Category Archives: Projects

Articles, People, Places, Projects

The school nobody wants to talk about

This week saw the publication of an extended project on a primary school in Essex.

With its austere 1920s red brick design, outdoor playgrounds and dark wooden floor hall, It looks pretty much like any other school. What makes Crays Hill different is that nearly all of its pupils are from the travelling community.

As I reported in my piece, it is a good school, rated highly by Ofsted, with great facilities and hugely motivated and caring teachers. The children are, well, children. They’re precocious, humorous, inquisitive. Most are far more polite than most are in my own children’s school.

Crays Hill pupils

Crays Hill pupils

What made this a particularly interesting proposition/challenge photographically was that the parents did not want any of their children’s faces in the images. But I desperately wanted to share with viewers as much of their clear enthusiasm for learning, talking, making and being as possible.

I did not know there would be this limitation before I arrived to take pictures.

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill pupil

Looking over the images in retrospect, I could and perhaps should have done better. But I think I was on the right lines. The children’s own self-portraits are important statements about who they are and I am very pleased to have honed in on one boy’s ambivalent drawing of a policeman. Bearing in mind this boy was present during the evictions at Dale Farm five years ago, I am struck by how his policeman looks like part monster/robot/superhero (not to mention the synchrony of the colours with his wristband!).

It was a privilege to join them for a few hours – enough time to blend into the background – as they worked and I wish all of them every success with their studies.

Self Portrait by child at Crays Hill

Self Portrait

Police man by a traveller child at Crays Hill Primary

Police man

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill Primary lesson

Crays Hill Primary lesson

Places, Projects, Uncategorised

Inside Reggie Kray’s old prison cell at Blundeston

There are some places you never imagine you’ll end up.

Take, for example, the prison cell which was once home to one of east London’s most notorious gangsters.

Reggie Kray, to be precise.

He was once at the now defunct HMP Blundeston near Lowestoft. I’m told by a former guard he never requested his personal belongings to be brought in as he thought his time there would be brief. He was wrong.

His first Blundeston home was Cell 116.

I got an incredible tour of the whole prison thanks to the Freemasons of Stradbroke Lodge and a terrific security guard called Paul Dunn.

Yes, Cell 116 was intriguing. But it was solitary confinement and the unexpected artwork which blew my mind there.

The piece I did for the BBC news website is here.

Here are the images from the shoot.

People, Projects

Amputees: how people adjust to life after limb loss

Being the odd one out is strangely invigorating, a good-for-the-soul experience.

I experienced it being the only white man on a Tanzania-bound cargo ferry, I experienced it working at the no longer extant Disability Rights Commission and I experienced it a couple of weeks back with an inspiring and no-nonsense group of lower limb amputees.

By being the oddity – in the most recent example, by having two lower limbs – your sense of group identity is challenged. So these were a bunch of amputees. So they’re a group, right? But then they’ve all got their individual stories – and you hear how a below-the-knee amputation is a very different experience to an above-the-knee one.

Surprise, surprise – the people grouped by society into an amorphous block turn out to be individuals too. A life lesson that’s always worth a reminder – and being the odd one out gives that same lesson a mallet to hit you with.

The most striking story was that of Sandra, because she did what most of us might find unimaginable – she asked to have her lower leg removed.

Sandra Staffiero

Sandra Staffiero

Aged 20, Sandra was involved in a moped crash which caused a double compound fracture that prevented her from walking properly and left her in excruciating chronic pain.

Operations were carried out but the pain remained.

In 2011 she went to her doctor.

“I said ‘I cannot carry on like this’,” she  told me. “I had no quality of life. I just asked if he could do a major operation. I did not even mention the word amputation.

“When I made the decision I just felt as though a massive cloud had been lifted.”

Graham Facey

Graham Facey

And then there was Graham, who went into hospital with a sharp feeling in his foot and he woke up to find his lower leg gone. And there was a blue marker line higher up his leg. If the swelling reached the line, he would have had to have more of his leg (above the knee) removed. Terrifying. Only not, it seems, to Graham who had already experienced going blind over a single weekend.

And the incredible Frances who you cannot possibly believe is in her 60s. She had a full limb removal aged 13 months and so, in her words, has never known anything different.

Frances Collins

Frances Collins

She reminds you that she was a teen in the 1960s.She’s searching your eyes to see if you’re getting her point. I’m not.

“Mini skirts,” she points out. “Wooden leg.”

Ah.

“Horrific,” she says.

The enormity of this hits you and you’re struggling to find the words. Then she smiles and says:

“But I have brought up three children and had a successful career as a teacher.”

Throughout her career, she was employed as able-bodied.

“I only got a blue badge five years ago – and that was for my other knee which is getting creaky, not my prosthetic limb.”

She said having a baby was like “having a baby” adding: “It changes everything. But everything does not stop, it just changes.

“You can do the things you want, but you just go about doing those things differently.”

Wow.