It’s not who you are, it’s how you are Alice Theobald & Atomik Architecture at the Baltic


Now this was interesting. In the blurb about Alice Theobald & Atomik Architecture’s installation at the Baltic it states that the gallery has been designed to ‘create a series of familiar, yet unsettling spaces’. Hmmm – always interested in how architecture (or the architect) yearns to mould us and our lives. My thesis (many years ago now…) looked at the creation of new towns in 20th century Britain and how architects developed town plans to differentiate between private and public spaces and, particularly in the new towns, strove to create a ‘sense of community’. I’m often suspicious of manipulated spaces to create an atmosphere – I’m not sure it always works. But let’s see…

The gallery has been divided vertically and horizontally with raised platforms and soaring padded towers. A walkway leads you through a series of viewpoints and stages, though circular towers smelling comfortingly of the bed department in John Lewis with images projected on the walls. The projections are courtesy of the cameras on the stages with their live feed of the gallery, the lifts in the foyer and beyond, through the windows to the Quayside and the Tyne bridges.


Interestingly, the towers did, in my opinion, feel like a private space and I felt awkward entering them, though Mr Jenkins felt no such pang. Other people hurried apologetically through if you’d already taken up residence in one of the towers – in spite of there being space for six or so people in each one. Also unsettling were the walkways between the towers, all black with the raised platform and performers making you feel like you were watching a one-man/woman stage show for you alone. It seemed voyeuristic, watching them moving around the stage, sitting, sleeping, singing, altering the camera position – and hoping not to make eye-contact…


In contrast was the unhindered naturalness of the other gallery visitors in the foyer who hadn’t yet clicked that the cameras were pointing right at them. It was fascinating to spot the moment that they realised they were part of the show and how their behaviour changed. Some turning immediately from the camera, others smiling and putting on their best photo face.

Putting aside the theme of ‘It’s not who you are, it’s how you are’, and getting back to the space – the creative manipulation of the dark spaces in the gallery and the light from the foyer suggests a series of windows with ever changing views as you journey from tower to tower. Rather disturbingly though, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if you are look in or looking out.

So, yes, it does work, but go and experience it for yourself – – on until 10th April 2016. Any exhibition that references Adolf Loos has to be checked out!

From Mill to Mall

Trowbridge Museum entrance
in Fore Street Mall in The Shires Shopping Centre

In the middle of a modern shopping mall in darkest Wiltshire is a small entrance to the Trowbridge Museum. It caught my eye because there were weaving shuttles in the window of what I assumed was a shop, until I looked up and saw three sheep and the word ‘Museum’…  Now anyone who is aware of my other work will know that I can’t pass up the whiff of wool, so off I went to investigate. Leaving the crisp whiteness of the coffee and grease-infused mall, I found a steep staircase of red brick and metal rails in deep contrast to the world I had just left behind (there is a lift too, for staircase-challenged individuals). Two floors up, you find yourself on the top floor of an old woollen mill and the home of the museum. There are looms aplenty, and a history of the area’s involvement in the wool trade and all aspects of weaving. There are pieces of fabric created on the historic looms in the museum, available to take away for a donation to the museum’s coffers. And there are some amazing images of workers in the mill from the days of yore – which as a picture researcher and social historian, I was very excited to see. Now often when you see images of this nature you’ll see a credit to Mary Evans Picture Library or Getty Images, but not here. These aren’t generic mill pictures from an image library – they are packed with local interest, from local sources, showing the actual exhibit in front if you being worked in sepia by Victorian and Edwardian men and women.

For a small museum, it manages to give you plenty of interesting facts. I’ve heard the term ‘burring’ but never really thought about its origins. Well bugger me if it isn’t just that! Burrs (dried teasel pods) were attached to a small wooden frame, like a hand-sized paddle, and used to comb the fabric to raise the nap. After the industrial revolution numerous individual combs were attached to a huge frame to cope with the demands of mass cloth manufacture. As the pods wore down, the combs would be reversed – a strangely primitive looking tool when compared to the amazing advances in technology that had taken over other areas of weaving. Eventually they were replaced in the napping machine by combs of metal hooks – though, apparently, they were generally considered inferior to nature’s offering.

The staff at the museum were really helpful, and when I mentioned the contrast between the mall and the museum, they pointed out that the cafe in the mall downstairs was actually housed in the original entrance to the mill. So I had a look on the way out and realised that the entrance which I’d mistook for a Disney-style addition to the new mall, was actually old stuff. Very pleased that the developers were able to keep this amazing piece of history.

sj_trowbridge2Samuel Salter & Co Ltd (est. 1769), now Boswell’s Cafe

The museum has recently won lottery funding to expand. I’ll look forward to revisiting and experiencing more historical gems which are no doubt currently in storage.

Damn those cute, furry animals!


At the end of the month I will be finishing research on one of the cutest projects I’ve ever worked on.

Disney Animal Friends is currently on sale in Italy and Germany, and there’s been quite a long lead-in, with me finishing the research six months before the publication actually makes it to the shelves. It’s been a lovely project to work on, though, and has gone some way to beating out that streak of cynicism that raises its head when I’m asked to find a cute baby seal photo with big eyes and perfect white fur (without a seal hunter in sight) or a baby elephant swishing its trunk in a waterhole (sanitised beyond belief without a patch of mud obscuring his sweet chubby cheeks).

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Disney animation (love Toy Story, hate Mickey!), and wondered how it would work having a pre-school title about wildlife based on Disney characters, but actually the research has been a bit of a light relief after some of the more grown-up wildlife publications I’ve worked on.

So after a month or so of researching and making sure there was no dead and bloody prey in the lion article and no poop on the ground of the baby deer spread, I think something must have shifted in my soul. Because I found I was more often thinking ‘Aaawww!’ and ‘Want one…’ rather than the usual ‘Kill me now!’.  And having only just tolerated my friends’ animal portraits on facebook with a hint of sneery lip, I must admit to having now posted one of my own!


Meet Norman, he’s our foster rabbit. He was a rescue rabbit saved by my son’s girlfriend and her flatmates, but they needed a new home for him when they moved to their new flat. So our son took him in with a view to moving him and his hutch to Brighton…. So it was only ever meant to be a temporary stay. But he’s been here six months now, and since it appears that our son can’t muck out the hutch without vomiting, we feel that perhaps we should file for sole custody – at least until our son can sort himself out and grow a proper pair of balls.

So thanks Disney! Having held out for 22 years of children demanding a dog, a rabbit, a gerbil, a hamster, a rabbit, two hamsters and goldfish, a dog, a dog, a puppy… We finally cracked! And guess what – he actually does stamp his foot like Thumper!

RA Summer Exhibition infiltrated by Art Tourists!

SJ_RA1_web SJ_RA2_web SJ_RA3_web

It was the final day of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy today. In a break with tradition this year the RA allowed the public to take photographs in the galleries. I have mixed feelings about this – I can’t remember how many times I’ve been in an art gallery and wanted to take a photo. Not necessarily of a painting or sculpture, but of a view through a doorway, a person or a detail. Generally, it hasn’t been allowed, so I was really surprised to see people taking pictures.  And it just felt, well – wrong! I asked the staff and there were various explanations, but basically it looks like most of the artists signed an agreement allowing photography – except for a minority… the big names like Tracey Emin managing to stand their ground.

So in amongst the people jiggling their way through the gallery to get a better look at something that had caught their eye were a number of art tourists, hardly pausing for breath while they snapped another painting and moved on. Art in a hurry with no time to stand and appreciate the work, the meaning or the skill – just another digital image to look at later. Why bother? Why not just look up the artist on the internet – you can easily see them all on the RA’s website. But how can you possibly appreciate it that way? One guy took a photo of one of Tom Phillips’ versions of ‘A Human Document’ almost at a run without seeming to look at the work while he pressed the button on his phone. Did he realise it was one of a series? Did he know which version?

Anyway, it took me a little while, but I did whip out the camera in the end and take a couple of shots. I’ve always wanted to take a photo of the grates in the Royal Academy….


Brighton Beach Bubble

PC_bubble_webWhen I was young and didn’t need much sleep, the current Mr Jenkins & I used to spend hours on the seafront at Brighton watching the colours change with the rising sun and trying to capture them on film. We had some good results, and we had some failures…. All on photographic paper, developed, probably by SuperSnaps, at great expense. Wish we’d had the flexibility of a mobile phone with its digital camera and massive amount of memory then…. Having said that – this little bubbly-beauty was the only one snapped by Mr Jenkins last weekend…


Leave it to the Professionals….

sj_olympic_park_webI’ve just spent much of the weekend at the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and I was thinking how brilliant it was that there is at least one part of my professional field of expertise that hasn’t been overtaken by camera phone enthusiasts. You can have a phone-toting stalker shooting off pics of celebrities and selling them to magazines, natural history geeks with their shaky shots of rarely-spotted beetles and transport enthusiasts with camera coverage of steam trains, but I doubt there was one camera-wielding spectator in that stadium who managed to get a decent shot of Mo Farah on the home stretch. I know – I’ve tried before! But without the long lenses and press access to ground zero, there is no hope in hell that you’d be able to replicate some of the amazing images of athletics, football and cricket taken by the professionals.

I remember watching the Athletics Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in the early 90s and the guy next to me in the stands had a long lens and was trying to capture the athletes…. It wasn’t long before we realised that he was only shooting off when one of the female athletes was bending over. I elbowed him a few times as he went for the trigger, then I chose to drop my drink in his lap….