Guy Bolongaro on animals, book swaps, and photography as therapy
‘Through the lens’ is our monthly series that throws the spotlight on photographers who are Wallpaper* contributors. Here we explore Guy Bolongaro’s vision further
Guy Bolongaro’s photography approach has an infectious and palpable energy on set. Our recent April 2022 issue shoot was no different, with Bolongaro bringing brooms, stools and space heaters to set the stage for our edit of colourful cardigans.
Photography was initially a form of therapy for Crewe-born Bolongaro after suffering burnout in his previous career as a social worker, yet the skills he gathered from that chapter of his life remain present in his work. Here he tells us about the animals he’s keen to work with, book swaps, and his own publication Gravity Begins at Home.
Wallpaper*: Describe your style and process
Guy Bolongaro: I like to be spontaneous, reacting to what’s around me. I came to photography as a form of therapy initially. A period of ill health necessitated a daily creative outlet that wasn’t too head-based, something that would encourage me to be responsive and to wander around, gaze directed outwards, capturing things that I liked the look of just for the pleasure of looking. So I tend not to carry much of a scheme or anything too pre-conceived. That has shifted a bit as I think in terms of sequence or narrative for a job or project perhaps, but it’s quite ingrained in me now just to be instinctive and alert to the possibilities of the moment.
W*: Tell us about how you brought your way of working to our colourful cardigans shoot
GB: Not planning too much and just responding to what Jason put together, being playful and using imagination within a simple studio framework. Ousman, our model, has a lovely presence, elegance and stillness so that created a nice challenge in terms of how we could disrupt that and bring in contrasting energy.
W*: What’s the most interesting thing happening within photography now?
GB: Whatever Charlie Engman is up to.
W*: What’s on your radar?
GB: A book by Ken Graves and Eva Lipman called Restraint and Desire. I felt an immediate connection to the images like they were similar to how I look through the lens. I haven’t had that immediate affinity with a photographer since seeing Lars Tjunbork’s Office book or the 70s and 80s archive of Michael Northrup. Not comparing myself to them(!), but I felt a kinship in terms of sensibility.
I did a few swaps with other artists recently after having my book published. Scott King sent me his Debrist Manifesto which is full of funny, instructive and righteous crankery. I swapped with Harry Woodrow for his ‘#Selfies’ book in which he made a mirrored box to wear as a helmet and photographed himself with his iPhone in a diaristic way; the camera was directed towards him but revealed his surroundings. A clever, simple idea brilliantly executed. In repetition, the wit and slight archness fade away revealing something more complex and profound. Wish I’d thought of doing it.
I was reminded of Sara Cwynar’s work the other day, I really like how she uses and applies photography. Her work from the mid-2010s is quite seminal I think. And then when unboxing recently after moving house I found John Mclean’s early photobooks that I was inspired by. I was very happy to be reminded of his work, so that is back on my radar now.
Away from photos, I’m always recommending anything Lydia Davies writes to friends, acquaintances, and people I pass on the street or escalator. I’m on Vol 2 of her essays now and rationing them. The last couple of years has seen heavy Chris and Cosey rotations in our house. Their music always sounds so fresh. Chris Carter is one of the most underappreciated figures in electronic music.
W*: What’s next for you this year?
GB: I’ve amassed a good collection of ‘found’ vernacular photography down the years so I’d like to find a way to put those together. I’m planning to photograph animals more. Particularly, I’d like to make friends with the wild horses near where I live and see if they’d be open to me photographing them. Not very original I know but I love hanging out with horses. Also, I’d like to capture some owls going about their evening business. §