‘Galleries help you to connect to yourself’: a photographer’s week with the National Art Pass

‘Galleries help you to connect to yourself’: a photographer’s week with the National Art Pass

To me, a gallery or museum is a special place for self-reflection because everything is curated. It’s a safe space, somewhere to enjoy a moment of quiet and see how I’m moved by what I’m experiencing. You don’t need to necessarily understand or intellectualise what you’re seeing. A gallery can be used as a space to connect to yourself or notice your feelings about what’s happening in the world around you.

When I was growing up in Wigan, art wasn’t greatly accessible to those of us who lived there. Hopefully things have changed since, but there was a sense that art wasn’t for those of us in the north and yet I have always loved art galleries. It’s a similar experience to being in nature, the place where I feel most grounded and connected to myself. Galleries and museums have a sacred energy to them.

I recently spent a week using the National Art Pass to visit galleries, museums and exhibitions around the UK and was reminded of how important these spaces are to my mental health. I spent hours at the Re/Sisters: A Lens on Gender and Ecology exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London – in rooms with no windows, it felt womb-like, a safe space to witness difficult things. All the works are by women or non-gender-conforming artists and show how the oppression of women is linked to the hurt and destruction of the planet. Since becoming a mother, these themes have been more transparent to me – I found it a real inspiration to see how women fight for and defend nature. I felt as if I gained a greater understanding of what’s happening around the world. My main takeaway was that our universal obligation is to connect, and create community.

I find art spaces that celebrate women particularly exciting. The Lee Miller: Dressed exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, for example, is an intense experience in a dark space, depicting scenes from the second world war. I felt really emotional but the imagery itself was truly beautiful. One photograph depicting death was captured in the most beautiful way – you can feel the emotion and beauty and artistry in the image. It’s interesting to see a woman’s viewpoint of such harsh moments, and Miller’s work is never garish. There is such beauty to her sensitivity.

As a photographer who’s toured the world capturing shots of musicians as well as working on magazines and album covers, I love portraiture. For me it’s all about making my subject feel so comfortable that you’re not just shooting a persona or a particular state of being but capturing them as they really are so that they feel represented and truly seen.

In Manchester I visited the Jewish Museum and the National Football Museum. I took my daughter with me so the experiences were focused more on playing and discovery. The museums are newly refurbished and a far cry from the rundown spaces of my childhood. At the Jewish Museum we were given a backpack full of activity sheets, colouring pencils, a magnifying glass and the game dreidel. It was fun and informative to explore the museum, find the different items from the activity sheets and learn a little history. The National Football Museum was super child-friendly, with so many activities geared towards kids, from penalty shootouts and table football to arts and crafts. The museum had a section focused on women’s football and its influence, which was my favourite bit. I’d recently seen the new Beckham documentary series so my general awareness of football really skyrocketed that week.

I also went to see Japan: Myths to Manga at the Young V&A (formerly known as the V&A Museum of Childhood). I’ve been learning Japanese as I believe learning a new language helps heal your nervous system and also because I love anime. What I had no idea about was how the myths and stories of Japan have been translated and embedded into Japanese culture. The exhibition showcased how folklore and myths had influenced history and inspired art. The breadth of the work stretched from traditional Japanese to Transformers and Pokémon. As a Studio Ghibli fan, I hadn’t realised how the stories that feature in the films are often directly taken from folklore – much like Disney films being based on fairytales. It was really interesting and a great introduction into the world of myths and legends as well as Japanese culture.

I also had the chance to visit the David Hockney: Love Life exhibition at Charleston in Firle, East Sussex, which featured mostly little line drawings where you could see the texture of the paper. This exhibition felt extremely intimate and personal – each piece came with a story about what was happening when the image was drawn, a bit like reading someone’s diary. We’re so used to seeing so many images all the time that it’s refreshing to go to an exhibition where less is more and everything feels so carefully curated, rather than drowning in imagery or information. It’s more special to see less, especially in this quiet space. It was also really enjoyable to consume information in a way that wasn’t via a tiny screen in my hand. Opposite the Hockney was the Osman Yousefzada exhibition, and it was interesting to learn that his prints are inspired by the Falnama: the Book of Omens, used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey. At the Photographer’s Gallery in London, I went to see the Daido Moriyama: A Retrospective exhibition, where the wall was plastered in images so huge that you had to physically move your eyes around to take it all in.

I’ve always loved art and fashion, which led me to study fashion photography and styling, but my teachers always told me I should become a music photographer. They were right – as soon as I tried it, I loved it. So whenever I go to a gallery, I find myself imagining what my own exhibition might look like. The Photographer’s Gallery had a room full of books of Moriyama’s work that you could flick through – from tiny little ones with delicate pages to huge coffee table books made with the thickest of paper – and I left there really wanting to make a book of my own.

The National Art Pass gives you the flexibility and freedom to experience galleries and exhibitions for free or reduced entry (up to 50% off major exhibitions). It makes it easier to see artists you’ve never heard of before or wouldn’t usually go out of your way to see, and to view the world through a broader perspective. Without the pass, you often only visit places that fully resonate with your own world view – while having the pass offers you a unique opportunity to see new art without financial constraint. I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue to freely explore and enjoy these very special and fascinating spaces.

The National Art Pass gives free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic buildings across the UK, and 50% off major exhibitions at the likes of the V&A, the Natural History Museum, and Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum. Passes are available as individual or double memberships, and you can save 25% on your first year of membership with Direct Debit

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