breakthroughs and paradigms

Slowly slowly I’m feeling more comfortable about my major project. Ironically, after a wobble this week when I attended a tutorial with the brilliant Peter Fraser and completely failed to articulate what I’m doing and why – his response in turn not giving me the encouraging alternative perspective I was hoping for – I am actually feeling better than I was before. As so often is the case, the disappointment of not finding the answers I was looking for in Peter’s session led me to find them independently in the end. Perhaps that is what a good university tutor actually does. After feeling slightly crestfallen and confused for one evening, I turned to the photo theory, sociology and anthropology books I’ve borrowed from a friend and spent the rest of the week ploughing through them. Happily, once I found some chapters I could actually understand, this initial research started to give me a new angle on this project, while at the same time giving me some concrete ideas. So today I started to incorporate some ethnographic techniques into this ‘fieldwork’ stage, to ensure that as far as possible it really will have some elements of genuine collaboration with my subjects…more of which later.

So this week represents a modest breakthrough for me in the way I am thinking about this project, and today I experienced a small parallel breakthrough (or a ‘paradigm shift’ as some of the aforementioned sociology books would have it) with the family of Lida, the young Czech woman I am working with, because I felt that she – and they – finally started to relax with me and my camera. That’s not to say it’s been that fruitful in photographic terms, but it certainly feels like a start. Lida and I also booked flights today for a visit together to the Czech Republic in October. And in seven days’ time I’ll be on my way to Romania with Ramona. Being me and needing something to stress about all the time, my worry has now gone from fear of not getting access to the communities or families I wanted, which I was feeling a few months ago, to worrying how the hell I’m going to shoe-horn all of this into one final project. It’s hardly something I’m going to lose sleep over though – I’m just going to go with the flow.

What a difference 6 months can make

I spent this morning watching Ramona, who I’m going to Romania with in a couple of weeks, helping Roma clients with documentation problems at the Manchester Sure Start centre where she is now working much of the time. I am still amazed that when I met her for the first time in February – just six months ago – she was doing this for a living:

This really goes to show how the right support really can make a difference to migrants who are bright and determined to grasp what’s on offer to them. Ramona never went to school and has been in the UK just two years. In that time she has become fluent in English and learned to read and write. She is certainly a special case but a few success stories like her within the Romanian Roma community here is bound to have an impact in terms of raising the younger generation’s aspirations.

In other news, I’ve been reading a borrowed copy of On Being a Photographer (David Hurn and Bill Jay) over the past week and have just got to the part about planning photo essays. Th current project is the first time I’ve been really systematic about what images I’m trying to produce so I was reassured to already be doing more or less what Hurn recommends.

A day in the ‘pool

Today turned out to be a lovely day to visit Blackpool, to show my new Roma friends the sea for the first time, and to test out my new ND8 filter before I need it in earnest in Romania in a few weeks time. The vignette it produces, from stacking on top of my UV filter, gives the resulting images a Holga-esque kind of feel which I sort of like. It could start feeling a bit gimmicky if overdone though. The train journey home felt like it was never going to end but I think a good day was had by all.

(I can’t ever go to Blackpool, by the way, without thinking of another trip I made there a few years ago, just as I was getting into photography:)