. I still have a T90 kit (the last of the manual focus 35mm cameras). I like to create large imagery as it allows the eye to wonder and explore. With digital, I like the larger file formats, so I used the Canon EOS 5DSR, and more recently the EOS R5.

Even the most detailed of shots can offer poetry, mystery, life and death. I use flash lighting and like to shoot everything in-camera.

My relationship with my printer Selina at SUNPrint, has been a major factor in the success of my final art pieces.

The printing process is often underestimated and is an important consideration when I am shooting my imagery.

What would you like people to take away from this exhibition?

I think over all its quite a romantic view of a simpler way of life. There are definitely elements in there that can make you look twice at the everyday, and finding beauty in difference. Perhaps reflect a little on where produce comes from and how did it gets to the table.