Dillon Marsh

Are you a self-taught photographer?
I started [pursuing photography] at university, where I studied Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, the town I grew up in. Afterwards, I went overseas for a couple of years. When I came back, I started working in Cape Town as a retouch artist and worked on other people’s photographs in Photoshop. I worked on compositing images and putting them together for advertising in magazine editorials.

So you’ve been in South Africa for most of your life. How has being based in Cape Town influenced your art?
South Africa has a thriving, vibrant art scene, although I’m not fully integrated with it yet. South Africa still gives me lots of inspiration. I just love traveling around the country because the art varies quite a bit with the changing landscape. The people and the landscape that they occupy seem to form a strong center in my work, like for Copper for example.

When did you get your first camera?
I was traveling in a park with my family and my grandma had a camera. I was interested, but I accidentally opened the back of the camera and exposed many of the images. This was in the 1990’s.

Do you still predominately shoot film?
Actually, I shoot digital now. What I love about photography is that it is still always a surprise for me. I enjoy taking photos and then finding all the new details in the images. I become more aware of what else is happening around me after I take the shot.

Did any artists serve as inspiration to you growing up?
No one specifically when I was growing up, but now I admire professional landscape photographers like Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky.

Where can you imagine yourself living if not in South Africa?
I’m not too sure because I’ve lived in the UK for two years but that’s always been temporary. I like traveling to new places, but I love coming back home to Cape Town.

Where is your next travel destination?
I’m sticking to South Africa for now. I am going to Johannesburg because that’s where a lot of the gold and platinum mines are located. South Africa has a very diverse mining industry that I want to continue to explore.

Speaking of mining, I’m a huge fan of your “For What It’s Worthcopper and diamond series. What’s the story behind beginning the project?
I started For What It’s Worth earlier this year. Mining is quite a dominant feature in South African politics and history of the country, so I thought it would be nice to present what exactly came out of these mines.

How did you visualize the concept behind combining photography and digitized 3D work on the computer?
I used CGI 3D-rendering for this series. I would first photograph the mines and then come back home to research the raw materials taken from it, whether it was copper or diamond in this case. Using various formulas, I worked out what the approximate size of the copper sphere would be. Essentially, I use this 3D-rendering program to take the regions of each mine and map it into the reflections of the spheres. Afterwards in Photoshop, I composite the two mediums together, so the 3D spheres can be fully integrated into the landscape.

What was most challenging about For What It’s Worth?
Sometimes it’s difficult to get access to the mines. Some of the mines have viewing spots and platforms that anyone can access. Sometimes I needed special permission to enter the space and stand close enough to the mine for the photograph.

There seemed to be a theme of abandonment and isolation in your series like Invasive Species and Limbo. Why was it important for you to tie in the environment with this concept of “isolation”  in your series?
I’m drawn to the absurd and the strange ways in which humans interact with their landscape. I’m not necessarily looking to pass judgment on the environmental discourse. My main aim is just to look at the landscape being occupied.

In that case, can you go into the research process of finding locations for those shoots?
What sparks a project for me is usually a chance encounter. That happens when I’m traveling around. When I’m working on another project, I’ll see something that inspires me. Then once that idea is ignited, I’ll do more research to find out as much as I can before I take more photographs.

Do you have any favorite series from your portfolio?
I love the weaver nets in the Assimilation series from 2010.

How do you define beauty?
I find beauty in the things that are left behind or forgotten. I think beauty is hidden in absurdity. There’s a lot of beauty in things that have lost their function. I love seeing nature taking over again in forming something that has just fallen apart. Cape Town in general is just beautiful. I also love the smell of mist; it brings out some interesting smells in the landscape.

What would you do with your time if you knew you could not fail?
I’ve got this fantasy about mountain climbing, so I would probably pack up and climb a mountain somewhere.

And lastly, what’s next for you?
I’m planning for an exhibition in Cape Town at the Brundyn Gallery in December. I’m also getting married in March!


For more of Dillon’s work, check out his website. Interviewed by Michelle Kim (Harvard ’18).