Howorth was born in Peru to British and Peruvian parents, before moving to England at age 15. His work looks to express and convey his own version of reality whilst acting as a vehicle to explore his own feelings and national identity. Howorth is currently based in Brighton, England.
My name is Ian Howorth and I’m a photographer living on the south coast of the UK. My work spans a whole host of areas but particularly landscape and portraiture.
By landscape I guess I mean urban landscapes - I’m not much of a nature guy - ha-ha, at least not in photography. I think it’s just wanting the observer to feel as close to ’there' as possible, I don’t want there to be a separation between place and gaze, I want it to feel as close to being there - a sense of abnormality in a familiar scene. Something that makes you wonder why? or how? Finding these gets harder and harder as society “progresses” and its future reveals itself. I’m not the kind of photographer who does things purely for me, I want my images to be relatable.
My portraiture, on the other hand, is just an exercise in lighting and trying to convey emotion from single images - I don’t necessarily think these images coexist with my other work necessary, at least not in the way that I do it. I think in portraiture, the environment you put people in is 100% every bit as important as the person you’re photographing. I’m not really interested in portraiture where it's literally just the person - it doesn’t say much to me - I need the environments to paint a picture for me. Plus, I find this a bigger and far more interesting challenge. Alec Soth is a wonderful example of this, his portraiture is wonderful in how he places subjects and allows their environment to help tell the story. I used to get people inform me of vintage car shows thinking I’d be interested, and I never was of course. For me, any images with cars are very much in situ, otherwise, it’s just a car. It’s where the car is and why that helps tell a better story.
This leads quite nicely into the notion of the vintage and it’s role within storytelling. I think amidst all the vintage tropes and old things - besides their aesthetic value - there is something to be said about the importance of their existence - it’s the fact that these things are still around, choices are being made by people to keep them, not throw them away. Many times, it’s a definite choice, be it artistic or otherwise, other times, it’s through necessity and economics. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting - it immediately makes you wonder. It’s a bit like normality meets abnormality, it’s something abnormal in a normal world.
I began my photographic journey this way, just documenting things near me, then as I got more interested in the medium, a bit further afield. The things that interest me tend to be in places off the beaten track - I’m not too interested if things are easy to attain - not sure why, it could be some subconscious pretentiousness of not wanting to see what everyone else sees, or maybe it could be my need to explore and see things that are difficult to find.
Whilst film is what I’ve become accustomed to, I think it also acts as the perfect vehicle to capture my version of the world as I’m seeing it - I never shot digitally as a photographer for long enough or seriously enough to say that I rejected it, shooting on film was very much where things began for me - but in many ways, it’s what I was destined to use - in the sense that it found me and I decided this is what I liked. I do find that it has its constraints, but I also like what it teaches me and the things it represents and what it reinforces in me as a person. I’m normally impatient, yet it teaches me patience. I am compulsive, yet it teaches me restraint.
A lot of my work draws on colour. However, I love black and white oddly, but tend not to use it much as I feel I’d be doing it a disservice – it’s far more than just desaturation - there is a mastery to be gained in understanding texture, contrast and tonality and I feel like I’m not there yet. Colour is where I’m most comfortable and I especially like strong colour and light interplay - even more so if the interplay is not intentional - I have an image I shot a couple of years ago called “Marine Point” which is the name of a residential building - the lettering for which, was stuck on the glass of the building in translucent yellow letters which when the sun shone, reflected the lettering complete with yellow cast on the inside wall - I always wondered whether the designer intended for that to happen. I think there is something innate about the light that draws you in - it’s fascinating - and understanding it and its qualities is probably not complete even after a lifetime studying it.
As a kid I think I had a somewhat confused sense of identity due to an internationalist up bring, having lived in three countries by the time I was fifteen. I think that photography provided an opportunity to explore and resolve this. I think for me at least, it’s been a mixture of exploring to try to understand the world around me from the ground up - I’m a visual person, so rather than my understanding of things having to originate from the text, it originates from things that are tactile and that I see and from there I think my questions arise. I’m still not sure why I choose to photograph these things - it’s probably the one thing I can’t put my finger on exactly - I think it's ok to say I just enjoy it and I like photographs and everything they convey - both the innate things like light and colour but also what they can say.
There has to be a balance between the concept and elements of the work. A mixture and it very much depends on the work, but it goes without saying that your personal tastes will have their say. I think moving on from previous work, I have to separate myself from that and separate myself from trying to make pretty images. That’s not to say, I won’t, but it has to be something that trails and not leads. My Instagram is a depository for my compulsion to shoot constantly - not necessarily a place for more serious project work - those images will only see the light of day when a project is ready as a whole.
That said, I think there’s still an artistic process involved. I think art is anything that is made or appropriated by the artist to convey an idea, feeling or emotion - ever since seeing Shibboleth by Doris Salcedo at the Tate - I realised that art isn’t something you hang, it isn’t something technical to marvel at - it’s a thought, and from it, a seed grows.
Recently, I’ve really enjoyed the most recent challenge of becoming re-acquainted with my hometown under these strange circumstances - shooting lots and walking a lot. It’s always difficult to see something with different eyes when you’re still seeing through your own.
In terms of going forward, there’s a couple of projects, one which I was actively shooting for prior to the lockdown, which I hope I will resume once we have more freedom of movement. The other is much more difficult and carries complications but hopefully, they will be ironed out before I start it in the next year to 18 months.