“Initial excitement soon gets infected by doubt, lack of confidence, ethical concerns, issues of censorship, and ultimately, of identity -my own as simultaneously a photographer, a facilitator, and a friend but someone who must keep one foot on the sidelines, who belongs and doesn’t at the same time” - Gemma Thorpe.
If only we could plot the emotional highs and lows of the average documentary project…I’ve had some serious ups and downs over recent months with the Roma work – the highs of producing a body of work that has been appreciated, winning a couple of grants, and seeing Ramona win recognition for her continued achievements (she recently did herself proud by getting onto the NHS list of approved interpreters); followed by the frustrations of trying to make new contacts in towns I don’t know, doubts about foisting an existing project onto a new place and new people, and the collapse due to staff changes of what I thought was my one sure-fire mini project.
I wish I was more patient – I blame my time spent working on daily newspapers – because I know deep down that things do get better if you ride these periods out. Things are looking up – I’ve now found new families to photograph over the coming months and have other possible bits and pieces in the pipeline. So just as I started feeling that hopeful high that comes when you feel your luck is beginning to turn, this blog post by my friend Gemma resonated with me very much. Her Youzi project, in which she is partnering with an academic to photograph and collaborate with Chinese students in Sheffield, is shaping up to be fascinating, and watching her go through the same highs and lows that I have been experiencing myself has been reassuring. I am greatly missing the support of being on an MA course, so knowing a fellow voyager has been a big help over recent months.
Last week I talked about the genesis of Elvira and Me to a group of MA Anthropology students at Manchester Uni. Preparing for this got me thinking about how ridiculously control-freaky I have a tendency to be, but how no matter how much you plan this kind of project, it always turns out differently to how you envisage at the start: in this particular case, despite all my incessant list-writing and plotting and attempts to cover all bases in one project, the project evolved organically and ended up having far greater depth than I could have foreseen at the start. This is of course the magic of journalism and of photography, and is what I love about it, but that doesn’t stop me trying to over-plan and squeeze every last drop of spontaneity out things, time after time, when I really should know better. I feel the need to remind myself of this as I move into the next chapters of this project.
I already owe a huge debt of gratitude to a number of people who have been open-minded enough to listen to my ideas and put me in touch with the Roma families who I hope to follow over the coming months: Michael and Andi in Newcastle, Julie, Kath and Radka in Middlebsbrough and Petr and Josef in Peterborough. Thank you.