(Q1 and Q2 I believe I answered together)
Q1. Could you give an overview of how the project was initiated, how you came up with the idea/Q2. How did you hear about Moseley Road Baths and did you know it was at risk of closure?
When I moved to Birmingham, in September 2013, I lived in Kings Heath for a couple of weeks and I remember taking the number 50 bus to go to the city centre every day. The bus passed by Moseley Road Baths and my attention was immediately kept by the signs over the 3 entrances of the building. Above the main doors you could read ‘1st Class Men’, ‘2nd Class Men’ and ‘Women’. I had previously seen buildings with double entrance for Men and Women, but never such distinction for 1st and 2nd class Men and then Women. I was quite intrigued and one day I decided to explore the Baths. I still remember to cross the threshold of the building with extreme curiosity and having the sensation to enter another era.
Reading the curiosity in my eyes, a nice lady that was drying her hair spontaneously offered to give me a tour of the building. I only later found out that she was a very active member of Friends of Mosley Baths. While she walked me around, she would share some historical facts and tell me about the long history of threats that the Baths faced throughout the years. She showed me the empty Gala Pool and told me about the time when that space was used as a ballroom in the 40’s and as a hospital during the World War. She told me about the organisation that was helping keeping the Baths open and the importance of the building for the local community.
As I left that day, something was already spinning in my head.
Few months later I saw an open call for a project based in Balsall Heath, I thought I was ready to give myself a chance to help the Baths with their cause.
Q3. What made you decide to approach Moseley Road Baths as a location for the work?
Besides the extreme relevance for the heritage contest, Mosley Road Baths play a fundamental role in the process of cultural aggregation in a very diverse area. The baths reach the community beyond age, sexual orientation and cultural background.
It was not just the location for the work, but the essence of the work itself. The project actually explores the relationship between the building and its people.
Q4. Did you work with an external organisation to develop the work e.g a festival or gallery?
Some Cities was a photography focused organisation founded by Andrew Jackson and Dan Burwood. They had the brilliant idea to work with the photography community in Birmingham in order to share stories. For their first anniversary they launched the open call to found two project based in Birmingham. Stephen Burke and myself won the call with two different projects both based in Balsall Heath.
Dan and Andrew were a fundamental support for my project. They helped me in the different stages of my project. They put me in contact with the organisations and communities around the Baths at the beginning of the project, but also through the end of it with the divulgation and the approach with the media.
Q5. How would you describe your relationship with the Friends Group (campaign) and did this influence your approach the work
Friends of Moseley Baths were fundamental for the development of my project. Thanks to them I was able to reach the swimmers and listen to their stories and to understand that the baths were not just an old building, but the container of their memories and part of their lives.
Ian Edwards from St. Paul Trust was also another very important party in this process. He helped me to sort out most of the bureaucratic and logistical aspects of the project, in special for The 100 swimmers picture, for which we had to build a stair to allow people with different grades of ability to get safely into the empty pool.
Q6. How did you recruit participants and what feedback did they give regards the experience
I operated on different fronts. The organisations around the Baths helped me spreading the voice. I used social media, printed leaflets and word of mouth to recruit the participants. This was done in two phases. At the beginning I worked with a small group of people in a more intimate way. It was a sort of collaboration, where we were sharing ideas and I was adding their contribute to my vision. This is the main body of the work, the series of portraits that I did along few months in the beginning of 2014. People were portrayed in different parts of the building exploring the links between them and the architecture. The second phase of the project was the group portrait I did in the Gala Pool with over 100 swimmers. This was such a great day and the main outcome of the protest. Some Cities helped me again in this phase with a teaser to recruit participants.
Q7. Did you consciously approach Moseley Road Baths to support their campaign through this project, or did that happen as part of the process of working with the baths/Friends?
The project started as a way to support them in the campaign. It was clear to me since my proposal for the open call.
Q8. A copy the image of the swimmers in the Gala Pool is still sited in the reception of Moseley Road Baths and is talked of fondly by the staff, volunteers and swimmers. What impact do you think the image had on the campaign to keep the pool open.
Thanks to the support of Some Cities, the image immediately reached a national audience through radio interviews and features on news outlets including the BBC. The project was exhibited in magazines, galleries and festivals nationally and internationally. In 2016 the image of the 100 Swimmers was featured on The Watch, the World Monument Fund Watch List’s magazine. It was a long and slow process with many parts involved and contributions from different areas. The perseverance and the vision of the Moseley Road Baths community has played the main role for the success of that campaign.
Q9. Is there anything else you’d like to add
When you work in a projects like this, the artist is like the director of an orchestra. If there is no one playing the instruments, there is no symphony. If the project went trough is only tanks to all the organisations and the people that believed in me and I will be always grateful for that.