Left behind

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Whilst on my travels and my continuing search for the ‘documents of life’,  I have become more aware of my surroundings and am always on the look out for the unusual or interesting.  I then stumbled upon things that represent a small part of a person’s life that have been ‘left behind’.  Here is the start of what I think will become an obsession with me, as I love to capture the poetic moment of silence and loneliness whilst studying the item infront of me, until maybe someone will come back for that item and time begins again.

Source Wiki:  Joy Garnett is an artist based in New York and engages contemporary consumption of media and the delineation between journalistic and artistic images.  She has produced a series of photographs, looking at things that have been disregarded in the street and in some cases she has placed these items in the street herself and photgraphed them in various different places.  Sets of her work can be found under Flicker entitled ‘Lost Library’ and ‘Found Art’.




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Through my charity work I have been able to incorporate my photography with helping a local teenage refuge.  Whilst there I was able to interact with the residents, capturing a small aspect of their lifes, part of their identities, their hopes, their aspirations for the future and build up their confidence as some of them had never had or very few photographs taken whilst growing up.  They have their memories but nothing visible to look back on.  This was the first time I had contemplated taking photographic portraits and found this a real challenge as had to set up my limited camera equipment in the basement where the light wasnt the best and also gain the trust of the residents as some were very uneasy about having their photos taken.  I therefore had to put them at ease, take the shots quite quickly and through trial and error was able to produce some photos which I feel have captured part of their lifes.  I hope to work with the residents again later on in the year expanding on the portraiture theme and they are very excited about coming along to the exhibition next year, which I am very keen for them to attend, as it will give them a new experience and see that they have been part of my work, and maybe encourage some of them to think about their future studies.

Update – 17th October

I have spoken to the Centre Manager and I suggested going in to show the residents their finished pictures and then run a workshop to talk about taking photos of themselves which will be a very interesting to see the results, and these can be put together as a collection in the exhibition, showing other examples of portraiture and about them talking to me about some of their possessions.


I have been asked whether my photos can be used for the Centre’s 2012 calendar. What an honor!

Update – 28th October

Currently working on workshop material to present in two weeks. (See Photography Workshop post).

Update – 11th November

The reaction to the portraits I had taken which I showed to the teenagers, was very mixed.  Some were really surprised at how well the portraits had come out but others reactions were not what I had expected.  They didn’t like the photos.  Maybe it was to do with seeing themselves in a situation that perhaps wasn’t familiar to them or they felt uncomfortable with what they saw?

Memorial – View from a bench

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This exercise was to explore the concept of memorial benches, looking at the way in which people remember their loved ones and capture the peacefulness of the view from the bench where people would sit, maybe reflect and watch the world go by.

My initial research required me to drive around Chelmsford and see where these benches would possibly be as I hadn’t really taken much notice of them in the past. I soon found out that they were in places of beauty, places that that person always went to eg. open spaces or recreational places where a member of the public could sit. I wanted to record the view that could be seen from the bench but not just look directly infront of me but to capture a much of the view as I could. I used my camera to produce a panoramic view which in itself wasn’t an easy task as it was something I had never done before and found it a challenge as my first set of photos didn’t quite work out as well as I would hope. This was because I did two levels of photographs to get a greater depth of field, but then found that I could get a better effect from just one level. I also used a monopod with the second round of photos which seemed to steady the shots better.

Upon reflection this was a useful exercise as I was able to promote my technical skills with the use of panoramic photography, but an exercise which I couldn’t see how it would take me any further apart from further incorporating my technical skills.


I have decided to go off on another direction and rename my final year theme from ‘Celebration of Life’ to ‘Documents of Life’. This will cover people’s identity, possessions, lifestyles, aspirations, sense of place and how we remember and celebrate the lifes of those that aren’t with us anymore.  Within my photography I am also capturing part of people’s lives and will record my encounters as I go through.

Possessions are a large part of most people’s lives and so I decided to confront my mother and ask her to pick out some things that meant a lot to her. This was an interesting exercise as it really made her think and I also learnt a bit more about her past.  I also decided to record her, speaking about why these possessions were important to her now. Most were kept for sentimental reasons but other things because they were just her favourites and she wouldn’t part with them.

The more people that come forward with their possessions, the more fascinating it becomes.  When I initially see an object that a person wants to show me, it has sometimes looked so ordinary, but then when the story about it unfolds, I can see why that person holds onto that item.  A box with a secret inside, a photo, who knows what it might be.  That is the great thing about them all, I don’t know what im going to be shown or told.

Within this work I am the observer.  I am gaining an insight into the things that matter to the people I see.  It reveals the forms by which ordinary people make sense of their lives and hold on to their memories.  Its the way in which these possessions become their companions in the daily struggle to make life meaningful.

Some of the objects I have been shown represent a time gone by, and allow me to connect to the past and at the same time appreciating its difference to our present, reminding us of the ever present power of change.

Song Dong is a chinese artist who is running an exhibition until June entitled ‘Waste Not’.  In this work Song Dong has created an installation comprising of over ‘10,000 items collected by Song Dong’s mother, Zhao Xiangyuan, over five decades – ranging from a section of the family home, to metal pots and plastic bowls to blankets, bottle caps, toothpaste tubes and toys. The activity of saving and re-using things is in keeping with the Chinese adage wu jin qi yong – ‘waste not’ – a prerequisite for survival during periods of social and political turmoil.
Song Dong is known for his conceptual and often very personal performances and installations. For his London exhibition, Song Dong has developed a new iteration of Waste Not. First conceived in 2005, it remains of the utmost significance to the artist. Unexpectedly and tragically Zhao Xiangyuan died in an accident in 2009. Each time Song Dong remakes the work, assisted by his sister, Song Hui, and his wife Yin Xiuzhen, the entire family is brought together again.

In both Dong’s work and my own we have been rediscovering family objects whilst rekindling emotions and memories.


Possessions – 1

The cards have been collected over the years and from my daughters and grand children.  I like to look at them every now and again as they remind me of special occasions that have gone by”.

“I wouldn’t part with this photo as this reminds me of the first dress that I made when I was 15 as I couldn’t afford to go and buy one.  I loved that dress”.

I won the British Judo champion for the under 13’s and its a reminder that sport was my favourite activity at school and I wish I was as active these days”.

My mother owned all of these scarves when she was alive and they remind me of her as she would always go out wearing a scarf”.

This bible was given to me when I was 8 years old and its one of the oldest things that I have and I wouldn’t part with it”.

This coat belonged to my mother and it was her favourite.  Its something that I do not wear but again, I wouldn’t part with it as it reminds me of her”.

Using my mother as a guinea pig I then decided to go further afield and start to ask other members of my family and friends about their possessions and I was extremely surprised at what they showed and told me.  Such an interesting and enlightening part of my project.

Possessions – 2

Photo of Aunty Pat who died approx. 8 years ago.

“My mother gave me this photo a few years ago and at the time I had no idea why, as I was never close to this lady. In fact  looking back she was an angry and bitter person, and didn’t like me, despite the smile in the picture. I was bright and cheerful and she was chewed up with envy probably. I see that now. I recall a conversation I had with her at the age of 20 or so and she was about 60. She was terrified of dying and wanted to know about the possibility of an afterlife.   I understand many years later having trained in psychotherapy that sometimes, awakening to the  fear of death as one heads towards those final goalposts (and sometimes sooner for others), can be indicative of the lack of life they have lived and continue to live,  including meaningful connections with others. I am now able to see her in a different light, and despite the fact that she didn’t die until she was 89, she remained  stuck and miserable for the rest of her life – how sad is that? Her photo now reminds me that life is precious, and living each day ought to be done with meaningful intent, respect for others and self and gratitude”.

 “This little pill-box contains all the teeth of my second son, Geoff. He thinks I’m crazy and doesn’t understand why I
collect them all. I know this is a hangover from my own family’s habits, as they also collected teeth. They also collected the hair from a child’s first haircut. And while these old-fashioned customs have multiple explanations,
personally I know that they serve as keepsakes or milestones in my own life, and help solidify my own sense of self and meaning. One day I will find sentimental value in what I have kept from the days of raising my boys. They may even help me to mourn the loss of being a mother when they leave the nest…Examples of both my boy’s first handwriting. Again a hallmark that is precious to me as they grow up and leave behind their days of innocence, and my days of motherhood”.

I ADORE coloured glass, in particular when the
colour is backlit from the sun or a candle. When the light shines through there
is life and promise and potential. I first started my fascination with glass as
a child. After my parents divorced we went to live with my grandparents who
lived beside a pub. Now in New Zealand pubs weren’t quaint – they were
piss-halls – and they catered for many. Consequently (and because there were no
drink/drive laws back then) the car parks were huge and littered with broken
glass. In the days of family disintegration, I found life in broken glass. They
imitated my broken and cast aside self. Red, green, brown and blue and
sometimes weathered and pitted – all took on a special life when I let the
light shine through. It was, and still is, painfully beautiful.

Possessions – 3 

The green silk material was woven by my mother during her working life at Courtaulds Mill, Halstead.  She was born in 1914 and left school a few years after the 1926 General Strike.  Prior to leaving school she had been promised a job in the design office at Courtaulds, Halstead as she was a talented amateur artist.  It broke her heart when she reported for work only to be informed that the design office job had been given to a man, which meant she would have to work on the looms.  The general state of employment at that time, and the fact that there was no employment legislation meant there was no recourse”.

“I made the needle case from the silk and use it most weeks.  That is the reason why it has faded and the piece of material hasn’t”.

I bought this little bird ornament when on holiday in Scotland with my friend Ellen.  I particularly liked its shape and tactile quality.  I think I have had it at least 30 years and have seen it almost every day.  It reminds me of my friend and the many happy times our families enjoyed together”.

This plate was given to me by two of my oldest and dearest friends.  They regularly came to support me when I took part in amateur dramatic productions in Halstead in the 1960s and 1970s, which means it was a very thoughtful present.  It shows characters from Shakespeare’s plays with the Globe Theatre shown in the centre.  The plate is situated in the room in the house which is used most, so it is seen almost everyday. Although my friends and I do not see each other often these days we keep in touch by regular telephone calls”.

In my youth I was often taken to visit my mother’s aunt whom I knew as ‘Great Aunt Gertie’.  She lived in a vicotrian terraced house in sudbury which is still standing today.  I remember her as being quite autocratic and very strict about children’s behaviour, but she gae me the thimble when I was about 12 years old when she realised I loved sewing.  The Victorian terrace as a fascinating house with a wonderful heavy oak curtain rails with enormous wodden rigns holding long velvet curtails.  Great Aunt Gertie lived until she was 96 years old”.

Possessions – 4

On Wednesday, 19th June 1940, the air raid warning siren had sounded and together with my mother and brother I went to our shelter at the bottom of the garden.  My father was on duty as a policeman.  About midnight we recognised the distinctive sound of the German bomber and shortly afterwards the sound of machinegun fire followed by silence.  We sat for some while in apprehension then the shelter door was flung open by my father who excidedly called out “we’ve shot one down”!  “I’ve left a bit in the kitchen”.  he then rushed off.  A short while later the all clear siren sounded and we made our way back to the house.  In the kitchen was a large piece of debris that smelt like witchhazel which I hastily threw outdoors.  Later that morning my father told how the bomber had narrowly missed houses at Springfield and had crashed into the bishop’s garden.  He had attended the scene with his sergeant and a war reserve officer Mr Lamb who they had armed with a shot gun to arrest these dastardly Germans only to find their shocking remains.  They had allowed people to take souveniers but in the morning RAF personnel demanded it back so our piece was returned.  Flying Officer Adolf ‘Sailor’ Malan D.F.C who had shot the aircraft down also attnded the scene.  This is a replica of him and his Spitfire”.


During the war years my mother was required to take in aircrew members attending a radio course at Marconis.  Each fortnight two or three airmen of various ranks and nationalities would arrive.  This meant her cooking for seven of us each day and washing and ironing by hand six pairs of sheets each week.  Amongst these visitors were three Polish airmen.  They were smart and full of continental charm and courtesy especially towards my mother.

They enjoyed their stay and frequently returned on leave and on once occasion presented my parents with a brass plaque bearing the Polish eagle and flag.  As the war progressed contact with them was lost.

In 1998 whilst polishing the plaque I resolved to endeavour to trace them.  I had two photographs published in a magazine and some months later one was identified as living in France but ironically he had died the month I started my enquiries.  His widow sent copies of photographs of him holding my brother.  If only I had made my enquiries earlier”.

Possessions – 5

“My Grandfather James Bowers who was born in 1867 lived with his wife Emily at Purley Farm, Coggeshall where he was the farm bailiff.  My father was born there in 1911.  In November 1940 two bombs fell on Coggeshall, one demolished their house.  My father and a brother rushed to the scene and rescued their parents.  The only things to survive were a teapot and a mirror which I have in memory of them”.


Possessions – 6







Possessions – 7

Possessions 8