The Journey – ‘Holland’ (outreach work)

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As mentioned in the post ‘The Journey’ I ran a  workshop entitled ‘The Journey – 2’ and in this we looked at using imagination to see beyond taking a normal snap shot.

The workshop was linked in with a trip that the teenagers were taking to Holland and during this trip I asked them to record what they saw with either the use of video/camera or just camera.  Most of them had never been abroad at all so this was an adventure for them.

We talked about the different themes that they could use to capture pictures and I showed them some photos I had taken whilst on a journey to London (entitled The Journey) and a recent trip to Finsbury Park (Ecology of the Park).

I have been working with the teenagers this week to go through all 849 photos to pick out their top 50 shots, but we have also been taking into account the following:

Visual language of the shot (shape, textures, mood, leading lines, patterns etc);

Visual Language L1  presentation attached.

whether there is meaning behind the piece for them;

the reason why they have picked the photograph;

Categories that the photographs will go into.  We decided on the following as some photos didn’t fit into the categories that I gave them initially.

‘Representation of Holland’:  what photos really bring across to the viewer that they are in Holland

‘Living things’:  animals/birds

‘Signage’: Road, houses, restaurants, shops, cars

‘Environment’: a flavour of where they are staying eg. windmills, rivers

‘Abstract’: patterns, parts of objects

‘Left Behind’:  things not wanted or lost

‘People (Portraiture)’: people with and who they met there

‘Reflection’: windows, water

‘Accommodation’: where they were staying, a flavour or what it was like

‘Group Activities’:  going out together, what activities involved in

‘Graffiti’: before and after shots, what was used etc.

I have put the chosen photos into a slideshow.   Trip to Holland

We are currently working on a book which I will get printed and present to the teenagers once completed and a video which will be linked in with the photographs that were chosen from the many taken.

Mock up for book

One of the residents Gemma, wanted to do a collage picking out some of her own favourite photographs from the trip.  She painted a board white and then placed the photos onto the board in whatever way she wanted.

Whilst studying the photographs it was very interesting to note that Gemma had placed people that meant a lot to her around the picture of herself. (Gemma is in pink).


Pockets & bags

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What lies in men’s pockets and women’s bags?  Nobody knows until a possession is taken from within and is observed by someone briefly.

Pushing the boundaries even further into seeking to find out about people’s personal lives, I wanted to explore the personal possessions that people find essential and carry around with them, going about their day.

I asked a selection of my friends to participate in this exercise. This request seemed to form into 3 cateorgies:

  • ‘I haven’t got anything to show you of interest’. –  They didn’t want to share with me what they had;
  • ‘I can show you a selection of what I have’.  – The person was choosing what I saw;
  • ‘I can show you what I have, its not a problem’.  – They were very open and obliging.

All of the above reactions was an indication of how comfortable the person felt, sharing a personal part of their life that I wouldn’t normally see, unless they happened to temporarily retrieve an item from a bag or pocket whilst I was present.

What I was shown related exclusively to that person, which was a contrast to going into someone’s home as the homes I saw weren’t  exclusively theirs but they have to share it with a family or pet.

This selection of items indicated to me that the person concerned was a fan of ‘real ale’ as had tokens and a membership relating to beer.

Contents of a lady’s bag who stores all of her receipts in her purse, which consequently is crammed full of papers. A sort of a filing cabinet for receipts.

This person had a mound of keys in their bag and preceeded to tell me what they were all for.  This was all I shown from the contents of their bag though.

Photography Workshop (Identity)

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As mentioned previously back in the Summer I went along to a shelter for teenagers to take their portraits and recently went back to show them the results and display the portraits around the centre.  I wanted to continue with the photography theme with them so decided to run a photography workshop for those that wanted to attend.   I based it on ‘identity’ following on from the portraits I took of them.  I decided on the themes for the day but let those that took part do what they wanted to do with the camera they were given.


A group shot

Take 6-10 shots of yourself

Possessions (take a photo of something that means a lot to you)

Take 2 photos of your surroundings

Choose 3 emotions

The first theme ‘group shot’ we did together.  They decided where they wanted to go and what pose and I took the picture.  This is the result.

Some of the residents didn’t want to be in the picture so turned their backs, away from the camera going against the tradition of facing the person taking the picture.

I have left the residents to take the other photos in their own time.  I am hoping they will want to take part but I have been warned that they may not.  I really look forward to seeing the results in a few weeks.

One resident has responded and taken part in the photography workshop.   I was blown away by the thought provoking and powerful shots that were sent to me.

The results of these photos will be in my written journal as they are very personal to the person that completed this for me.

Following on from the group shot I decided that as the response from poor from the other residents I would work with the image I had.  I decided to transfer different backgrounds onto the image and then email the revised images through to ask the residents and asked them to let me know how they linked themselves into the photos they saw.  I got 3 replies in total.

One resident said that he felt like he was currently banging his head against a brick wall. Another said that he was behind other people he knew in his achievements and had a long way to go but he knew what to do so put himself in the windy road picture.  Another one felt trapped and choose the wall picture either side.  Another interesting exercise and since posting this I have received a further 6 responses.

Taking this one step further I wanted to compare this set of results with a different group of people and ages to obtain a comparison.  I approached 16 students to be surveyed, with one refusing.  From these results I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what background you have in life or who you are, we can all suffer from the same worries, fears and anxieties as everyone else does.

I have recorded the results in table form. Link here: Results from photography background survey

I have been fortunate enough to show my work through The Furtherfield Gallery, London.


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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?


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