one year on

Lida and her sister, yesterday. © 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. I have a year 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.

My Roma project website can be seen here 

Teetering on the brink

I’m feeling a bit demob happy today – prematurely I’m sure, but I’m on the cusp of finishing my work for my MA and it couldn’t really happen too soon. I’ve loved the past few months and I’m sure I’m going to feel quite bereft once I hand in my work, but part of me is itching to stride out once again into the big wide world of full-time freelancing. I’m a bit sick of spending all my spare time looking at InDesign and am missing working as a proper journalist. I have all but finished my work – once I’ve received my final bit of Romanian translation I’ll be able to order my book, hand in my work, give a copy to Ramona and move forward with my life. Inevitably my mind is now turning to The Next Step – how to get this work in front of people with an interest in such things, and possible ways to take the project further, while keeping it relevant on a journalistic and photographic level and of course being able to still pay the rent. Exciting times ahead.

Romania outtake 2

I’m gradually separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and working out a sequence and narrative for the Romanian section of my project. It’s certainly not easy, and the fact that everyone I speak to seems to have a different opinion about how I should go about it only makes it more confusing. As far as possible I’m going to go with my original gut instinct – one of my main issues being that I really want to make sure the tone is right, because the project is very personal. So many things to stress about in the meantime – the essay we have to write to go with it, all the various bits of interview and text I want to include, book design (my main fear at this point) and various other things.

Photo interviewing

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have been experimenting with the anthropological fieldwork technique of photo-elicitation as I work on my Roma project. My initial attempts with Lida, a couple of which I put up on my blog, involved her writing down a few sentences in response to images – so far only photos from her own family album and photos she has taken for me (see a couple here and here). I’ll be continuing to play with this approach as I decide which of my own photos I’ll be using. Last week I had an initial stab at this with Ramona, again with images she has been taking for me with a camera I gave her. In this case it turned out slightly differently – Ramona is new to writing and very under-confident so after a brief aborted attempt I changed tack and recorded what she said. Doing it in this way has both pros and cons in my view. I quite liked the idea of using a little bit of hand-writing next to a select number of photos in my final layout, thinking it would give the project an extra something, so I’m a little disappointed that’s not really going to work. On the upside though, recording certainly results in far more thoughtful and insightful responses. The idea of this part of my project is that it is collaborative so I’m a bit loathe to jumping in and editing down responses for length. I’m realising though that my final layout is going to be pretty text-heavy, which is fine in some senses, I just need to find a way to put it together which doesn’t detract from the images.

And back…

I’m back from my Romania trip today in body, if not quite yet in spirit. After a week-and-a-half somewhat marred for me by illness and culminating with the 19-hour return journey from hell, it’s going to take my weary brain some time to process the huge amount I have seen and learned. I had a brilliant time and was made to feel extremely welcome by the family I was staying with, who let me shoot freely. Whether or not that freedom has translated into images which support the narrative which emerged before my eyes while I was there is another question, one which will take me a little while to work out. This part of my project is not over – I have a few things to do over the coming weeks to tie up loose ends with Ramona, while also ramping up the work with my other subject Lida, with whom I will travel to the Czech Republic in just over a month’s time. I’m not sure how both halves of this project will sit together in the end, or if they even will…in fact I’m still not entirely sure how the work will be presented. I’d be surprised if the second part measures up to the first in terms of its strength but I’m keeping an open mind, while trying not to feel overwhelmed at the very great but exciting task ahead.

So it’s happening…

Today I’m going to travel to Luton by coach and then fly to small-town Romania, arriving early tomorrow morning. We’re going to Urziceni, a town of 17,000 people about 60km from Bucharest. What I’ll see and learn there I don’t know but at the moment I’m keeping everything crossed that people will be ok with the camera. I doubt I’ll have internet while I’m away so back in 10 days or so… ciao.