An Interview With: Thérèse Rafter

Who are you and where did you study?

My name is Thérèse Rafter and I recently graduated from an honours degree in Photography at the DIT School of Creative Arts in Dublin. 

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

In this series of photographs, made with the cooperation of enthusiasts in the esoteric world of poultry breeding, the premium value given to the appearance of chickens bred for display contrasts with the invisibility of the ubiquitous bird supplied by the food industry. The pure bred bird in itself appeals to the appetite of the eye, whereas the on average 6 billion food industry fowl raised annually in Europe are seen at the end of a process that reshapes and rewraps them as a product. While one is an object of marvel and intense attention to biological diversity, its industrial cousin barely enters our collective consciousness. These show birds are objects of love over commerce, their handlers coaxing their best performance.

How did this project come about for you? 

The work is a progression from my previous project 'For Your Convenience', a series of still life images where I investigated the role the animal plays in the production of factory farmed meat. The subject matter was displayed in a manner, which enticed the viewer, hinting at the inner workings of commercial photography and the reality of the guised meat industry. By producing this work I began to understand the language of advertising and the way in which the viewer is drawn to and responds to apparent physical beauty. 'Corral' carries on from this type of investigation as it highlights the commodification of the fowl in contemporary society.

What genre do you consider this work to be?

I don't see my photographs situated within a single genre. My work is conceptual, when creating it I aim to challenge the viewer; ultimately I am trying to provoke a reaction and discourse on specific consumerist areas of society.

What were the main influences for your style?

There are various sources, both visual and textual, which have a continual impact on my work. But in many ways, things changed for me in 2014 when I travelled to France to study in Université Paris 8. It was an experience, which immensely affected my approach to photography.  I was immersed in a totally new environment.  College assignments enabled me to experience the diverse culture within and on the outskirts of the city.  I also lived alone and had intermittent access to the Internet. I found myself in a kind of enlightening isolation. 

How has your work developed from the beginning of the project?

I am always amazed by how constructed light can transform subject matter. While the show birds are beautiful in any light, once placed in the environment of the studio their form took on an aesthetic, which I had not previously anticipated. It was an amazing transformation. 

What was the best thing you learnt through this project?

By producing Corral I was granted access to document a fascinating subculture I had previously known little about. I've realised how powerful the medium of photography is as a form of investigation.  My next project will take me to a related yet juxtaposed subculture. 

What is the best piece of advice you could give a student of photography?

Don't limit yourself. Each of us has the innate ability to create. As Carl Sagan said "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere." 


All images copyright of Thérèse Rafter.


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