A Portrait of Levenshulme show – at LOL

 

We had the best time at Levenshulme Old Library on Saturday, for the first day of our A Portrait of Levenshulme exhibition. Over recent months, Laura Deane and I (plus local artist helpers Jess Wood and Local Hotel Parking) have worked with hundreds of residents of all ages to create work celebrating our neighbourhood. We’ve helped 170 groups/individuals to make self portraits using a shutter release cable, and helped people make drawings, collages and written reflections on what makes a strong community. This is our contribution to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations – it might seem tenuous but we think community is the most important thing there is and wanted to celebrate that. We were fortunate to receive Arts Council funding via Forever Manchester to make our idea a reality and partnered with Levenshulme Market to be their first artists in residence (hopefully there will be more in the future). So many lovely participants came along to see their work in the show. I loved every minute. We are now going to be pulling everything together into a zine. Watch this space….

A portrait of Levenshulme – market residency

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.

Levenshulme Market – Jubilee residency

Exciting news incoming …. Starting this weekend, @lauradeanephotography and I will be the very first first artists-in-residence at Levenshulme Market.
Over three weekends we will be working to create a portrait of Levenshulme, culminating with a community exhibition on 4 June.
Come down and make a self portrait in our pop-up photo studio, or be supported to make a self portrait using drawing or collage. Tell us what you think makes Levenshulme special. Let us share your work with other folk in an exhibtion and commemorative zine.
This project is being funded by Arts Council England’s special Jubilee funding, allocated in our area by Forever Manchester. 💥

Making of Us film

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
INSTAGRAM: The Turnpike CIC (@theturnpikeleigh)
TWITTER: The Turnpike CIC (@the_turnpike)
FACEBOOK: The Turnpike CIC (www.facebook.com/TurnpikeLeigh)

Making of Us reflections – session #8

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.

Making of Us reflections – session #6

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.

Reflections at the halfway point – the Making of Us

 

Yesterday was session 4 out of 8 workshops we are delivering for Ashcroft School in Cheadle, as part of our involvement in the Making of Us programme. So we’re now halfway through, an apt point to do some reflection – with the young people and between ourselves as facilitators.

This session should have taken place during the last week of the Autumn term but Covid enforced a delay. I think this had an impact on how it went and where we’re at more generally. It’s now around a month since we saw the group and this was only their third day back at school. They didn’t seem enthused.

Our session was structured around reflection – casting our minds back to what we’d done in sessions 1-3 and looking forward to possible activities for the remaining four weeks. Activities so far have been a photo walk with disposable cameras, followed by collaging using the prints from those cameras. We have also done light painting and Jamie-Lee made lithophanes/3D prints out of the group’s collages – which they saw for the first time yesterday and could take home to keep.

We looked at the prints from light painting and gave out the lithophanes to the members of the group who were present (two were not there). We then played a game Jamie had come up with to make the reflective process more fun – it involved an elastic band attached to four strings. Four people had to work together to control the band and to pick up paper cups. Under the cups were post-it notes with prompts. We hoped everyone would contribute their thoughts and help us shape the rest of the project.

Of course there’s theory and there’s practice, and things do not always work out how you hope. The game was good fun and the group seemed to enjoy it. A few thoughts came out of it but it felt like getting blood out of a stone at times. Group members are not the most forthcoming with their thoughts and at times it felt like we and the teacher were in danger of putting words in their mouths, which is not what we wanted to happen. But what to do when a young person shrugs and says ‘I dunno’ to everything? It’s a really tricky one.

The energy levels in our group fluctuate quite wildly during our 90 minute sessions. Someone can start off quite engaged and apparently into it and then five minutes later they’ve left the room, never to return. Some participants stay but fold into themselves and stop engaging. They make themselves small. This is a challenge for us as facilitators – I am not someone who is very experienced (or naturally very good) with teenagers – let alone those with additional needs. It all gave me a lot of food for thought.

How to ensure we are designing our sessions in a way which works for these participants? Reflection is great and important but I came away feeling somewhat at sea, since the activities that some people had enjoyed were those which others had not enjoyed at all. Which direction to go in next?

This is all something we are now working on and we have some ideas, some of which we want to try for ourselves while we have this chance and others we are designing especially for them.

But some other points struck me as relevant. One weakness for how it went is that we’ve had a long break, worsened by Covid forcing us to postpone our last session. That has broken the flow which we’d built up so far. One participant who had got really involved in the first three sessions and seemed to get a lot out of it – particularly the last workshop on light painting – has now decided he wants to drop it altogether, which is a shame. I wonder if that would have happened if we’d managed to do one long uninterrupted block of sessions.

This is not to say it’s all negative. We have had some genuine moments where it feels like we are connecting with the young people in our group and I can see they are enjoying aspects of what we’re doing. It’s an interesting and challenging journey to walk the path of meeting their needs in a genuine way, given the limitations of the small and unpredictable spaces we are being given to work with and all the other external dramas which can be happening around us at the school.

Next week we plan to do something more active which involves an acceptable level of mess – and to introduce the incentive of earning sweets or chocolate for engaging in our sessions. Hopefully this will make it feel less like ‘school’ and more like something fun and creative that they are happy to be part of. Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye 2021

2021 has been a mixed bag personally and professionally. Aside from the obvious awfulness of this pandemic, there’s been a lot of loss.

My kids lost three grandparents in quick succession over late 2020 and the first part of this year, following long periods of illness and decline – a situation made all the worse by the limitations to visiting etc. A number of friends have also left the area and in some cases moved abroad, which for me has compounded this feeling of grief and loss.

I felt very at sea professionally earlier in the year but eventually started to realise that one of the things I was feeling was profound boredom. After 16 years as a freelance journalist, basically writing the same stories for the same outlets and feeling inferior every time I looked up my NCTJ peers (why do we do this?), maybe it was time to shift focus. This felt like a failure initially but I soon came to frame it differently.

Taking part in Crossing Sectors, a professional development programme put on by Open Eye Gallery, helped with this. It led me to run a socially engaged lockdown project in my neighbourhood, then to apply for Arts Council Develop Your Creative Practice funding – which I didn’t get but the process moved me forward significantly. That application then formed the basis for several other applications for arts commissions and I started to see some results. I got to the interview round for a project in a prison – which felt like progress.

Then I won a microcommission from Open Eye to make collages using litter I’d picked up off the floor – the first time I’ve used any kind of alternative media within my work. It felt like an outlandish thing to propose but somehow it worked. From there the good luck continued. I got on another training programme with the Turnpike in Leigh, the Making of Us, which has paired me with a talented young designer and 3D printer to design and deliver a series of workshops to five teenagers in a special school. We’re part way through this at the moment and it’s been a huge learning curve – you can’t get much more out of my comfort zone than this.

Aside from this I’ve got another two socially engaged commissions which are at an early stage – a Heritage Action Zone project in Chester with Open Eye Gallery, where I’m going to partner with the Spider Project, and another similar but bigger scale project in Wigan, where I will be working with community members to consider the history of King Street. That one is something I’m quite nervous about at this stage as it’s all such an unknown at this point, and there are two other artist commissions happening co-currently along the same short street.

Running in parallel with all this is my involvement in Post Photography Collective – a group of mother photographers who share lots of experiences and frustrations. We only meet on Zoom once a month but having a network of like minds has been a lovely and positive thing.

Additionally, I spent this term working as an associate lecturer in photography at Manchester Metropolitan University, supporting a small group of students to engage with the community of Clayton. This happened completely by chance, through a chat with the course leader at an open evening at an artist studios near my house. I don’t know if my contract will be renewed or whether the other projects will allow for this next term. But it’s been a good experience overall.

I don’t know what the point of writing this is, other than to remind myself of how much has happened in a relatively short period of time. I don’t think I’ve really taken many photos of my own, other than the litter portraits which then got turned into collages. One of those will be in the Manchester Open exhibition in late January/February.

But I suppose the thing that is worth remembering is that all of these professional changes have happened just months after I felt really bleak about my direction. It took me months to change the wording on my website and social media from ‘journalist’ to ‘former journalist’ and sometimes ‘writer’. It felt like a huge admission of failure but actually I’m quite pleased and surprised with the turn of events.

 

Making of Us workshop #2

This week we ran our second workshop at the Together Trust for the Making of Us project. The first session we used disposable cameras with the participants – the only snag being that two of our five participants were absent, and their cameras needed to be filled up by other people. This was important as the resulting images were the basis for workshop number two – the downside was that because they hadn’t taken the photos themselves, there was potential for them to be less engaged. Anyway, after a bit of stress with broken machines at the camera shop (I thought for a while the pictures might not even be ready) we returned to the school with negatives and prints. We watched a couple of short Youtube videos about film photography and the darkroom, to give them a little bit of understanding of how it all works, and we did a warm up exercise that I learned on Crossing Sectors, where you draw around your fist and then respond to a series of drawing prompts within that shape, which then promote discussions as a group.

We then spent some of the session supporting the group to make collages out of their images – this was a bit of an ask it turned out, as I hadn’t thought about the fact this might be out of the group’s experience or comfort zone. Some participants got into it faster than others but all five ended up making a collage by the end of the session. This will form the basis for a 3D print, which Jamie-Lee will bring back to them in the final session. We also intend to do some light painting in the next session and I’m having to quickly scrabble about to buy suitable second-hand digital cameras (which allow users to use in semi-manual modes) as I have suddenly realised I’m not so comfortable with the idea of using my own work camera and laptop for this – I stopped paying to insure my gear a few years back. I don’t want to tempt fate in this way.

How socially engaged is this project at this point? We’re trying to build trust with the group and to get their feedback as we go along but it’s not clear how much they are getting out of it. We’re reflecting on our practice as we go along both together and individually. Thinking of moments which could have gone better, and which have gone well. We’re asking the school staff for constructive feedback as well. As for where we could go in future sessions, we have a rough plan but it’s subject to change if we feel the group could benefit from something different. I’m not as stressed out as I thought I might be about this situation – no doubt because I’m working with a partner, and have a support system in place and also don’t have the pressure of outputs at this stage. I’d like to build participant feedback into the process more but it feels like that could take more time and a lot more work. Anyway here are some of the lovely disposable images the group shot last week and a few of their fabulous collages that they made this week.

Manchester Open exhibition

I’m excited to say this image of eco heroes Nazar and Ash (from my Open Eye commission on litter picking) has been selected to be part of the Manchester Open exhibition at Home next year. Almost 2,300 people entered and around 500 of those were selected, so this is lovely.