University: University of Wales, Newport
Click here for a video of Neither.
Statement: Neither delves into the dreams and fears of young women in Kaliningrad – an isolated Russian region on the Baltic Sea. Kaliningrad Oblast's geographic isolation of being neither a part of Europe, nor being physically connected to the motherland gives this area its uniqueness. The first generation to grow up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they look to define their identity in this 'island' within Europe.
Published in September 2014, the book interweaves my images with the words – both historical and contemporary – of women of Kaliningrad. Neither examines the links between place, history and identity through the eyes of these individual women.
What is your favourite photobook by another photographer? Last month I was invited to be a guest speaker at Griffith College, Dublin, where I first studied photography back in 2005-2006. Being a bit early I went to the library and picked up Raised by Wolves by Jim Goldberg and was again overwhelmed. This was the first photobook that made me realise the possibilities of telling stories with images. It was also very influential on my working methodology, centring on an in-depth process of engagement with individuals and asking the subjects to be involved and choose how they represent themselves within the project.
Direction: From very early into the project I knew that Neither needed to be a book. This was the only way to incorporate my images, historical and contemporary text and archival images. When I finished shooting in 2012 it was the height of self-publishing so I decided to firstly work with a designer and then decide where I wanted to go. I approached the Dutch designer SYB, who I had been following for a couple of years since I saw Cuny Janssen's Macedonia. After many conversations we decided to create my book as a type of diary which would make the project more personal and create a deeper engagement for the viewer. The process of production was 1 1/2yrs trying to gather funding, editing, promotion and creating a book that functioned aesthetically and financially.
Considerations: The reason that I worked with SYB in the first place was because of the tactility of his books designed so you physically have to turn, move and really feel the book. This physical engagement, for myself, brings you further into the imagery and the story. This is why a soft book, different weights of uncoated paper and the simple singer stitching was used. Also as there are different moving pieces we had to consider how this could physically work.
Interior: The book is divided into three sections opening with a booklet of 'diary' entries from the women, with a diverse collection of stories of love, expectations, fears, and thoughts on their own identity. Secondly are my photographs of the region and the women who now live there, intertwined with handwritten excerpts from the personal account of a woman’s life in contemporary Kaliningrad, printed below the images. The book closes with another booklet of eyewitness accounts from the Oral History Archive of Kant University, Kaliningrad. These excerpts are of women's impressions and experiences of first arriving in Kaliningrad in 1946 from 'Big Russia' to re-build the region. By combining these various elements we have built a story, full of contradictions, of the tenuous relationships between political borders and cultural identity.
Inspiration: Now is the time of photo-book lists so here are a few from my shelf that I keep going back to:
Heikki Kaski, Tranquility, 2014.
A black box of a book with a small text embossed on the cover: 'And there was. Sounds weird, but there were aliens all over the fucking place.' You're introduction into the town of Tranquillity, California.
Leonie Hampton, In the Shadow of Things, 2011.
A very personal look at Hampton working with her family to help clear out their house and deal with her mother's OCD. The end of the book is conversations she had with her family interrogating the position of the photographer.
David Faithi, Anecdotal, 2015. True anecdotes of nuclear mishaps combined with archival images, screen grabs, satellite images that makes you want to laugh and cry.
Verena Blok, I Smell Like Rain, 2013.
This is a story of a young girl growing up in rural Poland surrounded by men. A SYB designed book that is so simple in imagery and design but with clever use's of hidden booklets and the girl's text.
Advice and Future Goals: Making a book is a much harder process than I would of imagined with a very steep learning curve. My first advice is to make sure your work makes sense in book form and if it does really think what you want the physical format to tell. Each iteration of your work has a different translation with the viewer effected in different ways. Then there is the designer where you can decide to work locally or look at specific photo-book designers. Also think about money when deciding on publishing or self-publishing. Most photo-book publishers now request between €10,000 to €15,000 from emerging artists for a run of around 1,000 copies. Of this, the artist receives about 100 copies. This is crazy money but if you self-publish you must also be prepared to promote, travel to festivals and really sell your book so it's not propping up your bed!