Sandra Mickiewicz

University: Middlesex University

Graduation: 2018

Genre: Portrait, Landscape

Website: www.sandramickiewicz.com

Artist Statement: Jaywick is known as one of the most deprived areas of England struggling with problems such as unemployment, poor health and crime. Over the past year, I have gained the trust of the community and have been invited to photograph a group known as the Happy Club, set up in 2015 to serve as a meeting place and support network in a local church. These photographs focus on the idea of community in spite of difficult circumstances and their acceptance of me, as a photographer documenting their community and becoming part of their social circle.

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? My journey with Middlesex University was very long and really hard at the beginning. I applied to Middlesex University two times and I got rejected. It motivated me to apply for the third time. One of the questions I was asked at the interview was “What if you don’t get in this time?” and I said “ I’ll see you next year at the interview.” Studying BA Photography at Middlesex University was one of the best decisions I ever made as a young adult. I was disciplined and determined enough to achieve my goal. In 2018, I completed one of my chapters in life. Currently I am trying to fill out the empty pages and create my own story, which is extremely difficult but also fun.

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

What are some standout moments from your time at university? I enjoyed every single day at university. Most of the time, I was in the library looking for inspirations for my personal project. I consider myself as an outdoor photographer so I didn't spend a lot of time in the studio. However, the facilities were brilliant and very professional! I really miss those days where all students talked about their work and gave me their opinion on my projects which helped me to improve as a young photographer. And finally, I really miss the smell in the darkroom. 

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I am drawn into a very ordinary and conventional moments in our everyday life which I document by exploring portraiture and landscape photography. 

What themes do you find yourself exploring? I often try to photograph subjects which relate to me. The most interesting themes for me are things which I fully don't understand or that make me feel uncomfortable and nervous. The reason for this is because I want to discover and learn more about the subject I am photographing. Also, I really like to challenge myself. Those kind of decisions helps me to overcome my fears and force me to create better work.

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

What initially drew you to Jaywick? I grown up in North Poland in a very small village. The population was probably less than 1,000 and everyone knew each other. My parents decided to move to London for better future for our family. Twenty years ago living in the United Kingdom for immigrants was like a big dream. Life was easy and people had more money to provide support for families and loved ones. It was like a paradise. However, in every country there’s poverty and social issues which needs improving. Working on this body of work, I wanted to find out how the residents in Jaywick coped with their everyday life and how they supported each other in a very difficult circumstances, with London only 80 miles away from the coast and is one of the richest capitals. Probably one of the most developed cities in Europe and possibly in the whole world.

Tell us more about Jaywick's Happy Club and the people it supports. In 2010 the town was announced by the government as a the most deprived area in the UK. Happy Club was formed by the residents of Jaywick in 2015. The community supports each other and they get help from the local council. The main idea of creating the Happy Club was to bring more activities for children, get more support for people with disabilities and also to improve the local area.

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

How did you start to photograph the people of Jaywick and build their trust? What are their opinions of you making this work? I worked on this project for a year. It took me a lot of time to build the trust with the community. I started working on this project when I was in my second year at university. Over the summer I used to spend a lot of time there with people, photographing them and getting to know them. However, I felt like the images started to work in late February. Unfortunately, that was the last time I visited Jaywick. Due to a sad incident I had to stop the project. Every time when I went to Jaywick, I gave some prints to people. I believe it’s a great way to build the relationships with the subject. I like the idea of giving, not just taking and leaving.

The idea was to create a book about the project and I even planned to have a small exhibition in Jaywick, as some people wouldn’t be able to come to London for my Degree Show. However, sometimes you have to change your plans for your own good and others. 

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

What would you like for your viewer to learn or take away from your work? My aim was to focus on the idea of community in spite of difficult circumstances and their acceptance of me, as a photographer documenting their community and becoming part of their social circle. I struggled a lot with this project, especially at the end when I had to make the final decision to leave it unfinished. 

Tell us about your choice of camera. Was your choice influenced by your surroundings? In my second year of university we were given the project to create a series of still life images. We could only shoot this project on film. I’d never used a medium format camera but I was really excited! In the middle of the project I was fed up with it. I had no concept for the work and I felt like I was just taking pictures of completely random objects. Some of the rolls came out completely blank as well. I felt really frustrated and I wanted to change that. Since then, I’ve been using my Mamyia RB67 all the time and I love it!

What have your learnt making this work? Personally, I think I am a very quiet and shy person. Especially when I don’t know people. However, throughout this project I became more confident with strangers. Also, the main thing I have learnt was that building relationships and trust with strangers is very difficult and it takes a lot of time. Very often, it doesn’t mean you can trust them even you think you know them.

From the series  Happy Club

From the series Happy Club

What are your future photographic plans? Currently I’m working on a new project focusing on the Gypsy and Travellers community. I am travelling around the UK photographing people and their environment at horse fairs. I also have a lot of ideas written in my little notebook which I really want to explore. However, I want to complete this project, as the Happy Club project is not completed and I’m not sure it ever will be.