Monday 16 July 2018

Moving words and still images from 'Image Maker' Gillian Hyland

From fashion stylist to award-winning photographer, 'Image Maker' Gillian Hyland, from Dublin, combines style, emotion and a depth of talent

Gillian Hyland. Photo: Toby Coulson.
Gillian Hyland. Photo: Toby Coulson.
Gillian Hyland's work, 'Mirror, Mirror'.

Anne Marie Scanlon

Fashion stylists don't fare very well in popular culture. At best, they're seen as a slight step up from fashion-forward but intellectually impaired (fictional) fashion model Derek Zoolander. At worst, they're viewed as shallow, bitchy fashionistas, like Emily Blunt's character in The Devil Wears Prada. And although, as even the biggest culture snob would have to concede, there is an art to styling, few would associate the profession with 'Art'. Until now.

Dubliner Gillian Hyland, a highly successful London stylist (not just clothes but set design) has been quietly moonlighting as an artist over the past few years.

Gillian, who is from Glasnevin, quit a successful career as a journalist and broadcaster in Ireland to move to the UK 10 years ago when she was offered a job in advertising.

Unfortunately, the job wasn't as creative as Gillian had hoped.

"I was coming up with ideas, meeting clients but then it went to someone else to develop and I was stuck in an office. I was used to doing shoots, running around TV stations, being engaged and around the place. It wasn't me, so I left."

It was a brave move for someone new to London. Instead of going back to Ireland with her tail between her legs, Gillian, despite her fears - "I thought everyone in London would have amazing experience and books (portfolios of their work)" - put herself out there as a stylist. She has since built up a highly successful business.

We are meeting to talk about the latest exhibition of Gillian's art work, Words in Sight (poems and pictures), which is taking place at the renowned Other Art Fair in London.

This exhibition is significant because this is the first time that Gillian's poems and photographic images, the latter based upon the former, will be displayed together.

Given the power of the images, its hard to believe that Gillian only began creating them in 2013. She had written the poems throughout her 20s but purely for herself.

"My parents divorced," she says, and goes on to explain that when she moved to London where her older sister, a teacher, also lives, she had no contact with her father for some years.

"A lot of the poems are related to my life. I wanted to capture the emotion, or the experience, in a short thing. I felt like I was trapping it. It wrapped it up and made it easier to move on from." Gillian wrote her poems on scraps of paper and it was a friend who suggested that she assemble them in one place.

"I put the poems together and I called them Words in Flight because, for me they were a release. At that time, I didn't really feel comfortable sharing the words but I thought about making (visual) stories out of them, because that's what I do, and that's where the Words in Sight came from."

The photographs, like the poems, emerged from a need to "do it for myself". Producing the first pictures proved to be cathartic for Gillian.

"The first ones had a very strong impact on me emotionally, because they're so personal. It doesn't affect me in the same way now but I think I did some of the harder ones first… I guess it's a cleansing."

After seeing her images, a photographer suggested that Gillian try to exhibit in a gallery. "I didn't know how the art world works, but because I didn't know, I was very open to see what would happen; to put myself and the pictures out there."

Gillian's first exhibit was in 2014 and since then her images have been shown around the world, including Russia, India, the United States, Italy, France and the UK. Similarly, her work has bagged countless international awards over the past two years, including the prestigious Ward Thomas Photography Award 2015.

The awards are especially gratifying for Gillian. "Because I hadn't studied photography, I felt it gave me credibility and substantiated what I do."

Gillian calls herself an 'Image Maker' because that encompasses art, photography and her commercial styling work. "I felt that calling myself a photographer would be misleading as it's not a true indication of what I'm trying to produce."

She released the Words in Sight booklet last year, which paired the pictures with the poems for the first time. "The pictures had been out there but not the words that inspired them." Not uncoincidentally, her father got into contact with her and the pair are having a tentative reconciliation.

"It was hard for my Dad I think, seeing some of the pictures and seeing some of the things."

Some of the pictures, like No Goodbye, are very obviously about her father, who was seriously ill when he first made contact a few months ago but is now recovering.

Gillian describes herself as lucky because she has her own business which allows her to pursue her art for its own sake, rather than as a means of making money.

Putting together the images is a costly business, as she has to hire locations, source props, costumes and, of course, people.

She prefers to use actors, rather than models because "if you give an actor an idea of what the scene is about, they get really excited about the whole thing.

"It becomes fun to photograph them because they give you something back and then the picture can become something very different (from my vision). Working with actors, it's more of a process than me simply directing them. I like to give the actors a bit of scope."

Despite the awards and critical acclaim Gillian says her images are "not made for the art world. I don't want to impress art critics; I'd prefer for people who see them to like them."

The Other Art Fair, April 7-10. Gillian will be exhibiting her work at the Barbara Stanley Gallery which showcases contemporary Irish artists in London during April.

Sunday Independent

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