Today was good fun – I ran a pop up photo studio at Levenshulme Market as part of a funded Jubilee project – and shot 39 portraits of local people.
Together with my friend and fellow photographer Laura Deane, I’m an artist in residence at the market over the coming weeks. We’ve successfully sought funding from Arts Council England towards our Portrait of Levenshulme project, which will culminate with an exhibition over the Jubilee weekend in early June.
Today and for two more Saturdays in May, we are supporting people to take photographic self portraits and to use drawing and collage to explore portraiture and to share their thoughts with what makes our neighbourhood special.
Today we were even interviewed on BBC Radio Manchester about the project. It was extremely windy today and there were moments when I thought my light stand might blow away but it was good fun.
If you’re in the area on May 7 or 28 please come along, and join us for our community exhibition on the 4th.
I enjoyed my second photo walk along King Street in Wigan today, with Jeff, Mike and Dave, for one strand of my Heritage Action Zone commission with the Old Courts and the rest of the Wigan cultural consortium. This should have been my third walk but I ended up having to cancel walk #2 due to my catching Covid. I’ve tried really hard to promote these – via Facebook groups, contacting the local newspaper (to no avail), general social media, flyering, contacting local organisations like the college, Universities of the Third Age and photographic societies, but it’s been an uphill struggle. I have one more walk next Sat 9th April (drop me a line to get involved) plus a workshop at the Old Courts in mid-May for people who have participated. This week I’ll also start running some sessions with service users from local homeless charity the Brick, for the the other part of this project – exploring their relationship with this rather complicated street.
A short film made during the Making of Us development programme, which I was part of at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh. Artist Jamie-Lee Wainman and I led eight socially engaged workshops with neurodiverse young people at Ashcroft School in Cheadle, as part of this 2022 programme.
Film supplied by
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I’ve been having a busy few months – well I was until I was struck down by Covid-19 this week – but I know from experience that I’m always able to make myself even busier, just when it doesn’t seem possible.
And so it was that in February I got involved in the online challenge Februllage, which sees artists and enthusiasts across the world make daily collages for a month, in response to a series of prompts. I came across it for the first time last year, when a few participants crossed my radar on Instagram.
This time I really wanted to do it, to use the opportunity to give myself a push. I didn’t know if I’d end up doing the whole month but somehow I did. I tried not to think too deeply about the the work and to spend no more than half an hour on each piece.
As I’ve been rushing from one project to another lately, and desperately trying to keep too many plates in the air, I have wondered whether I spend too much time daydreaming and overthinking everything when I’m less busy. The answer for me is probably a balance of the two states.
Anyway here are my favourite collages that I made during the month.
I’m chuffed to be part of the This Separated Isle exhibition at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow at the moment.
The show features all the portraits from the beautiful book edited by Paul Sng – mine is of Owen Haisley, whose story I covered for Big Issue North.
Owen – who was born and lived for four years in Jamaica – lost his right to remain in the UK after serving a short prison sentence. He had spent over 40 years in the UK, never leaving the country. The result is that he now lives in limbo – unable to work and enjoy the same freedoms that most British citizens enjoy. It’s an outrage.
Thank you to Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert for the installation photo. You can order the book here.
Today was our eighth and final session at Ashcroft School for the Making of Us. I was looking forward to the end of this project – not because I haven’t enjoyed it but because I’m happy to be moving forwards and building on everything I’ve learned. I applied for the Making of Us pretty blindly, it has to be said – I saw the opportunity advertised and didn’t think too deeply about what it could all mean for me. I was looking for new challenges and directions at the time, as I was looking to move on from journalism, and this presented itself, so it all happened quite organically. A lot of things have happened quite serendipitously during my career, this one included. I’ve learned loads, and a lot of what I learned I couldn’t have foreseen – which I suppose is the best kind of learning. I’ve learned I enjoy collaboration and I’ve learned to let go as a facilitator and to try new activities that are also unknown to me. Previously I probably would have felt I need to have expertise in something before passing it on to a group.
As I’ve previously expressed on here, we’ve had quite a few ups and downs and twists and turns during the lifetime of this project, as to be expected. We’ve had to navigate our relationship with the partner setting, including learning to be quite firm about our needs where necessary. I’ve personally had to learn a lot from the young people about their needs, which are variable within the group and across the sessions themselves. Today we repeated our cyanotype session, which we did a few weeks ago and which proved quite successful then.
There’s something about this process which suited the group – I think because you see a result quite fast and there are lots of different steps. This time we had three young people in our session, two of whom were present last time. They went straight into it like a couple of pros, and focused really well for the entirety of the session. The third young person also got very into it once her initial mood had dissipated. The group made cards/images for people the love, since today is Valentines Day. We couldn’t really have asked for it to go any better and I think we left the space feeling quite positive.
Last week I ran a short creative workshop at Invisible Manchester, a social enterprise which works with people who have experienced homelessness and trains them up to be tour guides. They’re a lovely group, really friendly – I’ve now met most of the participants several times through attending their meetings, and joining one of their walks.
This was an initial workshop, really designed to get to know them a little and see if they might like to work with me on a photography project in due course. We did some introductions, looked at some photos and did a little blind drawing exercise which involved them lying with their eyes closed and drawing a self-portrait (eyes still closed). We then talked about their level of experience with photography and what kind of things they might like to do. Several of the group have done creative projects involving cameras before – one has even been involved in an exhibition. So expectations are high!
It’s nice to be starting something new, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. My next session isn’t until April but hopefully we’ll do something more regularly after that.
It was our penultimate session at Ashcroft School for the Making of Us this week. The workshop had its high points but didn’t entirely go as planned. Only two of our five young people were present – one appears to have dropped out altogether, another was meant to be there but has other things going on which are putting her in the wrong headspace, and the fifth person had gone home ill. Not the greatest of starts, compounded by their lack of enthusiasm for some of what we were proposing… it can often feel like pushing a boulder up a rock during these sessions, but it didn’t really get to us this time. We get it now.
We started with a game – Pictionary cards – where you use cards to mime out a word and other people guess. The two participants were very reluctant to get involved but with a bit of pushing from their teachers, they eventually got into it and even helped act out one or two words. Turning it into a competition involving a timer seemed to help with this – this was an inspired bit of knowledge from Jamie, my partner facilitator, who herself has ADHD so understands some of the young people’s issues. She says introducing competition to things helps to get her attention fixed on a task. Good tip.
The creative exercise this week involved Tengrams – making images using pre-cut coloured shapes, in this case different kinds of triangles. The aim was to build on last week’s cyanotype session, which saw us make a backdrop of the sea. We wanted to make images of fish and other sea creatures – the triangle idea came from school, which has recently covered triangles in maths. This exercise, it has to be said, didn’t really light anyone’s fire. The two young people were much more restless than the previous week – they both had to go for a little walk during the session (this is written into lots of people’s education plans at the school but it was significant that it wasn’t necessary during the cyanotype workshop, as they were so engaged in what they were doing). Both participant fed back afterwards that they found this activity boring – and one, who has sensory needs, really didn’t like using the glue due to it being sticky.
The final activity was a little game (chin chin, involving thumbs), which went a bit better. The person who came last won this time around, which was good. Overall it was a bit of a mixed bag as a session – there were moments where they engaged and others where they didn’t. Next week we’re back to cyanotype, since they enjoyed it so much last time. I’m glad to be reaching the end of these sessions and to move onto something new but I’ve gained so much more than I expected to during this process. I knew I’d benefit from the experience planning and delivering workshops but I’ve also learned I love collaborating with other artists, I’ve learned how to set boundaries with partners and speak up when required and I’ve learned to be less controlling and more responsive to what groups are into. I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity at this stage in my work.
Today we delivered our sixth of eight workshops at Ashcroft School in Cheadle, as part of our involvement in the Making of Us, a professional development programme for socially engaged artists. We decided to experiment with cyanotype – something I’ve dabbled with a few times this year but never leading a group (other than my own kids). Cyanotype can be quite an open thing so in discussion with the school, we decided to theme our session around the idea of making a cross section of the sea. We made six A4 panels – with the three students who were present today each working together with an adult. The aim was to all create something which could then be put together into a bigger piece – so working both collaboratively and individually. This approach seems to work quite well with the participants.
We started our project with five young people but this is a challenging group for a variety of reasons and the numbers have waxed and waned throughout. Some pupils have been absent some weeks, while others have walked out partway through our sessions or simply refused to walk in at the start. Today I thought a few were about to bolt as I was explaining how cyanotype works – it’s quite dry and a bit much to take in – but we pulled it back when we did a demonstration sheet. From that point it seemed to get easier – one group member, who finds it difficult to sit and focus for long periods of time, managed to stay present and engaged for 80 minutes, which is quite an achievement. Pre-planning what we wanted to make on regular paper was a great idea, as we could then simply transfer the constituent parts to the cyanotype sheet before getting the UV torches out. We both came away from the session feeling very positive and excited for how we can build on this over the coming two sessions.