Alessia Arcuri and Norberto Fernández Soriano discuss Norberto’s latest project ‘Hythloday’. An exploration of the relationship between human and nature, focusing on how fracking is having an impact on communities subjected to this potential growing phenomenon in the UK.
Soon after he started living with the community of protestors, Norberto realised that a traditional approach would not be sufficient to portray what he was witnessing, hence he decided to introduce a sense of fictionality to frame the physical and psychological impact that fracking has on the communities.
In this brief chat, we explore Norberto's project, motives and plans.
Initially, I was intrigued by exploring this change in the landscape that can occur as a result of human activities and interventions, and fracking was the perfect scenario to observe the influences over the terrain and on the living conditions of the close communities.
My aim with the project was not to shed new light on the issue or give an accurate account of facts objectively. I was more interested in the physical and psychological effects it might have and how that was perceived by those opposed to fracking. I needed to tackle the issue from a different perspective, a perspective based on the effects on people and the group's perception on the topic of fracking. The factual elements became themes and a backdrop that allowed certain elements to be a major part of the work, this helped me to develop the images in the series.
NFS First I contacted them to express my interest in their cause, saying that I was eager to do a project on their struggle. The communication was a bit too slow at first and I was receiving a lot of information I already knew. As things were not going anywhere I decided to go to the camp and a week-long stay in a van. That was when I got to meet people who gave me the chance to listen to how this was affecting them on a personal level. It was also useful to see this activity in person, to observe issues that had not been apparent or clear to me before. I started experiencing a sensation of built-up tension from these conversations as everything was so quiet and there was no evidence of things happening. After the first visit, I returned to the campsite where they were based and started talking about the way I was going to approach the issue, but from this time I would stay with them.
“My aim with the project was not to shed new light on the issue or give an accurate account of facts objectively. I was more interested in the physical and psychological effects it might have and how that was perceived by those opposed to fracking.”
The conversations made me consider how photography could help to visualise the physical and psychological effects fracking was having on the communities.
AA Did you ever doubt the outcome of the project? Did you have a vision for how you wanted to portray the situation before immersing yourself in the community?
NFS I doubted it a lot. The hardest part was maybe trying to explain the relationship with fictional elements I chose to adhere to. I didn't have a visual outcome I was aiming to get, I was more interested in doing something that reflected their experiences and findings from my photographic exploration. By the end, I realised that the project had a lot of potential to be photographed and narrated with pictures.
AA What were the wider and contextual influences on the project?
NFS The influences were many and they were all over the place. In the beginning, I was more interested in the nature-human conflict/connection and I was thinking a lot about the hypothesis of Biophilia. Once, when I grounded the project I chose to use Thomas More's Utopia as a framework for the narrative as I observed similarities between the use of fiction to portray a contemporary issue.
Some photo works that had an initial influence on the way I wanted to think about the project were Fire in Cairo by Mathew Connors, ZZYZZX by Gregory Halpern, or Grapevine by Susan Lipper.
AA When did you realise that introducing fictional elements could help you in delivering Hythloday’s message? Was the decision influenced by the surroundings?
NFS That happened very early in the development of the work. Mainly it was the lack of evidence and my interest in the community´s fight, the use of fiction allowed me to focus on that and not try to give an accurate account of facts.
AA Do you identify yourself as Raphael Hythloday (the protagonist of Thomas More’s novel, Utopia)?
NFS Raphael Hythloday was the character I embodied to manage the information I got from the community and somehow to include the process of getting closer to them as if their state of mind (or fight) was a physical place.
AA Talk us through your practice and why you decided to shoot on film?
NFS I think my practice for that project evolved as I was facing the confrontations between ideas and reality. The process grew in importance rather than hunting for specific pictures. Shooting film got me in this headspace where you focus on the details of the conversations and the ideas you want to develop more than circle around a specific aesthetic.
AA Have you interacted with any other people outside The Protestors’ community? Is their point of view included in the project, if not why?
NFS I didn't because the project was never an attempt to get closer to objective truth, but to explore this from the different perceptions of the same reality. Perhaps the power dynamics influenced me to focus on the community and the psyche embedded within their circumstances.
AA Have you started any other projects during these strange times?
NFS I have been working with some ideas about pictures I have been able to take from where I am from, and I am about to start a publishing project that explores the development of projects and the physicality of these through publication.
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Alessia Arcuri (Italy, 1991) is a curator and bookseller specialised in Arts and Photography. In her practice, Alessia explores her passion for visual communication and literature.
Norberto Fernández Soriano (Spain, 1988) is a visual storyteller and book-maker. He uses photography to explore and interpret the world he inhabits, creating a common ground between contemporary social issues and his own life questions. (www.norbertofernandezsoriano.com)