South London Photographer: Doing some research

I have been busy looking at photographs taken in pubs as I continue the project I recently started, documenting a local pub which is currently being refurbished.  Son No 1 has also been asking to visit Tate Modern since the beginning of the Easter holidays which we’ve not managed.  However, this morning I remembered that one of my student friends had mentioned the Alcohol & Art room at Tate Britain so I woke everyone up and announced we’d be heading there as it might be useful for my work.  I was greeted with a grunt from No 2 who claimed he can’t stand galleries, and a pre-teen telling me he already plans.  When did that happen?  Already has plans?  What? Without me? (He’s just stomped upstairs, I might add, as he has yet another strop this afternoon, which seems to have suddenly leapt out of nowhere… is the teen thing really about to happen? Already? Yikes!)

I was not to be deterred.  So off we trotted – without the big one who already had plans – and instead I was accompanied by the very small person who goes where ever I tell him anyway because what else can you do when you’re four years old, and the middle-sized one who was not looking forward to it at all.

But when we got there what should happen?  No 2 stood in front of a painting by George Cruikshank, called The Worship of Bacchus, for absolute ages and then told me all about Bacchus and Dionysus, and Zeus and Hera, all stuff I have no idea about, but which they’ve been learning at school.  He’s also a big fan of Percy Jackson which is based on the Greek Myths and so, as well as being a YouTuber when he grows up, he thinks he might want to be a scholar of Greek Mythology.  Not only that, I think he actually really enjoyed the modern art room where we got to see that famous bed, and which is where Son No 3 set off the alarm as he got just a wee bit too close to the detritus that lies around it.

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We didn’t stay too long, because as really impressed as I was with my middle son’s interest, I suspected it might not have lasted if we’d hung around for ages.  But I love that he seemed to gain so much from my somewhat self-referencing visit and he actually taught me a few things I didn’t know too!

Hope you’re all enjoying your Easter breaks if you’re on them. x

Below are some images of the Grosvenor Arms pub in London which is currently being refurbished and which I’m photographing as it goes through its transformation. Not quite as many people there as you can see in Cruikshank’s The Worship of Bacchus right now, but soon!

All images (c)SJField 2016

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South London Photographer: Prison drama, community and obsession

“You’re obsessed!”, Son No. 1 accuses me.  He can talk!  During the last decade I have had to endure his obsessive interests in planes, trains, Dr. Who, Lego, trains again and finally back to planes.  He must be one of very few 11 year olds who knows so much about international airline liveries, who has strong and passionate opinions on the efficacy of airline corporate colours, lettering shapes and flag placement; and who regularly designs, in his opinion, improved versions of well-known airline logos.

“I’m not obsessed”, I reply.  I’m just lost without it.  I’m referring of course to Orange is the New Black, an award-winning American prison based drama produced by Netflix and originated by Piper Kerman who was, like the main character, indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. I watched all three series in a matter of ten days and now that I’ve finished gorging on it I don’t quite know what to do with the time I’m allowing myself to have for such activities.  I say ‘allowing myself’ because for the last three years or so I’ve watched very little TV and have instead filled my free time with work, study and more work.

“You are, you’re obsessed with prison!” Son No 1 insists.  Aaaah!  He’s not referring to the Netflix programme but to my current interest in all things prison related, including of course, the drama.  Perhaps ignoring them all, and by ‘all’ I mean the feral small ones in my charge, while I watched my new prison friends dressed in beige (yes, beige, not orange at all except for their initial few days in penitentiary – I guess Beige is the New Black is not as catchy…) and then announcing that I would be taking my lovely family to a summer fair at the local prison is what’s informing Son No 1’s diagnosis about my state of mind.

The truth is I have long been fascinated by the idea of prison and Wandsworth Prison, or thoughts of it, in particular have featured on my internal landscape for years.

My first home in London was a rented room in an artist’s flat in Southfields.  I loved my landlady who was the only person advertising ‘no deposit required’ when I was looking for somewhere to live that wasn’t my friend’s floor in Kilburn.  A friend whom at the time was heading for a relationship breakdown, so the floor in her flat was even more uncomfortable than it might have been and I don’t suppose my presence on her carpet was terribly helpful for her either, or the soon-to-be-dumped boyfriend.

In my new flat I had a bed which meant sleeping several inches above the floor for the first time in a while and a lovely landlady whose relationship was stable and blossoming.  I felt I had truly arrived and my adventures in London could begin.  I say adventures but those first couple of months felt anything but adventurous.  Instead bewildering, lonely, or frightening depending on my mood and events or more accurately even, lack of events – at least to start with anyway.  However, intriguingly I had a neighbour whom I was told spent much of his time in Wandsworth Prison whilst his wife and children got on with their own lives.

One day said neighbour came home.  Soon I heard a man’s voice through the thin walls of that ex-council flat from next door, which at first seemed fine.  Until the night I heard him beating up his wife.  The sound of his fists landing on his wife’s body and face was the most sickening thing I had ever heard and I lay awake, feeling petrified and horrified but frozen, not knowing what to do.  My landlady had heard it as well I discovered the next day. She too did nothing.  (Many years later I read a book by an ex-probation officer called Living with the Dominator which looks at domestic abuse.  Craven seems to have been a remarkable woman who worked with offenders caught up in a pattern of abuse towards their partners. She devised the Freedom Programme, a project aimed at educating, recognising and changing abusive behaviours.  I hate that I didn’t do anything that night and have no idea how I’d handle things differently now, but what I  can do is recommend that book to anyone who feels they might be, or know someone who might be, involved with domestic abuse in any way whatsoever.  It’s a very powerful book which looks at overt and covert misogynistic trends in our society and clearly describes the sort of behaviours partners and women in particular should expect from spouses and boyfriends. There are some useful numbers to call on this link if anyone has concerns in this area.)

I didn’t hear the sound again.  Instead a few days later what we heard was the sound of people banging on our door and running down the corridors.  Suddenly one morning before we’d eaten breakfast there were detectives making their way through our flat and on to our balcony.  I looked out the window and a long line of police in riot gear stood quietly in front of our building apparently waiting for my neighbour to appear.

After 20 minutes or so we saw the neighbour being led away to a waiting van, hands cuffed behind his back, his head pushed downwards by a plain clothed detective.  I remember having such strong and palpable sensations as I watched that man who had presumably caused terror and also physical pain in his wife; and sensations such as fear, revulsion and of course shame in me for not intervening when he had hit her.  This man who had warranted what looked like the entire South London police force to turn up on our Wandsworth Council estate now had all his size and force reduced.  The sense of dread had dissipated and been replaced with something entirely different.  He looked tiny, helpless, genuinely pathetic. I can’t find the words to describe how seeing that utter loss of liberty in a human being felt. It was sickening and devastating. Even though I was of course relieved to see him taken away. We heard he had been returned to Wandsworth Prison.

A couple of rented rooms and years later, I ended up living very near to the prison, although I have no idea if my old neighbour was still there.  Actually, I almost left the borough of Wandsworth as a friend and I rented a flat in Peckham, only to be told when we arrived in SE London accompanied by a van stuffed with our belongings that the flat was not habitable. After a week of sleeping on yet another floor, this time in a house ‘lent’ to us by the estate agents which had been bought by a family who were still living abroad and so had not been able to pick up the keys, we landed back in Wandsworth.  That was a stressful few days and there were times, especially when faced with the threat of not having our deposit returned, that I hoped the estate agents would be sent to prison.

Thanks to colleagues and friends we found a clean and light filled flat that was more than habitable in a tower block, overlooking Wandsworth Common and Wandsworth Prison, and where I would spend the next 10 years.  Although, to begin with I have to say, I was horrified by the height – we were 7 floors up, and the entire estate was filled with what I perceived then as a deathly silence.  In fact, I was convinced everyone who lived there must be dying and that I too would die there either by accidentally jumping out the building or just because I’d catch the sense of ‘deathliness’ I was convinced I sensed all around me. Mmmmm – it was a tricky time in the head of SJF.

What actually happened was that I grew to love the height, made friends with some of the people, old and young, and ended up moving from one flat to another across the corridor because I loved being there so much.  And I especially appreciated the peaceful quietness of the estate.

It became my home.  I found a life long friend there, lost her briefly when Mr. X moved in, got pregnant, lost a baby, got pregnant again, lost Mr. X briefly, then married him and got pregnant again.  I grew up there.

And the prison was a constant presence just across the road.  Where other people went through similar life journeys, only living inside that 150-year-old building.

The point for me is that the prison is part of Wandsworth.  Real lives are lived in there – both staff and inmates.  The building and the people inside are part of our community.

About a year or so ago I noticed some of my local friends posting photographs of themselves breeding pigs on Facebook.  What I hadn’t really taken on board was that my city slicker friends were part of a small farming co-operative that was based on prison land and which had been instigated by a local reverend.  I have since discovered that the Paradise Co-operative is a fascinating project with various long-term plans that connects the prison and its land to the community.  And that interests me enormously.  Modern communities and how they function have become one of my big interests over the years and Wandsworth community in particular, since it is where I live and have done since 1997 (despite attempts to leave), which is by far the longest I’ve ever been anywhere.

So, Son. No 1, I may seem a little obsessed with all things prison-related right now as I look at other photographers’ relevant work, watch dramas based in prison, and read pertinent articles and books around the subject.  But I think I must have picked this quality up from you – having learnt about real obsessiveness by watching you devour Thomas the Tank Engine etc and all the rest of it over the years.  Is that the way it works?  Or does he get it from me… either way, all three sons had a great time at the Paradise Co-operative Summer Fair which was my introduction to a project that I hope to document as it continues to evolve.

The land, just across the road from the main building, had been transformed.  It was kind of magical entering through coloured bunting and cloth to find lovely stalls with games, food and drink.  I hope the organisers were proud of themselves because it was a great way for local people to connect with the project.

(P.S. I do really have plenty to be getting on with during that ‘free’ time I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, but if you know of any great prison dramas I couldn’t do without, please let me know!  But don’t tell Son No 1 – he can be so censorious.  In fact he’s made me promise only to watch two episodes a day of the next thing I’ve discovered on Netflix.  Not a prison drama but it does have the occasional ex-convict popping up.  Role on September when I’ll start studying again, heh, before I turn into a TV drama addict!)

You can find out more about the project here:

And here are just a few photographs from the day. All (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2015

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South London Photographer: My first exhibition and promises of more to come

Here I am making time for a second blog post this week although truth be told, I could probably be catching up on some college work.  It will wait.  I have to talk about my first small but significant outing as a photographer who is trying to make some kind of art for people to hang on their walls.

To be honest, I have been a bit shy up until now about my non-portrait work, hiding away online and not really sharing it with people I know or who are close to me. Instead I got caught up with a bunch of fellow photography nuts on the internet but it was an inward looking process – useful but only virtual and therefore certainly quite limited. As I turned outwards, learning about how to get everything ready was a trifle challenging, but I was lucky when an offline photographer friend introduced me to an amazing guy who did my printing for me, and did it extremely well.  And the very sweet people at Lavender Framers on Barmouth Road, SW18 gave me lots of advice and practical help.

And last Friday it all culminated in a fantastically enjoyable evening when quite a lot of people turned up to see and buy my work.  I was so relieved and had a great night.  I have had some solid and positive feedback, including from people who couldn’t make it on Friday but who have called me up to tell me they’d like to buy a print, which is a great feeling for someone who hadn’t actually sold art work before.

So, what do these first public pictures of mine represent? Well, that’s up to you. Perhaps they’re just pretty pictures of random spots, some quite colourful, some a little less so. For me they’re a direct response to events in my life. A search for growth, for colour following a very dark personal time, and most importantly for some solid structure – both internally and externally.  These photographs also, without any doubt in my mind, stem from a desire to record the landscape within which my community exists,  a community that means the world to me. All in all, things went very well on Friday and I now have the confidence to keep going and am looking forward to bigger and perhaps more ambitious projects in the future. Now that I’ve got over that initial ‘dipping of my toe in the water’ other things have already begun to appear on the horizon.

I went out with for dinner with the sweet, kind and adorable Mr & Mrs C on Monday night to The Thai Grocer on Garret Lane which if you haven’t been is really worth visiting.  The food is delicious and the atmosphere perfect.  Mr C took it upon himself to become my agent and promoter and I may have an opportunity to show some work there too now.  I like Mr C’s terms – he’s happy always to work for free – thank you!!  So all in all the meal was extremely satisfying; tasty food and wine, genuine friendship, lots of laughter, a helpful and generous sense of community spirit from Mr. Thai Grocer all of which add up to lots of well-needed and much appreciated nourishment for me.

If you weren’t able to make my little opening at Barmouth Kitchen you can see the images hanging there for a few weeks yet or click here for an online experience, and don’t forget prints are for sale.

Prices available on the website.  Image (c) Sarah-Jane Field 2015untitled-1113

South London Photographer: End of half-term and a busy few days ahead

I am getting my blog for this week done sooner than usual as I am working tomorrow afternoon – a shoot with a family who have a young baby, yay!  And then I know I will have quite a lot to do for the following few days.  It’s called forward planning, I think. Always worth aiming for but not actually possible in every instance when you’re juggling lots of stuff at once.  No doubt I shall be quite pleased with myself if I manage to get everything done that needs doing over the next 48 hours or so, and that’s even without having made my bed this morning.  I mention this as I read some peculiar article on Twitter that said making your bed in the morning makes you a better version of yourself… really?  I guess I should give it a try and see how I go – If I manage it I’ll report back and let you know if I think I’ve become an improved model of SJF.

I am posting a photograph of Son No 2 today as it’s one of my favourites.  And I know some people might look at it and go, really? What?  But for me this photograph works. The light, the subject, the reality of it. It doesn’t look posed but I have to admit it actually is.  I saw him sitting there drinking his drink, well actually my drink and I said, hang on – let me grab my camera.  At which point he got out and ran around the house covered in bubbles laughing at me. He only got back in and let me take the photograph when I had promised to Photoshop something unspeakable on the can. Where this seven year old gets his humour… it’s a worry.  I took a few shots but the first one was the best in my view and then he jumped out and I told him I was going to break my promise and not Photoshop anything into it, so he now thinks it’s a rubbish photograph.  I don’t mind.  I love it.

I think I might have to do a series of photographs of the boys in the bathroom mainly because the light in there is simply beautiful. Is that a good enough reason?  Who knows?  My studies with art and photography have left me wondering what on earth art is and if there is indeed any reason behind any of it at all.  I chat about the teaching of art here in Michael Szpakowski’s Art Education discussion which I mentioned in my last post.  Actually, I can’t wait to finish the current module I’m doing at OCA and move on to the next which probably won’t answer the question but it will give me lots more to think about when considering it.

Some of my photographs will be displayed at Barmouth Kitchen on Barmouth Road in Wandsworth from next weekend over the summer.  Will they be considered art? I don’t know.  You’ll have to pop along and see, and make up your own mind.  Not sure BK will want pictures of my kids in the bath plastered all over their walls next time round… but who knows?  Perhaps they’d love it!  This time though the theme is Wandsworth and colour.  So if you’ve got a spare wall looking for an image, pop along and take a look or get in touch.  Mounted hand printed images will cost £55 or you could just grab yourself a set of postcards if you prefer.  I’ll pop the images online after the launch at BK next Friday. (If you’re local, do pop along – Friday 5th from 7pm)

In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of half term and bring on the last few weeks of the school year!  My little home needs a bit of a rest from the kids being here quite so many hours – they were actually decorating the walls this morning.  And I don’t mean in a helpful way.

Have fun!

Image (c)sarahjanefield 2015

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Son No 2

South London Photographer: Stress, being a ‘working’ mum at home during half term and learning “Art”

So, here I am feeling panicked.  I am waiting on one final image choice to come through from a recent corporate client so I can edit and order it by midday, ensuring they have it in time for a launch.  If it doesn’t happen in time they won’t have their products and I’ll feel like I’ve failed!  My children are only semi-dressed and I am feeling guilty that they are not outside enjoying the sunshine I know will probably be gone by the time we leave the house once the deadline for the corporate job has passed and I get on with the job of being a mummy on half-term.  The stress the children induce is nothing compared to this…. Oh, I must sound like an idiot.  None of this stuff is really stressful compared to being a doctor or a fireman or something like that.  Calm, Sarah-Jane!  For goodness, sake.  So what if things beyond my control go awry?  I’m certainly doing my best surrounded by screaming children who are trying to kill each-other because they need to be outside rather than indoors,  have had too much screen time and somehow found sweets squirrelled away somewhere so are all filled up with sugar to boot!   The last two years have seen me gradually go from a full-time mum, to a mum studying and eventually to a mum working and also trying to fit in some study time too.  The kids are patient with me sometimes.  Other times they are quite understandably furious and accuse me of loving photography more than them, which makes me feel horrible but when they are yelling at me and not being 100% appreciative of all that I do for them I find it hard to disagree.  At least photography doesn’t yell at me, tell me I’m awful, a rubbish mum and forget that I spend a good deal of my time picking up after it, washing its clothes and cooking food I’d rather not be eating for it.  But only sometimes… most of the time I know they are the best things in my life and I’m extremely lucky to have them.  Life is them and often, let’s face it, my photography is all about them in one way or another, whether it’s taking photos of them or trying to build a small business so that I can support them as I’d like (with the help of Mr. X of course!)

One of the most important aspects of photography is the art side of it.  I want my commercial photography to be influenced in a huge way by the art side of things, much of which I’ve picked up through the studying I’ve been doing.  But online college isn’t the only place I learn.  I am connected to a bunch of really interesting people on Flickr too and one of them, Michael Szpakowski, is involved in art education himself. However, he has some concerns about ‘teaching art’ and the subjective nature of it. He has instigated an online discussion and I think some of the statements he posits are really worth thinking about and I know he will welcome any points of view from other people – so if you have something to say or feel strongly about anything he says, do join in the conversation.  You can find the document here.   To be honest, I think much of what he suggests is worth considering whatever you’re teaching.

For me, art education is really working for now – but I tend to do my own little thing and use the structure of the course as a guide.  Learning about art is tricky and filled with all sorts of ups and downs but I wouldn’t be without it, although I’m sure the children would love it if I gave up any work, study, anything that wasn’t to do with them in their eyes and just ran around wiping up after them forever.  Maybe I’m being unfair -perhaps they just want to me speak to them now and again…

So, the midday mark has arrived and guess what?  I got the images in just in time – with 3 minutes to spare. My computer stopped working and my wifi crashed.  But somehow I sorted it out in time although of course we’ll have to wait and see it everything arrives on time… Eeeeek!! Work, art, family – it’s a nightmare sometimes.  But of course, that’s all to do with me not being a little more Zen… Ah well, that’s me!  It all works itself out in the end. I’m certainly not the only mum with young children trying to do several things at once.  We all are one way or another.

Enjoy the rest of half term.  I’m off to have lunch with my boys and grab a large glass of white wine with it too.

Image (c)sarahjanefield 2015

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Image used in an assignment for my studies where I’ am learning about the ‘art’ of photography. Can you learn ‘art’? People often question my desire to study and my children may be happier if I weren’t studying as well as trying to build a little business. Is what I’m doing a waste of time or is it worth delving into photography and my own abilities to explore, develop and grow into an artist? Get involved with the discussion by visiting the link in the body of this blog post.