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Magma editor meets Alvin Erbil

Cover image by Alvin Erbil, Year 12 student at Fortismere School, North London


Designing the cover image for Magma 85 was set as a task for the A Level Photography class at Fortismere School, North London, by their teacher Guy Holden. The students produced a marvellous range of images from which the editors, with much discussion, chose Alvin Erbil’s. Here, Magma Editor Gill Ward talks with Alvin about the process of creating the image.

Magma: The image that is on the cover of Magma 85 is striking, unsettling and enigmatic. How did you get that interesting effect? Were your models hard to work with? Did you direct them or allow them to take their own positions?

Alvin: This was an exciting opportunity for me to create a cover for Magma 85. There were two key components in creating the ‘unsettling’ cover: creating the effect and the position of the models. First, I projected the text (which featured verses from a poem by a “dead white man”) onto my models, intending to envelope them as if they were enmeshed by the words. Instead of directing the models I let them freely pose, allowing me to capture their true feelings. Their facial expressions and body language reflected the mood I intended to capture: despair. They were great to work with, as we are already close friends and take pictures of each other for our photography assignments. This was just normal for us; it wasn’t difficult to communicate and work together. Thank you, Luke and Sophia!

Magma: Did you deliberately choose to work in monochrome with a flash of red for your images and is this how you prefer to work?

Alvin: It was not my initial plan to have the colour red to appear on the cover, but it added a contrasting. By creating a monochromatic image, it reflected the emotions which many young people feel in the world today: directionless and hopelessness. However, the ‘flash of red’ emits a sense of passion, mirroring the desire which a young demographic would relate to: a longing for change – a change in social, political, and environmental issues. I always want to integrate some type of meaning into my photographs. It transforms the photo into something more powerful as it incites a reaction among viewers.

Magma: Could you tell us a bit more about the way you work as a photographer? How do you find or create the images in your work?

Alvin: Most of the images I capture are based on a specific theme (for example, urban life). When I take a photograph, it’s always my intention to further manipulate the image into something unnatural or ambiguous, still intending to display the specific theme. I achieve this by using Photoshop. At the beginning of lockdown, I decided I wanted to learn how to use the software. By watching tutorials and using the knowledge acquired, I began to combine multiple images together to create an example of surrealism. Photoshop is such a powerful tool for me, even for photography assignments. I believe it is more than just software for retouching photos, but a program to create dreamlike works-of-art, which allows artists to underline a mood or theme in their photographs.

Magma: What made you choose photography rather than art as an A Level option?

Alvin: I was never good at art, though I found it to be a pleasurable hobby when I was younger. My abilities to physically draw or paint something did not align with the skills required to study GCSE or A Level art. Although this path was blocked for me, photography was another way for me to pursue creativity. I found the subject enjoyable while taking it for my GCSEs, as it was a subject that lined up with my desire for creative freedom. It allowed me to abstract my environment and use the camera, not as a machine, but as an eyepiece on how I perceive the world. I therefore wanted to further explore and expand my knowledge of the subject, not only for creativity, but also for social and cultural understanding.

Magma: You’re also studying English literature for A Level – do you see any links between poetry and photography?

Alvin: Poetry intends to construct an image through words, whereas photography displays a visual image. However, by studying both English literature and photography, I’ve found they are no doubt intertwined with each other. Photographers and poets are both defined as artists. They create a piece of art based on a subject, transforming these compositions into something significant, intending to evoke meaning by constructing a narrative and by incorporating an intensity of viewing and sensing. Photographs and poems are more alike than we would have thought!

Magma: You are obviously a talented photographer and we hope that having this as your first “commission” will look good in your portfolio! Are you going to take this skill into higher education, and/or is it going to be integral to your future career?

Alvin: Hopefully. With Magma giving me this opportunity to showcase one of my works, it has opened up an option for me and motivated me to further continue with photography in higher education.

Magma: Any more comments?

Alvin: Fortismere is one of those rare schools which still actively encourage creativity, even adding photography at A-Level, which I perceive as unique in comparison to other sixth forms. The photography teachers in Fortismere are the engines which drive students to push the boundaries of photography; they inspire students to examine a diverse range of photographic techniques. From learning traditional photography in the darkroom, to creating something extraordinary from ordinary subjects, the possibilities are endless! Mr Holden, one of my photography teachers encouraged me, together with the rest of his students, to participate in a competition to create a cover for this edition. I am so grateful to be a part of a school which acknowledges creativity and allows students to pursue their interests and aspirations for their future careers!

From Magma 85, Poems for schools

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