Charlotte & Georgia Bennett
University: University of East London
Artist Statement: Michelle was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 19. After learning of her diagnosis Michelle found it hard to understand. With not much visual aid on hand she was scared. Having both known Michelle from the age of 11 she confided in us about her diagnosis. Admittedly, neither of us truly understood or knew about MS, this seemed to be a reoccurring pattern when telling people of her diagnosis. During the summer when the both of us were figuring out what to do for our final major project, we decided that Michelle’s story had to be heard and that people needed to learn about MS. Charlotte took on the project and Georgia assisted throughout the year creating Made Strong a photographic book. A year later the three of us are still working together with the MS Society and we now are expanding our creative ideas through film.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? We both studied at the University of East London and graduated in 2016. It was great to experience it together; we would always work together at university and that's been the same since we’ve left. Having a twin means having an assistant on hand whenever we want, we never have to find someone to hold the reflector or sort out the lights, we have that twin intuition where we could do a whole shoot without exchanging a word, we just know, it’s defiantly a plus and one less thing for us to worry about.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? We were fortunate that our time at university was filled with stand out moments. Going to Rome was definitely up there. Seven of us applied for a Going Global Bursary that the university offers and we were lucky enough to have an amazing opportunity to work with students in Rome. But really it’s the little things that stand out, like having tutors who don't mind you banging on their office doors throughout the day, the lady in the canteen who remembers your coffee order and the guys in the print room who don't get too angry when you ask for some last minute prints during deadline week.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? We both agree our work is documentary based. We have definitely developed our style since leaving university and we are now more gravitated to work on projects that have a social impact and that people can learn from. Carrying on with Made Strong has given us an amazing platform to connect with incredible people who deserve to be heard. We want that same feeling when we choose our next project.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? We definitely gravitate towards the theme of people and the challenges and changes they face. We are both inspired by Lydia Goldblatt’s project Still Here. Ever since Lydia came as a guest speaker to our university we have admired her work. Although our styles of photography are different, our work has grown over time to become more intimate and I think that is down to her influence.
What do you hope to achieve from this body of work? Have your images influenced anyone else with MS? The aim is to try and bring awareness to Multiple Sclerosis.
Whilst working with Michelle, we are hoping to travel across the UK, documenting others with MS and what they use as a way of therapy to help them cope with their symptoms. Creating short videos is a different path we are going down, it’s almost like starting from the beginning again, but it’s fun to keep learning and progressing whilst gaining a new skill.
Our Instagram has had a great response so far. We have people from around the world telling us how the photos of Michelle are inspiring and motivating, getting comments like that is what keeps the project going. Michelle has become this role model for people with MS without even realising it. She gets asked questions about her MS and helps others who have just been diagnosed.
Why did you decide to make Made Strong into a photobook? One of our hobbies is collecting photobooks. There is something personal about physically flipping through a book, it’s such a great way to document and share stories. We have this basket full of photo books, magazines, zines and leaflets that we have collected and always look through them for inspiration.
One thing that Michelle stated when she first got diagnosed was the lack of visual help. We then came up with an idea about creating a book, something that people who have just been diagnosed could look at and see some positivity in what must be a difficult time.
How are you working with the MS Society? Is it your aim to raise awareness through your work? The MS Society got in contact when they found out that we had created this photobook about Michelle. They wanted to see the book and interview us about the project so they could then share it with their charity. We are still in contact with them and are looking forward to working with them more as the project grows.
Do either of you think you would be making this work if it wasn’t for your twin?
Charlotte - It would be a lot of work doing this project alone, even with the three of us it’s sometimes hard to work around everyones schedules.
Georgia - It’s entirely down to Michelle that this project exists. We’ve both been friends with Michelle for about 12 years now, we first met at secondary school so we have shared a lot together and to now be working collaboratively is amazing.
Are you both influenced by the same photographers?
Charlotte - I became influenced by Madeleine Waller whilst creating a photobook about the university women's football team. One of my tutors bought in her book East London Swimmers and I loved the simplicity of it. It was so connected and relatable to the project I was doing with the girls on the football team, both Georgia and I used football as a way of distressing from university and deadlines, the same way these people use swimming as a way of escaping from their daily lives for just a few hours. Waller has definitely influenced our style of connecting with real people and their stories.
Georgia - Tim Hetherington was the first photographer I became obsessed with, I got one of his books for Christmas from my great grandma and from then on I think I must have read and watched most things about him. I think what influenced me most was the way he didn't take the familiar photographs which you expect to see from a war photographer. He photographed the intimate moments between the soldiers, how they lived and the comradeship between the men. It was so personal and that's what I like bringing to my work.
What are the pro’s and con’s of making work as a duo? Do you think you will ever go your separate ways? The pros would be having someone on the same wave length as yourself, knowing how the other person wants that final image to look and being able to execute it. We definitely have the same style and ideas so it's easy for us when we are planning future projects.
Charlotte - One con would be not remembering who took which photograph. We can spend a day shooting together and not keep track of who's taking the photographs and with which camera. This used to really annoy us until we read about designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough who met at university and became a collaborative duo, we then realised what we have is more of an advantage than we first thought.
Georgia - I think for the time being we are at a really good place working with each other, it comes naturally and it's good to have that constant support. We both want each other to succeed and as long as we work well together and create work we are proud of, I think we will continue to collaborate. The pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Can you tell us about your photobook and show us some images? Part of our module at university was to either present our work by portfolio or create a book. We both grew to love the whole process of sequencing, designing and creating photographic books in our second year so we decided to go down that route.
To physically hold art is a weird concept to some people, they have this preconception about photography, that your photographs are just hung to be stared at quietly on a white wall - because that’s the norm in most galleries and museums - but that’s not what our work represents, we want people to physically hold our work, talk about it and ask questions.
What’s your ultimate goal for your work? Would you like to see it exhibited, gain a commission, or would you just like to see people benefit from your images? We’re in the process of organising our first solo exhibition which is quiet scary but also really exciting. We are still carrying on with the project and our plan is to travel around the UK to meet others with MS. We’ve decided that filmmaking is the next natural progression for this project. A lot of the people following Made Strong through our social media are from all over the world, so to put up work that is easily accessible for them to see is our main goal for this year. We want as many people to see our work as possible; it’s a lot of planning but we’re looking at different funds and grants at the moment to be able to put our ideas into practise.