Near Belonging: Lifting the Lid

Faces without names, souvenirs without memories

I’ve just completed the first draft of the Near Belonging film and I’m incredibly excited and nervous about sharing it at the test screening for participants later in the month.  But this month is all about sharing and being brave, which is why I’m finally publishing thoughts and experiences from the project here, online.

Until now it’s felt appropriate to keep the project discrete, taking time to build participant confidence without us feeling any pressure of public interest. One participant sent me an email in the early weeks saying just that:

I would really love to share my experience on my social media pages… [but] I don’t want to share yet. Something in me wants to hold close the image and my feelings. Just a little longer. Almost like being a child and clutching something right and knowing you have to give it away but just want a few more minutes to revel in it.[KC]

We’ve had a successful few months of ‘holding close’ so now I’m really happy to be able to share news about what we’ve been up to and how you can join in, with a free public workshop in July.

The project so far

So, first, a very quick re-cap. The idea for the project is simple: participants look through portraits from the Robert Graham Studio Collection and ‘adopt’ someone from the archive. Over a varying number of sessions, including creative and confidence-building exercises, I record us talking about who they’ve chosen and what their (imagined) connections might be. We then create new portraits, merging the old and the new together. These two elements come together in a film, which is a concentrated bubble of humanity: vulnerable, funny, heart-breaking…

The story of the collection used within the project is equally touching; it was found in 1987 as huge stacks of decaying glass negative plates in a random cellar in Leamington Spa. Later identified as being from the town’s Robert Graham photography studio (operating 1873-1925), of the 50,000 images found, 5,000 were able to be saved and safely re-homed at Warwickshire County Record Office (WCRO). But most remain anonymous; faces without names, souvenirs without memories.

Started in earnest

The project started in earnest back in January, when Rachel New from BBC CWR visited WCRO and broadcast a call-out for people living in Warwickshire to come forward to take part. This, combined with a number of direct approaches to community support organisations, resulted in a group of participants with fascinating and varied experiences of ‘belonging’.

Over the next few blog entries you’ll be able to read about how we worked together and how the Graham’s Studio Collection has inspired us. I also promised to share news on how you can take part: on Saturday 16 July 1-3pm I’ll run a public version of an adoption workshop, so you’ll have the opportunity to see the collection and take part in discussions and activities around a portrait chosen by you. Places will be limited for this free event, so please book via the Heritage & Culture Warwickshire pages on Eventbrite.