Interview with Danny Ryder

PR: Can you say how you came to be working with photography ?

DR: I studied Fine Art at LJMU starting in 2012, graduating in 2015. I hadn’t taken photography much other than holiday photos and pictures at parties. But I did all sorts in Fine Art – especially interested in sculpture. I got my first camera to document my work. Using photography as a visual diary for my sculptural practice – needing the evidence for University work. This is how I began to use photography, gathering evidence of my practice. I started going out with it then, taking the camera everywhere, all the time, taking pictures of anything that caught my eye. I mainly shoot digital – my 24 mm Prime is my favourite lens at the minute.

PR: How do you describe yourself, your work?

DR: I wanted to be a mechanic when I was younger. I was obsessed with cars. I did my A levels at Cardinal Heenan Sixth Form College. Artist/photographer as titles?– I find them contentious. It is part of who I am, not just who I am. When people ask ‘What do you do?’- well I work like 50 hours a week managing The Kazimier Garden. In an ideal world I’d like to be able to carry on creating for the rest of my life, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m doing a Masters at the minute; part-time so I’m able to work. The MA is in Fine Art – I’ve been doing photography for 4 years now and it’s become as much a part of my practice as sculpture or painting. Although, I would still say they seem as though they’re separate identities. If you saw my sculptures and photos you wouldn’t think they were by the same person. One of my favourite works was when I turned my entire house on Duke Street into a 4 story light installation called kulle.houzz.

PR: Who are your influences?

DR: One of my biggest influences has been Dan Flavin, a visual artist working at the same time as Andy Warhol. I would say that, right now, for me anyway, the idea is more important than the work itself. I don’t know as much about photographers as I would about artists – In terms of photographers, maybe Don McCullin, but more often its people I follow on Instagram or Flickr, Ade (Between the Borders) is one of them. One of my friends said that people take photos of the things they don’t want to lose. I take photos mainly of Liverpool so I don’t really know what that means but even now I’m still finding new spots in the city!

PR: What is your project – for Open 3?

DR: News From Nowhere.

PR: How did you get involved?
DR: Thomas Dukes (Curator) asked me. I’d just started my MA and he sent me 2 questions – What is Radical? How does it manifest in Liverpool?

PR: What is the idea of reconstructing a book-shop?

DR: I was writing my research paper for my MA based on the two questions Thomas asked, focusing on News from Nowhere came from this research into how best to bring to light my agenda to “radicalize’ the audience. What I found was that I didn’t know any groups like my colleagues in the show do, joining up with one with an underlying aim of taking photographs also felt wrong; however, I had been going into NfN, buying books and using them for parts of my research. One day it just clicked, and as far as photography can go in ways of telling stories, helping causes and documenting events. The argument comes that representation would only be a surrogate for the original shop; by not having the books I felt I ran the risk of not truly showing what News from Nowhere is about; that the ideas are more valuable than the people. As much as Mandy, Maria, Cate, Jill and Julie – including their volunteers – have been paramount to the shops development, ultimately it must go on after they retire, so the books are vital too.

PR: How are you choosing the books?

DR: The members of the News from Nowhere co-op will be choosing around 300 books that will portray a representative selection of the literature the shop on Bold Street stock – I can submit my own too but I think I’ll avoid my input on the selection of books. I also have T-shirts, newspapers, posters, flyers, badges and all sorts of stuff.

PR: What other ideas interest you?

DR: I’m interested in Adam Curtis’s series of documentaries (On the Dangers of Self-expression) as well as being influenced by Stephen Wright’s Towards a Lexicon of Usership; leaning towards an understanding that we live in a society that’s too individualistic – will self-focused goals as opposed to goals that benefit society as a whole. Asking others what ‘Radical’ is – the answers in return were very varied – from things they considered cool, surfers, extreme sports and the like – through politicians claiming to be more radical than one another to the mainstream media (wrongly) using the word as synonymous with extremist or fundamental ideologies. That’s why Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language is interesting. In a society that is decadent, he argues that our language must also fall prey to this demise, and then, words like radical begin to lose meaning. Radical – from the Latin radix, meaning root. I find that books represent ideas, people – a person and then taking a picture? Is a picture worth a thousand words? Maybe I’m just giving people a thousand words.

PR: How does this work visually?

DR: Part of this for me is about activism. I want to act and do. Can I radicalise people? I want to do that. But it’s not just about what I think – I could have taken pictures saying ‘this is radical,’ ‘this is radical’. My thinking for this exhibition is that just taking pictures of News from Nowhere is not enough. You need the books at least. I’ve taken over 100 pictures of the shop. You can get an idea of what the bookshop looks like from these images but I wanted to bring the working mechanics of News fromNowhere into the gallery space too. So yeah, I’m basically building a book shop.

PR: What about what’s happened to book shops?

DR: News from Nowhere is one of the few independent bookshops to survive, and depending on who you ask, it could be for a variety of reasons. The women only co-op, the kind of literature they stock, the mix of clientele and the local community support to mention but a few things.

PR: Does this link to your interest in sculpture – the tactile – books as
objects?

DR: Books as objects have maybe become somewhat fetishised, or at least hang around in a romanticised ideal, arguably in the same way film or vinyl have been for photography and music respectively. But as objects for purpose they have the same ability to engage and educate as ever.

PR: How does your maleness affect your approach as an artist to the women’s co-operative?

DR: I did consider and reject the idea of my own list of books. Maria Ng has been my main point of contact and I’ve asked for a representative list of books that are important for the co-operative, the shop and the communities they help. They have been really friendly and positive. I’ve not got the final list of books just yet though. They have kept going when other independent bookshops succumb to market demands set by the big chain retail bookshops. In their archive you see that they were attacked for years by fascists and the women stood strong through those tough times. Aside from everything else in terms of stock and events and the bookshop’s activist hub, a larger part of the reason why they feel they’ve lasted so long is because of the women’s co-op model, so a male voice, or my voice – doesn’t necessarily have no value – but, my role became more organiser than author.

PR: Will you use any photographs in the exhibition?

DR: A mix of archive images provided by News from Nowhere and photographs taken of the shop and the people involved.

PR: And there are links between Open Eye Gallery and News from Nowhere?

DR: Yes, they were in Whitechapel together. Then Open Eye Gallery moved to Wood St around the time News from Nowhere moved to Bold St. There was a geographical and political link. Both have moved into nice buildings now and I am bringing them back together again!

PR: What are your own 3 or 4 essential books?

DR: Orwell, definitely. 1984, Animal Farm, his essays. It’s easy to draw comparisons between our world now and the worlds Orwell depicts. Maybe William Morris’s News from Nowhere would be an important book? Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is one of my favourite books and James Joyce’s, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man draws up similarities to my own childhood – minus the Catholic Boarding school.

PR: What about the city – is it reflected in your News from Nowhere exhibition?

DR: There are so many voices going on – part of it is definitely Liverpool. We have this culture that we look after our own. It’s a good place. A nice city. Why would you leave? There’s so much going on that’s radical and about community. Also, it’s a really safe place for people to be ‘different’, a little weird, or whatever, we have a diverse culture in Liverpool and it’s something to be proud of.

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