Callum Costello – Westworld

Posted on Posted in Project Reviews

We recently talked to Callum Costello a North East based filmmaker and photographer about his practice and his project called ‘Westworld’, and this is what he told us.


Image from the series 'Westworld' (c) Callum Costello
Image from the series ‘Westworld’ (c) Callum Costello

I work as a filmmaker but my practice depends on the subject at hand. I’m inspired by creativity and see it as the job of the creator to accommodate the needs of the subject not bend it to their favoured practice. The focus in my work is on dreamscapes and how technology and interference sculpts the planet and our ways of thinking. I’ve worked in film, visual arts, performing arts and in the past twelve months I’ve begun to explore my photographic practice. ‘WESTWORLD’ is my first photography project created over ten days in America in November 2016.

For ‘WESTWORLD’, I initially hoped to make a visual arts film in Las Vegas about gambling culture, but instead was motivated by what was happening around me – I by coincidence arrived two days before the election of Donald Trump as President. Everywhere I went there was a different perspective from people of all backgrounds, and I was moved and concerned by the deep divide between not only the politics of the people, but also the cultural and physical worlds these people belonged to in spite of their close proximity. To me, America isn’t one country but fifty different countries all with their conflicts and divisions within. It’s its own world – a world at times not dissimilar to the dystopian future theme park I decided to name the project after. I worked hard to find the right images wherever I passed through that I felt covered a different shade of the make up of a country at a time of radical cultural change. I started shooting on a Canon 5D MkIII but tried to use my iPhone where possible (tough in low light but an interesting image) – I felt this spoke of the throwaway culture we live in – we value immediacy over truth, which in itself I felt reflected the election result. I envisage presenting the work as up to twenty printed images, but I’d like to add interactive elements to the work. It’s important to me as a creator that the audience feels engaged and entertained in the work – if I have to add a blurb of text explaining what I’ve created and what it means then I’ve failed. I want to include display elements to support the work; a pocketful of the grand canyon I ‘borrowed’, a deck of cards from the mirage and the dollar bill with the religious message on the back, and I’ve also written an audio accompaniment to the work titled ‘Six Hundred Calorie Side Salad’ which is a five minute audiobook about my experiences in the west at the birth of Trump’s America.


Image from the series 'Westworld' (c) Callum Costello
Image from the series ‘Westworld’ (c) Callum Costello

My connection to the North East is that I was born, raised and continue to base myself out of the North East and will for as long as I am able to. It’s my home and I’m proud to not only be from the area, but also to be part of efforts to increase the profile of arts in and from the area with my own work and my work with Media Trust, BAFTA, Northumbria Uni and the Tyneside Cinema.

I studied film independently from age twelve, then academically through sixth form and University achieving first class honours and winning an award for my work. I became interested in photography as an extension of my film work which operates somewhere between film and visual art, and began making photographic projects in 2016.

I’m not new to photography but I’ve found ways to engage with the medium in 2016 that I hadn’t felt inspired to previously. Regardless of medium, if I have an idea and make work I want to try and find an audience for it – there’s a difference between the ‘jack of all trades, master of nothing’ pay me for my creativity industry and the industry that makes work because they enjoy making it and want to be critiqued and get better. It’s a hobby I don’t expect to be paid for but that I enjoy the challenge of getting better at and finding bigger platforms for exposure – I think true artists understand this. Money isn’t everything, and making work isn’t really a choice.

I don’t cling to negativity – my favourite and least favourite aspects of WESTWORLD are one and the same, and that is the quality of the images. I am 100% better than I was at the start of making this work so I look at some images and know I could’ve done something differently to improve them, but there’s a romantic nostalgic joy to knowing that even though I wasn’t right in what I was doing, I wasn’t wrong either.

The North East of England has the potential to be Britain’s Austin, TX or Hamburg, Germany. It’s small and lacks the population and access which make bigger cities like London or Edinburgh so diverse, and not everything being said here is right – but people aren’t afraid to say it, and the sense of community is reassuring in the changing world. So from a creative stand point we are the little engine that could, but I’d take the one North East based creative over ten from London any day – there’s a punk-ier, diy-ish attitude to arts in the North East that could give us a distinctive image from the rest of the UK-scene. One day I hope it will happen, and I hope I’ll be right in the middle of it helping it all unfold.

‘WESTWORLD’ as an idea didn’t come to me until after I’d begun capturing the images, and the accompanying sound project ‘Six Hundred Calorie Side Salad’ was a response to the pictures I’d already taken – so it was the kind of project that is realised in making. Initially I wanted to make a visual arts film during a trip across America but the changing political climate had created such a clear division in the people I was meeting along the way, coupled with a historically changed identity as a country, that I became interested in trying to document the America I saw – to find an identity amidst the chaos.

When I committed to completing and delivering ‘WESTWORLD’ the sole aim was for it to find an audience through some sort of exhibition – which it seems to be, and that’s very satisfying.


Image from the series 'Westworld' (c) Callum Costello
Image from the series ‘Westworld’ (c) Callum Costello

I can only go by my experiences, and granted I haven’t spent any time in the Deep South, nor hung around West Baltimore, but each time I’ve visited America I have found it to be a very polite and accessible place. So the challenges aren’t so much in the taking of photographs but rather being on your toes enough to get the right pictures as they’re occurring. For me as a novice photographer I think the challenges really lay in patiently trying to find the best of every picture I wanted to take, which in some cases I failed to and others I succeeded in.

With ‘WESTWORLD’ I wanted to explore the complex tapestry of images that we associate with America. It’s a pictorial guidebook to the most culturally and economically complex place in the Western World.

My next project is complete and it is a self portrait project called ‘HELLOFRIEND’ which explores the recreation of iconic photographic self portraits.

Name: Callum Costello

Title: Westworld



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