Callum Su’s enigmatic photography grapples with the unfamiliar
The London-based photographer tells us why he sees his work as “a poetic observation of ambiguous narratives.”
- Olivia Hingley
- 7 January 2022
Being able to “explore [his] own imagination and interests when growing up,” photographer Callum Su sees his creative flair as being rooted in his childhood experiences. Born in Manchester, his artistic nature was encouraged by his family from a young age, and having “very creative” sisters, he was motivated to attend numerous classes and workshops, from painting and printmaking to sculpting.
Prior to his final years of high school, however, Callum had never really interacted with photography as a medium. It wasn’t until he happened across a photobook in his school library that his interest was sparked. Being instantly intrigued, Callum decided to choose it as one of his subjects at sixth form and as soon as he learnt the fundamentals, he “never really stopped making images.” Since then, Callum has moved to Nottingham, where he earned a photography degree, taught darkroom printing in New York and had his work exhibited in various cities in the UK. He now resides in London where he collaborates with creatives in the fashion and commercial photography industry and makes personal work where he can.
A distinguishing feature of Callum’s work is his preference for black and white film. In a time where boldly coloured photography is having a strong revival, Callum’s restrained use of colour stands out. Suiting the tone of his work, with its nods to mid-20th Century American imagery and isolated subjects, it is hard to imagine his work any other way. But whilst his colour scheme is such a central feature of Callum’s style, he happened upon it somewhat accidentally. “My tutors at university gave away a lot of free black and white film and Ilford paper. The black and white darkroom was so accessible in school, I could access it all day and at any time.” It was because of these factors – which offered accessibility rarely seen in creative institutions – that he shot all of his university projects in black and white. With it now being the most “organic” way for him to create, Callum has set up a black and white darkroom in his flat. And, even when he shoots in colour he ends up sharing his favourite works in his favoured monochrome colour scheme.
Often favouring deserted landscapes, Callum tells us that his compositions are “inspired by the feeling of unfamiliarity, being so far away from where I belong, away from my family and home.” This eerie feeling of unfamiliarity is displayed brilliantly in Callum’s series of photos taken in the small New York town of Hancock. Vast grassy landscapes, large plasterboard houses and empty porches all feature in the series, doused in mystery by Callum’s distinctive style. If you were going off the photos alone – with their lack of people and little other signs of life – you could easily think the scenes to be from a long-abandoned ghost town. Callum summarises such use of landscapes as “…a way to document my voyage outwards into a new experience and inwards into a new consciousness.”
It was only a year ago that Callum decided to incorporate portrait photography into his work, and it happened, quite ironically, when he was hiking through deserted grasslands. Coming across an abandoned, weather-beaten birthday card, Callum was struck by the contradiction of the “happiness” he associates with receiving birthday cards, and the melancholy tone of the message written inside it. It was from this moment on, he tells It’s Nice That, that he began the “natural progression to include portraits.” He did so “not only to complicate the stories behind the unfamiliar places that I photograph, but also to suggest a narrative behind my work, even if it’s subtle.” Whilst still shot in his distinctive aesthetic, Callum’s portraits favour simpler backgrounds than his landscape pieces. His pensive subjects are placed against plain surfaces, artfully drawing attention to their faces, stances and the shadows their figures create. When placed alongside Callum’s landscapes they give the impression of ambiguous, wordless documentary; people somehow connected to these areas, but visually detached from their surroundings.
Stating that he feels his creative practice has evolved of late, Callum has high hopes for the future. Actively seeking out collaboration with “more creatives in the field who share similar ideas and to share my unique vision in the creative industry,” Callum clearly has exciting things on the horizon.
GalleryCallum Su (Copyright © Callum Su, 2021)
Callum Su (Copyright © Callum Su, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.