Continued from yesterday

“What is the most meaningful project you’ve done?” – Caroline Hick asked me at our first Re:view meeting.

I knew the answer. A collaboration I did with my mother, called ‘Us’ – for an exhibition for Malaga Fotomanias Festival in 2011, exploring intersections between health, wellbeing, and creativity. Over a period of one month, we worked together to explore these themes through our own relationship and experiences (my mum has had M.E since 1985) via an exchange of photography and text, which included a photo dialogue, a photo blog, text, and photocollage alongside an archive of family photographs. This collaboration was one of deep creative and personal engagement for me. Through a practice of mutual acceptance, openness , cooperation and respect, the project brought us closer together and enriched our relationship, both creatively and emotionally.

My hope was the family archive project could work in a similar way – working with the wider family to share stories and memories and hopefully closer connections between us all.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have been quite concerned with the ethics of the project. Talking to Sarah, Caroline and Andy in my Re:view meetings I realised that these concerns re access and permission though valid, were stopping me making a start. I was stuck.

Andy Abbott suggested making some of my own work in response to the archive to see where it took me and then assess how I was going to deal with facilitating participation. This seemed a sensible suggestion – I had thought I needed to get the ethical framework sorted out first – but the project may develop in and unexpected ways requiring a more responsive approach in terms of ethics. Perhaps a speculative super-sensitivity about the ethics isn’t going to get anything done! After all I can’t predict responses, and there has to be some kind of starting point. Sarah Spanton acknowledged that there were ethical issues in working with one’s own family images (Who owns a photographic image? The subject/the person taking the photo?) and shared her own experiences and reservations in terms of using images from her own family. She suggested that it might be helpful to separate the project into private and public aspects–keeping the sharing of the archive and personal memories as a personal/ private project, and the creative work separate, looking at a means of having conversations about permissions when I had a more specific idea of how I wanted to work or collaborate with the family. She also suggested that family members may not ‘read’ my own work using the archive in the same way as I do. Family photographs trigger very individual and subjective meanings and memories –what each of us see is very different.

My session with Caroline Hick generated a conversation (blogged here last week) about the potential for framing the project much more widely, beyond the personal and therapeutic. Caroline suggested the richness and universality of family photography offered an opportunity to explore cultural, personal and social meanings of family and identity, and to work with members of the public from Bradford’s various communities on their own family archives and experiences of family photography in a process of co-research. I hugely respect Caroline’s practice and approaches in working with people, which have in the last year involved projects engaging with neighbourhoods and marginalised people and places, joint projects inspired by research on dementia activism, visual annotation (note-taking/commentary) for refugee and asylum group conferences, and a series of art and cultural initiatives based on and around the Canterbury estate in Bradford.… Having her perspective on this project has been incredibly valuable.

Looking this week at structuring and describing the project for an ACE bid I’m realising that the collaborative work with my family may be a small element of a much larger project, and I’m seeing the project now with a broader focus, and I’m less worried about the ethical issues, trusting that I’ll deal with these as the project takes a more concrete shape.

‘Fieldworks: Co-researching Self-organised Culture’ a joint exhibition between Andy Abbott and Caroline Hick, is now showing at the University of Bradford…


Today’s catch-up post is on a collaboration with family members in response to my late Nana’s photographic archive. This was one of the areas of work I wanted to address with Sarah, Caroline and Andy in the Re:view discussion sessions.

Firstly, a bit of background:

When my Nana passed away last summer at the age of 92, I was lucky to be one in my family to be given custodianship of her photographic archive, which spans over 100 years. As well as digitizing and sharing the archive with our large extended family (Nana had 8 children, thirty something grandchildren and I’ve lost count of the great grandchildren) I felt the archive offered a great opportunity to for a creative collaboration. I have collaborated on a number of occasions with my immediate family – with my mother on a photographic project for Fotomanias photography festival in 2011 ( and and my brothers on various projects through the years, including fanzines, exhibitions and events. Collaborating with my family has always been a way of connecting. I have a strong bond with my mother and brothers, but don’t get to see them as often as I want as I live in West Yorks, and they are in Glasgow. Doing creative projects with them is a way of maintaining and feeding that bond. Doing a collaboration with the wider family, and using the archive as a way of bringing us closer together (we are scattered across Scotland, England and Australia) felt like something Nana – to whom family was everything – would have liked. As my practice is increasingly about collaboration, conversations and relationships, it has felt right in many ways.

Prior to getting the Re:view bursary, I had been concerned with a number of ethical issues around the project. I wanted to be sure that I set the project up with my family in the most accessible, and democratic way as possible. I’m very conscious of issues of power, access and hierarchy as an artist working with others (and particularly non –artists) and the responsibilities that go with this- I feel this responsibility in working with my own family even more – we all lost an important person in our lives, and I want to be sensitive to that loss and grieving process that we will all be experiencing differently.

For the past few months, I’ve been scanning and sharing the archive with family through a private blog, which family members can contribute to, to share memories, information and stories. This process is slow as there are so many images to scan but the family are looking, sharing and posting which is really positive and lovely. Yesterday I got an email from my Uncle Gerry in Austraila to say he’d started looking at the blog. I’m hoping that all of our stories and memories can be brought together in a self-published book or pamphlet which could be given to each family member.

In my own practice. I have been working for a long time with family photographs; using them as a way of with exploring subjectivity, memory and identity within the family. Combining archival family images with found photographic materials as source material, cutting, collaging, editing, re- presenting and re-photographing – making new images , searching for meaning. These approaches have been informed by the work of photographers and writers Jo Spence, Annette Kuhn and others.

I wanted to look at how I could extend this individual practice to a communal one, with the family – to collectively investigate personal and family identity to explore what binds us together, and to create a new dynamic family archive.

What form could the project take? How could it remain open and flexible? What is my role? How do I ensure people feel a shared ownership?

These are the questions I wanted to address with Sarah, Caroline and Andy.

Continued tomorrow


Continued from last post:

…The timescale may have been too optimistic (the two month period has become 3 and a half), but all of the posts and comments have given me so much food for thought, enriching and expanding my knowledge and understanding of gift, generosity and reciprocity. (Topics so far have included gift circles, DIY cultural practices, digital activism and copyleft, gift and debt, questions around autobiography and ‘oversharing’ and mother –infant bonds)

I wanted to know if this is the same for the other Wur authors, so last night emailed contributors to find out about their experience, asking

Have you found reading and/or contributing to the blog a valuable experience?

Are you interested in continuing to contribute?

In what ways do you think we could improve/change/develop it?

My hope is that other Wur authors feel collective ownership of the blog, and have found it as valuable as I have. I’m really interested in the continuing potential for the blog as a collective means of sharing ideas and knowledge. How can it do this best?

I’m now looking at a deadline for 15th July for the first round of posts, and then will collate the posts into a printed zine. Next task is to look at where and how to distribute this.

In terms of addressing Wur blog with my Re:view sessions, we didn’t do much direct talking about the blog itself, as it seems to be working and it felt too early to assess its success or otherwise. However, two of my Re:view artists are Wur authors (Caroline Hick and Andy Abbott)both of whom have contributed a post to the blog; ‘What is a Generous Work of Art and Where Can it Exist‘ by Andy Abbott and ‘The Guide’ by Caroline Hick Caroline’s comments in response to Andy’s post formed the basis for some real time discussion within my Re:view session with Caroline on DIY culture, which I blogged about here in post 41. Also the gift circle which I did with fellow Bradford creatives and Wur authors Ivan and Georgia Mack at the DIY conference organized by Andy in Bradford in May was done under the banner of ‘Wur’.

In addition, Andy has been the first to respond to last night’s email, with some positive feedback on the blog and suggestion of a real time meetup to organise around a collective project as a way to pull all the strands together and move conversations on.

So although not explicitly discussed much within the Re:view sessions themselves, there has been a lot of activity and conversations generated by Caroline and Andy’s involvement in Wurblog, which has been very valuable in adding to my knowledge and moving my practice on.


After a really nice weekend off, it’s time to get the Monday morning “doing stuff” head on. I really need to focus on specific things, as lately my attention has been so refracted and I’ve not been feeling like I’ve been moving forward as much as I should be. There’s been so much going on, especially with darkroom co-op stuff – its hard not to get distracted and forget about all the other areas of work/research I’m doing.

So, I’ve kept this week free of meetings so I can concentrate on starting my ACE application, and some catching up here on my Re:view bursary progress. The first feels a bit onerous. It’ s been 3 plus years since I last applied for a GFA funding bid (unsuccessful) and I found the experience massively time-consuming and difficult. This time round with support from Gideon at Fabric, I’m feeling more positive – though looking through the application info, I must admit its hard not to let my heart sink to find out that only 45% of applications receive funding. Trying not to be too discouraged by this. Any motivational/encouraging words are gratefully accepted at this point!

In terms of writing up progress on my Re:view bursary, I thought it would be useful to revisit (and share here) what I wrote in my application in about what I wanted to achieve from it:

“I am looking to review my practice for a number of current and upcoming projects, including: a collective blog,(http:// a collaboration with family members in response to my late Nana’s photographic archive, a potluck lunch as part of PANDEMIC Leeds (an event linking art, performance and talks to the state of capitalism, economies and society) in April 2013 and a series of gift economy projects/actions in empty shop spaces in collaboration with Fabric in Bradford in July 2013 . I am looking to take stock of my activities so far, consider critical issues, and explore methodologies to enable me to successfully carry out these and future projects”

I thought it would be good to write some updates on the above projects as a starting point. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the prospect of writing up what I’ve gained from the first round of Re:view sessions feels quite challenging – given the wealth of content generated through conversations with each of my designated artists. How can I possibly capture it all? And how can I know, at this point, what is significant? Rather getting too bogged down with these questions, I thought it would help to break it down a bit, and address progress on the specific projects mentioned above. So that’s my blog plan for this week!

So firstly: Wurblog:

I started Wur blog back in March as a communal multi-author blog on gift, generosity and reciprocity.

My motivation for starting the blog was to share knowledge and conversations with a group of people who I have had been talking to, in real life, online (or both) about these ideas. This came from a growing realization (through doing this a-n blog) that much of my learning for this ‘Reciprocity’ project has been happening through conversation. I felt I couldn’t rightfully call the stuff I was learning my own or present it as ‘my’ research, as – who does a conversation belong to? All of the people who are having it!

From this point I have become very interested in the co-production of knowledge and Wur blog is an experiment in this kind of sharing and building of knowledge. I invited a group of around 20 people, both artists and non-artists: people who have an interest in or something to say about ideas of gift and generosity, in art, life or both. (for contributor bios

The original plan was to ask people to contribute a minimum of 1 post every two months, and then publish the posts in printed form, in a zine, which would give the writing a wider circulation beyond the internet.

.. continued next post


A day in Bradford:

Got some family photographs photocopied (for collage purposes) at Daleys Art Supplies.

Site visit to see new proposed darkroom space (next to the one we were originally going to take on Rawson Place ). This new space has two small rooms as well as a kitchen and plumbing so is much better for our purposes, as we won’t need to get a partition built. We can use the money from the landlord for other uses. A resounding yes.

Coffee at Cafe Bianco with Ivan and Adam to discuss where to put the revolving door for the darkroom space, which we’re bidding for on Ebay.

Filmed a couple of vox pops, from Adam and Josh, talking about why the National Media Museum shouldn’t close on my camera phone for the film Fabric are helping to make for the anti-closure campaign (…) Hope I can get a few more over the weekend too.

One last look at the superb Tom Woods retrospective (…) at National Media Museum before it closes on 16th June. The last time I saw it in April, I was very struck with his “Men and Women’ groupings (, described as follows in the exhibition information:

‘Searching under his vast archive, Wood organised his photographs under the headings ‘Men’ and ‘Women’. What began to emerge was a subtle new reading of his work that dealt with gender alongside his other preoccupations with character and place. Displayed together without chronology, the fluid arrangement highlights the intentional visual play between the images, as well as Woods prolonged involvement with his subject matter’

I’m very interested in this as I’m working with different themed groupings within my own family archive, and have considered gendered groupings as one of the possibilities.

I wanted to have a closer look at Woods’ selections to look at how he chose to represent men and women and how do the images in each grouping relate to each other.

Here’s some notes from my smartphone:

Men: images of work, sport lounging. Drinking, pubs, boys: ‘In a Huff’
tribes: ‘gangolads’

Women: launderette, nude modelling, at bazaar, w children, Miss Brighton, ladies toilet attendant ‘cutout’ – holding photograph
‘Mother of the cleverest boy in England’
‘Lorna After Waitressing Shift’

Groupings with gesture, eg pairings ‘Two on Bikes’ and ‘Miss Brighton’ pair, and reclining series, backs of women

Visual echoes and symmetry particularly in ‘Women’ section

Afterwards, in the bookshop, I was struck by the cover image on a book called ‘Found photography’ I’ve been working a lot with drawing and cutting out ovals. Seeing this image excited me and reminded me I bought an oval template at Daleys this morning.

Want to get home and play now.

Save The National Media Museum petition:…