Caroline Fraser joined Artspring Gallery in September 2019.
She is a photographer and book artist.
How long have you been an artist and how did your artistic career begin?
I became an artist 13 years ago as a response to having breast cancer. I realised that it was time to start doing the things in life that matter to me. I had seen a photography centre, Inversnaid, on the banks of Loch Lomond whilst hiking the West Highland Way a few years previously and had always planned to go there ‘one day ‘.
As soon as my treatment was finished I booked a week’s course called “Art in Nature” at Inversnaid. I had the time of my life, and from that moment I was hooked.
Why do you make art and what themes do you pursue?
I make art as a way to relax. Walking in nature with my camera I take photos to express my feelings about the natural world. Initially it was my way to express my joy at being alive after the cancer treatment. More recently there is a desire to express my concern for our environment.
On my computer hard drive are thousands of images of trees and water. I am happiest in the mountains or beside the sea, and love to explore remote places such as Iceland, Greenland, the highlands of Scotland and New Zealand’s South Island. I spend a lot of time on the beach at Camber Sands near my studio in Rye.
Who or what have most inspired you?
There are a number of photographers whose work has inspired me, particularly those who work with multiple exposure such as Valda Bailey and Chris Friel. They showed me that anything is possible if you practice enough. Also the photographer Paul Kenny. Paul uses found objects in the landscape to create new worlds of extraordinary beauty. He has inspired me to work with intimate landscapes, looking at the smaller details within the wider landscape.
In terms of places I cannot get enough of the highlands of Scotland. Harris in the outer hebrides is breathtaking. Ice and snow in Iceland and Greenland always excite me, as do the wide open landscapes and mountains of South Island, New Zealand.
Can you describe your first big break?
I entered an abstract photograph of grass into a small open exhibition at Greenwich Viewfinder Gallery in 2008. I was over the moon to be invited by the gallery curator to participate in a small group show ‘Painterly photographs’ in 2009 as a result. That gave me such a confidence boost.
What gives you joy?
Walking in nature; on the coast, in the woods or up a mountain.
Being with my family, who now live in Vancouver, Canada. Dancing with my grandson.
Making artist books is a more recent activity, and creating a book by hand from scratch is a source of immense pleasure.
Are there any achievements of which you feel particularly proud?
My book ‘Land of my Father’ created in 2016.
This was my first attempt at an artist book, and was made to express my feelings about the death of my father when I was a child. My father came from the Scottish highlands, and the book contains my words together with images from the highlands. It is an edition of 50 copies, all hand sewn. I felt that I had at last created a fitting tribute to my father.
Last summer I had a solo show ‘Conversations with Nature’ in Rye Art Gallery. This was my chance to show how far I have come in the years since I first became passionate about photography. To see my work hanging in the beautiful sun lit gallery was an extraordinary moment for me.
How do you like to spend your time when you are not being an artist?
I have recently retired as a GP. Now I go to work as a volunteer on my local common once a week to help manage the woodland. This is sociable and therapeutic, with lots of chopping and clearing of unwanted species.
Walking the Thames from mouth to source with my husband in easy stages is half complete. Lockdown has put a hold on that for a while.
At home I love cinema and enjoy growing my own vegetables. I travel regularly in normal circumstances, especially now that my children are abroad.
I spend more time than most people picking up litter – I can’t walk past a can or bottle without picking it up, and never go to the beach at Camber without a bag to collect rubbish into.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given regarding your art?
‘Be true to yourself ‘
Sometimes I find that I have to make work that is a bit off-piste. Like a book about space -trash. I needed to get my frustration about littering of our countryside off my chest. As I researched the topic of litter I found out about all the trash that man has left on the moon. I made a zero-waste digital book about it entitled ‘on the moon‘. Once I had done that I could get back to focussing on something more beautiful.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know?
Lockdown has been a surprisingly creative time for me. I have made new work in my local woods; a place that has sustained me over the years, especially when I was being treated for breast cancer.
To have made some joyful new work during a difficult time has been a surprise, and it has also reminded me that I don’t need to travel far to get into a creative frame of mind.
I would like to thank the members of Artspring Gallery for welcoming me, and for encouraging me to strive for very high standards of work.
Lastly, I value of the sentiments of John Muir, the Scottish adventurer who said
” everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul “