Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dead Man Talking #1 - Caitlin Sagan

Strachan McQuade Interviews Caitlin Sagan

This is the very first showcase for my blog and after a few rowdy production meetings with the backroom staff – we decided to point the spotlight on my good friend Caitlin Sagan whose stunning photographic work and eye-catching book covers have been attracting a tsunami-like tidal-swell of admirers. Seeing as how this is my blog I naively assumed I’d get to do the interview, but my editorial assistant Strachan McQuade produced a signed document from some years back stating that if at any time in the future I had a blog then he was to undertake these duties. It does look like my signature on the document (witnessed by a GP and our local greengrocer) but……… it’s odd I don’t remember a thing about it. Anyway, without further ado. Over to you Strachan. 

Strachan McQuade RIP

Caitlin Sagan

McQuade: What? No theme music? By Jove, can’t see this showcase thing lasting long. Anyway, my first question to you, Ms Sagan, is do you mind if I smoke my pipe? It’s a lovely old Cherrywood. Princess Margaret said it made me look distinguished in a roguish yet scholarly sort of way.

Sagan:  That would be fine. Do you mind if I drink this lovely Sloe Gin?

McQuade: In my experience alcohol and women don’t usually make for a good combination. It makes them start dancing and shrieking about unfulfilled sex lives, but imbibe if you must. So then, you’re a photographer are you? You might be interested to know I still have an old Box Brownie which I find perfectly adequate for taking snapshots of land-fills and shopping centres.
According to my badly researched notes, you use a digital camera which I personally think is nothing less than blatant cheating. But answer me this. What unfair advantages does digital photography give you over traditional hard working photographers who still have go to Boots the chemist to develop their photos? Apart from not being arrested for the racy stuff, of course.

Sagan:  Hmmmmm… (snorts with annoyance) Digital photography doesn’t give any unfair advantages, it’s just a different medium, which allows me to do things that Boots can’t do. Seriously though, it’s liberating, being able to shoot loads of photos and not worry about the printing costs. Trying out new things and not fretting too much about getting it perfect each time. It enables you to stumble upon different effects and above all, it’s great fun. I could never have done infrared or HDR photography with a traditional film camera.
Funnily enough, landfills and shopping centres sound like good photography locations. You’re full of surprises.

McQuade: I am indeed. (removes head and juggles with it) I hear through my speed-dating website that you’re involved in some kind of calendar promotion. I hope this isn’t anything like those old strumpets from the WI who thought it would be entertaining to undress in public and hide their what-nots behind buttered crumpets and strawberry jam flans.

Sagan:  Nope, my crumpets are well hidden in this calendar. In fact I even think you’d approve, Mr McQuade. It’s a photo of our local church, the cathedral of the Colne Valley, shot in infrared and is going to be on the cover of  the local fundraising calendar which will go on sale this weekend at the world famous Marsden Jazz Festival.

 McQuade: Approval granted. You’ve also been designing book covers for writers not good enough to get a proper publishing deal (like Watson). What other writers have you been working with and name three authors you would kill to design their covers. Obviously I don’t mean kill the authors, that would be both stupid and illegal.

Sagan: I have indeed done a few book covers recently, including Mr Watson’s and for your good self too, Mr Mc. I also did David Barber’s excellent recent series of stories, ‘From a Crowded Mind vol.1’, and Julia Hawkes-Moore’s ethereal ‘Dancing in Circles’ both of which were challenging and great fun.

I would seriously LOVE to do a cover for Steve Mosby. His books are dark, menacing and full of shadows which leave you feeling disorientated and stay with you for days. If my photos were a book they would be written by Steve, as that’s exactly the atmosphere I often aim for.

I can’t really add Phil Rickman as I couldn’t improve on John Mason or Bev Craven’s covers, but I do love them and the atmosphere they invoke. If  John or Bev ever get bored…
My third author would be a recent find, FG Cottam. The sense of dread I love is definitely found in his stories and I think I could dredge up a creepy, atmospheric image from the depths of somewhere.

It’s tempting to add Mark Billingham or Jo Nesbo, but I don’t think they would fit the spookiness and creepiness I try to capture in my pictures. I could, however, change style if they *were* interested.

McQuade: Well, they’re not. So stop thinking about it. Rumour has it you’ve been using a static caravan as your working premises. I imagine the neighbours will assume you’re running a bordello. I certainly would if I stayed next door to you. Have you any plans for investing in a more up-market working space?

Sagan:  My beautiful little caravan is a great working environment, but is getting over-run with bookings for friends wanting a ‘glamping experience’. I now have a studio space in an old textile mill full of artists, which is really inspiring and fun. We also have the opportunity to show our work in a couple of galleries, so I now have some large framed prints on public display and for sale. It’s all a bit strange, weird and bizarre. I never imagined I’d find myself in this position until a great friend, Allan Watson, encouraged me to do a cover for his book ‘Carapace’ some time ago. His support and gentle bullying has been just the kick up the arse I needed.

McQuade: As previously stated, when I used to dabble with the old photography lark, I loved to capture the panoramic random topography of Landfill sites, where you were guaranteed to capture lovely snaps of seagulls and other natural scavengers of nature (gypsies, tinkers, Aberdonians). What kind of subject matter rings your bell?

Sagan:  That’s an easy one, as they are the ones I keep returning to- derelict buildings, churches, cemeteries, trees, standing stones, graffiti.

McQuade: Oh well. Each to their own, I suppose. (Looks at watch) I’ve a proctologist appointment in half an hour, so as a final question - what other photographers/artists (apart from me) inspire you?

Sagan:  I love John Mason and the late Simon Marsden’s infrared photos, but I don’t generally like famous photographers. I love Urbex (urban exploration) photos and stuff that’s strange and unusual. Artists I admire are Gustave Moreau for his sense of weirdness and otherworldliness, Auguste Rodin, Antoni Gaudi, Georges Braques and Constantin Brancusi. I also love the Pre-Raphaelites and a whole load of Art Nouveau.

McQuade: Caitlin Sagan. You’ve been a fun and frothy first guest. As a token of my gratitude please accept this Victoria sponge cake along with an old box of sea shells I found under my bed. Thank you and goodnight. Hell and damn – there’s still no theme music. Watson get this fixed! Meanwhile, why not have a gander at Caitlin's photos at www.caitlinsagan.co.uk


  1. This was a very enjoyable interview. Mr. McQuade is VERY amusing!

  2. Mr McQuade made the whole experience pain-free. I don't think much to the cake though

  3. Great to hear about your work! I love your cemetery and church pictures, so spooky and atmospheric. And what an entertaining interviewer- fun.

  4. Must be nice to get a kick in the arse. I think I need one too. I guess I will just have to go ask someone for it instead of waiting and waiting.
    P.s. This interview made my tummy hurt(:

  5. Fantastic work Ms Sagan and deserves to be publicized! (Ye Gods, Allan, whatever posessed you to make the old Rev your editorial assistant?)

  6. And actually I didn't do that cover for Julia :)

  7. Sorry, I got way too star struck talking to Strachan