The image is actually from my Easter break in France. In the summer I resolved to do little actual photography. I felt I was amassing images with no clear direction so felt I’d kick back, read, think and explore the possibilities of where my images could go.
I knew I wanted to make another ‘more serious’ photobook of my French images but had no real direction of what I wanted to say. Lots of ideas but it seemed that the book was being image led and I didn’t want a ‘best of’ type of photobook.
Lots of things floating around in the mix – exploring my own adoption among them. My reading, especially Patrick Modiano [see previous post] exploring the vagaries of memory became central to my thinking.
Also, in the mix was Brexit and my relationship with Europe as an avowed European. (Polish father, French mother). This led me to explore my memories of my relationship with France.
A seminal period in my development was a period of a week in the summer of 1967. I was 15 and left to walk Paris for a week (waiting for a month in the Dordogne with a French family we met at a family wedding in Paris).
While my auntie and uncle were at work I had the days to myself with nothing to do. From the window of my auntie’s flat I learnt to inhale Disque Bleu cigarettes and I walked. No camera, just looking and absorbing the atmosphere (along with the Disque Bleus!) Effectively, I was a teenage ‘flâneur’.
I’ve visited Paris many times over the years and have always felt at home there, never a stranger.
Last autumn I showed a range of the French work at our local (Windmill Hill & Victoria Park) art trail and made the link between the work and my experience as a child of migrants and, by having a home in France, being a migrant in Europe myself.
When I got back after this summer’s break I entered the Brighton Biennal (this year with a theme of migration) and writing my ‘artist statement’ really helped to formalise my thinking. (Editing your thoughts to a 250 word statement really focusses the mind!)
Brighton sent me the ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter (to add to my collection!) Never mind, it really helped to clarify my thoughts and I feel I’ve moved forward.
I’m European, always have been.
I’m the illegitimate child an Irish immigrant, given up for adoption.
My adopted father was a Polish refugee, my adopted mother was French.
Regular visits to France led to a week wandering in Paris 1967 aged 15 followed by a month in country. These were a defining few weeks for me and my relationship with France.
My personal journey has led me to a small second home (still known locally as ‘Chez Fernande’) in Creuse region of central France. We have visited 3 – 4 times a year for the past 11 years.
The history of the Creuse shows that migration is heavily embedded in the collective memory. Creuse stonemasons are remembered with great pride for their role in the rebuilding of 19th Century Paris.
They walked there in spring and returned in winter, leaving their spouses and offspring to run the farms.
Due to ongoing economic hardship, there Is a contemporary migration of youth from the rural areas of the region to the larger towns and cities.
Photographic explorations over the 11 years have been used to explore my range of responses to the Creuse. This over time developed to explore (often opaque) memories of family + migration (abandonment / belonging), coupled with image making interpreting the imbued memories in the structures and the landscapes of the region.
The minimal square format images, are still and calm, intending a contemplative reading.
Memory has become a crucial component in the project.
Onward + upward!