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Fresh Meat: Chloe Durr



Chloe Durr’s graduate show at Michaelis School of Fine Art entitled Recession interrogates the Western liberal capitalist notion of the ultimate taboo – financial ruin – through dramatic and brutally honest images of her family members during the most vulnerable and unstable stages of transition in the loss of the material self. This project reflects Chloe’s firm belief that art has an important socio-political function to play. For our graduate series, we chatted to her to find out more.


How and why did you become interested in art?


I don’t think it’s a case of how and why I became interested…I just am. It was very clear from a young age that I was artistic. I lived in my imagination and in a dream world only accessible to me through creating. Art was my retreat in times of struggle, and my voice when I was shy. Art gave the, somewhat mundane, world purpose and transported me into realms beyond the visible. Art has been the only constant in my life. Being creative defines my life and me; it’s a state of mind and a way of thinking and interpreting the world around me in ways I cannot explain in words, and this often, subconsciously, reflects my deepest emotions. I am a highly intuitive, observant, and empathetic person which results in my needing to release emotions and express myself in circumstances often beyond understanding- Art facilitates this.


I grew up in an oestrogen-filled household; surrounded by 3 sisters and a mother who fascinated me, and became a platform for my creations. In many ways mum is a reflection of me – this has always intrigued me. My mother is an artist and brought me up in a forward-thinking and creative environment that harnessed my talent, and ignited my passion for art and individualism.



What do you enjoy, or alternatively dislike, about it?


Art is the most relieving form of expression but also the heaviest weight on one’s emotions – especially when inspiration is rooted in suffering. It is a regurgitation of my feelings, my mind, my heart and my soul. I am an introvert, an observer, shy, but when it comes to expressing myself in the form of art I am powerful and opinionated. I use my work as a platform to raise awareness and bring about a change in perceptions.



How would you describe your style of art, and what influences it?


My subject matter is often powerfully confrontational and weighted in social and political critique. My style is abstract and painterly – no matter what medium I work with, and it is often an embellishment of tradition within a modern genre.


I am greatly influenced by what I observe, and the effect it has on my mind and my heart. I tend to observe to the point of heaviness before a creative explosion captures, visually, what I can’t put into words. Inadvertently I have always been interested in seeing beyond reality and desire to shift the viewer’s perception – which influences both my style and subject matter depending on what I am confronting.



How long have you been working in photography, and what appeals to you about this medium?


Drawing and sculpture were my passion for many years before stumbling upon photography. I fell in love with pinhole photography in my first year at Michaelis, and I spent the rest of my years in the darkroom unaware of the passing time as if in a trance – the immediacy of photography captivates me. Photographs have the power to expose truth, and photography allows for personal expression and manipulation of the environment to heighten the truth. Photographs are a direct reflection from the eye of the artist. I find the blatant truth of the imagery powerfully expressive.



Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.




  1. The action of receding; to motion away from an observer
  2. A period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters


As a photographer, an artist and individual, I have always been curious about the lives and circumstances of the most vulnerable and less fortunate people around me. As an observer, I attempt to understand the misunderstood in order to process and interpret my own life. My graduate body of work developed as a result my empathy for, and curiosity in wanting to better understand, and pictorially reveal, the lives of vulnerable individuals, in order to facilitate a change in perception. With an awareness of the tradition and ethical implications of turning the camera to ‘the other’, I focused on gaining a better understanding of ‘the self’ and my personal circumstances, serving as the base for my social critique – exposing my personal circumstances of vulnerability and loss as a result of the Recession became an intense and painful journey that resulted in the exposition of a fragile personal and family life.


My social critique has been brewing throughout my life; fuelling my desire to expose the truth. Growing up in the supposedly ‘upper echelons’ of society, in England and in South-Africa, has enabled me to observe first hand the pressures that go with maintaining one’s status. The competitive and money-driven rules of this society have always troubled me. I have personally experienced the loss of the ‘material’ self, and the emotional and psychological effect on my family. My body of work reflects immense pressure, uncertainty, instability, vulnerability and emotional turmoil, all in unbridled and brutal honesty.


The luxury portrayed in Bourgeoisie and Monarchy in 17th Century Baroque paintings is evident in the style of my photographs. I have echoed a painter’s hand in my use of the camera lens, capturing portraits that pay close attention to the painting techniques of chiaroscuro and tenebrism, which set the mood for the figure and the environment by using varying light sources. One-source lighting, rich colour tones, opulent environments and portraiture resonate with an era blinded by wealth and a skewed sense of reality. I see Baroque societal values as no different from capitalist society today. The self-serving greed and opulent lifestyles led to social downfall and the French Revolution then, and I believe a similar mentality has contributed significantly to the global Recession today.


No matter how stripped society is of its trappings, the adoption of a façade continues to encourage the illusion and confusion of reality. To live an illusion, and to avoid the price of exposing the truth, appears to be a recurring tradition. I personally want to question and understand the lies, as I can no longer believe in the illusion.


“This recession won’t be over ‘til we raise a generation that knows how to live on what they’ve got” (unknown; 2012)




Do you feel that art has a social responsibility? Please explain.  


Without a doubt and my answer to the previous question confirms this. Visual expression is a rare gift to be utilised responsibly; if you possess it, it is your life duty to use it effectively – whether for educational, informative purposes or political, social and even economic purposes. There are no limits as to how far one is able to push a message, and thus art is a powerful voice – personal responsibility is huge in this. Art’s subjectivity makes for fresh views, it fosters debate and extends public thinking forcing one to live deeper, but used incorrectly history has shown us the results of how art can manipulate (political ideals) and initiate good and bad for society and for change. Freedom of speech in newspapers and magazines is largely controlled and manipulated, but artists, to a greater extent today, have greater freedom of expression.



What daily inspirations feed your creativity?



Silent observation is my biggest form of inspiration. I love nothing more than people watching, personality reading, and trying to understand environments and people through extensive exploration and relationship building.



Was studying art what you expected it to be? Has your perception of the field changed since your first year? – And if so how?


It was more emotionally draining than I ever believed it would be – but perhaps that is because of my nature. It did facilitate growth and further development of my already questioning mind. It taught me to think in a way that exceeds the mundane, and makes my understanding of life even deeper and even more abstract than before.


What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?


I spoke to Kevin Atkinson in London once and he said that there is never an excuse not to create. I believe that the more hours you put in, the more you learn, the more you see, and the more honest your work becomes. Don’t take creativity for granted – never stop producing because one is always a learner, an observer in an ever-changing world.



Which of your creative projects are you most proud of? 


My Recession series is a body of work very close to my heart. It was the first time I turned to the self as a metaphor for the world around me. For many years I was questioned for my interest in vulnerable individuals, criticized for “othering” and “isolating” individuals. It took maturity to realize that I was drawn to them not because of their circumstance but rather because of their vulnerability, which I empathized with. By expressing my own vulnerability I was able to confront the viewer based on personal experience, rather than sympathetic observation of a life I have never lived.



What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?


I have been given the opportunity to work at the Cannes Film Festival in May, finances permitting, I want to travel Europe with my camera, and take up internships, and finances permitting, do a Masters degree in Photography overseas.



Where can we stay updated with your work?


I am exhibiting at the AVA Gallery Greatest Hits Exhibition at the moment and hope to continue exhibiting and gaining exposure as I develop a new body of work. I have a Facebook page, a Website and Instagram account which I use as an online portfolio.


Keep an eye on this space – I aim to continue maturing and growing within myself, and in my vision and interpretation of my life and experiences, as to have greater insight and vision to share in order to reach greater heights within the art world one photograph at a time!


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