Despite the fact Izzy Leach picked up the camera relatively late in her Communication Design degree, her sheer talent for capturing stories through a large format lens conclusively decided her fate on this year’s graduate roster of brilliance.
A recent graduate of The Glasgow School of Art’s multi-disciplinary degree, Izzy first entered the course four years ago with the intention of pursuing the graphic design pathway. But in the latter half of the degree, the photographer realised that ultimately, design wasn’t best suited to her.
Time and time again, Izzy found herself drawn back to storytelling “and photography gave me the freedom to explore that,” she says on her chosen medium. Conceptually-minded with a knack for drawing out both expression and narrative from the notoriously unpredictable equipment, Izzy’s final year saw her challenge the male archetypes within Shakespearean literature, as well as explore her home town of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.
Astutely self-reflective as a photographer, Izzy’s more than capable of taking a pretty picture. She constantly questions her position of power as the person behind the camera, challenging her unconscious biases and asking herself why she may be drawn to depicting some people in a particular light. Though her work comments on the human condition of today, she makes nuanced references to the moments in history that have informed or challenged her thinking. In short, Izzy reinterprets the cultural symbol’s of yesteryear for the present and in turn, her photography is heavily layered in both visuals and meaning.
It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study communication design and then specialise in photography at The Glasgow School of Art?
Izzy Leach: Of all the design courses at Glasgow School of Art, I chose communication design because it felt the most unrestricted in terms of medium. Once I finished school, I did a one-year portfolio course and was still fresh into developing my practice and wanted some extra time to find what I really enjoyed. I started to work with photography quite late in my degree, previously I’d been on a graphic design course before deciding it wasn’t really for me and took the leap of using a camera.
I realised that what I was really drawn to was storytelling and photography gave me the freedom to explore that. The technical stuff definitely came later, and even though my last project was shot on large format film, the technical part of my practise is still developing. It’s a constant dynamic of trial and error but it’s most rewarding when you feel out of depth and continue to go on learn while on the job.
INT: Can you tell us about your graduation project, Seven Ages?
IL: The Seven Ages project is a photographic series based upon the Seven Ages of Man monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
In the monologue, Shakespeare surmises that a man’s life can be split into seven archetypal ages: “the Infant”, “the Schoolboy”, “the Lover”, “the Soldier”, “the Justice”, “the Pantaloon” and “Old Age”. Seven Ages contemplates these archetypes and reframes them through large format photography within female contemporary life.
The images take their cue from Renaissance art and feature entirely female protagonists captured in their homes, shedding an alternative light on the traditionally male roles recorded throughout history. On a surface level, classical paintings can feel unrelatable and intangible for people today. And, on further research, I found these paintings have so many layers of symbolic meaning that can be applied to modern life. Whether it’s a young girl cuddling a unicorn toy or a woman paused in a moment of reflection while sitting in her kitchen.
Essentially, I was trying to reinvent traditionally male archetypes and make them relevant to my own experience of growing up in a rural part of Scotland as a woman.
"It felt right to return to where I grew up"Izzy Leach
INT: Your work has a strong focus on portraiture and identity, how has photography furthered your understanding of these issues?
IL: In Seven Ages, the subjects are connected to each other by their location, my home area of Dumfries and Galloway on the South-West coast of Scotland. As much as I would like to travel in the future and make work in new environments, with this project, it felt right to return to where I grew up to create the images. The people, and the place, shaped me through the first 18 years of my life and that insight into the heart of the area meant I could tell the story of each subject with as much richness as possible.
There was also a moment in the process where I had to re-evaluate my own motives for making a portrait. One of the poses I constructed for the model was initially based on the thousands of sexualised images made throughout history which sees women posing as temptresses and adorned with snakes. For instance Cleopatra and the asp, or even Eve’s first moment of shame.
In comparison to the previous shoots for the project, when I reviewed the images, they felt as if I was trying to seduce the viewer rather than expose the depth of character. Getting this wrong and changing her pose as a result, really made me question whether I was making the image for the superficial pleasure of others, or because it was best for the work.
Izzy Leach: Seven Ages
Izzy Leach: Seven Ages
"My interest in classical literature and art just grew naturally"Izzy Leach
INT: Your latest projects draw heavily from historical references in literature and art, how did this approach come about?
IL: Seven Ages came about through a brief which asked us to develop a concept for a series of nude photographs. At the time I had been listening to lectures about the psychological impact of the bible and the emergence of self-consciousness through the story of Adam and Eve. A large part of the research involved analysing historical paintings of the two figures created over the Medieval and Renaissance periods. And after completing the project, my interest in classical literature and art just grew naturally.
As the project developed, I started to think about the relationship between painting and photography. In the nature of Renaissance paintings, every detail is carefully considered, every look holds meaning and every placement of an object serves a symbolic function. Through painting, chance disturbances to the image are eliminated. However entering into peoples’ homes to take a photograph allows that elements of chance to come pouring back. The experience felt like I was weaving together documentary-style photography with my own pre-planned narrative.
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About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.