Dominic Rouse has been described as one of the most interesting photographers working today. He is a visionary in the truest sense of the word and his work probably has more in common with painting than photography. Brooks Jensen, the editor of America's LensWork Magazine, has said that Rouse does not take pictures of the world, he makes photographs of his mind. His unique vision and mastery of his craft set him apart from most of the other photographers who use the computer in their practice. His work may appear to be rooted in the past but it is the product of a seamless blend of the latest digital technologies and the timeless qualities of large format photography.
Perhaps it’s best to simply say that Dominic Rouse sits a little too long alone with his thoughts, spinning phantasmagorical allegories in his mind which he then translates, through computer alchemy, into some of the most interesting, unsettling, brazen and fantastic images being made today.
Given the baroque nature of his work, it’s understandable to hear Rouse describe his approach in slightly grandiose terms: “To take a piece of paper coated with a gelatin in which are suspended a million silver halides, and then to allow first light and then chemicals to caress it in such a way that they leave behind an impression of one’s soul, is an exquisite
joy, which no amount of criticism can diminish,” he says.
It was mediocrity, Rouse claims, which led to his lifetime passion for photography. An indifferent student in Ipswich, England, his exam scores were not high enough to allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist. But his exams were at the level necessary to study photography, so Rouse went with plan ‘B’, learned about the medium for a year, and at 16 years of age began working as a press photographer for the local newspaper.
“After three or four years I grew bored with the limitations of the job,” Rouse says. “I applied to another college to study commercial photography. I had a great interest in learning special effects. It was rare for me to produce something that was a single image. Even back in the 1980s I was experimenting with putting disparate elements together to make an image. That turned into quite a good business because not many people in my neck of the woods were able to do what I could. I was charging a premium for producing photographic manipulations.”
“Making art is like walking a very fine line. To one side lies indolence, and on the other the fear of success.”
When Rouse discovered the digital world, in 1996, it was love at first sight. He could see the possibilities the computer opened up for him. “I’d had all these images in my head for years,” he says. “I don’t know what they were doing there, because I couldn’t do them photographically. I’d always assumed they were images I would do in my retirement, when I had plenty of time to put them together. My plan was to have them retouched by experts in London, probably by an airbrush artist. Suddenly I found this machine that allowed me to do it all by myself. It was absolutely fantastic. Suddenly I started flying.”
It was Geoff Clark, a tutor at Blackpool and the Fylde College, who opened Rouse’s mind to the poetic potential of photography. His years as a press photographer had instilled a certain cynicism — a constricted view of life as a working photographer. He knew there was a wider world of creative possibilities out there, and that people were doing interesting things, but it was a foreign, unexplored territory, and Rouse had no idea of how to get there on his own.
“I do not choose to make my images. They choose me to get made.”