For this second interview for DIY YOUTH I decided to reach out to the photographer/politics student Olivia Ford (a northern lass after my own heart). Her work explores themes surrounding the industrialisation and landscape of her hometown Middlesborough, as well as the existing youth culture in Manchester; documenting her findings often via the use of a trusty point and shoot 35mm camera.
FFO: THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND (BORO), YOUTH CULTURE AND POLITICS
Who are you?
Where are you currently based?
What is your current photographic work about?
I’ve been documenting my hometown of Middlesbrough for about two years now, focusing mainly on its industrial history and the state of the town in the present day. My work largely represents my complicated relationship with the town, I’m very proud of its history and its people, but I hate how much it has been neglected and the lack of opportunities for people from there. Aside from that I also document student life in Manchester, mainly taking pictures of me and my friends.
Over the two years you’ve been photographing your hometown of Middlesbrough, have you noticed any changes in the landscape or possibly a change in the relationship you have with the town since moving to Manchester?
What I’ve noticed most is a lot of gentrification beginning to happen in the town centre, but also a significant rise in homelessness. Obviously it’s great that the town is helping small businesses, but it’s important to consider who this development is for. We have the 8th highest rate of child poverty in the country, and the highest in the North East, we can’t let people suffer just to help the rich sleep at night.
I think my relationship with the town has become a lot more realistic. Everyone from Middlesbrough takes pride in being from there, I’ve got UTB tattooed behind my ear that’s how much I love it. But I definitely romanticised it too much when I moved to Manchester. Now coming home is nice but I can’t stay there for too long because there’s too many reminders of the reasons I wanted to leave.
Do you still intend to continue to photograph Middlesbrough despite your complicated relationship you say you have with the town?
I think I’ll always take pictures whenever I visit, but I think I’ll start focusing more on the people rather than the landscape. The town hasn’t changed much since I was young, apart from more and more shop closures, so I think I need to give my photos more life.
Do you ever see a conclusion to the project?
I want to properly document the town, so I think when I finally get round to taking pictures of all the areas of Middlesbrough I’ll be happy to bring the project to an end. It’s just finding the time to do that outside of university & work that’s going to be difficult.
Ever think of making your images into a book or a zine, or possibly exhibiting the photographs in your hometown?
I’ve been wanting to make a zine for my photos for quite a while now, but I have so much content that I’ll hopefully make it into a book at some point. It’s nice having your photos complimented online but I’d love to actually hand out books around town.
What got you interested into photography and taking images?
I have really strong memories of once taking a picture of a tiger at a zoo and my dad saying it was really good, but that’s a really cringe story haha. But I do think it originated around that. I didn’t get into film photography until a couple of years ago when my boyfriend at the time gave me one of his cameras, I never really liked digital so this felt a lot more suited to me.
I don’t suppose you have that historic image of the tiger?
I wish I did aha, my dad might still have it on a hard drive somewhere.
Who are you inspired by?
What are your future aspirations?
At the moment I just want to release my own zine haha, but being a photographer but not an art student makes it a bit harder because I don’t know the technicalities. Aside from photography, politics is the most important part of my life. I really want to document the different political realities for people around the country, to bring a face to the current political shitstorm we’re in and how it affects those worst off.
Do you believe photography and politics in your eyes have a strong relationship with one another?
Massively. Documentary photography can shift political dynamics, like Nick Ut’s picture of the Napalm Girl during the Vietnam War or the more recent case of the Syrian child who drowned off the coast of Greece. But it can also be used more maliciously in that photos can frame a political figure depending on how the photographer wants them to be viewed. I recently shot a small campaign for a charity I work with so I really hope that I can do more of that in the future.
What advice would you recommend to young photographers today?
Honestly just ignore what anyone else says and do what you like. You get a lot of people complaining about the amount of film photographers kicking about but who cares. Naturally there’s a lot of people doing the same thing but if you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter. Also submit your work to group zines, they’re massive confidence boosters.
You can keep up with Olivia’s work via the links below:
Other links: smoglife.blog