Spotlight: Leia Ankers

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Cordelia is blind in one eye with limited site in her other eye, deaf and has cerebral palsy. Cordelia ability to move anywhere herself and connect with others is important to her; if she is interested, she uses self-initiative to wheel herself in her wheelchair to where she wants. Cordelia independence is easiest achieved in water as she can move alone without the support of her wheelchair or carers. Cordelia admires the sensory experience of water being poured onto her hands and intensely watches it full between her fingers. The hydro pool is Cordelia place of freedom, it portrays her personality and allows her to be seen how she wants to be. 

The first of our Spotlight series which highlights the work of diverse photographers is with photographer Leia Ankers and their portrait series The Same As You which highlights two women with disabilities.

'The Same As You' focuses it's attention on people with disabilities. What initially made you want to tell their stories? 

Growing up I spent a lot of time at home due to yearly operations from the ages of 4 to 16. When I hit my teens, this had a substantial impact; I felt quite secluded when I began secondary school as each year I would be off school for a long period of time after my operations. 

I discovered photography in these years and used it as a way of having fun and coping whilst I was at home, seeing from afar, other teenagers leading their lives. I basically withstood the enforced loneliness in these teen years through taking photographs of my family and objects around the house. I'd push myself around in my wheelchair, excited each day with finding new things to photograph around the family home. My interest and fascination in photography can be traced back to this time in my life. 

These differences from a young age introduced me to the experience of stigma, of being the 'Other' and as I got older I decided I wanted to take this into my photographic work. I wanted to change the way that people with dual sensory impairment and additional disabilities are perceived by society. This is how 'The Same As You' began, my aim to represent the perception of disability and to raise awareness. 

Cordelia floats in a swimming pool. The turquoise tiles at the bottom of the pool frame Cordelia's body as she holds her gaze with ours. She is wearing a black swim suit.

Has having cerebral Palsy influenced or impacted the type of stories you want to tell? 

Yes defiantly, after my series ‘The same as you’ it planted a seed within me, and I learnt photography is a therapeutic tool for me. It’s enabled me to communicate and cope with emotions that I would have struggled to articulate otherwise, and so far, my photographic journey has been a healing process. I’m now just focusing on work that resonates with me and using photography as escapism.  

Photography seems to be a very ableist medium with only a few disabled or impaired photographers making work. What can we do to help change that? 

I feel the medium is sometimes more supportive of you regurgitating what others are making rather than supporting new ideas. This is an area I feel could change. In my practice at the start, I was trying to recreate instead of create, this is because I feared my subject matter of disability was not similar to other established photographic artists within Documentary and for some reason It took me a year after making my series ‘The Same As You’ to even share it because disabled creatives and this topic was not seen as much in the medium. 

Michelle was born in the Rubella era and was one of the many babies who were born without eyes or ears, accompanied by many other malformations. She has had pioneering operations to restore some of her hearing, which is due to being blind is how she interacts and experiences the world. Music is one of her favourite things. To set up her record players, Michelle first touches her drawers for support and then raises her other arm to feel where the record player is. To ensure the record player is plugged in, she always plugs it in the second socket of her adapter. Then to find the vinyl Michelle wants, she feels the circle sticker on the vinyl and recognises it through the texture.  

The series focuses on two individuals. Can you tell me more about how you know them / why you wanted to work with them for this series? 

I met both Michelle and Cordelia through a friend of my mothers, named Birgit. Birgit is Cordelia and Michelle’s carer. I shared my story of living with a disability with Birgit when we first met, and this friendship was created between us both through the openness of our conversation. Through my closeness with Birgit, it enabled Cordelia and Michelle to trust me, I believe trust is what binds us with our sitter, and this allowed me to build the relationship I did with them. This was important to gain as Michelle had never been photographed before by a photographer due to trust has never been built previously.  

After meeting them both, I was completely in awe of them and their stories, I met many inspiring individuals during this series, but I included Cordelia and Michelle in the final body of work as they resonated with me most. It only felt right to have them both part of the series and I wanted their stories to be seen and heard.  

Michelle is in bed, reaching to her record player to play one of her favourite records.

How has listening to Cordelia and Michelle changed your own perspective on disability? 

It’s changed it completely for me. Majority of my childhood and teenage years was spent in hospitals or house bond and for a long time I felt like I didn’t belong, and my identity was tied down to a label. I’ve always had a strong support system with my family but outside of my family home, I kept a lot of these feelings to myself and never spoke of my disability due to fear of the unknown. I attempted to overcome this fear when I started my BA and spoke openly with lecturers of an idea for my final major to turn my subject matter on myself and others also with disabilities.  

Reflecting now this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Talking and meeting with others with disabilities helped me so much. The hardest challenge I faced before this series was being my myself and I’ll be forever thankful to Cordelia and Michelle as they taught me so much about finding self-acceptance and most importantly finding my own voice and realising you don’t have to be loud to be heard.  

What projects are you working on currently? 

I’m working on an exhibition alongside my Co-Founder Jason Olley, titled Images that resonate, unfortunately like most things this has been postponed but I’m currently working on this as well as studying my MA at LCC and continuing to make images for an ongoing series of work, which I started in 2019, it’s a project I feel that needs time.  So far, it’s been such a rewarding experience studying again and has given me time and space to think about my practice. I’ve always had this sense of insecurity with making new work, but I see this as both a blessing and a curse, it tends to keep me on my toes. 

Live, Werk, POSE! with Laurie Broughton

A woman is standing in a field, holding up two Welsh flags which are part of her dress. They are staring sternly at us, with the flags blowing in the wind. Image by Laurie Broughton 

Formed during the 2020 pandemic, the Welsh Ballroom Community has grown significantly and gained international acclaim for its merging of different cultures with Welsh identity. Photographer Laurie Broughton spent time with the members, taking their portraits and celebrating their individuality snd solidarity for the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Hey Laurie, lovely to have you for this weekend's feature. I always kick off by asking people, what drew you to wanting to be a photographer?

I came to photography through traveling through Europe, I walked the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage through central Europe to Santiago Spain. I previously picked up a cheap camera which I used to document the trip. After returning I became conscious of how making images could construct a narrative, explore social issues, and used to question fundamentals in society. I had previously felt quite lost in my early twenties but photography had given me a medium, one which I could fit in my pocket, that pushed me to be curious about people's lives and situations. Growing up I had watched vast amounts of cinema resonating with coming of age narratives, me and my best mate would try to watch all the latest Art house, films directors such as Ken Loach, Sofia Coppola, and Richard Linklater, seem to leave a lasting impression on my own reality of what life should look like through a lens.

A member of the ballroom community is resting herself on a wooden worktop. They are wearing elegant long gloves which are red and made to ressemble the Welsh dragon. They have red sun glassed on with the rest of their outfit made up of the welsh flag. They are looking at the ground. Image by Laurie Broughton 
A member of the Welsh Ballroom community wearing red dragon wings, a red dress and red dragon long gloves is posing for us. They are looking down and away from our gaze. They have a black neck chocker and green dyed hair. Image by Laurie Broughton 

The project we're going to talk about is your recent series that spends time with the Welsh Ballroom Community. What initially drew you to wanting to spend time with the ballroom community?

In the summer of 2021, I had been aware of the Welsh ballroom community that had showcased a Welsh Ball in the Arcades of Cardiff. They are the real superstars of this series of images, I am just truly grateful for being able to work alongside them. The integrity, style, and enthusiasm they show for the culture of Ballroom are what inspired my interest in working with them, they are iconic, to say the least. Leighton who had founded the Community trusted my vision for the shoot. He understood that it was not only fitting to make these images in the Valleys, but important to homage to the Welsh Landscape and Welsh Identity.

A man is wearing a red bucket hat, a red jacket and shaded. A silver chain hangs over their clothing. Image by Laurie Broughton 
A member of the ballroom community is standing on stage, wearing a cultural merging of both an Indian style dress made out of the Welsh flag. They have their right arm raised, looking directly at us, proud of their outfit and heritage. Image by Laurie Broughton 

For the benefit of the reader who might not be aware of Ballroom culture, can you explain what it is?

Starting in New York in Harlem, Ballroom culture was championed mainly by black and Latino queer people to express their queerness safely and escape societal prejudice like homophobia, transphobia, and racism. The ballroom has been a part of LGBT + history since the 1920s. Birthed from drag queen pageants in and around America's east coast, Ballroom has evolved into a vibrant celebration of queer identity and offers a safe space for people to connect and meet like-minded people. Typically, three performance categories incorporate the dance style 'Voguing': Old Way, New Way, and Vogue Femme. With the movements derived from fashion models and their poses, the performance would normally entail a tournament-like approach with dancers battling it out to win over judges for the best score. Other, non-dancing categories include Realness, MC vs MC, Face, and countless others.

This community came together from the 2020 pandemic. How did they find each other during such a challenging time?

During the Covid-19 outbreak the Community formed through social media, for some of the members it felt necessary to bind themselves together over a common interest in moments that felt uncertain. After all, they represent a family and support network, encouraging each other to be expressive. Online platforms had given them the power to get mobilize themselves and once restrictions were lifted practice at the iconic Flame Studios.When the community could not rehearse they have been providing online workshops and history seminars provided by international figures within the Ballroom scene. Looking forward to the future they hoped to host Ball's in Wales and create a Welsh "house" once the group becomes more respected and known.

Queer culture recently has been thrown into the mainstream with shows like Ru Pauls Drag Race which takes a lot of its language from 80s New York Ballroom and POSE.What do you think is the appeal to a cis straight audience of Ballroom?

Documenting Ballroom has always been an important part of the culture. It has preserved creations that will never be seen again, and it’s given communities visibility, where they have often been marginalized in society. Shows such as Ru Pauls Drag Race and POSE are responsible for introducing contemporary queer culture to a broader audience, many of whom have never attended a ball or seen a queen in real life. The popularity of such shows has meant more interest from a straight audience as it acts as a way to learn about queer culture, it's certainly a good entry point though is not fully representative of all queer sub-culture.

A member of the ballroom community standing in a field, the welsh flag makes up part of their dress. Image by Laurie Broughton 

Did you spend much time researching the history of Ballroom, like classic documentaries like Paris is Burning?

I had watched Paris is burning years ago, and I felt what I thought was fairly clued up by the mainstream representation of Ballroom dance. I was personally very drawn to the House music which surrounds the subculture. After spending time with the community and putting on a pop-up exhibition in Cardiff together with the Welshballroom community which presented an "Intro into Ballroom" in the Gallery space. A workshop illustrating the fundamentals of ballroom and trans influence through film and discussion, this experience was incredibly insightful into the art form, it led me to watch other documentaries and films such as How do I look, The Queen, and Hedwig And The Angry Inch. It even has allowed me to attempt voguing in a safe and encouraging atmosphere.  

What makes the Ballroom scene in Wales so unique to other Ballrooms around the UK?

The Welsh heritage has always had a strong and proud identity, and the queer culture in Wale's has also adopted that same unique strength. The Welsh Ballroom is unique in the landscape that surrounds the community, Its natural beauty, and visual form is juxtaposed with the degradation of the decline in industry of the 1980s. The Welsh Ballroom community is accepting of all other cultures and sexuality, they offer a safe space in which participants can be as individual as they like, in aberling expression through the historical dance culture.   

The series really shows how the community embraces their welsh heritage as well as other cultures and identities. This inclusive way of coming together is really special to see. Are there any stories from them which stand out from your time with them? 

The group is incredibly diverse in gender and from all walks of life, it's reflective of how multi-cultural Cardiff is, though the group is able to build confidence in each and every member. Whilst making the pictures we climbed a mountain that looked over Tonypandy it was a really tough climb but I could feel the sense of camaraderie in the group who encouraged one another to get to the top, even when Bobby's heels broke the group were whooping and cheering them to get to the top of the mountain. When making the images on the stage we were in a working men's club on match day, Wales was playing on the screen and the bar was completely full. We got some strange looks from the regulars but the group just thought it was hilarious and strutted themselves through what felt quite a masculine environment.

The Ballroom community all together wearing their red and green outfits. They are posed in various ways upon a corner sofa. Image by Laurie Broughton 

What did you take from your time spent with this community? 

My time spent with the group has left an everlasting impression on myself, they are so brave, and confident shown through the integrity, and enthusiasm they show for the culture of Ballroom. I feel as if it's important to spread the word about how vital this group of individuals is to the future of Welsh culture and to keep showing support to them in any way I can. I still keep very much in contact with the Community, I know for certain they are going on to big things. 

You can discover more of Laurie's work here

Homeward Bound with Jake Varker

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HOME. A complex word and place. A place where we can be ourselves, a place we want to escape, a place we find comfort and purpose. With every positive experience of a home or home town you can hear of a negative. We recently spoke with Jake Varker about his series In the Shadow of the Rose.

Firstly, what got you into making pictures?

When I finished school I started an art course at college, this is where I was introduced to analogue photography and the darkroom. Like many when they see the magical qualities of film, I was hooked, I loved the process and craft of making pictures using analogue techniques. A lot of my time outside the course was spent out on my mountain bike with friends, I would focus on taking pictures of them flying through the air on their bikes. I wouldn’t always take these pictures for my friends so they could look at themselves, it was mainly because I wanted to create photos that others could enjoy and not just enjoyed by me and my mates. This led to me being curious about the potential of pictures as well as using the camera to engage with the world and my surroundings.

During this time, I was being shown photobooks made by contemporary documentary photographers such as Alec Soth, Sian Davey, and Leonie Hampton, I was confused but amazed as it wasn’t like any other photography I’d seen. I would look at individual images and think about how the photographer created those tones, colours, and composition, it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I knew those type of images were special, I had this desire to learn the craft and make something like that. Then there was the photobook itself, what did it do? What was its purpose? Why were the images seen in a certain order? It was these questions that stuck with me and that I still think about now.

A young woman is standing in front of us. she is wearing a cream and green jumper with a black and white striped t shirt underneath. Her hair is blonde and framed her gaze. Behind her is a fence with green bushes pressing through the gaps. From the series In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker
An image of a run down house. The roof has caved in due to a fire. We can see the support beams of the roof which are black and exposed to the elements. From the series In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker

 Can you tell me a little about your most recent series In the Shadow of the Rose and how it came about?

Fundamentally, In the Shadow of the Rose is a lyrical response to the relationship I have with my hometown, St Austell, which is a town located in Cornwall. When I was 19, I moved away to study photography at university, like many young people when they move away from home I started to rapidly develop as an individual and further understand the world and myself. As I lived my life away from my family and childhood memories, I started to develop strong and confusing feelings about my hometown, I found myself feeling indifferent to the place as well as disconnected to it and the people there. I found this difficult to process as I had family there and like any hometown it served as an important part of my life. From my strong desire to create and my interest in places I aimed to use photography and its process to recognise and understand my feelings. I also wanted to communicate St Austell’s feelings of restlessness and hope, like many towns in Cornwall it was being affected by economic and global circumstances. What I found more compelling to me and useful was to almost see my work and make it a work of fiction, I was using my own feelings and vision of the town to make my own version of the place, a place where my emotions could sit and rest.

It’s been a year now since I put the project to rest. I’m unsure if it’s completely finished, on one hand my feelings towards the town have subsided, as I’ve matured, I have come to terms with the changes of life and how I see the places which I inhabit. But on the other hand, I would never say never to going back and making more work there as I think I could expand the project to something more multifarious.

A portrait of a young person, who is looking at us with their hood up. The expression on their face feels soulful and sad. Their hair is black and they are adorning multiple facial piercings. They are standing in front of window. From the series In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker

 In the Shadow of the Rose opens with a poem by Charles Bukowski, how did this work by Bukowski influence the series?

When I started the project, I was discovering the connection between poetry and photography. They are both limited to what they can tell the viewer, they lend themselves naturally to letting the viewer fill in the gaps and bring something to the poem or photograph. The two art forms also aren’t very good at telling stories but are better at hinting at them. I already really enjoys novels so realising this connection made me want to read more poetry, I wanted to find material that was similar to my own intentions and that would inspire me and my work. I discovered Bukowski and liked the way his poetry had a rawness yet beauty to it; he used his own life and experiences as a source of material. I bought a book of his poems and the last poem in the book was ‘In the Shadow of the Rose’, I found the title significant as it suggested many things, one of them being how St Austell fits into Cornwall. Cornwall is seen as a paradise with its beaches and countryside, yet towns like St Austell exist there. Then there was the poem itself, the feeling it created seemed to get at the same feeling I had towards my hometown.

The portraits within the series don't feel hopeful or positive. There's a sense of dread in their eyes. Is this something you wanted to push and highlight?

Yes, it definitely was. As I mentioned, my feelings towards the town have now subsided, but back when I was making the project my feelings were so strong I just wanted to visually express them. One way of doing this was through the portraits, I wanted to express the feelings of being young and stuck in a town as well as how I felt when I came back to St Austell. When I would meet people and photograph them, I would explain my project and intentions, we would connect by us both being young and having grown up in the town, then when I would raise the camera and take a photo, they naturally took that sort of expression, I think they really understood what I was trying to do. Then with the photos I made I wanted to stitch them together to create a sense of place, having this strong look in the people’s eyes took this place to a new level, it said something about being young and the time that we live in, it also created a place which was uniquely mine and theirs.

A beaten up bill board is basking in the evening light. Texts from previous ads can barely be seen. In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker

There is a strange connection between the beauty you've captured in your photographs and a deep sense of loss and sadness in the scenes as well. Can you express more on that?

This is something I think about a lot and wanted to include within the series, I’m a believer that beauty and sadness coexist, I like to use the terms hope and despair, there isn’t one without the other and they live so closely together. I can be somewhere or doing something and feel the too emotions at once, it’s a strange feeling but somewhat calming at the same time, it creates this balance within myself and the world. In terms of the series, when I first started it, I just wanted to show the despair and loss, but as the project developed, I found there were glimpses of hope. I saw hope in the people I was photographing, and it felt right to respond to the feelings they made me feel. When it came to the editing process it seemed natural to have these photos of hope and despair exist together, a project with too much despair and sadness doesn’t really work, and work with too much hope or beauty also doesn’t work for me, it’s in the balance of the two where things get exciting and something special can be made.

A portrait of a young man sat inside on a rainy day. He has blonde hair and is wearing a white t shirt. Half of their face is covered in shadow, they are looking at us in a sombre way. In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker
A metal surface in a park is reflecting the suburban environment off of its surface. Smeared into the mirrored surface is someones name. In the Shadow of the Rose by Jake Varker

As a photographer, what drives you to pick up your camera and tell stories?

I’ve recently found the idea of simply ‘making’ inspiring, to make something that wasn’t there before I came along is exciting. I like to see the idea of creating in a simple approach, the photographs and work I make can be simple sentences or paragraphs of what I want to express. They can merely provide something for the viewer, they don’t need to be part of some ground-breaking research, this helps ease the pressure of creating art and make it more enjoyable, especially for a younger person.

 As for telling stories, I think photography struggles to tell stories, I think if I wanted to tell coherent stories I would use literature or moving image, instead the things in my head can’t really be told as stories but felt as an emotion. As I’m constantly changing and experiencing different things, I’m motivated to welcome this and use photography as a tool to understand what is to come. However, I am interested in the possibility and development of storytelling, art forms like photography allows for a version of storytelling which is a lot more open than other forms. If done well it can appreciate the viewers intelligence and ability to bring something to the work, this inspires me to pick up my camera and explore what is possible with photography.

Discover more of Jake's work here

Queer Love, Life and youth with Krystian Lipiec

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Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A red lit room, a young man is slouched across the arm of a sofa, looking up at us.
Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: Two male torso's next to one another with their pecks tense.

Young love. Young Queer love. It's a minefield of emotions, actions and people. But what do these complex and ever changing romantic relationships looks like when you put a camera to them? We recently spoke with Krystian Lipiec about his unique approach to documenting lovers, friends and everything in between.

Hey Krystian, first off I'm always interested in hearing what drew people to photography. Why is photography the medium for you?

I  started taking pictures after I met a guy online who I slowly began to fall in love with. I was 17 at the time and he was a photographer. The passion that he showed for his craft brushed off on me, being an impressionable 17 year old I wanted to be like him and started taking my own photographs. That’s the short version of the story, but I love photography due to being able to make a very quick expression of how you feel in a moment. However, I also love the long process photography allows you to embody to make long term photo projects.

Where are you based and how important has your location been in influencing your work?

 I live in Warsaw, Poland. But I work between Warsaw and Berlin. Those two different locations influence me as a photographer. Due to travelling between locations I’m always learning something new about myself and those around me. The place which you could say has influenced me the most is my mothers house, tucked away in a small village. Surrounded by a huge forest, I love to walk there and take in the silence and nature, especially in the early morning.

Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A Man whose face is obscured by another man leaning over the bed and kissing him. The man laying down is wearing boxing gloves with the union jack on them.
Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A young man laying on his bed, turning to look at the camera with a shadow of his head covering the wall behind him.
Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: Two men cuddle on a bed that has green pillows.
Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A young man with brown curley hair sits with a cigarette in his mouth up against a brick wall. He is wearing a denim jacket with his right arm propping up his head.

Your work and especially the project 'Between Us' has an intimate queerness. Can you tell me more about your process and the project (in detail)?

This was one of my first photography projects. I am very sentimental about it, because I didn’t know yet that I want to be a photographer and I just took pictures of my friends and lovers, it was a natural way of just expressing my feelings for those around me. 

After two years I decided to go back to photography school and finish my education there. I think the way I like to work and could say is my ‘process’ is photographing what attracts me and after a few weeks, laying all the photographs out and figure out what they are saying to me. This is very different to how I work as a commercial photographer and like the freedom my personal work brings me. 

How important is it for you to represent queer lives and culture within your photography?

I never was thinking  about representing queer lives or culture within my work. It just sort of happened. I document what is going on around me and if I am a queer guy, then my work will be queer because I am just showing my life in photographs. I want people to see more than just queerness in my work and take away different things. 

Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A topless man standing in a bedroom holding onto a miniature of a plane. Four other planes are being help up by peoples arms coming into the frame.
Between Us by Krystian Lipiec ID: A rose gold jaguar car sits in the dappled shade of a driveway.

There's a unique energy and tenderness to your images. How do you go about taking photographs when with friends and lovers?

I am a nostalgic person at heart. I was born in a small city in the middle of nowhere. I want to show the ‘beauty’ of simple and queer life but also show my romantic life for what it is. Both in the successes and failures we all have with relationships.

Are there any unique stories around the people in your images?

There are a few funny stories involving the people in the photographs. But mostly I like to watch how those people changed. I don’t have contact with all of them but sometimes they come back to me and we catch up and they share their new stories backed up by a new found energy from being away. Those pictures also show me how I changed myself. They remind me to be more spontaneous and teach me that “nothing is forever” and things can easily be lost as they are found. 

Finding calm and community with Alice Martin

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: A golden sunset of leaves and a branch resting up against a board.

Continuing our look at photographers telling stories in the 2020 lockdown, we recently caught up with British photographer Alice Martin whose delicate and sun kissed series We're so lucky to have this place, aren't we? spends time at her nearby allotment which became a calming place and a way to connect with others in her community.

Hey Alice, what drew people to photography. Why is photography the medium for you?

For me, photography is a way of slowing down, taking time to think and see the world and people differently to how they immediately appear. I particularly like forming connections and conveying them, attaching emotion to these images, portraying how I see things. My mind moves very fast due to ADHD and using analogue processes has always kept me excited, I’m having to think of each image deeper, is it worth taking, etc – I think that’s why photography became the thing for me. 

From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: A lady bird sat in the palm of a hand.
From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: Back of a mans head with his grey hair flowing into his green jacket. His face isn't fully visible.

Where are you based and how important has your location been in influencing your work?

I’m based in south-west London, but I grew up in Surrey, so I was always close to the city. Being in such a busy place helps me home in on the subtleties within the landscape, when there’s so much going on around me, I find it easier to spot moments of stillness. I’ve always liked meeting and capturing the different types of people that come together in one space, and so being based in a city like London is perfect for this. This is something that influenced me a lot with we’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? as the allotment was so multicultural. 

During the 2020 lockdown yourself and others found warmth and connection at the nearby allotment. How important was this space during the uncertain times of 2020?

The allotment was an oasis, a sanctuary, it was the one place outside everyone’s homes that we could visit no matter what. It offered a sense of stability, a community to safely socialise with which enormously helped with morale and loneliness, physical activity that was more varied than a daily walk, and a safe and peaceful space to literally just sit and relax. 

For many people there they became fonder of the space as most importantly it provided a sense of purpose and a way to escape from the enforced monotony of lockdown. I felt incredibly lucky to have found the allotment and spend time with the community there, it helped keep me sane. 

From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: Branches of a tree with white and red flowers blossoming. A white protective netting surrounds the tree and acts as a backdrop.
From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: A mans open hands holding onto a blossoming flower from a tree branch.

The time spent there has manifested into the project 'we're so lucky to have this place, aren't we?' - tell me more about the stories you wanted to tell here.

I wanted to translate the way the allotment-goers and I saw the space, which was as this paradise. Again, it’s about how the allotment acted as a saviour throughout the lockdowns. The title itself is something that one plot-holder said to me, so I like that I’m directly portraying how the community feel through this. I’m posing the audience the question, almost getting the viewer to see how lucky we are to have such an escape during these lockdowns. Another important aspect I wanted to communicate was that allotments aren’t filled with the cliché middle classed retired man anymore, they actually comprise of a diverse community, whether that be age, gender, race, or anything else.

For those who might not be aware of allotment culture, can you tell me a little bit about what it's like being on an allotment with other green-fingered neighbours? 

It’s a super friendly environment. Everyone helps each other, whether that be with advice or giving crops or equipment, swapping seeds, anything really. The community really welcomed me in which was lovely, I got a lot of gifts throughout my time there and people always invited me to their community days and working parties. I also learnt it’s really easy to grow rhubarb. 

From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: An older man in a knitted jumper holds onto a spades handle with large yellow gardening gloves. Views of the allotment is behind him.

There is an optimism to your work. Did the allotment help provide this perspective?

For sure, upon entering the allotment it was like a weight being lifted. All the stress of covid and how crowded London can be just disappears there as it’s so spacious and serene. I never realised how much I liked the sound of birdsong, but when you hear that instead of constant traffic it’s beautiful. To have a tranquil space like that makes it an incredibly optimistic place which was only enhanced by the pandemic and its restrictions. I didn’t meet anyone in the three months there that didn’t feel an affinity with the allotment.

From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: A group of children are standing in the sunlight. Two are looking at us and the other two away. They occupy much of the frame and only their torso up to their heads is visible.
From the series We’re so lucky to have this place, aren’t we? © Alice Martin ID: An image of someones greenhouse as the sun sets.

What's next for you?

I’m in the early stages of planning my next project which I hope to begin photographing for in the next month or two, so I’m excited to see where that leads me. Along with that it’s just a case of keeping up with any commissions that come through, most of which are in fashion which I also enjoy. Fingers crossed; I’ll eventually be able make a living from photography.

See the full series here

Friendship, family and surfing with Peter Flude

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

© Peter Flude ID: Alex floats with his head half submerged in the ocean. His gaze is looking out of the frame.

The 2020 lockdown in the UK meant a lot of us were separated from our loved ones. But for some, we were flung closer to our family members. Photographer Peter Flude spent the second lockdown with his cousin Alex, who had just qualified as a paramedic working on the front line of the pandemic. Taking what free time they could when Alex wasn't working, the pair decided to surf the cool waves along the south coast of England. The result is a series of beautiful and intimate portraits of Alex enjoying the water and his cousins company. We caught up recently with Flude to discuss that strange time and male bonds.

Hey Peter, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I’d love to know how the idea to use the beach and water as a place to connect and enjoy the company of your cousin?

Thank you, great to talk to you! For me and Alex, water has always been a place of connection, so it was less of a conscious choice and more so a continuation of something fundamental which has always bonded us. We’re both part Swedish on our mothers’ sides of the family, so spent a lot of our childhood, teenage, and young adult years visiting Sweden together. Weeks spent around Swedish lakes were probably some of our first significant experiences of spending time together in and around the water. We both have nostalgic memories of swimming, canoeing and fishing together out in the Swedish countryside. So the water has always been a very formative place for our relationship.

© Peter Flude ID: Alex on a surfboard going over a wave in the background with froffy ocean water in the foreground.
© Peter Flude ID: Alex smiling in the white waves of the ocean. Behind him a pebbled beach and houses.
© Peter Flude ID: Legs in the air as the rest of the body plunges into the water in the centre of the image. Splashes of water surround the man.

What was life like for you in lockdown knowing you had that one hour of exercise surfing with your cousin?

I didn’t actually see Alex for the first lockdown. He qualified as a paramedic in the spring of 2020 and was immediately thrust into working on the front line, isolating from most of the family as he came into contact with COVID patients on a daily basis. In September while things were eased temporarily, Alex moved into the spare room of my family home in Chichester, where I was living with my Mum and Sister. We started taking trips to the local beaches to swim and surf on his days off. Our trips were always spontaneous as Alex would often have to isolate from the rest of the house if he came into direct contact with COVID patients at work. But during the periods of time when he didn’t, we took full advantage of the freedom we had together. As well as surfing we went on outdoor adventures as often as possible, from walks around the park to full-day hikes. Then the November lockdown hit and those freedoms were reduced again dramatically. We all felt more isolated from our friends and the rest of our families, and work became more difficult for Alex. Our surfing trips became our allocated exercise, which I think we both used to destress and just feel freedom again for an hour every day.

How long have you been photographing your cousin? 

Since I first started taking photos in 2013! So around 8 years. I don’t know whether I’d call him my first creative muse or just the first person who allowed me to photograph them! When I was 16 the thought of photographing anyone I didn’t know personally was terrifying, so I think I gravitated towards photographing Alex and channeling my creative ideas through him.

© Peter Flude ID: Alex in a wetsuit holds his hand on top of his head with a grimacing look on his face. he is in the ocean and water is spraying up all around him.
© Peter Flude ID: A Smiling Alex with his arms across his red surfboard in the ocean. The shore is pebbled with houses on the embankment.

Close male bonds in a sensitive way represented within photography are far and few between. How important was it for you to show a straight relationship with another man in such a sensitive and comfortable way?

I think that kind of relationship is important to represent in the same way that it’s important to me on a personal level, and the sensitivity comes from my closeness to the person I’m representing. After photographing someone for that length of time you break down barriers that might have previously influenced the sensitivity or honesty of how that person might present themselves to the camera, so it’s not something I consciously think about too much anymore. Though I would try to avoid hyper-masculine stereotypes because they just wouldn’t be truthful.

The time in the water looks like such an important time for both of you, looking back at the weird time that was 2020. What are your thoughts of the time you were able to spend together?

Having Alex move in felt like living with a best friend at a time when I had been isolated from most of my friends for so long. It was a time where each of us was dealing with our own individual stresses, as well as some shared ones. The time we spent together outdoors was a time where we could forget about most of those stresses. Being in the water was like existing in a reality outside of those things.

© Peter Flude ID: A portrait of Alex in the sunshine with only his head and shoulders showing.
© Peter Flude ID: Alex is standing amongst red flowers. He is topless with a summer glow across his body.

Is promoting a healthy and close heterosexual male relationship something that's important to you outside of photography?

Definitely, my close male friendships are some of the most important and emotionally supportive connections I have in my life. I think it’s important for men to have relationships that allow expression of individual masculinity in a healthy and non-toxic way, but also allow space for emotional vulnerability and openness.

© Peter Flude ID: A topless Alex sits on a rock in a field. His left hand scratching his head. He is wearing black shorts.

Alex comes up a lot in your photography. What draws you to wanting to document him?

Alex and I are really similar in a lot of ways and I think those similarities possibly drive a lot of my interest in wanting to photograph him. He’s two years younger than me and I’ve always found it interesting watching him grow up and go through the life experiences I went through just before him. I pretty much see Alex as my brother, which is a connection I don’t have with anyone else, and that familial bond drives a lot of my motivation to photograph him.

Gay dads in America - A celebratory look into gay fatherhood by Bart Heynen

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

Me and Rob with Ethan and Noah at 630 AM. Antwerp, Belgium © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: Photographed from above, two fathers lay in white bed sheets with their two sons sleeping between them.

DADS is a journey into what gay fatherhood in America looks like. Initially wanting to meet and connect with other gay dads whose families reflected his own, Bart Heynen's new photobook DADS has become one of the most celebratory, moving and authentic representations of modern gay fatherhood I have ever seen in any medium. With over 40 families present within the work, Heynen has produced a series which not only reflects the diversity of the gay community, but beautifully shows us the day to day lives of gay fathers in the United States of America. 

Gay men adopting children as well as having biological children of their own, has been a divisive issue in western societies. The conservative / religious  fear that without a balanced gender to raise children, it would go against God's wishes and break down the American family unit. Of course, a wrong, pathetic and unpleasant rhetoric that queer men and women have been courageously combatting over the years. But things have and are changing with how the world views families and DADS is a beautiful product of the loving and caring families that exist where the parents are of the same gender. This series feels not only incredibly important but also necessary. With Heynens himself being gay and a father, we are entering not only the lives of the people we meet within this series but a part of Heynens life as well, reflected in the intimate moments found within this poignant series.

The photo book opens with a quote by Heynen’s son Ethan;

"What do you want to be later, Noah: papa or a daddy?"

- Ethan Aged seven, to his brother-

This immediately produces a large frog in my throat as I feel the love, weight and importance of other children with gay parents seeing other families like their own. As a father, Heynen knew this and took his children along with him to meet the families he was photographing, friendships were made with both children and the fathers which shows that this project is not just about showing the lives of gay fathers, but allowing his own children to experience that the life they have with papa and daddy is completely normal despite often being surrounded by children with both a mother and father. 

Vernon and Ricardo with their twin girls at home. Clinton, Maryland © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books
Vernon and Ricardo with their twin girls at home. Clinton, Maryland © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books. ID: Two fathers sit in single blue chairs. Both are wearing pink t shirts and have their twin daughters in matching pink outfits on their laps. Between them is a stand with a bronze model of the Eifell Tower.
Dimitry and Robert with Maxim and Mila. New York City © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books. ID: Two topless young fathers sit on a sofa with their twin children on their laps. On the sofa are two union jack pillows with the words Love and Dream behind them on the windowsill.
Txema and Pablo and their newborn son on the morning of his birth. Monticello, Minnesota © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: Cropped image of two fathers naked torso's as they hold their newborn baby on on of their arms (right).
Dennis combing Élan’s hair. Brooklyn, New York © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: A son sits at the kitchen table with a book in front of him. His father is behind him combing his sons afro.

Heynen found after spending time with the first few families, was how the division of labour between the fathers was. Breaking away from hetronormative constructed gender roles within a family unit, Heynen describes how the balance or roles and responsibility came to the fathers 'organically’, which is a testament to how modern families like the ones found within DADS can teach more traditional families about how children can be raised without falling back upon specific gender roles. 

What is so incredibly powerful about DADS is how no story is the same in how each couple became fathers. Some adopted their siblings' kids due to them sadly passing away, some adopted, others had surrogate mothers. Heynen doesn't shy away from the important and vital role surrogates have in the children's lives from not only carrying them for their fathers, but being present within their lives once they are born. Heynen shows this unique bond between parents, children and the surrogate in a poignant and delicate way. 

Pedro, single dad of triplets, with Mandi (surrogate) and Sloane (egg donor). Miami, Florida © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: A topless man stands between two women on a beach.
Harrison and Christopher with their daugther Genhi. Brooklyn, New York © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: Two dads slay on the bed (left) with their daughter holding a bottle and wrapped up in a pink blanket.
Art and Jim with their son Ethan and his fiancée Rose. Providence, Rhode Island © Bart Heynen from 'Dads' published by powerHouse Books ID: Two fathers stand on one side of a fence, on the other their son and his fiance. Behind them are tree's and bushes.

How Heynen has chosen to photograph each family sways between posed portraits of families to the moments you can’t choreograph, creates the  characteristics of a traditional family album whilst turning it on its head through its composition, colour and energy. One image in particular which I found so joyous, is of a father getting ready in the mirror with his son as they both adorn Freddie Mercury outfits, with the dad carefully tidying up his sons painted on Freddie moustache. What is so joyous to see within DADS is the pride that is clearly written across the fathers faces, they show so much love and compassion for their roles of being a father to their gorgeous children. 

Predominantly DADS is about families, regardless of your own sexual orientation. We find gay fathers at different stages of their lives and ages, from gay fathers with newborn babies to fathers with adult children who are soon to wed. DADS is about families, but it's also about life, wherever you may be along the line. DADS oozes love like maple syrup, trickling across each page onto the readers hands and eventually, into their heart and mind. My view might be slightly biased as a gay man myself, and the idea of having kids has always felt like an impossible task and an uncertainty within my own future. But seeing other gay men as fathers within this book has made that dream of my own future fatherhood that more of a reality. This series deserves all the praise and celebration it receives. 

DADS is published by PowerHouse Books and you can get your copy HERE.

Tom and Mike with their son Jack at a lacrosse practice at Horace Mann School, Bronx, New York. ID: Standing together on sports field, the two fathers either side of their son who are both wearing black quileted jackets. Their adolescent son in the middle is wearing his schools colours of white and grey with the number 26 on the shirts centre.

The Family we find - LGBT+ Youth in America with Peyton Fulford

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

Rian - Image courtesy of Peyton Fulford ID: A young woman lays across a pile of her friends wearing a pastel pink top with green and red skirt. She is looking directly into camera .

The family unit in 2021 takes many forms, from the family we are born and raised into, to the ones we seek out. This is never more prominent than in the LGBT+ community where queer youth forge the friendships and families they needed in formative years. This search for acceptance and love where it may have previously been vacant is a powerful one and in Peyton Fulford's ongoing series Infinite Tenderness. The portrait series documents ways in which intimacy, community and support help individuals find their own identity. Wanting to create a safe space in which LGBT+ youth can support one another, Fulford's work explores this unique balance of the individual and a found community / family unit. 

The people we meet within this series look both vulnerable in their openness to Fulford and their camera as well as being stoic, proud portraits of a queer youth living in America. The recent history of queer youth in America has been a troubling one and queer youth today are still faced with intolerence, violence from both outside and inside their family units. Figures from The Trevor Project are alarming, with suicide in LGBT youth from the ages 10-24 to be three times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts and most recently, the story of 12 year old Riley Hadley from the UK who took his own life due to continuous homophobic bullying shocked the LGBT+ community around the world. When we see depictions of the queer community in mainstream media, the sense is always a strong, connective unit. Protecting one another, fully aware of how the outside world to the community can be when it isolates individuals away from the supportive and accepting unit of like minded communities. With this in mind, the  empowerment which Fulford is creating within Infinite Tenderness for the queer youth community shows how the artist becomes not only a witness, but a participent in the lives and experiences of her subjects. 

Hayden and Conor, 2017 - Image courtesy of Peyton Fulford ID: A portrait of two young people, both sat close to one another in a field.
Becoming One (Annie and Trevor) 2016 - Image courtesy of Peyton Fulford ID: Two people have their heads side by side. Shot from above to give an Ariel view, the subjects are looking up at the camera. One has green dyed hair, the other blonde.

With the rural America as the series backdrop in which these individuals live and with Fulford coming from a strictly religious background and queer herself, the layers that can be found within these portraits are what make them a beautiful example of how to create portraits in collaboration with a subject. In the project, Fulford discusses how navigating the world around her whilst she didn’t feel fully a part of heteronormative lifestyle to be a complex and challenging one and brings this level of past experience to this body of work. There is a clear bond and understanding between photographer and subject, a trust and respect for both of their lived experiences to create emotive portraits that go far beyond LGBT+ youth and taps into the acceptance we all look and long for at times. 

Fulford within these portraits carefully navigates individual stories and the strength of a community through a combination of both the group and single portrait. There is power that can be found in each of these portraits, regardless of how many people inhabit the frame. By being part of this community themselves, the work feels as both a portrait series sharing the lives of others but also Fulfords own experiences growing up queer in America. This relatability and connection is what makes this series exactly what the title says, tender. The tenderness which this approach offers up allows the work to not feel as documenting the other, this is Fulfords tribe, people she feels a connection to, and it shows. Far too often throughout the history of photography, communities (a term coined by white hetrosexuals) are depicted heavily on their differences as humans, rather than showcasing our shared humanity, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Fulford breaks this glass ceiling of a trend by oozing every inch within the frame with warmth, love and understanding. 

Hannah in her bathroom 2017 - Image courtesy of Peyton Fulford ID: A woman sat in their bathroom with pastel pink and blonde hair. They are wearing a white top with yellow, blue, green and pink rulers printed across the back and front. A pink fluffy toilet seat lid is to the left.
Trevor, 2017 - Image courtesy of Peyton Fulford ID: A young person in a black vest top with an american eagle printed on the front. They have yellow hair and a large gold earring in their left ear.

Growing up queer we dont grow up as an authentic version of ourselves and produce a product that is deemed acceptable by external pressures and prejudices. There is a level of authenticity that is lost and has to be searched for and reclaimed as young queer people. As young adults growing into adulthood, we are tasked with going on journeys of self discovery which our hetrosexual counterparts in large have already experienced. This to me, has always felt like the queer community is forced to hold back itself in early formative years to ensure we are protected from external hatred. This is why this series is so deeply personal for each individual and handled with such honesty and care by Fulford, which in turn creates a safe space for self expression and an authenticity regarding LGBTQIA+ stories which is often hard to find within photography. 

You can discover the rest of the series by Fulford here.

Visualising Climate Change: Open Call for Photography Submissions

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

A heliostat is carefully cleaned at the Ivanpah Solar Project in California, where mirrors reflect sunlight to boilers that generate renewable electricity.
Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL ID: Man in orange t shirt and white hat, cleans giant solar panels in the desert which are reflecting the blue sky and white clouds.

How do you best represent climate change within photography? Well, our friends at Climate Visuals have been answering that question by showcasing the very real impacts of the climate crisis as well as those who are helping to combat the disaster through the work of incredible photographers.

But now, with one of their biggest open calls ever, Climate Visuals want to hear from more photographers from around the world. Partnering with TED Countdown, Climate Visuals has a fund of $100,000 to license pre existing images that explore the many threads of climate change. The categories in which they are looking for visual responses for are Energy, Transport, Material, Food and Nature.

See the full brief below and how to submit your photography with the chance to get paid and help effectively communicate the impacts of the climate crisis.


The visual narratives in circulation must move from illustrating climate causes and impacts to climate justice, solutions and positive change. The online submission and licensing process will consider a broad range of diversity, equity and inclusion factors to ensure that the opportunity is global, accessible, fair, representative, illustrative and impactful. The goal is to provide both a platform, voice and visual tools to people and communities not yet represented in the mainstream climate change narrative.  

The photographic and wider creative sector has been significantly impacted by Covid-19. Selected photographers will be both fairly remunerated and have the opportunity to be profiled, exhibit their work virtually and physically at Countdown events and COP26 in Glasgow, and featured in a global media campaign.  This will be a deliberately inclusive space for photographers who may lack the opportunity to showcase their work and ideas in such a global project with a meaningful route to impact. 

‘Visualizing Climate Change: An Open Call for Photography’ aims to ultimately support climate change photographers, educators, communicators and campaigners by the creation of a new free-to-access collection of the world’s most impactful photography.

Deadline is 30th June 20201 and to find out more and submit your photography, click here

Alice Mann launches photobook Kickstarter, celebrating young women in South Africa

This article contains image descriptions in the captions to help those with visual impairments.

The school has one sports court, which is used by all the sports teams. The drummies have to be supervised when using this court, there are active gangs present around the periphery of the schools property. ID:A group of young girls peforming with oine another on a blue basketball court outside. They are wearing colours or purple, green and pink.

Since 2017, South African photographer Alice Mann has been documenting the unique culture of all female drum majorettes. Also known as ‘Drummies’, these aspirational teams break boundaries and carve out a unique identity and culture for themselves. Mann’s reason for involving herself in this community was to help promote positive representations of young women in South African society through a nuanced and unapologetic portrait series. With hours of time and dedication needed, the girls are expected to perform in front of crowds to the highest standard.

Chloe Heydenrych, Paige Titus, Ashnique Paulse, Elizabeth Jordan and Chleo de Kock, on their practice session over a national public holiday. The team makes use of every available chance to practise, meaning there are no days off. ID: Six young girls in orange band hats and orange, white and black uniforms stare down at the camera. Blue skies in the background.
ID: Girls of multiple ages all stand in blue and white band outfits. Some have their arms folded, others with their hands on their hips.

The team structure provides a supportive  and safe space for them to excel. Something that resonates with Mann as she is more than aware of the limited opportunities that face women in South Africa. The sport reinforces attributes of empowerment for the women, something that became infectious for Mann and is found within the portraits as she documents them as both strong and stoic individuals but also the act of play and team spirit can be found.

Drummies is a much celebrated body of work, putting Mann on the map for many as not just an up and coming photographer but an artist with a clear style, approach and palette which defines her as one of the most exciting photographers of her generation. 

Now wanting to make something physical, Mann is launching a kickstarter campaign to realise Drummies as a photobook. Working with publisher GOST and accompanied with an essay by esteemed writer and curator Christine Eyene, the photobook aims to be a strong testament to the schools and young women she has collaborated with over the past 3 years.

Help support and back this project by clicking here.