If Pairing Were Power (tree mannequin detail) Faye Claridge, 2019.

If Pairing Were Power (tree mannequin detail) Faye Claridge, 2019.

We spoke to Faye Claridge about her recent residency at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate, and a new project at Ripon Prison and Police Museum.

You have recently finished your work at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate. How did you go about working with visitors, volunteers and residents for the project?

The project has been so good to work on, the word ‘journey’ can be overused when talking about experience or development but it genuinely was designed as – and delivered – a journey. I started very openly, introducing myself in an exhibition and using a comments board and meetings to ask visitors, staff, volunteers and residents what they’d recommend to explore or research. I then created a pairing activity, asking everyone to link some of those areas, and any other unexpected objects, places or people connected with Dudmaston. I made a film of pairing suggestions and gathered more with specially-designed comments cards and a shocking pink post box (using that colour as “the opposite of National Trust brown” as one participant put it). After much negotiation and consideration of conservation issues, some of those ‘pairings’ were then able to be made physically, with us moving objects, restaging some of the rooms and creating signs for outdoor pairings. The next stage was asking for responses to the pairings and analysing those to find the most impactful. The top two were very close but the ‘winner’ was suggested by two young visitors, aged 6 and 10.

If Pairing Were Power (one of a series of portraits) Faye Claridge, 2019.

This was the two objects ‘Two Unknown Girls’ and ‘The Boxing Ones’ that went on to inspire the final outcome: ‘If Pairing Were Power’? 

Yes, they said they made that pairing because both objects reminded them of living as brother and sister, “always fighting or in harmony, with no middle ground”, which was relatable to so many visitors. It also chimed with lots of themes of interest at Dudmaston, from the current residents’ family links (especially as twins) and the duality of the estate being National Trust owned and family-occupied. I was really excited to be following children’s perspectives on the property and its history and was able to expand this by creating an artwork that involved their participation as collaborators and models. We decided to bring the children from the painting ‘Two Unknown Girls’ to life, so I made costumes that were part 2D (as if still part of the flat painting) and part traditional costume so they could be worn. With these we made a series of portraits linking to more Dudmaston stories, bringing together children from a local boxing club, the family that nominated the pairing, my own children and the two children that live on site (a National Trust gardener’s son and a descendant of the original Dudmaston-owning family). I placed the photographs among the family pictures throughout the hall, inserting fictitious relations, and created two mannequins so visitors discover one dreaming in a twin room (surrounded by birdsong and soft whispers) and the other high in a tree beyond, with her head and hands transformed into tulips from the original Dutch painting.

The final room in the visit contains contextual information on the project (like a behind the scenes video and reading area) which is also summarised in a small exhibition booklet. I was keen to strike a balance between creating mystery and sharing research, which is not always easy. The gallery room also continues to invite responses and some of the reactions have been extremely touching and heartfelt as visitors share feelings and memories inspired by the artwork.

If Pairing Were Power portraits in progress at Telford Amateur Boxing Club, Faye Claridge, 2019.

You have experience of working within many heritage sites. What advice would you give to an artist starting their first collaboration with such places?

It’s not for everyone, but I love the complexities of heritage sites. It takes skill to balance the myriad of needs in a project at a special site, or with a collection, without losing sight of the artistic integrity at the heart of why you’re there. It’s also vital to build really effective relationships because negotiations inevitably have to be made by both sides at some point during development or production and the more trust and understanding you have, the easier it’ll be for any concessions to be worked out. Humour, tea and cake are also must-haves for any project involving people, of course, and nowhere is fuelled by tea and cake quite like the heritage sector!

Archive photograph being discussed by a prisoner at Askham Grange, Faye Claridge, 2019.


Can you tell us a little about your upcoming work with Ripon Prison and Police Museum?  

The work for Ripon Prison and Police Museum has so far been extraordinary because I’ve been able to take their archives to present-day prisoners, to explore similarities and differences in their lives and prison experiences. I’ve been organising workshops in HMP Askham Grange so inmates ‘adopt’ a prisoner from the Edwardian and Victorian charges books, I then record them talking about their comparisons and make portraits with them (where possible) to link with the archive mugshots. The results from these workshops will be compiled as a film installation for one of the Victorian cells at the museum.

I proposed working with the prison because it’s really important to include the voices of those most affected by the public image of crime and punishment: present-day prisoners. The museum is part of that public image and the project gives the prisoners a way to share their perspectives and for museum visitors to consider the individual lived experience of justice systems. It also really matters to me that Askham Grange is a women’s prison, for the museum to reflect the complexities of how custody affects families, children and the perception of women’s position in society.


If Pairing Were Power returns to Dudmaston from March – September 2020.

Prisoners on Prisoners at Ripon Prison and Police Museum opens in February 2020.

Both projects are supported by Arts Council England.

You can follow all of Faye’s projects through Instagram and Twitter via @fayeclaridge.


‘Humour, tea and cake’ – Faye Claridge discusses her recent residency at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate, a new project at Ripon Prison and Police Museum, and gives advice on working with heritage sites.

Pete James © Brian Griffin

We have been extraordinarily saddened by the death this week of Pete James, a curator and researcher of enormous talent and influence within the field of photography, both within the West Midlands and far beyond.

Pete worked for 26 years at the Library of Birmingham to establish its internationally recognised photography collection, a position which allowed him to commission and develop projects with a wide range of world-class artists and photographers on site and at other galleries around the country.

A handful of the very many artists and collaborators Pete worked with over the years pay tribute to his generosity, dedication, achievements and the legacy his work leaves behind.


Pete James © Brian Griffin

Stuart Whipps

Pete James was an exceptional man. The efforts it took to build an internationally recognised collection of photography, working in a provincial and often precarious context, would be more than enough to warrant the huge respect everybody had for him. But actually, what Pete did was much more than that. He bought the collection to life. He did this through countless exhibitions, publications, commissions, residencies and he did this because he believed in people.

This outpouring of respect has been equalled by an outpouring of love and that comes from the way Pete did all of this. Always with a dedication to making things the best they could be but never at the expense of a personal investment in everybody involved in the project. He wanted to share the work with everybody and he wanted everybody to take a share in it, to have a stake in it.

I spent some time looking back over my emails with Pete this week. Two things stood out:

He always made a joke. Sometimes they were funny.

He never said no.

Pete supported me not long after I graduated by giving me some money from the library budget to buy some film and pay for developing costs. It was a modest amount but for me at that time, it was everything. It’s not dramatic to say that meeting Pete changed my life. Life with him not around will be a change again. For those of us who were lucky to work with him, his exceptional legacy goes someway to easing the pain of this change.


Brian Homer

The new Library of Birmingham opened in September 2013 with a festival which included three days of Self Portraits. Prior to the opening Pete had commissioned me, Timm Sonnenschein and Graham Peet (then of The Public) to create 1000 Self Portraits for the opening and these were displayed on the huge screens in the lending area and can often still be seen.

We worked closely with Pete in the run up to the opening including consultation with the development team to get the screen specification sorted. Pete was a delight to work with – straightforward, caring and he negotiated the inevitable bureaucracy with a wry smile but a positive attitude.

But before this commission he always had a keen interest in the Handsworth Self Portrait that I had done in 1979 with Derek Bishton and John Reardon.

When Ten.8 photography magazine closed in the early 1990s, holding a range of exhibition material, he brokered the joint purchase of the original HSP prints by the Birmingham Central Library and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Pete deserves enormous credit for this resurgence of Self Portrait work and it’s is so sad that we will not be able to work together as planned in Multistory’s Blast Festival in 2019 – marking 40 years since Handsworth Self Portrait. This is just a small part of his impact on photography in the UK and there are many other who will have similar stories to tell. His presence on the photography scene will be greatly missed.


Pete James at the Library of Birmingham. Image courtesy Faye Claridge

Faye Claridge

Pete James was exceptional and I’m so grateful to have known and worked with him.

Reflecting back I can hardly believe we first met almost 15 years ago and that his quiet support was so generously available over all that time. Always open to new ideas and keen to promote innovation, he took risks in loaning me archive materials, gave me early platforms to talk at conferences, nominated me for awards, was a catalyst for the major Kern Baby commission and secured my works for perpetuity in the Library of Birmingham collections.

His support extended way beyond library interests and I’ll never forget the dedication he showed when he and daughter Nola slogged across Shropshire on erratic public transport just to be part of the Weighty Friend intervention.

The lasting benefits of feeling supported like that cannot be measured and I’m incredibly grateful to him, and to his family for sharing him even when they knew his health and energy was limited. My thoughts are with them all now.


Vanley Burke

It is with deep deep sadness that I heard of the death of a friend, one who has played a major part in my personal life and my photographic career.

His passion for photography was second to none, from his position as head of photography at Library of Birmingham he reached out to many academic, established and aspiring photographers helping to shape their career.

He opened up the city’s photographic archive and added new material making it more representative of the city’s diverse cultures. He was always traveling, writing, giving lectures on different aspects of the archive but more often on his passion which was the work of Sir Benjamin Stone. I was looking forward to catching up next when we would be in conversation at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (Who Is Birmingham), part of Collecting Birmingham.

Pete James you will be sadly missed. My condolences to the family, Heather, Nola, Evan – stay strong.



We have been extraordinarily saddened by the death this week of Pete James, a curator and researcher of enormous talent and influence within the field of photography within the West Midlands and far beyond. Some of the artists and collaborators he worked with pay tribute.

Riverhouse: Kingston, Jamaica 2017 © Andrew Jackson

Following the success of last year’s Accelerator talks, we are pleased to three offer further opportunities to find out about what the West Midlands has to offer to art students and early career artists and to learn from artists practicing in the region and beyond.

Hardeep Pandhal, Pool Party Pilot Episode, 2018, 4K animation, 8 mins 15 seconds, digital still


Deborah Robinson, Head of Exhibitions at The New Art Gallery Walsall (lead partner, Engine) and Anneka French, Project Coordinator of New Art West Midlands, will outline the programme and opportunities offered by Engine, New Art Midlands’ professional development programme for artists and curators. We will also hear from artists and curators at different stages of their careers about the development of their practice across all three Accelerator talks.


Following our first session at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, on 8 March with Andrew Jackson, Leah Carless and They Are Here, a collaborative practice steered by Helen Walker & Harun Morrison, we are delighted to announce the speakers at the next two sessions to discuss their practice:


The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
Wednesday 25 April, 2-5pm

Faye Claridge
Keith Harrison
James Lomax


Staffordshire University
Friday 27 April, 2-5pm

Hardeep Pandhal
Sarah Taylor Silverwood
Grace A. Williams


Through case studies from these fantastic speakers, we will explore a range of topics such as initiating projects, finding funding, the importance of networking and sustaining your practice. We will also explore collaboration, residency and international working. There will be opportunities for questions and further discussion.


This event is targeted at art students and early career artists.


Please book your free place by emailing Anneka French at info@newartwestmidlands.co.uk by Wednesday 18 April.


Keith Harrison. Commissioned for Jerwood Open Forest, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Forestry Commission England and Arts Council England



Read more about our next series of Accelerator talks taking place in March and April at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and Staffordshire University.


This film reveals how artist Faye Claridge worked with experts in traditional crafts, music composers and choreographers to awaken memories and to create new interest in an almost-forgotten ritual powerful enough to bring a whole community together.


Follow the journey of a giant corn dolly, brought to life from an old photograph, travelling more than 200 miles to find its home.

From shrouded archives, along stretching motorways, to the wilds of Northumberland, the Kern Baby’s journey invites us to reflect on how we represent our sense of self, geography, society and time.


View Kern Baby Homecoming, a new film from Warwickshire-based artist Faye Claridge on her Kern Baby project which toured between Compton Verney, Library of Birmingham and Northumberland.