Herefordshire, England – Straight after university, and with high critical acclaim for the work he was producing, Luke left London for his hometown in rural Herefordshire. His drastic move proved to be a good one, both for his mental and physical health, and his creative output. In his studio on top of a hill he has the space to experiment, work on large-scale projects, and, occasionally, play around with pyrotechnics. While he still takes on commissions to keep afloat financially, Luke is enjoying the freedom that rural life provides, and the lower stress levels that come with it. Social isolation can be a struggle, he admits, but his work and feline companion keep him fulfilled.
What made you want to leave London?
At the time it was very intuitive, but picking apart the idea, I feel like I didn’t really have a choice. When I graduated my personal work was peaking so much that the idea of pushing it aside just wasn’t an option. Charles Saatchi saw my photography in my second year of university, and I won a D&AD award in my third year. I could stay in London, get a job, and do my personal work on the side, or pack London in entirely and concentrate on my own work where I could afford to. And there were so many other things that I wanted to explore and try out photographically. There are people that have a long career in London before they have the stability to leave, whereas I did that at the beginning. I don’t really think enough about how radical it is that I’ve managed to do that at such a young age.
What brought you to Herefordshire?
I grew up here surrounded by hills and lots of space and I just felt like I needed that at the time. I live on top of a hill on a farm – there isn’t another house around me for 20 minutes, it is so isolated. It allows a lot of time and space to reflect on my work. I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing now if I’d stayed in London. The disadvantage of being in the country is – although you have more time and you can get a lot more with your money – it can make you lazy. I wake up and the birds are singing and the cows are out. It can be really comfortable. I think I recognised that about a year after moving back. I realised that the pressure I was under in London was one of the catalysts to make really good work. I had to make very quick decisions, I didn’t have the time.
That’s an interesting point. How do you manage that?
It’s hard, but I don’t feel like this is going to be forever. It was needed at the time. I was super burned-out, producing work at such a quick pace, sleeping three or four hours a night. It just wasn’t sustainable. I had to come back, chill out and reflect a little bit, and then see what happens. I will probably move back to the city at some point. It’s this constant oscillating thing.
How did you find this place?
Initially when I moved back I lived with my parents. I was working in their living room. I did so many shoots that you’d look at and think it was shot in a studio in London with a team. But it was just me in my parents’ living room, with these terrible lights. It was really fun [laughs]. After 10 months I started looking for a studio space. You would think finding a space in the country would be easy, but there was literally nothing. Eventually I found this old barn that was full of old machinery. It was amazing.
The actual state of it was awful, but the space and the size was great. I was in the very fortunate position to have some money from the Saatchi Gallery. It’s still very rudimentary – all we did was build a room inside of a room, with a poured concrete floor and hardly any insulation – but it’s perfect. It’s just what I needed. A bit later I moved in next door and now I can just walk to the studio.
How has the move to the countryside affected your social life?
Socially it’s difficult. It is so isolated here – the nearest cities are all miles away. All of my friends from here have gone. There’s a gap in the population: you have the teenagers, then everyone my age disappears, and then you get all the retired people. Also, being a gay guy in the middle of nowhere is like social suicide. I was in a relationship for about eight years, but when I moved back here we broke up. It would be so nice to have someone, but the people I’m into live in London or the city.
I want to be with someone who is doing amazing things, I want to be inspired by someone, and I’m not going to find that here; or at least I haven’t, yet. I go on Tinder – it’s swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, nothing. The guys are either 16 or 65. I think I’ve just come to terms with being happy being single, finally. I have my work and I have my cat [laughs].
I present myself as quite extroverted; if I give a talk or something I come across as this really outgoing person but, really, I am quite introverted. Some of my friends in London just couldn’t imagine moving out to the country. They were terrified that they’d be stabbed or something, because it’s the middle of nowhere and this is where all the murders happen, all Agatha Christie [laughs]. I grew up here, so moving out here had a sort of homeliness to it. I don’t know how you could explain to someone who’s lived in the city their whole life what it is actually like to live here. Until you’ve experienced a very limited social atmosphere, you just can’t imagine what it’s like.