Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your photography?
I have always taken pictures. I consider myself an artist who uses photography in her work. I mainly use analogue or film cameras, though I do have a high-quality digital camera on my phone. I also make cyanotypes, which involves placing objects like leaves or buttons directly onto using sun-sensitive paper and exposing them to light to make a contact print.
I did my first degree in Interactive Arts at the University of Wales, Newport, and then about 10 years later a Masters in Documentary Photography. I do the same juggling act that a lot of people do, where I need to earn money and I need time to make art, and being employed means that taking pictures has to take a back seat. Recently, I have acquired two cameras with leather bellows from the 1950s. I bought one at an auction, and I was given the other one as a present. You can pull the front forward, so that the lens moves in front of the camera. I put film into them to check whether they were still light tight, which they were, and I have had some satisfying results. I hadn’t worked with this type of camera before, which are beautiful objects in themselves, so it was good to find that they still work.
Why do you prefer to use film?
Because the quality of the image has greater depth and I like to make a physical object. I like photographs as objects. I like the tactile experience of touching the printed photographs and physically sharing them by passing them around. I like to have a touch connection with work I’m making. It’s important to me.
I think there’s a difference between taking a picture on a phone and taking one with a film camera. With the phone, you are asking it to remember something for you that you’ll look at later. With the camera, you are going to consider the make-up of the picture. You’ll look at things closely, consider the framing and the light, and ask yourself why that picture is more important than any other you could take. There is also a financial cost to developing and printing a film photograph, so there’s little room for error.
I don’t process my own film at this point, though I’m researching how I could use what’s called the E6 process for making slides at home. I have recently found a good local lab that can turn things around in a week for me. That waiting time can be important. Having that slight delay can give you time for reflection.
When did you start taking photographs?
I was given a camera when I was seven or eight, an easy-to-use cartridge camera. When I was 16 or 17, my father gave me a 35-mm camera. I was the person who took photos at parties using a disposable camera or a 35-mm. I have boxes of those photos in my house that I should go through.
My first degree, which I did in the early nineties, had a focus on new technology and art. We were highly encouraged to work with computers and to develop interactive technology. I programmed computers with animations that people reacted to, and the animations were based on 35-mm photography. The high-end computing equipment was in high demand, so I chose to use neglected equipment, including a series of Apple Classic computers that sat in a hallway. They were about 10 inches high with a 6-inch screen and took one floppy disc. Using Hypercard, I made animations of hands typing and words cascading among six different machines.
What sort of images do you like to take?
Landscapes. In the construction of my images, there is no traditional horizon. I’m not interested in lots of sky. Water at the bottom of an image in the form of a pool, lake or splash will have the reflection of the sky in it.
Living in Newport, I have quick access to the valleys of south Wales, which have a dramatic landscape and a heavy industrial past. When I first moved to Wales in the early nineties, many mines had already been closed and “landscaped,” that is, planted and levelled. I am drawn to post-industrial landscapes with their strange-shaped hills that are old spoil heaps. There are very small valleys with a pool at the bottom, which are often a sign of past iron extraction or coal mining. It’s very interesting how nature reclaims its own: the grass, heathers, gorse, bog cotton and moss have moved back in. These are natural unnatural landscapes.
What inspires you?
Recently, my main inspiration has been good weather! Over the last year, I have lost touch with my own practice, but find that when I’m travelling I’ll take pictures. Once I have the photos back, I remember what kinds of photos I like to take. There are particular shapes that I am drawn to in different places. I’ve photographed the same type of hill or mountain in Wales, Spain, Egypt or Jordan without realizing it. It’s unconscious, but when I see the photos, I see repeated images.
There is a beautiful photograph taken by you and posted on Flickr of apples floating. How did that come about?
I was walking with friends beside the canal between Newtown and Welshpool in mid-Wales and we came across a disused lock, a dilapidated lock-keeper’s house and an abandoned orchard. There were apples floating about 10 feet below us in the canal illuminated by the mid-afternoon November light. I stood precariously on the canal bank, leaning over to get the right image, while my friends warned me not to fall. It was an amazing place. I went back the next day to take more photos.
How does living in Wales affect your work?
The combination of an internationally renowned photography and film school and a post-industrial landscape has attracted a lot of good photographers to Newport, so there are numerous local initiatives where people get together to display photographs and other visual arts. One example of this is in a building, called the Cwtsh, which means a place of safety and a hug (“give us a cwtsh”). This used to be a municipal library, but was closed for budgetary reasons and has been reborn as a community centre, where photographer John Briggs has curated exhibitions of photography and visual arts, including some of my pictures.
You have posted on Flickr a number of photographs of protests against library closures. Can you tell us something about those?
One set of photographs is of the protests against the planned closure of the Maindee Library, again for budgetary reasons. Libraries are a really important social and tactile space. In addition to lending books, they provide parental support by stealth with preschool activities that promote socialization and literacy. There is free Internet access and classes, a dry, warm place for people to be, access to books and newspapers, a safe space for homework for teenagers with busy home lives, and social contact for older people. The library was closed, but has since re-opened as a community-run lending library. A lot of retired librarians came forward to offer their services. It’s working well. The local community, which includes a lot of people whose first language is not English, can now still access the resources there.
What sort of projects have you carried out for Gwent Arts in Health?
I am employed by the local Health Board as Arts Development Manager for an independent charity called Gwent Arts in Health. This is my main job. We have an ongoing program of activities, such as live music in hospitals. We are often approached to design projects for patients and staff. I do the project management part of this. I’ll meet with hospital staff and patients to find out what they are looking for, and then I’ll find a writer or musician or ceramicist or textile artist to work with patients and staff to develop and install the piece.
We have a project called “Healing Words,” using creative writing to encourage positive mental health. Participants, some of whom are in an acute-care mental health ward, will have weekly sessions with a poet or a writer, in which they’ll both listen to that writer’s work and develop their own. As a follow-up to that, the group will explore visual arts elements to illustrate their writing.
Another current project involves the development of visual elements, at the request of staff, in a couple of very bland rooms for patient assessment in an acute-care mental health ward. An artist called Louise Tolcher-Goldwyn (from Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre) has brought in a different activity each week, including copper embossing, etching, batik dyes, mood boards and collages. For 2 hours, anyone can drop in to participate, and staff often join patients in these activities. It is a gentle, democratic environment. Some people will just bring a cup of tea and watch everyone else, but they are still present with the group. The artist will bring ideas based on everyone’s work to staff and patients for their approval and will paint a mural inspired by those ideas. The feedback from patients and staff about this process has been very positive.
What are you currently working on?
My own photography and investigating my new old cameras.