Comings and Goings is a photographic series in three parts. The photographs tell several stories, all of them linked. There is a story of migration – human, plant, and animal – and stories which explore ideas of interconnectedness: the notion that all things are linked, that everything somehow connects with everything else and that all of nature, history, human and animal experience is ultimately linked and resonates from the same source.
The three parts of the exhibition also propose the idea that foreign and indigenous are not so far apart, trying to show the links and connections between all living things; our desire to be free, our instinct to nest, to seed, to move and be alive. And from the standpoint of a northern industrial community, Comings and Goings also tells the story of our constantly moving and changing world.
All of the photographs are taken in Armley, Leeds. For more information, see below.
The changing environment in Armley is sometimes easy to see, and sometimes almost invisible. People move here, put down roots, and, like plants and animals, evolve and acclimatise; their culture, customs and faiths becoming hybrids.
In these portraits, eight women who have migrated from other countries (Madagascar, Finland, Canada, Lithuania, Belarus, Iraq, China and Ireland) are photographed with plants and animals which, like them, are not indigenous, but tell stories of migration – through our history and ever expanding global world. Mbola stands in front of a fig tree growing by the railway in Armley, Galina holds her dog, a Shih Tzu, descendant and hybrid of the dog of the Chinese emperors, Giedre stands in a cluster of Silver Birch in Gotts Park. These trees would have been one of the first to re-colonize the rocky landscape when the huge glaciers of the last ice age receded (more information about the stories in these pictures can be found at caseyorr.com)
The reason the portrait subjects are women is because there are complications of the migrant experience that are specific to them. Women leave their mothers, their motherland and their mother tongue, and have their children away from what was home; like the birds, they nest in foreign lands.
Their children in turn grow up in what may always seem a partly alien place, and they effectively become multicultural (often multilingual) hybrids, belonging to more than one culture. Some of the subjects are themselves children, daughters of immigrants, finding their own place in the community. They are both party to and part of how this community changes.
All of these birds were photographed in Armley. Most of them have been purposely imported, unable to migrate naturally or to fly freely.
As birds are ultimately symbols of freedom, they are all the more caged because of it. A caged bird is a true captive, especially so since free birds fly above the walls and boundaries that land-bound creatures are forced to acknowledge.
Birds are linked through semantics to the other series in the work. Women are birds, prisoners are known as jail birds, and people – like birds – migrate and nest.
Among the birds here are, among others, an Australian Rosella, a quail, a Latino Indian Ringneck Parakeet (known for the gold cages in which they were kept in Calcutta in the early 20th century) and a conure– which didn’t like being held and took a bite out of Brian. Brian has kept pigeons here in Armley since he was a boy, making his first pigeon coop out of the floorboards from the neighboring mill. He can trace his family back for 200 years here in Armley.
Prisoners and their Families
These family portraits are taken here in Leeds Prison during their visiting time. Although there are very real walls, bars and locked doors here, there is still movement. There is life and a connection to the outside, to family, to community, to this community. There are children. And with that, there is hope. Anna, photographed here with Andrew, was 8 ½ months pregnant when this photograph was taken. She had a baby boy on June 15th, 2009.
This exhibition – Comings and Goings – was shown on both the inside and the outside of the prison, hopefully prompting ideas about communication and about breaking down barriers within communities.