Recent projects include:
• Women in S.E.T. A project created over 6 years ongoing celebrating the achievements of award winning women of outstanding achievement in science, engineering and technology. A selection of the images are on permanent display at The Royal Society, The Royal academy of Engineering, The Universities Oxford Cambridge, and UCL in London.
• Offender Artists An exploration of creativity as a part of rehabilitation through portraits and interviews created in prison with award winning offender artists
• Light After Death An exploration of some of the surprising manifestations of life, light and joy possible for some after bereavement
• Tim Clarke, NOW A collaboration with a terminally ill man exploring through portraiture and extended text interviews his feeling about and preparation for his imminent death
• A collaboration with some members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a group of teenagers with extreme special educational needs exploring the young people’s sense of self through their reactions and interactions with portrait making and music making
• Aston People A portrait of a university in the form of 75 portraits accompanied by short interviews exploring the subjects’ relationship to the university and the city that it is part of.
• Impressions of Tafo A specially commissioned portrait of a small impoverished West African town in the form of a small book, comprising interviews, portraits, general photography and a diary featuring the photographer’s very personal impressions of the people, places and novel experiences
• Three-way A collaboration with a portrait painter in which sixteen people were the subject of both painted and photographic portraits, – created completely independently – and then asked to compare the two media, describing their experiences of the two processes, and feelings about the results. The exhibition featured the portraits and extracts from their responses.
Imagining Intimacy A short stills based experimental film exploring the possibility of intimacy between ‘unsighted’ strangers.
Portrait Projects – in More Detail
This was a collection of forty portraits of individuals of widely varied backgrounds aged between three and eighty-three. The main thing they had in common was little or no experience as subjects of formal photography. Each person agreed that after the photo shoot they would – in their own time and words – answer the following questions:
1. How did you feel about the image you presented to the world before the photo session?
2. What are your feelings about the photo session?
3. How does the picture of you that appears in the exhibition [chosen by me] make you feel about yourself?
4. What is your description of your identity and/or occupation?
I undertook not to edit their answers in any way. Thirty-five of the forty subjects were among the guests at a large launch event. It was effectively a continuation of their involvement in the project. There was much sharing of the experiences of the whole process. It was incredibly moving. The project had made them visible and given them a space to shine and celebrate who they were. For me, having over forty overwhelmingly positive and often surprising written responses to the experience of working with me was fascinating and affirming.
Women of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology
A major commission from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, in which I produced a set of very larger scale portraits of women working at the very highest levels in their industries, despite the barriers. To bring out their very varied paths to success I also interviewed each of the women about their achievements, inspiration, and advice to younger women hoping to follow in their footsteps. I have just received a fourth commission to produce portraits of the award winners for 2009.
Portraits of Black Achievement
This was a major commission for the Institute of Education, London University. It was essentially a survey of black ‘high achievers’ in a wide range of professional arenas outside the more usual worlds of sport and entertainment. I was responsible for the nearly seventy portraits. The in-depth interviews were conducted by Jaqui McDonald of the Institute of Education. To individualise the photo session, subjects were invited to bring music of their choice to be played and discussed during the shoot. The resulting conversations and atmospheres created certainly lent something intimate and direct to the finished results. The subjects had much more space to be themselves, to come through as characters. So many of them commented on the ‘success’ of the process before even seeing the photographic results. Published as a book and a set of posters.
A permanent exhibition of 50 large scale portraits and short interviews with some of the people who work and study at Aston University, exploring their relationship to the university and the city of Birmingham, as well as revealing some often pleasantly surprising things about them often unknown to most of their colleagues.
The portraits – displayed together with short interviews with each person – highlight the varied and valuable contributions that all sorts of individuals make to the success of Aston University. To quote the Vice Chancellor Professor Julia King CBE FREng “These comments gave me a fascinating insight into what makes Aston special and why people like working and studying there and this is now reflected in the culture and values section of the new University Strategy”.
A collection of nude portraits structured in a way very similar to Portrait Party, except that the questions centred on people’s relationship to their bodies.
Mutual Portraits with Rankin
I was unexpectedly thrust into a more personal and challenging project when Untold magazine set me up with Rankin – the fashion and celebrity photographer behind Dazed and Confused magazine – in an ‘artistic duel’. Mutual nude portraits were accompanied by mutual interviews exploring our experiences and reflections on the two photo sessions.
During the 1990s I got very involved in HIV/AIDS prevention work, both as a community volunteer, and commercially as a photographer. I illustrated many prominent HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns. The most high profile project in this field was the illustration of a book: Peter Tatchell’s safer sex guide for gay men Safer Sexy. Published by Cassell in 1993 at a time of AIDS hysteria and relatively harsh censorship, its thorough and highly explicit yet ‘artistic’ photographs of gay men enjoying lots of (safe) sex caused a big stir. It was also unusual for the time in having an ethnically diverse range of models who, whilst attractive, did not all look like ad agency models. It was much more than sex education. It functioned as a political fight back when we were under extreme pressure as a community to shut down and go away. Despite the controversy I was immensely proud to be associated with such a strong portrayal of gay male sexuality and enjoyed a very conscious boost to my sense of positive gay identity. Even my mother understood and applauded its implications.
In 1986 I co-produced a comic documentary for Channel 4 – Black Divas – about the relationship between an extraordinary collection of charismatic black women singers and some of their queer fans. There is a short personal piece about my experiences on that project which can be found on my website in the essays section.
Impressions of Tafo
In 2002 my friend Humphrey Barclay – a white, middle class newly retired TV producer who had just been ‘enstooled’ as a chief in a small town in rural East Ghana (Kwahu Tafo) – asked me to make a personal portrait of his adopted town, and funded two trips to Ghana to enable me to do it. I created a set of portraits and interviews with a very wide range of individuals. These were supplemented by a collection of images of the town that caught my eye as an outsider, and a running diary of very personal impressions of the people and the palce. The resulting book Impression of Tafo functions as an awareness and fundraising resource for development work in the town. See www.friendsoftafo.org for more information
Women in Prison
I have completed a commission for the Prison Reform Trust, documenting some of the human costs of substandard conditions in a high security women’s prison. An account of my experiences on that project can be found in the essays blog section.
Light After Death (Arts Council Funded)
I was approached by Geoff Warburton, director of Southwark Bereavement Care to discuss the possibility of an exhibition exploring the light, life and joy possible after bereavement I was initially a bit taken aback. These are not things one normally associates with death but I was excited, challenged and above all curious about what could be created.
I used to think about bereavement with a degree of fear and anxiety. My most recent experience of bereavement was the one I have always feared the most, the death of my mother. It has indeed been painful and perplexing at times, but choosing to explore and embrace what it has brought up has made it a surprisingly rich experience, as much about growth and peace as loss and pain.
This Arts Council funded collaboration with Southwark Bereavement Care has been quite unlike any project I have ever taken on before.
The images and texts created for this exhibition are part of an exploration. The exhibition is not intended to be either comprehensive or definitive. We merely hope we have provided some illumination and food for thought.