Unseen and Unheard Things: Dartmoor Prison Artist residency

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Reading in cell, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Prisoner in a cell at Dartmoor reading from a WWI Conscientious Objector diary. The diaries cannot be taken out of the archive, copies were made for the prisoners to read and record audio from.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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View from a prisoners’ cell over the moors, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Window view from prison cell. A few of the prisoners have a view onto the moor, the windows are very high in the rooms and I often had to stand on prisoners beds to photograph the window.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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Exercise Yard, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Photograph of Dartmoor prison exercise yard.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

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Home, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Photograph of a cell at Dartmoor prison. Many of the prisoners try to create a sense of home in their cell, this prisoner has built a plate rack using matchsticks and glue, and a cardboard box to hold cutlery.

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Rose, Dartmoor Prison, 2016

Prisoners were asked to share something they were proud of, this prisoner showed a rose he had carved out of stale bread and then painted.

Image printed on Japanese washi paper, coated in wax and resin.

For the last year, I have been artist-in-residence at Dartmoor Prison, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and B-Side Festival. My residency has been based around the Prison archive, focusing WWI Conscientious Objector stories.

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The title of this project is taken from a Dartmoor Prison diary written by a Conscientious Objector during the Great War.

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Between 1917-1919 Dartmoor Prison housed over 1100 Conscientious Objectors (C.O.s); men who refused to fight in the war upon grounds of conscience. I have been researching letters and diaries written by C.O.s who served time in Dartmoor Prison and sharing these writings with current inmates of Dartmoor Prison. Together with the prisoners and staff at Dartmoor Prison, I have been exploring a cultural history of incarceration, what it means to be excluded and ostracised from society.

When I was first invited to be artist-in-residence at Dartmoor Prison I expected to find the place (and people) aggressive and harsh. Instead, I found staff that were welcoming and supportive, and the prisoners who volunteered to work on the project shared a genuine interest in the story of the Conscientious Objectors who were in their cells 100 years ago.

During the project, I discovered diaries from WWI Conscientious Objectors. I read these diaries to prisoners, and from those initial readings, the prisoners have been able to learn, empathise, and for some, to be proud of those men who were in Dartmoor Prison from 1916-1919.

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While the environment of the prison is harsh with bars, locks, and barbed wire, the support of the staff during this project has been very gratifying. It was an incredible privilege to work with the staff of the prison and museum as well as the rich archive material. And whilst many of the prisoners at first came across as ‘tough’ I found a vulnerability when they spoke about their experience of incarceration through the guise of discussing the diaries and experiences of the Conscientious Objectors 100 years ago. I have tried to share that experience in the work by contrasting the bars and barbed wire with the soft pastels of summer light coming in through the windows. The Dartmoor Prison photographs are printed on Japanese washi paper and then coated in wax and resin to create a fragility and an opacity which shares my feeling of working in the prison; where some things are clear and understood whereas other things are hidden and obscure, and a fragility within the physicality of the work which aims to reflect the vulnerability of the inmates, now and historic.

This project was organised by B-Side Festival in Portland

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Funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund

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Fragility of Memory

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Fragility of Memory, Buxton Museum 2015. Wax houses built of archive photographs, containing iBeacons playing oral history and music
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Each wax house featured photos and oral history from a different town in England.

Wax and resin houses, incorporating archival images from different midlands towns. Each house enclosed an iBeacon which played oral history and music gathered or created through Past Lives Project a cine film, sound, music and photo archive project in the Midlands.

Using an iPad and headphones exhibition visitors walk in between the sculptures, the iBeacons inside the sculptures interacting with visitors through the route they take around work and the time they spend with each sculpture, creating a soundscape bespoke to each person.

This artwork was commissioned by D-Lab project, set up to enable Derbyshire artists to use new technologies in their work.

The iBeacon work was made in collaboration with Locly

W W Winter Photographers Artist Residency

Artist Residency at W W Winter Photography Derby
If on a Winter’s Night… FORMAT International Photography Festival 2015

Artist Residency at W W Winter Photography Ltd the longest running photography studio in the UK.

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W W Winter Photography Ltd c1900

In 2013 I created a self-initiated artist residency at WW Winter Photography Ltd, working with and making responses from their glass plate collection. This residency was funded by Arts Council England and Derby City Council.

Throughout WW Winter Photography’s long history they have explored and innovated in every form of photography, from ambrotypes to gas light enlargers, dry plate to digital and everything in between.

 

As part of my residency I learnt how to make and shoot on glass; a process from the 1860s which is now almost lost. Shooting on glass has since become a core part of my practice and I now teach this process in darkrooms across the country.

During my residency I wrote a successful bid to Heritage Lottery Fund for over £50,000 to start an archiving project in an aim to preserve and protect the photographic collection.

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Glass plate negative from WW Winter Collection


On my very first visit to Winter’s I was told of a story that during World War II there was a glass shortage, and as part of the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign W W Winter Photography gave many of their large glass plate negatives to the Derby public to be made into greenhouses. This story of the Derby public gardening and growing fruit and veg under negative portraits was captivating, the image of negative greenhouses across the city was an enchanting one, and one that had to be re-made.

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Greenhouse made from WW Winter negatives interior
If On A Winter's Night... FORMAT Festival 2015
If On A Winter’s Night… FORMAT Festival 2015

The images used to make the greenhouse are from negatives discovered behind a false wall at W W Winter’s, it seemed fitting to use these beautifully decayed images to echo the negatives that are now missing from their archive due to being given away to be made into greenhouses.

The exhibition which was recently exhibited at FORMAT International Photography in March 2015, brings together two visual stories of the Winter’s archive. The negative greenhouse and the second story Derby Anon is one of the tens of thousands of unprovenanced glass plate portraits held at Winter’s. I invited people who share a physical resemblance to a Winter’s portrait to be photographed against the same backdrop, in the same studio, on glass, just as the original portrait was taken.

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Left, new image shot on glass by Debbie Adele Cooper. Right, WW Winter image c1890s. Both photographs were shot on glass in the same studio over 100 years apart.
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Left, new portrait shot on glass plate by Debbie Adele Cooper. Right WW Winter Photography image from 1940s. Both photographs were shot on glass in the same studio, using the same backdrop more than 70 years apart.
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glass plate negative and inverted image, glass plate hand coated and shot by Debbie Adele Cooper.
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Debbie Adele Cooper shooting large format glass plates portraits in the W W Winter Studio using the same backdrop that the originals plates were photographed against

 

By pairing people through time, we draw a little closer to the original portrait sitter, seeing through the aesthetic of a different era to the person they might once have been.

W W Winter Blogspot http://wwwinterltd.blogspot.co.uk/

Press reviews of this project

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/11464857/Forgotten-Victorian-photos-reveal-another-era.html

http://vision.xitek.com/gallery/201504/02-175589_2.html

http://www.worldphoto.org/community/blogs/format-international-photo-festival/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/11476911/A-tour-of-FORMAT-photography-festival.html?frame=3234856

http://www.nineelmsphotography.com/blog/?p=1967

http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/Bygones-Glass-plate-collection-provides-unique/story-26211058-detail/story.html 

http://www.lun.com/LunMobileIphone//Pages/NewsDetailMobile.aspx?dt=2015-04-19&PaginaId=34&SupplementId=0&bodyid=0&IsNPHR=0

https://slpresearch.wordpress.com/

 

Update: In June 2016, I raised £40,000 from Heritage Lottery Fund, with supporting funding from FORMAT International Photography Festival and Derby Museums and Art Gallery to show a retrospective of W W Winter Ltd during FORMAT 17, the work will be on show in Derby Museums & Art Gallery from 23rd March 2017.