A fine art photographer who has also produced award-winning photojournalistic coverage of war, protest and conflict, Jay Tyrrell is a retired stock trader who has pursued his passion for photography intensively over the last two decades. In his latest project, Atomic Mirrors, he explores the universal and cosmic sense of aloneness in the universe in a technically brilliant and compelling series of images shot with his Leica S2.
Q: Can you give us some background information on your Atomic Mirrors project?
A: For some time I had this project in mind to photograph something placed in front of some type of fractured mirror, and when I finished a long-term black-and-white project involving war, protest, and conflict, the opportunity to do something in vivid color in my studio represented a welcome change. Originally I didn’t intend to photograph pool balls, but when my first idea proved unexciting, these fortuitously appeared in a basket at the checkout stand of the hardware store and I immediately knew this was the subject I wanted in front of these mirrors.
Q: The images in this portfolio are highly conceptual and yet, like all art, they elicit feelings and emotions in the viewer that go beyond the pure joy of form. Why do you think this is so, if you do, and can you say something about your own feelings and thoughts that went into creating these fascinating images?
A: There is a sense of emptiness in these images. Aloneness has been a constant source of inspiration for me and it’s a topic that shapes a lot of my work. Friends joke that I never have people in my images. Since I think of these elements as being atoms or particles in some atomic structure, the mirror fragments speak to me of an icy alone place. These could also be distant galaxies and deep space that surrounds them, a really cold empty place. At one time I wanted to be a chemist, and these structures very much remind me of the periodic table.
Q: What camera equipment did you use to shoot it?
A: A Leica S2, with either 120 mm Macro or 70 mm standard lens. I’ve also used the Leica M side-by-side and prefer the workflow of the S2.
Q: What are some of the characteristics of this equipment that you find especially useful in your work in general and for this project in particular?
A: The viewfinder would be the start. I used a Hasselblad for a long time so I grew into the habit of composing very precisely in my corners and edges. I try not to crop an image; rather I like to work to design it before I press the shutter release. Larger file size is another factor. The drama of large prints, especially in images of this type, adds to the effect. The first M I owned was my first rangefinder, and there are some things about a rangefinder that take getting used to and it can be frustrating, especially when shooting in tight quarters. The live view capability of the Leica M alleviates that of course, but old habits die hard. I also think I like the color rendition of the S-System slightly better, but that of course is an issue that can be addressed in post-production. Incidentally, most of these images are done with focus stacking, usually combining four or five images.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography?
A: I agitated developing tanks in my father’s darkroom (that was over 60 years ago!) and I have been in and out of photography all my life as time permitted. It’s been an intense involvement for the last 15+ years.
Q: What does photography mean to you?
A: It’s what makes my life richer and gives me a purpose.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography and are there any photographers who have inspired you?
A: I’m self-taught, but good friends and fellow artists influence me constantly. Doug Etheridge, Bob Cornelis and Ferit Kuyas are major influences. I particularly admire the work of Richard Misrach as an example of an artist in our community who has achieved the highest success.
Q: This image is a diptych, and each half of it has the same exact composition but with the yellow and orange balls in a reversed or obverse arrangement. It’s a very engaging pair of images that, to me, suggests playfulness and even irony. Do you agree, and can you tell us how you came up with this idea and what it means to you?
A: I have used diptychs repeatedly in other work to help tell a story, multiply the power of one image, and create, I hope, something stronger. As this series progresses, I hope to make more diptychs; we will see where I go with some ideas I have. I like your idea about playfulness, because I do treat all this as play. Reversing the fields in this case with a line going to infinity is at the base a simplistic idea, and I worried maybe too much, hence the irony.
Q: To me, it is amazing that such purely formal images can convey a human context and even make statements about society. For example the image on the right to me denotes compartmentalization and the other suggests a meeting or a football huddle. People generally do tend to anthropomorphize visual information and see human faces in random objects, but do you think there is any content, however subtle, in these images or do you see them as exercises in pure form?
A: They are certainly exercises in pure form and design, but as I said earlier, they are another discussion in my work over a long time about aloneness.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years and do you have any upcoming projects in the works, in either the journalism or fine art realms.
A: I have several ongoing projects besides this, all very different expressions. I do have another project that will fall into more the journalism arena, and it will involve portraiture of my mother’s lost family.
Q: Do you plan to explore any other genres such as portraiture, architectural photography, etc. going forward?
A: I love architectural forms and am working on a body of work around that, black-and-white printed on Japanese washi.
Q: What do you think you accomplished with the Atomic Mirrors project and do you plan to exhibit these images in galleries, online or collect them into a hard copy book?
A: Who knows if a gallery gets interested in this; that is such a crap shoot. In recent years I have told people I am not much interested in exhibitions because they end up costing me a lot of money to produce (I like big prints face mounted on a substrate … it’s that architectural thing again.) If they don’t sell, you have a lot of beautiful work and a storage problem. Prints in a drawer do no good, so something will get done eventually with this body of work; another object created from them that is art.
Thank you for your time, Jay!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Jay on his website.