It feels like a lifetime ago, but in 2018 and 2019 I spent some time on a self-initiated series of interviews and anonymous portraits which so far haven’t seen the light of day. The work was initiated by my friend Ramona – with whom I made a book in 2011.
Elvira and Me was my MA major project and told of the tensions which existed for Ramona – a Romani woman who moved to the UK from Romania – in her quest to pursue a career while also fulfilling her traditional wife/mother/daughter roles.
Ramona was by then working as a community organiser for a migrant support charity and thought it would be interesting to situate the stories of Romani people alongside those of other people who had migrated to the UK. Her suggestion was to do a handful of these vignettes – photos running alongside first person stories.
But me being me, I took the idea quite a bit further and ended up gathering 25 stories, featuring the words of migrants from across the world. Well, actually I collected 26 but one participant later withdrew his consent. The stories include people who moved here as children, individuals who came here seeking sanctuary and stories from people who moved later in life. The reason the portraits are all shot from behind is because there are asylum seekers among the stories – and they are not comfortable being identified. It made sense to photograph everyone in the same way.
One thing I have realised about myself over the past decade or more of doing so-called ‘personal projects’ on subjects I feel are important (and often doing them in ways that turn out to be basically unpublishable) is that I love making connections, talking to people and gathering stories. What I am very weak at is disseminating what I’ve made.
These stories have pretty much sat on my computer since 2019. I made a little dummy book but did little with it. But one of the few things I did was submit it to Manchester’s People’s History Museum, when I heard they were planning to programme their 2020 content around the theme of migration. The work was not selected as an exhibition in and of itself, but the curator later got back to me and asked to use four of the stories as part of some broader programming.
This was all very exciting. We had a meeting about it and then Covid arrived and it all went incredibly quiet. Until recently – after a hiatus of about seven or eight months the museum started putting together its #Welcome? exhibition. Sadly it’s not open at the moment, as Manchester is in Tier 3 and galleries and museums are shut. But once they can, I’ll be going to see the work, which is on until October 2021.
I think now is probably the time to start sharing some of these stories, so watch this space.
“…then there were those kids, who for reasons unknown to any of us, decided to totally own the event. They would help sort images, put them up, gaurd them, and even they took time to explore the visuals themselves. The audience ranged from curious people walking past, to bloggers, photo enthusiasts, designers or couples looking to do something fun on the weekend.
“In a true Indian spirit, the work cannot be left untouched by the imperfections in the world. So there were nails piercing the prints, and dirty finger prints giving new interpretations to the images themselves. The way images react to the surrounding crumbling walls or the leaves gave them new meaning. And often a perfect home…” Puneet Rakheja
I’ve been dying to hear how Blow-Up – the Blindboys street photography exhibition in Mumbai – went at the weekend and have finally found some write-ups and a few photos of how it looked. Thanks to Tenzin Dakpa for the image above of my own contribution. Reviews of how it went can be found here and here. Cheers guys!
Excitingly, I have work in a couple of most excellent events this weekend. Disappointingly, I won’t be present at either one….
First off tomorrow (Fri) evening, one (or possibly two) of my pieces are among around 25 slideshows being shown in Life.Still, part of the Bristol Festival of Photography. I know Young Carers Revolution is on the schedule and there’s a chance Zen and the art of Sandcastles could turn up as well. I’m not 100% sure. If you’re based in Bristol please go and have a beer for me….more info at the link above.
Secondly, a set of my Appleby Horse Fair images are being shown at Blow-Up Bombay, a street-art photography exhibition organised by the fantastic blindboys crew on Saturday. Over the past six months, blindboys has organised blow-ups in Bangalore, Paris and Delhi, displaying works from over 25 photographers and 2,500 pictures. On Saturday they take on India’s economic powerhouse Mumbai. I LOVE the idea of this – taking a really diverse group of photographers’ work to the streets and putting it in front of people who wouldn’t normally see it. I just wish I could be there……
As The Times of India puts it:
….In this Bollywood backyard, strewn with papier mâché Greco-Roman pillars and other discarded props that once featured in celluloid dreams, two photographers will set foot on Saturday, armed with cellotape and photographs printed on cheap paper. Together, they will embellish the tattered walls with not just their own works but also those of both established and amateur photographers received over the past few months. Works which, just like the roofless house, are constantly threatened by the oblivion of abandonment.
….The second Blow Up in Delhi’s busiest centre, Connaught Place, which saw about 50,000 visitors in a day and over 30 photographers, also surprised the duo with varied feedback. Cops stared and went their way, a passerby told Mahajan that his work on the melancholic youth of Kashmir reminded him of his own strifefilled days in Jharkhand, beggars tore off some pictures and used them as wallpaper and a paani puri wallah played art guide to some curious onlookers. “It’s this kind of direct connect with art and public space that we are looking to achieve,’’ says Mahajan, adding that most of the pictures disappear on their own by the third or fourth day.