Archive for August, 2010

Letting go

August 30, 2010

So, it was the last day on Friday, and I have had time to reflect over a long weekend with my family (to make up for outsourcing them all summer!).  It was such an emotional day, beginning with the arrival of Pastel (who is one of the toughest nuts to crack) with a bouquet of flowers for Sue!

We took them all out to an Italian restaurant, and you wouldn’t have known that they were young offenders.  Their behaviour was perfect.  No swearing, no shouting, just a lot of laughter and a lot of eating.  There were reminders once again, about their backgrounds and lack of experience in these situations (“What’s parmesan?”).

Sue asked the kids what they thought of the experience.  MC remarked that he had attended last year and it was down to that experience that he decided he had to do something positive with his life; in his words “I didn’t do anything bad last year.”  His attendance this year was to mentor others.

She also asked me what I felt I had learned.  It was a difficult question because I had observed all of the time, but I did learn that I needn’t be afraid.  I was pretty worried on day one, but soon learned that a lot of the aggression is part of them finding their places in the pack, and a lot of the shouting and swearing is to get attention.  I wouldn’t be as afraid walking past a group of young people in my own home any more.

I asked her what she felt about the experience and she said that it is the same feeling every year; she feels honoured to have been a part of it.  What an amazing lady!

I took one of the group shots in for each person as a memento, and a portrait of Loveheart as she hadn’t like a single picture of herself, but in this shot she really looks beautiful and I hope she believes it now.

When we all parted there were a lot of hugs and tears (me included).  I felt an incredible sense of loss and a bit of panic; how will they be now they are out of our control?  How will they turn out?  Who will they turn to?

I can’t believe it is over.  It has been extremely challenging and emotional – and highly entertaining.  I have over 2000 shots to sort and process, whittling them down for an exhibition at ProjectSpace Leeds, ‘Shooting Young Offenders’  from 6th November, and also for a book.

I’ll see the kids again on 23rd September when we have a celebration evening to give them their awards and screen the short film for the first time.  I can’t wait.

Lights, Camera, Action

August 26, 2010

We spent the day filming today.  It was hard-going as there was a lot of waiting around for those who weren’t acting.  Some made more pictures, though, and the results were really good. 

I had a bit of a chat with one of the YOTS staff today.  She had previously been a policewoman.  I thought that would have been good training for her current job but she explained that she would have been almost ‘on the other side’ since the police detain offenders whereas YOTS staff encourage reparation and retraining.

We had to do Ting’s shots first because he was due in court at midday ‘because he got breached.’  He wears an electronic tag so he must’ve not met the conditions of his curfew.  It was almost funny though, as he was playing the part of an old man and had his ginger hair sprayed white and make-up on his face, then he had to be taken to Batley Baths to borrow their showers to clean it all off before he was taken to court.  We didn’t know if that would be the last we saw of him.

Filming continued with Romeo and Juliet shooting their scenes but it was a bit like pulling teeth.  Juliet wasn’t in the mood and it was getting later and later, and the more that they messed around the less likely it was that they were going to get away on time.  Everyone else was in the next room which was a nightmare because we could hear them all while we were recording. 

Ting returned a little later to a round of applause.  It was his first breach and he apologised explaining that it was a simple mistake (he was home just after 7pm) and said that he was sorry for wasting the court’s time.  I was just glad to see him back!

Tomorrow is the last day.  I feel very emotional.  I feel that I have got to know all of these kids very well, and I have watched them grow over the summer.  They have the chance to change their lives now, but after tomorrow it is up to them…

Hug a Hoody

August 25, 2010

Well, the moderator came in today and guess what?!! The kids got 13 Bronze Arts Awards and 9 Silver!!!!!!  I am so proud of them!  He asked the kids what they thought of the experience and it was summed up by Ting who said “I see life in a different way now.”

They re-sat their numeracy and literacy tests in the hope that they have improved after 6 weeks.  We’ll see what the results show. 

When they were asked why they came to the Summer Arts College, Ting said he thought it would change his life around.  Romeo explained “I’ll go back to jail if I don’t come here.”

We were supposed to spend the day filming today but unfortunately the cameraman’s father died last night so it is rescheduled for tomorrow.  That was when we were supposed to be going on a trip so we have had to re-jig things.  One funny misunderstanding was that ‘we are going out for us dinner’ on Friday, which I thought meant an evening meal (and makes it really difficult for me at home) but ‘dinner’ is ‘lunch’ so that is fine.

I read through some of the reviews of the course that the kids wrote and they were heartbreaking.  I will put their words into my book which I am going to prepare in time for my exhibition.  This is now confirmed at ProjectSpace, Leeds from 6 November for a month.  I am going to show my photography, their artwork, and screen their short film.  I can’t wait.

I was interviewed by BCB, Bradford Community Radio.  It was an interesting discussion about the power of art and creativity to help offenders turn their lives around.  My dog was woofing in the background though! : )

Ting was so grateful and thanked us all for running the summer arts college for them and spontaneously hugged Sue.

It’s been emotional

August 24, 2010

Tough, tough day today.  The young peoples’ workbooks are being moderated tomorrow to make sure that Sue is marking them correctly, so they were driven hard all day to make sure that their books captured all of the hard work that they have done.  There was a realisation among a few of the kids that the end is approaching fast.  Juliet’s eyes filled up, bless.

They were encouraged to review the experience of attending the Summer Arts College.  One person said that they weren’t depressed any more and they were even off the tablets.

Attendance is a bit rocky.  One girl didn’t arrive til (very) late, one lad isn’t bothering to come as he’d done a lot of work in his book so felt sure it would pass without any more input, and one lad went fishing instead!

(staff ringing kids, parents, friends of kids, relatives of kids….)

Tension and stress affected the kids in different ways.  Some buckled down and worked hard. Some didn’t and I wondered why they weren’t worried about the deadline, but pretty soon staff would be humming around them cajoling and helping them so perhaps they know that the staff will get them through?

Others became aggressive.  Romeo and Juliet took forever to complete their work as there was a lot of hitting and messing about. 

Ting fed off the energy levels and got louder and louder.

I asked what the home lives of these kids is like, as I am worried about what they will return to after college ends.  Of course, not all homes are like this, but one of the kids will be returning to a home where their parents lie on their behalf and swear constantly.

Interest in the project has been widespread, with coverage now in the Yorkshire Post, The Guardian online, Leeds Live It Love It, The Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) and I will be interviewed tomorrow by BCB – Bradford’s Community Radio (4.30pm 106.6fm if you want a laugh!).  Here is the YEP coverage:

The kids are filming all day tomorrow.  I just pray they finish – and that they pass

“Failure is not an option”

August 23, 2010

Well, as those of you in Yorkshire will know, when it rains, it really rains.  We were filming most of today, and hadn’t time to dodge the showers so we had one umbrella over the recording equipment and the actors (the young people) had to tough it out.  And they did, brilliantly.  I wasn’t sure that they would take it seriously, but they did really well.

It was a very slow start today.  Only half of the young people turned up, and the others were collected later.  I asked what the outcome of Friday’s meeting was and it was a close-run thing.  As Romeo and Juliet’s behaviour was so out of line in London, they were at risk of exclusion but it was decided that it would undo everything that they had achieved over the first 5 weeks.  They have lost their attendance bonus and are not going to be allowed to go on this week’s trip, but it was felt that it would do a great deal of damage if they weren’t given the chance to finish their work and get their qualification.  At the end of the trip, Juliet discovered that it was one of the staff member’s birthday, when he announced that he was disappointed with their behaviour since it was his big day.  She said she would have behaved if she had known.  She apologised and said that she was embarrassed by how she had acted, which is a big step forward.

We discussed the benefit of treating the young people to a trip to London, when they didn’t seem to appreciate it, but it is all about planting positive memories;  they will always remember it.  It was funny, that although most of them said that the theatre was ‘sh*t,’ when they were interviewed on camera, they all liked it and recounted their favourite scenes.  The fountain was shown to them deliberately as ‘interactive art’ – the outcome was obvious, and the summary was that we should have taken towels and spare clothes for the inevitable.  A different way of looking at the event, perhaps?

It is going to be a tough week for staff and young people alike this week.  We have to get them through their silver awards, a moderator will come and look at their workbooks, and we have to finish filming.  Sue’s point of view is that ‘failure is not an option.’  She is personally paying £1k per day for the filming.  I don’t know if this is what made the ‘actors’ pay attention, or just that they have really bought into it, but there wasn’t much mucking about or even many takes. 

Ting was late today because he was waiting for his clothes to dry; he hadn’t any others.

The news just in…

August 20, 2010

Coverage of my photographic project has really gained momentum – it is featured in today’s Yorkshire Post http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/localnews/Photographer-snaps-up-chance-to.6485700.jp

K

Damaged goods?

August 20, 2010

I’ve got so much to tell you!  I am sorry that I didn’t update this last night because I didn’t get home until gone midnight.  Had a great day taking the young offenders to London, but oh my goodness I am tired.  The thing is that they are so unpredictable, and several of them do the unexpected to get attention, so you need to constantly think on your feet.  Photographically, it is such a challenge as you are always ‘on’ – constantly looking and trying to predict what they will do next, and being there.

I quite enjoyed the train journey once they had settled down as we had reserved seats and effectively had half a carriage to ourselves so we were quite contained (apart from Rosary’s ring tone which is a man shouting ‘Shut the f*** up’).  It is interesting, though, to watch how the young people behave when they have more freedom.  Some rise to the challenge and show how good they can be, others revert to type.

The only problem we had on the way down (that I noticed) was that Ting was cat-calling to female passengers who walked past, but I explained to him that I would find that intimidating if I didn’t know him and I walked into a carriage and had comments shouted out at me and he stopped. 

We played a game to guess the total price of the train tickets. There was much discussion and one lad was quite close to the total – but I don’t think that they picked up on the message: you are very lucky to be on this trip.  Sometimes they seem to think that they are owed this.  So many things are done for them to keep them on the straight and narrow that I think they believe they are entitled to special treatment – or maybe they just need that attention.

As soon as we arrived at Kings Cross it was time for a fag-break.  I think all bar one of them smoke.  We then took them to the South Bank centre by underground but it was like herding cats.  You forget how long the tunnels are and how many twists and turns they have but we managed to get them all to the same platform, and more importantly, all in the same carriage.

We had lunch at the South Bank Centre but they are so fussy! Afterwards, they went out to look at the fountains and you can predict what happened next.  Juliet and NewBoy (two offenders joined us for this trip) were soaked to the skin.  We were worried that the theatre wouldn’t let them in if they realised that they were dripping.

The theatre trip (Billy Elliot) was ‘eventful.’ I really loved the performance, but it was marred slightly by the behaviour of a couple of the young people.  It is such a shame, but if I was a paying member of the public I would have been pretty disappointed because there was quite a lot of talking, the odd shout out, and lots of messing about with fizzy drinks.  I thought that they would be captivated, or maybe I just hoped that they would.  There is a lot of swearing  in the show and quite a lot of this is done by young kids, directed at adults.  I thought that this would grab their attention.  They seemed to enjoy it but their attention span is so short that it wasn’t held for long.

Still, half way through, two of them gave it a standing ovation!  I got told off for taking photos inside the theatre (even though I was pointing my camera away from the stage at the kids).  I asked Rosary and Double-Jointed later what they thought of the show and they agreed that it was ‘sh*t’ – as did most of the others.  Part of this is because it isn’t cool to show you enjoyed something, but then I got a layer deeper and it turns out that they just didn’t understand it, they hadn’t heard of the miner’s strike.  Rosary said he even got the film out a couple of days ago but didn’t understand that either.  They did appreciate the huge talent of the boy playing Billy as he sang, danced and knew the lines for a long play, but that was about it.  Double-jointed said he couldn’t see the point as it wasn’t the real Billy Elliot.  I pointed out that if he was a kid in 1984, he would be in his late thirties now so wouldn’t be able to play the part of a kid.  He hadn’t thought of that.  It was also fiction…

We took them to China Town for a meal to round the day off.  We ordered a set menu as it was easy and there would be enough variety for everyone to find something they liked, but it didn’t go down well.  It was ’nuff spicy.’

We had to rush back to the train, but when we got on all of the seat reservations had been cancelled as there had been a problem with the previous train.  What a nightmare.  We ended up with young offenders dispersing in packed carriages looking for seats.  I ended up on my own in the quiet coach with Rosary, NewBoy and Double-jointed.  They were mad as hell that they couldn’t find a seat and expressed this in the only way they know how – in loud voices and with a lot of swearing.  I tried to calm them down and quieten them down but everyone in the vicinity quickly realised that these were young offenders and I was in charge of them (which I wasn’t!).  NewBoy sat on someone’s suitcase, but the owner wasn’t impressed and came to reclaim it.  NewBoy challenged him saying he wasn’t doing anything wrong but the owner wanted the case back saying that there might be breakable things in it.  NewBoy and Rosary resented this and started on the ‘who does he think he is’ track, with many expletives – and I texted for back-up.  It came quickly and they calmed down after NewBoy was hauled out.  I just felt for the other passengers, including a young girl, who was wide-eyed at the spectacle!

Rosary was asked to put his phone on silent when his ring tone started to offend everyone, and after a couple of stops they found seats.  They must have been passing comments about a man who got off, and a lady asked them to be quiet, stating that the he had been gentleman.  Light touch paper!  One of our staff intervened again.  I was just praying that the lady would stop talking to them.  I think that she felt that she had to say something as her daughter could hear their comments, and they’d enjoyed a long conversation with the man.

When we finally got to Leeds I said my goodbyes, and funnily enough, passed the lady and her daughter at the ticket barriers still talking about how rude our young people had been.

So, what do I think about the trip?  Well, I am in two minds.  We showed them that there is a different world out there.  We opened them up to new experiences:  food, theatre etc.  I think that they will have learned from it as they were coached throughout.  But I have doubts in my mind about whether they deserved or appreciated it, which is a shame.  I haven’t felt like this until now.  Maybe it was a step too far to expose them to so much?  One of the young offenders team explained that they are so damaged by their backgrounds that it is very difficult for them to accept new things and to look forward. 

What do you think?  Should the young offenders be treated to these experiences?

College is closed today so that they staff can review what happened.  We only have one week left in which the whole of the filming needs to be done for the short film.  It is going to be extremely hard.

Ting said ‘I don’t care about the others, I LOVED IT!’

My project is getting a lot of attention in the press, with coverage in:

I am delighted – the project deserves attention.  In the final week, I hope that the kids can show that they are worth it.

Something in common

August 18, 2010

College was a hive of activity today.  There was a moderator on-site and the kids all showed him their books.  It is incredible, but our Summer Arts College is almost a model of best-practice; there is just something about it that ensures that it is so successful.  I think that it is about trust and respect.  We treat the young people well and they return the favour.  We are also very flexible and we notice when things aren’t going right and immediately change either the situation, the combination of people, the location or the activity.

I had an interesting discussion with him about the power of photography to tell a story and to raise awareness of an issue.  I hope that my exhibition will do exactly that.

I am sure that Romeo and Juliet have competition in Loveheart and Ting! 

Romeo and Juliet had the funniest, and yet saddest conversation earlier where they compared convictions and discovered that their first crimes were the same.  People build their relationships on having something in common, but this isn’t what most people have in mind.

I am sure that the college is a breeding ground for germs as one tutor is back off sick-leave but now Sue is feeling ill.  She isn’t sure whether she will be well enough to come on the trip to London tomorrow which would be such a shame.

At the end of the day, I visited ProjectSpace in Leeds and they were very supportive.  They like my work and have offered me exhibition space in for a 4 week period anytime between mid October and December.  I believe that this will give my work, and the project the exposure I think that it deserves.  I am absolutely delighted.

Six degrees of separation

August 17, 2010

Everyone seems a bit hyperactive today.  It is a phenomenon belonging to week 5 – the combination of the pressure to complete the work for awards and to get the short film sorted out.  Moderators are due in soon so the kids need to be coached to get their work in as good a state as possible. 

The film is coming on well, with Loveheart and Romeo taking the lead roles today as Juliet is not in.  The kids come and go when they have appointments, meetings and court appearances so I never know who is going to be in each day.  I am worried about how the final film will be made as it is going to be shot over two days.

Ting excelled today.  For his apprenticeship he wanted to show the others how to do a ‘piano roll.’  This meant downloading some software and concentrating for the WHOLE day to create a tune so that he could demonstrate how it was built up.  He hasn’t had a laptop for a year as his broke.  When he had added the drum & bass to the melody, it was described as ‘sick!’

He only creates music for himself though.  I asked him why he doesn’t contact a producer, and he said he doesn’t know anyone.  I told him about the six degrees of separation.

His work was so good that Sue has asked him to create a tune for the opening of the film.

Juggling balls

August 16, 2010

Phew, what a scorcher.  It was hot, hot, hot in Leeds and the young people were desk-bound most of the day.  Usually a recipe for disaster, but their studies are getting more serious.  They are trying to get their silver awards and today this meant planning a lesson for someone else, and getting their feedback.

They all worked really hard, and they taught each other how to do a football trick, how to MC, algebra, and how to juggle today.  Great work by the kids and lots of listening by the rest. 

Photographically, it wasn’t until the end of the day that I realised that I had shot in colour.  It was a subconscious choice – they were all engaged and working well, using their imaginations and achieving something.  Didn’t feel like a black & white day.  It will be interesting to review all of the shots at the end and to shape the exhibition: colour or b/w?

Had an interesting debate the other day about being ‘too involved.’  The fact is that I care about every one of these young people now.  After being with them for three weeks, seeing their highs and lows, frustrations and achievements, I don’t see how you couldn’t.  Yes, they have done some terrible things, but yes, for the most part I think they want to put this behind them and have a chance of a decent life.  As a photographer, I am not sure how you can photograph something that you aren’t involved in.  How else can you understand your subject and reflect that in your shots.  The argument is that you should be more objective and photograph everything – whereas I have occasionally put the camera down when I felt that it would be wrong to continue.  Perhaps they were the shots I should have got?  But I think that you get more respect from your subject, and more of a chance to get closer in the long-run, if you show that you are not a threat early on.  We’ll see.

Today’s shot is of a juggling lesson