Reflections project update

I’m having a slightly frustrating few weeks. The engagement part of my Open Eye Gallery Reflections project with Traveller women is very stop start, due to poor health/general life events on their side and school holidays etc on mine. It was picking up before the Easter holidays – I had a little run of a couple of weeks where I made several portraits that I felt happy with and did audio recording etc. I hoped to be straight back in when the kids went back to tie up loose ends with the women I’ve been working with – before finding one or two more. The idea being that now I have a general structure for what I’m aiming for, these should be quicker.

I even had access to a car much of last week as my other half has been away. But it wasn’t to be – I’ve had someone cancel on me almost every day and it’s all become a bit frustrating. In my heart I know this is just part of the process and I have to go with it – the project rollercoaster, as a photography pal and I used to call it. But I do find this stop-startyness (not a word) mentally gruelling, I find myself getting quite down in the dumps about it at times and I can’t always motivate myself to get stuck into other things. I just want to keep going, get stuck into work. But of course when you’re dealing with other humans – particularly people in poor health or with other more important things going on in their lives, it doesn’t always work out the way you want.

It will happen when it happens, it’s just a matter of keeping the faith. These things were easier to deal with in the past when I wasn’t working around family commitments and had more flexibility in my own time. Now it’s harder as I only have a few days a week when I have later pick ups for my kids. Not to mention the small matter of two school strike days and three Monday bank holidays over the coming weeks (Monday is one of my project days when I normally don’t collect my children until 5.30pm. Gah).

In the meantime though, all I can do is think through other bits of the project. I have edited some audio interviews with four participants and I have four portraits done – with one in the pipeline (although she’s going on holiday next week which is another blip in the calendar!) I’ve also been playing around with collage – not sure this really sits well within the socially engaged ethos of the project so I don’t actually know whether it will end up in the final output, whatever that may be. Sometimes ideas come easily but sometimes it’s really hard work. I’m trying to find approaches which work here. I find working in this way with my own images harder than using found materials as there is more consideration for the person in the image, with whom I have a relationship and am working collaboratively. These images are just practice runs using 6×4 prints but I’m going to now play around with larger sizes and see if they work. I’m not sure why but I feel quite drawn to playing around with the portraits in this way.

Bridge College project – finished

Our time at Bridge College came to an end today – seven workshops with a delightful group of learning disabled young people during which we used cameras, made models out of junk and brought them to life via stop motion animation. Today we had a celebratory event with snacks, during which we looked at the group’s work and some of them had a go and making photos in a pop up studio. I brought my little photo printer so they got to take copies home.

This project came about through the A New Exchange programme I’ve been involved in via the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, which built on the Making of Us project last year. A year ago my project was also within the same parent organisation as Bridge College, a local social care and education charity called The Together Trust. Last year I was at a school for young people with complex emotional difficulties, Ashcroft School. The young people and teachers there were all great but our experience was challenging because the environment was pretty volatile and I felt a bit out of my depth and not always fully supported by school staff – I think they were just busy reacting to the daily dramas which are going on in a setting like that. I learned loads but it wasn’t an experience I would describe as enjoyable – and for a while it put me off pursuing work with young people.

I still applied for A New Exchange though as it seemed to present an opportunity to perhaps overcome some of these complicated feelings. This time my experience was very different – our new setting had a much more relaxed atmosphere and the staff were extremely supportive. No doubt all the experience of the past year also helped – I now know to ask for feedback and to be prepared but not to over-plan and try to control everything. I’m happy to have gained some experience of trying to make my sessions accessible to all. I’m happy to be moving on but feel really fortunate to have had this opportunity.


A New Exchange – Bridge College

We’re now almost halfway through our A New Exchange project at Bridge College, Manchester.

We’ve done three workshops out of a total of seven (the last will be a celebration event though). I was apprehensive about this project before it began because I have no experience working with participants with learning or communication needs and didn’t know how I’d cope in a group with a range of need.

Our group of eight young people is quite varied – there are people who are non verbal, people who are quite chatty and a diverse range of support needs. I knew I’d be well supported by staff at the college and would learn loads but there was still some fear of the unknown.

However it has been a much gentler experience than I expected – group members are really good fun and the support staff have been great. So far we’ve done a ‘getting to know each other’ session, a session on photography and a session on junk modelling led by my artist partner Hattie. Shen kicked that off asking people to draw pictures based on a series of prompts – these then fed into what people created. That was a great touch which I’m going to try to remember – sometimes the blank space can be overwhelming.

Gaining feedback from a group where not everyone speaks is obviously challenging but we are trying to leave enough space within our sessions to gauge what is popular. Also we’ve learned that where participants are not really up for getting involved in activity it’s useful to give them a job – handing out items for example or asking them to photograph the session.

New year, new projects

We’re a fortnight into the new year and I’m a bit all over the place – involved in various new projects and not really knowing if I’m coming or going (as is often the case, I think this is the curse of the freelancer). I have two main projects going on currently, which are taking up most of my headspace (well, one much more than the other).

This week we started some workshops at Bridge College, which works with young people aged 18-25 with learning and/or physical disabilities, as part of A New Exchange, an artist development project I’m fortunate to be part of at the moment. My artist partner Hattie and I are running seven sessions with a group of eight young people – this is a new demographic for both of us but the staff at Bridge College are super supportive and open to our ideas. This week was a ‘getting to know’ you session with various drawing exercises and some polaroid photography and next week we are concentrating entirely on photography, but we plan to bring other elements into the sessions after that as Hattie works largely in sculpture. I really want to learn about other art practices and how to integrate that into my own projects. Our group is quite mixed in terms of needs – some members a very able to verbalise what they like or don’t like, while other participants struggle more with communication or have other kinds of needs. We want to make the sessions as collaborative and responsive as possible so need to develop ways to gauge what they want to do as the project unfolds – we need to find approaches which meet everyone’s needs and don’t allow some voices to dominate.


I’m also plugging away with my Open Eye Gallery Reflections commission, for which I’m working with members of the Traveller community in Cheshire West. This is the project which is taking up a lot of head space because I care so much about getting the ethics and approach right and how to juggle the various stories which may emerge. One of these is promising to be quite challenging if it ends up happening as the person has very strong opinions about a lot of subjects which are diametrically opposed to my own. This is going to be an interesting challenge – how to weave in that person’s viewpoint and narrative in a way which works for the wider project and makes him feel heard and respected. This residency has to go at its own pace – people are not always available or easy to pin down, and I just have to keep putting in the time. I am finding with these commissions that there are often artificial and unrealistic timelines put onto them by commissioners but am starting to develop the confidence to ignore these as far as possible and work at my own pace, and at the pace which the project demands.

So far I have a small list of people who I have met or spoken to – some are physically vulnerable due to age or illness, so I have decided to focus on them for now when they are able and not try to spin too many plates at once (although I don’t want other people to forget who I am so need to keep calling in to them now and then). I have also started doing some one-to-one sessions with a young girl at a primary school in Ellesmere Port, it’s not something I would have sought out but it presented itself as an opportunity so I went for it. Today was my second session with her – I’m just doing loads of different photography activities with her and seeing what comes out of it. Today I gave her a film camera to take home. For me this is all about throwing metaphorical mud at a wall and seeng what sticks. I’m not sure what her bit will say about Covid times but I suppose we’re still living through this so I’m sure something will emerge. And children’s voices are so important and often go unheard.


I’m a climate-aware photographer

I’ve recently been certified as a climate aware photographer, after completing carbon literacy training with Redeye.

The course was accredited by the Carbon Literacy Trust.

I’ve been increasingly conscious of my environmental impact as a photographer over recent years so it was good to get some scientific and theoretical underpinning of this issue and to develop some ideas about ways to reduce my carbon footprint.

One tangible thing I have already done is invest in some basic second-hand film cameras to use with groups instead of disposable cameras. Transport choices were already on my radar. I need to investigate ways to bring more sustainable practices into my projects – experiment with anthrotypes for example.

Many thanks to Redeye Photo Network for this opportunity – it is the start of my thinking about this, not the end point.

Open Eye Gallery – Refections commission


A few months ago I was commissioned by Open Eye Gallery to develop a socially engaged project with members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities in the Cheshire West area, looking at their experience during the lockdowns, among other things. This is really exciting for me as these are communities I have worked with before (on my first independent project) and which I have lots of respect and affection for. I am in the very early stages of being introduced to potential participants and getting to know them better – I have a small list of contacts so far and have begun to visit them for initial cups of tea. I don’t know what the work will end up looking like but the idea is that it will be coauthored and will talk about issues faced by participants, generally and over the past few years. I’m hopeful of working with members of the Irish Traveller community and English Romany people and to include people who live on sites as well as people currently in houses. I also don’t really know how long this work is going to take. But I’m very blessed to have been given this opportunity to build on previous work.

The commission has led me to revisit some of the photos I made during the few years when I worked with Traveller families, many of which I set aside and never really showed to anyone (the downside of personal work – I am much better at the engagement and creation than the dissemination). Below are a few, and you can see others over here … watch this space to hear how this residency develops over the coming months.




A New Exchange project

Last year I was part of a CPD programme for socially engaged artists called The Making of Us, which was a brilliant experience because it gave me lots of useful tools and put me in a setting with another artist to run a live project with young people. My partner (Jamie-Lee Wainman) and I worked in a special school and faced lots of challenges which taught us lots of useful things to take forwards in our work. Since then I’ve run two independent projects which involved facilitating workshops – this is something I was terrified of a year ago so it’s definitely a huge amount of progress.

I’m lucky to be one of three prior Making of Us artists to have been selected to take part in another project which aims to build on the last. A New Exchange is slightly different in structure – it involves three of my MoU cohort and three new artists. We will be paired up and once again will be running real projects with young people in partner settings. There is a strong emphasis on peer support and knowledge exchange and the whole thing is really exciting to be part of. Once again it’s taking place at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, and it’s being run by FS Creative, who also ran the Making of Us.

So far we’ve had two sessions and last week we held a peer exchange workshop where the three returning artists each ran a mini workshop which aimed to prompt conversation between the group. Jamie ran a Lego Serious Play session where we created structures which represented aspects of ourselves in five minutes and then talked other people through our designs. I did something on photo elicitation and using photos as conversation starters. And Andee ran some drawing exercises which aimed to loosen us up and stop us being so precious about the final product. All very useful and the other people’s sessions gave me some ideas for future sessions.

The next stage of the programme will see us being put into pairs and start thinking about our projects, which will kick off after Christmas.

Wigan Streets Apart project wrap up


You can tell I’ve had a busy year as there are entire projects that I’ve barely blogged about.

Last November I was one of three artists selected for the first tranche of Streets Apart commissions – cultural commissions associated with the Wigan Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) of King Street. This was the largest commission I’d received at that point and one of two HAZ projects I was working on concurrently – I was also involved in the Picturing High Streets project in Chester, where I went on to work with Cafe 71, a mental health space.

I spent the first few weeks worrying about how to make my work sufficiently different from the other commissions – I felt like there would be a lot of common ground and repetition since I tend to gather lots of personal narrative type stuff, and King Street is a street full of social memories. Most Wigan residents have some association with the street – often through its pubs and clubs or in the past, cinemas and theatres. Even the job centre is at the bottom of King Street.

I found my course eventually – breaking my commission up to make it more manageable for myself. I ran a series of photo walks with anyone who wanted to photograph and share memories of the street. And I forged a relationship with the Brick, a homelessness and anti-poverty charity in the town which runs a food bank site just behind the HAZ zone. It was also very clear from my first walk up King Street that people had been bedding down in a covered porch area on the street – so I wanted to make sure this narrative was included in the outputs.

The project was challenging at times and I learned a lot about diplomacy, patience and resourcefulness when it comes to working with partner organisations and supporting people who have challenging circumstances. But we got there in the end – and yesterday it all came together with a public sharing of the work.

The photo walks involved about 12 participants recruited via an open call. I also interviewed other people who have worked on or used the street – everything on that side got pulled together into an ebook which is free online.  A selection of images were also put onto vinyl panels in a window on King Street, which is a really great outcome as passers by will hopefully stop and engage with the work and memories written around the group’s images. There is a QR code which takes people to the ebook. It looks brilliant. You can see it over here – it’s called “Street View”.


The Brick work was always something I wanted to make into a physical zine, and luckily the commission budget covered a second artist for the project – I chose to work with local designer Amy Cecelia Leigh, who attended many of the workshops at the Brick and worked with participants to make the zine something which they had a hand in. The zine contains their photos, words, collages and design preferences and one of the group members came up with the name “In My Own Words”.  That is also available online, over here. The Brick wants these zines to be available to the public but are keenest to have them to hand within their services, so people who use their spaces can read the stories – that to me is a really brilliant outcome.

One thing that has been bothering me a little about the project is when I learned that at the same time my work was being showcased, the porch area where the rough sleepers had been sheltering would be blocked off by the authorities. I understand this is part of the regeneration process but for me personally it jars massively – it’s the same building where my group’s vinyls have been put. While it wasn’t the work from the Brick, it was work also facilitated by me and the whole thing felt very uncomfortable and compromising for me on a personal level.

All I was able to do was re-write my vinyl text to gently ask some questions about who regeneration serves and whose voices have a right to be heard.











Stalybridge #9

It was lovely to spend Saturday at the Astley Cheetham Gallery in Stalybridge, as part of the Local/Lokal exhibition, with @weare.local  and the other participating photographers, from the UK and Sweden. Seven visual interpretations of the theme ‘local’, three of which were shot in Stalybridge. As well as my portraits and interviews there were drone images and urban landscapes. Four of my 16 portrait participants made it along and a few other visitors commented that they knew almost all of the faces on my stretch of wall. And I saw a kingfisher on the bike ride there. The show is on until 21 December.



Stalybridge #8

We weren’t able to share this until yesterday for Royal reasons but if you’re in Stalybridge this Sat it would be great to see you. I’m one of six artists (3x UK, 3x Swedish) to be involved in this project and exhibition, interrogating what it means to be local, and the work is going to be pretty diverse – from my portraiture to drone imagery and much more.