Publikum – Hello Amanda! Thanks for getting involved with the open call. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, who are you? Where are you from? and how did you get into photography?
Amanda Holdom – My name’s Amanda, and I’m from Birmingham. I think when I discovered the social aspect of photography, that’s when I really got into it. Since I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in people, communities, the way people express themselves, and my everyday surroundings.
I just enjoy observing and taking an interest in people’s lives. Photography fuels this and enables me to document my interests/observations. So for that reason, I really love it.
P. – Where do we begin? What projects have you been working on lately? Can you tell us a bit more about your Druids Heath project? How did this come into existence? What’s the core message and why is it important to you?
A. – I discovered Druids Heath on one of my first driving lessons. Druids Heath is an estate in South Birmingham made up of around 15 tower blocks and mixed low-rise housing. At the time I remember saying to my instructor I need to come back here. There was something really interesting about the estate; I think maybe the tower blocks were what struck me. I’d never seen so many clustered together in such a small area. And in general, the estate seemed so dated, literally like walking through England in the ’90s.
When I got home I started researching the estate just out of interest. I found that the estate hadn’t been touched since it was first built, in the 1960s. No development, no investment. Nothing. Then I began reading all the news headlines associated with Druids Heath and I couldn’t believe how much negativity there was surrounding the area. Never seen so much bad press attached around one estate before.
To add to this, I found out that Birmingham City Council were planning a huge redevelopment scheme on the estate, which would see a lot of the estate bulldozed, including the local secondary school, about 5/6 tower blocks, selected low-rise housing and the pub at the bottom of the estate.
After learning all of this I started visiting the estate, wandering around on my own, taking photos on my phone. I wanted to see if I still felt the same way as I did on that initial driving lesson, which I did.
I found that people who lived there either really wanted to stay, or wanted to leave. Some people have lived there since it was first built, so it’s difficult for them to see it be demolished.
It took me a while to form and build relationships with people living on the estate. But it was worth it in the end, I met so many great people. There’s a great community living there. I really wanted to share this, because there are many good things that happen that go unnoticed. Overlooked by all the bad things unfortunately!
Now, I have a project which focuses on the people living/working on the estate. The residents can be overly spoken for sometimes. What I’ve tried to do is to let the residents be shown how they wish to be shown and let them speak freely, and share what they like about themselves and their surroundings.
Having been raised on a estate myself, I can relate to a lot of the stereotypes and the scrutiny that come with living on one. I think that’s why the project is most important to me. I care for the people, and how they are represented.
P. – I love how you have incorporated written poetry into your Druids Heath project, what was the intention in doing this? Do you think you will add more to this?
A. – Thank you! Some of the residents who I met didn’t wish to be photographed, but still wanted to be involved. The easiest way around this was to get them to write down their thoughts.
There’s a local prayer group on the estate ran by the Pioneer Curate, Catherine Matlock. Catherine invited me to one of the prayer groups to speak about my project, and that’s where I met residents who wanted to share some of their poetry.
Tamika, one of the attendees, had already written her poem ‘My Community’. Esther, wrote hers whilst I was there. The poems were so honest and beautifully written, I had to incorporate them. I’ll definitely add more if I receive more.
P. – Often photographers can feel awkward approaching people to take their photo, especially with surroundings that are personal to them, how did you approach this issue?
A. – I found it difficult at first. I used to have very little confidence in approaching people. The fear of rejection or offending someone would eat me up inside. But as soon as I started having confidence in myself and my ideas, things became much easier. Particularly with the Druids Heath project, people were receptive when they learned about my background and my genuine interest for the area.
P. – On that point, how have you found the experience working with the residents of druids heath? Do you feel that there has been any sense of tension or alienation? Do you feel like you are seen as an outsider, looking in?
A. – I’ve loved it. So, so much. I’ve never felt any tension or alienation. Nor have I ever felt like an outsider. All of the people who I have met in Druids Heath have been nothing but warm and welcoming. I think (I hope) this is because people trust that my intentions are sincere.
When I was struggling to find new residents to take part in the project, the committee on the estate invited me to attend their meeting so that I could promote my project to new people. At the meeting, members gave me ideas and even offered me the library as a venue to create an event that residents could take part in. Just so that I could continue the project.
From the ladies at Kath’s Cafe, to the local prayer group, A Level Playing Field, Manningford Hall, the library, youth centre and even the butcher on the estate – everyone has been unreal.
P. – A key individual is Doreen, would you mind talking about you met her and your relationship developed? How did you form that relationship to begin with? Do you feel that your photography help strengthen that relationship?
A. – I met Doreen through assisting Robert Clayton. She was one of the residents he was photographing in the area.
We went to her home and took some portraits of her. I’m not sure why, but she really stood out to me, I loved her attitude and honesty about her experiences living in the area.
I think Rob knew I was itching to take her portrait and he let me take a couple of shots on my Mamiya. Those turned out to be some of my favourite photographs from the project. From that, Doreen and I stayed in touch, I kept visiting her when I was in the area and she became part of the project.
Photography definitely strengthened that relationship, in that it opened a conversation for Doreen about the area that she probably has never been able to have before.
P. – What have you learnt about the community from starting this project to now? What do you think the future has in store?
A. – So much. The community in Druids Heath are really amazing. Despite all the horrible things that they endure everyday, they are persistent helping one-another and making positive changes to the area.
The future of the estate is uncertain at the moment. But just last month it was announced that the £42 million pound regeneration has now come to a halt, due to the campaigns by the residents. This means that the council will now be giving the residents a real say in what happens next. Which is great. So we’ll see what happens next.
P. – Being from Birmingham, how do you feel that your identity, community, and work is represented? What is the photography scene in Birmingham like and do you think it will develop?
A. – Birmingham’s photography/creative scene has definitely reinvented itself over the years. Although the city is huge, and might feel segregated, I think its anything but. It feels like the photography scene is growing and growing.
Creatives seem to be really well connected due to all the events and opportunities that are here, things seem more reachable which is good.
There’s a wave of community orientated projects/artists doing amazing things, supporting, collaborating and highlighting marginalised communities, giving people the opportunity to speak out. My identity and my work is all about that really, so yeah, I think it’s well represented at the moment.
P. – As an organic project that is constantly growing, how do you see this project expanding, will you look to create a physical document of Druids Heath?
A. – As you said, it’s constantly growing. The area is ever changing, and the fate of the tower blocks/school/houses is yet to be decided. So it’s a bit of waiting game to see what happens next.
But I will continue creating work there for sure, there’s so much that I want to document! Eventually I hope to have a physical document of Druids Heath, that is fully resolved.
P. – Your work channels a heavy influence from documentary and portraiture based work, what’s next for you?
A. – Whilst I’m doing this I’ll also be assisting the amazing Photographer/Writer Anthony Luvera on his new project working with the charity SIFA Fireside in Birmingham which I’m excited for! Great opportunity for me to get involved in more socially engaged practice.
P. – Lastly, the work that you have been doing with Rob Clayton is amazing, how have you found that experience? Do you feel that it influenced your Druids Heath project?
A. – Rob is great. I absolutely love his work, his Estate book and Estate return are timeless. So to work alongside him was super exciting and insightful. I loved observing his interactions with people. The way he made his sitters feel comfortable.
How he managed his time efficiently. His confidence in his technique. He had a natural interest in the place and passion for the people. Really inspiring to see and to feed off.
To keep up-to-date on the work that Amanda is producing and for more information, you can discover more using the following links: