We’re so delighted to welcome Shelley Horan’s bold and energetic exhibition, Compositions, into our gallery on 27 October!

Her collection of still life photographs leave us enchanted and surprised at every turn, with unexpected assemblages crafted from found objects within the home.

Read on to hear more from Horan about this undoubtedly fun and refreshing series of photographs, visit the exhibition page here, and check out some of her favourite tunes to listen to in the studio whilst creating the works here.

Composition 14 (You Know The Drill) with Hand Sanitiser.

You have been developing the ‘Compositions’ series for a few years now. What was your initial inspiration, and how do you feel like the series has evolved over time?

It’s been interesting to see the work evolve over the last two years. I made the first picture at a time when I was housebound with unimagined amounts of free time. I challenged myself to make an interesting image without leaving the house. Limited resources and strict boundaries led me to concentrate like I hadn’t before. Over time, I see the recent compositions are simpler and more intimate than the earlier ones. I like that there’s variety like that across the series.

Composition 23 (Fibre Optics) with Toothbrush and Raspberry.

What attracts you to an object to use in your still life scenes? And how do you approach combining such different objects?

Throughout most of the series, I’m using stuff I have at arm’s reach. I have even pulled a few things out of the bin (#20 is a fun example of this).

I don’t set out with a clear idea of what I’m going to make. It’s trial and error to work out what goes together. Looking over the collection now, I can see a pattern. Almost every picture has a mix of the following. Simple shapes, primary colours, some textural interest and a little transparency or reflection. It’s funny to distil what I’ve been making for two years into a simple, obvious formula.

I'll rummage around and pull things from the cupboard or kitchen that have potential. The potential to look fun or different outside of their normal context.”
— Shelley Horan
Composition 18 (Tall Tales) with a Pinch of Tobacco, Twenty Cent Coin, Personal Lubricant, Mascara Applicator, Match Stick, Lime Starburst and Sugar Cubes.

How do you find a starting place for your compositions, and how do you know when they are done?

I’ll kick off by placing things together on a surface. I’ll try to arrange something that’s funny or strange. For a while, I’m not sure what I’m doing. It’s slow. And painful. But I’ll stick with it. I’ll try different arrangements and change the lighting. I’m taking a lot of pictures with each adjustment. And then something lines up and suddenly it feels like I’m on the right track. Now, I’ve figured out what I’m doing. From here, the process shifts from playful experimentation to one of compulsive refining. There’s a lot of fine-tuning of placement and lighting. At this point, I’m making sure I found the perfect spot, the right balance of light and colour.

Composition 11 (Less Is Moiré) with Paper Weight and Allen’s Mintie.

Knowing when an image is ‘finished’ is more straightforward. It’s when I don’t think I can make it better. I photographed most of the pictures at home. If I needed to, I could leave everything set up and walk away for a couple of hours (or days) and come back with fresh eyes. To be sure.

Starting is the hardest part. It's not a romantic or inspirational process.”
— Shelley Horan

What excites you about this exhibition?

I love that I get to take pictures for a living. But a lot of my commercial work has a fast turnaround and a short shelf life. The stakes are high because there’s money involved and results are expected. Compromises are made.

The compositions are made under a very different set of rules. When I started, there was no expectation that it would become a series. No stakes, no pressure, no timelines or deadlines. So in that regard, there was a real casualness in the making. A nice change of pace.

Composition 29 (Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover) with Rubber Band, Musk Sticks and Wine Cork.

But I have borrowed a lot of techniques from my commercial practice. Lighting to make a scene more palatable. Looking for maximum detail and sharpness through a process known as focus stacking. And the retouching is exhaustive. I enjoyed taking these processes and applying them to this new context. I hadn’t worked in this way before.

How important are the names to the works?

I’m terrible at coming up with names. So the original titles were mundane. The number of the work followed by a list. But these lists can be long and annoying to type. And I kept forgetting them! So I had these private subtitles in my head to help me remember what image I was working on.

Funnily, these subtitles worked their way into the official name. So it’s a game now. To spend a long time working on and perfecting a picture. And to then throw this other thing (the title) on top, to see what happens. I’m excited to see how this arbitrary bit of data might affect the interpretation of the work.

Composition 21 (Subtitle Pending) with Felt Pen, Two Vitamin D Liquid Capsules, Snap Frozen Broccoli, AirPod Pro and Unboxed Saladas.

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