I won’t deny my heart was racing a bit, but I recognised that this was also mixed with the tingle of excitement, the unknown of where this project might now go…
It’s been an incredible journey. One which I want to share some of my own self-discovery as an artist, along with sharing some of the stories of those whose front doors I’ve knocked on. Armed only with camera-in-hand, a friendly smile and a desire learn more about the lives of some of the people who have chosen to make their Home in Maindee.
I regularly have a personal photographic project on the go, these projects feed my soul and fuel my creativity into the day job as a documentary family photographer. I love letting them take me on an honest journey and watch them turn into a story of which I have no idea where and how it will end.
When I applied for a New Paths funding project through Maindee Library, I had a clear idea that I would be relying upon the vast knowledge of a local estate agent who’d practiced in the area for over 50 years. Who knows the habits, trends and lifestyles of local folk buying and selling homes better than anyone else, right?
This was how my project idea was pitched, and after a quick meeting with said estate agent, it was a done deal, he was the linch pin of the project. I was clear that he would lead the way and open all the right doors into these people’s lives for me to interview and photograph.
It didn’t happen that way.
I soon realised that, after countless attempts to trail a busy man selling 1000’s of houses, our diaries were not meant to link. His very lovely, but equally very protective PA was not as keen as me to see this project happen, so I was out on my own. Left tentatively hooking up with local Facebook community groups and literally walking up to people and doing what is known in the trade as my ‘elevator pitch’ – 20 seconds to draw them in to my world. I won’t deny my heart was racing a bit, but I recognise that this was also mixed with the tingle of excitement, the unknown of where this project might now go.
Carole not only welcomed me into her home, but greeted me with a perfectly brewed cup of tea, chocolate biscuits and told me how the living room we were sat in (known as her best room) was always used as the kids’ disco room while they were growing up. She’s lived in the house for nearly 50 years and remembers the day her and her late husband fell in love with it.
“We walked through the door and stood in the hall, it was warm and felt so right. We looked at each other and knew that this was the one.”
People move home for a variety of reasons, Jhons and Francy’s move to Maindee was for health reasons. Jhons tells me that this house gave them a chance to have a life, to heal the family from a long-term illness. Their home is now a haven of new life, friendships and vibrant childhood stories from Columbia.
“It’s very different growing up here for children than it was for my own childhood in the Columbian mountains. We’d go off on our own, build dens and teach ourselves to fish.”
I am also lucky enough to have experienced Francy’s exquisite homemade empanadas. This lunch invite came after our discussion about the culinary scents from around the world, travelling out of the kitchens from the different houses on their street around meal times. Tantalising the passerby.
They are both huge parts of many cultural communities across Newport, South Wales. Including the homeless communities where they take regular late night walks through the city armed with flasks of hot tea for those who live on the streets.
Alix and Ismael, are two of the warmest and open people you could wish to meet. When I knocked on their front door they were still unpacking boxes from their move to the area. They could of so easily turned me away for my inconvenient timing but instead, this union opened up some of the most incredibly spiritual exchanges of conversation between us.
“We were drawn here, looking for somewhere with a community that connects us. We’ve found it.”
I continue to learn so much about them, from their wedding on a beach in the Scottish Highlands, to discussing The Day of The Dead Festive. Ismael is a magnet for meaningful conversations and connects with people everywhere he goes. I should add that he is also “a crazy Mexican” (these are his own words, honestly!) and one of the most engaging storytellers I have ever met.
“Before setting up Friends Hair Salon, I used to work at the hairdressers in Owen Owen Department Store, along with Olwen who pierced the ears and Eve who measured the bras.”
If you ever need a good old belly laugh, then look no further than my Friday mornings with the girls in Friends Hair Salon. They are simply amazing. Like a big family with Lynne and Jo at the helm, looking after pretty much everyone inside the salon and outside along the high street. Like the Cheers Bar of Maindee, Friends really is the place where everybody knows your name. It’s the new yet the familiar each time I visit.
“Joyce is newbie though, she’s only been coming to the salon for a few years” says Lynne. “But when I look in the book and see she’s coming in, I feel a warm glow, as she’s always so happy and positive, a really inspiring soul.”
It was difficult to visualise the right place to exhibit some of these photographs from the project. Originally I had thought about displaying them on the iconic house-for-sale signs you see on stakes in people’s front gardens. This quickly changed when I realised that the people I’ve been spending time with are in no hurry to leave the area, or they’ve just moved in. Many have been in the area for decades, as their parents and grandparents before them. So it seemed only fitting that everyone had the chance to sit in someone else’s living room and get a real sense of these stories, as I have had the privilege of hearing.
That is why I chose to create a living room exhibition in the corner of Maindee Library. By hanging a patterned wallpaper across a large wall for the mounted prints to be displayed. By hanging drapes in the window and borrowing different pieces of furniture, from a rocking chair to floor lamp. Even this part of the project has its own tales and connections… with the furniture donators adding their own stories of how they acquired the rug, or how many grandchildren they’ve cuddled while rocking on that chair.
The second stage is to plan an exhibition in the shop front of Friends Hair Salon. They’ve kindly agreed to let me dress their front window with some project pictures. I’m already looking forward to spending more time with the lovely ladies there in the Autumn.
An exhibition of work often marks the end of an artist’s project. However, I’m struggling to find that line, that finality. I’m talking about the connections I’ve made and the stories that these people continue to share with me long after I’ve taken the final photograph. They are now like new and growing friendships and for this very reason, I won’t call it