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.