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  • Info OFS

We Really Created A Team

I’d been wondering for several years about how to do a project with homelessness. I didn’t want

to just do pictures of people in the streets, because that’s not how I approach things, I’m not a

photojournalist, and I’m not quite sure what difference those sort of images can make - or I think

other images can make more powerful statements and help more. I’d been working on another

project several years ago, and I saw that a lot of people don’t like to even look at people who are

homeless, because I think the moment that your eyes connect, there is some sort of commitment

or responsibility to that person with whom you are communicating - and a lot of people don’t

really want to have homeless people as part of their social responsibility. I think that’s wrong.


When you do a project like this, obviously I want to help the people who are involved with

the project, but I also want the people who are looking at the project to re-evaluate their own

existence, their own commitments, and their own attitudes towards certain things. Art flows two

ways, especially in these sorts of arts. You’re taking people on an emotional journey.


I’m also, as a photographic artist, interested in why it is that particular images resonate. I think an

iconic picture is something that taps into a sort of zeitgeist. I think pretty much all iconic pictures

create some sort of emotional response. It’s my belief that you can better understand Britishness,

if you like, by investigating iconic photographs. I think they sort of capture different qualities, and

things of us as British people - and obviously Britishness is such a fluid thing, especially at the

moment. Well it’s always been fairly fluid, I suppose.


Had there been time, I would have liked to work on images which would be more recognisable

to a younger audience, that would have been great. The other thing is, I would have liked to have

had more pictures with a broader racial make-up - because there aren’t that many iconic images

which feature people who aren’t white, basically. There were a couple of pictures I wanted to do

that were more contemporary - there is a picture that I wanted to do of a young Asian woman

called Saffiyah Khan who was facing off a member of the English Defence League, that has almost

immediately become sort of an iconic image. I thought that would have been a fantastic image to

do, but we ran out of time.


I originally approached Sarah [Visual Arts Programme Manager] who runs the gallery here with the

idea, and she liked it, and then arranged a meeting with Jeremy, who runs the OFS, and Rowan, the

Crisis Arts Coordinator, who also liked the idea, and then it just kicked off from there. I was given

tremendous support, not least by Jeremy who backed me throughout the whole thing, actually.

Fundamentally I think I always felt that he had my back. That is pretty helpful as an artist; I’m

represented by quite a few galleries, and I definitely have different degrees of support by different

galleries, and I felt that he was on my side and he was prepared to back me, and I also felt that

Rowan and Jodie [Crisis Arts Tutor] would.


Actually, Rowan and Jodie were just extraordinary. I throw out ideas about every five seconds, and

I need certain people to sometimes constrain me, or evaluate my proposals and stuff like that.

There were times when they said, ‘well, that’s not right’, and that was brilliant. They acted as sort of

brakes.


Well, I think everyone, we really created a team, and I think that’s what I’ve always tried to do,

and I think all of that is about listening to other people and hearing what they’ve got to say,

and everyone’s got a valid opinion, and it’s not run like a dictatorship - everyone’s opinion is

equally valid. So for me, it’s very much working with other people, knowing when you’ve got to

give people space to really develop, and that’s always exciting. I’m very happy to listen to other

people’s ideas. So I think all the members and staff bought into it, so we really created a sort of

buzz.


But I think, I always try and have fun with what I’m doing. It’s always important to have a lot of fun.

So I think we tried to bring fun. With the Spice Girls picture - it’s very joyous, actually, that picture.

I think that’s a joyous picture, and I think the World Cup’s a pretty joyous picture - it was a joyous

moment. The Spice Girls shoot, I put together the picture, I got it in focus, but it was brilliant – it

was very much a girls’ show. I wasn’t particularly interested in doing the picture because I don’t

really know if it’s an iconic picture but actually the whole performance was just fantastic, and it

was particularly nice watching four of the women really manage the more anxious woman, and

that was really nice because they themselves, earlier in the whole project, had been pretty anxious

themselves. There was one woman who had been there from the beginning, but who hadn’t really

wanted to talk, and sat in the background. And she just realised ‘well I’ve done this more than

anyone else’, and started saying you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, and that was really... I

felt pretty good about that, and I think other people did.


But I get a lot of joy, and also satisfaction, out of working like this, so it was good to do, and

some extraordinary, creative people in this whole setup actually. The members themselves were

extraordinary. There were a lot of logistical things I don’t have access to, you know – like with

the tank [for the Margaret Thatcher picture]. There was a guy here who said, ‘oh I’ve got a tank!’

I mean, Jesus! ‘Is it a Challenger?’ ‘No, but I know a man who has got one!’ So there was a huge

amount of help. I don’t know if I’ve been on a journey - I mean I have done this sort of stuff for

quite a long time - but it’s always developing as an individual. You’re always learning, aren’t you?


I mean, a couple of things I learned was that we’re all only about three decisions away from

homelessness, and I think there is a sort of general perception that a lot of homeless people come

from a - there’s a bit of a cliché of a broken home, that sort of thing, which I didn’t share that

perception, but I didn’t realise that there’d be so many exciting and individual talents who had

fallen through that net, and whose company I really enjoyed, actually. I found that really exciting.


There was one guy, I really liked him – for whatever reason, he fell off whatever wagon it was, and

so he’s moved on. That, for me, that’s a real regret, I feel - a sense of failure, actually. I mean, it

wasn’t my fault, but I would have loved him to have finished the ICON journey. That would have

been lovely for me, because I think he would have been really proud, and I don’t know where he is

now, but that would have been lovely. That’s a real shame for me.


But I don’t actually think the project has ended for me, this is just the beginning of this project.

There’s no reason why something like this can’t be in some way rolled out, and I think that would

be exciting. And there are other conversations I want to throw in the pot – you know Manchester

might have its own iconic image, Sheffield might have its own iconic image, Portsmouth might

have its own iconic image, and that would be very interesting, you know, work with a bunch of

young people, artists, old people, it doesn’t have to be homeless people. We can sort of explore...

So there’s lots of ideas to develop. I knew this idea was going to fly. It’s very accessible, a very easy

idea – but the more you look at it, the more you can get out of it.

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