The tangible nature of making feels most apparent when you yourself feel an object that has been crafted by hand. There may be smooth lines but also little imperfections; not flaws as much as markers of uniqueness. A pot pinched by hand will look different each time, giving it a little personality that you inherit as soon as it belongs to you. The grain of film photography does a similar thing - it might pick up more light and expose an image that would be otherwise “perfect” on a digital camera; but isn’t that what makes it more special?
Tor Harrison is au fait with these notions, as both a photographer and ceramicist. Growing up in Cornwall but spending her time roaming between California, New York and Italy, then settling back down in Cornwall by the Helford River, Tor’s work - both her photography and ceramics - reflect the ebb and flow of coastal life. We caught up with Tor to talk about shooting, making and how they work together.
Why is working with your hands – the tangible nature of making – so important to you?
There is something profoundly human about making things. An almost primal instinct to just make; to sculpt, shape and create - whether it’s making bread, plaiting hair or shaping a vase from soft clay. We have this ability to use our hands with such dexterity that really blows me away. In my work I can slap and pound the clay in one moment and be the most delicate, fine and gentle in the next. I also particularly love the stripped back nature of hand building: minimal tools, minimal intervention, slowly in conversation with the clay.
Where did your love of photography come from?
I was lucky to be given an SLR camera when I was a teenager and it was love at first sight. The camera used 35mm film and was an absolute tank; it was always slung around my neck. I loved its weight and feel, the view of the world through its 50mm lens, the satisfying clunk of the shutter. It didn’t have a light meter which in hindsight makes me wonder how anything I took was ever exposed correctly, it was all guess work and learning from my mistakes. Over the years I feel like it became an intuitive, instinctive way of creating images and essentially documenting moments from my life.
Your visual work has primarily focused on the female form and how it interacts with nature. What draws you to these subjects?
Living in a rural part of the country, there is an interconnection with the landscape and our natural environment that takes place almost unconsciously. We swim in the rivers at sunrise and lie on hot rocks in the summer heat. We swirl with the phosphorescence and light fires under full moons. There is perhaps a finer tuning into the seasonal shifts here and as a woman I am so interested in exploring these cycles within nature that have a synergy with my own cycles. I source a lot of energy, nourishment and sense of community within my female circles and I hope that my work inspires a sense of reverence and respect for women.
How does shooting on film feel different to you than digital photography?
Quite literally it feels more chemical. There is a magic and alchemy that happens shooting film, an unquantifiable je ne sais quoi. I still get so excited sending off films to be developed - the time and space between shooting something and seeing the results allows for a kind of letting go of any expectations. I am also more calm, composed and thoughtful when I am using film, it feels more precious and therefore reverential.
How did becoming a ceramicist happen for you?
Quite by accident! I used to have a plant store in a small Cornish town and my neighbour at the time was an incredible potter. We used to sit together in the mornings and drink coffee and sometimes I would play with pieces of clay. It was so satisfying to touch and work with and Hannah was kind enough to teach me how to manipulate it with my hands to create shapes and forms like cups and bowls. I slowly carried on playing and making over the years, fascinated by the absorbing quality that hand building allows for. It is slow and repetitive and completely meditative for my brain - sometimes I can achieve a really beautiful flow state. Years later I am still enthralled by it and feel like I am constantly learning, growing, being humbled and finding joyfulness in just making.
Do you see a correlation between ceramics and photography?
Absolutely, they both contain a mystery to me. The chemical reactions that take place in the firing and developing stages respectively both add another element to my work that allows for magic and mistakes. It feels more collaborative somehow and like other forces have an impact on what is created. I also get joy from delayed gratification, the anticipation of waiting adds something special.
Are there any other forms of making that you’re tempted to take up?
I am very curious and would hope that my creativity is never limited by my own or others' expectations. I would love to explore and experiment with other materials at some point in my life...weaving, carving wood, casting bronze...I just need a little more time!
Where do you feel most at home?
Watery places, near trees. In spring. With friends.
Favourite room in your house?
Ever changing! Currently: in the kitchen with the french doors flung open, coffee in hand
Go-to song for a morning at home?
Gal Costa, Lágrimas Negras
Kalinko piece you can’t live without?
The Orwell Shoe Horn
Top country on your bucket list?
Favourite global cuisine?