Morocco

I’m heading off tomorrow for a week in Morocco returning on 10 April.  I’m not sure what kind of mobile phone reception or email there might be in the mountains so please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you on my return.

April 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment

Finland update

As Finland comes out of its long dark winter towards spring, the sunshine has put everyone in a good mood and I’ve had no problem in finding people willing to be photographed doing their chosen activity on the frozen lakes.

I’m steadily working my way around the ice swimming holes in and around Jyväskylä and with uncannily good luck have found people swimming at all of them and willing to be photographed.  I’ve been shooting on film so photos will have to follow later as nowhere here processes 120 film – I haven’t met a single photographer here who uses film either.  Luckily my digital back has highlighted another technical lesson learnt: don’t try to wedge your tripod leg in a pile of snow as it very slowly slips and all the pictures are shaky – in fact I’ve gone back to hand holding because every surface is either snow or ice.  However, the tripod makes a handy snow depth gauge!  Also don’t trust a bus driver to tell you when to get off either…

Despite the generally sunny weather there has been a few inches of snow and it soon cools off in the evening – on my way back from Vuorilammen sauna and ice swimming spot at 6pm it was already minus 10!  Heading back there this weekend to do some more portraits in this stunning location.

Spending all this time on the lakes, I’ve been fascinated how the division between the land and water has disappeared.

The sauna and swimming opens at 3pm today so I had a short time this morning to make a visit to Köhniönjärvi where there is an ice swimming place but this year it is not in use, the old ladies in the area liked to use it but it has been closed due to vandalism.  About 12cm of snow fell last night and early this morning and then it started to rain so it wasn’t the easiest trip by bus and the lake was deserted.

Vuorilammen sauna ice swimming hole

Vuorilammen sauna ice swimming hole

March 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm 1 comment

The first few days

Thursday 11 March

I’m in the flat. There’s no television on.  There’s no happy 4 year old child. There’s no internet.  I can hear traffic and its raining.  I’ve started knitting some socks but I’m thinking about the residency at the same time.

It’s taken us almost two days to get here with an overnight in Helsinki. It’s cold but not as cold as I expected and its started to rain.  There are big piles of dirty snow everywhere.

I wanted to get off the train all the time to take pictures.

I’m here with Debby who is also part of the Connections North project but she goes back next week and I’ll be here alone.  We both want to get started and it seems its taken an age to get here.

Sunday 14th March

The frozen lakes have not disappointed.  I spent yesterday at Jyväsjärvi which is the nearest lake to the printmaking centre, just over the railway line.  I suppose you could describe it as an urban park as its surrounded by housing. It has a specially made ice skating track and the rest of the lake is used by ski-ers, dog walkers and as a shortcut from the houses on the otherside into town.

Today, I spent the morning at Tuomiojärvi, a much quieter lake north of the town in a residential area.  The main draw was to check out the ice swimming spot, there were a few people braving the water but I couldn’t get close enough to talk to them as it had a private entrance.  I then spotted a few ice fishermen on the otherside of the lake, I think its going to take a while to get used to walking across the lakes – there’s probably around 10 inches of snow on top of the ice so every now and then your leg disappears and you think that’s it! Its also proving a bit technically tricky with all that white stuff in the frame.

On Friday, I had visited the ice swimming office in town and they had told me that there was a special sauna and swimming spot open this afternoon at Tikkakosken, about 20 km north of Jyväskylä in a military zone.  Debby and I only had one swimming costume between us so I very graciously (!) forwent the experience in favour of taking photos.  It was a beautiful spot and the three older women who didn’t speak a word of English were happy to be photographed, thank goodness for the letter Anna-Leena had written for me…  It’s got a lot colder and is snowing again today.

March 14, 2010 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

Finland

Between 10 and 24 March, I will be undertaking the first part of Connections North, International Residency Exchange Project in Jyväskylä, Central Finland organised by Art Connections and funded by Arts Council England.

Situated in Finland’s lake district, I will be based at the Jyväskylä Printmaking Centre and working on a project exploring the landscape and leisure activities of the frozen lakes. Although this could all change once I am there! I will then return to Jyväskylä to complete the residency in late May.

The other artists taking part in the project are Debby Moxon (jeweller), Sally Greaves-Lord (textile artist) and Paul Clifford (printmaker).

March 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

Home Work book

I’m delighted to announce that the Home Work book will be published by Dewi Lewis in July 2010.  Watch this space for details of the London exhibition and book launch in July and a series of book signings around the country.

  • £19.99 hardback
  • 112 pages, 53 colour photographs
  • 297mm x 245mm
  • ISBN: 978-1-904587-88-0

It is available for pre-order on Amazon now!!
Thank you to Arts Council England for their generous support through the G4A scheme which has made this publication possible.

February 25, 2010 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

Geographical Magazine

Home Work appears as an 8 page feature in the February issue of Geographical (the magazine of The Royal Geographical Society) out now!

Download a pdf of the feature here:  GE022-029_Photostory_Feb10

January 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

The project with no name

It’s been a couple of months since my return from China and I’ve been a bit busy with freelance work and doing talks about my work around the country. Personal projects are very needy in terms of energy, concentration and creativity as well as financially so its been nice in a way to step back from it for a while and earn some cash and as always freelance work takes you to places and meet people who you had never planned to!

Things are quietening now in the run up to Christmas and all the shopping is done so I thought it would be good to put up a post about October’s trip to China.

In a way I never really set out to do a project about China and in many ways it’s not really about China at all. I first travelled to Yunnan province when we were living in Vietnam – Kunming being just an hours flight from Hanoi. The second trip was to conclude something I hadn’t quite done to my satisfaction. Now of course the place and the people have got into my head!

I don’t know if it is just me, but working in China is hard work. Everything – travelling and communication particularly. Luckily my well trained iron gut held up fine to the change in diet and often dubious looking hygiene standards. In fact, food is a particular highlight of travelling in Yunnan.

For this trip, I was accompanied by my guide and translator from previous trips Ilian. Ilian is Bulgarian but has lived in China on and off for many years. I like working with guides who are not native because there is not the same pressure on them to give foreigners a totally positive view of the country. For this project I am interested in working with the ethnic minority* women and doing a piece of work which takes a look at the people and places left behind in the mad rush for modernisation and the effects on the countryside.

* PRC officially recognises 55 ethnic minority groups in China in addition to the Han majority. The ethnic minorities are 9.44% of mainland China and Taiwan’s total population and the greatest number can be found in Yunnan province, 34% (25 ethnic groups).

Going back to translators…. During this trip we regularly met people from at least 6 different minorities none of whom can communicate directly with each other except in Mandarin. Ilian and I travel by bus between the big places and then hire a car and driver to get to the more isolated places. Usually we try to find a minority driver who can communicate directly with the families we visit but for some reason this time this proved difficult. When I got back I realised how ridiculous this was getting when I thought about how at one point I asked something to Ilian who asked something to the driver who spoke to the man of the house in Yunnan dialect who then spoke to the women in their local language (most of the older women in isolated areas still only speak in their own language).

So this has prompted me to hire a Miao guide/translator to travel in the predominantly Miao area I am planning to visit next year. But even then I’m not sure whether he can communicate directly with all the sub-groups.

This is slow work but I am happy to share my work in progress and welcome comments about it on this blog. It would great to have more time and money to dedicate to this work but in the absence of these two essentials I am practising the art of what Rob Hornstra calls ‘slow journalism’ (take a look at http://www.thesochiproject.org).

There are some stunning landscapes in Yunnan – both natural and man-made.

Rice terraces in Honghe county

This trip started in Jinghong the capital of the Xishuangbanna Region (which borders Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Vietnam) and during the 4 hour bus journey to Mengla I was quite shocked to see mile after mile of hillsides covered in rubber trees for making car tyres – an industry of immense value. While rubber plantations have helped the growth of the Chinese economy it has been at a massive cost to the environment – they are the biggest threat to Yunnan’s incredibly diverse and unique forests.

Later that day we ended up in Jin Long village, probably the most southerly village in Yunnan, very close to the Laos border – where we met Pan Ying Yao, a Yao minority woman, one of only 4 women to make and still wear traditional clothing on a daily basis in this village.

Traditional costumes vary in style and decoration, according to geographical location. The costume identifies the minority and subgroup to which the wearer belongs and also indicates her position within it, denoting for example, her marital status.

'Mother Cloth'

“As a consequence of the rapid social changes taking place in China, many of the minority textile techniques are in danger of dying out as they are no longer being passed on to the present generation. Today, unlike their predecessors, minority girls go to school and instead of acquiring the traditional craft skills, have different priorities.” Ruth Smith, Minority Textile Techniques: Costumes from South West China).

I’m fascinated by clothing and this becomes a recurring theme in my work.

Yi embroidery

During this trip, I took along my laptop and scanner so that I could scan fabrics and clothing in people’s homes (and sometimes in the market place! – see photo below).

© Ilian Iliev

These places have recently had their roads upgraded from dirt to stone and some eventually to tarmac but in places mud slides often occur especially in the rainy season.

Road to Sha Latuo

Road to Lü Chun

I must admit that sometimes I have to wonder exactly what I am doing. This was when we had to get off the bus to allow it to drive through the mud slide behind a queue of several buses that had built up behind another bus which had got stuck. And that was nothing in scariness to the smaller muddy roads where the bus driver just carried on driving through whilst smoking or talking on his mobile phone on the edge of a sheer drop down to the river!

Although I work a lot on intuition, I took along a sheet of images of the type of things I was interesting in tracking down and a small book of photos from my previous trip which was invaluable to helping people to understand what I was doing. It was fascinating to discover that most people know very little about what is happening in their own province – the cormorant fishing near Dali caused particular interest in some places who had no idea this existed! And yet we can see a well-known cormorant fisherman advertising a bank on our TV’s every night!!

This is a project which needs time, time to spend with people, there seemed to be a lot of talk about giving people ‘face’ which seemed to mean eating a lot of breakfast (for the second time that day!) It was very hard to make a decision to move on from a visually inspiring area if it just wasn’t happening… as a photographer it can be hard to accept that no matter how genuine you are or no matter what you do, the request to photograph something (or more usually in China someone) is refused.

However, I’ve always been amazed as I travel around the world how relatively few times people refuse to be photographed.

San Yao San village

Xin Shan village

Dried bamboo shoots, Mengban

Gan Pai Da Zhai village

Gan Pai Da Zhai village

December 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

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Welcome to my blog where you can find news about my latest projects, exhibitions and publications. If you would like to see an archive of past work please go to my website

Home Work will be published by Dewi Lewis in July 2010

Cover of Home Work by Tessa Bunney