During May / June 2017 I returned to Guadalajara, Monterrey and Oaxaca in Mexico to continue my ongoing project Conceal. This project uses photography to consider our relationship to space and use of gestures to craft narratives about ourselves.
Through my practice, I explore communication and interaction using the camera, creating portraits through social interaction, considering the value and relevance of photographic portraiture and the use of portraits as a catalyst for visual exchange. Conceal has also taken place in the UK and India while I worked with Tate on BP Art Exchange.
During the month I spent in Mexico, I met several other artists and educators to share practice and exchange ideas. I was invited on a studio visit to see the beautiful work of Miguel Angel Ricardez, learned a huge amount about Mexican art, politics, culture and history (as well as eating what probably amounts to several kilos of tortillas).
On my return to London in mid June I needed some time away from my images to be able to come to them afresh. The luxury of not having a deadline to share the work gave me this freedom. Working with film always helps with this need for space as I have to wait for the film to be processed and scanned. After a couple of weeks I collected the work, had an initial look then put it aside. After such a consuming and intense experience I struggle to look objectively without a gap of several weeks. After 3 months (I hadn’t intended to wait quite this long!) I’ve started to finally edit my work and share it with those who took part.
ITESO have asked if I am interested to return and teach a summer project again in 2018, something that will be confirmed in the new year. During our student sharing on the last day at ITESO a painting lecturer joined us. He was very interesting in the processes i’d used to encourage the students understanding and explorations of contemporary photography. He has just set up a new course and has invited me to be involved in some way, hopefully this will also work. It’s always am exciting challenge to teach abroad as you bring a different way of thinking, cultural references and understandings with you, the conversations are always stimulation.
Now it’s time to keep those connections going, consider what most interests me from the research process and how to develop those ideas, plus of course more funding. Also how best to share the final photographs.
After a few days in Oaxaca I travelled back towards the north to Guadalajara.
Once my trip was confirmed ITESO University in Guadalajara invited me to teach a 2-week summer project on contemporary photography. ITESO is an extremely well resourced university set in stunningly lush grounds, a very inspiring place to work, with so much scope to photograph and make work within the campus. Working 4 hours a day allowed me to continue with Conceal, a perfect situation. During the second week, I invited students to work with me on Conceal. Having already worked together on their own photographic explorations we were able to carefully consider the locations and how they would like to be portrayed.
Here’s a piece written by a lecturer at ITESO after speaking with some of the students from my course.
And a few of my Conceal works from Guadalajara
ITESO also invited me to exhibit in their beautiful Galeria Jardin. This is the first time ITESO have exhibited photography and run a contemporary photography summer school.
Brenda Valdes (Professor of Museum studies, ITESO University and Education leader, Orozco Museum, previously of The Photographers Gallery, London) and I are spent time discussing various ways to work with communities and the connections points between Mexico and the UK. Brenda invited me to spend the morning in a Montessori nursery and primary school to run a portraiture workshop with the children. We used my idea of The Movement of an Object, working with a blue bag to create an object to tell a story about yourself, as a playful way to engage the children with photography.
From Monterrey, I travelled to Oaxaca in the south of the country to meet with Daniel Brena director of CASA.
Sitting up in the hills in Oaxaca, CASA is a stunning building, the evidence of it’s history as a textile factory can be found in some spaces where huge machines, too heavy to move, still sit.
Meeting with Daniel Brena, who I had previous contact with at the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo in the city of Oaxaca http://www.cfmab.org/index.html , was an opportunity to find out about how CASA’s programme of photography is developing, discuss audiences and how this amazing space and location is used for learning and to learn more about those who participate in their programme, which is heavily orientated towards learning and professional development.
Hopefully we will design a photographically based project together in the future.
My aims in travelling to Mexico were to develop Conceal, working towards a publication including this project alongside two other bodies of work. I also wanted to share learning practice with organisations in these 3 locations and increase my international experience and presence for future exchanges.
Receiving the A-N travel grant allowed me to commit to travelling to Mexico. In turn giving me the opportunity to seek definite projects with each institution I was in contact with.
MARCO Museum of Contemporary Art is based in Monterrey, in the north and more industrial part of the country. Having already work with MARCO as part of Tate’s BP Art Exchange programme (which ran from 2013-17) running a series of workshops with artists, students and the public, I was encouraged to return independently to continue Conceal.
My trip began with a week at MARCO.
Indira Sanchez, head of learning, was hugely instrumental in helping me to develop Conceal, inviting participants with various communities in monterrey to the gallery to be involved, organising times and dates for meet ups. Also, during my week in Monterrey I teamed up with Artists Danny Treacy (http://www.dannytreacy.com) to run a four-day project, The Portrait as Transformation. Even though our approach to the Portrait is in many ways different, it made for an exciting collaboration relating to the transformative and performative elements of photography. The participants worked through a series of interconnected activities exploring transformation using the body, clothing and location to develop a final body of work. During the workshops, I invited each of the participants to spend some time make a Conceal portrait with me.
One workshop was with a group of young people aged 14/15yrs who regularly visit the museum. They’re response to Conceal seemed both visceral and a in ways a literal response to what they see in aspects of Mexico’s media. They talked about the images we were making together as representing the way they feel about Mexico or the violence that can be openly portrayed in some parts of the media. This reminded me of a similar response by young people, around the same age, perhaps slightly younger, in Chiapas and Oaxaca in 2015/16 when I started the project. I am keen to consider this response more carefully and work with young people aged 12-16 in the UK to see what their instinctual response will be.