Artist Spotlight: Billy Woods

Photographs: Billy Woods

Belfast-based Billy Woods documents the architecture, landscapes, and people of Reykjavik, delving into their city and gaining an understanding of the ways that Irish and Icelandic cultures have been interwoven, be it through shared DNA, or shared experiences of economic struggles.
The result is “Papar”, a beautifully tactile 40 page publication produced as a risograph printed zine by Damn Fine Print.

Can you tell us a bit more about your decision to make Papar? What attracted you to the zine format specifically?

The project came about after talking to illustrator Conor Nolan and artist Izzy Rose Grange at the Dublin Art Book Fair. They both work with Damn Fine Print and encouraged me to produce something for Damn Fine Press after I traded a zine of mine with Conor for one of his. I thought enough of the work I had made in Iceland to give it an outlet and this was a great opportunity to give the project some time and attention and produce something interesting.

Growing up in the punk scene got me into D.I.Y culture and buying and trading zines from punk distros since my early teens. I’m a big fan of people publishing their own work and zines have and continue to be a fantastic outlet for that. A zine can be anything from a meticulously hand made art book, to an artist’s version of a handwritten letter to send to your friends. They can be archival or disposable. Slow or immediate, or any middle ground of those perimeters. There’s a lot of creativity available in a medium that works like that.

I’m interested in your decision to photograph Iceland given how it’s so widely photogprahed already. What drew you there and were you wary of all the clichéd depictions of it before you started your project?

My travel partner Jamie and myself had a week to kill off work and between gaffs. It was silly cheap to get to and stay in Iceland because of the time of year. I take photos anywhere I go usually. Being in a different country or city is a good excuse to just take photos for myself and for fun without a purpose for them. Meeting the two gentlemen I photographed on the steps gave me a narrative to make pictures around after they informed me of the historic connections between our islands. So I wasn’t over there specifically to make a piece of work. The opportunity was presented to me on the trip.

I try not to let already existing work of a subject worry me; at least not when I’m producing it. Even if something or somewhere has been photographed a thousand times, me taking my pictures isn’t going to hurt. I’m also approaching it by my own methodology and eye which is different to the anyone else’s. At worst I’ll make another mediocre photo, or at best give a fresh perspective on a great subject. If it’s a boring photo the world doesn’t need, the world doesn’t need to see it. I can just enjoy the fact I had fun making it. If it’s an interesting photo that brings something positive to the table then great. 

I love how creative riso printing can be. The texture, transparency and quality of the inks and the endless combinations of treatments you can give the images are amazing

Billy Woods


The images have a kind of dark, manic but also mystical energy to them. Can you elaborate on the type of mood you wanted to convey with the sequence?

I’m always striving for the feeling of honesty in my documentary work. Maybe touch of visual openness and vulnerability too. I think trying to be existent and factual with this was especially important especially shooting as an outsider. In Ireland we have a rich cultural history and identity, which is an amazing thing to have. We’re also no stranger to a romanticised and warped representation of our island’s milieu. I think Iceland experiences a similar phenomenon at times and I don’t want to contribute to that.

The photos taken in Reykjavik were all very spontaneous and quick and the photos taken of the landscape and historical sites where allowed to be a little more considered. This along with a slight change in printing techniques championed by Conor allowed me to give the historic and contemporary elements of the pictures their own subtle character compared to each other.

Why did you settle on specifically Riso as your print medium?

I was lucky to have Damn Fine Print want to collaborate with me and give me an opportunity to make something with them facilitating the technical process. I love how creative riso printing can be. The texture, transparency and quality of the inks and the endless combinations of treatments you can give the images are amazing. The experimentation and slight unpredictability that comes with risk printing really suits my work and process. The fact that it’s incredibly environmentally sound compared to other printing processes is a massive positive as well.

What was it like working with Damn Fine Print on printing a zine in a somewhat non traditional way?

It was a fantastic experience, and one I hope to repeat. The folks there really know the mediums they work with inside out and upside down; considering how expansive the possibilities are with riso having folks be patient and educational with your options is something I’m very appreciative of.  Working with them and having them guide me and advise through the process made the publication as good as it could be. It’s great to have somewhere local that can be hands on, helpful and considerate of your work.

Why the blue?

To be honest, it just felt like it suited the energy of the project. Being given an opportunity to be published with Damn Fine Press felt like a good time to be experimental and conceptual with the options afforded to me with risograph printing.

Tell me about one photography project/book/exhibiton that blew your mind and explain why you think everyone should look it up.

One project is Timothy O’Connell’s work in Ireland. It’s a work in progress that I love seeing evolve and expand. Living somewhere means we don’t always see it with the same perspective and intrigue as we’d like to. So when someone makes thoughtful and considered work of your home it can be really special and insightful. It’s even more special when it’s someone with an eye and energy like Tim’s doing it. I’ve never seen a photo project of Ireland that’s as expansive, real, and visually stunning.

Any other projects in the pipeline?

I’ve a few I’ve been working on based around the musical culture that exists in Belfast. One is based around the Warzone Collective and The Centre. A gig collective and Social space I was involved with before gentrification of Belfast’s city centre seen it knocked down in 2018. I exhibited some of those pictures alongside a dilectogram of the space curated by Dr Jim Donaghey. I’m trying to spend the current excess of downtime curating that project and giving it the time it deserves.

‘Papar’ is risograph printed on Fedrigoni Freelife White, Sirio Colour Celeste, and Woodstock Nero recycled papers using Black and Aqua inks. It is available to purchase from Damn Fine Print in a limited edition of 50. To purchase, click here.

If you would like to submit your work for an Artist Spotlight please send an email to submissions@districtmagazine.ie

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