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 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!
I’d like to share a project I have been working on for a few months now, in a Primary school in the Falkirk area that received some funding to create a photography exhibition and book for the baton relay event cutting through Falkirk on the 24th June. The working title for this is Talking Pictures which gives you a good flavour of their project.
Up to this point the children have been writing stories which take as their theme the values of the Commonwealth Games. Now i am not a sporty person (to put it mildly) but it’s actually been more interesting than i thought it was going to be!
To begin with, and after much planning, I spent several sessions with the two P4 classes (aged 8/9 years) talking about photography and how, through observation, we can ‘read’ photographs. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me and demonstrated just how imaginitive and observant children can be when presented with an image and asked to discuss it. The planning with the teachers has been great and we are about half way through the groups writing up their stories which they will then illustrate with a photograph. I have been getting feedback from the teachers about the children’s stories and they are very happy with them. I can see how the children’s learning in class is enhancing their work with me and the teachers can see how the ‘reading photographs’ exercises are enhancing the children’s learning too. Today one of the boys mentioned that they should use ‘wow’ words in their story (i had to ask what these are and they’re words like suddenly, immediately etc). I try to feed back to teaching staff when this happens.
It’s great to see a project working with all involved engaged and observing the progress bit by bit. Here are a few images of the children working on their story writing- when it’s sunny i like to take the groups outside to write, it frees up space in the school and let’s us all enjoy the fresh air (see above- below is their mind-maps, or hedgehogs)!
The next stage in this project is to think about how to bring these stories to life. I had the children do an ideas shoot for pose, and write a list of props and where their photograph will be taken. I have had them speak to staff members about appearing in their pictures, and ask around for certain props required. I have included a test shot for one of the stories since the football (acting as a substitute for a lawn bowl) obscures this pupil’s face sufficiently. We will be shooting in and around the school so teaching the children the value of cropping is been invaluable. Classroom space in this school is at a premium so we will be shooting outdoors in a marquee. The children will be in charge of taking the pictures (my job is to set up lighting and camera controls only)! Simultaneously, as the groups photograph, the teachers are re-working and hand-writing the stories in class. I will then scan the selected hand-written story and add to the image. As much as i would like to work with the children to teach them basic Photoshop it’s not possible at this time as it’s just too painfully near the end of term so i have arranged some CPD sessions with teaching and support staff in the new year. I hope to get parental permission to include as many of these finished photographs and stories, and of course will continue to document and write about this process as we continue, including quotes from the children and teaching staff. Time allowing.
I have been doing some reading on Man Ray recently- he is an artist known to most photographers for his pioneering Rayograms and solarisation and if, like me you trained in photography pre-digital days you would have experimented with these techniques in the darkroom.
The quote above is from a letter Man Ray wrote to an artist friend who’s work he greatly admired. Knud Merrild was a Dutch post-surrealist and modernist artist who ended up in California the same time as May Ray (who fled Paris in August 1940). Merrild’s work was bought and admired by several great artists and writers but he never gained the fame and notoriety of his contemporaries. He suffered a heart attack and returned to Denmark where he died in 1954.
Recently there has been much press about the cut in arts funding across the whole of the UK and It’s got me to thinking about how little the arts are valued within modern society- I mean good art- art that makes you think and feel emotion and want to do and try harder in your own practice- not the insipid zombie art people buy to match their sofas, or the kind of art that is all about the ego of the artist (I still long for the day when we have a row of plaster cast dicks from all of the well-known artists still alive lined up on pedestals in order of size from small to large and the largest one gets to be ‘top artist of the world’).
I like this quote because it offers hope and that is something all artists need to keep going- without hope there is nothing as an artist. I know we need it across every facet of life but it is the one thing that keeps me going- the idea that the ‘thing’ I am creating at that present moment will give me satisfaction and, in turn, perhaps inspire others, provoke an emotion in them or change how they think or feel about a certain something. But I also like the fact that Man Ray uses the word ‘illusion’ as if Merrild is creating some sort of magical world (or personality). Like a great author, Man Ray is lost in Merrild’s work- the illusion has taken hold and is all-encompasing to the point of obsession. I’ve had a few art obsessions – most recently travelling to Vienna to see Klimt’s The Kiss and while there discovering the Striking Heads of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt- all these journeys in art, where just reading a few lines about a certain artist takes me deeper and deeper in to a journey.
But back to Man Ray and his love of Merrild’s work. We do not compliment each other enough or reward ourselves with a moment of happiness before moving on to our next creative obsession. It doesn’t matter that the world has not sat up and taken note of our latest creative outpouring. What is important is the journey and the acknowledgement from those who get it- whose opinion is treasured (not friends- they will always tell you they like it with little critical discussion). I can imagine Merrild’s happiness at receiving this letter from Man Ray and the impact it potentially had on his work- how such a letter could push his work on further and inspire him to keep going.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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…