E Quality Treats at The Chocolate Factory

One of the front windows at the Karamel Club, chocolate factory,collage arts

I was given a very strange brief this weekend by Collage Arts to photograph an arts event in Haringey which said, “I am interested in your take of the Open Studios weekend in particular with your Disabilities expert perspective”.

Putting myself in the picture using the windows of the chocolate factory

Several things struck me about this. When I do documentary work or when I have done documentary work I do it as an insider, a part of a movement, one of the people taking direct action. I was now putting myself in a position whereby I was taking photos from the outside in. That’s problematic. I’m not really used to being a stranger in town.

The second thing is I was asked to take a position as a disabilities expert. I guessed I was being asked to filter my expression through my knowledge as a disability equality trainer, as an advocate and as an activist. Again I felt like a stranger in town. I had never had to practically apply what I know in a situation whereby it might not fit.

I did the work though. I did it in 3 stages.

From the outside looking in just as friend Phil Sherman of booster Cushion theatre walks through the door

I had arrived early. Nothing much was happening. I would join a discussion later and slowly start to become a member of the community but for now I was interested in signs. I was interested in abstractions. A glass wall rising in steps reflects the Chocolate Factory – a place of work. I am on the inside of the factory. It has big windows. People are walking past. There is a closed sign facing me. I have a strong sense of dislocation. I am an outsider on the inside shooting out. Is this saying anything about my experience. I have a strong sense of isolation at this time.

Stage 2. I walk around the open studios. Shooting into rooms from passageways, trying to isolate people. As much as I feel isolated myself. there is a loneliness at work within me.

I go to a cafe. two people sit on a sofa, disengaged from me, disengaged from each other. There is a big window behind them. I try to catch one of them on one end of the sofa with the window reaching out to the skies beyond them. I am putting myself and my feelings into others. I am purposefully putting my self into the self of others and it is not a self that exists for them but I am saying that it does. I am creating visions that are not there. these are my interpretations.

I am reminded of nursing homes, institutions, with staff walking through ignoring residents

I go through more corridors. It is a maze. It adds to my sense of dislocation. I enter a room space. It is not a room. It as walls with open doors. An Artist, Heather Joliffe sits painting in the corner, occupying herself with a paintbrush. She is partially hidden by the traffic which passes through. I get a sense of nursing homes. I get a sense that privacy is invaded. dignity is minimised. The passers by are care staff, completely uninterested in the resident artist. I introduce myself and ask Heather if I can photograph her from a distance. Again I am shooting her as an outsider from outside the room, with Heather in the distance. What I am seeing is not real. Well it is but it has a different reality. I am putting my own into it. My documentary work is lacking a truth. I am building a fantasy – giving real life a coating of lies. I do not feel bad doing it. I have a strange brief and I feel very strange indeed.

Graffiti-ed wall

Down another flight of stairs, photographing stairs, shooting things that are not touchable; reachable for some of us. How acute is a gallery in a stairwell for some of the people who I usually work with. I find another window. it goes out onto a roof. The roof is uncared for. A piece of graffiti art dwells on the opposite wall in a state of some undress. I can remember a torso. It may have had a head. The features are not memorable for me but as the reflection of the factory meant a lack of work for disabled people (to me) so this scene spoke up about hidden sexuality. Something that some people think of sometimes and which devotees must consider a lot. I also think on our destitution, our poverty. I am thinking of the times when our politics where sexy and forced a response and I am denying that the need for economic savings, the savagery of cuts, are any real basis to regress the progress we have made as a marginalised set of people.

We are all broken, shattered - What does care have to do with it

I find Claudia Clare. She has used exposed stairs to build an installation. A clay pot is at the top. It is broken.The shattered shards lie scattered down a paper carpet. I talk to her. She says we are all broken sometimes. Maybe the task is not to see us broken but to put ourselves, each other back together. She tells me that she has known times like this. She does not go into detail and I do not pry. She goes up the stairs for me and lets me photograph her reaching out to the broken pieces and pretending to place them where they already lie – broken. She comes back down and tells me how it felt. She talked about care. She talked to me about touching. I said care might mean something else to me. I said the idea of not touching might be a lot more important at times. I photograph the do not touch sign which has been placed to protect both the work and the public who might cut themselves on the damaged good. The ethos of care homes, institutions, abusive relationships are singing out to me. I have just noticed that if i type to me and miss out the space it turns into a tome and I am conscious of how much I am writing.

I am reminded in my notes about another sign that appeared on the wall of reflected glass. The most significant word was security. I remember this now and i remember putting into the photograph on purpose. There is a link between the rising, stepped windows and security. Access is security. I had thought that access was liberation but the angle of security that other disabled people have spoken about in terms of health and safety resonates now.

Staff at the Karamel Club

I repair to the Karamel club for lunch. I am treated like a lord by this organisation who finds it very difficult to let me pay for anything. Yet I do not feel patronised. I feel loved.

Sue Thompson's Bosch based Riotous Portraits

My third wander led me into situations where I talked more than photographed. I come across Sue Thompson A segment of her wall space holds portraits painted in the style of Bosch (if memory serves) but the concept holds the faces of rioters lifted from CCTV. Sue feels close to her community, The people of Haringey. She swims in the local baths, walks down Tottenham’s streets. She felt appalled by the coverage given to the people who rioted. She has an empathy for them. She talks about fractured society. She looks forward to change. I take her picture with her work. I challenge her as an artist to consider how she would like to have herself represented. Representation is a challenge for me. I do it from time to time as an advocate. My day job. All I ever aspire to is to get as close as I can to what people want me to say bearing in mind my own language. This sets the tone for my next few adventures.

Vaughan Melzer's Dockers

Vaughan Melzer has recently documented the Glasgow Dockers who sat in the shipyard all those years ago (1971-72), as an organised work in, controlling what came in and what went out. It was another form of occupation. These are new days of occupation. The workers I would guess are retired now. They look relaxed, strong, at ease with themselves, their stories and their photographer. We talk about hidden stories, lost languages. The things we used to say to promote our causes, the tales we need to tell that are now longer told in mainstream media. The dockers are faced by another documentary covering a visit to Uganda. I note a piece of paper on Sue’s work surface saying
Gifts to Africa. We talk about charity. I am opposed to it and look forward to this weeks Burn Pudsey Friday event. Vaughan’s portraits do not show that we should pity people, do not show that we should fear people, or reflect grateful minions of an underclass begging for scraps from the landowner or their servile, saville celebs but the paper disturbs me and says that I might fall out with Vaughan on a number of issues. We discuss this and we won’t.

I make one more call on an artist. Oil Painter Tim Benson whose work shows older people. I won’t spend much time on this but again it scorches my bones to see the under represented being given voice in art and it excites me to think that I may now have reached an age whereby I can join another community.

Representing the old with oils, Artist Tim Benson

Each of the artists that I spoke to described their work to me and talked of commitment to community. I look forward to finding a way to work with them.

Mien hostess with the mostest - Rosaly Funari

My second film was not empty. Rosaly Funari, project leader of the Karamel club asks me to photograph her beautiful staff. Later she tells me that she is keen to make sure that the accessible toilet is fit for purpose. She assumes that it may not be. So, if there are any access surveyors in Haringey Rosaly would be pleased to hear from you and take your advice. Karamel’s Comedy Club, Music Night and Restaurant deserves our patronage. We will make it accessible to all. You can find out more about it here http://www.karamelclub.com/


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