After graduating from university in 2017 I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary in 2018. The bursary was to allow me to support the development of a major project by covering materials and travel costs, as well as acquiring further research resources.
The resulting project has become known as ‘D.E.F.E.’, a direct reference to the origin of the factual research documents. This award allowed me to purchase copies of declassified military files from the last active year of the Ministry of Defence’s UFO reports desk and hotline (2009). These became the backbone of the work and the thread that weaves throughout.
Upon enquiry at The National Archives, it was revealed to me that the copies that I had been able to download and print were the same versions that were held in the archives – “The digitised files with DEFE 24 relating to Unidentified Flying Objects, UFOs, are redacted documents. The personal information remains closed [redacted] for 30 years from the last working date of the file. Only a digital copy of the correspondence is retained, the original paper forms and correspondence were not retained by the Ministry of Defence.” This somewhat diverted my focus of attention, but also added tinder to the flame of conspiracy.
One of the major costs that the bursary helped to cover was the cost of photographic materials and processing. It was important to me that the project was shot on film because it has a built-in quality of supposed authenticity or veracity; anything on the film must be present to have been photographed. Not knowing what I would capture initially, and potentially chancing on a sighting of my own, I wanted to remove the element of digital manipulation in the initial stages as much as possible. The prolific photograph of the Solway Firth Spaceman, shot on an analogue camera in 1964, best illustrates the element of undeniable authenticity. Such that the film company Kodak offered a reward to anyone who could prove the photo was faked. It was never claimed.
As well as material costs, the award went towards travel costs to various galleries across the West Midlands; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry to name but a few, not to mention travel costs scouting locations drawn from the DEFE source files throughout the region.
I would also like to use this opportunity to mention that I took a ‘break’ from the project. Having been institutionalised at university and having a predisposed expectation of how a project developed, part way through the project I began to struggle with the anxiety of production. I think it’s incredibly important for both emerging and established artists to be honest and open about mental health in the production process of a project, and if a break is needed to gain a better end result in the long-run, then one should be taken.
Upon re-establishing my own mental health and grounding for the project, I was also incredibly lucky to have been selected for the East Meets West GRAIN projects and FORMAT International Photography Festival Masterclass programme. This, combined with my new sense of rejuvenation really helped the project come to fruition. There were some images that didn’t make the cut:
As well as some more successful images that went on to be apart of the resulting series.
The final series is produced with grateful support from Nicola Shipley, Beth Kane, Katie Peters, Michael Sargeant, Matthew Murray, Andrew Jackson and Natasha Caruana in the form of project and portfolio reviews, as well as all of the other masterclass participants.
As a result of coming to a sense of completion with the project, images have been shown at the RBSA Photo Prize 2019, Format International Photography Festival, Derby Photo Fringe and ultimately resulting in a solo show at Artefact Projects in Stirchley, Birmingham.
The support that the award has offered has been multifaceted yet received with unanimous gratitude.
D.E.F.E. images: www.thomas-wynne.com