Sludge World is the project of photographer Sophie le Roux, who visits neglected corners of Europe to find the unfamiliar in the mundane and the charisma in its decay. Her latest series examines the wild landscapes of Iceland, ascribing an unsettling and alienating quality to what is traditionally understood as natural. Photographs of small natural objects are set beside vast natural vistas – the sea, the mountains and the crystals and rocks that compose them are all studied in harmony, the hyper-saturated colours defamiliarising these archetypical spaces in a way that allows them to be seen as if for the first time, with a new intensity of focus. She tells BJP how the series was created, and her own pathway to photography.
When was the first time you became aware of photography? How old were you?
One of my favourite books as a child was a photographic book on Iceland that I found on the street with my Mum. It contained so many wonderful film spreads of Iceland (mostly aerial shots, and a lot of sheep farming). I am deeply attached to the book and take it wherever I go. I always vowed to go to Iceland as soon as it was possible. I went, last month, and finally got to take pictures of my own. One day I would like to see it in a helicopter, if I keep down my carbon footprint for a bit.
How did you learn to become a photographer?
I was taught how to use a darkroom by a few people at various stages during my childhood. I have barely any technical knowledge yet. I’m working on that. I started off working with an SLR, so learned the basics, but then went to digital for several years before returning to film. I studied film directing at University, and learnt something about lighting, but I don’t remember much. I have taken hundreds of thousands of pictures, from the ages of 11-24. I just kept clicking away, because it is my favourite thing to do. Slowly I started to think something of my eye. I owe my powers of observation to spending a lot of time alone, being introduced to a lot of great experimental work as a child, and a deep relationship with colour. If colours and textures are not arranged in a way that appeals to me, I become quite angry.
What are the common themes, subjects or concerns that run through all your work?
Sludge seems to be a common theme. Sludge World came to be on a beach in October 2014. I was humoured by the fact that the only thing I wanted to photograph on this beautiful, vast beach was the green slime in a pond below the sand dunes. These might be neglected by the average beach photographer. The website ‘Sludge World’ is arranged as a ‘spectrum’ with separate colour categories. If you like blue, you can choose only to look at the blue pictures, or the red ones if you like red. The pink ones are my favourite. There’s also a ‘misc’ section, with all the ones that didn’t quite fall into place.
What’s the best photo you never took?
Last winter I was walking down a street in Berlin at dusk, when I came across a scene of 3 women in a closed shop with an orange glow, the blinds pulled halfway down. Two of them were helping the third fit her wedding dress- a Turkish traditional one, I think, but I can’t be absolutely sure. They were half joyful, half nervous. The moment felt so intimate, I couldn’t bring myself to photograph it.
The one photograph you’d save in a nuclear apocalypse – your own, or someone else’s?
Photography might not matter anymore if the world became like ‘The Road’. I would like to have a cat meme to stare at in my bunker. If I wasn’t in a bunker, then I would spend my last hours before death (if I had a camera) taking pictures of the landscape, in the hope that they might be discovered.
What’s your message to your younger self, in the moment they decided to be a photographer?
Learn more about this craft before you delve too far into it. That seems to be the way I operate: I’m extremely impatient and tend to dive into pursuits pretending to know something. Now, I don’t want to take the time off to do a course, because I’ll miss out on something important. I suppose I’m on a self imposed course, although it rarely covers the areas I need to build knowledge in. Most of my education involves staring at things for ages and trying to really think about what the particular form is all about. I also watch loads of films, and pause them occasionally to understand why that light is like that and try to guess the equipment they are using to achieve that effect. I’m very new to shooting indoors with real lights, and won’t show any of that work until it’s better. I won’t learn by looking at diagrams, but by doing it over and over again until it makes more sense. Light, once you have control of it gives way to endless possibilities, and you slowly have to figure out how to channel them into the correct zone for the shoot. The good photos I’ve taken indoors have all been total accidents, when I’ve decided to ignore my conscience and place the lights in seemingly random positions.
What motivates you?
My initials are SLR (single lens reflex). I must be a photographer.
To see more of Sophie’s work, go here.