A Year in Photographs

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A year ago I spotted a tweeted challenge from my friends Jan and Chris at the Caravan Gallery. It was the first of 52 weekly photo challenges to be set by fifty-two accomplished photographers from a project unsurprisingly named 52 by 52, the brain child of designer David Gillett. I joined the community of 52 by 52 members, and over the course of a year we interpreted each photographer’s challenge in whichever way we felt appropriate and submitted a weekly(ish) photo to the project’s Flickr group.

As I have always lacked the necessary levels of discipline, dedication and commitment to keep a diary I am phenomenally proud to now have a year of my life archived in photographs. The 52 by 52 experience has had a huge impact on my creative practice and I feel the need to reflect on what I have learnt, my lasting thoughts and my favourite bit of the project.

52 Weeks of Learning

I have learnt to be braver with my photography both in terms of subject and sharing images. I use my camera in my professional life as a tool to document the projects that I work on but did originally specialize in fine art photography in my art college days. 52 by 52 has opened up the myriad of genres between these two tried and tested approached and encouraged me to be a photographic explorer of the world. I have discovered the sheer joy and pleasure of image making which I don’t think was there before; I have an insatiable desire to find the magic in ordinariness which reflecting on the year seems to be the theme connecting each of my 52 images.

The need for dedication, the time restricted nature of the project and the presence of an immensely supportive 52 community has encouraged me to have the confidence to share images that I’m not 100% happy with. For a control freak this has been a steep learning curve but has led me to view the way that I use Flickr differently too; it’s no longer my intention to present a polished portfolio of images but to create an open sketchbook of work in progress.

52 Weeks of Pondering

My lasting thoughts/memories from participating in 52 by 52 relate more to the experience offunctioning as a member of an online community and less to the completion of each challenge in terms of creating an image. In some respects taking the photo was the easy bit and the real skill of the project was contributing to the peer critique of other member’s submissions. I really enjoyed the camaraderie that built within the group as the project progressed and was surprised by the familiarity and sociability that grew through interaction that was limited to the written word.

I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of other member’s comments and intrigued by our shared understanding of the unwritten rules of online etiquette. We traded in appreciation and recognition and used our intuition to construct feedback that was supportive and helpful to each other.  Personally through avoiding flippant ‘great photo’ comments I learnt to be more perceptive and disciplined when offering feedback and invested the time to really consider what worked or didn’t work in the photos that I critiqued.

The discussion function on Flickr has also highlighted the democratic potential of online spaces for me. A total of 81 discussions were posted and responded to over the course of the year which gave the project multiple voices.   I’m keen to see if I can integrate the sense of openness and sharing that this type of interaction creates into my offline projects. I am currently experimenting by using a Flickr group to support a programme of offline photo-walks to encourage conversation between meets and to contribute to the planning of future routes and I am excited to see if there will be some positive or unexpected outcomes as a result.

52 Weeks of Favourites

Choosing a favourite challenge is a challenge in itself as the majority have opened up opportunities for eccentric behaviour, random encounters and full on adventures. Image making high points have included playing with light sabres after dark, stalking buskers, caravans and giant kangaroos, being pelted with custard, meeting Father Christmas and discovering a suppressed passion for railway architecture.

I am torn between two challenges as my absolute, unmitigated favourite and will therefore have to declare a tie for first place. The first is #40, set by Chloe Dewe Mathews, ‘The painter Bonnard said “Make little lies to tell a great truth”. Use that as your inspiration.’

My response was to use a Polaroid camera, which I had found in a charity shop, to add instant nostalgia to an image created in the present. Using real film reminded me of the fundamental principles involved in making an image and the value of creating something tangible. It was such a thrill to see the image develop and even more of a thrill to discover a whole community of Polaroid photographers through fellow member Meredith.

Challenge #48, set by Simon Roberts, ‘Take a photograph of an event. Focus on putting it in the context of the landscape and those watching,’ is joint favourite for similar reasons. I was really lucky to have the opportunity to visit Simon’s exhibition We English and was enthralled both by the scale of his work and the minute details held within. His use of a large format camera to create images reinforced the idea of reconnecting with the fundaments of image making. I made a conscious effort to slow down and although I shot my response in digital I tried to take an analogue approach and was really pleased with the results.

The legacy of 52 by 52 is a renewed passion for photography and I am determined to make a return to my darkroom days which will no doubt influence the future direction of my work. I am immensely grateful to David Gillett for creating such an inspiring project and unselfishly devoting every spare moment of his time to it. Bravo!

You can view my year in photographs here

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The Curious Case of the Golden Closet

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On a crisp autumnal morning at an hour almost early enough for the birds still to be asleep in their nests, the Moveable Museum of Found Objects (the offline product of my online project We Found Art) set off on another adventure. Its destination was Oakham in the tiny county of Rutland; a piece of middle England sandwiched in between Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire. Its mission was to both demonstrate the creative potential of social media and to ‘show and tell’ We Found Art’s learning journey.

As the museum’s adventures are often accompanied by the need for extreme towing skills and advanced manoeuvring techniques I enlisted the help of two of the project’s biggest fans to take responsibility for navigation and driver support. Val and Colin Smith (aka Mum and Dad) stepped up to the mark and also provided travel sweets which was an unexpected bonus! On arriving at Oakham C of E Primary School we were allocated a superior spot to pitch up on in the car park which didn’t involve the previous challenges of the North Sea, black ice or steep gradients which was a huge relief!

With the caravan support team despatched to explore the town I prepared to welcome 80+ pupils to explore the Museum’s collection of found objects and to find out more about its origins as an online project. My visit was part of a day of creative activities to launch the school’s ‘Telling our Learning Stories’ project, developed in partnership with The Mighty Creatives. The project’s aim is to explore the different ways in which the school community can capture and tell their learning stories through creating a group of young learning documenters. These young people will be supported to develop new approaches using ICT and social media which will eventually be rolled out across the school.

During the day pupils visited the Moveable Museum in groups of five; they peeped into cupboards with awe and wonder, admired the 70s inspired decor and asked many, many questions about caravan logistics. The hands-down winner of ‘favourite object of the day’ was a match attack card found in a muddy puddle closely followed by a skeletal bird’s leg brought home in a lunch box. It was however the photographic gallery in the Golden Closet that created unprecedented interest; it seemed to have magical powers, igniting the curiosity of the young visitors and drawing them in. There were several pupils who accidentally shut themselves inside the gilded gallery as they admired photographs of Mablethorpe and I soon realised that I needed to count each group out.

Many of the staff and young people that I met throughout the course of the day shared their stories of their own collections and I was also introduced to Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) which I got quite excited about! I was also thrilled to be offered found objects and although We Found Art is no longer accepting postal submissions I am hoping that there may be an influx of uploads to the project’s Flickr group (www.flickr.com/groups/wefoundart).