Mark Tamer residency sign in the Shape Gallery window
Can you tell us about how you set out to be an artist and the origins of your practice?

It wasn't until recently that I began to see myself as an artist. I'd studied film and video, always taken photographs and called myself a photographer, but it wasn't until I reached a point where I felt there was more meaning in what I was doing that I felt comfortable using the term artist.

The photography you produced during your residency at Shape Gallery expanded primarily on your Breaking Pictures series – can you tell us more about this series, and why you felt the residency was the appropriate vehicle for its exploration?

The Breaking Pictures series is an ongoing experiment to look at the many ways an image can be "broken." I've been documenting torn billboards for many years and always liked the way the random rips of the advertisement could reveal earlier layers to give it new meaning. I've been experimenting with digital images where I look at the code, the hidden DNA of the image and I manipulate this - remove, copy, add etc - and create a new image.

I thought the Shape residency would be the perfect place to develop these ideas and experiments further and I liked the idea of engaging with people as they came into the gallery, so that they could become part of the work itself. I also brought in some printed images that I sprayed with household bleach in order to destroy parts of the image and a flatbed scanner for scanning people's hands. I felt a bit like a mad scientist in my laboratory.

Also, I think the gallery setting gave my work some legitimacy, that I might not have had working alone. It also gave me access to people to feature in my work, and of course, it gave me the chance to work with the people at Shape.

Mark Tamer working during his residency at the Shape Gallery

Your work often responds to a variety of locations, particularly the coast and natural environments – do you feel that your artistic style changed while working in a busy, urban environment in terms of influences and method?

Yes definitely; I'm more used to working alone, both out on location and back at the computer but the gallery environment was about working with people. I found that not only was I using people's images in my work, but there was a sense of the people becoming part of the process.

When someone had their hands scanned, they had to sit opposite to me and be very still for five minutes. So it felt quite intimate and it became natural to find out more about people. I thought afterwards it was a bit like a doctor's appointment. I think this is something I could develop further in future sessions, maybe wearing a white coat! Also there is a performance element to creating new work in front of people that I found exciting.

How did your residency at Shape Gallery help you to develop your practice overall?

It got me to focus on one idea and to develop it further. I've been able to discover some new directions to my initial ideas that I wouldn't have on my own. I work in isolation most of the time and the residency gave me the opportunity to see my work in a different environment. It was very refreshing.

Mark Tamer

What is it in particular about Shape that you identify with as a visual artist?

When I became ill around nine years ago, I found that I was trying to hide my condition, to either try and work around it or to pretend to people that it didn't exist. I think being involved with Shape has given me the confidence to engage more with who I am and some of the challenges that I face and to be able to incorporate some of this, either overtly, or covertly, into my work.

Where do you see your practice taking you next, and what do you hope to achieve with your photography?

I think I'm seeing that I don't always have to have a perfect image at the end, that the process itself is often as interesting as the result. I think my work will engage more with this. I'd also like to break a few more images. With the billions of images out there in the world I think it's worthwhile pulling a few apart to see how they work.

Distorted image - Mark Tamer

For more of Mark's work, visit his website.

Banner image: Breaking Pictures - 35 Film; Mark Tamer. All images credited to Mark Tamer.