Hello Nick, it is a pleasure to sit down and converse with you about your awe-inspiring work. Having mastered a technique that will add knowledge to the world about itself, and that allows viewers to appreciate even the smallest things with greater depth, how does it make you feel to know that you are one of only a distinct number to seriously use x-ray as a camera, and also, that your pieces will provide people with such benefits?
I want my legacy to be the creation of the best collection, and most wide-ranging collection, of x-rays, ever made. I think we are getting there. It should be really after doing little else for the last 25 years. The response when people first see my work can be really encouraging and positive. When I had my retrospective at Fotografiska I spent a few afternoons hidden in a corner checking out the public’s reaction. To open people’s minds to the world within is what motivates me.
X-ray is a 135-year young technology, but since its inception not many have dared to utilize its capacities in the ways that you have, such being: to critique the superficial nature of contemporaneity, to raise questions about the everyday things we feel we know so well, etc.). With this in mind, do you think your photographic method has been viewed as prohibited because of the dangers and processes involved, or instead, that people just simply limit themselves to things that are within the realms of expectation?
Photography is my world. It is the one thing that changed my life. In my early days, I used a film camera, but in a very experimental and abstract way. To this day I still love messing around in the darkroom making camera-less images. My view is that generally there are 2 types of photographers. Nerdy technicians and arty-farties. The great photographers excel at both aspects. They have the technical understanding to make and the ‘eye’ to create. What I do can be dangerous but I’m not stupid. I manage that risk. I’m not taking risks like a war photojournalist. I work in a controlled environment, but it is an environment alien to most photographers or artists. It’s now normal to me, but I can see why people see me as a bit weird. The work is what matters though and good photography can widen those ‘realms of expectation’ you refer to.
By using a tile scanning method to produce film prints, which are then rescanned into a computer for digital management to produce unique three-dimensional images, what do you think the conversion phases of this technique say about what’s required for humanity to see beyond itself? How has your work changed the way you look at life?
Yes, my large object x-rays are very laborious to make. But I don’t think that should really influence the viewer. They either get into it or they don’t. For humanity to see beyond itself we all need compassion for our fellow human beings and a lot more love for the planet. If we stop fucking the environment up and give each other a little more respect life would be better all round. The lockdown is proving that too many people. Being an artist that uses scientific apparatus has thought me to take pleasure in the banal, in the everyday. It’s the journey that matters, the experiences, and being with our loved ones.
What role does your personal reading or intended meaning play when you understand that as soon as a piece becomes public it is subsumed by myriad minds and re-contextualized? Keeping such in mind, how does initial intention remain necessary?
It’s not just the initial intention that is key, it also initial reaction. Things can be re-contextualized or misunderstood. That can and does happen. But a great work reaches out and speaks to you. Think of the great art you see, you don’t have to look hard – it finds you somehow. Before I make something it has to nag away at me. I have many ideas, the trouble is most of them are crap. So the good ideas hopefully filter through by not going away. If it is a strong concept then I’ll get around to doing it, but if I’m unsure I’ll probably leave it. I think they call that ‘experience’ or is it me getting lazy in my old age?
You share that you have faced criticism for using a single technique, but every great artist is instantly recognized for a singular style. Because your technique seems so impersonal due to the confined nature of its characteristic output (which you have expanded the possibilities of remarkably well), how do you think your individual approach will distinguish itself from others who in the future may try their hand at the same?
I’m pleased that you reference artists that have a singular style. They are the artists that inspire me. I don’t think my work is that distinguishable from some other person that may have a passion for the x-ray. What sets a true artist apart from a creative person is that they don’t copy but they borrow.
You speak and exhibit a depth of wisdom when talking about meaning-making. What have you discovered during the years, and through your successes, that were the things of enduring importance in your personal life first, and then your professional life and career second?
Don’t believe the hype. I’ve met lots of people that tell me I’m amazing. Trouble is they say the same thing to the next person they meet. On a personal level, the important things are self-belief, tenacity, and getting over the self-obsessed phase and being there for my friends and family. What is important to me professionally is that I can look at the quality and breadth of what we have made and I think it stands up pretty well. The work, the work, and the work – it’s all about the work.
Your subject matter has dealt with pop-cultural figures. By allowing us to see through them you have revealed their shared humanity. X-ray does indeed expose a visual truth about the world, but what is the x-ray correlative for seeing intellectual truths in a post-truth era, any thought? How does contemporary culture make you feel generally?
We are all flesh and blood, remember that. We are all made of the same stuff, it’s the personality that makes us different. I don’t think I’d recognize an intellectual truth if it hit me on the head. Contemporary culture is fantastic. There’s so much to experience. And some of it is worth experiencing.
Because you have had extensive acclaim, having your photos presented in prestigious intuitions, and having worked with globally respected brands, what have you found to be the most important thing about being a groundbreaking artist that you can share with other budding, though unique talents?
Remind me about that extensive acclaim. Have I missed something? Your use of the word unique is interesting. Many young people try to reinvent the wheel with everything they do. That can be too taxing. My advice is to find something you really enjoy doing and then do it different or better than anyone else. If you can do it different AND better then you may get a lucky break. That’s what happened to me – I got lucky.
All images with courtesy of Nick Veasey