Portraits and personal spaces; My.Self by Michelle Sank

I was interested in how cultural and social values are expressed within ethnically diverse communities living there and how the emphasis on body image, performance and dress are a means of personal expression.

Between 2016 and 2018 I was commissioned by Multistory to document the diversity of young people and their lives in the Black Country.

I was interested in how cultural and social values are expressed within ethnically diverse communities living there and how the emphasis on body image, performance and dress are a means of personal expression. I was also captivated by the way that these rituals often mark a socially recognised transition to adulthood and responsibility and how these rites of passage can differ from male to female. Linked to this is my interest too in current gender transitioning issues.

The subjects were photographed in their bedrooms so that the objects and decoration within became metaphors for their individuality and their cultural contexts. 

I was very privileged to have gained access to the personal spaces of the young people I worked with and the generosity offered to me in communicating about their lives – their heritage, their struggles and their aspirations.What really struck me photographically were the mementos and references that said so much about who they are at this point in their lives both culturally and as adolescents.

The accompanying publication My.Self contains interviews from some of the participants alongside the portraits. [Multistory]

About Michelle Sank

Michelle Sank was born in South Africa and settled in the UK in 1987. She cites this background as informing her interest in sub-cultures and the exploration of contemporary social issues and challenges. Her crafted portraits meld place and person creating sociological, visual and psychological landscapes and narratives. 

Her photographs have been exhibited and published extensively in the UK, Europe, Australia and Mexico, South Africa and the U.S.A. Her imagery is held in the permanent collections of Allan Servais, Brussells, Open Eye Gallery Archive, Liverpool, Societe Jersiaise and Guernsey Museum, Channel Islands, Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, RAMM, Exeter and The Museum of Youth Culture, UK.

She has undertaken continuous commissions and residencies for prominent galleries and magazines in Europe and the USA and her work has won awards in numerous prestigious competitions including the Taylor Wessing Prize and the British Journal of Photography. She was recently a winner in The Portrait of Britain 2020 and the Photo Review international competition, and is a recipient of the Rapid Response Fund, The Contemporary Arts Society for purchase of work from the series “Breathe” that she has been making during Covid for exhibition and the archive at RAMM in Exeter.

Sank has four published books, The Water’s Edge: Women on the Waterfront (Published by Liverpool University Press) – a study of women who worked and still work on Liverpool’s Docks, Becoming: (Published by Belfast Exposed Photography and Ffotogallery,) – a major monograph featuring her youth portraits taken over five years accompanied by an essay by David Goldblatt The Submerged: about the landscape and inhabitants of Aberystwyth, Wales accompanied by an essay by Liz Wells (Published by Schilt Publishing) and My.Self: about the cultural identity amongst diverse young people in the Black Country – UK (Published by Multistory) [Official Website]

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