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Posted Jun 23rd, 2015 (10:00 am) by Theresa Flanagan
Holly Austria Spoon: Stephen Wilkinson
Image by Stephen Wilkinson

We're big fans of Stephen Wilkinson's work recording as Bibio here at Inyourspeakers, so we're thrilled to have him share some of his visual art for our latest installment of Visuals. He'll be telling us about six photographs that span from 2000 to 2013, including some that were used as record sleeve artwork.

First, we asked him to tell us a little about himself.

"I'm Stephen Wilkinson, aka Bibio. I'm signed to Warp Records. I live in Staffordshire, England. I have released 6 albums and a bunch of EPs spanning 10 years. I often create and photograph my own album artwork and direct/co-direct my music videos. I'm a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. I sing and play guitar, bass, keyboards and more recently alto sax and drums. I'm a sucker for analogue gear, old and new and although I am often known for having a 'vintage' sound, I also produce a lot of variety in music styles, both electronic and with real instruments and often a mixture of the two. I'm also a camera/photography/film/video lover and don't go day without taking photos or making videos."

What got you into photography, and music photography specifically?

"I just have an addiction to recording things, whether it's music, sounds or everyday images - I'm waiting for someone to release a scent recorder/playback device, as especially recently I've really got into fragrances. I mostly photograph and video nature and everyday things like raxeira and flickering shadows. I see videos as being like little visual haikus - capturing the beauty of ordinary everyday moments and bringing attention to them. I like to share these little moments to help remind people of the infinite beauty around us, and likewise I like to see what other people notice to help me remember.

Photography has helped me notice how the world appears with a deeper and more subtle appreciation. I often think that nobody notices subtle colour and light variations more than a painter, as a painter studies those things with a heightened and detailed awareness and intent. Photography can also do that, but more quickly and perhaps more easily. Going for walks with a camera around my neck makes me look at things in frames, focussing my attention on small details and then of course using the camera as a tool to capture those moments in a poetic way, exploiting how a camera doesn't see like an eye, so I like playing with depth of field quite a bit.

The same goes with field recording - going out with a microphone and a recorder can help you really focus your attention on everyday sounds and how interesting and rich they can be. For most people, eyesight is a primary sense and dominates our attention, but there is something very meditative and mind opening about deliberately listening to sounds, no matter what they are - wind, rain, traffic, people, animals, machines and technology etc. Going out to record sounds is like an excuse to exercise that meditative process, to notice the environment in a different and perhaps more mindful way. Of course we hear things all the time, but rarely do we listen like we listen to music - with intent. Sound recording isn't anywhere as popular as photography, in this day and age of Instagram and other social media, everyone is a photographer, but the sound recordist is seen more of a weirdo or nerd, someone who stands outside in the wind and rain with a microphone… I guess people don't see the merit in that as much, but deep down people connect with those sounds, I think we are hardwired to connect with them as we 'grew up' as a species listening to them, but not only that, people enjoy sounds of all types, like dropping chopped onions into hot oil, whacking a golf ball in just the right spot, breaking the foil on a jar of something etc. yet would people consider those things worth recording? Some people do, maybe they (we) are nerds :)

Most of my sound recordings, however, are of wind and rain, I listen to them every night in bed on headphones (seriously). I much prefer to listen to wind or rain than music when I go to bed, maybe it's because I listen to and make music all day. I don't really see myself as a music photographer, it's just that I'm a musician and I like to do as much by myself as possible, because my projects are very personal and I'm very much an advocate of the saying "too many cooks spoil the broth". But I'm no illustrator and I'm not really a graphics wizard either. As a visual artist, I'm predominantly a camera person with some 'good enough' Photoshop and Final Cut skills to make my ideas a reality. Digital photography has opened my mind to the possibilities of image creation, because the computer is an extension of the process, although I like to also think about what can be done physically at the source - with light and materials."


Ice Dream Van

"I call this photo 'Ice Dream Van'. I took this around 2000 on a beach car park in Ynyslas, Wales. The car park is basically a large flat sandy area at the mouth of the Dyfi estuary. Sand dunes and marram grass divide the car park from the beach. During more busy periods, there is usually a lone ice cream van parked in the middle of the parking area. This photograph was taken by pointing the camera directly down towards to the floor, with some part of a dark coloured car in the shot. The bright sunlight and clear skies made the car body mirror-like, and reflected this distorted image of the ice cream van and the surrounding people, cars and dunes. The fact that it was shot on film enhances the dreamy quality I think as it has this soft quality to it. I've always loved this shot, it is featured inside the CD artwork of my debut album Fi, released in 2005."


Excuses

"This was the cover to a 10" single called "Excuses", released in 2011. It is taken from my album Mind Bokeh. The album title dictated the imagery for both the album and single artwork. My approach to photography somewhat mirrors my approach to music production in that I tend to rely on analogue or physical processes to achieve and shape things. I enjoy these types of processes more, over heavy software manipulation or computer work, and my brain just works better that way. This image is made of one single shot. Bokeh is a word often used to describe the out of focus portion of a photograph, particularly the creamy blurry backgrounds taken with large aperture lenses. For this shot, a friend of mine made me a 'bokeh' mask on a laser machine. The mask is a silhouette of my profile, it was made by cutting a small silhouette shaped hole into a disc of plastic. The mask was placed over the lens and I arranged some christmas tree fairy lights on the floor, selected a lens that can produce very creamy bokeh, then defocussed the lens and took a shot of the fairy lights. The defocussed lights would normally appear as overlapping circles of light, but with the bokeh mask, they are cropped into the aperture shape of the mask - in this case, my profile."


Mind Bokeh

"This is the cover to my album Mind Bokeh. The aim with this artwork was to create an image that directly translated the title into an image. I tried out some other ideas of a "head full of bokeh", but then after discussing ideas with my girlfriend, I eventually came up with this. Again, this image is one single shot, taken on a Canon 5D mk2 DSLR (same camera for "'Excuses"). My girlfriend studied jewellery and has made a lot of jewellery over the years out of plastic, specifically Perspex. It is all cut out by hand with a fine bladed saw. She has become very skilled at this and in some cases can produce a better result than that done with a laser. For this image, she cut out the same silhouette profile of my head out of a plastic mirror. The mirror was hung on our living room wall by a chain. On the opposite wall, about 5 metres away, I hung a large sheet of black wool. On this sheet of wool I pinned, with dressmaking pins, 2 sets of christmas tree fairy lights to get a good even and fairly dense cluster of multicoloured lights. I then put the camera on a tripod, aimed it at the mirror and angled it so the fairy lights on the opposite wall were reflecting in the mirror. Selecting the appropriate lens and using an appropriate aperture setting meant that the mirror would be sharply focussed but the lights reflecting in it would be defocussed. It actually worked out better and bolder than expected and many people probably assumed it was done in photoshop, where in fact no Photoshop trickery was needed."


Drops on a dandelion no. 2

"The vast majority of my photographs are nature based. I like going for country walks and capturing what's around me. I take a camera with me on virtually every walk. If it's not a camera, it's a microphone and recorder, or in some cases both. I believe it's how I've heightened my awareness of light and shadow and contrast etc. and how I've learned to use cameras. However, when it comes to producing images for music artwork, I tend to find I stage the imagery more by interacting with materials. I tend to keep software manipulation to a minimum in most cases and so the interaction happens at the source, like with Mind Bokeh and "Excuses". This image was never used for music artwork but it's an example of a bridge between taking pictures of nature as an observer and also interaction. For this image, I'd recently bought a macro lens that is borderline microscope! The gut instinct is to go into the garden and explore the miniature world of insects, which I did of course, but after taking some fairly generic photos of bugs and bees, I started to be more than just the observer. I was taking photographs of a dandelion head when I suddenly thought about how it would look coated with fine droplets. I sprayed the head with a fine mist and got this result. It has an 'Indra's net' quality about it I think."


Holly Grove Lane

"The thing that has changed photography for me the most in recent years is how sensitive DSLRs can be. This image wasn't actually a DSLR but instead a Fuji XE-1. But nevertheless, digital camera technology has made night photography a possibility for someone who likes to just walk around quickly snapping things, relying on available light. This photograph was taken on the way back from a walk with my girlfriend. The first half of the walk was in daylight, walking down the canal, taking pics of natural beauty and hoping to see a kingfisher. On the way home, the countryside disappears into darkness and it's then when suburbia becomes more interesting, from a photography perspective, because you have a variety of artificial lights and colours and this high contrast between light and dark, as opposed to the floodlight nature of the sun. Also, wet areas become shiny and there are colours where there wouldn't usually be colours. We were walking up this old lane near where we used to live and I was stopping every few seconds taking photos of this picturesque lane. My girlfriend was walking ahead and her silhouette looked particularly good in the frame, so I asked her to turn and face me and stand still (I have too many photos of people's backs). As she did, a cloud of vapour from the boiler exhaust of someone's house suddenly burst into shot and the timing was perfect. But my favourite thing about this shot is probably the way the streetlight reflects in the thin tracks of water on the road surface, creating a striped effect. I also love how some bricks on the wall on the left pop out where others are dark. These kind of details only come alive at night under artificial light."


Silver Wilkinson

"This was the album cover for my album Silver Wilkinson. The title gets its name from a fishing fly, a rather ornate one, which is probably more likely to be seen in a mahogany frame with a brass plaque than on the end of a fishing line. For the artwork for this album, I decided to focus on fishing flies for the visual theme. I was quite fixed on creating an all-over pattern or texture, similar to printed fabric. This shot was achieved by making a glass-bottomed watertight tray which there would be a shallow bath of water in, placing this tray onto the glass of an overhead projector and placing various fishing flies on the water surface. The image was then projected onto a screen and I snapped shots with my DSLR off that screen. The flies will float initially, but their feathers eventually become saturated and they start to become encrusted in bubbles which makes their silhouettes less defined, so it was a case of taking them out and drying them and then continuing. During all this process I became very fond of the effect of disturbing the water and how the ripples were projected onto the screen. I played around with dropping droplets onto the water surface to create circular ripples, these looked particularly good in motion, so I used those techniques when creating a moving image version of this artwork for an album teaser video prior to the album's release:

"I changed the camera's colour balance on each shot to get a different colour cast on the image, rather than just a white background. I then layered various shots in Photoshop and experimented with layering modes. Changing the order of the layers resulted in completely different colour combinations, so I got a lot of mileage just out of about 4 layers. It also meant that I could use the same images for the inside sleeves and back of the album artwork, but completely different colour ways by producing many variations using different layering orders and layering modes."

Finally, we asked Stephen where we can see more of his work:

"I have a flickr account called bibio_fi, which goes back some years including some older film based stuff. I haven't updated it for a while as I've been sucked in and consumed by Instagram. My Instagram account is mrbibio, where the majority of my more recent photos can be viewed. These include a wider variety including less arty stuff like my dinners and my cat in various places."

Check out the full-size images in the gallery below and stay tuned for the next installment of Visuals, coming your way from Instagram featured graphic artist James Livitski.

Previously on Visuals:
Dorje de Burgh
Ellie Pritts

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