In search of value: Cally Whitham

Based in rural North Auckland, fine art photographer Cally Whitham creates richly evocative portraits of subjects deemed mundane by society. She discusses her animal-based Epitaph series and Homage series, focusing on graveside flowers, with D-Photo’s Point-Shoot blog

Mixed breed ewe, Epitaph series

D-Photo: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your photography?

Cally Whitham: I have been taking photos of the rural environment since childhood. I got my first camera when I was 11 and the first roll of film was of cows, trees, landscapes houses and birds - so no real surprise that is what I have come back to in recent years. I studied at Carrington Design School (now Unitec) in the 90s and worked in the industry until having children. I now solely create non-commercial work and sell through galleries in New Zealand, Europe and America.

How would you describe the style of images you are currently producing?

Pictorialism – my images are very romantic and idealistic. I photograph a notion or an ideal rather than conveying the subject as it is itself. I look for a value – something that may not be inherently obvious or perhaps it is a value the subject once held but no longer has and I work on bringing that out again.

Highland cattle, Epitaph series

In your Epitaph series you have created idealised images of farm animals – what are you hoping the viewer takes away from these?

It’s a chance to take a second look – the series creates portraits in a romantic light that conveys the food we eat as individuals as opposed to livestock that exist solely for our consumption, and attempts to remind us of their other values.

How did you go about finding your subjects for the Epitaph series?

I live rurally so I have photographed in my district, or sought out places where I could photograph the particular animal or bird I was after. Nearly all of the subjects are now deceased.

Brown Murray Grey, Epitaph series

What sort of equipment did you use in creating them?

I shot the work on a Canon 7D, sometimes with a 600mm lens and sometimes with just a 20-105mm lens. Post-production is done in Lightroom and Photoshop.

What sort of approach do you use in post-production?

I work a lot with blending modes and many layers which I build up to create the lighting and mood I am after.

Homage series

Your latest series is called Homage, and isn't based around animals – does it have a connection with your previous work?

It actually does - the common thread through a lot of my work is thoughts on the passage of time, nostalgia for thoughts or feelings that we can’t quite grasp onto or remember, values that we may have held for things that have since changed and trying to recall that value again or apply a value to a subject that might make us view it in a way that reminds us of how it was once perceived.

I am also interested in the colonization of New Zealand and most of my subjects stem from that interest. Homage is about nostalgia for things that no longer are, but also it is about capturing what is left behind – we have the museums and artefacts but we no longer have the people. It interests me that people are so valuable, more so than their possessions and yet it is only their possessions and others’ memories of them that can provide proof of their existence, which brings me back to wondering about ‘value’.

What's next for you?

I am working away on a book; I won a Blurb photography competition through the Behance Network and am slowly kicking a book into shape about the Colonisation of exotic species in New Zealand. I am fascinated by this period of time in New Zealand history as I have ancestors who were some of the earlier settlers to arrive here.

Homage series

Cally's  Epitaph series is currently on show at the Artist's Room in Dunedin for the rest of May, and you can see more of her work at her website

Rooster, Poultry series

All images: © Cally Whitham