Sicily Workshop and portfolio reviews

http://www.mimimollica.com/workshopdates/september2020

Lat week I attended a six-day workshop in Sicily run by Mimi Mollica. This was similar to the workshop I attended last year but I was tempted to attend again by the fact that Martin Parr would be the guest tutor and would not only be reviewing the work produced during the workshop but would also be doing portfolio reviews of existing work at the beginning of the week.

At the initial portfolio review I showed Martin Parr three pieces of work:

  1. My short book A Slice of life…and death which includes the work for which I won the 1997 RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year and the British Life Photography Award for documentary series.
  2. My book 100 Women 100 Years which I produced during the OCA Level 2 Documentary course.
  3. The work which I submitted via a video for Assignment 5 of OCA Body of Work Here I was able to show the physical work, which was a great opportunity.

Martin Parr was complimentary about all the work, but of course the main discussion was about my current body of work as a work in progress. He felt that the work on the New Forest in A Slice of life…and death showed plenty of scope for development, both around the Commoners and around the gentrification of the Forest.

We had a long discussion about my body of work, Streams of Consciousness. At first he was slightly sceptical about the printing on linen, but after my explanation of the link to British colonialism he was convinced. “Why didn’t I know about that’ he said. He suggested I contact the Seamus Heaney Gallery and Belfast Exposed about potential exhibitions and gave me contact details for the directors.

Martin Parr and Mimi Mollica reviewing my Body of Work (photo Jonathan Lamb)

On location

The brief for the work we made during the week was to contribute to the ongoing project Fracture about the consequences of the redevelopment of the Belice valley in western Sicily after the huge earthquake in 1968. The earthquake virtually destroyed the villages of Gibellina, Salaparuta, Poggioreale, Santa Ninfa, Partama, Montevago and Santa Maria di Belice. (Haas, 1969) The government saw this as an opportunity for an urban experiment, invite famous architect to design completely new villages from the ground up, in some cases such as Poggioreale, some miles away from the original village (Tondo, 2018). These modern, concrete settlements now seem empty and soulless. It appears no-one thought to ask the villagers what they wanted.

A word or two about the workshop itself. It begins with a portfolio review with Mimi and the guest tutor. This was very friendly and non-judgmental, and Martin invited comments from everyone in the group. The next few days are spent on location, photographing for the Fracture project. Each day you return to the comfort of the shared house and the culinary delights provided by Mimi’s sister Paola. Food for the body as well as the mind is provided.

During the week, Mimi continues to review the work you are making, and also any personal projects you are working on. Mimi is a generous reviewer but equally he is focused and direct in his comments. He will always make the time to discuss your work with you. He is keen to talk about selection and sequencing as well as content.

By the end of the week, everyone has prepared a sequenced selection of the work they have produced. Mimi presented this to Martin and the group, and Martin offered a critique. To anyone who has not had Martin review their work, I can say that he is amazing knowledgable, insightful and thoughtful. He is direct but never harsh. I guess he has done this before…

It is worth saying that the idea of a common project works well, I think, rather than each participant pursuing their own ends. Of course, it is challenging, as the subject is chosen for you and is not one that everyone would choose for themselves, but each participant can find their own approach. It takes you outside of your comfort zone. Reviewing everyone’s work at the end of the week is revealing as you see how everyone had a different take on the same locations. It is also satisfying to see the project grow on Mimi’s website.

I had already made a series of work for this project last year, and now I had to decide whether to continue to develop that work or to produce a different series. During the week I explore various ideas, having in mind both of these possibilities. In the end I decided to go with a series which included some of last year’s images but expanded and developed the theme I had begun.

This is the series I presented at the end of the workshop. Martin said “I think you are on to something’ and awarded me best image of the week, jointly with one other participant, for the final image in the series.

References

Haas, J E and Ayre, R S (1969) The Western Sicily Earthquake of 1968: A Report USA: National Academies Press

Tondo, L (2018) ’50 years since Sicily’s earthquake, an urban disaster of a different kind’ in The Guardian 15th January 2008 online at:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/jan/15/sicily-earthquake-1968-50-years-belice-valley-poggioreale