Frances Perraudin writes in the Guardian about the media's negative portrayal of housing estates.
Ann Doherty moved into her three-bedroom flat on Rochdale’s Lower Falinge estate in 1970, when it was built. Then aged 23 with a three-year-old son, she had been forced to leave her two-up two-down house on the other side of the town centre when it was condemned as unsafe.
Doherty is now 72 and she’s still there. “It was heaven coming here,” she says, sitting in her sunny front room. “It felt brilliant because we didn’t have a bath in the old house or an inside toilet. Everything here was perfectly decorated. It was so lovely.”
There are housing estates like the one Doherty has called home for nearly half a century all over the country: the same pebble-dashed walls, paved paths and neat lawns. But somehow, over the years, Lower Falinge has come to represent something much more complicated.
The piece goes on to describe how the media have used photographs of Lower Falinge to portray poverty, unemployment and for making a case for knocking down "sink estates" to rebuild new homes.
But for many residents, these depictions do not fit with the image they have of where they live. “Every estate has its problems, no matter where you go, but they always seem to pick on us,” says Doherty. “We’re just normal people, wanting to get on with each other.”
Andy Littlewood was chair of the Lower Falinge tenants and residents association when the media frenzy hit in 2016. “We’ve had to put in a lot of work to undo the harm that the press has done to us,” he says.
The effect of the estate’s reputation on residents is wide-ranging, he says. Many will not tell potential employers where they live for fear it will put them off.
“They just say they live in Rochdale because they’ve been turned down from jobs that they thought they had a good chance of getting when they’ve written Lower Falinge as their address.”
Littlewood says the impact on younger people growing up on the estate is particularly potent. “The kids are fed up of being told they’re nothing,” he says. “If you tell a vulnerable person enough times that they’re scum, that they live on a sink estate and that they’re thick, eventually it’ll mess with their heads and they’ll start to believe it.”
Littlewood does not dispute that many people on the estate are out of work – he is unable to work because of epilepsy – but is studying part-time for a degree in maths and computing from the Open University.
You can read the whole piece here.
This is a theme that comes up time and time again with the work I am doing in East Brighton. On one hand, I have people who have never set foot in East Brighton talking to me about how scary the area is, on the other hand, I am spending time with residents who talk about community, respect and looking out for each other. I'm not so naive to suggest East Brighton doesn't have its issues, but, it is worth questioning the stories that are prevalent about places like East Brighton.
I've started working with a resident called Lisa. She lives in Whitehawk, just off the main road, Whitehawk Way.
It's early days, but I'm really excited about helping Lisa become a researcher. Our first session was really inspiring. We planned our first joint fieldwork, Lisa will be taking me on a walk around some important places (for her) in Brighton and we will document this together.
It was also the first outing for the newly designed East Brighton Ethnography Manual, designed by Stanley James Press. I'll write more about this soon.
In September I was commissioned to document the lives of people involved at two community businesses in Brighton and Hove. The project arrived just as I started work on this one, and it was good timing because it reminded me of some important lessons.
When someone turns up anywhere with a camera a few things can happen. People sometimes get excited and want their picture taken, more often than not, people are shy, possibly angry at the possible intrusion. Some might think I’m a journalist looking for a juicy story, or, with my recent projects, that I’m a photographer out on a poverty safari, looking for the most extreme angles about a council estate.
So much of this can be handled with good communication, but, no matter how hard you try, that communication can be missed by someone.
One of the things I realised very early on when doing this is that I have to work really hard to quickly put people at ease and possibly even trust me. I don’t have an exact plan for this, because it’s really just about being honest and human. It probably helps that I lived in East Brighton for 20 years, although I’m sure people might get sick of hearing that story, because I don’t live there now, so I am not living in their community. I always prepare what I call an information sheet, which is all about getting informed consent from participants. It explains why the project is happening, what their involvement entails and what the outcome might be.
When I first started doing the work on community businesses I turned up at The Bevy community pub, and one of the first stories I heard was about a photographer that had taken some pictures, and without permission, put large prints of them in a very public space in the centre of Brighton. I only heard one side of this story, but if it’s true, this is the kind of thing that stops good work from happening. It meant my job was doubly hard gaining trust, it probably meant some people didn’t allow me to photograph them.
For me, doing this kind of work is about honouring the people you are working with, putting their needs first, way before mine as an ‘artist’ or ‘storyteller’.
Here’s a talk I gave about the project.
This was the second session with Tanya. We'd already walked around the area she lived and worked, and today we went slightly further afield. I have decided to let the walk guide the interview rather than arrive with a bunch of pre-planned questions. I'm looking forward to listening back to the stories, and starting phase two, which will be setting up Tanya with a camera to document her life for a week.
This is a fantastic project by residents from or nearby Grenfell. It's a project supported and curated by Juergen Teller and ID magazine that puts power into the hands of the people directly affected by Grenfell.
My first thought, when I read about this, was what insight can we get from these images, the process the photographers went through, and how can that be made an important part of the official review process into the disaster.
I am not working somewhere where there has been a disaster. I am working in a place a bit like the estate Grenfell is on, where residents struggle to be heard. Grenfell is the most extreme example of humans having a voice, but it not being listened to. This project, and a lot of my other work is in part about changing this.
I'm in the process of planning for the first fieldwork session with my first participant. I wanted to share some of the ideas I'm exploring when it comes to actually supporting the participants in documenting their lives.
On past projects, I've used things like disposable cameras to change the perspective of gathering and documenting from myself to the participants. With this project, I wanted to add to that with a whole bunch of other tools and ideas. It would be all too easy for me to stick with what I know best, photography and sound, but, I want to go way beyond that.
At the moment, the plan is to invite each participant to take me on a walk around the significant places in their life. As we wander, I will capture our conversations and the stories about the places we visit. This will be my first considerable contact, and I hope will give both the participant and myself and chance to talk about where our collaborative research might lead us, and how we might do it.
Here are some of the things we are going to experiment with.
He told me about how the project started, and lot's of common themes came up between our work. We spoke about finding the right way to work with vulnerable people, how to do that in an ethical way and the importance of taking time to build relationships.
We talked a little about our role in this kind of work. I mentioned my slight nervousness about feeling like an outsider even though I lived in the area my project will be happening for 20 years. James suggested, maybe even stated, that my project shouldn't be a fly on the wall, and that my relationship with the place was critical to the story. He said I have to be in the work.
It's something I've become slightly more comfortable with over the past 12 months, getting in touch with my voice and opinion in all of the stuff I am uncovering. But that is still a work in progress.