June 17th, 2013
May 21st, 2013
How many photographers let the subjects of their photos have a go at editing, I wonder? It’s something I thought about doing during my MA – I had some ideas of how it might work but never quite got around to it. Maybe I’ll find a way to experiment with this properly a later date – it would certainly produce a more collaborative result.
This week though I had an accidental crack at it, when I helped Ramona prepare a talk she’s going to be giving to Roma teenagers at a school. I took my laptop to her house and we went through my Lightroom catalogue which contains every shot – my work, their family photos and some of their mobile phone or Facebook pictures – in the now two-and-a-half year old project.
But whereas last time I only really showed her my picks and she selected from them – this time she got free reign over every folder, including all the many dud shots. She selected the 22 or so that she wanted and then I opened them in Bridge, where she told me the sequence she wanted. At this point I thought it might be worth recording some of this, and so shot some shaky video on my phone.
Her choices were interesting to me because they weren’t what I would have chosen – many, to me, are weak visually, or at least weaker than the versions that I have used until now, and a couple of them are her own shots from her phone. But of course she’s looking at them with a different intention – constructing her edit of her life as she wants to show it in a motivational talk.
May 6th, 2013
It’s been a few days of celebration – punctuated back at home by spurts of painting my office. Last week it was the surprise 6th birthday party of Latifa, the little daughter of Elvira, who has now been living in the UK for almost a year. Throughout the period where we worked on our book,Â Elvira and Me, the pair were separated, but one lovely spin-off of selling a few books was being able to help her finance a trip back to Romania to collect the girl. Latifa is doing brilliantly at school and almost speaks English like a Mancunian. This was the first birthday she had shared with her mum since 2009 so it was a special one for them both.
Then, yesterday, it was Orthodox Easter Sunday â€“ another big date in the family. Last year I visited the previous day when they were cooking but for some reason couldn’t make the day itself. This year I was told to come round for about 10.30am and much like Christmas Day we first went to visit Elvira’s relatives to eat from their Easter table. Having stopped eating meat, days like this – when practically every dish on the table contains flesh â€“ generally result in me eating my own body weight in cakes. Romanians have a tradition of dyed boiled eggs â€“ two of you bash your eggs together (the older person’s egg on top) while saying “Christ is risen!”…the person with the unbroken egg will apparently live longest. Wikipedia says this tradition exists in the UK as well but I’ve never heard of it. There was much dancing and we all then traipsed back to Elvira’s, where her relatives ate her food. Video is the only medium which really does justice to the dancing – at some point I will edit what I recorded as it’s pretty amazing. Â For more please check out my project site www.theromaproject.comÂ
April 21st, 2013
I have lapsed at this blogging lark. But that doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m not still working on this project â€“ I am, honestly.
One of my main priorities at present is my Roma commission in Middlesbrough, where I have now been visiting one Czech family for a year â€“ it probably works out as about once a month, although the frequency has varied. I am an incredibly slow worker, and Iâ€™m almost slightly embarrassed that Iâ€™m not anywhere near feeling â€˜completeâ€™ with this, but I think the work will hopefully be all the stronger for this time, both in terms of showing a long-term engagement through the passage of time in the images themselves, and also in terms of trust. There is talk about a possible trip to Czech in the summer, and I have been invited, but who knows whether or not that will actually happen or whether Iâ€™ll be able to go. If I can it would be amazing for the project, obviously, and I love the family so I hope it takes place.Qui vivra verra,Â as a French friend often says to me: time will tell.
This project strand came about â€“ and is being funded â€“ through a commission from Side Gallery in Newcastle, although my Arts Council grant is topping this up and allowing me to work at my preferred snailâ€™s pace, and there is now talk of an exhibition at some undecided point in the future, which is exciting. The family of course find this very strange, but Iâ€™m sure they will love it when it happens. Hereâ€™s a few images from this weekend..
March 30th, 2013
“…it seems that the photographers much prefer obfuscating the realities they document, never allowing facts and knowledge to color their work…It is however deeply hypocritical because the very men and women who claim to cover the worldâ€™s â€˜historicâ€™ events, later attempt to feign â€˜neutralityâ€™ about the same events, hiding behind postmodernist positions while refusing to take a stand on the basis of clear and obvious principals.”
A brilliant article on the photography - and obfuscation -Â of the Iraq war by Asim Rafiqui. Â Food for thought.
February 11th, 2013
Middlesbrough, Homelands commission on a Czech Roma family. Please see my project site for more.
February 7th, 2013
I’ve just sent my once-in-a-blue-moon Roma project newsletter to update people on how it’s all going – a nice side effect being that it’s made me stop and appreciate how much has been achieved in the past year or so. If you didn’t receive it and would like to take a look please click here. And you can sign up for future updates here.
There’s plenty of new content to explore on my Roma project site, and I’ve produced a small photofilm on a new Roma collaborator – Petr – who has chosen a pretty unlikely career.
January 1st, 2013
2012 has passed in a flash, and despite some ups and downs and many self-doubts and whinges along the way my Roma project has grown in ways I only could have hoped a year ago.Â Elvira and Me,Â which began as a student project,Â was turned into a book run by The Big Issue in the North Trust, which has recently started posting copies out to MPs, think tanks and the like, to try to overturn some stereotypes about Roma in this country. Really, I couldn’t ask for more than that – making work of this kind is pointless when viewed only within the photography ghetto. Since being awarded Arts Council funding and a Side Gallery commission just under a year ago, the project has also expanded – I thought maybe I’d end up with two other families/individuals as well as Ramona, but currently have six stories in the pipeline, all quite different. Over these coming months I’m going to have to get myself together, decide where this is all going and create some kind of narrative for these – the way I work, I’d otherwise have the potential to endlessly photograph the same people for the rest of my life…which is fine by me really. I can’t imagine working on a different subject these days, and these people have all become my friends. I’m terrible at journalistic distance.
So it felt natural to try and capture Christmas for a couple of my families….I was invited to Ramona’s home on Christmas morning as a friend, for the second year, and this time it felt much more comfortable as I have got to know the rest of her family much better. I was a little nervous of inviting myself to Middlesbrough to the Czech family I’m visiting for my Homelands commission, but when I realised they mark their Christmas on the evening of the 24th I knew I had to give it a try. I hate imposing myself on people but knew I had to just ask…they said yes but I had sort of thought they would. It was beautiful and I’m very grateful to them for their generosity of spirit, yet again.
The two Christmases were quite different to one another. The Czechs ate a sit-down meal in which every dish contained meat (not great if you’re a vegetarian…) and gave out presents afterwards. On the table throughout was a small plate with two halves of apple and a few slices of bread. After the grandfather said something at the start of the meal (grace maybe), they all took and ate a small piece of the bread. When I asked about it they said it was there to give thanks and symbolise the bread they hope they’ll get enough of over the coming year.
My Romanian Roma Christmas was a more raucous affair – I arrived at the home at about 10.30am, when Ramona was putting the finishing touches to her table, on which were traditional dishes she’d spent the previous day cooking. Her uncle then turned up and invited us to his home a few miles away, where they too had a laden buffet table. We all had to carry a drink in with us – we apparently couldn’t go in empty handed so she gave me a beer to hold. Everyone then dug in to the feast, eating from the dishes on the table. There were toasts, I was made to drink cherry brandy (sadly I was designated driver later that day though), and there was dancing. A lot of dancing. After a while we all piled back to Ramona’s, including her aunt and uncle, and the fun was repeated there. I was quite sorry to have to leave and lovely though it was, my sedate British Christmas a few hours later felt a little dull in comparison.
Here’s to 2013.
I shot a little bit of video of some of the dancing – I think learning to record video that is in focus definitely needs to be quite high on my 2013 to-do list…
December 14th, 2012
…Salford Czech Roma style.
I’ve put some new galleries up on my Roma project website just to show I am actually doing something. The work is being shot in fits and starts and will be added to over the coming months, but it is now well underway. I have high hopes for these stories in 2013.
November 17th, 2012
Above: Ramona and Latifa.
I’m spending a fair bit of time shooting the Roma work at the moment, although scheduling is becoming tricky – I’m currently keeping regular tabs on four different Roma individuals or families, with a photofilm in production of a fifth character and a first meeting lined up for a sixth person who I’m really excited about next weekend. Combined with trying to look again at the issue of regeneration, starting a new neighbourhood project which I hope will get me adept at lit portraiture once I get going, pitching and writing stories for print media and being booked for quite a bit of university lecturing in the New Year, life is getting a little hectic. I’m someone who also likes their own company and desperately needs ample time to read, think and stare into space, so it’s going to be…errr…interesting.
Above: Latifa, aged five, practises her reading and writing. She will return to Romania for the winter later this month.