Geoff Chaplin for Bag'n Dath





Your father was a painter, how did you start taking pictures?


My father – a painter - used to take me sketching and painting when I was a child. This installed from an early age an understanding of composition and graphic elements. My dream was to become a research scientist. This did not happen but on the way I picked up a training in scientific photography which reinforced my interest in visual arts. Also when I was about 18 years old, my first interest was astronomical photography, initially comets and meteors. So I built my own camera (I had no money to buy one) – using 4”x5” glass plates and a borrowed lens. And after that, I was trained in astronomical photography and black and white printing while working at Greenwich observatory in the UK and Kitt Peak in US and this prompted my interest in photography and I have been using cameras ever since.





As a mathematician and having had a distinguished career in finance why did you decide to become a photographer?

Geoff Chaplin for Bag'n Dath Cross Body

I maintained an amateur interest in photography during my career in finance and started semi-pro photography with my partner – she wrote articles and I took the photographs to accompany them. That was about 15 years ago. Then about 7 years ago, having become dissatisfied with the routine nature of work in finance, the plan was to stop “work” and spend my time using photography to create “art”.



What is the balance between you as a photographer and as a mathematician?

I spend some time nowadays reading general relativity and quantum mechanics (but not finance!!!), and some time doing photography. But it isn't a matter of simply a time split. In some of my photography at least I am trying to be mathematical – to abstract and reduce to the minimum possible elements. My artistic background is not a formal training in the arts, though I have always thought of mathematics itself as the ultimate art because of its abstraction and efficiency of communication. A good proof can make you gasp and smile! So in some of my photography at least I try to maintain this concentration of thought and efficiency in communication. So its not a question of being a mathematician or an artist – I try to bring my mathematical thought and ideals into my photography.





"My Life" “ from Self-portrait” series

Your experience is unusual for an artist – how does that help you in your photography?

As I described above my thought processes are driven by my mathematical training and this influences my choice of subject matter and interpretation. My photographic series are all conceptual – every photograph starts with an idea. For example the “My Life” series is about mortality and the brief existence of humankind versus the vastness of time and space; “gum prints” are about character and individuality of a gum print as opposed to the infinitely repeatable perfection of a digital print; the “Moon Star” raises the question what is art – the subject matter being random “modern art” painting but created by Nature and Chance.

What is the most important part in the process of taking pictures?

Thinking beforehand is the most creative period – including constructing an image. It’s the concept, the reason for taking the photograph, that is important. It is also this part which is most difficult; the interpretation of that idea is less difficult and usually in my case leads to a series of images on that same theme.





And what process is the most enjoyable part?

In mathematics, finance and also in my art it is the thinking process which is most difficult but it is the sudden new insight, the “EUREKA!” moment which is most satisfying – orgasmic – in its intensity. In a different area of my work (gum printing) creating the print (which is done with paint and glue) is a craft process which I enjoy.

"Barn & Silo" from Gumprint series

"Campo S Vidal" from Gumprint series

I understand you make “gum prints” – would you briefly explain what they are?

“Gum prints” are hand made from a negative (or digital data file) but using paint and glue! It is one of the earliest photographic printing processes – about 170 years old – but which has evolved with the times.


What is the main attraction of a gum print?

Hand applied layers of pigments make it impossible to reproduce an identical print no matter how hard you try. It’s this hand application together with the characteristics of gum, pigments and the watercolour paper itself (I tend to prefer individually hand-made sheets of paper) which give a unique appearance to each print. When you see a gum print the first thought to pop into your mind is “what is it? – a photograph, a painting, a wood-block print …..”.


As well as gum printing you have the "Moon Star" series and the "Self-Portrait" series – would you also describe them?

The “Moon Star” series is abstract images which look like modern art paintings – the subject matter is rusty steel panels on farm building – old barn and shed walls - in Hokkaido, Japan. The title of the series is taken from the trademark of one of the leading steel manufacturers in Japan of "Nissin Steel" and "Moon Star", is the trademark of their steel product. The key point of this series is it raises the question “what is art?”. Can art be created by Nature? By photographing beauty do I convert Nature into Art? Or is the Art simply posing the question?

"Ladder" from Moon Star series

"Mountain range" from Moon Star series

At a superficial level these are simple photographs but the images have a deep meaning for me. Painted many times by men and scarred by nature, inexpressibly weird. If you look at them for a moment you wonder what story do they tell? These common barns, often collapsing and rotten, are ignored because of their familiarity but are works of art and beauty. They are an important document - and record a fragment of the history of harsh weather in the region. Coming from outside Japan that was my impression and I decided to record them photographically. Even for many Japanese these objects are evocative and nostalgic.

The “Self Portrait” series are conceptual images often made with large format pinhole cameras. And the art is the combination of the image and the rather poetic text that goes with them.


Is there any commonality between these two series and gum prints?

I can use gum printing to reproduce any image – so for example some of my “Moon Star” series are produces as gum prints and a few of the self-portraits also. Other than that they are driven by different concepts although one common element continues to run through most of my series – “Moon Star”, gum prints generally, “My Life” and also my still life and pinhole images – and that is of evolution and decay.


You have had many exhibitions, how do you determine the theme?

It often decides itself based on the series of photographs I have been producing. Thinking about a photographic theme can take a lot of time or be completely opportunistic. So exhibitions may be driven by my latest series or set of interpretations but sometimes a gallery owner may approach me requesting a particular series.


Geoff Chaplin for Bag'n Dath Cross Body

If you have not chosen to be a photographer, is there anything else you would have liked to do?
I love the appearance of wet-on-wet watercolour painting - the cleanness of the colours and the abstractness of the images. I would have been a bad painter probably.

What is your taste in design?
I don’t regard myself as a “follower of fashion”. I believe function should strongly influence form – in other words practicality is important. But I like something to be attractive and a pleasure to use within the constraints of practicality – for example an old fashioned Leica camera is ergonomically brilliant and a widely accepted standard of design excellence; my old V12 Jaguar is similar; my Pilot and Sailor fountain pens too.

You are fond of Bag'n Dath products, why is that?
The shoulder bag is my favourite – it is a simple practical design with clean lines. The materials are high quality and the construction is on a par with the materials. I’m particularly pleased that I could find my favourite texture and colour - in my case I prefer a soft leather and I am a fan of dark red. But I bought a black one too..

What three words defines you?
Thinker. Quiet. Stupid.

What is your life motto?
Be different!

Finally, do you have any plans for future new work?

Currently I am photographing small disused London churches with the intention of producing gum prints and also manipulated digital “painterly” prints. One thing that has interested me recently is the boundary between photography and painting. Many painters are producing art which looks photographic either in its realism or in the distortions (often time distortions) in the image. My gum prints are borderline between painting and photography, and many digital photographers are producing prints which no longer look photographic but more like a painting. My church series will be used to produce photographs, gum prints and painterly digital prints.



Brief Biography
Geoff Chaplin is a British born artist and photographer living and working in Hokkaido, Japan. He was brought up in Leicestershire, in the Midlands, UK, he studied maths at Cambridge then Oxford and after a brief period of post doctoral research in astro-physics, he trained as an actuary and moved into finance. While working at major investment banks such as HSBC, Nomura International and Mizuho he maintained a semi-professional interest in photography. And to the present he continues as a professional artist and photographer.


Main Published Books
2005 & 2010 (2nd edition): Credit Derivatives: Trading, Investing, and Risk Management (The Wiley Finance Series)
2009: Life Settlements and Longevity Structures: Pricing and Risk Management (The Wiley Finance Series)


Main Solo Exhibitions

2012: 'Beauty in Imperfection' – Tosei Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
     ‘B&W Pinhole Photography' – Geoff Gallery, Biei, Hokkaido, Japan
2011: 'Rust by Rust' – Clifford-Thames Gallery, London, UK
     ‘Two Personal Views – Moon Star & Gum Print' – Mombetsu City Museum, Japan
     ‘Gum Print, Geoff Chapin' – Kawasaki City Museum, Japan
     ‘A Lifetime of Service' – Nisshin Steel Gallery, Tokyo, Japan 
2010: 'Opus 7' – Clifford-Thames Gallery, London, UK
     ‘Age or Beauty?' – Bocco, Furano, Japan
     ‘Age or Beauty?' - Gallery Hirama, Asahikawa, Japan
2009: 'Age or Beauty?' - Higashikawa Photo Festival, Hokkaido, Japan
     ‘Age or Beauty?' - Gallery Shina, Kyoto, Japan
2008: 'Paintgraphy – Hokkaido Gum Print series' – Clifford-Thames Gallery, London, UK
     'Moon Star, modern art painted by nature in Hokkaido' – Nisshin Steel Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
2007: 'Age or Beauty?' – Clifford-Thames Gallery,London, UK
2005: 'Peeling Pain' – Clifford-Thames Gallery, London, UK
2004: 'Images of Hokkaido' – Clifford-Thames Gallery, London, UK

And he has done many joint and group exhibitions in the past.
For more information, please see contact details.

Coming exhibitions
London, Clifford-Thames Gallery, Oct / Nov 2013.






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