An Interview With: Dulcie Wagstaff

Who are you and where did you study?

I’m Dulcie Wagstaff, and I have just completed my BA in Photography at the university of Brighton.

What is your artist statement for the body of work “Familiar Gardens“?

Gardening is so much more than growing plants. It is the anticipation of summer. It is family. It is giving, sharing and learning. It is a place to think. It is a place to work things out, to understand the things that are affecting us. Just like photography, it is a process that heals.

For me, as the youngest in a family with a history of depression, the garden is a sanctuary that I have only recognised within the past two years. Knowledge has been passed from my Granddad, to my mother, and then to me – and it is likely that depression has been passed down along the same lineage. 

However, this is not a project about depression. This is a project about the joy of gardening, and how it has brought me and my family together, allowing us to flourish.  

As well as being a personal exploration, this project also aims to examine more broadly the relationships between gardening, mental health and family relationships in an attempt to uncover why we garden, and how it helps us.

Your project is so diverse in style, what were your main influences?

I am most influenced by female photographers, such as Rinko Kawauchi, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Francesca Woodman. They each have an ability to capture sensitivity and vulnerability in often mundane, domestic settings. They also play within the limbo between performance and reality - never so strange that it is unbelievable, but unusual enough to make the viewer begin to ask questions. Perhaps more importantly, I am influenced by the people and environments that surround me in my daily life - and they are often very diverse. It is my emotional understanding of people and spaces that are at the heart of any of my work.

The colour palette for this project is very vibrant, what is the reason for this?

I’m really pleased that you have picked up on that. I hadn’t actually noticed this until very late on in the project, however I have always been fascinated by our emotional receptiveness to colour. I very strongly believe that the colours we clothe and surround ourselves in can impact our mood and personality, and for that reason I very rarely wear black or grey - today I am wearing blue and yellow! As this work is loosely based on my families history of depression, with gardening as the ‘cure’, I think this series has revealed that colour is also a part of that cure. 

What problems did you face whilst shooting this project?

As this project was part of my degree, there was a clash between seasons and deadlines. My major project was restricted between February and May, however gardens don’t really start to thrive until June! It was a challenge to find beautiful and vibrant scenes in a leafless garden on a rainy February morning. However this is what inspired me to move indoors and document my interior space, which I think is now a very important part of the work. 

Where do you see your work going next?

Now that the summer is under way, I definitely want to carry on taking photographs for this body of work. Summer is the season that gardeners all wait with baited breath for - it’s when the flowers spring up, big glossy tomatoes hang off of their vines and peas can be plucked from their plants and eaten straight from the pod - therefore I feel it is crucial that I capture this time. When the autumn comes round, and I expect I will feel this project coming to a more conclusive end, I would really like to publish a book of the work. 

In a talk of his, Alec Soth said that the exhibition of a project is like the ‘live show’ with fireworks and crowds and excitement, whereas a photobook is like the perfectly formed ‘studio album’ that people can experience intimately and fall in love with - I want to see my work in that form, one day.

All images copyright of Dulcie Wagstaff


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