Victoria Chetley

University: University of Brighton

Graduation: 2015

Genre: Narrative

Website: www.victoriachetley.com

Artist Statement: Victoria Chetley is a portrait and still life photographer whose work focuses on femininity, loss and objects. She is a graduate of the University of Brighton, and works as a photographer for Parallel Magazine and KidZania London. Chetley also works as a creative activist for the positive body image initiative Endangered Bodies. She is passionate about people, in both her artistic and charity work, as well as nature and the power it has to aid in mental health recovery.

 A portrait taken by Victoria Chetley

A portrait taken by Victoria Chetley

there was a real sense of 'WE DID IT'. It was a relief and we all felt great.

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Anything that involved organisation and being part of a team gave me a sense of achievement during my time at university and was what I felt really passionate about. I project managed our final degree show at university. The stress on the final day of hanging was crazy but as soon as we were dressed up with family and friends arriving, there was a real sense of 'WE DID IT'. It was a relief and we all felt great. Everybody contemplated the show that we had pulled together. There was a sense of pride all around.

A real highlight of my final year was, and still is, the catalogue created by a graphic design student. We decided to not exhibit in London and create a catalogue instead with the help of the designer. I’m still really proud of this piece!

What themes do you find yourself exploring? Family, feminism and the female environment or space, the self i.e. me. I also turn to objects and create work based around meaningful items in my possession.

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Portraiture, photo-therapy. There’s an aspect of non-body portraiture within my work too. The objects I photograph are a form of self-portraiture. There are also elements of indexical trace and presence in my work.

As soon as I visited Brighton I fell in love and felt so at home. I felt like I could really do it and take on university!

 From the series  Ripe

From the series Ripe

Why did you choose to study in Brighton? My photography tutor at college informed me of some of the top universities to study photography in the country. I had a look and attended some open days. As soon as I visited Brighton I fell in love and felt so at home. I felt like I could really do it and take on university!

How have you found being a graduate? How was your experience of securing a job? I found a design job and I’ve enjoyed it for six months whilst making my own personal photography work on the side. I’ve been lucky and haven’t had it rough job or career wise so far, I’m very motivated and forward thinking and so I had to do something straight after graduating. I’m soon to be moving to London to undertake a new job which is based around photography. This process is quite overwhelming, after being a graduate at the top of my game I now feel like a tiny fish in a big pond. 

Would you like to further your education in the future by undertaking a Masters? Yes. I do really want to study further but not just yet; I feel quite burnt out and need some time away from that environment. If I went back into education now I don’t think I’d get anything out of it, I want to make further personal development and find myself again, then I’d go back to study.

Tell us about the work you do for AnyBody UK and Shape Your Culture. These groups are actually quite linked, they're both based around body image and body confidence related to women, and young women in particular. They strive to promote positive body image.

Shape Your Culture is a project run by AnyBody UK and is aimed at younger women, it looks at ways the media affects them. Everything around us is an advert for something and so it’s hard to escape the hold the media has over us. We try to question this notion through workshops in schools and universities. The groups are all about the body and body confidence and both promote body positivity and diverts awareness away from the media. Being a part of these groups has supported me through some of my own issues and I have fed this back into myself and my work.

 From the series  All That Glitters

From the series All That Glitters

All That Glitters is a project about the memories and values attached to inherited objects.

Have you got an item that means more to you than others? Why? That’s a difficult question to answer. I’d have to say the mug as my first reaction as it’s an item received from my late father, but on reflection it’s actually the teddy bear. The bear has been with me since I was 6 months old and is of course a constant companion. If I had to take one thing from a house fire it would be that teddy bear! I use the mug everyday but the bear to me is a prized possession.

Would there ever be a point at which this series is finished, I guess only moments before your death? No, this project isn’t finished. I won’t be able to stop collecting things, ever. It could go on forever. Objects are continually received and collected and so there is no end to this work. The loss of a friend recently has made me consider branching out with this project to photograph items solely received from them.

It was a very organic and relaxed process and the project naturally developed from there.

 Images from the series  All That Glitters

Images from the series All That Glitters

What encouraged you to photograph the items with differing backgrounds? Is this just the way the project unfolded? I received a lot of tutor input with this series and the black background ended up a conscientious issue. My tutor wanted colour incorporated into the images that contrasted the objects, but I didn’t want it to appear disrespectful to the original owners of the items. The images in this body of work are mostly from people not around anymore and I didn’t see the need for too much colour and worried it would give the wrong meaning. Using black felt like I wasn’t trying to sell the objects or place them in a catalogue, and felt like the only choice that would suit the tone of the series by showing the items as precious and personal. I had to sell this idea to my peers through crits and I felt so much happier with this work than I knew I would have!

We don’t often sit and ponder our possessions in the way you have, instead we just consider an item ‘ours’ or ‘yours’. What made you look at your possessions and where they came from? During the third year of university I was working 4 days a week in a shop, leaving me with restricted amounts of time and a tight schedule to work to in order to complete work for my degree. I would wake up early in the morning and schedule in some time of peace and quiet at the window of my student accommodation to just sit, be still and meditate, and also take in my surroundings. The mug was the trigger for the beginning of this project when I was sat one day drinking out of it and thinking, “where did I get this from?” and it just evolved from there. I continued to look around at items in my room and question where things came from. It was a very organic and relaxed process and the project naturally developed from there. 

Your work is extremely personal and emotive. Why do you base your work on personal experiences? Why do you think it’s necessary to share your story with the world? Before I went to university my work wasn’t of a personal nature at all. Instead, I was interested in fashion photography and image aesthetic. My practice changed when I lost my father at the beginning of university. I was away from home comforts and in a new environment with new people. I wasn't sure if I could show my feelings to university friends and those I was living with, they were basically strangers to me at this point. I’m not sure how, but I managed to slowly release feelings through my work even though I wasn’t sure if it was okay. I would seek approval from my classmates about this new development in my work and it made me feel very exposed. Eventually I found it therapeutic and comforting. Jo Spence was a big influence at this time on how I realised my work was a form of therapy.

Family is a running theme throughout your work. How do you find photographing relatives? Do you find it challenging to become objective? It’s a challenge to photograph the people you love; it’s hard to criticise the way they look in a resulting picture. I created a project based on the tough relationship I’ve had with my mother, and so because of the nature of our relationship I didn’t want every image to be perfect. For my final project at university I produced hundreds of negatives to work with and I loved every single one I’d taken. It was important to become objective for the final result; I had to be cut throat about it. It is difficult though because often I don’t see a negative in images of my family so I have to put my professional hat on to help with the edit and create something worth showing. Bodies of work I’ve made have become metaphors for relationships I’ve had. You can be self indulgent in the process of image making, but you can't be that way with what’s seen by the public and I've learnt to be selective about what I show.

 From the series  Serotonin

From the series Serotonin

Serotonin is a therapeutic project about finding a safe space after a period of despair.

Where did you make this work? Pooh Corner, Ashdown Forest. Where the real Christopher Robin lived. It’s such a vast, calm, and low-key place, somewhere you go and realise you’re really in a children's storybook. 

What does this work make you feel looking at it now? I actually don’t feel as strongly about this work as I did when I was making it as it was purely therapeutic. When I was making the work it meant a lot to me but I really don’t consider it my best work now. I feel like the images didn’t need to be perfect, I just needed the freedom the process gave me; I needed nature and to be in nature.

Why have you chosen to not display your project descriptions on your website? Do you feel that they're too personal to share? I made this decision so people can look at my work and make their own judgement as to what each series is about. All That Glitters needs the description with each object I think. University made me explain what my work was about but I wanted my website to be accessible to anyone. A degree is word heavy, and that’s necessary for education but I wanted to move away from that when I graduated. I’d rather people get in touch with me or make up their own mind, it’s a much nicer way to engage.

Ripe is a coming-of-age project about how women use their personal space to aid development.

 Images from the series  Ripe

Images from the series Ripe

Is Ripe finished? Do you intend to continue it perhaps with other women that may be strangers to you, or do you see it being something of importance that you know the women you’ve photographed? Not finished. I felt drained after university and a lot of work from that series isn’t actually in the final edit. It’s all quite different so I need time to think and reflect, and organise ways to move on with the work. I need to think before I re-shoot and consider where I want to take it. I loved making this work as it ended up being an important process for me, it’s about sharing space and stories. It’s hard to let people into your personal space but I’d like to branch out to maybe a friend of a friend, just so there's trust and some sort of connection. People need to gain trust in me, realise I’m not there to steal or take horrible photographs, and people don’t need to worry about the mess, I really don’t mind! I like to make repeated visits and take as many shots as I can, I become a part of the furniture in a way. I found that even friends held up walls against me and didn’t want me to invade their personal space. Maybe some distance from the people I ask would be nice but not complete strangers.

people would say "it’s my space but you’re coming in to define it".

For Ripe you mention that you set out to answer questions about women’s personal space. What did you find during this series, and what are you trying to uncover if the work is still being developed? You’ve expressed that now living in an all female environment you feel more at ease, and able to “spread out”. Would you say that the male presence in a home environment is a restriction to the development of women in your experience? The images are how I see these spaces as a photographer. I ask what people feel about their personal spaces and space in general. It was very new and different for me to be around only women but it's important to make relationships and open up your space. As the photographer I ended up going into someone else’s space, people would say, "it’s my space but you’re coming in to define it".

It was hard during this series to not come across as ‘man hating’ or solely defining women in their space. During my childhood my Father was always the largest presence in the household, he became more important in a way and the women never claimed space. I feel like I can now claim space in my own home from the experience of making this work.

 From the series  Rotten

From the series Rotten

“Having arrived at the fitting stage” suggests you’d been waiting a long time to live in an all female environment and be a ‘grown up’, why? Something happened that I thought wouldn’t. It was a nightmare in a way and I wondered if I’d regret living in an all female house during my time at university, I was almost against the idea. It was strange and I wondered if we would need a male presence. It's all down to experience and of course, if you’ve never had a male presence in your household you can’t imagine one being there, it’s just circumstantial. This all female household turned out to be a great experience, and one which I know I wouldn't have gone looking for if it didn't unfold in that way. 

Tell us about your new work Rotten and what your plans for this series are? My new work is the sister of Ripe. That series was about coming of age and women engaging with their space; I felt ripe and ready to start my adult life. I was on the cusp of becoming a woman but this new work is me on the other side of that. I’ve now graduated, I’ve got a job and I’m doing some very adult things. I once felt ripe, but now I feel over-ripe and rotten. I’ve experienced a body image crash and went through a break up after university. I went home and was back in the presence of my mother and brother and so begun to question my feelings; I think parents can have an aggressive push on confidence. I wondered how I could explore these feelings but wasn’t really sure how I felt. I know everyone goes through those post-graduation feelings but this was holding me back. I didn’t want to admit myself to the graduate lifestyle, as I’ve always been ambitious. Rotten is the other side of the mirror and it’s me preparing and accepting, but also being excited. I want to branch out to include others in this work in the near future. I’m currently working on some visuals based around body image to extend this series.