Stephen Rusk – MA Photography

Stephen Rusk is an award-winning photographer who recently graduated from the MA Photography course at London College of Communication.

Born in Victoria, Canada, we caught up with Stephen to find out why he chose to study at LCC, his experience of his time on the course, his Sproxton Award-winning project, and his favourite spots in London… 

Hi Stephen! Why did you choose to study MA Photography and why at LCC?

Wiebke Leister, the Course Leader for MA Photography at LCC, is interested in how faces work in photography, and the research-plus-practice approach of the course offers a solid theoretical underpinning for the work.

Stephen Rusk: ‘Through a Glance, Darkly’, 2016.

What piece of advice would you give to new students?

Contribute. Plain language says more than art speak. Have a great thirty-second talk about your work ready.

What is the most important thing you learned while studying on your course?

“Every theory has a practice, and every practice has a theory” – the idea that combining research and practice intertwine and propel each other.

Could you describe your style or what you try to achieve with your images?

I usually produce portraits or performance imagery, especially with dancers. They are interesting people, possessing unique skills of expression with bodies and faces. I work in photo or dance studios, spending a lot of time on lighting, using a style that mixes classic portrait lighting and stage lighting. There’s a lot of talk with the performers, reviewing footage, refining. I hope that the final pieces prompt thoughts about how well we know people, the need for intimacy, and the pitfalls of assumptions.

Stephen Rusk: ‘Through a Glance, Darkly’, 2016.

Name three things you couldn't be creative without:

An idea ready when waking, a camera, and collaborators.

Could you talk us through your Sproxton award-winning project – how did it develop and what was the idea behind it?

‘Through a Glance, Darkly’ features dancers turning, making fleeting eye contact with the camera, turning away, and returning. The dancers are given the instructions on how to compose themselves for a passport photo, then they perform a series of spot hold turns. It’s a three-screen video installation, though there are hundreds of still images from these sessions; those have their own future in a gallery and in a book.

There are two core ideas: under stress, the neutral face shows personality. But the nature of that personality is elusive. There is a lot of dubious research that tries to categorise expressions, which tries to set us back to photography’s darkest days. I hope that my images wave a big red flag in physiognomy’s face.

Stephen Rusk: ‘Through a Glance, Darkly’, 2016.

How did you find the LCC Postgraduate Show experience overall?

Humbling and exhilarating. Our work was shown in a beautiful 19th century warehouse near central London, within which LCC staff built a gallery. The first challenge was getting a sense of how to present the work in this space, and how to find cohesion in disparate styles. I was fortunate to exhibit alongside artists like Rosie Holtom and Gabriela Mazowiecka, who have their own perspectives on human issues like empathy, connection, and trust.

2,500 people came to the private view. Among them were friends, family, tutors, alumni, academics, judges, collectors, and fans. For the portrait practitioners, many of our subjects attended too; some visitors would see the live version of a person shown on the wall, and earnestly say “I’m sure I’ve seen her before!”. It was a useful challenge to put one’s speaking skills on the spot before some very serious art people.

And finally, where in London do you (or did you used to) go when you need a little inspiration?

Tate Modern was showing Georgia O’Keefe through much of my MA. I like how her work sometimes draws from photography, and its spectrum from realism to abstraction. She had great clarity about what her work meant – and what it didn’t mean.