Seeing what you say: words inspiring pictures


Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011

Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011


‘By shooting these set of black and white photos, I want to show our state of mind as a collective, living in the city of London.’ Naomi James, photography student, UEL

I responded to a call out on the ArtsJobs website for writers to send work to inspire photography students at the University of East London. I sent a selection of work from Barry and myself (mainly from the Encyclopaedia) and was delighted that one of Barry’s pieces – a prose poem called ‘Glow’ about how it never gets dark in cities, was selected.

We went to The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club at the end of November to an event organised by the photography students and their tutors, to see the photos and read ‘Glow’. I documented the night in a short film. We were really impressed by the work on show.

Several students chose to interpret Barry’s text and I interviewed one of them, Naomi James, about her responses to the poem and how it inspired the pictures.

‘As people who live in one of the most lit cities in the world, (…) We are in a state of constant distraction. When do we ever get the chance to be in complete stillness whilst being in our ‘awake’ state in darkness? Are we afraid of the dark? Are we afraid of hearing our own voices without diversion?’ Naomi James

I have been thinking a lot about creative collaboration recently, so I think it’s great that the first year photography students at UEL are being encouraged to respond to, collaborate with and investigate other artforms from the very start of their course. It occurs to me, that so often once someone becomes a little successful in their artform that they seem to focus in tightly on that, becoming very protective of it, and lose interest in working with artists in other disciplines.

Working with artists in other fields has always been what excites me, to develop my own practice and to hopefully stimulate other’s thinking too.  Perhaps this is because my primary focus has been writing for the theatre, and I’ve been involved in a very hands-on way with producing my plays, so I have always been very aware of cross-disciplinary working. And always been willing to have a go at things I wouldn’t call myself an expert in, (including making props, hanging sets and giving notes!)

The brief for this project, part of the course was, ‘Seeing what you say’ and the photographers had to respond to pre-existing writing. A further, and more exciting, step would have been to create some new work together; a new mix of words and pictures, and perhaps there will be a possibility to do that in the future.

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