University: Middlesex University
Genre: Fine Art
Artist Statement: Love. Pain. Happiness. Loneliness. Joy. Isolation. Hope. Fear. These are the moments that make a life. These moments are fleeting and precious, even the bad ones. This is my photographic exploration of these feelings in my own life, and how growing up living in extreme circumstances have impacted on how I feel things as an adult. This series is a creative outlet to resolve parts of my past and present, and a means of expressing myself as an introverted person who sometimes struggles to connect with people.
I invite people to see how the way I view the world has been shaped by my secular experiences, one chapter at a time.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? When I learnt how to confidently use a film camera. That’s a moment and a skill that I’ll always cherish. It hugely boosted my confidence! I also remember the moment I realised I didn’t just want to be a fashion photographer, which is what I’d had my heart set on and had a small amount of success in prior to coming to university. I discovered so many other genres of photography, and photographers, that I wouldn’t have been introduced to if it hadn’t been for my time at Middlesex.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? If I was forced to put it into one genre it would be fine art photography as I don’t think a person can consume the images without the emotional context and the background stories. Also because in a way it’s multimedia; it's not just photographs but also written letters, diary entries and notes. But I always struggled to answer this question as I also felt it was documentary as technically, I’m documenting my family. I’ll just leave it up to the people who see my work to decide!
What are the biggest influences on your photography? This is a really hard question! If I had to be extremely specific I would always say cinema. When I wanted to be a fashion photographer I was obsessed with the films of Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock and Guillermo Del Toro. The idea for my series Any Other Name actually comes from a piece of music written for the American Beauty soundtrack. It was watching the film that basically inspired my entire project.
The films of Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, Sergio Leone, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wim Wenders are always what I go back to when I need to feel inspired. Also photographers who became directors such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Anton Corbijn! That would be my dream I think, to be able to work both as a photographer and filmmaker.
Your work seems to be deeply personal, focusing on the relationship between yourself and your family in particular. Why do you think you're drawn to portraying this relationship in your work? My experience growing up has been unlike anyone else I’ve ever known my age. That fact alone is incredibly isolating. Whilst everyone else was out being kids and making mistakes and having fun, I was helping raise two boys with autism. I have this really vivid memory from when I was 11 or 12 after one of the (sadly, several) house fires we had after my brothers found a lighter in the park; we’d lost everything, and we were lucky to get out alive. We had the clothes we were wearing, and eventually everything that had been smoke or fire damaged had been taken out, we all had to sleep in our living room in makeshift beds until funds had been gathered to help us. I was so young, and my brothers had no idea what was going on. My Mum was so strong and so scared and devastated, and all we could do was make a game out of it so my brothers would eventually sleep. We all lived in our own world that was outside everyone else’s experiences. It was a world filled with chaos, music, people, news cameras, danger and laughter. It was all I knew. To then go to somewhere like university after this made me feel like I was from another planet. So I suppose, as much as I wanted to explain that my brothers who were almost non-verbal, I was trying to put into visuals something I felt non-verbal about too. Some kind of explanation as to why I am the way I am, who my family is, and our history. The only other person who will understand it in the whole world is my Mother. But I thought maybe if I could show it, plus everything going on with my Father, and why I have such a connection with my boyfriend, I could sensitively show it and try to connect to everyone else too. That’s what I think I’ve always wanted going to university; to understand other people and try to connect and help them understand me.
Can you pinpoint the moment you became interested in photography? Aged 13! I had a crappy digital camera and took this creepy photograph in a bird sanctuary of birds on a dead tree. It actually got chosen to be part of a book of landscapes!
You’ve mixed portraits, landscapes, still life, letters, and old family photographs in this series; how did you find editing it all together and what do you think each subject adds to the overall body of work? This was one of the hardest parts of my series. There was so much I wanted to tell, such as other stories and other parts of my life, that I ended up having to edit out. It didn’t feel good because the scope of my work was huge at the beginning and I set completely unrealistic expectations in trying to tell it all and do it justice, but initially I was really disappointed in myself. I then figured that the stories I chose to focus on could be as close to perfected as possible if I gave them all my focus, and I personally feel I did that, so I don’t regret it looking back. I felt I chose the right stories to work on because they're all about hope. They’re all these potentially tragic stories that ultimately I tried to portray a sense of ‘what happened was awful but it’s not the end, it’s not all that I am and it’s not all I have with these people’, and that is what I think made my series work.
What camera did you shoot this work on and why/how did you choose this? I used a mixture of my Pentax LX which is an amazing 35mm camera my Mum bought me years ago but I didn’t know how to use till university, and a Mamiya RZ. I loved my 35mm because it was such a good camera for capturing spontaneous moments which works really well in an environment with my brothers; but I was also aware that sometimes my images weren’t thought out enough and it could benefit from more planning, more time framing the shot, etc, which is why the Mamiya was such a great camera. Images I took with this I feel I spent time putting together and they are some of my best images. I decided ultimately to crop down my 35mm pictures to a 5x4 ratio so that they would all have continuity. I have since purchased a Bronica SQ-i so hopefully now I can get a mixture of the spontaneity of handheld 35mm but the image quality of a medium format camera.
Is the series Any Other Name finished? If not, how would you develop it further? For now it’s finished just because it took so much out of me last year. Exposing so much of yourself is hard, especially when it’s work that is being appraised by strangers, but I also left it knowing that because it’s about my life, I could potentially pick it up again whenever, should I feel like it. For now though I’m craving projects that are more outside of my family history.
What advice would you give to students exploring similar topics as you have? It’s going to be hard. But it’s also extremely cathartic. And when people understand it, it means so much more. During my end of year exhibition people came up to me and told me their stories and it was so powerful because it was heart breaking but you also know you’re not alone, and there are caring, kind people out there. But also be prepared that criticism is even harder when its something so personal! Still listen to it though because it absolutely will help you to grow, even if you disagree with it, it helps cement a direction you want to take your work in that other people are trying to pull you away from. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it!
Have you got any new photographic projects your currently working on? I’m about to embark on a completely new project outside of my family but I don’t want to write about it so I don’t jinx it! I’m extremely excited about it and also scared which is how I felt about Any Other Name. Hopefully this can only be a good thing!
You’ve cited cinema as a primary source of inspiration; what made you decide to go to university to study photography? It’s all a form of storytelling! In truth one of my film tutors in college seemed to really dislike me, and the experience really put me off pursuing it even though I loved it so much, and I loved photography equally as much so at the time it felt like a more natural choice. I would never let something like that deter me now though. Especially as both are beneficial skills in each industry, it’s good to know how to make films if you’re a photographer, and it’s good to know how to line up beautiful shots and how to use light if you’re a filmmaker.
Do you have any creative goals for the future? I’m currently saving up for a filmmaking course to start learning about how to write and direct fictional dramas, in the meantime I’m due to begin a new photographic project soon. I’m nervous but hopefully I’ll execute my ideas well and do them justice!
You graduated roughly a year ago; what is your biggest achievement since completing your degree, and if you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice before becoming a graduate, what would that be? My biggest achievement was either being contacted by an editor of BJP and having my book nominated for the Mack First Book Award (you can only be nominated by an industry insider) or a spokesperson from the National Autistic Society publicly endorsing my work, both really meant a lot to me and it made me feel like I was doing something right!
The advice I would give to myself would be that it’s okay to feel lost for a while. If you don’t go straight into studio work you can feel like you’re in limbo and that’s really hard, but it isn’t forever. Go at your own pace, don’t compare the path you’re taking to anyone else, and just be content that if you work hard at something you’re passionate about, eventually you will do everything you dream of doing (so cheesy but it’s true). It’s really easy to forget that you’re only in your early 20’s and there’s still so much time to achieve everything!