Reclaim the River – prize

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2022 got off to a good start, as I won a commission in a design competition for Woolwich. I responded to a brief to make something for Myrtle Alley that explored women’s safety at night. It’s funny because I was expecting to be making something about the history of Woolwich, the old and the new, which really intrigues me. But, I was always avoiding this particular alley after dark, even if it was only 4pm, and I had never given that a second thought to that until this brief came along. Why should I have to avoid this convenient shortcut? I wondered if other women also avoided it.

At the same time Greenwich Council launched a map where women could drop a pin at areas where they felt unsafe. You can fill in the survey and make suggestions to spend money on lighting, cameras, etc … but it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t the “space” itself that was unsafe, it was the predators that might lurk in the dark corners that make it unsafe, and no amount of cameras and lighting will get at that root cause.

At the same time Greenwich Council launched a map where women could drop a pin at areas where they felt unsafe. You can fill in the survey and make suggestions to spend money on lighting, cameras, etc … but it finally dawned on me that this wasn’t addressing the root cause of the violence, and we will be still walking around scared, because there will always be some dark corners left.

My idea for “Dark Alley” just came popped straight out of my head, like all the best ideas do. I would photograph women passing by and ask them what they thought of the alley and take a photo of them. I’d been working with boxes a lot in 2021, there was Deptford X where I painted on cardboard boxes, and the commission for London Alternative Photography where I cyanotyped the inside of a Ilford paper box. This time I wanted to use the wooden crates that I would sometimes see discarded in the street, and around the market stalls.

I wanted to light up the alley, so it wasn’t so dark and scary, and so it stopped to make people think. I decided to put lights inside the photo boxes.

Of course when you make a pie-in-the-sky design like this, you never dream that you will win and end up making it ! So here I am today on the 5th day of sawing, glueing and assembling those crate ‘frames”, splinters in my fingers, solder burns from the wiring …. it was not as easy as it looks ! Let alone making transparent sunprints in January from fast street portraits.

The hardest part was that I had photographed about 12 women and had to narrow it down to only 6 for the final installation. But I will be posting each of the women a nice print. I am so pleased by my own bravery with street photography that I might continue this into a larger project – the light , the people , and the changing architecture are very special in Woolwich. I have known the place for 30yrs and when I compare my memories , with the post-pandemic town, there is a massive difference that I learn so much from, you can see how the future might go.

I am really proud that I’ve used mostly recycled materials. Including some red drapes which I made from netting from a building site. The fronds will drape down and tickle you as you go through the alley – a bit like the ghost train at the fairground. I remember feeling so scared when I was a kid on the Ghost Train, and its exactly the same feeling I get when I reach the bend of this dark alley. Fear is funny thing, you imagine the worst things that can happen, the adrenaline comes, and then when you exit the alleyway you breathe a sigh of relief. You were one of the lucky ones.

Its been great having the support of Resolve Collective and Lison, who have been working really hard getting everything ready for the opening this Saturday 12th Feb. There is another prizewinner Evie painting silhouettes onto the alley walls – so we will certainly be brightening up this neglected space that the locals call “piss alley”.

I am really grateful for this opportunity to have made something site-specific and sculptural – it certainly stretched me out of my comfort zones. I am proud of what I am creating.

On Saturday 12 Feb the organisers are leading a tour around the artworks dotted about Woolwich town centre. I will be there. There are 2 further walks on Sunday, I am not sure if I will be at those, but contact me if you are going and I will do my best.

The following Friday I am doing a photo walk around Woolwich – mainly for film shooters, but anyone is welcome, I will take you past some of the artworks then too.

Mistress of Photography

photography, Uncategorized

So I was playing with the “FaceApp” on Instagram that gives a very convincing gender swap effect ! And I looked at the male version of me with my camera and thought “how would this guy be regarded if he walked into a room for a shoot? or to impress a gallery owner?” . I think he looks a real hotshot doesn’t he? (Of course we are both in need of post-lockdown haircuts!) He looks like he is confident, artistic and accomplished … whereas I look at myself and I see a flakey housewife or multi-tasking mum. This has made me examine my own prejudices. Women are prone to ‘imposter syndrome’ and I still have to pinch myself when I get an award or commission.

Darkrooms and camera clubs have long been the territory of mainly men. But I am pleased to say our group darkroom The Gate has a large number of women at the helm, and the local camera club (Woolwich Aperture) also seems around 50/50 so we are doing well in this region.

In colleges there are many more women studying photography than men. And yet at the professional level men wipe the board.

Its all food for thought. When I look up to “Master Printers” and “Magnum Photographers” they are almost exclusively male. I’ve always aspired to be a “Master Printer”, but is that even possible? Perhaps I would be a “Mistress Printer”?! How many men do I know that print photos on fabric? Zero.

I come from a background in TV when I was often the only woman (except for the PA and makeup artists) directing crews of up to 50 people. Then I didn’t think anything of it, and I never faced prejudice. But when I look at the guy above, I can’t help thinking what life would life have been like if I’d been born a boy? I had a brother who died as a baby, and I was adopted shortly afterwards as a boy wasn’t available. Growing-up I remember being pushed towards teaching, nursing, sewing, cooking while boys were encouraged to take metalwork, woodwork, farming, science and run businesses. Makes you think. Hopefully the playing field is more level now for my daughters – one has just gained a first in Physics. Gender should be an irrelevance, as should race and age.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences

Above pictures I took on a recent photowalk with the SheClicks group, thanks to Karin for organising the meet-up.

Deptford X & other buses

photography

Since Lockdown work has been like buses, nothing for ages and then 3 projects at once. I always love Deptford X Festival as it interacts with my local community, but it was a lot of work this year because all work had to be outdoors. Artists had to find their own outdoor spaces, and I was walking down Deptford High Street in the pouring rain one day, and knocked on the door of a new bar (many places were still closed at this stage of lockdown). The venue (Badger Badger) were very hospitable and have allowed me to hang my work outside , and in the windows, and on the roof !

Now more than ever I see the value of physical art in a physical space like a street, and one that isn’t just a ticketed ‘art prison’.

My “Day 59” exhibition includes images from my Lockdown Diary in Cyanotype (book still in production!) and more responses to my thoughts on historic plagues. My work will come down at about 10pm on Sunday 18th July.

The opening event I held was online due to restrictions but it was quite a happening ! I gave a talk and demo but I then wanted to discuss pandemics in general , and we looked at the historic Plague Doctor. Having engaged the services of actor Ian Crosson, I was able to get a real Plague Doctor to join the Zoom and read my script that was based on my historic and scientific research.

I have my 1st in-person Cyanotype Workshop of the year planned on Friday 23rd July in Woolwich. Only £15 and a great opportunity to make some lovely blueprints in the midday sunlight. I am also planning a Process-A-Film Workshop for Fri 13 August – I am not sure if there will be interest in that but it can certainly save you a lot of money in the lab !

The other new project I am working on involves more mermaids – watch this space !

Blossom In the New Normal

Environment, photography

The cherry blossom took on a huge significance this year, a sign of optimism that things are returning to normal after the nightmare of the pandemic.

A previous darkroom print that I painted

Every year I walk through the avenue of blossom trees in Greenwich Park to breathe in the sights and smells of the spring blooms, which scientifically are a great boost for wellness. Just like insects, we still respond to the power of plants and flowers. It’s easy to forget our connection to Nature after a winter of quarantine with a connection to computers.

This year the blossom avenue was full of photographers , mainly Instagrammers making use of the delightful backdrop of pink. Every professional influencer wants that shot in front of the beautiful blossom.

It was impossible to have my relaxing stroll because you had to dodge camera tripods and lighting stands at a safe 2m distance. I hung around quite happily to wait for them to finish so I could have a turn walking on the path. But each of the 7 photographers there (on a quiet rainy Tuesday), stayed for at least 2hrs. One photographer had models with different outfits in suitcases and was there a whole day with a picnic laid out.

It was interesting to observe the “selfishness” of these people. They were behind the cameras as if they were not part of reality, it’s not like they didn’t care. I wondered if this was an effect of quarantine, social Media, or what? I’ve never seen anything like it. I heard that people were snapping off twigs of blossom to pose with. Many times, in daffodil season, I have repremanded people for trampling the flowers whilst posing for photos.

But Why?

  • some city dwellers are unaware that they are destroying Nature because they have barely experienced plants
  • tourists sometimes don’t understand that these are cultivated and not wild plants
  • Children expect flowers to spring up again like rubber toys
  • this new phenomenon where people seem to be looking at life through a screen , and aren’t in the ‘reality’ (if there is a ‘reality’)
  • a small minority just don’t care and willfully toss litter, and destroy plants which they believe are there to serve them

I must look more into the Japanese tradition of Hanami. This is possibly what was going on, people spending a whole day under the blossom in groups is a tradition that I was not aware of.

Its is also interesting that in Buddhist tradition each blossom represents a fallen Samuri, it reminded me of my Leaf Project in which I am making each leaf represent a Londoner. In China the flowers signify hope and feminine power.

This photo shows how I managed to find a lone tree by the gate to photograph. There is always a way to get the shot!

As a photographer I feel dutybound to convey that picturesque Nature is not just a convenient backdrop, its the very fabric of our life, and future generations depend on it.

my photo from a quieter year

Just Me and a Lonely Weed in the Darkroom

photography
…. and 4000+ likes on Instagram!

This week I found myself with a short time slot in the darkroom. I’d been held up by my Tax Return, and by the time I arrived at the darkroom there just wasn’t time to get all my leaves and negatives ready for another demanding printing session. We are restricted to solo-use slots in our shared darkroom now, and since Covid there is lots of cleaning and airing to be done between users.

On my walk in, I’d brushed into a little weed growing out of the payment. The ‘daily walks’ have made me hyper-vigilant of Nature, and I know every crack in the pavement and every new weed in my area.

an honour to have my prints shown on the Ilford website

All week I had been thinking about Mirror Universes. I set up some small trays of chemicals and put on a Podcast about Charge Parity Violation. It was all about how, if there was a mirrored universe, there would not be exact symmetry. It was an absolute shocker! And while my brain was wrestling with the details, my hands were freed to dance with this weed and with the light coming from the enlarger, and finally to slosh in and out of the chemical trays.

Often I work the other way around. I have music on and I focus my brain on the maths of exposure times, temperatures and grades etc.

I was thinking about Matter and Anti-Matter, about Positive and Negative. It came out.

From the isolation of the darkroom, just me and that little weed made a post that Ilford shared and around 4K peope ‘liked’. What an uplifting way to reach out from the darkness.

When I get time, I will frame one of these photograms and additional to my newfangled sales section.

Green Light for Thamesmead Photo Mission

photography

After the success of my online workshops last year, I had the idea to create a bigger project and involve local residents. I’m delighted to have received grant-funding for ‘Thamesmead Photo Mission’ which launched today with the registration link and details here.

We are all isolated right now – and more than anything this is going to be a great opportunity to connect with other people who have an interest in photography. And what better time that during the dull winter months. I believe that expensive cameras aren’t important, phone cameras are welcome here – this project will be about seeing as much as taking photos in your homes or on your walks.

Its quite a challenge to devise art that can work during lockdown, but I’m very excited with my plans for this. Each week will be themed, and we’ll be discussing examples of photography and learning tricks and tips. The Brutalist architecture and the Natural wildlife in Thamesmead provides rich pickings for photography. And its always about looking that bit deeper, to see things in the everyday that other people don’t notice.

Experimentation

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I had the urge to look closely at light today. Photons (particles of light) are the main ingredient of photography. It is mind-boggling that the quantum particles can exist in 2 places at once. I do a lot of reading on this subject. One possible explanation is that the particle in question is existing in both the past and the future at once. The observer makes a difference to the final result.

Like a crazy scientist, I set up a double-slit experiment of my own and managed to record interference on a light-sensitive sheet of my cyanotype paper. I am not sure where this will lead, but it had to be done. An Artist looks for answers just like a scientist does.

Leaf Science

Environment, photography

This week I was asked to give a presentation to the Thamesmead Nature Forum. They were very interested to see my my Leaf Project (in progress) and other ways that I collaborate with Nature in my work. I had some great feedback “spectacular presentation” and “beautiful work”. I even managed to pull off a live cyanotype demo with an Honesty plant (left) that came out rather well.

Meanwhile, the printing on leaves is laborious. From drying, pressing and coating the leaves to printing them in the darkroom. Only a few make the final cut. These are some of the technical difficulties that I have had to resolve through experiments:

In fact this whole process makes me appreciate a pristine uniform pack of photographic paper in a whole new light !

I coat the leaves in liquid silver emulsion and store them in a large light tight metal box that I cart around wrapped in coats under darkness! At one point I lost my car keys and house keys with this cumbersome cargo and had to change all my locks! One plus was the amazing tabacco-like aroma from the soaked lilly pads. I have yet to get a good print on one of these magical lily pads.

My search for appropriate leaves has led to me examining leaves in great detail, the variety is immense. The patterns in Nature, the veins , the leaf shapes, the infinite fractals. For sometime I have been engrossed with the pattern of branching, branching that could be echoed in a branching multiverse.

Equally fascinating are the distorted leaves I find, those which grow differently due to disease, or those from roadside trees that are tarnished with black pollution.

Some of the leaves have been collected from specific sites, such as Tidemill Gardens before the trees were ripped up to make way for new flats. These are large and frail and have a different quality (persona if you like) to the fresher leaves. It becomes an interesting exercise to match the faces with their leaves. I have a bunch of tiny leaves that I use as test strips. The fact that I am going through about 25 leaves to get 1 print I am happy with, makes them even more special and precious to me. “Exquisite” was a word someone used to describe them, and that’s definitelty what I am aiming for.

I am very grateful for a grant from the Richard & Siobhan Coward Foundation that has enabled me to buy materials for this work.

Anthoypes – My Garden Darkroom

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Exploring the Anthotype process was one of the best things to come out of Lockdown for me. This process was ‘invented’ by John Herschel around 1841 as he was trying to pave the way for colour photography, it even pre-dates Cyanotype. Up until then the only photos were rusty-coloured black & white . Over a century later, I am branching out from my own rusty-looking black & white to try some colour! In summer, when the darkroom was closed, my little city garden became my darkroom.

Herschel used natural dyes from flowers and vegetables. I mainly used extracts from plants I had grown. Some plants work better than others, and many plants I tested do not work well at all. But its a Eureka moment when they do !

I will run a workshop on Anthotype in summer 2021. Its great to bring people closer to plants with a 100% eco process using plants and sunlight alone.

New – Online Shop!

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UPDATE : My online art sales are now closed as work was sold out, and galleries are re-opening. I am working towards 3 real life exhibitions. Get in touch for commissions.

With exhibitions cancelled this year, I am listing some recent works for sale online. These would make unique Christmas presents. There seems to be a move towards buying local and from small businesses, which is great to see.

I can deliver next day to SE London postcodes, and many items will fine for posting.

I am sometimes commissioned to make artwork that matches interior decor, or to a specific theme. If that is of interest, get in touch for a quote.