Meet the photographer: Jonty Sale

Jonty Sale's photography is best understood via its process. Each image takes meticulous, often seemingly tedious efforts. The literal footwork involved alone is enough to shed some light on his connection with what he calls 'picture-making'. Multiple exposures and constant re-shoots help Sale's work lend dialogue to British landscapes. Each print in his poetic style is a study in space as an idea rather than any specific point - a stanza-by-stanza riff on shifting landscapes.

 

We sat down with the Dorset-based photographer and asked him a thing or two about his life, work and how one affects the other.

Abstract photographer Jonty Sale at home in Somerset
Lumitrix photographer Jonty Sale, at home in Somerset

When did your photographic career begin and at what stage in your life? 

There were fits and starts, toying with my father’s camera whilst a teenager, and all to  no avail.  Then, around the age of 30, living in London, amidst stints of bar work and TV  production, I began making pictures in earnest.   My first job was flower photos, promotional  material for a florist.  Thereafter I concentrated on portraiture, and I covered a few weddings,  but the most pleasure I got was always from personal output.

Do please tell us about the wall effect that is central throughout the communal  living area ...  Did you specifically give height to this central space for a desired aesthetic feeling?

In truth, the lay of the land dictated the height of the house, descending as it does across the plot from front to back.  Still, we made the most of it, preserving the potential for open spaces. The effect of the gain in volume and the north/northeast light is fantastic throughout the year, and sets the space apart.

Does your own home reflect your artistic style? 

Perhaps, but not in a way I am particularly conscious of, and, being a family home,  it is more an amalgam of the styles of the 3 of us who live here.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your interiors? Was it driven solely by you or was a team member within your family? Who do you share this wonderful home with?

Home is shared 3-ways: Girlfriend Julia, me, and our daughter Martha. The inspiration comes from so wide a source, over such an extended period of time: from a narrow corridor in a chateau in Finistere, the curved wall of the lavatories at a museum cafe in London, to the kitchen furniture of north-west Maine, underwritten by common sense. Julia and I had been making notes for a home for years, never knowing whether or not we’d be able to apply them; the opportunity to build from scratch meant that we could put a lot of it into practice. All decisions are made jointly.

Tell us about your furniture choices? Vintage finds, flea markets, high-end design? Do tell us more about your central dining room table, the green leather chair, and your day bed which all look equally inviting.

Our furniture is an assortment: some pieces are Julia's, dating from before we met,  there’s stuff we brought years ago when we lived in France for a spell, a few hand-me-downs. The dining table is the absolute luxury that required saving-up for. It’s a  Saarinen tulip table with black marble top, and it works so well to have a large round piece of furniture in a space which is otherwise so linear. The green leather chair, a little worse for wear, was Julia's parents’, from heals I think. the day bed is a French brocante find,  consequently lugged around for 14 years and stripped and restored by Julia.

How would you describe your signature style and does it transcend over both interiors and your photographic style?

Although my pictures are monochrome and the key tones in the main part of the house are not quite whites and near blacks, neither is a result of the other: life is not imitating art, or vice versa.

Can you tell us about the body of your works that we see on your walls throughout your home? Where are they photographed and what is your technique behind them? 

All of the images were made at locations not so far from home: Nadder  Valley, Cranborne Chase, mostly within walking distance. I like best to work by traipsing out and about with camera, tripod, film on my shoulder, often in spots familiar to me through regular visits. The technique starts with spending time, toing and froing a place, mentally mapping the picture I want to make, then making as many exposures (as few as 2, as many as 74) as is required, from differing vantage points, onto the same negative. Like all picture-making, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Jonty Sale photographic studio
Behind the scenes in Jonty's studio

 Is your darkroom at home, or very much like an office commute?

My darkroom is currently a rural commute away, 4.5 miles by road: a small, cold, damp, windowless room in the local brewery which I have rented for the past 12 years. Once the heaters and the music are on, and the processing is underway, it is utterly my space where I can do as I wish. However, we are building a standalone workshop/darkroom at the foot of the garden. So, by summer, the commute will be done with. I can’t wait.

Jonty Sale studio
Jonty Sale's photographic studio
Jonty Sale's photographic studio

Is your house built to home your artwork, or your artwork made to work within your home? Maybe they are both incidental?

The house wasn’t built to home the artwork, it happens to be able to do so - we have large wall spaces that can accommodate large pictures. The largest picture was made for a specific exhibition space. That it fits so well here is incidental, not to say convenient since it is a pain to store!

What is more important to you: the outdoors or the indoors? Content within your home such as books lying around, your artwork, the strong presence of woodwork would suggest, if you could, maybe you would love your indoors life to be outdoors? 

Interesting - thinking about it, I like to imagine the boundary as permeable. We live amongst the outdoors (woodland on 2 sides, pasture on 2 sides), so, aside from kicking off your boots when you come in, it is not clear where exterior and interior begin and end. When photographing, I work both out of doors in the landscape, and indoors on still life and floral works, which involves bringing the outdoors indoors. It seems inevitable that I develop a relationship with the environment I live in, using it as raw material, subject and object.

What is the meaning behind the white paint font on your windows? Ponderings or is someone learning Latin? 

The windows have been re-purposed as wax tablets - in this instance expanding Martha’s vocabulary during GCSE year.

Jonty Sale, abstract art, abstract photography
Jonty Sale at home surrounded by some his photographic works

As we look at this picture of you in your home with these two Lumitrix prints cleverly created by you- can you please tell our audience where you photographed these prints and any tips from the darkroom on their processing?  

The landscape I made at a reservoir in Derbyshire one new year whilst out walking with a friend, who was suffering with mental illness. The central highlight of the receding stream and the parted trees on either side hold the composition together. If I recall accurately, the picture is made up of 16 exposures, me hopping from one side if the stream to the other. This is one of those images that contains its own solutions as to how it should be printed, carrying sufficient tonal variety to make it strange and beguiling. Looking at it now I still find it very suggestive. I called it REVOIR, because of the location and the sense that it was a farewell to a part of my friend.

 

The poppy composition I made here at home, shooting straight down onto the concrete floor, in ambient light. I am an avid presser of flowers, which I then combine, choreographing, to photograph.  The trickiest aspect is getting the lighting even - shooting in large format (4” x 5” negatives) means that more detail and nuance is captured than I am aware of when working on the composition. To finish the prints I make in the darkroom - to increase their archival qualities and to extend the tonal range, maximizing the depth of shadows - I put them through a solution of selenium toner.  This final process also adds a slight shift in shadow color, towards purple. I was most pleased when I first viewed the Lumitrix prints that this tone had been replicated so well.

I can’t work without my…..  propensity to daydream. Reverie is vital.

If I wasn’t a photographer, I would be…  more ignorant of the world. Perhaps a writer. This is what my younger self would say: if I wasn’t a photographer, I would be a poet - it’s where my photographic impulse sprang from.

For more information about Jonty Sale or to view his prints, please click here.

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