An Interview With: Danielle Madeley
Who are you and where did you study?
I am a recent BA Photography graduate from Falmouth University, originally from the county of Staffordshire.
Could you introduce the work to us with a short artist statement?
A community is the interwoven lives of different generations, a seamless unspoken memoir of times passed and present; a collective history that forms the foundations of the people it encompasses. The Knot is the consolidation of work made over the period of a year, documenting the parallaxes of growing up in the county of Staffordshire and the tumultuous relationship with identity as a member of that community. The images lie on the cusp of fictional, tampering with the notions of traditional documentary. They are a record of the conflicting ideas of comfort and convulsion akin to the emotions felt with regards to home.
What were your main concerns when approaching this body of work?
My biggest concern when approaching any work is to use art for what I believe it is intended for, and that is as a mode of expression. I tend to photograph the most when I feel there is turmoil in my mind, I imagine like most artists find, it brings clarity. I always endeavour to utilise art as a tool to society. The vast majority of my work focuses on the idea of community, therefore it is imperative that I show those who appear in the work in a light that they are happy with. I want to celebrate the community I am from therefore presenting information that is positive and enlightening is crucial.
How do you go about researching a new project?
I spent a serious amount of time in the library, reading as much as I can in terms of photographic theory and discussion of practice. With regards to The Knot, I then spent a larger amount of time in the library local to Newcastle – Under – Lyme, where the project was shot accumulating archival research and trying to understand the history of my area in more depth. This then led me to interviewing members of my community; I found this is the most important part of my research and where I find the inspiration of what it is that I should shoot.
Tell us about your experience of working with your family and within a community where you grew up?
I’m at least 92% positive that most of my family were destined to be in front of a camera; so working with them as models is a breeze. What’s been the most challenging is finding it within myself to allow the world to see our private dynamic. It’s difficult to acknowledge that once work is out there, my family will be critiqued and I have to be conscious of what I am presenting to a wide audience. The same applies to my broader community. In 2015 I read an article that detailed Stoke – On – Trent, my neighbouring community as one of the worst places to live in the U.K. as voted by the people of the place itself. Since reading this, I have made it a personal endeavour of mine to not contribute to this opinion, however it was tough at first to find what is that Staffordshire celebrates. Nonetheless, I find working with my community and family has allowed me to realise that I do fit within that group and I am contributing to the changing opinion of Staffordshire.
What was your experience of Staffordshire throughout youth, and how do you go about expressing this in the photographs?
I used to think it was mundane but the more I think about it, I can’t imagine my youth being any better. I shot the majority of The Knot whilst walking the same route through the park I spent most of my teenage years on; to the hospital my Mum works at and then back home. The last time I shot for the project it was overwhelming, I had time to reflect what it was to grow up in this place. The photograph of the willow tree was the only way I could materialise the manifestation of emotions I felt; I lay under these trees as a kid, never really taking notice of the way they moved or how the light shone through them onto my skin but for some reason, on this day I took notice. My experience of Staffordshire almost lies synonymous with that experience, I was surrounded by splendour but never saw it. I tried to create images that are quiet, I understand that for myself to view them I see something different, but I hope that for those looking at The Knot feel themselves slow down. In photograph we so often see the mundane photographed and presented to us as a piece of art but the only way I knew how to express my relationship with Staffordshire was to document the things I missed so that they are not overlooked again. If anything this body of work is a visual ode to my younger self, urging her to take it all in as much as I do now.
What are your plans after graduation?
In September 2016 I won a grant to complete a project documenting the people who worked the Rists Wires and Cables in Newcastle Under Lyme. The next few months will be spent completing the project in time for an exhibition of the work in October.
Could you share any advice to other photographers approaching their next year of study? How would you advise them to get the best out of the year?
Don’t stop shooting. Shoot until your eyeballs feel as though they’re going to fall out, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got an essay coming up or you have just finished a deadline, just don’t stop. I think art is the communication of things that cannot be expressed through that of speech, therefore if you take as many photographs as possible, you might express something that cannot be put into words. Also research is not only fundamental but it should be continuous, the only way to progress as a practitioner is to constantly become more aware of as much as possible. I don’t know if that’s good advice but that’s how I try to work.