Dean Leivers Photographer Dean Leivers Photographer

Journal

Week 5 Delivery - New School

June 3rd, 2021

Following the first stage of delivery at Greenfield Primary School I embarked on a shorter one week residency at Thistly Meadow School in Blaby (after a much needed catch up week at my desk!). This was set to be an interesting test of the workshop model as it was on a smaller scale, working with less classes and also less of an intro to the project with the pupils before they came to me for their full workshops. The first difference in this school was the placement of the dome. A somewhat waterlogged playing field meant a hard standing pitch was needed and due to a lot of forecast wet weather a spare classroom space was found so I could create a combination of in class and outdoor delivery. At first I was a little dismayed I wouldn’t be “within nature” out on the field but the first half of the first day still created the intrigue within the school about why exactly a bearded man was building a transparent igloo in the playground! And the opportunity to be firmly in the mix of the hustle and bustle of school playtime was a great experience in the end.



In fact some of the comments I overheard whilst setting up inside the dome were brilliant, “Woah it’s a bubble”, “No it’s one of the COVID testing centres, look he’s got a doctors coat and a visor on”, “Is that a scientist?” “It’s a doctor.” Being housed on the playground also allowed more opportunity for passing groups of pupils to look in at other groups and see what they were doing whilst in the workshops, giving them an insight into both what they would be doing when they took part and also sight lines into the work of an artist. I had been reflecting after the first series of workshops on the wearing of a lab coat. Whilst keen to keep the notion of “art meets science” alive, I’d noticed a lot of participant feedback had focussed more on the science, especially using the chemicals. I decided to “jazz” up my lab coat with patches referencing art and photography, this seemed to work and caused a few points of discussion with some of the groups.



The sessions during this week ran fairly smoothly, largely due to the amount of testing and tweaking at the previous school. My first workshop of the week though yielded some interesting points for reflection. I worked with a small group of pupils with a range of educational needs. This was quite a challenge, not because I felt out of my comfort zone, but for the incredibly different ages and abilities within the group. It really hammered home the importance of differentiation when session planning and on this occasion made me realise that in future more pre discussions with school staff about the nuances of particular groups would be incredibly helpful. It also reinforced my earlier plans to develop different tiers of workshops to offer in future, a session tailored for an SEN group would be a good addition to this portfolio.

The discussions and questions were fascinating during this week. During one groups session we spoke about experimentation in art (which lends itself well to the cyanotype process). We agreed that it’s ok to try things out, things don’t have to be perfect. I added that art is about process and takes practice to develop your skills, reinforcing that there is no right or wrong when we’re being creative. With this in mind I’ve been experimenting again this week with toning prints using tea leaves. Washing a blue printed cyanotype in what is essentially a giant cup of tea alters the chemicals in such a way that you end up with a sepia toned print. I’ve been planning to experiment with making my own negatives on acetate and I think that the ‘tea toning’ would be an effective process to use with this approach. More of that in future weeks!


Week 4 - Removals and Reflections

May 16th, 2021

So the first stage of the project has come to a close with a very interesting final week. The fourth week in the first partner school saw me finish workshop delivery with the final three classes in the school and also carry out my first community session of the project. The first part of the week I worked with three Year 6 classes who were afforded more time for their workshops (2 hours in total) in order that they really got to experience the full process of preparing and making a cyanotype print. As they are the eldest children in the school I felt comfortable allowing them to work with the chemicals, under supervision and with protective kit on, so that they could take more ownership over the art work that they were creating. The extra time also afforded me the opportunity to discuss with the group the themes and intentions behind my own practice and work in progress project ‘Dependent Origination’. As a lot of my images for the project have so far been created using incense dust which was burnt during my meditation practice I led the groups in short mindfulness exercises before they went off to explore the woodland are to find objects to help create their imagery. I was keen to see how this affected the groups approach, would it inspire them to take a more considered approach to their exploration? Would it simply act as a good way to reset the group prior to the workshop starting proper? It did seem to have a calming effect on the groups that I did try the activity with. It was also interesting as a very small insight into how mindfulness practice could couple with art practice as this notion forms the basis of my next project which was recently funded by Arts Council England.


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Following the Year 6 sessions my final workshop of the week was given over to a community workshop delivered to a number of committee members from local arts group ‘Active Arts’. Formed in October 1976 by a small group of volunteers Active Arts aim was to bring a programme of ‘arts’ to Countesthorpe and Blaby, in Leicestershire. Based loosely at the new Countesthorpe College they were regarded as 'the art wing’ of the College and to this day a small group of volunteers continues to provide a programme of all things artistic for the local communities in Countesthorpe and Blaby, making good use of a yearly small grant from Blaby District Council.


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I’m very grateful to Active Arts as they very kindly contributed to the schools cash contribution to the project and so was more than happy to provide an insight into the project and its aims and of course allow the committee to get hands on with making their own cyanotypes! It was also a wonderful networking opportunity for me as a local artist, getting to know people locally who may be able to recommend the project to future partners and who are hugely supportive of the work of artists practicing locally. It was also a good way for me to test bed the ways in which I may deliver future community sessions during the project. After a month at the school I’ve come to realise that the groups I’ve worked with have inadvertently done a great job of advertising the project to their parents for me! I’m confident that when it comes to delivering the project in venues local to the school I shouldn’t have too much trouble bringing in participants.


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Until then though I’ve said goodbye to my first partner school and packed down the dome. I had such a fun time getting to work with over six hundred participants over the four weeks, it was great to experience the buzz and excitement of the groups they got to experience a photographic practice that a huge percentage had never come across before. I’d better do some stock replenishment before I arrive at my next venue!


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Week 3 - Weather, You Like it or Not

May 8th, 2021

A bit of a mixed but busy week this week. Workshop delivery continued with the school classes but due to the bank holiday I had to give up one of my days for working on my own practice in the dome. I was also forced to cancel and reschedule a full day of delivery due to high winds in the early part of the week. It is definitely not safe to put up the dome in high winds, even though the structure is properly weighted and fixed down the force was definitely enough to have damaged the structure and at this stage I simply don’t have the time to wait for delivery of spare parts from Germany! The ever changing weather however did give me opportunity to test out the workshop delivery in the rain and the ways in which that could work. The dome is still fit for purpose in the rain, still letting in more than enough light for the prints to expose and keeping all of the rain out. The bigger issue is a suitable space for the groups to sit when not working in the dome whilst I’m delivering other parts of the session. The camping tarp that I bought whilst waterproof and a good cover just isn’t big enough. I’m now looking into other options, the likeliest candidate being a pop up gazebo.


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I’ve also had a lot of points this week that have helped me to refine the workshop delivery, tweaking things slightly dependent on the age of the participants and also working out extra mini activities that could occupy the group in periods where they might need to wait their turn to enter the dome for a specific activity. This is presenting a good challenge as I’m considering activities that can help to further their understanding the properties of the Cyanotype process, largely getting the groups to consider the way the light might fall and be blocked when falling onto their photosensitive paper when working with different sized objects.


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At this point I’m thinking of shifting to creating three different workshops of different lengths and depth of content which will suit the different requirements and abilities of participants but also act as a sort of “shopping list” for future clients who may book the project for their setting, giving me a range of options and approaches to suit them.


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All of these “under the bonnet” considerations aside the children and staff are seemingly enjoying the project, process and are constantly wowed by the results. I’ve also noticed that the children are really relishing the opportunity to be outside of the classroom. Greenfield School is lucky in that it has a woodland area which we’ve made good use of for the project. Every group has jumped at the chance to explore this space whilst finding objects for their images. One member of staff highlighted another benefit of this part of the workshop. One of their pupils asked a lot of questions about what the different types of plants were that they were considering using in their images. Most of the plants are what you would consider quite common and this clearly highlighted a real lack of engagement with the natural world especially for a child at the older end of primary education. Sweeping generalisation maybe, but I imagine he wouldn’t be the only child his age spending more time indoors these days. I’m pleased that, even if in a small way, one aspect of the project is generating a curiosity and connection with the outdoors.


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Week 2 - Workshops and Wonderings

May 2nd, 2021

The last week has been very busy indeed, my first week of delivery proper saw me work with over 260 pupils at my first partner school and so far has given me a valuable first insight into the practicalities of delivering outdoor workshops using the dome. Firstly my planned delivery during the sessions has been tweaked as I’ve gone along. Largely this is due to not being able to have as many people in the dome all at the same time. I’ve had to break this down to smaller numbers of participants, although this is only a consideration for those groups who are old enough to take part in coating their own paper with the chemicals. The younger groups are simply using the dome as a place that they can expose their prints to the sunlight with most of the activity taking place outside and under the separate tarp covered “classroom” I have set up. However a small bout of wet weather during this week did present a challenge as the tarp wasn’t really keeping much of the rain out! Luckily (for this part of the project at least) there is always the luxury of being able to retire to the bricks and mortar classroom whilst the prints are being exposed in the dome.


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Despite the challenges of the weather, so far all of the groups seem to be enjoying the sessions and most importantly are enjoying the process of making their prints and there have been a lot of happy faces when the prints are washed and the results start to appear. I spoke to one teaching assistant who felt the project is “good for those children that don’t necessarily feel that they are good at art. The one’s that can’t draw for example. With this method of making they will get a result no matter what.” Obviously this doesn’t mean that they will still think that their end results are good but I’ve made a point of talking about the cyanotype process as a process of experimentation and trying things out, also making sure to highlight the merits of images that are abstract in nature as well as those with very clearly defined representations of the objects used to make the image.


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I also took time this week to experiment with my own approach to image making using the cyanotype method. Firstly on one of my solo days in the dome at the school. I began experimenting with fabrics and the effects of the chemical when painted onto the surface. I had an unexpected result with the fabric as the chemical ran past the embroidery hoops I was using to create a circular shape, I’d not even considered that the fabric would soak up excess liquid! It did however create a rather pleasing effect but I would still like to investigate ways to stop this bleed.


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I had a chance to discuss this and fabric options at the weekend when I began work with one of the projects associate artists Julia Claridge. Julia is a dressmaker who I’ve worked with on commissioned projects regularly over the last few years, she is, as you would expect, a font of knowledge when it comes to fabrics. We spoke about types of fabrics that could work well with the process, properties of different material and also some ways we might be able to stop the chemical from bleeding into areas it’s not wanted. I also walked Julia through the process of mixing the chemicals and we spent a couple of hours making some prints. She’s now going to order in a range of different fabric samples for us to test and play with in a few weeks time. This has been an exciting development in the approach to my own practice as I can already see the cogs whirring in Julia’s head, she’s already given me a few things to mull over regarding the look of my finished pieces…and with her excellent machine skills I’m sure she’ll be able to help me tidy up the edges of my fabric pieces (cutting material in straight lines is clearly not a strong suit of mine!)


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Week One - Delivery at the First Partner School

April 24th, 2021

My first week in my first partner school got off to a great start. My time at Greenfield Primary is longer than any of the other partner schools as at this stage it’s more about testing the model and easing into delivery in a school/community setting. So my first week was based around settling in, testing the put up and pack down of the equipment, introducing pupils to the project and road testing the suitability of the dome for the project process. At the beginning of the week I luckily had the help of a member of school staff, Arts Lead Julia Turner, which meant that the dome was built and weighted down in just over an hour (versus the two hours or so it took me to build the structure on my own). This is good to note as when I’m at the next venues I can be fully set up and operational in two hours, meaning I’ll be able to get to work with participants quickly. Given I’ll be visit those venues for one week only this is certainly a good thing.



Following the set up I spent the rest of the day setting up an outdoor office (the dome got warm in the sun very quickly!) and testing chemicals and the spread of the light in the dome with a few test prints. My following three days in school were given over to meeting and greeting all twenty-one classes in the school, introducing them to the dome and explaining to them what I would be doing whilst at the school.


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The project has two practical strands, the dome acts as my artist studio in which the pupils will have sight of in the school grounds, thus seeing an artist at work, be that researching or conducting practical activity. The other strand being the pupils actually having a go at making their own cyanotype prints alongside me. Once the groups had finished having a look inside the dome in their respective class Covid bubbles we all sat whilst I explained a bit about the Cyanotype process and how we would make our prints together. This ended with me washing one of my test prints so that the pupils could see the “magic happen”! Another interesting aspect of the meet and greet sessions was allowing time for a Q & A. The pupils certainly came with a wide variety of questions over the three days, especially the younger members of the school! It felt like a good way for me to speak about my practice but also remind myself of why I do what I do as a career. A lot of the questions centred around how I started out being a photographer, or who or what inspired me to pick up a camera in the first place which was very grounding for me and I hope allowed the groups to realise that a career in the arts is a viable path.


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This notion of the path or journey really came home to me in a quiet moment whilst I was mixing some fresh chemicals for test prints. The “recipe” that I refer to when I make my Cyanotype solution is a printout of a scan that I made of the original set of instructions that I was given the very first time I tried the technique. This was given to me at university by my second year tutor Tony Clancy back in 2006 and has turned out to be a very valuable resource indeed! I spent some time thinking about the person I was back then; a student photographer, searching for an artistic voice, willing to experiment and trying to be open to all things that came my way. Now more than ever I think I should hold onto aspects of that approach whilst building on all of the experiences I’ve had since leaving university. In my life I really see the power of art practice as a process and the way that experiencing art in whatever form can really stick with you. I really hope that this project will have lasting effects on the participants. Not that they necessarily need to become artists later down the line but that they at the very least hold onto the notion that creativity can play an important role in their lives and the lives of those around them.


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Project Prep and the Start of Delivery

April 16th, 2021

Project plans are in place and following the recent relaxation of Covid lockdown restrictions I now have the go ahead to start work with one of the partner schools. Starting next week I’ll be onsite at Greenfield Primary School in Leicestershire working as both an artist in residence and workshop leader working with pupils across the school from Reception through to Year 6. I’m very excited for them to see “The Igloo” which I’ll be using as my base in the school grounds. I gave it a little bit of a road test (only just managing to fit the structure in my back garden!) and I’m very happy that it’ll be a brilliant place for me to create an artist’s studio. Whilst allowing me to create Cyanotype prints no matter what the weather, as it’s transparent the pupils will be able to see me working and literally have a window into my process and set up.

So expect plenty of updates from me over the next few weeks as I settle into school life, work on developing my own imagery and practice and collaborate with other artists to help me think a bit differently about my approach.

Bookings, Kit and Brexit

January 22nd, 2021

The new year is in full swing and the beginning stages of the ‘Dependent Origination’ project are well underway. Various project co-ordination tasks have been completed and documents set up to monitor my progress in the form of a timetable alongside budgeting spreadsheets to ensure I keep on top of the finances. I’ve started the search for equipment that I need to complete the proposed activity, the main purchase being that of the dome.

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The dome (or Garden Igloo, to give it its proper title) will act as my artist studio when on site at the schools or community partners venues during the project. It will allow me a space to make work and research and also act as a space to deliver workshops to small groups. The transparent material will be a good way to keep wind and rain out whilst allowing my Cyanotypes to expose to UV light, so it’s a pretty integral part of the project! Currently the dome is winging its way from Germany and is unfortunately a victim of Brexit related delays and so may not make it to me until March given current estimates. It’s certainly a factor that I hadn’t considered when developing the project. As it goes though, I couldn’t find the same product or something suitable from a UK seller and as this is all out of my sphere of influence I’ll just have to accept that this is the way that things are. It’s definitely made me think that for the rest of my equipment purchases I need to look a little closer to home though.

Another aspect affecting the project that I couldn’t really plan for is the Covid-19 pandemic and obviously whilst I was aware that the situation was ongoing when I received the funding, I wasn’t quite prepared for the impact on schools, especially the current closures. However, this week I did press on and book provisional dates with one of the planned school partners for the project. Hopefully they will be able to open and invite visiting artists in by the time of the proposed set of delivery dates. Time will tell.

Speaking of Covid, I was a very lucky recipient of Arts Council Emergency Funding which has allowed me to continue to develop other areas of my practice alongside ‘Dependent Origination’. I’ve developed treatments for a series of photography tutorial videos which I hope to begin filming very soon. They will ultimately become a set of stand-alone series that beginners and improvers can purchase and download from me directly. I’ve also used some of the time that the funds allowed to begin researching and making work for a video landscape series which I intend to become an installation piece (once gallery spaces can operate again).


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Visually it’s currently a number of tryptichs depicting a response to the six elements (as described in an advanced Buddhist meditation practice). The above still is a simple test set up to give me a sense of what I can achieve using the software and kit I have available. I’m currently pleased with the early stages of development with both of these paths and feeling prepared for the inevitable challenges ahead.

Arts Council Project Funding

December 2nd, 2020
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I’m incredibly happy to announce that I was the recent recipient of funding from Arts Council England to develop and deliver a photographic arts project across selected schools in Leicester and Leicestershire, alongside community activites.

The project ‘Dependent Origination’ was born from reading scientific, fictional & spiritual texts that fed into the idea that we are all aiming to discover our place & purpose. Dependent Origination is a phrase in Buddhist teaching which recognises that all things arise dependent on the conditions present, be that emotional states, physical situations/experiences even life itself.

Just as our place in the world may not be fixed the project will relocate and take place in a pop-up dome, acting as a studio & workshop. This moveable studio will then tour between schools and community settings providing participatory workshop oppportunities. The transparent dome complements the chosen photographic process and an aim: offering sight lines into artistic practice for groups who don’t usually access the arts. The project utilises the Cyanotype process; creating light sensitive surfaces by coating materials with chemicals that change colour when exposed to UV light. Placing materials on the surface (EG dust, earth, plants) leaves behind an impression of the object.

Project strands will research & develop my personal work in progress and pilot an outreach touring model for underserved groups & developing audiences. It tests a paid-for model, accessibility & the impact it can have on practice & participation. A short film will document the work, alongside project blog and social media updates.

As stated above the project has been made possible thanks to funding from Arts Council England, for which I’m incredibly grateful. Huge thanks also to Sam and Jodie at Platform Thirty1 who provided support during the application stage and who will also be providing project support around the delivery and evaluation stages.

Frame 36 - 3/5/20

May 3rd, 2020

It’s been a remarkably long time since I last posted anything relating to research and project ideas…posted anything at all really! Given the current worldwide situation, specifically my current situation in lockdown in the UK I’m finding I have more time to reflect, read and type. Obviously, my commissions for photographic work have dropped off as we all stick to government guidelines and a lot of us stay at home and away from workplaces. However as I said this has afforded me some more time to be able to focus on other activities that have been neglected in favour of commissioned work over the last year or so.

I like thousands of freelance artists have applied to receive emergency funding from the Arts Council. I’d been working on and had submitted a large bid for a project grant before Covid-19 put a halt to all applications. This was to bolster work on my current work in progress project ‘Dependent Origination’ which i had hoped to widen out into workshops based in both school and community settings.


If I receive the emergency funding it’s the plan to continue that work with the Cyanotype process but formulate new ways of getting an audience to engage with the work. More updates on that will follow.

I have also been working on the development of a Podcast series. I’ve long considered the ways of creating audio to compliment more editorial style practice and I now feel confident that the Podcast format is the right route for me. I recently completed a short course with Future Learn that gave me some fantastic information and guidance on producing engaging audio content. Visually I’ll be aiming to create series that follow a similar visual style to this project by Alphabet.


I’ll be updating with more research and work in progress soon. I really want to make sure that I use this opportunity to continue to strive and progress.

Be well,

Ipseity

March 31st, 2019

Exhibition Visit 11/04/19

Anthony Prothero’s latest body of work “Ipseity” is a “visual investigation into memory, imagination and the family album”. The exhibition and accompanying book were a product of the artists masters study at Falmouth University. The exhibition comprised of a series of large scale images from various sections of the book alongside a video piece and an audio installation. Imagery ranged from still life set ups of the artists grandmothers belongings, collected and curated images of family trips abroad, scanned and distorted family portraits. The video installation detailed silent super 8 footage of a family wedding and my personal highlight of the exhibition an audio piece which presented a discussion between the artist and his grandmother about a particular image in the exhibition.

Much has been said on the use of personal/ family archives for project material, during my own undergraduate degree I too delved into my own family archive and I still find it an interesting topic, even when I have no relation to those depicted. I think this is due to work of this nature forcing me to consider the relationship I have with my own family archive, so those images that exist from my own childhood and before. Also following the birth of my daughter and my imminent second child I consider the ways I might continue building  my own personal collection. How should I record family life? Which means are most effective in the modern technological age? Do I even record enough of family activity?

Most would argue that it’s never been easier for us to capture our experiences with the advent of smart phone technology, with most of the worlds population having access to a camera in their pocket but I feel that it’s what we do with those images that is most important. Is uploading our lives to countless digital social media albums any different to stocking photo albums on shelves in our homes only for both to be ignored for most of the time that follows the event. During this exhibition I pondered the question “I wonder how many times this wedding video had been viewed before being put on a loop in a gallery context?”

A record of our lives is important and interesting even if only in our own family circles, what Anthony has done here is succeeding in making his own personal family artefacts interesting whilst allowing us as viewers to question the importance of our own. The other elements of the exhibition, namely the sound and video pieces have made me question photography’s effectiveness as a tool to record our personal memories. Is it just one of many tools that when used together can create a more meaningful reflection of our lives? Ultimately we all crave to be remembered when our lives are over. Looking at the strangers actions, appearances, belongings here brings to mind the transient nature of our experiences and lives, as soon as they have happened they are gone much like the capturing of an image. Can photographs or possessions really tell us anything about those pictured or are they merely vessels for those left looking to reflect on a life once known? In the end it is really all just “stuff”, providing a more public context would surely strike chords for those with a personal connection to the images on show. For the rest of us it highlights an urgency to ensure that our own collections are of interest to our own family after we are gone and not just adding to an already huge pile of belongings to sort through.

All images courtesy of the artist.

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