University: University Campus Suffolk
Artist Statement: The body of work I Don’t Know What To Say explores the mental representations of the process of mourning after losing a loved one. The link between objects and phenomena is manifest through its symbolism and embodies the therapeutic nature in coming to terms with my loss. Producing this series has provided me with a temporary construction of a sense of reality, which is visible on the surfaces, whilst at the same time pronouncing my own needs to deny the fact of the death that’s occurred.
These tissues echo and are symbolic of an external bridge between the representations of the mourner and lost loved one. These tissues appear almost sculptural but in fact are everyday objects that would otherwise, often be discarded and ignored. I Don’t Know What To Say makes visual what I can’t express through mere words.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? The university experience as a whole was a stand out moment. I never even imagined getting accepted into university, let alone graduating with a first class. However there were three stand out moments which I will never forget that took place in each year. In 2011 my work was shown internationally at Kaunas Photo Festival Lithuania, in order to represent the BA (Hons) Photography programme at University Campus Suffolk, which was an honour. In 2012 I visited New York with other BA (Hons) Photography undergraduates, and this was an experience filled with many photographic opportunities. In 2014 I was awarded a Studentship Award of University Campus Suffolk: BA (Hons) Photography Level 6, and this was also an honour to be awarded, after such a difficult year.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? The work in which I create, usually explores and raises questions about female representation and memory by utilising the technique of image appropriation and montage.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? The work in which I create is usually produced on a personal level, in relation to my questions and experiences to the world around me.
What are some of your biggest achievements since graduating university? I must admit that since graduating I have taken some time out. I was accepted to undertake a Post Graduate Certificate in Education the year in which I graduated, but felt that I needed some time off from studying to then undertake some bereavement counselling. In September 2014 I was offered a job with my local authority working as a homeless prevention officer. I am working with clients everyday whom experience traumatic experiences and my role is to help them overcome these. I frequently attend exhibitions, and at my last I met the photographers Rankin and Stephen Gill, and thanked them both kindly for their donations towards our UCS auction which we held to fundraise our degree shows.
At present, I am undertaking a qualification in Drug & Alcohol Counselling as my need to help others was a career path in which I was heading towards.
Do you think making this series of work helped you through the mourning process? I think that most people would feel that the mourning process is such an alienating experience. At the age of 22, I never expected to be losing my younger brother, and I never knew how to talk about it and deal with it. On the day of the funeral, I remember looking at the marks left behind on the surface of my tissues and I felt some kind of strange connection to them. I was fascinated by how they reminded me of how I had been feeling, and they felt like a diary of what I could not communicate linguistically. I've never been great with communicating how I'm feeling, so making the work helped me enormously to face that barrier.
Is this series finished? Do you think you would like to extend it in the future? I feel like this series has sadly come to end, it served its purpose and enabled me to deal with such a difficult time in my life. Although my series is finished, I would like to eventually focus on the mourning process of others.
The images are of course very personal to you; what do you hope for your viewer to gain from the work? My intentions of making the work were purely to cope with a difficult experience at the time. It was interesting that many people who viewed the work, didn't see them as tissues, and had mistaken them to be bodily organs. I wanted each individual to appreciate them and see them in their own way. Displaying them for the first time was a strange experience. I felt that showing the public these images was like I was coming to terms with what had happened by putting the work in front of an audience. Mourning is usually a private experience, so putting the work up publicly to view was quite emotional. Many people approached me with their own experiences and it also even brought some of the viewers to tears.
Throughout the duration of making the work, I began to realise that I wanted to make a body of work that could represent the way photography has the ability to be used as a tool to heal. Everybody heals in a different way, and the series focuses attention on disregarded objects which can have meaning in the process of such an important life event.
Can you talk us through the process of making this work? What happened to the tissues once you photographed them, did you discard them? After the death took place, I spent quite a lot of time reflecting in my bedroom and one day I put one of the tissues in my very poor quality scanner at home and left the lid open. It fascinated me, this way of working because the glass felt like a barrier between myself and the viewer and I really enjoyed this way of working. I also found it fascinating that by keeping the lid open, the tissues appeared almost sculptural.
Depending on how I laid the tissue on the scanner, I could chose which part I wished to expose to the viewer, and the rest remained out of focus. The tissues still remain in a sealed bag, they became very delicate and started to fall apart so I haven't opened them since I finished my project. That will be another emotional journey I guess.
What theoretically or visually influenced you whilst making the project I Don’t Know What To Say? The work which influenced me whilst making my series was Stephen Gill's A Series of Disappointments. This series was made by collecting the disregarded betting slips that reveal a state of mind framed by nervous tension and grief of the person who placed the bet. I felt inspired by Gill's work, as he was able to capture such tension without the presence of the person being necessary.
What prompted you to print on such a large scale for this project? I wanted to play with the scale of my work so that I could allow the viewers to see something different. I didn't make the work so the viewer could attach my own experience to them, and I simply wanted to play with the details on the surfaces, and ideally create something which appeared sculptural.
You say that at some point you would like to “focus on the mourning process of others”. Do you have any ideas on how you would do this? At present I haven't really thought about a final idea. I've had a couple of ideas regarding this, but I haven't decided on a final idea yet.
Can you pinpoint the moment you became interested in photography? If so can you tell us about it? Throughout my childhood many different life events in which I've been through, I have turned to photography as a way of dealing with them. I can't pinpoint exactly when I became interested, it's just something in which I've turned to naturally as a way of dealing with certain events in my life.
Have you got a favourite photo book? My favourite book is Sophie Calle, Double Game. This is such a beautifully designed book, and I think any artist would agree once they have this in their hands.
What lead you to the career you’re currently involved in? During my last year at university I volunteered each weekend at a homeless winter night shelter. I guess meeting people who were experiencing such hardships and helping those people overcome those hardships acted as a coping mechanism for both me and the guest at the shelter. I learnt so much about people who came from different walks of life, and each individual had a story to tell. I knew that from completing the volunteering, this was something I wanted to become involved in further once I graduated.
In September 2014, I was offered a position to work for a local authority in homeless prevention. Volunteering showed me the side of those who were street homeless, and needed someone to talk to, a hot meal and a bed to sleep in. My current job role shows me the side which allows me to prevent that, and also house those who are street homeless/prevent homelessness to those at threat of it.
What would be your dream photographic project? My dream project would be to visit a third world country and complete a photographic project with those who are orphans. Ideally I would like to visit several orphanages, distribute lots of cameras and allow them to capture for themselves what life is like. This is also something I've considered creating whilst working with homeless individuals. Many orphans/homeless individuals are frequently ignored on a daily basis, whilst they sit on the streets begging for spare change or food.
It would be fascinating to see what the individuals capture, and see life from their viewpoint, to really see what they see on a daily basis.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice before you started your BA, what would that be? Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. I never believed that I would even go to university, and have always from a young age suffered from low self esteem. Photography is the kind of career where you have to just put yourself out there, get involved in as many opportunities as you can if you want to succeed.