image: Jesse Edwards-Thomas The Polymorph 2018
Exploring universal feelings of loneliness and belonging. This work was created with mental health clients in high support,
working with people who are in the homeless sector with complex needs
In collaboration with the Arnolfini and supported by Golden Key, Bristol Photo Festival offered a commission opportunity for a Bristol-based artist, or artist collective, to work together on a short project that uses photography to explore ideas around housing and wellbeing.
The selection process for this commission was delivered by a multidisciplinary jury panel composed by a series of professionals and artists: Keiko Higashi (Arnolfini Engagement Producer), Alejandro Acin (BPF Engagement & Education Director), Tracy Marshall (Bristol Photo Festival Director), Claire Hyman (The Hyman Collection), Heather Agyepong (Artist) and two members from Golden Key. The quality of the applications was very high and the panel would like to say thank you to everyone who submitted for the time and effort put into it.
The selected artist is Jessie Edwards-Thomas, a Wales born visual artist, whose artistic practice explores ideas of voice, community and belonging. The representation of the self within the community through the pathway of mental health and homelessness.
She has an MA in Photography from the University of the Arts London, London College of Communication (2018), and is currently teaching at the University of the West of England and the University of Gloucestershire.
Jessie uses her relationship between the photographer and the sitter to investigate the individual’s need for belonging within the construct of society. Her practice utilises the what-ifs of fiction and imagination to explore said themes of power, symbols, societal structures and connection through storytelling.
Jessie wants to use this opportunity to delve into a vast part of her life and ongoing practice. By developing a photographic project that will be led and created for people who have experience within the homeless pathway, ‘to explore key questions and their priorities through themes of home and wellbeing. How do we see people in the homeless community within Bristol and therefore, how do “we” respond to “them”? How do those in the pathway see themselves? How do those within the pathway relate to ideas of home, on a domestic level and potentially on a wider city scale?’
Jessie will explore ideas and connections between ‘home’ and wellbeing, drawing visibility on the importance of home in relation to our sense of wellbeing. She believes that ‘housing should be a human right to ensure the basic needs of life are satisfied,’ so that individuals can ‘enjoy living life and realise their potential. To establish a healthy future, we must understand our past and our present. We need to listen to our most vulnerable citizens, what is the meaning of home, and their experience of home?’
Ideas of home are complex and subjective, and Jessie passionately believes in ‘utilising photography as a civic tool of imagination, to image what we want to see in the world, how we want to be seen, how we want to live’.
Jessie intends to work n a series of a minimum of 12 workshops with individuals who experience, or have experienced the homeless pathway. Although photography will be the foundation of her work, she wants to explore and include different mediums, such as text, collage and costume.
Her purpose is to create a body of photographs to engage the Bristol community to look and listen to people they might ignore in the streets, or would not encounter in their daily lives. Jessie is considering how to make the project accessible to all, drawing on past experiences working within the community artistically, and including her previous body of work The Polymorph (2018).
‘I want the process to be an empowering experience for participants, and I want the end outcome to create visibility and action, through accessibility, creativity and listening – to see the person behind the stereotypes of normalised images of ‘poverty’ etc.’
The project will create discussions between different areas of the community, creating forums of dialogue that are supportive and accessible to marginalised people. ‘I aspire to create, together with the community, a legacy that will positively impact individuals in the homeless pathway for the future.’
Read more about the BLUEPRINT Commission here