Carolyn Mendelsohn: Being Inbetween

16 April 2018

Region: Headquarters

Ahead of her talk at The Civic in Barnsley, we’ve had a chat with Carolyn Mendelsohn about her award-winning series Being Inbetween. Carolyn is a film-maker who turned to photography more recently, and now runs a successful portraiture photography business, alongside personal creative projects.

Carolyn won the Gold Award in the IPE 159 exhibition in 2016 and the same image was seen all around the nation as part of the 2017 BJP Portrait of Britain Award. Her portrait, Maria features in the RPS International Photography Exhibition on display at the Civic, 28 April to 9 June 2018.



What inspired you to work with children aged 10-12?

Being Inbetween is a continually evolving series of photographic portraits of girls aged between ten and twelve, exploring the complex transition from childhood to young adulthood. The work arises from my own memories of being this age. When I was about eleven I recall spending a silly amount of time in my room deciding whether or not to put on a pair of shorts, because it was a hot day; that feeling of self-consciousness that suddenly descended from no-where. I remember thinking deeply about the world I lived in, and these hopes and fears shaped the adult I was to become. At that age I had left young childhood behind and I was on the cusp of adolescence, where little comments and criticisms had a huge impact on my malleable brain. This is my starting point to the series; an exploration, a way of giving a voice to the girl I was and the girls who are; a way to explore the hidden complexity, duality and contradictions that mark this phase of life.


Did anything surprise you about their hopes and dreams?

After the portrait sitting I ask the girls the same set of questions and record their answers. I go into the portrait sitting with an open mind. I am aware that there is so much more that goes on in these girls’ heads than meets the eye. They are often insightful, wise and funny too. They just need to be asked the right questions and be given time to answer them, but most of all they need to be listened to. Too many people underestimate what young people are capable of.

For example:

Mabel aged 10 “I fear that one day we will all be the same, that people will get an idea of how we should live and how we should act, and how we should look like, and everyone will be afraid to be different.”

Abigail aged 10: Abi came to the portrait sitting wearing a cloak and carrying a sword. When I am an adult I want to be an architect, and when I get enough money I will move to Romania and raise wolves.”

 

Images © Carolyn Mendelsohn, Mabel aged 10 (left) and Abigail aged 10 (right)

Images © Carolyn Mendelsohn, Mabel aged 10 (left) and Abigail aged 10 (right)

 

What did you want to be at aged 12?

I wanted to be an actor when I was 12, and I didn’t let anything put me off. I focused on this goal and successfully trained as an actor, spending a good few years working as a performer and director in theatre, whilst also using drama to work with people who were disempowered.


Would you consider a follow up with the subjects of the Being Inbetween portraits in years to come? 

This is such an interesting question. As humans we have a strong desire to find out the end of a story, but there isn’t necessarily an end to this story. The thing that I am trying to do with Being Inbetween is to celebrate what is happening at that moment for these girls. People invest themselves when they look at the work, and often suggest that I follow up the work. At the moment, my intention is to explore the now, this unique time in the girls’ lives, and make this the focus.


Would you say your photographic aesthetic/sense of storytelling has been influenced by your film making career?

My work prior to becoming a photographer was rooted in theatre, drama, film and story. The sense of engagement with an audience; the story behind the scene, all these things are still part of my practice. I sometimes use other art forms to help enhance the story - film, photography, sound, these help to add another layer. The most important thing is that the individual portrait tells the story before anything is added to it.


You’ve been a professional photographer for 10 years. How do you balance your personal projects alongside your day to day business?

My personal work is the heart and soul of my practice and is what drives me forward. So, holidays, weekends, late nights when I am not with my own family are often spent doing personal work. My day to day business comprises of portrait shoots, commercial work, editorial and training. My work is always rooted in people and their story, though ironically most of the job is spent by myself.


Which photographers are you following at the moment, and whose work do you admire?

At the moment I love Abbie Trayler-Smith, Sarah Lee and Laura Pannack. All brilliant women who have each created astounding bodies of work. I admire Tish Murtha’s gritty, honest and humorous social documentary work. Her daughter Ella (who is brilliant) has put a lot of energy into making sure her work hasn’t been forgotten.

Can you describe Being Inbetween in three words?

This is difficult… Girls In between.

 

Photographer talk: Carolyn Mendelsohn in conjunction with the IPE 160

Saturday 12 May, 1.30pm at The Civic, Hanson Street, Barnsley S70 2HZ
Free – booking highly recommended, click here.

 

The International Photography Exhibition 160 (IPE 160) is showing at The Civic from 28 April to 9 June.

Visit rps.org/ipe160 for full tour dates and information.

The IPE 160 is supported by theprintspace.co.uk.


Visit carolyn-mendelsohn.format.com to discover more of Carolyn’s work.

Lead images © Carolyn Mendelsohn, Maria aged 10 (left) and Alice aged 10 (right)