After four decades and five sold-out photo books, fine art photographer Cig Harvey’s love affair with imaging shows no signs of slowing. Join her as she reflects on creative drives, elaborate processes, and a new project with FUJIFILM GFX100 II
Few among us can surrender themselves to passion. Not fleetingly, but with both heart and mind, dedicating all the time permitted in this life to the exploration of a craft. It could be said that nothing is ever truly mastered, but icons of their respective mediums come as close as any will. For their efforts, they are awarded reverence, an experience molded by creation, and the status of legend.
In the sphere of image making, Cig Harvey is one such figure. She has poured close to 40 years into the art form, shifting from commercial success to teaching, then seamlessly into the exploration of her furthest creative depths.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have had photography as this constant in my life since I was 13,” Cig begins. “I would go every Saturday to a darkroom on Gandy Street in Exeter, UK. I loved everything about it: the smell, the camaraderie, making something from nothing, and the idea you could turn a box of paper and some chemistry into a stack of prints that are somehow a manifestation of how you feel inside.
“Decades later, I’m in love with the medium more than ever. You have to be in photography for a lifetime to do anything more than scratch the surface. It’s such a deep well, and all it does is give and give. There are so many projects I still want to complete. So it’s been a constant, and will always be a constant – I know that to be true.”
Having visually journaled her life, Cig’s creative eye has been drawn back to the genre of fine art time and again. Four sold-out photo books stand as testaments to her skill and dedication, with another on the way. To her, it’s a process built on purity.
“Fine art only seeks to convey an idea, a thought, a gesture, a passion,” she asserts. “It only gives, it’s got no ulterior motive. It could be landscape, portraits, a documentary project – fine art doesn’t mean to say you only photograph still life – but it’s always the personal making of something you’re concerned with in the world. Not necessarily concerned in a negative way. It just means: what do you care about? What do you love? What sets you and I apart? What are your obsessions? The work comes from that place.”
At the highest level, the process of creation is as considered as it comes. Striking a fine balance between spontaneity and meditative curation, Cig begins to piece a project together.
“I always carry a small camera with me for journal making. If I see something that stops me in my tracks, makes me gasp, interrupts me, I make a picture of it. Then I bring that back to my studio and ask: what was there? Maybe it was color or gesture. Often it’s the light. I’ll put that image into a big folder with other pictures that are starting to interest me,” the
“I might revisit those scenes in a different context or with a model. I’ll craft my pictures, then I begin truly analyzing how all the images I’ve collected relate to each other. One might be a found photo documented from a car window; another could be this worked idea, or more of a constructed image. But I trust the process so well that I know it will all reveal something about what I’m concerned with.
“Looking into that somewhat secret language of art is wonderful,” Cig effuses. “It’s an extraordinary way to live because it opens up a way of communicating that is completely different from a verbal level.”
Preparation is another key consideration, in the selection of tools as well as broader means of elevating scenes. Having been dedicated to X Series and GFX System since their inceptions, Fujifilm cameras and lenses have become a trusted part of Cig’s work.
“I typically work with one camera and one lens at a time – to keep things simple,” she reveals. “For that reason, I value great glass and the best-quality sensor I can carry daily. If you’re intimidated by a camera, you won’t use it enough. You’ve got to bring photography into your life and find the system that suits you.
“Then I take props with me everywhere I go – perhaps a piece of clothing or, for this new project, cakes. I have it all ready so that, when the light is gorgeous or the fog rolls in, I’ve got what I need to create an aesthetic. I try to experiment beyond my initial ideas, too. Typically, those are the images I end up responding to most.”
Centered around cakes, Cig’s latest series draws life from her fifth book, Blue Violet – a natural evolution of interests, themes, and hidden meanings. It’s been created with FUJIFILM GFX100 II, which is itself built upon greatness. With the camera in hand, Cig has created a number of surreal, enchanting scenes.
“When my daughter, Scout, was very little, on a rainy day I would open the cupboard and she would start throwing everything into a bowl. The ingredients were relatively cheap, and she could bake them to stay occupied and creative. Then she fell in love with baking shows.
“There’s something democratic about cakes, right?” Cig muses. “Most of us have the ingredients in our houses. They’re made up of simple things – flour, butter, eggs, and sugar – and I love that. Through inexpensive materials, you get access to something that feels luxurious and fanciful.”
Soon, inspired by the free-spirited extravagance of a family friend, Scout’s cakes began to become more elaborate.
“Those are the cakes I started photographing – carrying her labors of love delicately out into a snowstorm or any other landscape,” Cig recalls.
“Then I started doing research on cakes that opened up a whole world of how, like the flowers in Blue Violet, they’re seen as feminine – quite pretty – and yet have a complicated history. I love that dichotomy in art, where we think one thing and then discover it’s not that simple. Cakes are complicated. Every culture, from ancient to modern, has their own version of cake. They’re nationalistic, but also one of the first objects in our childhood we associate with pleasure and a breaking of routine. Many people personally associate cake with guilt, too, and they only became commonplace with the arrival of sugar – which is completely linked to colonialism. But everyone has stories around cake. People come to me now and tell me all their cake stories, and they’re fascinating.”
“A brilliant friend of mine has just been diagnosed with vascular dementia,” Cig continues. “What she wants right now is pleasure, and she loves cake. I adore going to visit her because she eats the cakes I bring, licks the plate clean, and it’s such a language of beauty. At the end of our days, beauty is the only language worth speaking.”
While artistry comes before technical means during her process, the practical and creative benefits of GFX100 II were not lost on Cig throughout the sessions.
“I always want the best kit to serve a purpose,” she reveals. “GFX100 II is lighter and more compact than its predecessor. The more detailed sensor is huge for me because, with my work, I print up to 40x60in.
“The quality of Fujifilm’s digital image has always been delicious, but that quality is better than ever. I’ve been looking at my files, zooming in, and thinking wow! We’re at 400% and it’s still dreamy. Also, because of the low-light conditions, I was at a higher ISO than usual and GFX100 II handled it exceptionally.
“I view a camera as a tool for ideas, so if a viewer is more focused on visual distractions than the content of the frame, that doesn’t work.”
Cig’s final thoughts return to the heart of all imagery: bringing imagination to life.
“For me, the photo-making process happens in-camera. I treat the digital post-production space the same way I treated the darkroom. My job is to go and see the world, then bring back that picture of evidence. That’s why I love Fujifilm’s digital image – it’s a mirror of what my eye is seeing.”
Cig Harvey’s upcoming photo book is an artistic exploration of time, light, color, and what it means to see. It will be available via Monacelli Press next year.