Assignment Two

Statement of intent – Assignment two, Gesture and Meaning.


John, self portrait

John, self portrait

When I started to work in the Echoes group I had thought that the users were only dementia sufferers, however there are users who have other conditions and this facility is offered to selective patients in the Warneford Hospital whose inmates suffer from a range mental health issues as well as users who are living in the community. Patient confidentiality has, and will continue to be an issue; quite naturally the organization, under the guidance of NHS regulation and structure has procedures that control the identification of the users and their carers. It is with this in mind that the ensuing statement is constructed.


My artist statement is as follows:


I wanted to investigate the area of identity with a group of users in a dementia support group. How, in an age where patient confidentiality is at a premium, to present a piece of work that opens areas of discussion regarding the condition of dementia and how that condition reflects on the area of identity. Without crossing the boundary of personal revelation, I set about to work collaboratively with the ‘users’ of the ‘Echoes Group’ to produce a number of ‘portraits’ using memorabilia supplied and edited by those ‘users’. The concept was to scan (two dimensional objects) or photograph (three dimensional objects) some of their personal posessions, and then have the users place the images in a narrative sequence as a photomontage, which I would then compile into a composite image. The result would then be discussed in a group session where the ‘users’ would be invited to talk about their own ‘portrait’ and interrogate other ‘users’ ‘portraits’. It is hoped that the A2 prints will be hung in the permanent space at the Warneford Hospital.

When I started with the Echoes group I had had no real witting interaction with people suffering from dementia, my next door neighbour I now realize is probably clinically demented – her short term memory being just a few seconds. And a son of a dear friend is clinically diagnosed with a bipolar disorder; but they were peripheral to my daily life and so I had no real expectations, other than a willingness to engage.

Statement of Intent:

Since the beginning of the year I have been developing a relationship with a number of individuals at the ‘Echoes Group’ who suffer from a range of mental health issues and this has revealed to me how diverse these people are, how their characters don’t play to a singular commonly held narrative, but are as complex as any other similarly numbered group of people. I had decided that I wanted to be able to express, in a collaborative way, their individualism, something of their background and maybe some views that denote an aspirational aspect of their day to day lives.

I soon became aware of the care needed to restrict revelatory aspects of the people using the facility and also the need to build trust with the three agencies of patient, support workers and clinical staff. But I was lucky enough to be asked to run a project with the users which would enable me to engage more intimately with the users and develop the collaborative trust needed for my intent.

I decided to work with the users to create ‘portraits’ using their own material, old photographs and memorabilia that I would edit with each individual user to create a single narrative. These narratives were chosen by the user after discussing with each of them in turn, and in group session, about how to ‘think about’ a narrative sequence. It has to be said that the sequences generally turned out to be time sequenced with a couple of exceptions.

These ‘portraits’ were originally intended to be put on display in the permanent exhibition space at the Warneford hospital, so I decided to print then at A2 size, given both the range of content, some very detailed, some not so. And the images were to be annotated using texts provided by the user.

These ‘portraits’ were, when completed, presented by their creators in a short informal way at a group session. The user talked about the images, why they were chosen, what they meant and the group were encouraged to respond with questions and critique. I felt that this session provided another patina of revelation from each of the users, they were in a formally supportive environment and, whilst on an equal footing with all the other users, were able to embellish the images either with their own enthusiasm or by the questions from fellow users. This additional layer of revelation wasn’t something I had expected, nor was the level of enthusiasm from the users on the day and about the project as a whole.


I realize that I have provided some reflective comments in the statement of intent, and that may be a failing.

Procedurally I have learnt a lot from this assignment. Working with the NHS has provided me with an insight into the requirements of these users and their needs; those of confidentiality, engagement and trust, which I think will hold me in good stead for the next assignment where I plan to work with a select few to develop some collaborative portraits – the clinical staff have given me the go-ahead, under strict release conditions, to work with some of the users, an exciting but daunting opportunity. I am now under contract with the NHS – it’s called an honorary contract [which means that I don’t get paid, but can claim expenses] and I have undergone what used to be called a CRB check and which is now called the DBS – Disclosure and Barring Service – check, which places me on a more formal footing and enabled me to ‘lead’ the group as a visiting artist as well as a volunteer supporter. I quite enjoyed running a project with the group, directing the workflow of the project and coming to an extremely worthwhile conclusion. I even enjoyed the ovation they spontaneously afforded me at the end of the presentation session! Perhaps a better reward is the expressed intent to keep me amongst them going forward – though the ever-present fear of NHS cuts are always in the background.

I think I could have been stronger with some of the group members when it came to the edit – it maybe that I will get the chance as they have indicated that I will be asked to run another project later. My hesitation in the edit function was to do with my own burgeoning capability, but also that I was still getting to know the group members individually.

So far I have gained an awful lot personally from working in this group. The first project underway when I joined was the ‘tile’ project that required me to do some photography with the tiles, these photographs will be used in a number of exhibitions in the City highlighting both the work of Echoes/Artscape and also the Archeological groups in the city – principle amongst these is the University of course (I will get some accreditation). I have also started to work with a user who has an archive of over 4000 photographs, from the turn of the nineteenth century until the 1940’s, documenting the lives of Armenian Persians which is likely to turn into a long term project.

There will be no picture by picture analysis on this assignment as I can’t reveal any. The photographs will be sent to my tutor for viewing on the understanding they are for his eyes only – I am hoping that the same can be done for assessment – otherwise I’ll have to do another course! I will now send this with the images as Assignment two and start to commence towards assignment three.


7 thoughts on “Assignment Two

  1. It’s great that you’re going to be able to continue working with the group. It sounds as though you are having a big impact on their lives.

  2. Yes, great, thanks. Still working on the project – a chap at the council emailed all his many contacts about me and I picked up several new sitters, who are spreading the word in turn. I was also asked to photograph an event for the Christian Muslim Foundation last week, which was a challenge.My project has been having a big impact on my life, too! There will be an exhibition in November – will let you know the dates when it’s all arranged.

  3. Youv’e put considerable effort into this John and approached the process so sensitively. I’m pleased for you that you now seem to be well ’embedded’ into the project (in a positive sense). There’s a richness about it all which has been a pleasure to observe.

  4. Pingback: Assignment two revisited | John Umney - Gesture and Meaning

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