Exhibitions Open Source Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #18 – KELEENNA ONYEAKA

1 October - 31 October 2020

Projects

Tobias Zielony — Maskirovka

27 August 2020

Projects

Save Some Space (The Time We Call Our Own Online #4)

20 August 2020

Events

Open Rooms #9 Access to Art: Who is art for?

24 September 2020

Projects

PLATFORM Issue 2: The New Normal

18 September 2020

Events

Harold Offeh: When Was the Time I Could Call My Own?

1 October 2020

Projects

Andrew Miksys — Disko (The Time We Call Our Own: Online #3)

6 August 2020

Projects

Oliver Sieber: Imaginary Club (The Time We Call Our Own: Online #2)

30 July 2020

Projects

Getting Ready: Amelia Lonsdale and Her Mum (#1)

23 July 2020

Exhibitions Open Source Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #17 – SAMANTHA JAGGER

3 September - 30 September 2020

Exhibitions

you out tonight?

10 August 2020

Projects

folio20: Hugh Baird University Centre

10 August 2020

Projects

Sarah Eyre (Untitled)

10 August 2020

Projects

Activity Packs for Older People

20 July 2020

Projects

Young People + Family Activity Packs

20 July 2020

Projects

Open Rooms #3: Photographing the Internet (w/ Mishka Henner)

7 May 2020

Projects

Open Rooms #2: Separated Together

30 April 2020

Projects

Open Rooms #7: Photography Does Not Love You (Katrina Sluis w/ Jacob Bolton)

2 July 2020

Projects

Open Rooms #8: Photography and Racialisation

9 July 2020

Projects

Open Rooms #5: Class of 2020 — Seba Kurtis in conversation with Mariama Attah

18 June 2020

Projects

Love is an Action

11 June 2020

Projects

OPEN ROOMS #4: INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING W/ COLIN WILKINSON

21 May 2020

Open Eye Stories

4 May 2020

Open Rooms

4 May 2020

Exhibitions

Online Programme

15 March 2020

Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #16 – PAULINA KOROBKIEWICZ

1 March - 31 March 2020

Main Exhibition Future Exhibitions

Exhibition: The Time We Call Our Own

3 September - 23 October 2020

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #15 – JONATHAN LYNCH

1 February - 29 February 2020

Projects

PLATFORM Issue 01

21 January 2020

LAUNCH: THE DARK FIGURE*

20 February - 20 February 2020

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #14 – SAHAN NUHOGLU

16 January 2020

Exhibitions

VISUAL RIGHTS

16 January - 22 March 2020

Exhibitions

THE DARK FIGURE*

20 February - 22 March 2020

Past Exhibitions

EXPOSED

3 April 2020

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: NOW, FOR THE FUTURE – OPEN SOURCE X SHUTTER HUB

1 November - 30 November 2019

Past Exhibitions

Brilliant City 中文

30 October - 16 November 2019

Tong Yan Gai — Chinatown—中文

7 October - 24 October 2019

Exhibitions

HE 中文

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

JUMP! 中文

4 October - 26 October 2019

Exhibitions

A Room of Our Own: a Fast Forward Women in Photography Exhibition 中文

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

DINU LI: ANATOMY OF PLACE — (中文)

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

Peer to Peer 中文

17 October - 22 December 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 12 – KATHY ANNE LIM

1 October - 31 October 2019

Past Exhibitions

LOOK PHOTO BIENNIAL / SATELLITE

17 October - 21 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

JUMP! — Curated by Sian Bonnell

4 October - 26 October 2019

Past Exhibitions

UCLan: Brilliant City

30 October - 16 November 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

Derek Man & Tobias Brebner: Tong Yan Gai — Chinatown

7 October - 24 October 2019

Past Exhibitions

YAN WANG PRESTON: HE

17 October - 21 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

A Room of Our Own: a Fast Forward Women in Photography Exhibition

17 October - 21 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

Dinu Li: The Anatomy of Place

17 October - 21 December 2019

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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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