Matthew Merle Bula’s Process of Discovery

Ⓒ Matthew Merle Bula 

Mathew Merle Bula’s images deal with loneliness, longing, and isolation. He works in South Korea where these emotions are accessible in abundance just beneath the national veneer of success, hard work, and hospitality. His treatment of surface and depth, his insistence on the second look, draw from his travels and evolving relationship with his home, Canada. This interview is the product of a long talk over pork soup(dwaeji gukbap) and a visit to a Korean modern art museum, where Matt showed me that you can always explore an image a little longer. There’s always more to see. 

Matthew--Merle--Bula--studioMMB: Each image, from concept to printed document can take upwards of months to create for me. Discovering and developing a concept, choosing a location, models, sets, props – all of these things take me a not-insignificant amount of time to prepare and decide on. Once the shoot is done, I need to send my film off for processing. It normally returns within a week, whereupon I take an evening to analyze it and scan high resolution frames for digital post-production later on.

MMB: My workhorse cameras are the Mamiya RZ67 and the Mamiya 7 (both medium format). I also have a Cambo 4×5 (on a rail) sadly sitting in a box in a basement in Canada. 
 문어 (Mun-Eo) – Seoul, Korea 2013

I shoot medium and large format film, although for my latest work, it’s been restricted to medium format, due to logistical constraints. I have mostly focused on still images since beginning my practice, although I have recently been branching out into other mediums, and incorporating them into either the sets of the images that I create, or using a medium to alter the negatives chemically.

I started my practice in the studio, where I could assume total control – and responsibility – for the things that took place, and successes or failures that ensued. Lately, I have been trying to adapt a studio mentality to “set” locations that I have scouted in the outside world (which has proven to be a lot more interesting!).

A note about models. I always make an effort to pay or reimburse my models for their time and effort. I think that it’s very important that time is paid for, acknowledged and respected in the art world. It’s good karma.

MMB: I think that this helps to create different ‘levels’ of access for the viewer – or ‘a process of discovery’ as I sometimes think of it. I want my images to reward the people that take the time to explore them, relate to them and then discover that the message of the image may actually change as they develop their own narrative moving through it. The majority of people don’t do this however, most images are consumed on a very cursory level, and that’s okay. 

MMB: I know that a lot of people have to ‘schedule time’ for their art lives, or go on ‘artist dates’ with themselves. I originally started doing that to build up my confidence in my life choice of pursuing art, but now making things is just a part of my daily life. If I’m not making images, I’ll be thinking about them, I’ll hang out at museums, or sketch scenes in a drawing book, make a plaster model, or do some wood-working. The act of creating begets the act of creating. Everything that I do has an impact on everything that I will do. It’s all connected. I rarely feel like the things that I am making are ‘work’ (which is a good thing, because I rarely see any money from it). 

When it does get tough, and I have a deadline, I find that blocking time off for very specific goals helps me to stay on track and not burn myself out. 

Be advised, some of his images are very NSFW.