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Metro Imaging has an established record for supporting education not only through its extensive Student Services offering but also through outreach and extended programmes of mentorship. Since 2006 we have been partnering with LCC and UAL and this year’s mentorship award winner Maite de Orbe is joins a long line of exceptional talent.

This year has thrown up unprecedented challenges for our mentorship scheme and how we interact with mentee’s during this time, but we are determined to continue on as we believe that support has never been more important. We took the opportunity to interview Maite about her experiences so far and what it means to be recently graduated during these times.

It’s fair to say that your practice embraces several approaches from the autobiographical through to fashion editorial. There is a natural and ambiguous blending of genres in your approach – is this something that comes to you easily and if so how would you describe your work given that you exhibit and publish your work in editorial and book form?

Yes, there is certainly a mix of genres in my practice but this is something I have been able to verbalize after thinking a lot about my work in order to define it. What I want to say with this is that mixing a fashion aesthetic with my personal life comes as a consequence, but not a starting point. I did not decide it, I just realized. Therefore, it is quite easy for me to work in this way. My friends influence me a lot, I always say that I aim to make visible the conversations I have with them; their (our) struggles as a generation that has been influenced by a specific media and, of course, fashion, that shapes the way we think and present ourselves. The difference between editorials and books just depends on the length of the project; with an editorial you have to tell a story very fast, a book is more like a diary of visual thoughts.

We are living through unprecedented times with the pandemic, making it a challenge for us all to connect and build networks. How important is mentorship to you in supporting you and connecting you to industry after graduation?

The situation is certainly complicated for recent graduates. It is already challenging to become a graduate and more when the world is semi-paralyzed. I feel really grateful for this mentorship. Isolation at this moment is a general feeling and everyone becomes scattered forgetting how important our community is to keep us both motivated and creative. The mentorship is a constant reminder of this and I try to communicate the same to the people around me. It is like a chain reaction of support and care and this keeps me concentrated and positive. Additionally, it is also guiding me into the realities of the creative industry where I am learning to overcome insecurities and professionalizing my practice.
It is true to say that creatives operate in a state of flux, be it for funding; commissions and connecting with the wider community – the pandemic has pushed our resilience and ability to adapt at pace. Are you having to do things differently in order to keep moving your work forward and how has this time influenced your practice?

The pandemic has been, and still is, a moment of self-discovery for me. This introspection has been challenging at points but very rewarding as well. Whereas commissions and connections have become more complicated I have found the time and space to revisit old work. I have finished old projects and put together new ones and been able to send them out, getting very good results. So it has certainly slowed down everything, but not necessarily in a bad way. Actually, it has been really helpful to concentrate in the actual meaning of my work and how this can engage with what is happening in the world. I am now, and more than ever, convinced that photography has the power to critically think and speak about inequalities. Also, I have rethought the role of art and culture in society
as a medium to create new worlds, this is, to make visible alternative possibilities, which is now, more than ever, fundamental to keep people from getting stuck.

Where do you see your approach going next in regard to projects and is there anything in particular that you are working on that you would like to share with us?

I see that my practice is becoming more and more multidisciplinary as it is starting to involve a lot of curation and mixed media. I wrote my dissertation on the possibilities of photography to create immersive experiences and I am now studying this from the perspective or curation and installation. Conceptually speaking, I am still interested in some of the themes I have worked in during my BA, such as gender, time and generations, and the body, but I am also including others such as post-nature and technology as we are reaching a critical moment in both. These areas can sometimes become really intense and I do think that fun things are important, so I am currently finishing the design of what will be my first published book ‘Feet in Madrid, head in London’ with Dossier Industries. This book is a celebration of youth and parties as safe spaces where identity can be rediscovered in queer communities and the effect that lockdown has had from my personal experience.

The Photographic collective is a new initiative that was launched in June 2020 and is already making waves, most recently at the 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair in London. Can you tell us a bit about the collective’s mission statement and how important it was for you to be exhibiting at 1-54.

The Photographic Collective was created during lockdown. The original impulse was to give more visibility to photographers and artists based in Africa and especially the ones who are not currently represented by a gallery. The Photographic Collective aspires to become a source of information and knowledge alternative to and complementing mainstream and established institutions. My desire as the founder of the Collective was to launch an online platform that would feature work challenging traditional representations of the continent, accessible to anyone with a good Internet connection. The exhibition at 1-54, co-curated by Laura El-Tantawy and myself, was our first public event off-line. It represented an incredible opportunity to promote the work of our artists and share the mission of the Collective with visitors. The Photographic Collective aims to lead collaborative projects with artists, and I hope that our exhibition at 1-54 is the first of many.

Many if not all of the collective’s artists do not have mainstream gallery representation. Is it important that you provide a platform that remains independent of the gallery network and also committed to not for profit status, tell us a bit about what this means to you as a group?

It is a bit early to have a clear idea of how the platform will evolve. Still, The Photographic Collective should encourage collaboration, between artists but also with academics, curators, writers and gallerists. The Collective is composed of an advisory board of artists and photographers living and working in Africa. Together, we exchange ideas, discuss the work of artists and decide whose photographs should be featured on the platform. Each month, we present the work of two nominated artists on our Instagram page and our website. We collaborate with cultural partners based on the continent to help us meet our objectives and help the platform grow, and we offer guidance to the artists represented. It is important that the Photographic Collective remains not-for-profit and that each member of the board and nominated artist remains as independent as possible. They should have the freedom to say what they want to say and work with who they want to work.

You provide a vital platform for artist and photographers in and from Africa, can you tell us about your selection process and maybe a bit more about some of the creatives you represent?

As mentioned earlier, the selection process is subject to a vote by the members of the advisory board: Laura El-Tantawy (Egypt), Jabulani Dhlamini (South Africa), Lebohang Kganye (South Africa), Ala Kheir (Sudan), Laila Hida (Morocco), Michelle Loukidis (South Africa), Màrio Macilau (Mozambique), Uche Okpa-Iroha (Nigeria), Nii Obodai Provençal (Ghana and Mozambique), Léonard Pongo (Congo) and Rijasolo (Madagascar). Each member can submit a couple of names of artists who they think should be represented by the platform before our online meetings. Our goal is to guarantee the high quality of the work presented on the platform. Together we discuss the work of the artists suggested, and once the sessions end, we vote anonymously. Of course, the selection process is sometimes difficult. There are so many talented artists and photographers active on the continent. Restricting the number of our nominated artists by two each month allow us to manage expectations. Members of the boards are all photographers and artists active in their respective countries through their work but also teaching and mentoring. They have privileged access to the local cultural scenes. Their network and expertise are what put The Photographic Collective off the grounds. Thanks to them, we have been able to present the work of fantastic artists, including so far Ibrahim Ahmed (Egypt), Nonzuzo Gxekwa (South Africa), Maheder Haileselassie (Ethiopia), Pippa Hetherington (South Africa), Amina Kadous (Egypt), Lorraine Kalassa (South Africa) and Godelive Kasangati Kabena (Congo). The work of these artists stresses the incredible variety of lens-based and artistic practices across the continent.

As well as showcasing creative individuals visual practice, you also promote discussion and academic research with a very committed position to open discourse and dialogue, can you tell us how people can get involved with the conversation?

As we all know, COVID-19 has limited social interactions to an incredible extent. We started these online conversations between artists to highlight under-covered research topics in African-based photography and visual arts but also as a mean to connect practitioners across Africa and create a network of solidarity during these difficult times. The conversations happen on Zoom, are recorded and then transcribed. I try to pair artists who share similar interests in their photographic practice but based in different parts of the continent, if possible. So far, we published two conversations on The Photographic Collective website, between Jabulani Dhlamini (member of the advisory board) and Maheder Haileselassie (nominated artist) and between Laura El-Tantawy (member of the advisory board) and Ibrahim Ahmed (nominated artist). We will soon publish a conversation between Nii Obodai and Pippa Hetherington. In addition to giving visibility to emerging artists and connecting practitioners based in different parts of the continent, the content put together by The Photographic Collective is intended for students, curators, academics and photographers interested in the medium of photography in an African context.

The collective has very rightly put down a marker in regard to celebrating contemporary art of African origin – with the pandemic putting increased pressure on the creative industries and its ability to exhibit and present art, can you share with us how you intend to maintain such a strong visual presence beyond web based portals and physical exhibition and let us into a sneak update on any new projects.

This is a very good question for which I don’t have an answer yet. The Photographic Collective is on a learning curve. I am currently looking for funding opportunities, grants and sponsorships to help sustain the platform in the future. Being not-for-profit can be stressful, especially in these current times. Despite the pressure on the creative industries, I am confident in the ability of The Photographic Collective to continue to thrive and grow. The platform was created during lockdown despite the challenges, frustrations and difficulties encountered by cultural practitioners. As a team, we achieved so much these last few months, and 1-54 gave us a great push. I am so grateful to everyone involved. Regarding new projects… well, keep an eye on LagosPhoto Festival.

Maheder Haileselassie, Untitled, from the series ‘Between yesterday and tomorrow’, 2018
© Maheder Haileselassie

Léonard Pongo, Fruit Study 2, 2020
© Léonard Pongo

Amina Kadous, A portrait of my grandmother taken in 1961 in her first year of marriage, from the series ‘Their flowers shall always remain’, 2020
© Amina Kadous

Hi-Noon Editions is a collective of established artists that have come together with a positive and uplifting message that champions the arts and promotes openness and a convivial approach to creativity. I took time out during these challenging times to chat with the team about the collective and its aims.

The collective is made up of respected and established artists, is there a distinct reason why you all came together to form the collective and how closely does it align to your individual perspectives, are you using the platform to have its own unique voice?

WE ARE ARTISTS, EDUCATORS, CURATORS AND WRITERS, AND OUR VISION FOR HI-NOON IS INFORMED BY OUR LONG-TERM ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PRACTICE AND THEORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

THIS PUTS HI-NOON IN A UNIQUE POSITION, WHERE WE HAVE ON THE GROUND KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE OF THE DEBATES AND CONCERNS THAT AFFECT PHOTOGRAPHIC PRACTICE AND HOW THEY SHIFT AND EVOLVE OVER TIME, BOTH WITHIN THE ACADEMY AS WELL AS IN STUDIOS AND ARTISTIC COMMUNITIES AROUND THE WORLD

FOR US, LONG-TERM INVOLVEMENT WITH OTHER ARTISTS AND THE ROBUST AND SUSTAINED DIALOGUE IT INVOLVES, ALONG WITH THE PLEASURES OF PEER SUPPORT, AND OF NURTURING A COMMUNITY OF EMERGING ARTISTS ARE PARAMOUNT.

WE CAME TOGETHER BECAUSE WE SENSED THAT WE WERE IN A POSITION TO CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING POSITIVE, EXCITING AND UNIQUE TO AN INCREASINGLY MARKET DRIVEN ENVIRONMENT THAT HAD BEGUN TO FEEL AS IF THE AGENDA WAS BEING SET BY PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS WITH INTERESTS EXTERNAL TO THE NEEDS AND INTERESTS OF ARTISTS.

At Metro Imaging we have experienced an increase in online sales via our self-service options since Lockdown. Do you believe that people’s willingness to purchase art online has shifted, and if so do you think it will remain or will there always be a desire to view work in a physical space, say in a gallery or at an art fair?

WORKS OF ART BOTH LOOK AND FEEL DIFFERENT ONLINE TO HOW THEY DO IN REAL LIFE – AND BOTH OF THOSE CONTEXTS CAN BE SEDUCTIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY.

WHAT SEEMS TO DRIVE OUR SALES MOST EFFECTIVELY IS OUR COMMITMENT TO ONGOING AND SUSTAINED DIALOGUE, WHETHER THAT BE ONLINE, OR IRL.

TECHNOLOGY ENABLES US TO BUILD AND MAINTAIN GLOBAL CONNECTIONS; OUR EDITIONS ARE ACCESSIBLE ALL OVER THE WORLD, AND IT IS EXCITING TO DISCOVER THAT HI-NOON IS REACHING FAR BEYOND THE ESTABLISHED ART SCENE CAPITALS TO DIVERSE AND FAR-FLUNG PLACES – AN AMAZING TIME FOR US TO CONNECT TO A WORLD BEYOND THE LOCAL SCENE.

OUR PRICING STRUCTURE ALSO APPEALS TO COLLECTORS WORLD-WIDE. WE HAVE A CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT APPROACH, WHERE THE PRICE IS SET LOW WHEN A NEW EDITION IS LAUNCHED, AND THEN RAISED AS THE EDITION SELLS OUT – MEANING THAT COLLECTORS ALWAYS KNOW WHERE THEY ARE.

Can you explain a bit about how you invite artists to join Hi-Noon and what it is that you are looking for?

HI-NOON IS AN ENTERPRISE, A PHILOSOPHY AND AN APPROACH TO PHOTOGAPHY THAT FOREGROUNDS CRITICAL REFLECTION, WHILST ACKNOWLEDGING AND CELEBRATING THE PLEASURES OF THE VISUAL.

In regard to selecting images for release as limited editions; how do you go about the editing process and as you are all established artists with gallery and museum representation are their certain works which are off limits?

GIVEN THE RIGHT APPROACH, NOTHING IS OFF LIMITS. OUR OUTLOOK IS SIDE-WAYS. EXPECT SOME SURPRISING NEW WORKS ON HI-NOON SOON…

The current challenges we are faced with as a creative community are unprecedented, do you see value in being in a collective and do you view your own practice differently since joining forces? Also, is there anything that you are currently working on that you could share with us today?

WE NO LONGER EXIST IN KNOWLEDGE SILOS; TECHNOLOGY ALLOWS FOR A SHARING AND AQUIRING OF EXPERTISE, IDEAS, INSPIRATION. WORKING TOGETHER WITH OTHERS, FORMING NEW ALLIANCES WITH ARTISTS IS ABOUT TRUST AND RESPECT AND THE ENJOYMENT OF DIALOGUE.

AS ARTISTS WE ARE OURSELVES VERY MUCH IMMERSED IN CREATIVE DECISION MAKING, AND THE MATERIAL CHALLENGES OF MAKING WORK. OUR ARTISTIC PRACTICE IS THE BASIS OF OUR PEDAGOGICAL WORK AND IT ALSO INFORMS OUR WORK WITH HI-NOON.

IN SHORT, WE EMBRACE AND ENJOY A RIGORUOUS DISCOURSE THAT IS TEMPERED BY INTUITION. WE HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF DIRECTION YET WE ARE ALSO SLIGHTLY RESTLESS, AND PASSIONATELY IMPULSIVE, WITH A TENDENCY TOWARDS UNEXPECTED DETOURS!

Image 1  © High Noon
Image 2  ©  Chooc Ly Tan, Billboard
Image 3  ©  Giulia Palarto
Image 4  ©  Sophy Rickett
Image 5  ©  Felicity Hammond

Studio Lenca is the working title for this year’s Brighton Photo Fringe Open SOLO award winner José Campos. The quality of submissions this year was very high and José is a worthy winner who uses a multi-disciplinary approach in his practice; incorporating photography, dance and audio visual performance. I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his practice and his journey through the arts.
The full series of work together with all of the festival exhibitions, workshops and events can be found at the Photofringe.org website.

Congratulations on winning this year’s SOLO award, can you tell me what winning the award means to you and how you intend utilise the opportunity in the current climate, especially as we are having to adapt to online exhibiting?
The greatest thing about winning the award is the visibility it brings to my series ‘Los Historiantes’. In the US and in El Salvador I have an audience that engages with the work I do but the award has given me the opportunity to share it with a UK audience on a greater platform. This also means that I am contributing to the narrative of Latinx people in the UK, which is rarely visible. Salvadoran people live all over the world so I am always thinking about how to connect with them. Working digitally means that I can collaborate with them and they can engage with the work I do. Due to the pandemic we have recently seen a shift in how we engage with each other. Salvadoran people have had to be apart from their families and loved ones since the late 80’s when we fled the country’s civil war.

José, Studio Lenca is the working title for your practice, can you please explain where the name comes from and how it relates in context to your work?
I like the term ‘Studio’ because I used to be a ballet dancer. The studio was an empty space where I could use my body to think. Since then I have experienced the studio in different ways, the art studio, the photographic studio the fashion studio and so on. It’s a place for experimentation. It’s also a place for people to create together, which is an integral part of my practice. Lenca refers to the indigenous people that lived in El Salvador prior to the Spanish colonisation of El Salvador.

Having to flee the El Salvador civil war in the 1980’s and subsequently living in the USA as part of the Latinx diaspora sounds incredibly challenging – you return creatively to El Salvador and draw inspiration from folk cultures for much of your work and particular Los Histiorantes to highlight important issues about colonialism and postcolonial trauma.

Yes. There is so much public discourse that constructs our identity as Salvadoran people. Especially in the US. I want to disrupt this with the work I do. I want to imagine a new collective future in which we free ourselves from the thought that Salvadoran people are only gang members and illegal immigrants. Were much more than that. I also tend to think about the effect that colonisation is having on Salvadoran people now. It’s a sort of postcolonial intergenerational trauma.

You came to photography and performance after a career in dance – how much has this beginning influenced your multi-disciplinary approach to your practice?
I didn’t feel comfortable identifying solely as a dancer. I didn’t feel comfortable working solely as a choreographer. I think my issue with these labels were that they came with parameters and conventions that I needed to adhere to. I quickly found myself working in multi-disciplinary ways as its more exciting and relevant to the issues I tackle. I’m interested in trying to be honest in my work and eliminating invention. Working as dancer taught me to trust my body and create work accordingly.

We often ask interviewee’s what is the best advice you’ve been given – but what is the best advice you could give anyone starting out in a creative career?
The best advice that was given to me was ‘ lean into the discomfort’ by a ballet teacher.
The best advice I can give is ‘ there are no rules’ .

I discovered Denis’s work whilst judging this years’ Brighton Photo Fringe SOLO competition and was struck by the beautiful compositions punctuated with challenging subjects including mental health; misogyny and domestic violence – through a rich palette of documentary; surrealism and staged settings I was taken by the complex nature of her practice.

We have had several Zoom meetings along with her mentor and artist Monica Alcazar- Duarte and I got the chance to ask her a few questions about her projects and to learn more about what it is to be a working artist in her native Mexico.

Can you please tell us a bit about your practice and style of photography
I usually look for stories in the streets first, when I find a scene which I feel personally attached to, I think about the context, about the social impact behind those first pictures I take while I’m walking.
I’m interested in documentary photography but I like to feel free on running from different levels of image subjectivity by creating scenes, experimenting with print pictures, and other types of expressions such as drawing, painting and alternative embroidery techniques.
I have a special interest to explore mental health as a topic.

Can you tell us a bit about the Mexican arts community and your experiences.
I think there is a strong community of artists who work with photography. There are many intereseasting projects talking about mexican social context, for example, it’s easy to find the topic of violence from different perspectives, since those who are working on amazing street pictures showing the surrealistic, and raw mexican atmospheres, until who is in touch with their own bodys to talk about the healing since they feel surrounded of violence in all its forms.
In my experience I’ve found wonderful spaces to share knowledge, where emergents and mentors learn together. There is also a huge interest to collaborate and support each other.

Which medium (exhibition print; publication; online) best suits your work? Maybe some or all of them!
I certainly could say all of them! I mean, I’m excited to explore any way to show my work, I think not all mediums fit in a project, because they talk from different languages, they are different experiences. And that’s why I’m also interested in seeing how a project is received from two different mediums at the same time, for example, how a video of the project on a website is helping spectators to understand better or expand their vision when they are about to visit the print exhibition.
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In the current climate what challenges do you perceive as a working artist?
I think the art in general, is really attached to the body, the presence. So that makes it really challenging for almost all art activities. But we also are surrounded by technology, and we need to use it with creativity, so this is a chance to get closer, more than ever, to collaborate no matter how far we are, to think in domestic practices and learn new ways to talk to others. This is the first time I’ve been able to talk about the same feelings with artists from the other side of the world, I mean that’s amazing, it’s world wide empathy!. And I know it’s difficult, but it’s also exciting.

Do you have any new projects planned that you can tell us about?
Yes, right now I’m into drawing and experimental embroidery to talk about misogyny violence. And I’m doing research about the relation between pictures, lighting and mental health.