An Interview with: Harry Flook
Beyond What Is Written "began as an exploration of my own experience leaving religion, and has culminated in a chaptered body of work that addresses the subject from differing perspectives" says Harry Flook, fresh out of the University of the West of England.
Whereas his prior work explores abstract ideas surrounding materiality and "our ever-more-blurred boundary between reality and imagination", here Flook spent a month meeting and photographing various non-religious communities in Tennessee - the 'heart of the Bible Belt' - exploring the regaining of community after faith, and the ever-changing religious landscape in America.
Questions by Thomas Duffield & Michael Savage.
“Do Not Go Beyond What Is Written”, proclaims a billboard from the Church of Christ. Can you explain the significance of this statement, both in relation to religion and your documentation?
Tennessee is littered with these kind of proclamations. There’s no getting away from it. In relation to religion, I feel the statement is a distillation of all that I take issue with in the church. The control they exert over members, or maybe more accurately the control the ideas exert over those who hold them. ‘Have faith in the rules, don’t questions the texts.’
I suppose the significance in relation to my project is I focus on those who have turned their back on their religion, actively leaving doctrine behind. Their identity is based in built on getting past what they used to believe, which is why the project is titled Beyond What is Written.
How do you think your work might be interpreted in ten or twenty years time? Might you document the transition in the religious landscape over that period of time?
That's an interesting question. I suppose the way the work is interpreted will depend on how the religious landscape in the South changes in the intervening years. The face of it is definitely changing; technology and greater access to information allows for that.
The assumption is that people will find their way to rationality or at least become more tolerant of other ideas, but it’s hard to say what the situation will be in the South and there have been plenty of counterexamples to that trend. Religion there could just as easily become more divisive. I suppose we’ll wait and see.
It would definitely be interesting to go back and shoot again in 10/20 years though, thanks for the idea.
Tell us the biggest lesson you learned from studying at the University of the West of England.
My whole outlook on photography, and the way it can be used to communicate ideas, changed. To pinpoint just one thing, it would be the push to look inside for ideas, to explore my own experience as a starting point for making work. That’s how I came to explore my experience of leaving religion, and where my whole interest in religion's place in modernity began.
Your work has already been recognised as part of the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain Awards – what are your biggest aspirations going forward?
I'm still wrestling with how to finish up and present my project Apostate to better explore my personal experience. I’m hoping once that’s done to collaborate with a few other photographers/writers (though it’s very early days) on a photobook exploring that religion in contemporary society.
I’ve also been building Loupe Magazine’s online content which has been a lot of fun, so I’ll keep that up, it’s a privilege to publish other people's work.
Your approach is considered and mature, I believe that this is especially important when dealing with subject matters that could be potentially troublesome in regard to being biased or overly critical. How did you achieve this considered balance in the conception and execution of the project ?
It’s definitely tricky to raise any issues with religion without being bracketed as a bigot, but I think my background as someone who was religious sort of negates that accusation, and hopefully allows me a balanced insight.
Going to Tennessee was really about exploring what the church does well, community, and finding the people who have exported that into a secular environment. I see the positives with religion as well as its issues, which I hope makes for a fair exploration of the subject.
I just hope that people approach the project with an equally open mind and consider how difficult it can be to leave your faith, and how much bravery it takes in a place opposed to the non-religious.
Looking back on your project, what have you managed to resolve? Are there any stones left unturned?
I really came to terms with that whole experience of leaving my faith through conversations with others, and found a lot about myself that I could trace back to my religious past. My view of religion has become much more nuanced, which is positive. There are always areas left unexplored though, I’m sure I could say more about the situation in Tennessee and its' neighbouring states. There’s definitely space for more work.
Let us know where we can keep up with your work.
Probably best to head over to my website: www.harryflook.com, but I’m trying to become a more active Instagrammer so you can follow me there @harryflook. I also curate the online content over at Loupe as I mentioned, and write the odd article for the printed mag, so check them out too.