The Archive: Alice; Tea Party

The Archive: Alice; Tea Party

This is still the biggest project that I set out to do, so the next few (more than few) posts will be all from “The Alice in Wonderland Project”.

At the end of our first year we were asked to think about our final year project that would span the whole year, so it had to be good. I knew that this was my time to shine and do something epic, but also something that would appeal to my mates so I could rope them in and just have a blast.

I had come across Annie Leibovitz’s Alice in Wonderland spread for Vogue, and in awe of the colours, surrealness and beauty I decided “I’ll lift that”. Don’t worry, I didn’t just copy, I had a concept; The Adult Issues found in Alice in Wonderland. A concept that was spawned from a book lent to me by my friend Lira; Lewis Carroll, Photographer by Helmut Gernsheim .

I vaguely knew that Carroll took some photographs, but not to the extent and to the subject that is explained in this book. If you don’t want to ruin the Disney version, or even the lovely twee romanticism of the books, don’t read that book and don’t read the rest of this post and subsequent posts. Just look at the pictures.


Turns out that Mr Carroll had a lot of troubles; Opium, eating disorders, the questionable fascination with little girls, particularly that of Alice Liddell, the real life Alice, and generally a disconnection to reality. All of which I’ll go into more depth as we go.


The Tea Party scene pretty much encapsulates all the issues, and is such an iconic “event” that it would have been daft, if not moronic, to not get my mates over, throw a tea party in my parent’s garden and rope in my sister’s friend’s younger sister because she was cute and blonde and had a dress! It was a beautiful day.


In that Tea Party scene, as I’ve said, there’s a lot going on. The social gathering and it’s eccentricity, apparently Carroll would swing his tea pot from side to side to get the perfect brew; The grown men, who are clearly not compos mentis, who have this, flippant attitude to Alice, but ultimately intrigued with her company, she also flips from having fun to being annoyed with them; And the various riddles and questions about reality which arise throughout the story.








This was the first time that I really saw that photography might be able to go beyond what you get in a fashion magazine, and really be something that goes over into the realm of conceptual art.

I also don’t think I’ve enjoyed making work as much as this. Everyone was wonderful and worked hard, it was fantastic. So to all my Alice players, wherever you are now, thank you.


Next time; there’s a caterpillar, a cat, a white rabbit and some excellent photoshopping.

I’m currently scouring all the reference books I used to find the quotes and information to back all this up, but teenage Jemma didn’t reference well. But when I do, I will include a bibliography. In the mean time, there’s loads of articles and you can view the biography online.

The Archive: Composition & Days Out

Warning: This is a MEGA post.


Any art student worth their salt will know how to make a new project brief fit work already made. This means that time that would be spent making new stuff can actually be used for sleep, replaying A Link to the Past and eating Reeces’ Cups. It was a magical time.

So when we were set with the project of exploring composition and understand it’s uses, I was like “heck yeah, just use them photos from them days out!”.


Much composition! I know it really doesn’t look like much, but it was literally set for a week’s work to occupy us whilst the new first years were being sorted out by the tutors.

But I took a fair amount of photos that summer, mainly in preparation for our final year project, which will come up later, but also from some days out.

It was a good summer.

I had mainly male friends, I found guys easier to hang out with, but I did have one girlfriend, who was my very best. Sadly we drifted apart and I do miss her. Anyway, most days out revolved around skating and taking photos of said skating. It was great.




I really miss that time, that age. Life was lived in the now, not worrying about anything. We we’re old enough to enjoy our independence but still young enough that we didn’t have to worry about bills, or work (other than that horny weirdo manager at Pizza Hut), the biggest concern was lack of pocket money, to buy CD’s and stickers and Lucozade.


I went to Havering Sixth Form Collage, so we either went into London town (a lot) or down to Southend (before it got mega shite) for ice cream and visits to Honky Tonks of PMT for new  guitar picks or drum sticks (I like to play).


The college hasn’t changed much, except for added buildings and security gates that make it look like a state federal. But I miss it, and I regret how the last term was spent in fall outs and loosing friends due to shitty teenage relationship politics bollocks.

Kids, when adults tell you that you’ll miss school and that it was the best time of your life; they ain’t lying. Don’t wish it away, and don’t ruin it with petty squabbles. Enjoy the bollocks off it.


The Archive: Natural Forms

The Archive: Natural Forms

Remember how I said that I didn’t really connect photography with art or think that they could overlap? Well, I believed that with such conviction that I didn’t acknowledge that I had made that cross over. So much so, that these pieces of work were in my sketch book for Art. And the idea of doing this in Photography [class] never occurred to me. The silliness of youth.

Whilst I find these a bit crude in their execution, I do think I was on to something, and I should have continued and developed that approach back then*. I’m not sure why I didn’t, I know I felt partly discouraged because a tutor told me that I was “too heavy handed for fine illustration”, but I had the ideas, and all the “paper work” to back it. Again the silliness of youth.



This is a real flashback Friday treat! Look how bloody cool I was, with my black rims (glasses) before black rims were for hipsters. The military jacket, the studded belt. The FfaF** emo tone to the whole thing. It’s okay, your silent stunned awe is natural and expected.



The pieces were around the concept of humans being apart of nature, natural forms, yet we’re slightly phased out, set apart from it. Hence all the borders, ripped edges and incredible splicing (by hand might I add, no Photoshop back then for me!).



Oh look, it’s that boy again!


My dear friend Emma, being a very patient model. [sorry!!]

The lesson learned here, is that it’s okay not to be an expect at something from the get go. Ideas and skills need practicing and nurturing. All these pieces were from course work, all leading up to a final piece. I’ve lost that way of working. We all have. Everything has to be ready straight away. Everything has to be knocked out in an afternoon. I know that’s how things can work on a commercial level, but really, the great bits take a bit longer, and need failed attempts. Also, tutors aren’t always right. Listen to them, but they aren’t scripture writers.

*I’m currently working on a few pieces that use this mixed media approach, partly to rectify my mistake of giving up on it, but also partly (mainly) that it works really well for the almost surreal concept. Don’t worry, I’ll share when ready!

**Funeral for a Friend – duh!

The Archive: Habitation

The Archive: Habitation
hab·i·ta·tion (hăb′ĭ-tā′shən)
A dwelling place.
The act of inhabiting or the state of being inhabited.

This was actually my first year (As) exam project, the brief being to create a set of images that explored your personal interpretation of the notion of “habitation”.

I basically ripped of Tom Hunter’s “Living in Hell & Other Stories” idea, and based my photographs off of paintings. I thought this was a mega clever idea, and indeed, as the majority of the first year is basically doing others’ work, it went down a treat with my tutor.
Because that spent my whole creative thinking for the year, I stuck to my own habitat, and like any self indulgent artist with black rimmed glasses, I just took snaps around the home.
In truth, I had some what checked out mentally. A lot was going on at home, had a horrible boy friend and suffering from depression, which was exacerbated PTS (The year before my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer, the previous year, my father had to have his spleen removed, and was still being treated for Aplastic Anemia).
So I did as little as I could to pass, I’m still amazed I got a B to be honest, and I think that shows.
Portraits of Malmsteen the Cat, based on Henri Rouseau’s Suprised!
Portraits of my Siblings based on the photograph of Kurt Cobain (at 16, I found any excuse to print out more pictures of him!) and Woman with a Lute by Vermeer
Malmsteen, the Railway Cat of West Horndon ( seriously appreciate the double exposure technique!)
This post actually feels quite poignant, as this week my parents moved out of West Horndon. And whilst these aren’t really in a league that’s near to Hunter’s recreations, and when I look at them I think “jebus these are shite”, I do get a wave of nostalgia from them. A longing for that youth, a simpler time, a time when Malmsteen wasn’t as fat (as she is now), and realising that I will miss getting that really irregular C2C train home, and seeing that lonely, lost in Victorian era station.
It’s strange and interesting how that humans don’t just physically inhabit a place, but emotionally too. Perhaps this is what these do? Damn I wish I’d put that in the conclusion!

The Archive: Contrast

The Archive: Contrast

So this was my first set of portraits. Well not if you count photographing a boyfriend’s “band” as portraiture… Anyway, moving on to these actual portraits.


This was also my first real attempted at studio lighting.

Now, if you’re familiar with my work, you’ll know that I hate (by hate I mean truly detest) using studio lighting, and I’ve never really explained why. As I type this I am aware of how ridiculous a reason this is.The reason for this animosity is not due to a fear or laziness to learn it, on the contrary, as a painter I love a good bit of lighting, it’s due to the fact that whilst making these portraits, my acute clumsiness did not mix with the equipment.


Whilst setting up the lights, and being so socially awkward about photographing this boy that I’d only known for a few weeks, I managed to set off the flash right into my eye, causing temporary blindness and a terrible headache. I also managed to burn myself on the lamp by side stepping into it. It was truly a “die of embarrassment” moment.  Now, for any onlooker I understand how daft this all is and not really a reason to not use lighting. The thing is, for some time after, every time I contemplated using lighting, my mind rushed back to that moment and a wave of embarrassment and anxiety would flood all my confidence. So I honed in my ability to use natural light and made sure that all my projects could be created without the use of artificial light. I soon felt there was no need for it. And still, to an extent, feel that way. Not going to lie, there’s been time that I’ve thought “fuck me, I wish we had some lights!”



One again, take note of my cutting edge printing techniques and concepts. And also the generally sickening emo tone, damn, I was hipster back then, before it was even a thing.



I also used colour, and expanded my model base, because I was obviously a pro. My models where Andrew and Josh (I think that was his name?!?), and I think they felt just as ridiculous as I did doing these photos! But if by chance either of you are reading this; from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Without that awkward hour or so I would have never found out my love for photographing people. These first few portraits, though basic in so many ways, have shaped my images and you can see the influence they have had on my work throughout the years. I still very much like them.

The title Contrast, and all the Archive post titles, are taken from my work books and relate to the set coursework projects.

The Archive: Textures

The Archive: Textures

One of the first projects set by our tutor (Catrin Shackson, who I’ll talk about in a later post) was to photograph textures. We’d all gotten a Hoya Macro filter with our camera kit so of course we had to make use of it.

This was still early in the term (September 2005) and I didn’t really feel like a photographer. For some unknown reason I thought it was my brother’s “thing”, like I wasn’t really going to be good at it, but it was a good thing to do. I now know this is ridiculous, but all throughout my GCSE years I was compared to my brother (we had a lot of the same art and graphic teachers), so I took this thinking with me, despite going to a different college. In some ways, and circles, there’s still a comparison, but on the whole I managed to shake it off when I went to Byam Shaw.

Anyway, back to these textures.







textures6a textures7a



As you can see I was at the height of printing innovation! Mixing fixer with developer and hand painting selective colour. I thought I was the dogs’ bollocks, and clearly this confirms it. 

I felt this was “art”; abstract, conceptual, terms that I had firmly given to art, but still separate from photography. It would take me another year to realise that a photograph could be a piece of art. I know I often forget this and get caught up in what “photographers” are dictating it to be, but photography, for me at least, is art. 

It’s not about fancy lenses and lighting and polish, it’s showing and expressing and that isn’t always “in focus”. In recent years I’ve forgotten that, which is partly why I’m doing this whole thing. To get back my art.

The Archive: The Graveyard

The Archive: The Graveyard

Any photographer worth their salt should have at least one set of images from the local graveyard. Like getting excessively drunk on your 18th birthday, it’s a right of passage.


This was our first field trip as a class (50meters down the road) and I remember being really anxious about the whole event. I remember thinking “be amazing”, which is ridiculous, but I was 16, and determined to be the next David Bailey. I also felt like a twat; slightly uncomfortable, wandering round a graveyard taking photos and bumping into the occasional mourner.


But I’ll never forget the joy and pride of successfully processing my own film.

You’re standing in pitch black, cracking open a canister with your teeth because someone has misplaced the film grabber thing, all the while aware that you have to not touch the film, just the sides and cut it in the right place and get it onto this spool that becomes impossible to navigate when the lights go out, thinking “shit did I mix enough developer? is it the right temperature?! FUCK IT’S DARK IN HERE. Shit, who’s hand is that….” Then once the lights are back on you pray to all the Gods that you shut the developer pod properly. No wonder my anxiety went through the roof.


Oh but the delight when you cracked it all open and the film comes out in this beautiful long grey strip, all processed and ready to be washed, hung and dried. Happy Days.


I hope you’ve appreciated the cool contact print effects. I clearly thought I was at the height of photographic innovation!