BPB14 Looking into the Family Album

My photographic practice is rooted within portraiture, with ideas of interaction, identity, communication and participation at its heart.

I use photography as a tool to articulate experiences about our lives and how we live them, and participation in photography as a way to assert our place in the world and how we choose to represent ourselves. I am continually surprised, inspired and fascinated by the exchanges and responses that collaborations bring.

My affection for the first two plastic 35mm cameras I owned, along with that first taste of documenting and exploring personal experiences with the camera is still a vivid memory. Pouring over the same photograph for hours, remembering or imagining the scenario taking place around that moment was an intoxicating feeling. Photography is an extraordinary tool for self-expression and storytelling. The camera can open up a unique way to communicate and give permission to explore and create new narratives.

Since late 2013 I’ve worked with students from Portslade Academy to explore how they see the world and how the world sees them in relation to the theme of Looking into the Family Album.

Simultaneously James Casey and Alex Buckley worked with students at Brighton Academy on the same theme, we planned collaboratively to share ideas and processes that could work for both groups.

Our starting point was to visit the Jerwood exhibition Family Politics, curated by Photoworks, where students dissected images and ideas through group and individual activities and discussion. During their Christmas holidays we asked them to use disposable cameras to record key moments.

Students used these images, along with photographs from their family albums to begin researching, making portraits and self-portraits in response to real and imagined scenarios. We considered composition, lighting, props, mood, pose, backdrop, documentary and constructing images.

Based on their initial photographs we decided to create a series of tableaux’s to tell stories of the family album – real or fictional. In groups they created large scale painted and collaged backdrops, making props and considered costume. Each took on a different, vital role to make and shoot their final piece. Giving the students an opportunity to choose whether they would be more involved in the making, acting, directing or shooting gave them all a chance to utilise individual skills, at this point their confidence really began to grow.

The photographs explore the different roles photography can play within families and the stories that can be told, real or fictional, commenting on the emotional highs and lows of family life, an argument and the moment of reconciliation, moving house, a family barbecue with a difference, birthdays and Christmas.

Having recently shared and reviewed the photographs with the group after the summer break there were some interesting responses. Mostly they were able to see beyond how they looked individually in the photograph, something that had been an issue when we began making portraits, to see the whole photograph and its story clearly. They comment on “how stylised” each image looked at how “striking, effective and really colourful” they are, “the poses work well, there’s so much going on in it, I keep seeing more every time I look”. Someone commented, “I hadn’t realised how professional it would look, that we could do that, our props look really good”. They were able to look objectively as viewers, to see their stories clearly.