Jessa Fairbrother: Hothouse Birmingham

Towards the end of last year we caught up with some of the speakers from the line up at Hothouse Birmingham. This time around we've spoken to University of Westminster graduate Jessa Fairbrother who has introduced us to her series Conversations with my mother. We've unravelled a real interest in Jessa's work and we hope you enjoy reading about her experience of speaking about it in Birmingham last year.


Series Statement:

Conversations with my mother.

This is my story of severance..

It explores the relationship I had with my mother and my own inability to become one. It is a photographic performance of being cut from the role of the daughter while at the same time denied a maternal role to shape my future.

We had been tentatively making work together using a single disposable camera, taking photographs of our own lives. I would take one and send the camera to her in the post; she would do the same. We tried to communicate through this process. 

Not long after my fertility began to unravel. I was unable to concentrate on my story because it was then we both found out she was going to die. 

From the series  Conversations with my mother

From the series Conversations with my mother

I dismantled my existing life to relocate and care for her, my second parent dying of cancer. In the immediate moment I was concerned with the gesture to record her as she was but felt the photograph's inability to do this. I photographed myself responding to the surroundings, to negotiating space. Once or twice I asked my mother to photograph me, echoing the way we had used a camera only a few months before. I tried to make sense of things that had no sense except sadness.

I jostled with several personas during this period - wife, daughter, sister, artist. I gained new roles and became Carer. I became child-less…. or child-free. We strived to understand and love each other more completely; we looked at each other seeking resemblance, resentment, entanglement and reliance. I became Orphan. 

An orphan. 

I put on her chemotherapy wig afterwards – it was the only thing that smelled of her. I burned, buried and embellished photographs of us. I performed my grief and began to stitch.

I cried a lot for her. I cried for my loss of feeling the hug of her body, her touch, her laugh. I cried in sorrow at the abrupt suspension of future narratives, for the mother I would not hold again and for the child who would never hold me.

Images from the series  Conversations with my mother

Images from the series Conversations with my mother

You and your work: I am an artist using photography, based in Bristol. A brief overview of how I got to this point includes a degree in English, a stint of unsuccessful acting attempts, a fall into journalism (where I discovered my love of photography) and teaching. Both my parents were artists but I did everything to avoid this myself... although it was probably inevitable I would end up forging this path of my own eventually.

When starting my own visual work it was rooted in documentary practice - due to the influence of being a journalist I suspect. It wasn't until half way through studying my MA at the University of Westminster that I began to physically include myself, fundamentally changing my direction. I was thinking through ideas about happy endings, performance, the appeal of clichés, romance as a structure... but I was struggling with the ‘things’ I was actually photographing: I couldn’t get a handle on what it was I was looking for. One day, in a tutorial, I began to talk about the dress a boyfriend had given me when I was 21... it seemed a little ‘wedding-y’ - which was why I had never worn it.  A friend suggested I put it on and photograph myself in it.  I did - that was the start of how my practice transformed: a light suddenly went on.

Images from the series  Conversations with my mother

Images from the series Conversations with my mother

I started searching for communal meanings defined and given shape through the presence of a figure: I use(d) my own to express this,  concentrating on treating the body as a mortal vessel upon which experience physically imprints itself. My stitch and mark-making I do now is emblematic of this. I am at my most comfortable making work occupying various mediums - I use them to extend the image-object beyond a single time and space. 

Influences, style, and genre: There is a core group of artists that have anchored me, including Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann, Elaine Reichek, Mary Kelly, Rose English, Ana Mendieta, the archive photographs of the Salpȇtrière Asylum… I’m also really drawn to American quilts and whatever I see in the Victoria and Albert Museum! Most things filter in and out when I make my own work. I love Instagram for finding things. I read a lot when researching and go to see as much as I can. 

I am concerned with the fragility of the body, how it hovers on the edge of being both here and not here - how its failure is simple. My interest in performance within familiar structures is a way of trying to ward off this inevitable frailty. When I began to embroider work I literally and metaphorically punctured the skin of the photograph - this became representative of the body for me.

Images from the series  Conversations with my mother

Images from the series Conversations with my mother

It has always been important for me to make emotional work.  Maybe this stems from my original desire to perform, translating personal feelings from the inside to an unknown audience. 

I use film, mostly printing from negatives: I only really make the one object - it makes more sense that way. I’ve recently managed to get back in the darkroom and do some printing myself which allows me more room for experimentation - there is less fear of marking my prints afterwards. With bigger work though I will need some help.

The main practical feature of my working method is how to protect my fingers! When I am sewing they get really sore. I have all sorts of tricks... Recently I got rubber thimbles, and ‘spray-on’ plaster liquid helps protect them a bit. There are some wonderful quilter’s gloves I found which are really thin with rubber tips - they are the best of all. It's a balance of protection and keeping the ability to feel the paper, without getting grease on it. Especially when I work with tracing paper, which is a nightmare for marks.

Images from the series  Conversations with my mother

Images from the series Conversations with my mother

The Talk: I did the talk at Redeye’s Hothouse event because I met Paul [Hermann] many years ago when I had moved to Sheffield and was looking for photography networks I could plug into within travelling distance. We kept in touch through various things - he’s been to Photobook Bristol a few times, which I have been involved with since I moved here, and it’s a small world - our paths are always crossing. When I thought it was a good time to start talking about this particular body of work publicly, Hothouse seemed a good way to do that. I was really touched by the response - the audience were very sensitive to it which moved me a great deal and I got some lovely messages afterwards. It is important for me to go to events and be present - I find it much more beneficial than email. People like people.

Future plans: I’m constantly working on something... All my work takes a very long time and there always seems to be research to do or people to contact, as well as the actual embroidery. I have a solo show at the Birmingham City University which I am really looking forward to, opening on January 16th at the Vittoria Street Gallery.

Melanie Letoré: Hothouse Birmingham

As you probably know, we've been in touch with a few speakers from the line up at Hothouse Birmingham. This time around we spoke to Glasgow School of Art graduate, Melanie Letoré, who told us about her series Rectangle Days and her experience of talking about her work. We hope you enjoy what Melanie has to say.


Series Statement: I presented Rectangle Days, a blog on which I try to post a photograph a day, and which came into existence on the 1st of January 2014. Initially it was a blog I shared with my brother. We lived in different countries and wanted to show each other what we were seeing. As neither of us have a smartphone, this systematic online posting was a way of saying “I am thinking about you”. Furthermore, I was interested in seeing how he would take photographs, what he would include in the frame, which subjects he would choose. I was already familiar with my visual language, and I was curious to see his. 

Quite quickly, the blog became mine only, and has been for quite a while. It keeps me visually awake in my daily life, always searching for interesting subjects, colour, light, places and actions. At the end of each day, there is an editing process to choose my daily image. One day I will take a single image, another day three hundred. At the end of the year, a more extensive editing process takes place, from which other projects are born. The first year, I made a publication, and the second, a hinged photography installation requiring the public’s interaction, whereby the audience could touch the photographs to see the full exhibition.

From the series  Rectangle Days

From the series Rectangle Days

Rectangle Days is an open-ended recording, a live contact sheet and an endeavour to better understand the world. 

In 2014 there were 272 images, in 2015 there were 244, and 2016 currently has 208. This is probably due to a stricter and more critical editing process.  

You and Your Work: My name is Melanie Letoré and I live in Glasgow. 

I am interested in all the following and much more: places, people, objects, hierarchies, narratives, histories and stories, processes, systems and parameters. When I edit and sequence my images, they talk to me of curiosity, intimacy, memory and light. 

Because these photographs are diary-like, I often wonder if my images are autonomous single entities, or whether their backstory should be revealed, and what dimension this adds to them. If people do not attach my specific personal memories to images, does it matter? How does their reading of my output differ from what I expect it to be? 

From the series   Rectangle Days

From the series Rectangle Days

I have been considering exploring how my images could work with text for a long time. I enjoy writing. I am scared of failing and of creating something meaningless by adding text. I have also been playing with photography’s preciousness and quietly attempting to dismantle it as a way of better understanding the medium. 

For Rectangle Days I use a Canon Powershot G16 or anything available if I don’t have my camera on me (four images in my three years of output were taken on friends’ smartphones). Otherwise I use a Mamiya 645. Truthfully, I haven’t used the latter in over a year; nothing has seemed suitable to it. Since graduating I have let images come to me through my daily activities and at times my photographing has anxiously felt like aimless wandering. For now, I have learnt to accept this meandering; the time will come for me to start hunting for images again. 

From the series   Rectangle Days

From the series Rectangle Days

The Talk: I was attracted to Hothouse Birmingham, organised by Redeye and GRAIN, because it was a forum. People are at the core of my creative process; exchanging, discussing, challenging, engaging photography have been the most crucial part of my learning. I really wanted to attend and speak at an event where those things were key. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to meet and listen to other makers in a new context, away from the community in which I live. It was extremely eye opening to listen to the multiplicity of unfamiliar voices, see another network function and hear about difficulties faced by another photography community and the good things within it. 

Preparing for Hothouse was extremely beneficial, because I had to construct a logical, structured talk and organise my thought process. I have ease and experience in public speaking as a tour guide and a dance teacher, yet I became extremely nervous for this talk – perhaps simply because I was talking about my own work. I thoroughly enjoyed the breadth of questions I was asked, most of which I had never been asked before. I like the fact that I couldn’t quite answer some of them, and that I have been pondering them since the talk.

From the series   Rectangle Days

From the series Rectangle Days

Future Plans: Last year, I was invited to be on the editorial board of the re-launched Scottish photography magazine called NOTES; our first issue came out in November 2016. It has been a joyous adventure, and I am working hard on the second issue.

For my own work, I will continue Rectangle Days, as well as start planning another project. Last June, I biked alone from Glasgow to London. This experience has catalyzed long-standing thoughts around fear, journeys, the body and personal narratives. 

Corinne Perry: Hothouse Birmingham

As promised, we're introducing you to another speaker from the line up at Hothouse Birmingham. Birmingham City University graduate, Corinne Perry, has been featured on the Photograd platform previously; you can find her interview here. We've since kept in touch with Corinne who always has something exciting to tell us about her work. In November, she spoke about her series Wallflower in Birmingham. We hope you enjoy what she has to say about her experience.

Wallflower is currently on exhibit until the 22nd December with UK Young Artists at the University of Derby.


 
From the series  Wallflower

From the series Wallflower

 

Series StatementWallflower is an ongoing series of Self-portraiture which was produced in an attempt to rid myself of an ongoing struggle with depression, something I have struggled with since childhood. The self-depictions manifest within the same four walls; my bedroom, the room I believe is the keeper of my trapped and often repressed emotions. A central theme of the work is the merger of my body in relation to these surroundings; often heavily distressed they reveal something of my pain. Within Wallflower this merger suggests an unsettling disturbance between the physical and the psychological boundaries of the interior, alluding to the unsettling suggestion that my body is being physically devoured by its surroundings. The work exhibits influences of a past era with my use of entirely traditional photographic methods. Wallflower was initially produced in 2015 whilst Artist in Residence at Birmingham City Universities’ School of Photography. 

 
 

You and Your Work: I am a Self-portrait photographer, creating intimate depictions which I feel are reflections of my natural melancholic temperament. Since graduating from Birmingham City University in 2012, my work has been exhibited at Galleries including TATE Liverpool, Croome Court NT and Oriel Davies Gallery.

My photography is a form of therapy, a personal, emotional and sometimes turbulent struggle with the complexity of personal emotions. I feel my life and art have become entwined and to bury this mental state deep within would allow it to thrive. But through my use of photography as therapy, I am offered a cathartic release. The manifestations of my self-depictions are within the same four walls of my bedroom. This heavily constructed interior transcends into an extension of self, becoming a mental space in which I am able to explore these often deep-rooted emotions in front of the cameras intimate gaze. I have always been interested in photography of a past-era, feeling almost a sense of displacement within this digitally driven age, in which we now live. I am particularly interested in photography of the Victorian period and because of this influence, many of my photographs are intimately hand-coloured. Hand-colouring allows me to add further layers of emotion and pain upon the surface of the gelatin silver print until the image is born, alluding to the tactile and sensory nature of my Self-portraiture. My work is deeply influenced by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Victorian Novella The Yellow Wallpaper which tells the story of a woman’s descent into madness. I feel I can relate something of my emotional state to the woman portrayed within the novella, which is why it’s become such a lasting influence upon my Self-portraiture. 

 
 

The Talk: I became involved in the event, because I live within the region and have also previously presented my work with Redeye. Although I have spoken in public about the influence my mental state has upon my Self-portraiture, this was the first talk in which I spoke candidly about my ongoing struggle with depression and mental health. As a person I am quite delicate, and in the past the thought of presenting work, of such a personal nature has at times been daunting. But through experience I am learning to have confidence in my ability. I enjoy the process of preparing for presentations as well as the actual presenting; as I feel there is something incredibly cathartic about undertaking a talk that enables you to really reflect upon your work. Overall the opportunity of presenting Wallflower was a really rewarding and thought provoking experience. I am thankful to Redeye and GRAIN for the opportunity and hope to work with them again in the future. 

 
 

Future Plans: As well as experimenting with new concepts, I hope to continue to build upon Wallflower, feeling the opportunity of presenting has enabled reflection upon the series. I am also looking forward to attending mentoring sessions at Oriel Davies Gallery, Wales which are intended to aid both my artistic and professional development. 

Joanne Coates: Hothouse Birmingham

Back in November we selected a few stand out speakers from the line up at Hothouse Birmingham who we wanted to find out more about. Since then, we've caught up with some of them to find out more about their practice, working methods, and experience of giving a talk. We hope you'll find this series of blog posts interesting and inspiring.


First up we're bringing you London College of Communication graduate Joanne Coates and her brand new series of work We Live by Tha' Water. You can read more about Joanne and her work through her Photograd Feature.

Series Statement: I presented work from the series We Live by Tha' Water which I'm currently in the middle of working on. Stories are the foundations of societies and make up who we are. This work is both about the story teller and the story. Islands are often known as places beyond what is visible and beyond what is known. 

 
From the series  We Live by Tha' Water

From the series We Live by Tha' Water

 

It's about exploring my mind in the midst of a breakdown, looking at mental erosion and personal anxieties.

It's about remoteness and escapism. 

It's about being drawn to the edge, to the hinterlands of the mind and the land. 

It's the poetic appreciation of island life and a community becoming lost. 

You and Your Work: My name is Joanne Coates and this body of work is called We Live By Tha' Water. My work came from a very documentary canon but I soon found that defining it in such a way held me back. The boundaries we create within photography and the ability of those boundaries to merge are something I'm increasingly interested in. I studied in London and found the experience a little jarring to say the least. I left my home of the Yorkshire moors as soon as I possibly could. However, I found that the main strand running through my work was a connection to place, an appreciation of remoteness and being within a landscape. After graduating I took the somewhat hard decision to remove myself from the centre of the creative industries and make work in those places. I haven't looked back since. My equipment is an aid in storytelling, I'm not overly concerned about my camera, in my personal work I do use film but that's mainly to increase my connection and a fascination with the process. I like using a Rolleiflex as I'm incredibly shy it's helped me interact with my subjects more than any other camera I'd ever used.

 
From the series   We Live by Tha' Water

From the series We Live by Tha' Water

 

The Talk: Redeye and GRAIN are incredibly important to me. Both of the networks exist outside of London and are doing really impressive events, providing a space for creatives to meet, to listen, to be heard, to learn and to engage. A platform that was previously missing in the Midlands and the North. To me it's vital to have these networks and for the creative industries to recognise the importance of other places within the UK. Great work is being made all over the UK by people in the North, in the South, in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland. I'm really sick of seeing people have a dismissive attitude to it. It's something I feel strongly about. If photography is to have a voice it can't just be in London.

 
From the series   We Live by Tha' Water

From the series We Live by Tha' Water

 

I'm very aware that public speaking isn't my strong point so opportunities to present and push myself are especially important to me.  I have this strange view about artists talks. I really want people to connect to the work, for it to have a chance to breathe but also I don't want to stand and tell someone what to think and feel. The point of the work is that it's quite dark, poetic, mysterious and unnerving. Which can be quite hard to put across into words. I don't want to under estimate the audience. I know they are smart. It's more a chance to speak about this duality and I'm thankful for those platforms for providing this opportunity. 

 
From the series   We Live by Tha' Water

From the series We Live by Tha' Water

 

Future Plans: I'm currently working on series in Orkney and will continue to do so through 2017. I'm currently working on a commissioned body of work in hull alongside doing workshops for the Warren, which again will continue throughout 2017. I'm looking forward to there being more interest in Yorkshire and Hull due to capital of culture, however I hope this continues well into the future.