December 18th, 2012
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 26th, 2012
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.
November 6th, 2012
I’ve been feeling bad for a long time about not being able to keep up my Streetfighters project in the way I’d like to, because although Housing Market Renewal has been discontinued, the story is far from over for many of the people I’ve met along the way. There are loose ends all over the north – householders trapped in derelict streets, projects put on hold by developers amid the recession, and tussles still going on over the future of some neighbourhoods which were earmarked for clearance and decanted.Â I never managed to secure funding to support this project so can only follow up people’s stories on an ad hoc basis, where I have time and can afford to do so. If I could do more and do it better, I certainly would.
Maureen and Terry Walsh were some of my favourite Streetfighters, and I’ve met them a number of times over the past five or so years. TheyÂ spent seven years fighting to save their home and their neighbourhood from the bulldozers after Oldham Council announced plans to demolish hundreds of properties in Derker under its Housing Market Renewal scheme. When they finally admitted defeat in 2010 and began the process of purchasing another property, the rug was pulled from under them and acquisitions were stopped.
Terry died in January 2012, not long after they learned their home would be spared. It is a bittersweet victory for Maureen, whose community has vanished.
* Maureen also filled me in on the fate of a couple of other Derker residents who I have profiled for this project. Elijah, the war veteran in his 90s, moved into sheltered accommodation this year and his house has now been demolished. Joan Diggle recently moved into a new house near her brother in another part of Oldham.
November 1st, 2012
A major theme in my collaborative bookÂ Elvira and MeÂ was the pain felt by Ramona at living thousands of miles from her small daughter, who remained with her parents in Romania when she migrated to England in 2009. This is a complicated dynamic that I canâ€™t pretend to understand: the obvious (to me) fact that a daughter should be with her mother wherever possible was not so simple for Ramona, whose mother had become extremely attached to her eldest grandchild. In the event, after much persuasion, the daughter moved to the UK in June this year and has thrived – settling down, starting school, making friends and learning some English. Sadly, however, sheâ€™ll be leaving again less than a month from now, to spend the winter back with her grandparents and extended family in Romania. I am saddened by this – it seems a great shame to me to pull a bright and bubbly five-year-old out of school midway through the year and to tear her away from her mother – inevitably breaking her heart. Iâ€™ve voiced my opinion but who am I to put my own values on another family and another culture. Such are the challenges which face many migrants across the world, not just Roma people. The family dynamics seem quite different here though and importance is placed on very different things. I am anticipating many tears when Ramona returns from Romania alone.
October 20th, 2012
I was lucky enough to go to Iceland on my holidays last month, and while there had the luck to catch a rather fine display of the Northern Lights. Nowt more to say other than it’s a magical place if you ever get the chance to go….
October 13th, 2012
Lida and her sister, yesterday. Â© Ciara Leeming.
It’s almost a year since I finished my MA. This is kind of weird: in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago and in other ways in feels like the past year has flashed past without me noticing. The creative process for me is not a gentle, easily-navigable road – it is potholed and frustrating and filled with periods of intense self-doubt and ennui. This has certainly been my experience over the past 12 months: after what felt like a huge shift right at the end of the course, where I had one of those moments where things seem to all come together just in time, the period since has been one of plateaus, of disappointments, let-downs and photos that just won’t come. Hardest of all has been the sense of working in a vacuum – I can see the attraction of groups of photographers forming collectives if only for this reason…while I’m too control-freaky to be a natural collaborator I do like getting the opinions of others about new approaches, aims and possible edits. Sometimes I think I have lost the ability to tell which images work – a lack of confidence which then makes me doubt my intuition when shooting and means what few images I do take continually disappoint. This sounds like whinging but it’s actually not – I’ve come to realise that this is all part of the process, and really quite common; necessary even. Despite the doubts on that front I have started to really feel lately that I’ve developed really good relationships with the people I’m photographing, some of whom I’ve now known for 18 months.Â I have a yearÂ left before I must report on my Arts Council Roma grant – lots of shooting time so hopefully the good stuff will come and the confidence will start to grow from these rather wobbly but quite deep and well-meaning foundations. We shall see.
October 3rd, 2012
I just returned from Geneva, where Ramona/Elvira shared her story with a UN meeting focused on issues of migration and global human rights. A few of my photos were used in the presentation but she was definitely the star of the show – and the only speaker who I saw get applause (to be fair she was the only one sharing such personal experiences). I was very proud. For more about my Roma project work click here.
September 28th, 2012
“It would be an understatement to say they liked them â€¦ absolutely loved them would be closer. They were clearly delighted and very VERY proud of their children. The teachers loved the way they tell a complicated story so eloquently. One never gets those vocational â€˜Iâ€™ve been part of something worthwhileâ€™ buzz moments as often as one might wish, but I definitely have one now” (JD, Roma Source)
Earlier this year I was offered a project which ticked loads of boxes in terms of the direction my work has been taking. This was toÂ lead a series of photography workshops with Roma children attending a school in Leeds, with the final output to be multimedia which said something about the children’s new lives in Yorkshire.
I’ve wanted to do more participatory work for a while and attended a Photovoice training course in preparation for this 18 months ago, but although I’ve introduced some of its concepts into my independent work I haven’t â€“ until now â€“ found the right partners to support a wider project.
This project was funded by Roma Source, with support from the EMTAS team at Leeds City Council, and of course the staff and young people at Harehills Primary School. I was able to rope in my friend Gemma ThorpeÂ â€“ a photographer with much more teaching experience than me â€“ to help run the workshops, and then I took all the materials we generated away and used them to make photofilms. (More about the project here)
Now we have finally had feedback on the finished product from the children and their parents, and have been given permission to share the films, which will be used as an educational tool by some of the people in Yorkshire and beyond who work with Roma. Please check them out….