I am starting a new project in Stirling tomorrow, working with Brian the musician and a group of care experienced children and young people. It’s been quite a long conversation as Brian and I work out the best way to combine our talents to work collaboratively with this cohort. i was telling Brian about a project I delivered at a primary school in Falkirk which uses music and photography. I thought I would revisit this way of workign and remind myself how many possibilities there are when working collaboratively in photography and other art forms.
Music and art combine to create a narrative image based on the story of Peter and the Wolf (my favourite is the David Bowie narrated version). This image was created using a photographic technique called painting with light. The canvas is made up of single painting with light shapes digitally stitched together in Photoshop. A painting with light image is created with a moving light source such a torch or a glow stick which is captured on a long exposure. By stiching together lots of separate images it allows a whole class to take part in a final piece of work.
I will update this post as Brian and I continue on with the project.
This project was delayed due to Covid but we finally got a start on the workshops and the exhibition last September 2021. I invited a fellow artist to co-curate the exhibition with me mainly due to the fact that Livingston Skate Park is legendary within the skate community. I was never a skater and it felt like there should be someone from the park’s history involved. Chris Young came on board to assist with the workshops and curation of the exhibition which was displayed at Howden Park Centre, Livingston from September 2021 until March 2022. Chris grew up in Livingston and was a frequent visitor to the park as a young person before pursuing a career as an artist with a specialism in graffitti art.
The interesting thing about this exhibition was the sourcing of images. I put a call out to park users to get some local images and we didn’t get any submissions form anyone under the age of 40! What became obvious as we worked on this was that it was the older park users or those from the park’s past who were interested in submitting images, and connecting with the history of the park itself. We bought together the archive images from the parks designer Iain Urquhart and it’s unofficial custodian Kenny Omond. I enjoyed working with plain backing paper as a sustrate for printing. We showed many images by the photographer Tim Leighton-Boyce who’s achive is managed by RAD. These iconc images gave some context ot the park’s past illustrating the number of times reknowned skate boarders from the UK and US who visited the park. There is a hope that this exhibition will assist in the development of an official archive of Livingston Skate Park.
I also got the chance to exhibit some black and white portraits I had taken at the skate park in 1999 and had never shown.
Chris also created some new artwork at the park itself based on old skateboarding motifs and logos.
I would like to spend more time taking photographs but never seem to get the time or the head space. When I do take photographs now it’s mainly of nature and I manipulate them digitally. I have always been fascinated with the space that exists between reality and fake when it comes to photography. I like to picture what these images will look like framed, large on a wall.
“Like the wings of birds fluttering against closed windows, photographs brush vainly against the surface of things“
All my photographs of birds are fake. They are edited, stitched together and manufactured. I add birds where there are none, remove ones that do not fit in to the composition and layer skies and backgrounds to suit my aesthetic. They remind me that all of photography is fake.
The Pusuit of Happiness
Religion, philosophy, and human interaction play smaller and smaller roles in contemporary life, we have come to value pleasure, vanity, and conspicuous consumption in their place. Happiness is a recurring theme in my work. The means through which we pursue happiness have changed significantly, but this pursuit still reigns over Western society. No longer satisfied by the truth and comforts of religion and a virtuous life we are encouraged to expect happiness at all costs, but is the contemporary pursuit of happiness doomed to fail?
The American Dream is a concept worshipped by an entire nation which has lost sight of it’s original meaning. Happiness was written into the Declaration of Independence by Jefferson with the phrase ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. However when Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness, he had nothing vague or private in mind; his was a measured, public happiness.
This series of images, entitled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ is from a larger body of work shot in the US over several years. I have returned time and again in an attempt to greater understand this culture and it’s people, the legacy of Scottish diaspora and their modern interpretation of the theories and philosophies from the Scottish Enlightenment.
A series of images created by Young People from West Lothian taking part on the HYPE Photography course. They chose to create work which responds to the question;
“What are the main issues affecting Young People living in West Lothian today”?
They used a variety of techniques to develop these images, including painting with light and photographing shadows with coloured gels across the light source. Some images have been painted over using arcrylic paints.
I have not looked at, or thought, or had time to write anything for a few years and i’m surprised at how long it’s been. Both work and life have felt rushed. I’ve continued to work across a diverse range of settings it’s just that it hasn’t felt right to write about some of the work i have been doing- at times it can feel like i am objectifying the people i work with. For a while i found it personally challenging to continue working at such a pace without a break in career. I was burned out, unmotivated and tired to the bone. At the end of March i was diagnosed with a giant cyst and ended up in hospital for a week while it was removed. My recovery was slow and steady but i got back to work as soon as possible. By summer I had decided not to take on much collaborative work which, until that point had involved driving 400 miles a week. I barely touched a camera and opted to paint the house instead. Photography was always my obsession and my passion but i had fallen out of love with it. I was not moved or motivated to shoot my own work since all my energies were pushed towards helping others realise their creative and personal potential.
By September, i was ready to get back to work again. I tend to work to an academic timetable and consider September the beginning of my working year. This year i have work five days a week across five very different settings. These projects will hopefully take me through the academic year to next April at the earliest and i will try and find the time to write about the ones which are most appropriate. I’ll also talk about the merits of taking my dog Bob in to work with me- he’s now two and a half and has been coming with me to work since he was four months old. Some photographs of him at work with young people last week accompany this blog.
I had the honor and the privilege to work with service users at Waverly Care this summer and autumn and a few weeks ago we had the exhibition at the Traverse Theatre here in Edinburgh.
First off, it was great to work in Edinburgh for a change!!!
My memories of working on this project will always be based around sunshine. Every time I visited Milestone House or Waverly Care the sun was shining (ok I worked on the project throughout the summer but still)!!
It was quite a large collaborative project between myself as the photographer and two writers and of course at the heart of it all, the workshop participants themselves.
I anticipated this commission to be quite challenging because of the number of collaborators and the very theme of the project I knew would be emotionally challenging. The overall theme to the work was “to create images and writing which explored the experience of living in Scotland with HIV and Hepatitis C.” I cleared my schedule for the summer and worked pretty much exclusively on this. The workshops were a mix of chat and work, but always laid back, exploratory and most of all, really interesting. I was privileged to listen to people speak about their experiences in life and shared in their optimism for the future. As I said, my overwhelming memory of this project was that the sun shone, the weather was warm and we spent much time outdoors looking at the beauty of the world around us, appreciating the bloom of a rose, the red leaves of a Japanese tree, and how we can fit ourselves in to this world. As a photographer working collaboratively I am always conscious of the need to keep peoples’ identities private- whether that’s children and young people all the way up to adults who are service users and need to retain their anonymity. Never before was has it been so important to ensure that workshop participants were comfortable with the level of disclosure they were making within the public realm.
We had the exhibition launch a few weeks ago and the work looked good on the walls of the Traverse. On the launch night many of the service users came along to celebrate the work. I did something I NEVER do in my working life and that is, I had a glass or four of wine. We pushed some tables together and sat around enjoying each others’ company and it was such a fitting end to the project.
Here is a link to the blog which was set up to capture some of the writing and images taken across the project which I hope gives you the viewer a flavour of the words and images created across the project.
I am, as usual, ashamed to say that i was too busy working to take many process shots of the group working. The advantage of this project is that we had some extra cameras for the groups to use and document our working- we were too busy to spend much time doing this and i don’t have permission for some of the images but here’s some that we can show- just remember my mantra “we’re not here to have fun”!!!!
This group wrote a lovely story which i have published below. As you can see it’s quite a long story but as they wrote it it just got better and better and really highlights the children’s talents for creativity and imagination- i think it also demonstrates how it’s a fairly hands-off approach to their writing and image editing…
Below are some of the additional images from the Disney Dogs shoot- these pictures just make me smile- so much comedy and fun from this group…
For this post i would like to talk about the writing element to the project. I am not a writer by any means but the writing was given as much time as the photographs, with much assistance from the teachers. After a class discussion about photography we introduced the project itself. Below is the information sheet sent to teaching staff prior to this lesson. After several meetings and emails i had a good understanding of what we could achieve and this allowed me to accurately research and then inform teaching staff;
PICTURE MAKING WITH WRITING AND CRITICAL THINKING
TO BUILD ON INFORMATION CHILDREN ALREADY NATURALLY POSSESS
TO INCREASE LITERACY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
We will learn how to use photography to illustrate our stories
We will use photography to show a range of human emotions
We will learn camera techniques to introduce light and darkness, to give mood and emotion to our pictures which will illuminate our stories
We will learn how to capture movement with our cameras
We will learn how to take better pictures
Inspire, inform, connect, values for schools, determination, resilience, excellence, community spirit, confidence, leadership, communication, peace, understanding
We will look at the skills required for each of the sports in the Games and how these are different for a runner compared to a weightlifter compared to a shooter
We will look at the skills required to become a world-class athlete;
Determination, stamina, confidence, state of mind, diet, training programme
We will find stories of past Commonwealth games in Scotland (Edinburgh 1970 & 1986)
We will look to develop our own sport for inclusion in the Commonwealth games which takes it’s inspiration from what we have around us
We will look at the theatre, drama and spectacle in sporting events
We will look to the animal kingdom for comparisons in human athletes
We will look at the cult of winning prizes- is it winning or taking part? What about those who come second? Or third?
We will think about what equipment is used, how it is made and by whom
We will look at the human body and it’s capapbilities
We will look at sport as a tool for revolution
We will try to imagine how it feels to be at the Games;
Who comes second
Who has trained hard
Who have travelled very far to be here
All the writing created by the groups was inspired by the above. The main thing for me was to try and have them see past the obvious Hussein Bolt runs 100m race and wins a gold medal. The children’s imaginitive ideas far surpassed my expectations. They would spend a few hours with me creating their ideas using mind-maps and then writing up their stories on the computer, and adding their proposed image ideas. I did not interfere with their writing process, and the children were more than adept and confident at managing their writing on their own- they actually informed me! I learned about ‘wow’ words for starters!!
As an example, here are the World-Wide Webbers making their mind-map for their idea of the Games being open to people of varying ability…
Once the children have written up their word document of story/image/props list/list of tasks i email it to their teacher who then works with the children to ‘upscale’ their story. I provided nice heavy paper and writing pens for the children to write their stories up ready for me to scan and lay on to their images in Photoshop. Below is the World Wide Webbers written text without any editing in Photoshop…
The writing process is something that is started with me and finished with their teacher in class. Once their story is finished the children then do a test shoot to work out their best angle of view, composition, timing, etc. Below are some of the test shoots done by the Webbers demonstrating their ideas…
These practice images demonstrate composition and help the children work out props and pose- in this series it became obvious which hand the ball should be in and what the crop should be. This informs how they should pose their model for the final shoot. The Webbers chose to ask the school secretary, Mrs. Mockery to pose for their image. It was their responsibility to ask Mrs Mockery, plan her session and organise the props and costume. This maintains their ownership of the work and reinforces their responsibility.
Here are some of their images from their shoot with Mrs Mockery…
Below is their chosen final image- they liked the determination in Mrs Mockery’s eyes and the pose was good…You can still make out the symbols showing which country she plays for and what the actual sport is. I should also add that all the teaching staff loved seeing Mrs Mockery in the photographs…
I am going to use several of the finished images from the Talking Pictures project which finished at the end of June, to talk about how we made the work. With thanks to the teachers i got lots of the model release forms returned. We worked on the project for approximately 3 months and there’s more information about it in my previous post…
Bearing in mind the project ran from April to June and that is the busiest term for schools it was important to make sure that we developed a way of working that caused the least amount of disruption to the classes. We began with a few lessons to the whole class. The first time i met the children we had a class discussion on the power of photography and the power of the image. I showed them photographs by August Sander, Richard Avedon and Helen Levitt. We discussed the different cameras used by each of these photographers, narrative in photography, reading a photograph, labelling their subjects and in the case of Helen Levitt the morality of using a fake lens on the side of her camera to photograph her subjects without their knowledge. The discussions were robust and the children were engaged.
Many of the images from the shoot day with the Wild Wolves were just wonderful (to be fair all the groups worked hard on their shoot days). The model, C really embraced the role, blocked out what was happening around him and posed without inhibition. I added a selection of images from each group’s shoot to a closed album in flickr and sent it to the teachers. The children and their teachers were then able to choose the one they liked best. They were asked to consider which one best represented their story, and the one with best exposure, composition, and where the model was best posed. This was a democratic process done by the whole class which removed any decisions made through favouritism and also boosted the confidence of the models themselves. It made them feel part of a team working towards a common goal.
Below is the final edit but i’ve also included a few other layout ideas the children and their teachers had to choose from…The exhibition images were always going to be 20×24″ so we decided on the text taking up a smaller space as it would always be readable at the selected print size.
Choice of edit with text on image. Choice of edit where text is below image
The children began with their practice shots. As you can see the day we worked on the practice shots the Wild Wolves had the luxury of working in a classroom! It allowed us to practice setting up the background stands and practice pose. From my perspective it’s also good practice for me to make sure that i am working to that delicate balance of demonstrating and teaching but still allowing the children full creative control.
A few of the practice shots- looking at angle of view, crop, expression, colour cast, location and camera practice.
This images demonstrates how the Wild Wolves worked. All the group members took turns each at being the main photographer. As you can see this image was taken by a group member. I am demonstrating to E how to hold the reflector (most of the children found this to be the most boring job)! This image also demonstrates how the photographs can be taken anywhere with the right kit- in this case some cheap stands and black background. As earlier stated, space is at a premium in every school i have ever worked in so it’s better to work outside to avoid being shifted every 50 minutes which is never long enough to get set up. Working with natural daylight is also one of the best sources of light which adds to the quality of the image- finally look at all that space! No tables or cupboards or chairs to tidy away!