Heather McDonough is a photographer and lecturer at London Metropolitan University. As a studio group, we went to see her studio space in Tower Hamlets, which she has been doing work in for the last 16 years.
To start off, some of us who went in smaller groups (although we were advised to go in bigger groups, for good reason) got a little bit lost in the general area – Kasia and I went the wrong way at first, then found a map, got to where we needed to get and then still didn’t manage to find the studio until we met some of our other coursemates and collectively discovered the studio. It was pretty difficult to find until Heather stepped out to greet us – the studio is located in a council building shop, no signs signalling it was a studio of any sort, it just looked like your regular shop that wasn’t open, all with the typical big shop windows and metal blinds on the outside.
Once we got inside, we discovered the studio to be quite tiny! I for one expected a moderately big studio space after seeing many other studios. It was just big enough to get all of us inside comfortably. The studio is all about collaboration and supporting each other, throwing events in the space and helping each other out. It was explained to us that due to the lack of space none of the artists sharing the studio did any of their photoshoots in the actual studio, and it was primarily used as a thinking and working space to work on the image post-production. They keep the walls mostly empty in the studio, no inspirational posters or boards you tend to see when you google search “graphic design studio” – the artists mainly use the walls to put up their own work for revision on a white background, which is a brilliant idea.
Heather showed us some of her own work as a finished end product – a couple photography books, and a shelf full of negatives from the last ~13 years. She mentioned to us that it is very important for her to collect all the work that she produces and come back to it at some point later on and find a place for it when the time comes and publish or exhibit it.
Afterwards, Heather took us to visit the Flowers gallery which is just a short walk from their studio space. In the gallery they had a show by Edward Burtynsky , called Salt Pans, up. It was something that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see on my own accord, but it was actually pretty interesting! The show featured huge photograph prints; the photographs were taken with one of the most expensive cameras in the world, which in itself was amazing, seeing as I was taking pictures with my cellphone which decided to not work after about 10 pictures due to the humidity outside (that’s why I don’t have a lot of photos from this visit, sadly).
Then we went to the Printspace, the printers that Heather uses and the space where she has a corner exhibiting her work featuring shots from the Calais jungle where refugees are stationed at the moment. The photographs featured broken items and general trash littered in the water and sand. The biggest photograph on the wall was an allegory to Claude Monet’s painting “Water Lilies”, except Heather’s photograph didn’t show a beautiful scenery with plants – it was trashed by an uncountable amount of garbage instead of water lilies. Heather had the chance to take these photographs when she went to volunteer in Calais to help clean up the area. There were two more exhibitions up in the space as well.
The visit all in all was very informative about studio culture in general, but mostly inspirational in the sense that you don’t need a huge and flashy looking studio to produce amazing work and be noticed in the art world. All you need is an imagination, a good work ethic, creativity and some equipment and you’re ready to go. A huge thanks to Heather for having us!