Into the Mystic

Since stumbling on his very own peculiar breed of visual narrative, photographer Stuart Spence has left the glamour of the photographic studio behind, and plunged himself deep in the dark world of artists and mystics. Belinda Aucott has the story

26 Oct 2011

How do you capture a moment of ecstasy? Where do you draw the line between performance and faking it? These are questions artist and photographer Stuart Spence has spent a long time grappling with.

In his next solo photography show Into the Mystic, opening at Damien Minton Gallery Annex on 28 October 2011 Spence will present 17 portraits that seek to answer these questions.
His latest show consists of a dark series of photographs that capture Australian musicians ‘lost’ in moments of performance.
“I am from a commercial background and I started shooting my own artwork after a deep malaise, after a relationship break-up actually,” Spence explains of the inspiration behind his new body of work.
“These sort of strange, dark, blurry pictures –came out of nowhere – and were for me the antithesis of what I had been doing as a commercial photographer,” he says. “These, disjointed, lovely, dark narratives just started working their way out of me organically. But it was a very slow and very subtle process. Nothing was set up.
“The music shots were kind of an extension of that,” he continues, “But there is nothing subtle about raw emotion right in front of you.”
Spence who spent some of his formative year shooting magazine covers and celebrities for a living says he was keen to try and capture artists in raw moments of passion, when their guard was lowered
“Whereas in the past I’d spend hours, and days sometimes in the studio, or out on the street, waiting for some moment of serendipity to happen –on stage its happening every couple of seconds,” he says.
Now Spence who describes himself as ‘unstoppable’ – is pushing his photographic work to new limits. In 2012 he is taking up an Emerging Artists Grant from the Australia Council to develop character-based monologues from quizzing people on their interpretations of his photographs.
In late 2012 Spence will travel to 4 countries across Europe and to London to gather reflections on his photographs from people of all walks of life. He will then write  and fictitious monologues and perform each character as part of multimedia stage show.
“I will study at RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London) for two weeks doing a monologue masterclass and then I am going to five cities including Berlin, Budapest, Rome, and Belfast,” Spence says.
But even with help from vox popping passers by, I was keen to know if the leap from photography to stage was frightening to the artist. His answer is clearly ‘no’.
“I have performance in my background. I have acted in a few movies, done TV presenting for a few years and I also had a small role in the Australian film Two Hands opposite the late Heath Ledger,” says Spence somewhat sheepishly.
“For this work I was sort of influenced by writer and actor Mark Ravehill, author Miranda July and also the performance artist William Yang. Yang in so much as that I love the idea of being able to put a couple of projectors and a couple of a screens in your bag and being able to travel the world. But that’s as far as the comparison goes because he is very much about personal exposition and I am working very much in the realm of fiction.
Into the Mystic opens on Friday 28 October at 6pm.