Julia Riddiough is an artist and the founder of A Brooks Art, a not-for-profit artist-led gallery which was housed in a regenerated Victorian florist shop in East London. The program drew new audiences to the area, showcasing the value of art and the role it can play in transforming lives. After two years of delivering work described as “truly provocative” and “meaningful,” A Brooks Art is now in the process of evolution. Its future plans include overseas artist residencies, online and virtual projects, UK regional creative enterprises, as its physical space in London closes.
Riddiough’s personal work has been exhibited internationally, and examines the space between fact and fiction, meaning and perception, often referencing the representation and portrayal of women. In recent years, she has also focused on men, doing residencies in that hallowed male space: the barber shop.
PWP: How did the project come about?
JR: Strangely I was drawn to a Barber Shop where I used to live as I was interested in the images of male models that hung in the window. I went in several times to ask if I could buy them but the answer was always no. I began to realize that each time I entered the shop, I was stepping into an entirely male domain. On one occasion, I spied some magazines left on the side and I asked the barber if I could take a peek. The magazines were called “Men’s Passion,” and featured the models from the windows but in a magazine format. There were also ads for Barber Shops and one caught my eye called “My Vice is Hair.” This immediately gave me the idea to start a project, so I rented the magazines from the barber for £20, and re photographed the ones that looked interesting. That was in 2010 as the magazines were out of print. It was not until 2013 that I started to think about the representation of men and reversing the “Male” gaze.
Next came the idea to make a film about masculinity using these images. I needed a script, which I then wrote after much research talking to men and going to Men’s Festivals! When the film Clip Cut Gel was finished, another artist suggested Artist Residencies in Barber Shops! So I thought this would be a great idea to get feedback, give men a voice and get into the male space for my project. I did three residencies in three Barber Shops alongside three art festivals where the film was also shown. I gathered feedback by asking three questions of men as they got their hair cut:
1. What are the pleasures and challenges of being a man?
2. Tell me a Barber Shop story
3. If you ruled the world what would it look like? The replies were very revealing, touching and insightful and I felt privileged to be able share these stories.
PWP: The images seem to show men in a way we don’t usually think of them, in a vulnerable light. Can you talk about this, and how it speaks to the human experience?
JR: When men enter the Barber Shop they feel relaxed and at home–this is their space, men together, sharing a joke, their problems and shooting the breeze, feeling safe. Although some are still guarded, this is where they feel they can be themselves in a social atmosphere. This lends itself to a particular freedom and confiding in the Barber, feeling free to do so, often laying-bare. Men are also in a transitional space in the barbershop wanting to transform themselves from their current state into a groomed and well-turned out man. It’s this space and these moments that their vulnerability is sometimes visible whilst their transformation takes place.
PWP: Tell us one specific moment/moments in the barbershop that really got you.
JR: I was very lucky to be able to photograph in the Barber Shop practically carte blanche but this meant building trust and respect with everyone, being genuine, honest and upfront. I made sure that I was communicating person-to-person, giving space and time to each individual. In conversations it became a two way street and that was key. One chap was sitting in the chair and I was beside him standing up looking at him in the mirror and he said, “I have been coming here Man and Boy and I have seen my life go by in this chair.” With that a tear sprung to his eye which also set me off and we had a little moment together. That was completely unexpected and extremely special. We are all vulnerable, including men, but they are not often given the space to be so.
PWP: What did you learn from the project, and what would you like to communicate about the experience to others?
JR: I had a wonderful and rare opportunity, and was welcomed by all who took part and generously gave their time and stories. I felt privileged to be given a window on a world we perhaps would not usually see. I learnt a great deal about loneliness, humility and dignity, and the so-called ‘War of the Sexes’ (a social and media construct in plain sight and reinforced in the culture around us). Some men feel as lost as we women and only want to be understood and valued for being human. We are all struggling!
March is Women’s History Month, a time to think about the immense contribution of women to all aspects of society in cultures all over the world. They truly hold up half the sky. Throughout March, Professional Women Photographers will take a look at the work and contributions of women artists. Today we are honored to present British artist Sadie Hennessy.
In 2010, Hennessy won the Jealous Graduate Art Prize for her final MA show (Accident & Emergency) at Central St. Martins. In 2011, she was artist-in-residence in the Croydon College of Art printmaking department, which culminated in a solo show called Freud in Dreamland at the Parfitt Gallery in January 2012. She exhibited work at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), Crunch Art Festival (2011), London Art Fair (2011) and Strange Hungers WW Gallery, EC1 (2012). She is currently Artist-in-Residence at Resort Studios, Margate.
PWP: Why is photography important in art and how is it being used in more than a “pure,” stand alone way?
SH: I think these days everyone thinks of themselves as a photographer, as we all document and curate so much of the minutiae of our everyday lives (using, mainly, the cameras in our phones). If something hasn’t been photographed, it almost didn’t happen. Perhaps that is why artists are doing other things with photographs, alongside pure photography–to push the form in other, less accessible directions. Personally, I am interested in old photos and found images, as they seem to have an inherent authenticity and carry a freight of unanswered questions–that appeals to me. I try and create images that reflect on contemporary life whilst simultaneously embodying a sense of nostalgia, so collage (digital and analogue) created using old photos works very well for me.
PWP: Can you tell us about the technique of photographic screenprinting?
SH: Yes, this is a four-color screenprinting process that only uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink (CMYK)–the same process as color newspaper printing (for example). I usually create my images in Photoshop (digitally), though sometimes make screenprints from scissors-and-glue collages too, which I photograph. When the image is ready, I convert it to 4 layers in Photoshop–the CMYK separations–and each of these is printed onto acetate. I then expose 4 separate screens (one for each layer) and print them in the following order: yellow, magenta, cyan and black. With luck the end result is quite photographic, but still clearly a hand-made print, due to the quality of the paper and the inks. I was initially inspired by Andy Warhol’s photographic screenprints, though his use a different technique than the one I’ve described. His most famous works tended to mix stencil printing with a single, black photographic layer.
PWP: Tell us how your work relates to issues of gender?
SH: I consider myself to be a feminist artist, and all my work relates to the way I see the world as a woman. As I get older, I am particularly interested in portraying the experience of aging as a woman, in our youth-obsessed society. I use a lot of humor in my work, and hope I make my political points in both a thought-provoking and humorous way.
(Note: Hennessy’s work also explores darker themes as in the following triptych which reflects on the misogynistic phenomenon of acid attacks on women’s faces.)
– Catherine Kirkpatrick, Blog Editor
As this image from Darleen Rubin’s exhibition Before the Garden shows, the NYC “Save Our Libraries” campaign has been around for decades. But never was it more glamorous than in 1974 when it was graced by the New York Dolls.
In this exhibit, Rubin, who has been photographing her West Village neighborhood for many years, focuses on change at the Jefferson Market Library. There are images of the dismantling of the infamous women’s house of detention next door, the garden that replaced it, and the NY Dolls performance. A must for students of city history and change.
Free. Through Feb. 25. At Jefferson Market Library (425 Sixth Ave., at 10th St.). Mon./Wed 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues./Thurs. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri./Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. For more info, visit nypl.org/events/exhibitions.
They work away like bees in a hive, quietly and industriously, in old manufacturing buildings in off-beat sections of the city. Artists, writers, designers, photographers. It’s always fascinating to visit and see work in progress. Recently I caught up with Mary Teresa Giancoli about her photographic exploration of Spanish culture in New York City and Mexico.
It’s not surprising to learn that Giancoli has a BA in Italian Culture from Wellesley College and an MFA in photography from Hunter. Her work combines a lush visual style with a deep interest in the customs of distinct Spanish communities. Her grandfather was born in Mexico, and many traditions were passed down through her mother’s side of the family. So it is not surprising that in the late 1990′s, Giancoli was drawn to photograph the Mexican communities in New York.
She began the project on December 12, 1997 in Our Lady of Guadalupe, a small church on West 14th Street where the mass is said in Spanish. She established a connection through a guitarist who was willing to serve as her guide into the community. She relied on natural light and asked permission before taking pictures. She worked on her Spanish. Still, it took a long time for her to “break in,” and she attended many events all over the city, slowly accumulating a body of work.
After the opening of a solo show at the UAM (universidad autónoma metropolitana) in México City, Giancoli visited the small town of Cuetzalan, halfway between Puebla and Veracruz. It is rural and lush, struggling to improve itself economically while trying to hold onto traditional ways.
She was drawn to the Maseualsiuamej, a cooperative of women who banded together in 1985 to gain independence. They broke economic ties with men, got a micro loan to manage an eco-hotel, established a tortilla factory, and began to sell their beautiful needlework in the markets to gringos.
Which strikes a note because the organization I am writing for, Professional Women Photographers, was founded by women photographers banding together to help other women photographers because at the time, no one else would. It was 1975, and there were few opportunities for women in the field. All of those who forged ahead have stories, some funny, some sad, about discrimination, and most struggled fiercely to survive.
Giancoli’s photographs capture the rhythm and texture of the Cuetzalan women’s lives, from their brightly colored home interiors to the beautiful blouses they make, which incorporate symbolically local flora and fauna–wild turkeys, lush vegetation, and exotic fruit like maracuya.
Giancoli also photographed a festival in which young women compete to represent their area and customs. As she describes it: “The festival of the Huipil (from Nahuatl, an Aztec language, meaning blouse or dress) revives indigenous customs in music, dance as a response to people who were displaced from their land and beliefs.”
“The Huipil contest is held in October to honor a young woman. Contestants are fourteen to twenty years old, fluent in their native tongue, Nahuatl and Spanish, know how to weave and perform domestic work in rural communities. The young women are judged on their beauty and purity of their customs. The Tatiaxas, a council of men, delivers the vote of the winner in a hat to the lead Tatiaxa. The Huipil Queen is carried through town, and dancing breaks out in the Plaza of San Francisco.”
When she came, the people of Cuetzalan told Giancoli they had been photographed before, but never seen any pictures. Not only did she win their trust, but gave them back beautiful and sincere images of themselves.
To see more, visit her website. All the photographs are archival digital prints on solid bamboo, 15″ x 15.” She will open her studio during the Long Island City Festival of the Arts on Saturday, May 17th 3-6 pm, and Sunday May 18th 3-6 pm, and by appointment. She will also lead a photo tour along the waterfront on May 17th.
In a personal document, John Milisenda has photographed his family, mother, father and brother for almost fifty years. These images are in museums and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art, and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and have been in over one hundred and thirty shows. Milisenda has taught basic photography, the Zone System and Photographic Chemistry at Drexel University, the New School For Social Research and Parsons School of Design. He has written articles for Modern Photography and Photo Methods Magazine. Currently he works with methods that combine digital and traditional photography. In keeping with his interest in and deep knowledge of photographic processes, he maintains a darkroom in which he mixes all his chemistry, and experiments with various papers and films.
Milisenda is a native New Yorker who found quiet poetry in the Lower East Side neighborhood where he grew up, and in his family which he has photographed over many years. Click here to see a short video photo-essay of his work on his developmentally disabled brother:
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- Catherine Kirkpatrick