“The projects you do best are the ones that you love”
Joanne Coates is a documentary photographer, and the founder of Lens Think – a social enterprise set up to promote diversity in the creative arts. Lens Think put on socials and pop up exhibitions in locations all around Yorkshire, and help share artist opportunities.
In Joanne’s work as a photographer she is interested in working life and class inequality, which is represented in her diverse portfolio of personal and commissioned work. She has been published by the BBC, Vice, The Telegraph and The Guardian, and has had her approach to photography described as democratic and poetic.
In this episode we discuss how photography can be used as a medium to highlight under represented issues, the social responsibility artists have when saying they are giving people a voice, and the need for a more representative generation of artists to become the creative future of tomorrow.
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[Applause] hello and welcome to the or creators podcast my name is Ben Porter and each week you can join me as I chat to someone for me most creative community this week's guest his Joanne combs Joanne is a documentary photographer and the founder of lens think a social enterprise set up to promote diversity in the creative arts lens think put on socials and pop up exhibitions in locations all around Yorkshire and help share artist opportunities in Joanne's work as a photographer she is interested in working life in class inequality which is represented in hid diverse portfolio of personal and commissioned work she has been published by a BBC vice the Telegraph from The Guardian and has had her approach to photography described as democratic and poetic in this episode we discuss how photography can be used as a medium to highlight under-represented issues social responsibility artists have was saying they're giving people a voice and the need for a more representative generation of artists to become the creative future of tomorrow Joe welcome to podcast thank you for having me so you're someone who grew up in the north and then you went down to uni in London then you've saved to come back John it's only a bit through talk me through what drew you back up here because most people would say the jobs are down there stay down there so what went through your mind and well I think it was quite hard because at 16 are left then off and I didn't really see that Rennie opportunities up here and so I kind of felt like there wasn't any opportunities and I thought that I had to to be a photographer go to London but that's not the case at all and I think that's something you have to work out on your own but I went to study the University of the Arts and that was my kind of dream place to study but what I actually got to London I really didn't like it okay and it's it's just a very different kind of creative scene and it's good and you have to go there for work anyway but it's not somewhere that I've really enjoyed living in and I've realised that all the work I was doing was about rural places and about the countryside our isolation our working people so I was actually traveling up north the whole time I was in London study intimate work so I ended up kind of thinking I went to work out I'm seeing for a festival in Amsterdam and for free once as soon as I graduated and then because all my work was about the knife I was that well why do I go and living then off so it kind of made sense yeah sure so what do you think of the cost was it worth doing or not because I have very mixed things about creative courses it's I always say that when people ask you like should they study photography it's a personal decision but for me it was very difficult because I found it quite tough I loved having access to the dark rooms we have that amazing color dark rooms that I really loved that and I loved being able to print like your own book and to do kind of like poster printing and to do exhibitions and things like that but they're things that you could do without going to university and it's not really an art college anymore universities are more business models hmm and as well say if you want to do photography and it's more technical then you don't need to be at university where is like I really wanted that theory the ethics so for me like the theory was worth it but it's very cutthroat and I would say like consider where you go to university because I just wanted to go to this class because that's where my favorite photographers had gone and and I really loved the tutors and I still think that you it was a good but it wasn't really a place where like a working-class person fit like fit in at all sure so I found it really tough in that respect so what some of the themes that you explore in your work and I explore class inequalities and working life so kind of looking at farming and fishing I also look at mental health so I would say it's not necessarily marginalized issues but issues that don't maybe get represented as much why is photography a good medium to get across I think that you should I always think it's about storytelling and about who should tell what story and why and different photography really translates storytelling really well I don't know it's always weird because I almost said that I'm not a photographer obviously I use photography and it's very much photography what I do but it's more about speaking to people and listening to people and getting to know them so in a way like the photography is tempered of what I do and I think for photography documentary photography I think is it's almost a different medium to I was it's really difficult with photography because you've got like different sections and they're so different but they're equally is important so like it doesn't matter if you're like a music photographer commercial photographer like what you do is they're really they're almost entirely different jobs and they all have merits in their own rights as well yeah he's interesting cuz I'm remember talking somebody on a previous podcast about this is like people get confused thinking photography is the thing inside photography is a vehicle to do other things many can go to so many different directions I mean that's definitely true I'd like I can't really describe like why photography for me because I was more interested in literature okay and reading like apparently like there's a story of like I didn't speak in fast here and a half like any words are over I used to like grab little books and kind of like just say entire sentences but in baby-talk and then I just started speaking like full sentences so I think that like it's always been about sorry time and then photography is what helps me to do that and that's why I use it why is it you want people to take away from your work yeah I think that's up to them more than up to me because I can want them to take away a lot of I think what I want to do is to be able to get people to ask questions so it's like for me it's a medium where you're that you can put a story out there and I'm not going to be able to make the social change that needs to happen and that work isn't going to be able to make this also change but you can make that an issue that people are aware of and you can make that an issue that people start to ask questions about and then policymakers and change makers can see that work and start seeing that that is an issue that needs representation yeah definitely it's been part of a bigger issue as well because people against another misconception that one thing on its own will change people's minds but if you get a lot of people standing up and saying actually notices something we care about and that's what changes people's minds over time yeah definitely so why is invisible britain so invisible Britain is about it's set up by a guy called Paul who's a filmmaker so he kind of makes films about the industrialization and housing and so he decided to sell this book with 40 different photographers from across the UK and it's curated by Chloe Juna who's best in Brighton and Laura Dickon who is best in the Midlands so they chose 40 different photographers to work with and to represent stories that are marginalized from the mainstream media and you got to pick your story and what I really liked about it is so usually you're kind of gothic aperture and you might work with them a journalist or you might kind of write for that person but there's there's a lot in photography where you say you're giving someone a voice but they already have their own voice and they should be allowed to speak for themselves so I am an invisible Britain they wrote this like a text next to the image but they got to write that text okay or you could record audio as well and then it was translated so they actually get to be as much a part of that book as the photographer it's an equal firing nice is that now is it still in production and I have a copy with me and it is out now but it's available to pre-order on our cousin so I don't know when it will get delivered okay is there a pre-order link that could pop in the description yeah okay perfect so what else you working on her the projects and quite a bit at the moment and I'm gonna be speaking at the photographer's gallery on Friday with an organization I run called lens Fink lens Fink is it's kind of strange because and I didn't really see it as part of my practice but more and more it's got the same kind of like ethics and moral code as my photography so it's kind of goes hand in hand but it's an organization to bring about diversity within photography in the north of England and so that's what I'm speaking with and then I've been working on a lot of projects with that so working with schools in the countryside and working on like with young women on empowerment projects in the north and we set up a series of artists residency's with the Forestry Commission at Dolby forest so it was enabling artists to be paired for a residency and to deliver workshops and I could talk about fair edges but hello how is it run is it like a collective model then it's so I just started it because when I moved back to the north I kind of felt really isolated and I knew that there was loads of brilliant photographers but I didn't like all of course you actually is all these kind of creative people and groups but you don't want to always have to travel to Lee's or to Bradford dr. hull or like even to Newcastle or to Middlesbrough and so I was like why is there nothing kind of going on and there's a mini clique in Brighton who were really great kind of social photography I guess collective and they were doing really great things and so I just decided to kind of set it off and it was is it's a social but it travels around so that say if you're in Huddersfield the Halifax and there you know you don't get to go to different events the reason it travels is that they'll always be it'll eventually kind of come to you and you can maybe speak there or you can get represented there so we've done different types of talking hole and I really liked that format so we had like someone who'd been graduated a month someone who had been working in the industry for four years and then someone who's a lecturer and had been working in the industry for like twenty years so all of those people had a panel discussion about photography and it's it's good like it's just free it's not I don't get any money from doing it but I try and create opportunities for artists where they can get paid and that's what I'm kind of working on at the moment working with more organization so you can pay artists to do basically artist residency of projects that will inspire change or working with schools where you can mentor young people into getting into the creative industries and not having to leave the area that sounds great so what's the best piece of advice that photographers ever given you and so I think there's quite a few there's quite a few people who've given me a really good advice like I had an a mentorship with a man who works at Metro but he's a photographic artist as well he works at Metro imaging in London and his name's Steve McLeod and so I was in my foundation year and I was kind of worried because we'd you have these big crits at art school and they're really strange because you think that like everyone who goes to art school like I get really excited about seeing people's work and you know you can give constructive criticism but they they become really scary things okay and like quite negative and I think I was said that I was quite worried because I was that maybe the quietest person in the room and especially in and my foundation year I was really shy so I found it quite difficult to show my work and to like speak up and I said I'm worried that people think that you don't care about what you do because you're not the largest person in the room but what he said is it doesn't hurt me doesn't it's not the largest person in the room who makes the most impact it's the one that cares the most about their work so that kind of made me feel like I could be myself and I don't have to be the loudest person in the room are super extroverted I can just be who I am yeah photography is a good medium for that as well yeah because you don't have to talk you can just go and take a lot of photos and then that is in itself is storytelling yeah exactly so what themes are you looking forward to exploring in your own work in the future their projects that you do best stuff that you love so I'd like I'm kind of like obsessed with maritime history and with fish in so I focused a lot on the fishing industry and with farming because I came from a rural background and I'm also like a massive wrestling fan okay cool and so I've been working on a project about women in wrestling and so like things that you're kind of obsessed with then I think that that's the the way you can go and then obviously like within like if there's five things that you're obsessed with which most people have more than that within those five things there's 10 different projects for each one and and I kind of find it hard sometimes because I've always got like free personal projects on they go at once and sometimes you kind of have to rein in your idea and be quite strict and say like I'm just gonna go work on this yeah I definitely know that feeling give a feel burnt out when you just got too many projects it's like you do a bit of this a bit of that and you just feel like you don't get anywhere you do and I think sometimes it's hard because you're excited about like you want to stay up to like 1:00 in the morning working on different things and I'm sure it's the same with the podcast like you want to stay up and you want to edit and you want to get done and it's what you're passionate about is what you love but you also need to sleep but there's six hours what are you excited about outside of photography and probably but like it's really difficult because I love photography and I really love other photographers but I read more than I look at for us so I really like literature so there's an art fair called molecular cues from Shetland who I really like and he writes about it's kind of about the landscape but it's more about personal experience and loss and there's a writer from Hebden Bridge called Ben Meyers and I really love it's like kind of again it touches on the landscape but it's also like dark noir and so I'm really interested in that and and I guess I don't know like the things that I photograph that I was interested in so by New York has anything exciting in New York is going on anything more people to know but I think there are of protest gallery are doing some interesting things because it was like I don't know like when I first came back after graduation and it can be quite hard because if it's somewhere that you've spent a lot of time you have this like numbness to a place so you're not as excited by it as someone who's like moving there for the first time so you kind of a bit like I want more from things that maybe someone who has just moved here and so like when I saw it out of protest gallery I was like wait a second this is in New York and I think Jeff who's second name I can't remember o'clock it's doing really exciting things when they had their opening and the had–they the wall opposite and I just thought that was really exciting and it's a little bit different and it's kind of nice to see and I think as well they do things that involve the public so the I can't remember where it was there's a where you got out past the river and they were doing them like a street art mural oh darling forfeit like hospital I think any in the car park yeah yeah just there and they had a day and it was a weekend day where they were doing it like publicly so they had this famous street artist but it was public so people who were driving past and who might not always get involved in the art scene could see something to be involved in it which I really liked and I also really liked Aesthetica and so the conference that they have in May I really like because they had a really good panel at the last one which was about diversity and they had their the curator from the serpentine gallery and they had people for my all like all are already international and I am I just really liked it because I like you don't expect to go to a really exciting panel talk about diversity in York and I really liked that it was a little bit different and but there's a lot of things and like print stuff and print stuff is like I really like what they didn't like I went to there and like so they put the two the fair on the saturday and like they like the only thing with it is you want to buy everything yeah so what about if you could do one thing to improve the creative scene in York what would you do and make it more diverse okay so I think it's difficult in your career because as a city is not a Davis it's not that diverse but I think there is a problem in that if you look at their people who were holding creative positions and it's really difficult because that like this is the same with every big city in the country the people mainly white the many middle class and it's just it's 2018 and we need to kind of like look at who's telling what story and why and there are like it's hard in York because York is a quite a privileged place to live but there are places that aren't privileged and those young people also need to work in the creative scene and maybe they need to tell their stories so I've worked in whole a lot and I worked in whole and for the City of Culture for 2017 with young people and it's young people from the Warren and like it was a really like diverse groups of different needs and like some of them had picked the become before and some of them were more interested in spoken word some of them just wanted to use that foreign cameras but it's allowing people to tell their own stories so like maybe like I think I don't know which organizations but having people who would go on to say like a housing estate and work with that group and say to them like we believe in you to be the creative future of tomorrow because if that doesn't happen then it's always going to be the same yeah yeah it's the same thing you said time and time again when I've asked this question it's always artist development we need to develop more artists and if you don't it's just whoever can afford to do it we'll get through I know if I can't and we'll just end up doing something else and you lose you lose the voice that you like people there's been research done into the amount of musicians in the chart with degrees and it's just gone up and up and up and up up because they're the only people who can seem to have both the time and the money to afford to keep pursuing a music career when there's like very almost next to no support in the music industry for young artists is if you've got a hit yeah we'll give you some money but if you don't you're on your own and that eliminates all the working-class a name for my device I don't know it's difficult like if you look at some of the greatest lyricists in the history of music it's almost like street poetry yeah and you know that like that does belong to the working class so it's like why don't we empower these people because they've kind of proved that they have the merit in different generations but we still kind of ignore them mm-hmm yeah tricky thing to solve yeah it's really difficult and I don't really know how to solve it but I feel it should be spoken about more damn well they still like if you're documenting in your work that's getting people talking about it and you need to get more people doing the same and there is there's that conference in York on November the 10th called York has class okay and so it's run by a guy who's from West Yorkshire but he's studying at York University called Conner and he's set up this conference and so he's having speakers from all over here key speakers on class and how to improve and make things diverse and I think the reason he's having it at York University during freshers is to try create those conversations in a place where it might not usually happen and I'll be showing on November the 10th at your University so what's next for you um well I'm going to London on Friday to do a portfolio review so the photographer's gallery have this it's really good actually and you can apply from anywhere and I would advise like young people in York to do it so it's called fully a Friday and it's completely free and you apply with a link showing your work and you don't have to be a graduate you don't have to be someone who studied you just have to be a photographer but you get to put your work in front of them they're like the director of the photographer's gallery you get to put your work in front of someone who will organize longer organization and in front of Steve McLeod who is from Metro Imogen and often men as young artists so anyone can apply to it and when you go and it's really like safe welcoming players to show your work that doesn't cost anything and as long as you can kind of get down there then it's available for everyone really and then after that I'm showing some work as part of two or nine women which is a project so by Hilary wood and it's being curated by Tracey Marshall and Cheryl Newman and so that's going to be showing at the houses of parliament from December their 14th and I'm doing a work with a project with women in farming so I'm working with yes which is the Yorkshire Agricultural Society I am on promoting women in farming and showing how I choose have kind of changed and it kind of it's going to be more in there some recorded audio for it as well as fuzz and then another project I'm working on which I'm hoping to kind of finish by March next year is about rural schools in the Yorkshire Dales closing so I've been working closely with three different schools in the Yorkshire Dales and a lot of those schools and the Dells are closing due to all different reasons and sometimes it's four it has to close but sometimes it's unnecessary but as that goes and I've been working with the children themselves and so taking portraits but also getting the children like doing workshops with the moments like you of a business on like business branding workshop but my school shouldn't close of what it means to them and they're all under ten so it can be quite challenging sometimes but it's a really I like a project for many passionate about that I've just been working on the fishing project so I'm going back to Shetland in the start of December and then working with the BBC a little bit more as well so a BBC the BBC you're gonna publish their women in wrestling article in the next few weeks as well cool terms are there it's good be busy so people are interested in seeing some of your work or finding out more about when to think where to go and so for my work my website or my Instagram in the best place is to see new way my Instagram is kind of like almost a diary of what I'm doing and work that I'm doing so that is g1 our coats and it's co-ed EES because no one ever understands my name but hopefully because we're in New York we will go and and the web sites ww1 cascada UK and for lens fink we have an Instagram a Facebook group and a Twitter and the Facebook group is really good if you kind of want to get involved in a conversation so we have people kind of contribute into the group and any events that we're doing we share on that group and opportunities for us in the local area so I'll be sent some or I'll kind of find them by myself and post any opportunities that are happening so if there's opportunities that I think that Commission's that people could benefit from and it's not just photography it's all different art mediums so I'll post them on the group and then we also do like and there's a lot of people will be having exhibitions or events and different cities across yorkshire and then yeah the lens being instagram is a lens fing yorkshire and on there we have interviews with different artists so I have worked in the North that I've fallen off or who have made work in the north so that one of my favorite interviews was with Ella Murphy here is Tish Murphy's so it was about her mom's work and we posted the work but did a conversation alongside it and if people also want to take over the Instagram then it's open like there's no kind of barriers to that if you've got an event that you want to promote or something that you wanna share then please get in touch um we'll be happy to have you on there as well that sounds great although it's been a live webcast well thank you