First DFA post

There’s no requirement or expectation to keep a public journal for the UEL DFA programme, but, as I found it both a useful discipline and a handy repository for ideas on the Falmouth MA programme, I’m going to resume periodic posting. The principal outcome of the first year of the programme is the development of a research proposal, so I will document that here. The programme is, however, practice-based, so the journal will also follow the development of my work more broadly. One of my objectives for the programme is to bring closer together my recent photographic/artistic work and my earlier academic/professional work. A sense of where I’m coming from and where I might be heading is given in my application statement. The programme starts on 27th September.

DFA application statement

My work explores the entanglement of the human and the non-human at a specific moment in time and in a particular place, invoking imagined and enacted pasts and futures. I move between analogue and digital forms of image-making, manipulation and distribution, and juxtapose images with text, documents, maps, accounts, soundscapes and artefacts. In producing the work, I create contexts within which I can work alongside other participants in a manner that is ethical, sustainable, respectful and of mutual benefit. What we learn from each other enhances what is produced and vice versa. I am particularly committed to inter-disciplinary and inter-professional work, and the exploration of what the arts can bring distinctively to enhancing understanding and supporting effective social action.

My involvement with photography stems back to working as a child model at the age of four (payment, four guineas a session). From that staring point, hanging around in studios, playing with cameras and lights and dabbling in the darkroom, I have produced my own photographic images, with both analogue and digital capture, processing and presentation, and have entwined this with my professional work as teacher and academic, for instance, working with the Blackfriars Photography Workshop to involve primary school children in photographic image making, running photography workshops for trainee teachers and using photography in social research (including two co-authored social research books with sections on the use and analysis of images).

The nature of my work can be illustrated by my MA final major project (FMP), completed earlier in 2020 (awarded distinction). The images submitted for the FMP are part of a wider programme of work which seeks to explore community engagement with urban regeneration in east London though three forms of image making: (i) images made by residents in the exploration of their life-worlds, experiences and aspirations in changing urban environments; (ii) collaborative image-making with community and activist groups to build a repository of images for advocacy; (iii) my own images made as a personal (lyrical) response to regeneration projects in east London. The Covid-19 pandemic measures required substantial revision to the latter stages of the project. Considering the form that community focussed art might take in a post/perpetual pandemic world will be one of the themes addressed in my DFA related work.

The three sets of images submitted as FMP outcomes are from the third strand of image making: my own response to three areas undergoing extensive development in Barking. The public outcomes, in the form of a series of workshops, presentations, pop-up exhibitions and production of archive boxes of prints, maps, soundscapes, handmade books and documents, present these images in the context of the wider project and relate them directly to the places they explore. A principal objective in the development of this programme of work was to create a meaningful, challenging and productive context in which to learn and develop my practice through the production of a diverse range of forms of images, both individually and collaboratively. This is reflected in the ways in which I have chosen to present the work, which emphasises Wright’s (2018) notion of ‘usership’ (see Toward a Lexicon of Usership); a blurring of the distinction between producers and consumers which challenges established practices of spectatorship, expertise and ownership in the arts. I also sought to explore the materiality of prints and alternative ways of engaging with photographic work. Although the FMP focused on a specific locale, the project as whole addresses wider contemporary photographic and artistic practice.

I am applying for the DFA programme in order to develop my practice further in dialogue with other experienced practitioners from across the arts and other disciplines, and to continue to explore the relationship between theory (from a range of disciplines) and practice in the arts. I found dialogue with other practitioners in my MA programme very productive. In particular, I wish to bring my art practice and my professional and academic expertise and experience (particularly in relation to pedagogy, research and lifelong learning) closer together. UEL provides a particularly apposite setting for this work, as I live in Redbridge, have been selected for the London Creative Network Artist Development Scheme based at SPACE Ilford, and am carrying out work in Hackney, Newham and Barking and Dagenham (including the Shed Life project in Barking, in collaboration with UEL architecture students, and featured on the UEL website). I have links with arts and community projects in the outer boroughs of east London (for example, producing images for Eastside Community Heritage and the Thames Ward Community Project, and exhibiting at Everyone Everyday and Studio 3 Arts). I have close links with higher and further education in east London, for example as a governor of Barking and Dagenham College and as Chair of the Board of UCL Consultants. Through the DFA programme I hope to diversify, enrich and refine my practice and to produce a coherent and intellectually informed body of artistic work with particular relevance for the community, and to collaborate with others to make a tangible contribution to art practice at and around UEL.