Future Self!


We are careering towards the launch of the Future Self exhibition in Stirling on Monday and it’s down to the last few tasks- order the vinyl lettering and layout the interpretation text and then it’s just the 113 portraits to hang!! Writing the interpretation text is the bit i don’t like doing- it’s really hard to concentrating three month’s work in to a few sentences. I want to write about all the planning meetings, upload all the worksheets, show you the photographs the children took themselves, share their funny anecdotes, tell you more about them and their stories. Until then, here’s a little formal writing on the project…

Future Self is a photography project which aims to support children and young people at the transition stage within primary school before going up to high school.

 Future Self supported children and young people from the Primary 7 classes of Bannockburn, Cornton and Fallin Primary Schools to explore what they might like to do in the future with regards to career or further study, reflecting too on how they might change in the coming years and the skills they need or would like to develop. As they reflect on their time at primary school and look forward to starting high school, Future Self aims to use transition work being done by class teachers as a starting point for reflection on their school career to date and how they may develop and hone their skills whilst at high school to realise their ideas for future careers.

 Through discussion and exploration in class and at home, and creatively through photography and costume, the children created a double photographic self-portrait of themselves as they are now and who they think they might be in 20 years time. The children are encouraged when taking the photograph of them as they are now, to consider a piece of advice they should give their future selves to enable their career goals. Then, using costume and make-up the children are transformed into that ‘future self’ and re-photographed. These two separate images are then merged in Photoshop and here today are the 113 portraits of the children who took part in the project.

 At the beginning of the project the children visited the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and learned about pose and symbolism in art. Back in class the children learned about representation in photography and how the way we choose to represent ourselves in public can reflect upon our later lives.

 Future Self has reached a broad spectrum of children across Stirling.  Engaging in creative experiences can create a thriving learning environment, transforming levels of aspiration, enthusiasm, motivation, self esteem, critical thinking and openness to new ideas.”




Heartlands Project


I was commissioned to develop a project with two primary 7 classes from Whitburn which took as it’s topic the Heartlands development. This development, just outside Whitburn, is currently the largest development project in Britain. Taking the history and surroundings of this site as inspiration my brief was to create a full day’s workshop with half of the day taking place on site and the other half back in the classroom.  The difficulties lay in relying upon the Scottish weather, class sizes and access to enough of the site to be able to produce a set of good quality, varied images.

I chose to focus my attentions on the beech trees – one in particular which you can see above. I used a digital projector to create a template of this tree on to A0 mount board. The children would create a collage of lots of small photographs taken during their visit, printed on to A4 sticker paper, cut up and stuck on to the Beech tree template.

We could not have asked for better weather during the two school’s visits allowing us to wander the site taking a variety of images. The children were asked to focus their attentions to photographing to specific colours; brown, green, grey, blue and white.


The children really enjoyed taking their pictures and learning the geology of rocks on the site, they listened intently to Alex Muirhead, Development Director of the site.


After their site visit the children returned to their school where I joined them and we began printing their photographs out on to contact sheets. They were encouraged to choose a job suited to their skills; cutting out the pictures, dividing them in to the separate colours, helping with the printing, taking the sticky backs off the prints and sticking them down.




We almost finished their collage! The class teachers were happy to finish their collages in class next week but below is an (almost) finished collage. The pupils and teachers alike were very happy with their work, which will go on display at a sharing day at Whitburn High School in September so I hope to be able to post photographs of the finished tree collages. 


This project was successful on many levels not least of all because the children learned new photography skills, gained confidence in their creativity, worked as a team to produce a piece of work and of course built upon their knowledge of the Heartlands development. 


Future Self


I’m currently working with the P7 class of Fallin Primary School for the Future Self project. It’s been incredibly busy but really enjoyable. This group of boys were in their costumes just before lunch when the bell rang…
Boys: can we keep these on til we go and collect our lunch?
Me: will I get in trouble from your teacher?
Boys: nah she won’t mind
Me: ok keep them on til you’ve had your lunch then you’ll need to take them off
Boys: great! We’re kept in anyway

They ate their lunches in their costumes and grudgingly accompanied me back to the car to leave them.
Their costumes (and indeed the whole project) is based upon the idea of what you hope to do for a living in 20 years time. They loved being dressed up and it makes me smile to see them enjoying costume.
I hope to get some model release forms from parents so I can publish a few of the images from the project and I’m hoping to write a case study with feedback from the class teachers I’m working with.
In the meantime here’s a picture of the boys pointing to the boot of my car, boot bulging with costumes and props


The measure of it all…


Rebecca photographing at Limerigg, December 2012

I have been working weekly with HYPE (Helping Young People Engage) which assists young people transitioning from school to work/further education through skills training to move on to positive destinations. What began as a ten week course in partnership with West Lothian Heritage Services to collect oral histories and photography of people’s working lives in West Lothian developed in to an additional ten sessions to assist the young people in developing their portfolios to study photography at West Lothian College.

Over the course of these two projects a number of young people attended and there was always a good atmosphere of friendship, humour and a willingness to engage and learn. I set up a Facebook group where their photography, worksheets and tutorials were posted to assist them in their learning and latterly I used the ‘chat’ function to speak to them about their interviews.

Two of the participants applied to study photography NC at West Lothian College. They worked hard in editing their photographs and I had them work together to achieve this knowing that they would be asked to discuss their work in interview. We arranged a meeting with Zoe who was one of last year’s HYPE participants and is at the College studying photography and who has just been accepted on the HNC Photography course. She spoke to them about the college and the tutors and what to expect in their interviews.

I dragged them up to Perth Museum and Art Gallery to speak to educators about the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, they photographed an event on behalf of SCHUH and West Lothian Schools and met with professional photographers, they were dragged around galleries and I had them trudge through abandoned frozen industrial landscapes and up hills taking pictures.

Rebecca and Kayla have both been accepted to study for their NC in photography at West Lothian College. They will further develop their skills in photography with their peers in an open, vibrant and inspiring learning environment and, just like Zoe the year before make new friends and thrive.

So, how do we measure the success of this project? There are a several perspectives;

Let’s start with an example from one of the participants, Kayla. She gave me a card which pretty much says it all. I can see how far she has come in her photography but more importantly her desire to learn, her confidence and outlook on life.


The senior youth worker who ran the project (Heather Thomson) and senior staff in the education department at West Lothian Council have achieved positive outcomes. We attended an event recently with Angela Constance, Scottish Minister for Youth Employment and Kayla and Rebecca spoke to her about their plans for their futures. They were also cheered by others present at the event when told they had been accepted to college. I would also like to take this chance to thank Heather for allowing me a free hand to develop this project with her and I hope to further develop and build partnerships with Heather and her dedicated team in the near future


Kayla and Rebecca meeting the Angela Constance the Scottish Government Minister for Youth Employment

From my personal perspective it was a joy to have the freedom to work in an inspiring environment, to bring together aspects of my working life (namely photography and collaborative practice) and share my knowledge. There is something so satisfying about helping people realise their creative and personal goals and not all of my projects are this rewarding…


The Livingston 50 Heritage Project

Working with West Lothian Archive I developed a series of workshops which celebrated the history of Livingston and worked with participants to make new work to place back into the Archive. Taking archive images as a starting point, each of the four projects looked at a different theme. Braid Care Home chose to look at and discuss their working lives in Livingston and when they first arrived there compared to now. The Vennie skateboarding group chose to look at aerial images of early Livingston’s roadways to inspire new graphics for skateboards. The school projects deigned their own t-shirts to wear at the launch which were inspired by the public art of Livingston. The Youth Inclusion Project looked through old archive images of the councillors and youth groups in the area and chose to place themselves in these images (they recognised and liked the juxtaposition of a young person from now and how out of place they looked).

Alech the FishmongerI have been working on the Livingston 50 heritage project for a while now and this set of workshops at Braid House is the final set before the planning of the exhibition.

It is refreshing working with a group of older participants. It brings with it challenges “I’ve no’ got a creative bone in my body hen”, being the classic line. But assisting them in bringing their memories in to a creative realm is rewarding and it allows me to work at a slower pace and in some cases individually. I love listening to their stories of an area I know very well and am in awe of the men who helped build Livingston as they look through archive images pointing out which areas they worked in as brick layers, pipe fitters, builders and kerb layers.

The mood in the sessions is very jovial; sharing jokes and scandalous gossip of the Development Corporation. They bring in photographs of their history in Livingston and of the people important in their lives. I listen while they share these images with me and respond as to how we take these inspiring images in to their finished piece of work. They will be creating commemorative plates illustrating their lives in Livingston, and these will be exhibited in April at Howden Park Centre as part of the Livingston 50 celebrations.

Above is a photograph of ‘Alec’ holding a sea bass. Alec was one of the first businesses to set up in Livingston at Craigshill Mall. He had the fish shop. Alec will include this photograph on his memorial plate to symbolise his business in Livingston. He took home the sea bass to have for his tea…


Future Self…

Stirling Council commissioned me in April of 2011 to develop a project working with the P7 class of East Plean PS. I knew these children well and had been working with them since they were P4 during my artist residency in the Bannockburn cluster of primary schools.

The children were transitioning between primary and high school. East Plean is a small community- one of the outlying villages of Stirling. There is a high rate of unemployment in this area. As part of their transitioning between primary and high school, the class teacher develops a school diary of their time at East Plean PS, and the children pay a visit to the High School- all this assists them with the dramatic change between a small rural primary school and the much larger Bannockburn HS.

In collaboration with Clare Hoare (cultural coordinator) and Mark Hill (class teacher) we developed a portraiture project which would tie in to the children’s learning but which also brought aspiration, creativity and realistic career goals as well as tie in to the Curriculum for Excellence. Over several sessions, the children developed a sense of what portraiture is, and how we represent ourselves to the public tells a lot about who we are. Portraiture and identity are both issues i like to address when working with photography in an educational setting. The children looked at the work of several photographers -namely Richard Avedon’s “Out West’ series and works by August Sander. These works demonstrate the power of the photographer in documenting the human condition honestly but also how the title of a work can affect our reaction towards it.

The children worked with their teacher Mark Hill on developing realistic career goals through questionnaires and diary work. Then they developed costume ideas and poses with myself. The images were shot outdoors against black velvet and the prints here are accompanied by quotes from the children themselves. The children had an exhibition of their work at their school graduation ceremony and were presented with a small print to keep. The larger mounted works were then exhibited at the Macrobert.

Clare, Mark and I were all delighted with the finished works and how well the project had gone. The children were engaged, interested and creative.

The success of this project inspired Clare and myself to collaborate on a funding application and we are delighted to say that we have won a significant amount from Awards for All to develop this project further and deliver it between January and June 2013. We are planning on working across several schools in Stirling including Charter House School which is for young people no longer engaged in formal education. 

We are planning to embed realistic aspirational career goals in to this creative project, allow the young people to create work within a safe environment, and we hope to certify this project through my training as an Arts Awards supplier. This will allow the young people to achieve a qualification outwith a formal learning environment.

Below are a selection of images from the project at East Plean PS. I am really hoping that we will be able to reconnect with this group of children (who are now in second year at High School) to see how they are doing and hopefully they will agree to be involved in the project again to see how far their career aspirations have travelled from those last few weeks of Primary School




Mapplethorpe-inspired portraiture

“The guiding principle of ARTIST ROOMS is the concept of individual rooms devoted to particular artists. The collection of over 725 works includes major groups of work by seminal artists…

The aim of the collection is to create a new national resource of contemporary art that will be shared with museums and galleries throughout the UK so as to inspire new audiences, especially of young people.”Image

I recently did a workshop for West Lothian Council for their Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at Linlithgow Burgh Halls. In 2008 , art collector Anthony d’Offay gifted his art collection to the nation and it is managed in partnership between National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

My brief was to lead a tour of the exhibition and a workshop in self-portraiture which took as it’s inspiration from two specific self-portraits of Mapplethorpe; one mid-career and one towards the end of his life respectively.

For the gallery tour, I spoke to the young people about symbolism in art; specifically photography, the playfulness of Mapplethorpe’s early self-portraits compared to his last one, and we looked at how the search for perfection in the human form was a major influence on his work. We skirted around his life as an ‘out’ gay man living in New York in the 1970’s and 80’s, his Catholicism and his death from an AIDS related illness- these topics needed to be addressed because of his self-portraiture, and to give the young people attending a sense of the historical implications of his life- of him living in a different time from now.

The participants were all from James Young High School in Livingston and are studying art in 4th year. They were rather quiet and reserved during the tour which can at times be a bit unnerving but during their workshop they came in to their own, expressing their personalities, having fun, enjoying being photographed, expressing themselves in a safe and creative environment. The young people were given the brief to take two self-portraits showing their outward personalities and two showing their inner selves. I set up a black background and a white wall sufficed for the other surface. They chose which they wanted to be photographed against and worked in small groups to achieve their portraits. I set up two DSLRs as I did not want the workshops to be about the technical aspects of photography it had to be about expression and, in such a short time frame it was easier to set up the cameras for them. However they were responsible for shooting each other. All the images were shot using one reflector and natural light which came flooding in through the windows of the beautiful top floor of the Burgh Halls.

I cannot stress the importance of gallery visits, showing and discussing artworks, themes in art, stories behind the artworks and the artists themselves.

I have managed to get several model-release forms from parents to share their portraits with you. I was so excited to see the images produced by the group I just had to share- put simply they are all beautiful and there is a quality of vulnerability to of them, a sense of fun, of self-expression and exploration, a chance to share with others the different facets of their personalities. The young people were all sent copies of their images on disc and a print of their black and white 4-image collage but I have chosen to show their single colour images as I think I prefer these.

With thanks to West Lothian Council, James Young High School, Linlithgow Burgh Halls and especially Nancy Douglas.


Great Art Quest

Great Art Quest

“Each year Great Art Quest introduces children from 16 primary schools in the UK to the visual arts by partnering them with local galleries, professional artists and storytellers.

Great Art Quest works in high-need areas and schools taking part in Great Art Quest are specially selected based on Ofsted reports and local knowledge.

For many of the children taking part in Great Art Quest this will be their first experience of visual arts in a professional gallery setting and Great Art Quest is designed to have a transformative impact on children’s academic achievements and self confidence.

Following visits to their local gallery and workshops with artists and storytellers, Great Art Quest culminates in a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to exhibit their work in a professional gallery.”

Great Art Quest, The Prince’s Foundation for the Arts 2012.
I am currently working with four schools from North Edinburgh on the Great Art Quest. I am collaborating with storyteller and musician Marion McKenney to develop the schools workshops and visits to the Queen’s Gallery, at Holyrood Palace who are leading the project through their education officer Alison Campbell.

It has been hard work, bringing together all parties to develop ideas that can be delivered over two sessions in the schools, in an art form where these skills will be easily transferable to the teaching staff to have the confidence to run the project again on their own. There has been much planning in order to direct each school to specific art works in the collection, to help them focus and learn what can be achieved in their classes. I am delivering workshops in casting, paper making, portrait photography and painting which will produce a diverse exhibition and teach new skills to both children and teaching staff. To achieve this, each child was given a sketchbook during their Gallery visit with a series of questions, looking specifically at various art forms and pieces form the collection. They will use their sketchbooks back at school to record their creative progress, sketch out ideas, and write about their experience of working on their project.

I am posting some of the pictures of the children visiting the Gallery. Having the opportunity to talk with them about Van Dyck, Lorenzo Lotto, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrand, Faberge, symbolism in painting, looking for stories within the art works, the histories of certain pieces- to teach them to question what they are looking at doesn’t feel like work at all! It is an utter joy to see them, with their sketch books, navigating the gallery looking to answer the questions they have been set through drawing and writing. To have the opportunity to sit and listen to Marion play her harp and engage them in stories is quite a magical experience and it makes other visitors (and staff) stop and listen.

We have just started in the schools this week and yesterday one of the teachers sent me an email which I have posted here. It’s by far the best part of my job when a truly collaborative project comes together- there are lots of partners in this project- the Gallery, myself, the storyteller, the teaching staff and the children. It takes a huge amount of planning and thinking to ensure all parties are considered.

I hope to be able to post some of the art works created by the children over the coming few weeks- they will be exhibiting their works at Holyrood Palace in the New Year which is exciting not only for them but also for me! The exhibition will take time to plan;it won’t just have their art works on display it will include quotes from the children and teaching staff, excerpts from writing they will be doing with Marion, and photographs of them working on their project.



Positive destinations

One of the best parts of my work is when I say goodbye to some of the people I have worked with knowing that they are on to new things in life. One of the more recent times was working with the young people on the HYPE project in West Lothian. HYPE (Helping Young People Engage) is a project which assists young people transitioning from school to work/further education through skills training to move on to positive destinations. Over the ten weeks I worked with the young people they proved themselves to be keen to learn much about photography and we developed a book project which they recently published on Two of the young people have just started their NC in photography at West Lothian College and are looking forward to continuing their photographic learning up to HNC and degree level.

On a personal level, it was a joy to work with such a dedicated and interesting group of young people- keen to learn about the work of other photographers, engaging in conversations about art and photography and working collaboratively to produce a stunning set of images in what was, in photographic terms, only a short time. OK, so I know that out of the eleven young people I worked with only two have gone on to study photography but it’s so much more than that. A group of young people, who didn’t know each other, and who, for the most part had stopped attending school, turned up every week to work, meet people and learn. Friendships were forged, confidence grew, knowledge was shared.

This week, three of them came along to the Civic Centre in Livingston, set up their exhibition, and spoke to strangers about their project. They took great confidence in being asked questions, seeing that people were interested in what they had achieved and how working on this project had lead them on to a positive destination.

Their book, Show me the Light, is available to view at

This picture was taken by Heather, the community education officer leading the project, who was also inspired to take better pictures.



my history is not important

I have been working through in Livingston recently with a bunch of young folk. This is a picture of Chris who attended all the sessions. I liked Chris- he was a nice lad. He has hopes for his future and is looking to get a job soon to support himself and his girlfriend. I admire Chris- I don’t know much about him, I just took him as I found him, as I do with all the participants I work with. One of the most important things I do in my work with young folk is to give them a safe haven to express themselves creatively and without prejudice. Who or what Chris is, is of little importance to me. My job is to help him increase his soft skills and express himself, not to help him solve his problems. I know the group he’s attached to and like many young folk he finds it hard to listen and concentrate but when we go out taking photographs he comes in to his own. The pleasure he gets from composing, taking and then looking at his photographs pushes him on to take more photographs, to take his time, to come up with more ideas, and this is infectious. He’s an alpha male and so other members of the group start to join in…
This group wanted to look at showing young folk in Livingston in a positive light, which they did successfully with their work which I will post at a later date, but through their less formal photographic works they have showed themselves to be caring, sensitive, attentive and creative. Livingston can get a bad rap from folk but their photographs show it to be rather idyllic in some respects. I show them how to find, and compose beauty- and perhaps for the first time, they are looking and seeing things a little differently…