Preservation: Simon Norfolk, Culture, War, and Photography.

For this interview, I was given the opportunity to speak with award winning photographer Simon Norfolk.

History and preservation are central themes interwoven into much of Simon's catalogue. 

His work typically explores and illuminates the architecture, archaeology, and landscapes associated with or impacted by the culture, industry, and ideologies influenced by conflicts old and new.

Despite his extremely busy schedule, he took a bit of time out of his day to answer a few questions for us on his art and interests.

Prox: War photography seems to require a certain amount of skill and tact as to not come off as gratuitous or overindulgent. How do you juxtapose the horrors of war with the beauty of landscape photography? 

Simon: I think it's about respecting the scenery and brevity of the situation while maintaining a love for the craft. War photography always has an public interest immunity. It’s so-called art photographers who use death, usually of black and brown people, as spectacle, that really pisses me off.

Prox: Why have you taken an interest in archaeology? What does this subject do for you creatively and internally that other types of work doesn’t? Have you ever felt a connection with any of the cultures that produced these artifacts?

Simon: I’m interested in those histories that lie in shallow graves in our landscapes and I’m most interested in those places where ‘slippage’ has occurred and those buried strata are exposed. The leap from there to archaeology seems pretty narrow to me. If you’ve ever read The City And The City by China Miéville then one would name these places ‘crosshatch.'

Prox: This is a fairly abstract question, but in your opinion, how does one construct the perfect shot? Is it purely aesthetic or is there an element of philosophical and symbolic depth that must be present?

Simon: All of these have to line up for it to be really successful. I think I’ve only managed this about 5 or 6 times in my whole career. But the aesthetic is important too. I am always worried that the audience won’t have a reason to look at my work. Why should you waste a Saturday in a gallery when you can go shopping. Photography has to work hard to draw people into it’s space, otherwise no conversation can happen of any kind.

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Prox: Could you describe your shooting setup for us? What are some of your go to equipment and programs?

Simon: I use a Phase One camera and an old P45 back because it can shoot a one hour exposure if I need. Everything goes into Capture One. Photoshop is only a hospital for sick and dying pictures.

If you think it is the well spring of your creativity you’re wrong. I use Keynote to organise my thoughts and check on a project’s progress. Go To Equipment: waterproof snow-boarding trousers; binoculars and a good guide to local birdlife to help pass the time. (I’m in the Somme and I’m certain I keep getting glimpse of a Hen Harrier. Marvellous)

Prox: Are there any artists, books, movies/TV shows or music you’d like to recommend to the readers?


Film: The Great Beauty

Artist: currently fascinated by Otto Dix’s series Der Krieg. Quite in love with the singing of Philippe Jaroussky too at the moment.

TV: I don’t watch TV.

Books: The Work of The Dead, Thomas Laqueur.

Prox: Any releases or projects on the way that you’d like to tell us about?

Simon: I’ve spent the last two years making a TV programme about what happened after the end of the First World War. I’m also in France right now trying out a new piece of kit that Q has loaned to me ;-)

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