Exhibitions

NORTH: FASHIONING IDENTITY

14 September - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions Future Exhibitions

Peer to Peer

17 October - 22 December 2019

Exhibitions

SIXTEEN at Ellesmere Port Library

19 September - 27 September 2019

Events

WE ARE KIRKBY

19 September 2019

Future Exhibitions

WE ARE KIRKBY

23 September - 16 November 2019

LOOK Events Events

Launch: LOOK Photo Biennial 2019

17 October - 17 October 2019

LOOK Events Events

OPENING: DISTINCTLY

27 September - 27 September 2019

Events

OPEN SOURCE IN CONVERSATION: NATHAN CUTLER

26 September - 26 September 2019

Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 11 – NATHAN CUTLER

1 September - 30 September 2019

Events

COAST TO COAST TO COAST

14 September - 14 September 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 10 – JOCELYN ALLEN

1 August - 31 August 2019

Exhibitions

A Portrait Of…

2 August - 29 September 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 09 – ARABELLE ZHUANG

1 July - 31 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

Close Attention

11 July - 21 July 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

New York Scene/Unseen: Keith Haring and Friends

14 June - 7 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 08 – DENISA N. MOLNAR

1 June - 30 June 2019

Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: TRANSFORMATIVE MOMENTS – STEPHANIE WYNNE

1 April - 7 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 07 – MARIE SMITH

1 May - 31 May 2019

Projects

VR — Wake Up Together (Ren Hang & Where Love is Illegal)

23 April 2019

Main Exhibition

Belonging: Students of Whitby High School

18 April - 28 April 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 06 – MARIA ANSELL

1 April - 30 April 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 05 – ELIZABETH GLEAVE

1 March - 31 March 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 04 – LEIA MORRISON

1 February - 28 February 2019

Past Exhibitions

Here And Now

19 February - 23 February 2019

Exhibitions

PAULINE ROWE & DAVE LOCKWOOD – THE ALLOTMENTS

29 August - 28 September 2019

Exhibitions

TABITHA JUSSA & JOHN DAVIES – CAN’T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

6 June - 4 July 2019

Exhibitions

Stephanie Wynne and Stephen McCoy — Triangulation

18 July - 24 August 2019

Exhibitions

Yan Wang Preston — Forest

6 June - 28 September 2019

Exhibitions

LIZ HINGLEY – SHANGHAI SACRED

6 June - 25 September 2019

Main Exhibition

Kinship

9 May - 7 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 03 – OLLIE HAYWARD

1 January - 31 January 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 02 – RACHEL GLASS

1 December - 31 December 2018

Projects Exhibitions

209 Women

28 February - 14 April 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 01 – HEATHER GLAZZARD

1 November - 30 November 2018

Projects Culture Shifts

Where Things are Different

15 August 2017

Past Exhibitions

She Dreams – Yan Wang Preston

24 September - 10 February 2018

Past Exhibitions

Wake Up Together

15 November - 17 February 2019

Exhibitions

DISTINCTLY

27 September - 24 November 2019

Projects

209 Women Crowdfunder

6 September - 17 October 2018

Past Exhibitions

XU ZHEN: OPTIMIZING

13 July - 7 September 2018

Past Exhibitions

HIDDEN WORLDS

14 July - 16 July 2018

Past Exhibitions

New Brighton Revisited

14 July - 25 August 2018

Exhibitions

SEEING FUTURES: HUGH BAIRD PHOTOGRAPHY UNDERGRADUATES & ALUMNI

29 June 2018

Past Exhibitions

‘ELLESMERE PORT’ WHITBY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT EXHIBITION

22 June 2018

Past Exhibitions

Liverpool Biennial 2018: Beautiful World Where Are You?

14 July - 28 October 2018

Past Exhibitions

China Conversation

17 June 2018

Projects

MA Course Brief

1 September 2018

Main Exhibition

Our North

28 March - 30 March 2018

Past Exhibitions

Snapshot to WeChat: A Migration of Identity

6 April 2018

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

The Pier Head – Tom Wood

12 January - 25 March 2018

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© Nina Manandhar, What We Wore/Pinky
Nina Manandhar

A SPOTLIGHT ON… NINA MANANDHAR

Part of our ‘Spotlight On…’ series, led by our new socially engaged photography network. Photofusion Participation Manager and Creative Practitioner Becky Warnock interviews Nina Manandhar (Photographer and Curator) discussing her approach to engagement using style to explore complex personal identities.  

 

BW: Tell me about your background, both generally and then more specifically in participatory practice.

NM: I’ve done lots of participatory projects, some of them involve working with people and some of them are more about working with archives. There are three strands to how I work, What We Wore, which was a project and book about the people’s history of British style was participatory in the sense in that it was about gathering people’s photographs.

Then there’s what I do working with young people. I used to run a magazine called The Cut which was a youth-led magazine, so I worked with photographers, including D Wiafe and young people to create it. I set it up with my friend Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky, back in 2008, so we’re kind of going back before they were the same opportunities, or certainly wasn’t as easy as now, for young people to kind of create their own media. We worked over about 6 or 7 years in Westminster co-creating a magazine with young people from all over London and connecting with opportunities in the media. It was very much a collaborative project, so we were their mentors, but we’d work together to brainstorm ideas and respond to London youth culture. Photography was a big part of that. I was there as a facilitator but also, I had quite a big role in building a brand and working not just on a local level. The magazine was quite respected in London culture and so it gave young people opportunities. It also connected to my other work in the industry; doing shoots and consultancy and stuff like that, which enabled us to be quite connected to brands and things like that.

BW: Where did the idea for The Cut come from?

NM: Me and Nendie were at art college, at Chelsea, and we did a fanzine, which was pre a lot of the internet culture we have now. Not pre-internet completely, but certainly pre blogs, in around 2003. In some ways this was the start of my participatory work, and it didn’t feel like so common as it is now. We made the fanzine, Hardcore Is More Than Music which was about music arts and culture and we took it to a festival.

Now I think about it, probably the first participatory project I did was when I was at college, which was a traveling badge machine. I used to take it around to different places and run badge making workshops. I made a book to accompany it which was full of archive imagery of badges and also images I’d shot of people wearing badges. In some ways it sounds quite basic, but I guess the ideas follow through to my work now which is made up of archive imagery self-shot photography and research. It was a sort of template for the projects I do now, and it started with badges, but it’s all an exploration of style and the meaning of style and how people present themselves outwardly through their clothing.

BW: Now this is a tricky question, but can you pin down where your interests in identity and style came from?

NM: When I was a teenager, I was really shy, so I was really into expressing what I was into through what I was wearing and the music I liked. I think back then the relationship between music and how you dress was much more correspondent. You could dress a certain way to express yourself, it was more tribal and it’s not like that so much now, but I think music and fashion kind of went hand in hand. That was the main way for young people to express their identities. Me and my friends kind of had this crew – we dressed a certain way – that was our mode of expression both as individuals and as a group. When you look at how people dress outwardly, and you observe how they sit on their own or how they sit within a group, it’s all little codes – and that’s what I’m interested in. Group identity, individual identity and what it means carried through to What We Wore too, where I look at British style. I wanted to build a people’s history through people’s own photography.

BW: So, with those interests, you could have gone down quite a traditional fashion route, but you obviously didn’t. Was that a conscious decision? Was there a reason why?

NM: I’m not as driven to shoot fashion photography, although I do some fashion photography, but I don’t get the same fulfilment out of it as I do other things, I’m more interested in exploring the social meaning of style, that’s what drives me. I’m coming more from an anthropological point of view where I’m interested in understanding people. The artists I was into at the time when I was studying were people like Jeremy Deller who were working in social practice which also influenced me I think.

BW: Do you see you work as two very separate strands, or are they more connected for you?

NM: I do commercial photography, but I don’t do commercial work which doesn’t lie within my interests. So, for example, I just did a job for the RAF, which was about diversity in the RAF, women and minorities, I spent a day documenting a girl who is a young RAF officer. It was a commercial job but it’s very much about exploring British youth cultural identity. It’s not actually out yet, but it will be out soon, it’s called My Two Homes and we went to spend time with her in Coventry she’s from and then also on the RAF base. I was documenting her in her uniform, and what that means in relation to her identity. These are interests I already have, which translate into commercial jobs. But then at the same time I could go and do a project with a group of young people where they’re creating work about this. Sometimes I worry if it’s always good to overlap into so many different areas but it kind of works for me.

BW: I guess as a through-line to what you’re doing, using different approaches to look at the same idea?

NM: Exactly.

BW: I’m interested in when you approach a project that is more explicitly socially engaged compared to something that is more commercial, do you approach the project very differently, do you see them in kind of very separate ways or do you come at them quite similarly?

NM: I guess when you’re doing a commercial project you’re responding to a client, when you are doing a participatory project you also responding to a brief based on what that institution has in mind. It can be more singular when you’re responding as an individual to a brief whereas when you’re working with an organization or with a group of young people then perhaps there is more of a kind of collective working. Considering what everybody can get out of it in terms of their learning outcomes and stuff. It’s different with What We Wore which is participatory in a different way, in that I became a collector, collecting imagery and then editing it and curating it.

I am the same personality when I’m going to shoot as I am when I’m around a bunch of young people, it’s not like I have to change my personality, and that’s why people will get me on a commercial job. That’s the kind of job that I get, is very much about people and getting to know them and understanding them. That’s the same when I do a participatory project – it’s about drawing people out of themselves or making them feel comfortable to be themselves.

BW: I know you have strong ideas about the politics of representation, so how important is it to you to be ethically representing the people that you’re working with? Have you ever felt that there’s been any kind of pushback from your commercial clients? Has your approach ever felt in contradiction to what you have to do?

NM: Yes, sometimes people just want to do stuff that reinforces clichés and I wouldn’t really want to do a job that reinforced a stereotype or cliché that I’m interested in unpicking. I’m less interested in it unless it’s doing something which is really different or enables you to create a more nuanced picture. I think it’s changed a lot in the last sort of five to ten years anyway in terms of representation. It’s really has shifted. I did a shoot last year, The New Mods with the young hijab girls, and I mean 10 years ago it wouldn’t have existed. But now it’s fashionable to be diverse – which is good – but time will tell if the industry has really changed.

I think the fact that more young people are making images and documenting themselves and Instagram is a huge part of that – it just a different climate for representation.

BW: Do you think that it’s signifying a cultural shift that is only ever is only going to increase or are you a bit more sceptical that it is just kind of around because it’s fashionable now?

NM: I think it will shift if the people making the decisions also shift. It’s not all about representation it’s also about the people who have the power. If there’s a more diverse bunch of people with power making decisions at all levels, then representation will truly change but it won’t shift if that doesn’t change. It’s not just about how things are represented but also about the inner workings of organizations and it isn’t there yet…

BW: Yeh we’re not there yet!

NM: It can’t happen that quickly. I think it has shifted but right now I think it is a fashion thing it has been a fashion thing before. But maybe we have reached a turning point.

BW: What role does social media play in style and identity and self-representation?

NM: People are creating their own images of themselves more – telling their own stories more and putting themselves out there. This is not to say it isn’t constructed but they are able to present themselves as they are more online, and it’s affected the way trends build, I think.

BW: So yesterday I was at a session with a more challenging group, and there was a young woman who I was trying to get to use a camera and engage in the session, she wasn’t really having any of it. But then as soon as we talked about selfies and using different light, she was there. So, do you feel like there’s a role for it as a mode of engagement?

NM: Yes, it’s just so prevalent – if someone who hasn’t picked up a camera for anything else, they’ve probably picked up a camera their phone camera to do a selfie. So, I think it’s a different level of self-consciousness, which there wasn’t for some of the other photography of youth cultures. So, The Cut was kind of pre this, which made the images they were making very different. It was Facebook era then; I remember we recruited all the young people to join the project through Facebook. People were still doing selfies and editing using face filters, but it wasn’t to the same level. Instagram is a whole beast of its own, in terms of style people use selfies to document what they wear and to connect with other people and to kind of present themselves. The amount at which people can put images of themselves out there surprises me sometimes. Some Instagrams it’s like every single picture as a selfie, it seems more acceptable for a generation of young people who have grown up with Instagram, their sharing boundaries have shifted.

BW: For me selfie culture is so influenced by fashion, and I think that the next generation of photographers that are coming up now are also, and you can see that in their work. I’m kind of curious to see what happens next.

NM: What it is, is performative, that’s the word, because everything with social media is so performative.

BW: I don’t think we’ve ever discussed this before, but it’s an important conversation to have in this sector; what is your understanding on authorship in your projects?

NM: Well, when I was doing The Cut, sometimes I felt frustrated because I felt like I didn’t have enough authorship, which is what pushed me to start doing more of my own ‘personal’ work. Even though I’ve always considered The Cut to be my work as well as ‘our work’, but it not everybody else really saw it like that. Perhaps that was about the positioning of it as a magazine rather than an artwork. With What We Wore, which is all other people’s photographs, I had more ownership over it because I was curating the work and pulling it together and leading the project. Whereas with The Cut it was a little bit more challenging because it was all government-funded and it went a little bit too far down an educational route. Whereas now the projects I do there’s a little bit more a of a grey area.

BW: I think this is interesting because one of the things that social practice encompasses for me is the idea that it’s not just about the physical object, that is the artwork, it’s in the engagement and the whole big picture.

NM: There are some people that just make images but that’s not what I do. That’s not my end game. I’m interested in whatever way to explore an idea, sometimes it’s working collaboratively with people. I’m interested in the ideas that I’m researching and sometimes making an image or documenting your community is one part of it but there’s other elements to it as well to tell the whole story.

BW: Definitely, and if we are to assume that our society is going to get more and more high-tech, more digitized, then the definition of artist as the person who presses the shutter is only going to become further away.

The idea of collaboration, or indeed the term ‘collaboration’ is being used more and more in photography, to encompass lots of different things. What do you think about this?

NM: It’s another grey area I think, often it is more of a collaboration than someone coming from the outside and taking an image of somebody else and not identifying them or making them into an image with an author’s name. I think someone like Alice Mann’s work is collaborative, and you can see that in the work, because I think that

she’s really engaged. She’s a perfect example of someone who was really taking their time to get to know the community she documents. But she’s the author and she’s still got an author status – perhaps that’s important although it does still feel like a collaboration. In this case there’s more of a dialogue, rather than the photographers being a removed person who documents.

The Cut can be described as a collaborative project, and that term describes the different engagements. It wasn’t really all about the product alone, but it was as much about the process, and whilst sometimes I found the lack of authorship for me frustrating, the young people were leading it much more than us, but it wasn’t about a single author.

BW: Fashion has a long-established history of collaboration – do you think there’s anything we can learn from their approach?

NM: Fashion is more collaborative in that it requires a team – you can’t make a fashion image without huge team. It might be the photographer leading or a stylist leading but it’s about the team or the brand or collective. In the art world it’s very much about an individual and I think we need to find more of that sense of team. Again, this comes back to authorship.

BW: Final question – what’s next for you? Especially as a new mum?

NM: Although it may not be obvious at first, all my work is an exploration of me and identity in some ways. Though never really with my friends – I actually hate photographing people close to me, I feel very self-conscious. I like photographing people I don’t know and using photography as a tool to access different worlds. I’m really not interested in sharing pictures of myself or my baby as part of my practise. I took a few pictures of myself when I was pregnant but they’re for me rather than as a piece of artwork. Having said that I am thinking about motherhood, walking around with a pram is like a whole new stimulus.

I am actually working on a children’s book about identity, there’s not photography in it but I’m doing lots of image research to do the illustrations I’m creating. I’d like it to become an animation too. It’s a bit unknown because I’ve never Illustrated a book before and certainly things are quite time-consuming which is harder to do with a little baby, but I did a lot of the work before she was born. Sometimes I think I would have done better if I’d stuck to one medium and been one of those artists who just does photography. But it’s just not who I am.

I’m having a little break at the moment from going very far to shoot, but I’ve never been a photographer who has wanted to travel loads to make work. I believe in finding interesting stuff on your doorstep.

 

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