The experiments continue… Last Thursday and Saturday I photographed three separate groups of litter pickers, in Salford, Moss Side and Levenshulme, a total of 17 people. That’s way more than I intended, as I hoped for maybe six people in total, but it gives me more choice.
I photographed them using my normal camera but also using a strange yellow polaroid film, which left me feeling like I was wearing old fashioned swimming goggles. I just used that to see how it came out to be honest. This evening I’ve started playing with using these in collages. I only have one so far, but I quite like it. I don’t know when I’ll feel I’m ‘there’ with the work – it all feels incredibly bitty but I guess that’s the point with an R&D bursary type project….
Since January this week I’ve been working on a loose socially engaged project in my neighbourhood of Levenshulme, where I’ve invited local residents to send me their thoughts and images relating to the past year and how Covid-19 has impacted their lives.
This was funded via an InterMEDS commission which I’d been awarded by Peshkar in Oldham early in 2020 – pre-pandemic, my proposal had been to run a participatory project with Roma young people, but this plan naturally had to evolve as the world shut down. Gone were the opportunities to work face to face – instead, and inspired by my experience on Open Eye Gallery’s professional development course, Crossing Sectors, I turned my attention to my immediate community and tried to build on the network I’d developed through last year’s work on Levy Lockdown Portraits.
Over the Christmas holidays I handed out some creative kits to six local women – including disposable cameras, journals and some prompts. The timing ended up being quite fortiutous as we soon found ourselves in our third national lockdown – a bleak time where it felt dark and depressing and where all schools were closed for the second time.
Participants had a lot to say about what was going on – and I realised there was no reason why I couldn’t open out this to more people. So I set up a little Facebook group and put an open call on instagram and people started sharing work. In June I put together a zine featuring 36 people’s contributions but there was still more to see, so I’ve now pulled it all together into a website, Levy Lockdown Project.
This features everything I was given during this period – from full on journals, to photos and sketches. 42 people are on there and I have no work there except as a curator/facilitator. There are also a few audio interviews which I’ve conducted with three of the original creative box participants.
I’m pleased with this work – its my first true socially engaged project. I’ve learned a lot – it’s been quite a loose project with no workshops and most of the interactions have been digital, but I think it is an interesting community archive and a lovely companion piece to last year’s window portrait book and our zine.
Thanks to everyone who got involved and shared their thoughts and work. And thanks to Peshkar for the commission, and to Eurasmus and InterMEDS for the funding.
I’m still not 100% sure where I’m going to end up with this litter project but community members are continuing to send me photos of their finds in dribs and drabs. I’ve now posted two open calls in a large number of Greater Manchester litter picking websites over recent weeks and received a decent response (31 people). I’ve also exercised my own form of ‘dynamic recruitment’ – where I invite particular people to get involved beyond the open call. If I see interesting photos being posted in a litter picking group I’ve been contacting the poster directly and asking them to send them to me.
There were two other main strands in my proposal to Open Eye Gallery, namely portraiture and collage. My original plan was to combine the two but I’m not certain that’s going to work at the moment. I am currently compiling a small hit list of people I hope to photograph over the coming few weeks – the project is a micro commission so I’m only aiming for around five or six portraits I think. As for the collages – well, I’ve started experimenting a little with this (school closures keep stopping play) and was initially feeling a bit wobbly about it.
I quickly realised I’d have to work with photographs of litter rather than the real thing but even they have been leaving me feeling extremely queasy. A week or two ago I went on a solo litter picking walk and ended up scanning a number of the items I had collected. I wore gloves and used antiseptic wipes but the whole thing left my stomach feeling pretty off and despite being in the house alone I felt almost embarrassed by what I was doing. There may be something to unpick there about my own rather visceral reaction!
For a few days I couldn’t even bear to open the files. I could see the little photo icons sitting on my desktop and even they made me feel weird. Then I spent a day chopping them up in photoshop and moving parts around and even that made me want to hurl. I think for me the facemarks are definitely the worst. I’ve internalised the very idea of them potentially being contaminated with germs. I don’t really know beyond that why I feel like I do.
At that point I thought maybe I was onto the wrong track – after all if I can’t bear to look at these images, how could I expect anyone else to do so? I tentatively showed a few to a neighbour, who suggested that discomfort is where the art is and thought I should ‘lean into’ these feelings – maybe contextualising them somehow with a statement. I shared a few on Instagram and got an unexpectedly positive reaction. So on I’ll go.
I’ve printed off some of these scans as photos so am going to try physically collaging with them. And I’ll try to also use this opportunity to improve my Photoshop skills by working with digital collage as this is something I’ve never done.
Recently I was lucky enough to be awarded a micro commission by Open Eye Gallery, which allows me to use a socially engaged approach to look at the issue of litter. I’m treating the commission like a bursary – so using this opportunity to test out some ideas and see what works.
My proposal was to engage with the growing army of volunteer litter pickers which I’ve noticed have sprung up during the pandemic. My belief is that as people have spent more time in their local environments, they have been spurred on to do their bit to make it better. Perhaps littering itself has also increased over the past year – it’s hard to know as my own neighbourhood has always been filthy.
My project is going to work on several levels. I have been posting an open call into various litter picking groups across Greater Manchester over recent weeks, inviting people to send me photos, anecdotes and opinions. So far, 23 people have sent me either photos or words or both. I have around 350 photographs, and it’s fair to say people have been finding some strange and at times surprising items on their travels. Here are a few of them:
The second element of this commission is going to involve me making some portraits and collages… I am still thinking about how to actually do the collage part and am going to have to spend the next few weeks experimenting I think. I’ve been playing around with making cyanotypes of some of the litter I’ve been picking up – for no reason other than that I’d never made cyanotypes before. The cyanotypes themselves have been a bit rubbish (poor workmanship!) – but I have to say I quite like the look of the digital negatives I’ve been making in order to produce them, I find them quite striking.
The items I’m personally most drawn to photographing at the moment seem to be PPE (everywhere) and those stupid little nitrous oxide canisters which are also everywhere. How to integrate those into collage, I’m not yet sure. Watch this space. I’m going to try to blog this process as a way of keeping track of this project as it progresses.
I’m highly aware this is a subject other photographers have covered. The best is Chloe Juno, who has been at it for about seven years now and has now amassed thousands of images. I also came across this Gregg Segal series today, where he photographed families with a week’s worth of their refuse.
Levy Lockdown Project is a collaborative, hyperlocal effort to document and make sense of the strange period of global history we are living through.
As the UK entered its third national lockdown in January 2021, I invited people living in Levenshulme to share their images and thoughts about the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on them. This 64-page zine features the work of 36 contributors.
This is the first output for my Peshkar commission for a socially engaged photography project, which I was awarded in early 2020 – before the pandemic took hold. I initially gave art boxes to six local women and then opened the project up wider to anyone who wanted to join, via a Facebook group and Instagram hashtag. When I started working on the zine I put out an open call, and some contributors came forward who hadn’t been part of the project until that point.
Next step is to build a little website for the work as there is a lot more than made it into the zine. It’s been a good little learning project and I’m proud of the zine – it looks ace. Copies are available to buy from here.
When Covid-19 hit and schools closed in March 2020, it was a huge upheaval in all our lives – but particularly in the lives of young children. Over the following year – during which we had two national periods of homeschooling (plus another nine-day stint when one of our school bubbles was told to self isolate) – I watched my sons carefully and tried to capture some of the madness from their point of view.
During Covid times I’ve developed an interest in working my own images into collages. Any other art form would probably lead me to feel a lot of imposter syndrome as I have no arts background, but I find the cutting up and sticking of paper quite meditative. Much of what I make is terrible but here are a few I don’t mind.
I am a terrible businesswoman. A lot of the work I do, I do for myself quite honestly – to satisfy my own curiosity and shine light on particular issues that I care about. I am less good at finding audiences in any meaningful or commercial way and that is normally a bit of an afterthought.
And so it happened with the body of work which almost no one has seen, Here and There.
My friend Ramona, aka Elvira and a collaborator in my Roma project, came up with the idea. By this time, 2018, she was working for a migrant support charity and came up with the idea of situating stories of Roma people within the wider narrative of migration and the issues faced by these communities in the UK.
Why didn’t I use my skills to tell some of these stories, she suggested? Maybe we could then present them to her employers and get them seen. I think she envisoned me collecting around eight stories and images, but me being me I took it a bit further. It felt important to try to make it all representative – of gender, sexuality, age and of different push factors. There are asylum seekers and refugees, Roma people and others who moved to the UK as children or adults. By the time I’d finished I had collected 26 stories – although one later withdrew consent.
Once I had them, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Ramona and I had a meeting with woman from a human rights charity, who loved the work and promised to show it to others in the field, but then nothing happened and first a general election and then Covid took over.
I sent the work to the People’s History Museum in Manchester after learning by chance that they were programming a year’s worth of events around the theme of migration. I didn’t get an exhibition but they later came back to me to ask to use four of these stories within a broader show. They are currently up on the wall but the museum has been closed much of the past year, so we haven’t see it. Hopefully soon.
In the end I’ve just decided to throw it onto the internet in case anyone wants to read the stories. They don’t tell us much in the grand scheme of things – they just humanise a subject so often talked about in terms of numbers. Behind every number is a person with a story. That’s really all there is to say.
The Ebook can be viewed free of charge here.
I’m currently working in a different way to usual. Since late January I’ve been facilitating a socially engaged approach to documenting the pandemic in my neighbourhood, Levenshulme.
Last year – before the world changed – I was awarded a commission by Peshkar, an arts organisation in Oldham, to make some participatory work with migrant-origin communities in the town. Their funding is coming from InterMEDs, a stand of the Erasmus programme. Sadly the UK will no longer be benefitting from Erasmus due to Brexit.
My original proposal had been to work face to face with Roma groups but inevitably this plan had to be abandoned. After lots of thought and a fair bit of worry about how I could fulfil the requirements of this project – which has to be delivered in September – I decided to build on the lockdown book project I developed last year.
Having had children at home from Christmas until 8 March – and aware from bitter experience that they could be told to self isolate at a moment’s notice – I’m doing all of this online. But I’m now encouraging (and occasionally cajoling) people in my area to submit their own images (photographic and otherwise) and personal thoughts about what the pandemic and lockdown has meant to them.
The hope is that I’ll end up with a huge mishmash of different material from a wide range of residents about what the past year has been like and how they’ve coped. I can then hopefully pull at strands and develop some narratives which fit the original brief. But almost more importantly, we’ll have created a fascinating and worthwhile community archive about this later stage of the pandemic – which will complement what I did before.
I actually started off with a core group of six people from the original window portrait series – I created a small box of creative materials and a series of prompts and asked them to get stuck in. Then I realised I could broaden the project out, so I created a Facebook group on a whim and started using the Instagram hashtag #levylockdownproject. I’ve been posting occasional prompts into the group and people are dipping in and out as they want.
It’s fairly organic and I’m trying to be relaxed about the lack of control – not something which comes that easily to me! That’s where we all are at the moment and what I’m able to do is limited by our circumstances.
Here are a few of the wonderful bits shared with me so far:
Following on from yesterday’s post about the four images and texts of mine which will be on show at People’s History Museum, I thought I’d start sharing the rest of that project, Here and There.
Here’s Lidia, who I think was one of the first people I photographed and interviewed for this series:
“When I was younger I made a lot of mistakes. I did not listen to my parents and spent my evenings out on the streets with my friends.
“My parents – who are Pentecostal Christians – didn’t let me go to discos but I would still go. They don’t drink or smoke but I did. I was supposed to see the difference between my parents and the people on the street but I was following the wrong example.
“If God had allowed me to carry on like that, maybe I would not be here now. Now it’s finished. God has given me a blessing – a child. I believe we have to say thank you to Him every day. If I make a mistake I feel a pain in my heart.
“My brother is in Africa at the moment, working to take the word of God as far as possible. Someone came to our church one Sunday to talk about the work Roma people like us are doing over there. They are building houses for people and giving tribal communities clothes to wear.
“My brother was very touched by their stories and asked if he could go too. My entire family helped him out – we helped him with the cost of his flights and we collected 20kg of clothing for him to take to the people there.
“They teach them how to eat with a spoon, how to get dressed and how to sing Romanian songs.”