While some photographers use random objects to create other worlds, the photographer Jill Flower, at least since lockdown, largely uses her local surroundings – the Reigate and Banstead area – as a subject. On paper, this sounds rather underwhelming, at least to a lifelong resident; as if I need to see views I’ve seen in real life hundreds of times reflected back at me in photographic form. But Flower’s photographs are always more than their subjects; she makes them into works of art. A queue to M&S is made to look like a heavenly procession; the skies above a field are monochromed into appearing Biblically furious; even a bog-standard drain cover looks delicately beautiful.
The use of the area, when combined with the skills of a trained photographer, reap many rewards. Flower is modest about her connection to the area, saying only that it’s “a great base for visiting London and Brighton” and that it’s where Reigate’s Photographic Society, as well as a lot of her collaborators, are based. “I have been a member of Reigate Photographic Society for over 40 years, so photography and photographic processes have always been a key part of my artistic output,” she says. Yet it has clearly provided a jumping-off point for many of her best photographs.
As well as providing material for her work, Reigate is a base from which Flower can interact with a lot of her collaborators. Collaboration provides “ideas and fun essentially,” provoking Flower “to do things that I would not necessarily bother with on my own.” Her artistic interest is “mainly in the process” (she stated elsewhere in our interview that she didn’t consider having a “greatest achievement” as such, the end result being less important than this creative process) and collaboration makes this more interesting. Giving me an example of this, she tells me about a project she did at university. “I got a number of students and technicians to help me create a 33 foot long Cyanotype which we exposed on the beach and then processed in the sea,” she tells me. “This was great fun and only planned in a technical sense; the design was made intuitively by all of us at the time of exposure.’ This later appeared in Amateur Photographer magazine.
Of course, for someone who relies so much on collaboration, the social distancing aspect of lockdown has been tough. Recently she has been “planning to get back into running art courses and volunteering with various groups from this Easter” but was sadly prevented by world events. Her volunteering at Gatton Park and Youth work at YMCA,” also exposes her to “a great range of diverse influences and people to do things with,” and this, too, proves difficult at a time when preventing the spread is the focus on everyone’s minds.
But she’s adapted; like many of us, the daily government allowance of one walk (which has since been expanded) has been a lifeline for her. “I am walking alone and always take a camera so if anything I have been taking more pictures than ever,” she says. “The subjects are in danger of getting a bit repetitive, so I have been editing them and turning some into cyanotypes.” Nevertheless, the artistic process has made this worthwhile; the aforementioned photos from around the area are a product of these walks, turned into individual works of art by Flower’s commitment to process.
The future remains a mystery; when I ask about it, Flower instead tells me about her current project. “A member of the photo club found some piano keys abandoned by the side of the road in Betchworth and passed them to me as a photo challenge,” she says, referring to a group of diverse yet linked photographs that she’s already started posting on Instagram. “I am currently working on a series of walks with a piano and setting them up in various different places to take pictures.” Of what’s after that, she simply says “who knows?” This is clearly someone who has learnt to live in the moment.