It’s nearly time for me to take my trip to the US, where I will be doing a talk about my artist book Conversations with my mother for a 10x10Photobooks Salon in New York City. I have had some really great support for this project. When I started making it I had no idea if anyone else would be interested – it is such a personal story….But, gradually, with a nudge here and a nudge there, it has become this book. You can see a video of it online here. I have also been featured this month on the EPUK showcase online which tells you more about this image in particular.

This is actually the second time I will have been this year – like busses, adventures seem thin on the ground then all arrive at once. I was able to go to Houston’s Fotofest in March where I met a lot of artists, some of whom live in New York. I am looking forward to catching up with them as well as making new connections – I am busy scheduling in some other appointments while I am there to make the most of the week.

As a result of Fotofest, Caroline Docwra from the Houston Centre of Photography has featured it in the Fall issue of Spot magazine, which you can see online here. I just received some copies of it in the post which means I luckily have some to take with me next week. The thing most difficult about promoting my work in this context is that I cannot send out review copies of my book as I only made an edition of 16. A trip like this is invaluable way to share it and the magazine is a really wonderful thing to have as a resource.


Having missed my friend the day before we reconnected to meet up and do some galleries on Saturday. We ended up doing a variety of shows in East Village and I had a totally different experience going with a New Yorker. The thing that really got me was a show by Matthew Chambers which we managed to get into at 5:55pm – thank you, gallery person, for letting us in. Paintings on – well, flock wallpaper it seemed, but I don’t think it was…but they were…furry… Large scale, bright, intense colours, with a wonderful statement addressed To Whom it May Concern. Huge artist books were out for us to see, pages made of paintings smothered in paint and hauled together into boxes. It was just joyous.

My ‘tour guide’ was artist Jan Staller who I met in Houston at Fotofest…It’s great to be able to re-affirm these new connections. I was also staying with another artist I met there, Kyle Meyer, who does incredible photo weavings…We swapped stories about the year we had had so far.  I have learned a lot from both of them.

When I applied for this bursary it was partly about doing the Salon talk, partly about reinforcing/ making new connections which I could bring back with me, partly about maximising my reach to propel me into my next year. It seemed maybe a bit more linear in my head when I applied…It was only a few months after I had started working as an artist full time, even though I’ve been making work for many years. But as this year draws to a close, and I get more of a sense of what I am doing, I feel what I thought was linearity is less likely – and also, maybe less desirable.

I’ll try and explain.

At the start of the year I had a few things scheduled in – Fotofest in Houston, Art in Action in Oxfordshire and a workshop to lead at The Photographers’ Gallery. At the moment I got this travel award I had these pin-pointed in the year. Finding out I had the bursary just before I got on the plane to Fotofest maybe gave me the extra confidence I needed to walk into the room thinking “I’m coming back in October….” so maybe it helped me straight away. Maybe it gave me the bit of armour that I needed. Someone else agreed I was an artist so it must be true!

I have noticed as I have gone along that each thing I have done in the year – and there were more than those few outlined –  has connected to something else, but rather than see it as a ruler with increments I am inching towards, I began to re-define what I saw/see as progress. Sure, there are highs and gallops to something else….periods of mad activity in which I don’t seem to be able to do anything except grit my teeth and hope I have enough clean laundry to last out. And then there are these fallow times, when it seems nothing is happening. I’m not sure how I get along with those.

My overall purpose for the going on the trip was to raise the profile of my Artist Book and make connections which will reverberate down the line…. I have already met up with publisher Delphine Bedel who I met in New York, and am seeing artist Lucy Helton in January. And going in October meant I could reconnect with those I had already met in March… It’s definitely been about creating a web of friends that reach out far beyond my own horizon…..Its better than email…It’s being available in real time.

I have noticed doing something concrete means I can tell people I am doing it/have done it – a reason to reach out without sounding needy…there is a bona-fide reason for doing so. That is incredibly useful. Just after I got back from New York I went to Brighton where I had been selected for a portfolio review with Photoworks. There I met Alex Straeker from LensCulture, and they published my project on their Spotlight section. Work begets work, or something….

I have also learned a lot about throwing myself into different situations of presenting my work so I am going to finish this post by telling you about another talk I did just this weekend, here in the UK.

I was invited to present my same project at Hothouse, part of the programming collaboration between Manchester’s Redeye and Grain in Birmingham. I thought this could be a good opportunity to explore the possibility of making my introduction to the book a self-contained performance, one that ran alongside my images arranged in an order making more sense for live-screening. This method wouldn’t have been appropriate for the talk in New York.

I practised and practised what I wanted to do…. speaking my introduction in time with the images…including ones which had not made it into the book. I wrote my words down on cards. I rehearsed. I timed. I have done a talk already, so I felt – prepared.

But on the day itself I was completely taken aback as I started to choke while speaking. Although I had also been emotional speaking in New York, I thought maybe I would be more even-keel this time. But it didn’t turn out that way. I could feel myself catching my breath…The audience were amazing. The questions and observations were sensitive. Someone tweeted #radicalsoftness and I think that’s one of the best compliments I have ever had. I googled it to see if it was a thing….

It was permission to show feelings in public.

I am sure language is the layer we put on top of feelings because we can’t talk about feelings….we cover the feeling with words and hope for the best. But the feelings themselves, which are what I am trying to get at, are almost inarticulable. I think that’s what happens to me when I have tried to talk about this project. It’s the feelings coming up and grabbing me round the throat and I can’t speak, even though I have the words. This approach doesn’t suit everyone, but I think it suits me. We look for linearity and progression to mark out in stepping stones, identities formed into shapes we already know. But it’s fluid … being able to sit with that uncertainty is something I constantly work at.


Following on from the Salon in the middle of the week I still had other things left to do while in New York….Meeting people you want to meet is hard – and it’s peculiarly ephemeral. You might or you might not get to meet them at that moment. Maybe you have to wait for another circling of the orbit. There is luck involved. There is persistence. There is having the right piece of work at the right moment. There is being yourself. There is being recommended. I have read interviews with curators where they’ve said “You can meet anyone once if you really want to – it’s meeting them a second time that is hard” and that, to a certain extent is true…

My conclusion is I think I have to find my own way – and it really has to be about the work. Making good work, and being myself. Present, in the moment, responding to what is going on right there. And prepared to wait for something to happen.

Here is a diagram of what happened to me.

Earlier in the Spring I was lucky to be able to visit Fotofest in Houston. It happens every two years and it’s one of the biggest portfolio review events and festivals in the Photography Calendar. The point of going is to meet curators, gallerists and editors who you can show work to, who you hope are going to like it. A connection I made there reverberated over several months, pointing me in the direction of New Haven, which I was able to visit when I took this trip to New York…. a volume of my book has, as a result, become part of the collection at Yale Center for British Art. I didn’t know it was going to happen…I still can’t believe it. I think I am a bit of an imposter. How did I make something ending up there? I feel conflicted – I have made work about my mother dying, about not having children myself.… She would have said: “I like to be useful”… but I can’t help feeling guilty….Circles ripple, circles ripple. What was wonderful about this trip was being able to plan some concrete things I knew were definitely going to happen – like the Salon, and artist-studio visits – and then try to set up the other things that were ‘not fixed’, ‘not sure’, ‘the mights and maybes’…it was permission to try.

The other wonderful thing about this bursary has been seeing so much work without interruption, guilt-free research time in galleries. For the second time this year I felt the huge power of looking at American art in America. It’s totally different to looking at it in the UK. The language makes more sense to me in the landscape it exists within. I saw “Tattoo Doll” by Michele Oka Doner, and an inspirational tea strainer made of silver by Ted Muehling. I was amazed by the doll, covered in the ceramic bumps, as I have been working on a braille-like texture in my own photographic work. I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took photographic research notes of Masks from Papua New Guinea….I climbed to the roof and saw Cornelia Parker’s Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), which was a substantial in-your-face reference to Bates’ Motel and the vernacular barns of America. I recorded the light on the buildings which look like metal patch-work quilts. I drank exceptionally good coffee on Madison Avenue…I thought of my mother. I felt alive….Being emotional is my language….(It was Delphine Bedel who crystallised this for me: I had been describing to her how someone had said – after I put in a proposal: “Your work is very personal….” which I had interpreted in the negative and she said – “But it’s your language.” ”

I wonder how to translate this experience to home. Because the point of making a circle ripple is that someone else feels it.

The next day I practically do what amounts to an “elevator” pitch – talking very fast to someone without taking your coat off, for about as long as it takes to go to another floor, plus a bit.  Despite the speed I think it was a good connection and another ripple on the pond.

Another meeting I had fell through so I ended up in a bookshop specialising in work by and about Jung. I was supposed to meet an artist friend at the Guggenheim, but our emails mis-fired and we end up putting it back until the next day…It was a day of huge highs and average lows. I think that’s OK.


My third day was all about speaking at the 10x10Photobook Salon. Having been to one earlier in the year on my last trip to the US I knew it would be quite informal and a really lovely way of showing the book.

There were four of us presenting our work that evening. Virginie Rebetez with her book Out of the Blue, along with her publisher Delphine Bedel, Lucy Helton and three of her books Actions of Consequence, Transmission and her zine Fire, and me with Conversations with my mother.

There was a very receptive audience… however, it was still quite hard to talk about my work, which is so personal, to a group larger than one-to-one. Having been through it at portfolio reviews I knew this would be emotional – but I think that’s OK: it’s emotional work.

Speaking here was significant: it was my first public talk about this body of work, and I was mindful of this moment. Because I only made 16 editions I can’t send it out for review or awards, and this makes it tricky to get it out there. I didn’t do a Kickstarter…I never intended it for mass distribution but I still want people to know about it…. This Salon was a perfect way to do that – people who are really into photobooks and who take a great interest in them. Each time I show it I think – “that’s my letter to you”. I had some good conversations afterwards that continued well into the evening.

It was also great to show in the context of other wonderful – and very different – books. Virginie Rebetez book explores the disappearance of Suzanne Gloria Lyall, a young woman from Albany (NY). The content of the work creates a multi-layered narrative showing how information about someone who is not there becomes ‘property’, loss, and how we come to know someone through it… Suzanne has never been found. We were very fortunate that Suzanne’s mother was also present at the evening to talk about the work and the process of making it and I am always hugely in awe of how photographers make pieces about others with such sensitivity and tact. It’s a real long-term relationship, and Virginie has made a nuanced and care-full piece of work.

Lucy finished the evening speaking about her three books which I had been lucky enough to see in detail the day before in her studio. I was again reminded about how much the form of the book itself is another medium. I kept thinking of ceramics..the transformation from clay to vessel, and how broad that definition of vessel could be….. the book is a vessel and how that is explored is so exciting….

I have learned a lot this year about communicating this body of work. As I have moved through the last few months I have got less and less attached to needing to do some sort of ‘mass promotion’, which really doesn’t suit me or the work. This Salon was perfect. You can read about the Salon here.



My second day involved going to see artist Lucy Helton, who was also presenting the next night at the same event I was invited to talk at.

Lucy has a studio quite a long way from where I was staying…It was beautiful getting there and I started to get that feeling of hyper-awareness, when you don’t know where you are and everything is more vivid.

It was a shared space occupying the seventh floor of a large warehouse type building. I had come across Lucy’s work at Fotofest earlier that year when I had gone to Houston to undertake the portfolio reviews with my own work. Lucy had work on show as part of the Biennial – the theme was The Future of the Planet – and her work Actions of Consequence was a fictional representation of what earth might look like without human life in 200 years time. I didn’t know Lucy when I first saw it, but I totally loved it and went back to see it three times. I was reminded at the time of how much I had fallen in love with Joan Fontcuberta’s work Stranger than Fiction at the Science Museum, on show in London last year – all about constructing the narrative – and Lucy’s work, using varied viewpoints, sometimes including appropriated imagery of scientific origin – chimed with that for me. Her book, which she made using these images, is immensely good (sold out). The graphic landscapes which strike themselves across double pages have a bleak feel that avoid referencing the sublime of historical landscape painting / Caspar David Friedrich, because the position of the viewer in relation to the space is ambiguous. The special edition comes in a black acrylic case which looks like it dropped straight out of another galaxy. Instead of looking at a distance, we are in a strange world of emptiness.

I was also able to look at Transmission – a book she made using redundant fax machines (also sold out). This is presented in a cardboard tube reminiscent of time capsules. It is a great piece of work. Well thought out, articulate, form chiming with content. Again, like I said in a previous post, I think it’s interesting sometimes what I drift towards as something to enjoy because it is often completely different to what I make myself. Here minimal colours and a well thought out encyclopaedic approach is at the opposite end of the spectrum to my all-out-there-heart-on-the-sleeve textural making.

I really enjoyed sharing my work with Lucy. It was a bit like an impromptu crit and, like the day before with Elaine, it’s immensely nourishing to get input from people who quickly understand where you are coming from and give you some new references.

There is a difference for me showing work in England and showing work in America. I can’t really describe what it is exactly, but there is something about being out of my comfort zone that makes me less self-conscious…. more…. fearless maybe. It’s like, you’ve arrived from thousands of miles away, you’re not sure of the protocols, so you just kind of….ask. I don’t do that so much in the UK. I think that’s the point of residencies too – to be out of what is familiar, to be more open to some possibilities. It’s a bit like learning to read – there are the moments when you know that you are communicating, because you are saying the right words in the right order, but the sense of everything seems one step removed – like there is a pane of glass in the way.

It turned out Lucy will be visiting my home town early next year so we can meet up and I can show her where I work. A great coincidence.

Later on I also meet Delphine Bedel, a publisher presenting a new book she has worked on by Virginie Rebetez – both of them will be speaking at the same Salon as Lucy and myself. I have finally begun to make broad connections between groups of people that I have been getting to know over many years. Delphine is someone I actually met a few years ago at Photobook Bristol but I had not joined up the dots. World is big/big/small/small. Virginie has made a very moving piece entitled Out of the blue, about a young woman who just vanished one day and was never found. It’s an extraordinary story and a really interesting use of photography, playing on the way in which psychics use images of missing people to create narratives that lead in all directions.

I am really excited about this next bit coming up in my week in New York, which is all about presenting my own artist book Conversations with my mother at the Photobook Salon for 10x10Photobooks. I feel more confident about this now I have arrived and am really happy about being amongst the other book-artists. All very different practices with fascinating stories. I am also reinvigorated about exploring the book as an art form – seeing the physicality of Lucy’s book made with a fax machine in particular has been very inspiring…I am also now thinking of the ways I could go back to my work Consumed, photocopies of my mother’s food and perishables that I have been making for 4 years. This is something I am pretty sure is destined for a book…. today has really inspired me to go back and start playing about with some dummy ideas.


There are moments for me when its very much like a sunbeam breaking through a cloud – when something suddenly makes sense – even though it might have been said to me before.

This happened when I went to see one of my favourite artists as well as a Master Printer that she works with, who both gave me valuable advice.

Elaine Reichek makes work which incorporates embroidery, exploring themes which I find endlessly fascinating – often using myth to articulate contemporary concerns, making stitch marks that reference all kinds of language and ways of thought that really chime with me. In her beautiful live-work space she had pieces on the wall which were often about different forms of writing in stitch, using morse code for example. It was inspiring to meet someone who is such a significant pioneer and part of my education as an artist… I went to see her because I wanted to get a sense of the possibilities from someone who uses stitch as a conceptual mark. I showed her my artist book which incorporates a lot of mark-making by hand, and the new things I was working on…. I have felt a real need to get some sort of feedback on the notes I am scratching out, feeling my way around work so different to what I used to make when I was doing my MA….feedback from someone with huge knowledge, a historical awareness that will help me establish what has come before and where I sit …because when I make I want to locate myself. I want to know that the things that I am making have some anchors, little hooks to other things which stop them bobbing about on the sea. The recent pieces I have been making always make people say ‘tattoo’. I want to think about that in more detail. Something I read on body modification a few months ago made me question what I was doing and I wanted to think through a particular idea more deeply. I talked about it with Elaine and she pointed me in the direction of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Although I have thought about his character of Hester Prynne before I did not know of the historical reference to William Prynn, a man who was branded across the face with SL – seditious libel. This has given me some new things to think about….It was a real privilege to talk to her.

We also talked about the difference between then and now – and how this has changed…Sometimes it seems like an insurmountable task….I just want to bury myself in making work.. I know it’s impossible to think like that.

A lot of what I do starts out as a ‘test’. Then I realise I really like it, but I did it ‘just to test’. Then there is this moment when you have to gulp and do it not ‘like a test’ but trust that it’s going to be worth it. I think that moment is now.

I’d like to think more about my meeting with Elaine and come back to it later…. it was very significant to me but I really need to think more about it before I write in detail.

Afterwards I went to see Judith Solodkin at Solo Impressions. Judith is a Master Printer and does some incredible work, collaborating with artists to make multiples of their unique works, often using embroidery. This was why I wanted to see her – much of my work (almost all) is now comprised of the unique object. It has posed a problem with a number of my embroidered pieces that form part of my book, Conversations with my mother. I don’t want to split them but often get asked about them. I want to keep the project together, to show it as one…I don’t know if this makes me too anxious. Judith said I had displacement anxiety about the editioning / not editioning conundrum, which made me laugh. She said: “You can do what you want as an artist….didn’t you know that?” I do love just looking at practical things like thread and drying racks. It’s very soothing…

I finished the day with managing to squeeze in a trip to the Whitney. Although I did enjoy the photographs included in a section of portraits from their permanent collection, it was their special exhibition on Carmen Herrera that I found really entrancing that afternoon. I am curious about my tastes in things I like to look at, often preferring real abstraction – which I find most strange considering what I make myself. I have wondered if it means I am cleansing my mind of noise when I look at it…certainly when I do a lot of work in the studio myself I feel like I have something akin to Snow Blindness, pin-pricking white paper with a needle, and I like to soak in colour when I look at other things.