Accidental collage

The studio table has to be a mess. A real mess. There are accidents, waiting to happen.

I was sat here for days this week, moving things around, too consciously. Trying to ‘make’ mages. It was torturous, ineffectual, there was no spark. Nothing worked.

Now, a day I decide to have a sort out, I tip all the pieces of paper I’ve collected and cut out from the boxes I keep them in, and onto the table. Found images from magazines and books, cut out bodies and parts of bodies from photocopies of family photographs, fragments of text and drawings. At first, it’s chaos. I can’t find anything. I feel a rising frustration. Have I totally lost my mojo?

But then, I take a seat, and I start to really look.

A woman, walking away, into the faces of some school children in a torn school photograph, next to a photocopied fragment of a house. A cut out hand from a magazine on a rephotograph of a child’s folded hands.
Me and uncle Gerry standing in a book illustration of a rural landscape. An archway, a window, weirdly skewered against a tree

The table stops being hopeless chaos, and becomes charged, animated. There is no fixing, or sticking, – these pieces of things must be free to wander, be found, meet others. Meaning will be made. Then re-made when the boxes are tipped out again.The process, not a final image, is what’s important.

I am not ‘doing’. I just try to create conditions for the accidental collisons. i.e. make a mess. That’s easy!

I will just try to ‘see’ what’s there. All I do is document what happens this time around. And be ready for the next.


My Portfolio Review session at Impressions Gallery on Friday, with exhibiting photographer Melanie Friend and Head of Programming Pippa Oldfield, has given me much to think about over the weekend.
Although I am very interested in Melanie Friend’s work, and found her current exhibition The Home Front (…) which explores the presentation of war as entertainment very powerful, I hadn’t thought of applying for a review session. I don’t think of myself as a photographer, rather as an artist who works with photography in a variety of ways. Most recently, with my project WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN this has focussed on using family snaps and archive material as source material for making new images and objects. I was encouraged by gallery staff on a recent visit, however, to apply, and was given a slot.

I wasn’t sure what to show Melanie and Pippa, as my work in this area has been diverse, from photo collages, to rephotographing to ‘re-enacted’ photographs to collaborative photo dialogue to representations of archive images, to installation work. In the end, I took a selection of images from each category, in different formats; an exhibition catalogue, images on a laptop, as well as some prints and some original photocollages.

Melanie and Pippa were both extremely friendly and positive, gave my work their full attention and made many thoughtful and useful comments.
Both of them said they were intrigued by the work, though looking at it as a body of work, felt it was quite disparate, due to the range of aesthetic strategies and approaches I was using. Both said they were looking for a narrative, way in, to understand the work but that this wasn’t immediately obvious. Melanie asked about some of the photo collage images and the use of images of my father, and the personal experiences behind these. She felt that these experiences of loss (my dad died when I was 9) as a subject matter for a body of work were resonant, and would have power for other people. She said the questions she asks are – what are you communicating? what do you want to say? who do want to reach? She suggested that stepping back from the personal, and trying to spend some time writing about my motivations/intentions might be valuable in gaining some insights into the ‘whys’ of my making.

Pippa commented that her responses to my work were as a curator/programmer, and so seeing the work in the form of an output – exhibition,publication etc, was what she naturally did, but that she didn’t want to discourage my experimental approaches or to ‘box in’ what I was doing. She also asked about whether I did or might see performance as part of the work. This surprised me, but has made me think. Both were interested in the provisional, and ‘unfixed’ nature of some of my photo collages, and how this echoes the fluid meaning-making that goes along with using and interpreting family photographs. Pippa asked if I had thought of filming/animating the process of continual moving around of collage elements, and suggested exploring this as possible more meaningful way to present my ideas, rather than a static, ‘final’ image. We talked about projections, slideshows, the possibility of incorporating sound and text, but also the importance of the materiality of the images.. the physicality of cutting up, placing together.
We also talked about the research aspect of the work, and my intention to use some of the aesthetic strategies in collaborative work with others. Both suggested that although my participatory work would inform my own making, it might be good to keep these two practices separate for now. Both suggested spending some more time developing each body of work, and finding the right time and mental/emotional space to do it in. Pippa suggested looking at some artists working with photographs as objects, including those showing in the 2009 exhibition “The Photocgraphic Object’ at The Photographer’s Gallery, and also Farhad Ahrarnia and Carolle Bentitah (…)

I was really glad to have had this conversation with Melanie and Pippa. It was extremely valuable to have their responses to my work at this point when I have some time (still off sick with broken finger) to think, write, make.


Had a successful operation to mend my broken finger a couple of weeks ago, followed by a week in an arm splint, then stitches out yesterday. It’s taken a while to recover from the effects of the general anaesthetic – but I’m feeling a more myself now. The scar is a bit Frankenstein-looking, the finger is still fragile, and I cant use it for another 3-4 weeks, but luckily I have use of the other fingers on my right hand now.

I have so missed being able to make – it’s been so long – and have been so looking forward to the day I have energy to be in the studio.

Today was that day. So good to sit at the table, move things around, get activated again.

Happy too, that I have a portfolio review session at Impressions Gallery in Bradford next week with photographer Melanie Friend and Pippa Oldfield, Head of Programme at Impressions. Friend’s current exhibition at the gallery, The Home Front is excellent (…) and I am looking forward to hearing her, and Pippa’s responses on the photographic work I have been doing for WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN.