Image: Cheryl Newman - Timotei Girls (Lover)
The next in this series of interviews with our panel of esteemed Head On Photo Award judges is London-based Cheryl Newman. Cheryl is another judge who straddles the field as both an artist and an independent curator. We asked her plenty of questions and here's what she had to say.
Please tell us a bit about yourself - who are you and what do you do? What is your background and how did you come to photography/art?
I am an artist and curator of photography based in London. I studied fine art at Brighton University many moons ago beginning as a painter before transferring into Alternative Practice, an area embracing different approaches to practice including film and photography.
For more than fifteen years I was the Photography Director of the Telegraph magazine leaving to pursue an MA in Photography Arts. My relationship with photography began in childhood, spending Sunday afternoons lovingly sifting through my mother’s small suitcase of family photographs. I still have those same images, many of which make their way into my own practice. Curatorially I particularly enjoy public art projects with the potential to have a life-changing impact on a large number of people. I find this extremely rewarding. I have been working with the Gaia Foundation for a number of years on an environmental project, ‘We Feed the World’, documenting the working lives of smallholder farmers from six continents. I’m also working on a collaborative curation of feminist photography for FOTO WIENS 2022 which includes inspirational photography heroines and is very exciting.
I run an ongoing mentor programme in Oslo, Norway, and also work with artists one-to-one on exhibition or book projects. I try to balance my personal practice with my curating and other projects.
Image: Cheryl Newman - Lover
Tell us about your work - what does it aim to say or how does it address contemporary social or political issues?
I work with mainly analogue photography and use archival photographs, text and printmaking.
My work raises questions around autobiography, observation and questions of narrative. I am interested in the male muse, the unrelentingly strange fictions of family life, inappropriate sexual behaviour and mythology. My work examines the uncertain terrains of teenage sex, religion, and the sexual politics of the 1970s. It’s an age thing!
Who or what influences your work?
I spent 20 years in a newspaper where truth is so often fictionalised that I am intrigued by artists who manipulate truths such as Sara-Lena Maeirhofe. I’m inspired by the subjective work of Max Pinckers,’ and the mixing of documentary and fictional storytelling. The Turkish 1965 film directed by Emit Erksan, Sevmek Zamani that describes misperceptions of love I find a compelling narrative.
Image: Cheryl Newman - The Garden of Good and Evil (Lover)
How do you know when a body of work is finished?
I haven’t finished one yet.
How do you seek out opportunities?
Through collaboration, competitions, awards and prayer.
How have you developed your career?
When I had my daughter Mimi, I made the decision to move into the commercial workplace and became a photography editor/ director spending 15 years on the Telegraph magazine. I therefore, donned a different hat before finally resuming my artistic practice in 2015 returning to study a Photography Arts MA at the University of Westminster. Since graduation, I have been juggling my personal practice and work as a curator and mentor. I feel my career is in its infancy.
Can you give an overview of one of your typical workdays?
It always starts with walking my dog Monkey who is an early riser. I’m blessed that each working day is very different and will depend on the project I am working with at a specific time. Since leaving newspapers my days are less structured, but I admit to still loving a deadline. Today I will be preparing text for an online exhibition of photographs taken by a BBC news journalist; preparing for a curation of a student graduation exhibition in Oslo and scanning the latest negatives from a long-term series I have been making in the village of my childhood, seductively called Lover. I will also be having snacks from time to time.
Image: We feed the world - Kate Peters, Glebe Farm, Somerset, England
What skills are required or personal attributes essential for success in your position?
I began my career as a painter moving into film and photography. I have a broad arts background which gives me a different perspective of contemporary image-making. My experience spans both editorial and the gallery space and I work comfortably with all photographic genres. I love what I do, and am excited by both student shows and a major retrospective. Building industry relationships is very important to me and I still work with photographers I first met more than 25 years ago and who became friends, which is very special. A lifetime’s obsession and passion for photography have certainly played their part in building an extensive network of contacts which is a must when you seek to engage with the collaborative process. I am a sensitive, thoughtful and creative editor and my own voice and vision and my own practice enrich my curation process and teaching and vice versa.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging? Enjoyable?
In 2019 artist Sian Davey and I began the, ‘Being Present’, workshops which offer photographers the opportunity to slow down and examine who they are and want they want to say through their photographic practice. We provide a safe space to reconnect with creativity and to reflect on what is important. These weekends are both a challenge emotionally and a huge inspiration for my personal work and mentoring. I feel sometimes there is such pressure within the photographic community that space to feel empowered and supported is very much needed.
Image: We Feed the World - Laura Hynd, IGuilermo Ferrer, Sa Torre des Xebellins, Ibiza
Who or what should we be looking out for in the field today?
It’s important to support and acknowledge new photographic blood but also not to forget those who have been working in the industry for years. We should support our fellow artists with generosity as times become tougher for us all.
Thanks to Cheryl for a wonderful interview and for such a timely reminder to look out for each other, especially during these strange times. To see more of Cheryl's work head to her website.
Now you know a bit more about our judges, don't forget that the Head On Photo Awards are currently open for entries so be sure to enter your best portrait or landscape photos here.