Awaking early from a nightmare about a painful estrangement from a brother.
Come on, come on, get up, we have to go out.
The three of us, escaping into the pale morning sun, I need to walk it away.

I think about…

– Ellie talking about journeying and grief.

– Werner Herzog talking about walking as a way of being, as an act of faith.

– An episode of Friends – in which Phoebe proudly presents a framed photograph of the man she thinks is her father to her friends, not realising her mother had lied to her and had given her a picture of a model. Phoebe doesn’t want to wake up from this lie.

– A couple of years ago, I put a photo of me, jumping, next to a photo of my mother, running. What is happening in the photo of my mother? I don’t know, I haven’t asked. I know what’s happening in the photo of me. What did I mean by putting these images together? I don’t know.

– My table of fragments. Photos, drawings, collages – the autobiographical, the found and the fictional – I move them around, combine and re-combine. Its an evolving collage with ever changing meanings. I discover a personal iconography through years of doing this, repeatedly and obsessively. Hands, birds, trees. A technique for using with others? We are going to try this. Will others find their own personal imagery?

– Rosy Martin talking about using found images:
‘Found images can be used to demonstrate the narrative potential of photographs, and how all photographs are fictions. As chosen moments, edited out from the continuum of everyday life, or highly constructed presentations to the camera, framed extracts from the visual field, all photographs are constructions’ From ‘Re-enactment phototherapy’ in ‘Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age’ (Routledge, 2013, Edited by Del Loewenthal)

-M the art therapist, saying to me that she firmly believes people have the tools they need to do the personal work they need to do to transform their lives. Her job is not to interpret, but to create the conditions to allow this work to happen.

-What makes something art and not just therapy?
‘Personal stories provide a context through which we can identify with our experiences, create meaning and communicate with others’:Mike Simons, ‘A creative photographic approach’ in Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age’ (Routledge, 2013, Edited by Del Loewenthal)

Into my head comes these words:
I put this
Moment here.
I put this moment here.
I put this moment

“Over here!
“Over here!


We walk.


Family photography: Archives, albums and groupings

Going back this weekend to finish ‘Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age’ (Ed Loewenthal) I read an intriguing chapter by Rodolfo de Bernart, who is professor of Family Therapy in Psychiatry at University of Siena (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zrynb86fxK8)

The essay, entitled ‘The photographic genogram and family therapy’ discusses techniques de Bernart has devised for students and clients of family therapy involving selecting and working with groups of family photographs for the purpose of tracing the ‘internal image of the family’. De Bernart discusses the ‘visual channel’ – the power of images, and the potential in using them (photographs, specifically in this case) in therapeutic situations.
The techniques involve asking individuals to select around thirty photographs from their personal family archives which represent the dynamics of their family in across at least three generations. Selecting a group of images over time, suggests de Bernart, allows for a longitudinal observation of an individual and their place within their family. De Bernart talks about the analysis of non-verbal behaviour being useful in uncovering the ‘unofficial’ story of the family – and searching for what is ‘not shown’. Using this method, patterns and repetitions can be identified and create ‘hypotheses on family members’ roles and functions, and emotional links in the family’ can be identified. Omissions, absences, and proportions of photographs at certain ages, gestures, all help to build a significant picture of a family, to be brought to use in therapy.

Reading this chapter reminded me of my recent visit to the National Photography Collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford where I viewed a number of family albums from the 19th early 20th century from the Kodak Collection. I was struck, by the varying ways these albums were constructed and presented: the sequencing, editing, annotation and visual style presentation, as well as gaps and omissions, all gave a vivid and intriguing picture of the album maker and the narratives they were telling of their family. Ranging from hand-made albums with drawn and painted backgrounds (a fantastically elaborate and witty example is Catherine Mary Woods’s album from around 1860 – a page can be seen here http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/Collection/P…) and detailed and precise annotation, to scrawled notes and half empty pages, the albums spoke clearly across time of their makers. What also interested me was when there was deviation from the conventions and rules of each album.. when captioning is abandoned, or there are changes in the kind of photographs shown, or gaps, or photographs removed.. the album suddenly becomes more human, idiosyncratic, revealing. A story begins to happen.
I was especially fascinated by ‘no.114 Kodak Album: Cabinet 13 Drawer 2’ – a hand made album presenting a dual history of Phyllis and Neville from birth to age 17. Phyllis on the left, Neville on the right hand page: at 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, then a page for every year until 17 years. The album had been made, captioned and put together with great care. Some images contain visual echoes in posture/gesture/environment. In contracting the album in this parallel way, what story was the maker telling? Were Phyllis and Neville siblings? Was he/she aware of, or even commenting on cultural gender differences and the differing representation of boys and girls? Why were some photographs missing, particularly of Neville, in his later teenage years? The album seems poignant in ways I can’t put my finger on.. and I plan to come back, and look again.

How these albums collections are sequenced, organised and presented and the impact this has on meaning, brings me back to what I’ve been doing with Nana’s archive of photographs from our family – experimenting with different sequences and themed groupings and pairings (eg single sex groupings; siblings; family meals; gestural groupings) in my studio, and also on the private blog I’ve set up to share the archive with the rest of the family.

The narratives and stories we can make with our family photographs…what they can mean, what they can do..


… Continued from last post

..So for a few weeks I didn’t have the mental space or time to actively process the sessions. I quickly realised that I was going need longer than the original timescale I had set myself ( 3 months) to have time to reflect/follow up on research before my second round of meetings. Luckily a-n were really flexible and understanding when I contacted them about this and agreed to extending my schedule until the end of August. Lesson learnt for next project – allocate myself enough time to think!

It is impossible to describe everything of value that was said, or trace any kind of linear path from conversation to progression/action, and I have written about some of the specifics of these sessions in earlier posts, but I can probably summarise key things that came out of the first sessions as the following

– thinking about the reach of my work, and realising that locating my practice exclusively within a DIY context was potentially limiting

– looking at developing a wider context for my practice – eg developing connections with people working in other disciplines, researching beyond art writing and practices, and looking at other potential sources of funding

– looking at a wider potential focus for the family photography project, involving participatory work and knowledge co-production.

Having a breathing space between the first and second round of discussions enabled me to digest, follow up on the above , and prepare with greater focus for the final meetings. A lot happened in this time in terms of developing the above, particularly in developing the family photography project as a potential ACE application.
With each artist I decided to focus on one particular area: with Andy Abbott, discussion of routes to and experiences of Phd’s (this may be a future possibility) with Caroline Hick nailing down the concepts and framework of the family photography project, and Sarah Spanton, feedback and suggestions on the ACE form, particularly on evaluation.

I found the experience of the Re:view sessions to be an interesting and illuminating microcosm of my investigations into the nature of exchange. As such, I’m seeing the process as a part of my research. I found the most valuable sessions were those that were based on equal and open dialogue. Conversation, rather than a bestowal of advice, is what I value and what moves my practice onwards: being able to discuss and explore ideas in an equitable way, in which there is no sense of hierarchy. It is this quality of exchange that is fundamental, for me, to having a useful and valuable experience Seeing and defining the Re:view bursary as a peer-to-peer, rather than a mentoring process, is key. Having these quality, equitable dialogues with Sarah and Caroline have re-animated, strengthened and enriched my connections with both artists and have led to current and future plans to collaborate.

I could say so much more about how the bursary has developed my work – but I’ll be here forever, and also, in I don’t fully know yet. I’m sure the process of reflection and learning generated by my meetings will still be happening months down the line.

Getting a Re:view bursary has more than met my expectations and my aims. Having the opportunity to talk in detail about my work, covering all the areas I specified in my application, means that I’m now much more clear, confident and focussed in my practice and where I want to go with it.

I’ve been galvanised by the process and I’m now pretty much ready for anything. So time to get on with it!

Thank you a-n.


Last week I had the final two of my Re:view meetings. This brings an end to the bursary period, which began in April. I’ve been blogging here throughout this process but wanted at this end point, to summarise and attempt to evaluate the experience as a whole.

I thought it would be helpful to look back at what I wanted to achieve with the bursary. Here’s what I wrote in my application:

“My application is to critically review a current research and practice-based project investigating ideas of gift, generosity and reciprocity. The project began 6 months ago as an open-ended exploration into what these ideas meant for me in my life and art practice, and have found expression through a series of conversations, collaborations, research, online projects and artworks… I hope… to develop my knowledge of methodologies in participatory and collaborative working and co-research which I then can apply to my own projects; and to critically discuss ethics and politics of participation (including power, ownership, access, hierarchy, authorship) which will help me to identify the socio-political contexts I want to locate my practice (e.g. co-operative or critical in relation to market and state institutions ). This process I hope will enable me to better define and articulate my practice, in spoken and written contexts, and increase my likelihood of accessing other opportunities: e.g. residencies, commissions, collaborative projects and potential funding streams. I would particularly like to gain some practical support and advice with an application to ACE. I would also envisage the process will lead to signposting to new areas of research, access to new contacts and networks in art, communities and education, and expanded local knowledge of the networks and communities I hope to work with. Finally these sessions will lead to strengthened links and relationships with my mentors which can continue in the future in the form of more informal dialogue.”

I chose three artists working in Bradford and Leeds, where my own practice is based, across a spread of practices within broadly defined ‘socially engaged’ contexts: Caroline Hick, Sarah Spanton and Andy Abbott. I chose artists I have connections with and/or have worked with in different capacities but with whom I would not normally have the opportunity for formal, focussed review with. I elected to have two meetings with each artist.

In the first sessions, I used the above text as the basis for discussion, circulating it to the artists beforehand. As expected, these first meetings began with a broad discussion of my work and concerns, then moving onto talk about a number of ongoing and planned projects, including: a collective blog,(http://wurblog.wordpress.com) 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) and a series of gift economy projects/actions in empty shop spaces. With each of the artists, the focus was slightly different: with Sarah Spanton discussion included structures and ethos behind the skills exchange projects we were each involved in ( Sarah is co-founder of Leeds Creative TimeBank), as well as intersections between art and activism, with Andy Abbott the discussion was more focussed on DIY practices and politics, and collective working, and with Caroline Hick on fundamental questions: what motivates me? what am I the agent of? who is my work for? As well as an exploration of the potential of using my Nana’s archive to explore a wider, less personal project.
Because my focus was so wide, I felt quite overwhelmed by the depth and range of discussion generated from these first sessions ( Though I was encouraged, through looking at blogs by other Re:view recipients to discover that this was a common experience). These first meetings also took place at a time when I was very busy with a number of projects – including planning and running Bradford Baked Zines http://bradfordbakedzines.wordpress.com/ a week-long popup zine shop and event series with the Loosely Bound zine collective, and planning and carrying out the first Wur gift circle at the DIY Symposium in Bradford with fellow Wur bloggers Ivan and Georgia Mack.

Continued next post…


Been reading ‘Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age’ (Ed Del Loewenthal) this week – the book was kindly suggested by fellow a-n blogger Rodney Dee (www.a-n.co.uk/p/2422257) who is studying for an MA in Art Psychotherapy at Roehampton. I also met with M, an art psychotherapist based in Rochdale, who an art therapist friend put me in touch with.

The book is really tremendous. I was especially pleased to read an essay by Rosy Martin, who developed photo re-enactment techniques with the late Jo Spence. Martin has developed these tecniques further since Spence’s death in 1992 and uses it within her own practice. I am delighted to discover Martin’s work in this area, as when I first discovered the joint work by Spence and Martin via Spence’s book ‘Putting Myself in The Picture’ it had a big impact on me. That was way back on my Foundation course in 2001. Martin has written a fantastic article on their and her practices which can be found here

The meeting with M was also really valuable – talking about her practice with photographer both as a fine artist and an art therapist. We talked around the possibility of her being involved in the knowledge sharing part of the family photography project I’m developing. I’m very pleased that she is interested in the project and is going to think about it.

I showed her some autobiographical work I had done with one of my own photographs (of myself at 8 years old) and also the exhibition catalogue from Fotomanias 2011 showing the collaborative photography project I did with my mum

On my foundation course, I made a book called ‘1978’, using an image of myself taken in a photobooth. The image was printed on tracing paper, on each page, becoming fainter with each turn of the page until it almost disapears. Although the book is quite crudely executed (I was just learning) this, I realise now it is a significant piece, marking the beginning of my explorations of personal and family photographs in my work, which has taken me up to this point.

I’ll tell the story of the photo in my next post.