Unseen Platform: What was the impetus for your most recent body of series, Your Nature?
John MacLean: This project has emerged from my growing interest in psychology which, after reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, has become informed by theories of human evolution. Each of us holds within us the history of our species. This isn’t something we think about in our day-to-day lives, but how we feel and act is influenced by our ancient past. “Who we are” is the sum of countless binary, evolutionary outcomes that have accumulated over thousands of years. So the way I’m photographing the natural world is unavoidably influenced by my own human nature, and perhaps that completes a circle.
Where are the landscapes that you shoot located?
The landscape photographs were made in the south of France. It is a region renowned for its geology and palaeontology, but there have been some significant archaeological finds nearby too – the Arago Cave is where a 450,000 years old skull was unearthed.
Your palette is very strong and saturated, is this a conscious choice?
An American photographer friend of mine moved to England a few years ago; I asked him what he found most difficult about taking pictures in the British landscape and he said he found the ‘greenness’ here ‘overwhelming’. This reminded me of an interview with Francis Bacon – where he talks about the vivid ‘violence’ of the grass in Van Gogh’s paintings. So a train of thought was set in motion in my mind: the natural landscape can be beautiful but it also has an uneasy undercurrent that can be conveyed through colour.
You have said that your photographs are steps in the evolution of new ideas. Could you elaborate?
My process doesn’t start with an idea which I then try to illustrate through a series. The idea is the engine that drives the work, but frequently new photographs take me in unusual directions and I follow their lead. These images can sometimes be ahead of my thinking – and then my thinking has to catch up. What I’m trying to do is produce a body of work which has resonance, but also push my practice forward at the same time. To me, a good photograph is a place of departure not arrival.