Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship Award 2012
In mid-January I made an early morning journey from Scotland by train to London, having been shortlisted for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship. I was on my way to an interview being held in Westminster to meet a panel who would decide if I would be successful or not in my application.
The Trust was established in 1965 on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, and is seen as a living memorial, annually awarding people from across the UK Fellowships to travel overseas to study or gain experience for their profession or their community.
My own proposal was to spend 5-6 weeks travelling across the US to study the rise in popularity of historical photographic processes such as wet-plate collodion, and to do this by interviewing practitioners from LA to San Francisco, from the Mid-West to New York. It was an ambitious plan to cross the continent of America and also visit the museums and galleries which have been dealing with this re-emergence, and to learn more from the US, which has a far more sophisticated and established photography market than here in Europe.
I arrived at the interview running slightly late, having come from another meeting in London with a former director of Magnum, however luckily the other candidates were running slightly behind schedule, so I had time to gather my thoughts and calm my nerves before meeting the panel.
Eventually the fateful time arrived, and I was escorted through and took my seat in front of the three interviewers and the Director General of the Trust, Major-General Jamie Balfour who introduced me. One thing that I had not expected was to be interviewed by one of the most prominent former Fellows of the Trust, Nick Danziger – a photographer whose work I deeply admire, who travelled in disguise across asia for 18 months, taking some of the most hard hitting images of poverty I have ever seen, experiences which were later published in his book Danziger’s Travels. His work documenting the Iraq war from within the corridors of power are also incredibly revealing, with his images of George Bush and Tony Blair being some of the most iconic of the last decade.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t however have time to ask him a thousand questions, and concentrated on the task at hand, which was answering theirs. Firstly I was asked to explain the aims of my project, and how it would benefit both me personally and professionally as well as the UK community – with a variety off questions from “why is it important to preserve these processes?” right through to impossible questions such as “what is the current number of glass-plate images in collections in the UK today?”.
The questions came in thick and fast, and I stood my ground, giving the best answers I could, knowing that Nick is incredibly familiar with photographic developments in the UK and would have the ability to ask me a huge variety of very specific questions. The final round of questions centered on my itinerary, and I was asked by Jeremy Soames (the grandson of Sir Winston) how I intended to carry out my Fellowship. After this it was over, and exhausted I left the room feeling slightly dejected but glad it was over.
A few weeks have passed since then, however yesterday I received a wonderful letter from the trust congratulating me, and awarded me a Fellowship. To say that I’m excited is an understatement, however the real work is now only just beginning as I plan my journey across the US as well as to Europe and beyond.
It is an exciting time for wet plate collodion photography, and with the emergence in full swing across the world, I hope to be able to meet and work with those who are leading the revival, and to bring these lessons back to the UK and share them with the wider community.
Find out more at www.wcmt.org.uk
Year in Review 2011
It’s that time of year when I cast my mind back over the previous 12 months and try and figure out how exactly I managed to spend my time. I find it useful to take a few moments to pause for reflection, and to try and make sense of the years events.
2011 has been a strange year, and one that has kept me constantly guessing as to what will happen next. It’s been a year of uncertainty, but also a year which has brought success as well as some interesting twists and turns.
Sonnets, Interviews & Exhibitions
I made the conscious choice to put the Sonnets series (of which I had been working on since 2005) to the side, and concentrate for the time being on other projects. Interest in those images was still very high however, and throughout 2011 I spoke about them in a series of TV and magazine interviews, many of which were the result of them being the winning UK entry for the Accademia Apulia Award, which saw them being exhibited at the prestigious Royal Horse-guards in London.
Sonnets also featured in Vogue magazine as part of their ‘Hotshots’ photography choice for 2012, and on the Italian Vogue website. The series also inspired an EP from concert pianist Mike Garson, and was the subject of the film ‘Sonnets from Scotland‘ which was shown as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. A book about Gaelic Poetry by Silke Stroh used a Sonnets image for the cover, and the December issue of Fuzion Magazine features Sonnets as its 12 page cover story. I was also delighted to be interviewed by the German Embassy about my work in the UK, as well as by the Metro newspaper amongst others.
Another magazine which used one of my images for its cover story was Keyboard, and in July one of my favourite musicians Tom McRae used an old concert photograph for an album cover.
This year I spent less time arranging solo exhibitions, preferring to take part in group shows such as the Leith Festival Art Expo in Edinburgh, The Exhibition at Royal Horseguards in London, and The Scottish Photographers Exhibition at the newly opened Fife Fotospace Gallery. A few images also featured alongside a photographic exhibition by Andy Goldsworthy at the Gracefield Art Centre in Dumfries.
New adventures in Collodion
This was also the year in which I made the decision to largely eschew digital photography in favour of a new passion – that of making images using the wet plate collodion process. Much of the year was spent in pursuit of that end, and the first half of the year was spent on developing my own skills.
The summer involved me making portraits of artists, friends and relatives, and experimenting with the process to find out what its limitations were. As summer turned to autumn I traveled north to try making some plates in a few of Scotland’s wild places such as Glencoe and on Rannoch Moor. I enjoyed myself immensely, and think of those days spent making images as my own personal highlights of this year.
As the UV light began to fade, and as wind and rain brought us ever closer to winter, I was contacted by a BBC film crew who were interested in my experiments, and asked me to take part in a new series of Victorian Photography. A day spent filming at Stirling Castle on a surprisingly sunny day led to me showing BBC presenter John Sergeant how ambrotypes were made, and the show will be shown on BBC2 in the spring.
Well 2011 is drawing to a close, and I now find myself living in the South West of Scotland and working as a Museum Officer in a beautiful part of the country. I spend my working week doing a job I really enjoy, and have finally found a calm space in which to develop my practice in a much more considered way.
I hope that this past year was a successful one for you, and that you have much to look forward to in 2012.