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.
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 !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am proud to present this gallery showing some of the fabulous creations made by students at my various summer online workshops.
click to view and see credits:
My online workshops really took off this summer. Every single one sold out. I enjoyed meeting people from all over the UK and Jerusalem, America and France! Its been an isolating time and there is nothing like joining together over a creative activity.
I am teaching sessions from Beginner to Advanced levels, and some people attended several sessions and made excellent progress. The niche stuff (such as toning cyanotype) is where it gets really interesting. It was a learning curve to run entire workshops on Zoom, but I got the hang of it, my past career in TV has helped.
Lots of online workshops I’d seen were impersonal webinars, or pre-recorded videos or demos. I tried to do something different , by mailing out kits that I put together from hand-made ingredients and recycled packaging. I think it is important to make a real and interactive experience.
Sunprinting and lockdown have been great bedfellows. The sunny season is nearly over now so I just have one Cyanotype Card Making workshop remaining on Fri 6th Nov. I’m planning a special winter Photo Walk too. And the very popular 1-to-1 sessions will continue. In the meantime I have made headway with some of my own important projects : The Leaf Project and my Lockdown Cyanotypes (working titles).