The second national Jerwood/Photoworks Awards will reward outstanding proposals from UK-based artists and photographers using new approaches to photography in their practice. Three awards of £5,000 will be given out to each artist to support the production of new work. The Awards also come with a mentoring program, access to an additional production fund of up to £5,000 per artist and a group exhibition in London as part of the Jerwood Visual Art program at Jerwood Space, with a subsequent UK tour.

The inaugural Award, given out in 2015 to three different artists, was a huge success. LensCulture sat down with one of these winners, Tereza Zelenkova, to find out more about her edgy and innovative practice. This is an edited transcript of the exchange:

LC: You have a wide array of interests. What first attracted you to photography as a means of expressing your ideas? What keeps you tied to it now?

TZ: Initially, it was my frustration with not being able to draw or paint very well that pulled me into photography. I was really excited about finally finding a way to realize my visual ideas without having to draw them!

As I grew more serious about my photography, I became increasingly aware about how the specificities of the medium suited my interests and creative intentions. Its relationship with time, death, darkness and light, the unconscious—I could go on and on. That’s what keeps me faithful to the medium and continuously exploring its possibilities.

LC: You often work in response to major thinkers—Sigmund Freud, Georges Bataille to name a few. Can you say more about your “translation” process of taking a dense philosophical idea and finding a way to communicate it through the frame of a photograph?

TZ: I think that’s a common misperception of my work—I am not really interested in Freud beyond his theories of consciousness. I am more interested in places out of time, such as Freud’s study which has been preserved in London in its original state. Of course, I am fascinated with Freud as a character but he’s not an essential figure for my practice.

With Bataille, I feel a very strong affiliation with his way of thinking and his sensitivity to certain states of being. There’s an intensity in his writing that resonates deeply with me. I also really respond to the way he combined images and texts in his Surrealist publication Documents. That being said, I am not trying to illustrate his philosophical thought in my work. He is someone whose thinking about world is very close to mine—but he had a gift to be able to put it into words, something I lack. That is to say that my work is not directly inspired by any writers. Rather, I take some degree of reference from writings, especially those which can express in words what I’m trying to communicate through my photographs.

LC: Mythologies and folklores often have a darker tone and subject matter than we acknowledge today (the Brothers Grimm fairytales, for example). Your project embraces these darker roots. Can you say more about what it was like to return to the roots of your childhood and dig up this particular atmosphere that you produced?

TZ: This atmosphere is something that runs throughout all of my work and it’s what actually led me to even consider this project. The photos represent a realization that the fairytales and mythologies surrounding me when I was growing up had a deep impact on me. They were essential to defining who I am now and where my interests lie in my work.

In general, my artistic practice is about trying to capture and convey some kind of beauty that often has to do with things both dark and mysterious. It’s hard to describe—that’s why I need those writers!

LC: In 2015, you were one of the recipients of the Jerwood/Photoworks Award. What did winning this award offer in terms of visibility and giving a boost to your career?

TZ: The main benefit of the award was knowing that my work had an impact on the jury and that they believed in my project.

The second main benefit was the financial support, which allowed me to buy materials and travel back and forth between London (where I live) and the Czech Republic (where the project was shot). I wouldn’t have been able to afford this without the project grant and that’s what really makes an impact in many people’s work.

Fundamentally, that was the most important thing for me: to be able to pursue this project and get a head start on producing photographs. To have enough money and time to do what I like to do, which is taking photos and becoming better at saying the things I want to say with them.

It’s all about learning and that never stops: there are no limits to the knowledge and level of skill you can achieve.

—Tereza Zelenkova


Editors’ Note: The latest call for entries for the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards are open and accepting entries! The Awards are available to any practitioners using photography, though applicants must reside in the UK. There are no age limitations and no requirement for art school or university education. Deadline for applications is November 2, 2016.

The 2015 winners—Joanna Piotrowska, Matthew Finn and Tereza Zelenkova are currently being shown at Belfast Exposed until October 1, 2016. After Belfast, they will travel to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, England and exhibit from October 28 to December 18, 2016.