Future Photograd: Joanne Coates

We have had a lot to catch up on with Joanne recently, and so in this post we're bringing you some images and insights into her new work. We're excited to follow her journey and see where all of these amazing opportunities take her!

Continue reading to find out more..

From the series  We Live By Tha' Water

From the series We Live By Tha' Water


Series Description

We Live By Tha’ Water is a body of work that allows room for the unexpected. It speaks about a deep rooted anxiety with society as the sea is used as a metaphor and a place where worlds meet islands at an edge, land where cracks can be seen from afar. The sea is the last frontier against power. The series is drawn out of a fascination of power relations, it is a poetic and emotional response to the eerie elements that make up modern societies. It concentrates on the hinterland, using the island as a metaphor for the place in-between what is visible and what is known. A place between madness and sanity.  A complex visual culmination of personal anxieties and mental erosion. The unsettled foundations of the project allow for a playfulness to take place, where ruptures, and interruptions allow a sense of mystery and ambiguity to guide a dark narrative on the modern day. Using narration as a form of alternative navigation allowing one to re-frame ways of thinking and seeing.

From the series   We Live By Tha' Water

From the series We Live By Tha' Water

Series length

I started planning this work in 2014. I knew I was going back to Orkney to work with The Orkney Fishing society. I first visited in 2012 whilst making work in my first year of university, that work was The Plight of the Fishermen. I spent a long time researching the work, I was lucky enough that Simon Roberts was generous with his time and skype'd me to talk about the work I was making; he gave me great advice and really made me think about some points that hadn’t occurred to me before. I was worried about taking so much time out to make the series, whilst making a living. Simon made me realise this is vital to do. From making the work in Orkney I’ve been able to get commercial work in Scotland that supports me making the series. It’s important to consider people such as David Lynch who spent years, literally YEARS (I think seven to be exact) making Eraser Head. Realistically, unless you are incredibly lucky you will have to find ways of making work, supporting yourself and still will only just get by.

Series influences

I’m influenced by theory, philosophy, literature and film, by Andrei Tarkovsky, by Adam Curtis. Not directly so, but ideas from being immersed in different worlds of writers and artists often lead me to understand issues that unnerve me better. I visited the Archives at Orkney Libraries often, and was really interested in the sound collection particularly. It’s a great resource; I was able to make prints from old glass negatives and pour over archival material. I was also lucky enough to meet a group of artists doing a residency on one of the smaller islands, Papa Westray. Thinking in new ways across different art forms.

Images from the series   We Live By Tha' Water

Images from the series We Live By Tha' Water

Other influences were people, the people of Orkney, which is what makes the place so unique, it has a very Egalitarian society with artists, filmmakers, archaeologist, beach combers, writers, marine biologists and more. The narrative nature to our human encounters is also a huge influence. It all ties in, for me I can’t define one influence as they are all interconnected in some manner.  I met up with all different people in the community, a PHD student and writer Rebecca Ford for example, it just really spirals it’s so hard to name one influence or person in isolation. As human beings we work in this network of influence and shared culture. How can we really define what influences us when we understand so little about how we think? Of course the sea, and the islands themselves were a main influence. The remoteness they give allows for a clarity of vision. It also means working there you work for larger stints. Time and money don’t allow for easy access to Orkney. 

We Live By Tha' Water  installation image

We Live By Tha' Water installation image

Future aims for the work

I am currently having an interim exhibition, that I have quite specific ideas around how I want it to be shown. For this exhibition it had to be portable and not attached to the wall so I got a chance to play. I really would like the work to be made into book form but as the work isn’t finished yet and I have a very specific vision for how I’d like it to be, I’m still thinking things through. I feel the book format best appeals to this project but I don’t want to make a book in a rushed manner, it will be a very slow process for me. In the future I would like to exhibit the work but again I have a very specific, expensive and unorthodox vision for the work. This is not something I feel would take place as a quick process. 

Is the series finished?

No! I am as we speak on a ferry in the Pentland Firth, the point where the Atlantic and North Seas meet, heading back to Orkney to exhibit the work and continue to work on it. I lived in Orkney for the first half of the year to make the work and have been working there and supporting myself by working around the UK.  I am working on the project throughout October, November and December. I’ve been making field recordings, working with marine biologists about mapping, writing a text, playing and experimenting with different ways of ‘seeing’. 

From the series   We Live By Tha' Water

From the series We Live By Tha' Water

Anything else you’d like to include.  

An interim show is really helpful, I’m about 3/4 of the way through the project. I got some really great advice at a portfolio review from Richard Page that made me think differently about exhibitions. The advice was that not every exhibition is the finished piece, use it to play, to try new things, to try out your ideas, to see what works. Have interim shows, have living room shows, basically do what’s right for you. I’ve also started talking about my work more as I used to be quite closed off. Al Palmer, who runs Brown Owl Press, is a photographer himself and gave me some great advice and really understood the projects core.

Joanne's Interim Show at CHAT conference on rurality 2016, it's then going to be exhibited at Orkney College throughout November.  

Photograd Experience: Joanne Coates

Previously featured Photograd, Joanne Coates, has told us about her inspiring and ambitious talk at this years Love Arts Festival in Leeds. We're pleased to share with you her thoughts upon this fantastic experience and hope that it can encourage graduates alike.

From the series  Liznojan

From the series Liznojan


Love Arts is a yearly festival held in Leeds combining the secular worlds of Art and Mental Health which takes place every October. I often find that work that comments, even in the vaguest of terms, on Mental Health is instantly adhered to the pile of the ‘Other’. Having heard and been to previous events at the festival I really wanted to part of the celebration. The festival aims to get people talking about mental health by sharing creativity. I feel people gravitate towards London to have their shows, but I’m really interested in opposing movements and what these can create. Public art works seem to fail for both artists and the public so often, I’m really interested in spaces that challenge the status qou.

From the series   Liznojan

From the series Liznojan


‘One does not get lost but loses oneself’ was an exhibition of my body of work Liznojan addressing stigmas, talking about how the work is almost secondary to the practice of wandering. The actual photography is just a tool, to capture the experience of the wandering and bodily connection to nature. The more I get immersed in the act of experience I challenge and think about what exactly photography is today. 


Wharf Chambers is a venue in the heart of Leeds, it’s a community, a setting for gigs, a bit lefty and exactly the kind of laid back atmosphere I personally appreciate. The space was challenging as it is used for other events regularly. I didn’t want it be a jarring experience but more complimentary to the events. I used one of the walls as people first come in the space. Wharf Chambers were really relaxed and let me use the space how I wanted exactly which was a huge relief, so thank you to them! The actual texture, materiality, and layering complimented the tiled wall massively so I was really happy with the results. The space has very DIY anti-white cube ethos so again, fitted really well with the experience I want people to have with the works. A key point about my work is that it is democratic so it just feels a little hypocritical to make it closed off by using an inaccessible space. 

Images from the series   Liznojan

Images from the series Liznojan

The Work

An accompanying artist talk took place at the space. A varied audience came of musicians, poets, spoken word artists, photographers, students, chemists, businessmen and painters, that really excited me. I cannot express enough the importance to me of cross collaboration, not only in the arts but much broader than that. It’s one of the things I feel is completely wrong with photography; its lack of ability to see beyond itself holds the medium back in so many ways. To have this event where it was possible to hold conversations was one of my biggest achievements to date. The talk also enabled people to discuss the work and for me to think in new ways. Cross collaboration is such a great tool for our self worth, and for a bigger perspective on the world. How is it that we can even contemplate to make a comment when we only speak to those within our industry and thus remain very insular. 

From the series   Liznojan

From the series Liznojan


I am what can best be stated as a shy and private person. So this talk was a bench mark, I had made this body of work Liznojan and was hiding something about it for so long. Whenever I spoke about it, I would be really opaque. It came to the point where a festival such as this really helped me to be able to speak about the meaning of my work. I touched on it briefly in, Exclusive!, the Leica Blog. To stand up and say words I hadn’t expressed before was important, I feel the we are constantly losing touch with the experience of bodily learning and am fascinated by photography's ability or lack there of, to provide the audience a connection to place. My work looks at that unnerving place that is provided through experience with mental heath problems and anxiety, see there I said it, it’s really not so hard to express. I’m really inspired by literary successes that have touched me; such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dosteovesky, the ability to allow others a direct engagement and experience in a almost poetic visual manner is something I strive for. Empathy, tragedy and a sensual exploration of landscape are all vital components. 

Liznojan  Installation image

Liznojan Installation image


I spoke for 50 minutes which was a real challenge. The talk was about a personal experience with photography and mental health. It was really nerve wracking putting yourself out there on the line. Everyone was so positive and understood what I was saying. The questions I got were really productive and made me think in different ways. In fact, from the talk one of the attendees was a spoken word artist and poet, Hannah Batley. From our conversations that night we are going to make a collaborative piece of work challenging the limitation of our separate mediums. The talk was highlighted by the Made in Leeds team on the news that day, which again I think is a way I hadn’t thought about reaching different audiences before. 

From the series   Liznojan

From the series Liznojan


Public speaking for me, is a huge fear so to be asked to do a second talk at Love Arts Conversation conference was invigorating, but I was slightly daunted by the one hundred people which is the biggest audience I’ve spoken to. I did have a rabbit in headlights moment, but facing my fears and challenging myself is important to me.

A huge thank you to Linda, Tom and the rest of the team at Love Art Leeds Festival 2016 for inviting me to help open the conversation. I hope that other graduates can also learn that just because you aren’t necessarily great at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Talk to people, get support. Because of Photograd I have a great support network with Jason Carden and Christopher Mear, who actually travelled miles to come along to the talk. Bounce ideas off these people and don't be afraid to admit what your fears are. 

This is an incredibly personal project that has taken place over four of the most difficult years of my life. The opportunity to discuss issues around art and mental health was vitally important to me. There is still a huge stigma attached around mental health. The world I encounter through these walks is overwhelmingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, I use photography as a tool to visualise my bodily connection to the land. It’s a subtle reminder, that something deeper can come from the landscape, a deeper understanding of who we are and where we come from.