Maddox Gallery's Artistic Director Maeve Doyle interviewed renowned fine art photographer and Maddox Gallery artist David Yarrow to discuss the impact of life in lockdown, his fundraising artwork in support of Art For Heroes, what he was doing before lockdown came into place and future plans and projects.
How are you? How are you dealing with all of this?
I think like for everyone there's a period of adjustment. There's been an awful lot of talk in media channels about how the Coronavirus doesn't discriminate but of course that's very different from saying we’re all in the same boat. Some people are very fortunate to be in the boat they’re in, and others are unfortunate. I’m one of the fortunate ones: I’m fortunate that we have a home by the sea in Devon and I can get out and go to the beach which is 3 or 4 minutes from my home, so we feel very fortunate and full of sympathy for people who are working in much tougher environments or staying home in much tougher environments.
It’s certainly not a movie that any of us expected to be in and clearly it's the biggest crisis of our generation and the generation before and the generation to come. I feel very sorry for my children; one was enjoying Oxford University, and the other was about to do exams, so we’ve all been missing out on life to varying degrees. From my perspective, it has been an opportunity to regroup, to self analyse, to try to be creative and think creatively.
I did a podcast the other day and I said I have no doubt that the Oscar nominees for 2021 will probably be the weakest they've been for a long time, just because there are not many films which will be able to be released. Conversely I wonder whether the Oscar nominations for, perhaps not 2022, but 2023, will be the best ever, because creative sorts are having time to re-energise and rethink, in places where they can do that without noise. I’m sure the arts industry will come back on fire with much more creative courage than maybe it would have had, had this not happened.
It's sometimes difficult when you’re an artist to show anyone any work because you feel that it's slightly self-indulgent, it's not relevant and it could be suggestive of a lack of empathy for people who are at the frontline. So I was quite hesitant to begin with, but the overwhelming response has been, no, we need art, we need art at times like this. Especially if the art can be done for a good cause.
Tell us a bit about that, you did a fundraiser for the NHS?
We collaborated with other artists, with Maddox Gallery, and Genesis our printers and framers in London [for the initiative Art For Heroes, to raise money for NHS workers on the frontline]. I thought if we could find a picture that had a sort of allegory to the fortitude and resolve of the NHS staff - it's quite a tricky thing to do because you do not want to be seen to be doing anything right now that’s self-promoting in any way - if we could find a picture that somehow or other is metaphorical for the pedestal we put the frontline workers on, quite rightly now, is tough. But there’s the picture of the lioness - which I took from a cage in water in January - that shows her focus, her fortitude, her precision… There's a metaphor for what’s going on across the country in our hospitals. And of course there's the word lion and the word pride which are not totally separable.
Also your signature shooting position, below the eye level of the cat...
To me it's a prerequisite, if you want to extoll the magnificence of animals, you really cannot be shooting down on them, because that creates a sense of a false encounter, it belittles them in a way, you have to be below them. Which is quite easy with an elephant but tougher with some other animals and you really want to be on ground level so you’re almost seeing what a caterpillar would see, or an ant. And to me, when you’re taking the portrait of a glorious animal, that’s really the only way you should work, if you can. Obviously there are hurdles in the way of that; regulations sometimes, safety, but there are always ways around that.
And it's an iterative process, by getting it wrong we learn to get it right and it varies animal to animal - particularly with the tiger because you cannot get out of the car, they’ll kill you - so it depends on the animal. That genre of my work is a big part of what I do, but certainly not a disproportionate part, it’s one facet of what I do.
Can you expand on that? You seem to be growing and developing, taking on more and more, blurring the lines between art, filmmaking...
You’re flattering me a little. I think my friends would say I had attention deficit disorder and basically get bored very quickly and if I’m doing one thing all the time! I think it dumbs down the creative process. If Spielberg was told after filming Saving Private Ryan that for the rest of his life he was going to be shooting war films because he did that one so well, I don't think he’d be particularly happy!
Is there a sense of being dissatisfied that drives you on?
I don't know about that. Last year I took two decent pictures which I don’t think could be bettered. I couldn't better them. One was a staged shot of Wolves of Wall Street and the other was some very big elephants in Kenya. At the end of both days [of shooting] I can ensure you we had a few drinks with big smiles on our faces but really, you are only as good as your last shot and at the moment, my last shot is further and further away.
We've got some concepts we’re working on right now to do in the British Isles because I’m quite bearish on international travel. I think we’re all being a bit optimistic right now as to when filmmakers, or anyone, will be able to travel. It's going to be longer than what people generally believe when it comes to opening up international travel, so that does put a focus on Great Britain. I listened to Michael Palin yesterday, he travels as much as I do and he was saying you've got to seek opportunity out of this. That's the way. There are so many adages. Life's not about lying in the sunshine, it's about dancing in the rain and we’re all going to have to do quite a lot of dancing in the rain over the next 12 to 18 months!
Where were you when lockdown was announced?
I’d just come back from shooting in West Texas, right on the Mexican border, very close to where 2 great films had been made; There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men and it was our biggest ever production shoot. Texans consider themselves a law unto themselves and Texas, the Lone Stat State, and this was quite early in March and there were a few things that made that job slightly tougher.
Austin, the state capital of Texas, had just cancelled South by SouthWest which is an enormous event each year the week before in Austin. That was the week before we shot in West Texas so we were quite lucky to be able to get away with things and the week after the shoot, some of the locations that we were working in were locked down, so we were lucky.
So you were nearly stuck in Dallas for lockdown?
Other than missing my kids (of course I would miss my kids!) but if I had have ended up in lockdown in Dallas that wouldn’t have been that bad… But it's good to be home, I’m pleased to be home. And the Brits, we’ve got many many faults as a country and we could learn an awful lot from other countries, but we do have resolve, and good things will come out of this. Greater humility, a greater sense of breaking down divides, I do admire the fortitude of British people.
This interview was originally recorded as a Podcast on Maeve Doyle's A Private View. To listen to the original interview, and the rest of the Private View Series, click here