Conserving Heritage

With society firmly immersed in a wireless period of music streaming and playlist hype, it was fascinating to travel back to the 1880’s - a time when Edison’s mechanical phonograph cylinder permitted reliable audio recordings, and communities across the U.K. had formed a passion for experiencing live music - to photograph newly restored treasures from the Incorporated Society of Musicians’s archive.

Spanning 136 years, the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has been a constant presence representing the needs of professional musicians. From its inception, ISM has endeavoured to keep physical records and noteworthy artefacts that reflect their growth in membership and change in fashion and members’ needs, however misfortune struck with some of the earliest parts of the archive being damaged in flood water in one of their storage facilities. The damage effected books, annual reports, financial ledgers and some of the original membership enrolment records, and due to their importance, the decision was made to restore as best as possible.

The books were sent first to Graham Bignell’s studio in London, where the paper surfaces and photographs were expertly cleaned and revived. Next, they were consigned to Elizabeth Neville’s PZ Conservation studio in Cornwall, where the individual folios were painstakingly rebound to a new spine and the photographs were interleaved with specialist paper to protect them. The studio commissioned hand-dyed covers from leather technicians in Scotland to replace the warped originals. I was then asked to photograph them to ensure high quality digital records were available for printed reproduction and prosperity.

To ensure best reproduction in terms of faithful colour reproduction and changes in texture, I set up a mini ‘floor’ studio on black paper with 3 lights - 2 soft boxes for super even shadow fill and a gridded reflector to offer a light contrast and ‘bite’ to the very flat paper and original photographs. Although it was sad that the books had been water damaged, their mis-colour, fading and uneven texture provided a wonderful photographic opportunity to make an ultra detailed series of photographs.

The following images highlight some of pages from the Monthly Journal of the ISM from 1897; the Register of Members from 1898; the Account books beginning in 1914 of the Manchester and Ulster sections; and the Official Seal Book, which includes the signature of the ISM’s first General Secretary, Edward Chadfield. To learn more about the restoration project, please read this article featured in ISM’s Music Journal on ISSUU.

Power of Ownership

Since 2015 I have worked regularly with Dimensions, one the UK’s largest not-for-profit organisations providing support for people with learning disabilities, autism, challenging behaviour and complex needs. Visiting numerous locations across the UK, I have documented many case studies and created principle photography for their marketing and communications. I have found working with the Dimensions team particularly rewarding, as the richness of the personalities of the people they support (a full spectrum of support services from assisted independent living through to 2-1 intensive 24hr care) is not only very diverse but inspiring and enlightening in ample measure. It has also been heart warming to witness high quality and attentive care of the more vulnerable members of our society.

Earlier this summer, Dimensions Cymru invited me to collaborate on a project exploring how seemingly prosaic objects can be vitally important to people with autism and learning disabilities, because they often arrive in Dimensions’s services without many or no possessions at all. So objects that appear uninteresting or quotidian become vitally important to improving their chances of developing secure and stable lives. And, like anyone seeking a stable and healthy live force, they can begin to gather belongings and build a narrative to their lives, helping them shape their stories, experiences and self empowerment. 

The portraits were shot over a couple of hours in a corner of a municipal leisure centre’s badminton court in Cardiff. The accompanying vibe was buzzing with excitement and anticipation, with great care and understanding on hand from the numerous support workers - many of which have a long standing and trusting relationship with the person(s) they support. I photographed 26 people and the range of objects presented was immense - from car keys, darts, a Race for Life medal and cuddly toys to some fabulous green plastic hands, a trusted pocket radio, puzzles, baseball caps, a fellow house mate and a glittering selection of West End Musical souvenir brochures. 

The resulting exhibition *Power of Ownership* showcased 26 people with their meaningful object and was launched in Cardiff’s esteemed Chapter arts venue, before moving onto the fabulous space Temple of Peace. ITV News made a lovely report and you can watch it on ITV’s catch up player (skip through to 14:30 for the coverage). Most unfortunately, I could attend either the launch or locations as I was working abroad - though I hear the photographs were well received with many selfies of the participants next to their prints!

A huge thank you to Russ Kennedy, Adele Carter, Emma Jenkinson, Charlie Snell, Nicola Toon and Duncan Bell for all your organisational skills and passion. 

If you would like to learn more about supporting Dimensions with their volunteer programme, please look at their programme page highlighting the opportunities.

Due to my absence, I thank Tessa Holly for capturing the prints looking rather stately in the Temple of Peace.

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup is the working title of my new project chronicling law enforcement’s mobilisation to impede criminal activity in the borderland of Southwest Arizona. This journal entry offers a short synopsis of the project and some ‘sketchbook’ photographs captured during a recce I made in 2018. I have now returned to Arizona and will spend 4 weeks immersed in the searing heat of the border hinterland.

Build That Wall

In recent years, especially with the advent of Donald Trump’s Presidency, resulting from one of his core election campaign promises to BUILD THAT WALL!”, the border of the United States of America and Mexico has never been higher in the public’s consciousness. Much attention is centred on the border’s migratory pressures, with ample opinion and concern from all political viewpoints and, of course, the drug and human trafficking flowing like enriched veins through the Sonoran Desert’s unforgiving topography.

Brief History

Running 1,954 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, the border’s history is contentious, bloody and spans many hundreds of years of conflict, commercial plunder and political upheaval. Today’s border was mostly settled in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War, with the final pieces of the land distribution puzzle pieced together with the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, which resulted in the boundaries enforced to this day.

Brief Politics

Since the 45th President took office I, along with many other creatives with an eye on social discourse, have wanted to embark on building an observational narrative around the President’s election promise to ”Build that wall”. Although successfully popularising the debate around border security, President Trump is certainly not the first Commander-in-chief to promise to provide an effective system to lock down the international boundary. With numerous administrations persuading Congress to approve budgets for fences, vehicle barriers and surveillance - in recent years this includes Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper and George W. Bush’s ambitious Secure Fence Act of 2006 - none have generated the partisan deadlock created by Trump’s grandiose pledge.

“Build that wall” is of course a soundbite, not a cogent public policy position, as the stark realities of constructing a physical wall is practically impossible -  so setting aside political rhetoric, this leaves the more pressing conversation about effective border security and how best to implement it.

Where to focus?

Humanitarian assistance, cartels, detention centres and modern day Minutemen are just some of the themes that have received a lot of media attention along the southern US border - with the more noteworthy work (outside of dangerous opinion silos and echo chambers) offering good insight. With the addition of some of America’s most beautiful landscape, it is easy to see the attraction for an image maker.

Ever since I first entered the US back in 1991 via San Antonio, TX - to head out west - I was beguiled by the vibe and mood along the frontier, with its arid, sparse character stuck in my memory. As an inquisitive photographer, coupled with no let up in the super charged border debate during the intervening years, I decided to return and look into one perspective that remains constant - regardless of multiple US Administrations’ policies and campaign promises - policing the border.

There are many Federal Agencies enforcing a strategic blend of border security - Border Patrol (B.P), Customs & Border Protection (Port of Entry / P.O.E), Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A) Homeland Security Investigations & Customs Enforcement (I.C.E), the National Guard, U.S.M.S (United States Marshals Service) US Military and the F.B.I., to name a few. Their collective force adapts from State to State, dependent on the flow and sophistication of illegal cross border traffic, and because they are recognised internationally, their activities often attract high profile media attention. At State level, law enforcement becomes more nuanced - also adapting, but adapting to their local communities’ needs and environments. State law enforcement doesn’t get more local in the US than the County Sheriff, with Constitutionalists considering the Sheriff ‘the law’, above all State & Federal agencies - an unbroken policing presence for hundreds of years, and one that is elected into office every 4 years by their local citizenry.

There are 31 border Sheriffs spanning California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, all with varying degrees of public exposure and media presence. One particular Sheriff caught my attention when I listened to an interview by Eddie Mair on BBC Radio’s ‘PM’ programme with Sheriff Mark. D. Napier of Pima County, Arizona. Throughout the 15 minute discussion Sheriff Napier was refreshingly rhetoric free, a superb orator and genuinely impassioned in communicating the real world strategic issues presented by such a hostile and unforgiving mountainous desert environment. With Pima County sharing the longest border with Mexico of any county in the US and considered one of the oldest continually inhabited areas of the contiguous United States, I felt it a good place to start my project - so I made successful contact with Sheriff Napier.

Pima County

Contained in the last parcel of land settled in the Gadsden Purchase, the county is named after the indigenous Pima Native Americans. It contains San Xavier Indian Province, the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation and parts of the huge Tohono Oʼodham Nation, (the latter of which straddles 75 miles of border into Mexico’s Sonora State). Carved out of the scorched Sonoran Desert, covering 9,200 sq miles and encompassing the city of Tucson north of Nogales, the area’s relationship with Mexico is labyrinthine - to say the least. Aside from its two secure ports of entry, Lukeville & Sasabe - the rest of the borderline is mostly a porous boundary, exploited by transnational crime organisations engaging in narcotics, human trafficking and sex trafficking. Because of Pima County’s vast tracts of remote terrain and near impenetrable topography so close to the border, the police department have the additional challenge of responding effectively to the fallout and pressures of border crime, alongside ‘regular’ duties associated with law enforcement like traffic violations, house burglary, domestic violence, drug use, public safety and implementing arrest warrants. 

Plan to Capture

During my recce in 2018, I was awe struck by the juxtaposition of abundant natural wonder, enshrined in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, with the ‘cat & mouse’ deployment of electronic surveillance architecture, physical man power and intelligence gathering infrastructure that is in place to disrupt trafficking networks and supply channels.

I seek to formally document this eerie coalesce and Pima County’s Sheriff Department’s policing blend in high heat of an Arizonan summer. I look forward to reporting my findings.

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