The Mixed Project is very much a combination of photography and words, with each part complementing and strengthening the other. Before I photograph our sitters, singer and songwriter Rhoda Dakar joins us in the studio to lead an informal discussion around our sitter’s lives and experiences. She treats every ‘interview’ like the first and is intrigued by each person’s story and history. Her warmth makes each meeting special and it is from these insightful conversations that we have our testimonies which are recorded and transcribed at a later date, allowing us to take words and thoughts from the conversation and lend them to their image which in turn gives them some context and more importantly, gives each face a voice. It was an introduction via Myspace that led to a meeting with Rhoda and thankfully she was enthusiastic enough about the project to kindly lend her time to it. I was eager to contact her because her musical background during a very pivotal time in Britain’s history and my personal history led me to believe she would have some strong ideas about being ‘mixed’ and her own thoughts would give a fascinating slant to the project.
Back in the last century, in my early teenage years (era 1979-1983), I was influenced by ‘Two Tone’ bands and their ethos which Rhoda was a part of. Two Tone drew from 1960’s Jamaican Ska music, New Wave and Punk music, essentially an amalgamation of cultural sounds and style which produced a new British identity in youth culture. These bands were often multi-racial line-ups and sung a message of integration during a time of racial tension in Britain. It was an unsettled and confused time, typified in films like ‘This is England’. My own views and ideas about race, politics and culture were partly shaped by bands and music of this time.
Rhoda’s father is from Jamaica (born in Panama), and her mother is English. Rhoda was born in Hampstead and grew up in Brixton before going on to become lead singer of the Bodysnatchers. She also collaborated with the Specials & the Special AKA, best known for tracks like ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ which for me, perfectly define early 80’s Thatcherite Britain. Rhoda’s most recent work is a collaboration with prominent Ska artist Nick Welsh released in 2009, an album entitled Back to the Garage. She is also a regular DJ and recently returned from a stint at the pop and politics tent known as Leftfield, at Glastonbury 2011.
Last week we photographed Die Another Day Bond Girl Rachel Grant and her mother Isabel. Isabel is from the Philippines, while Rachel’s father is of English-Scottish descent.
As is now usual with the testimony, Rhoda Dakar joined us before the shoot for her customary cup of Earl Grey and together with Rachel and Isabel, we all sat down and discussed everything from the use of the word ‘Oriental’ to perceived multiculturalism. Rachel gave us a fascinating insight into her childhood experiences growing up in Nottingham and her current life in New York. Isabel talked about, among other things, a question in her head around her children’s ‘mixedness’- we’ll let them tell you in their own words… extracts to follow.
After a hectic week shooting commercially, today we were finally able to sit down and begin the process of choosing the best image from the shoot. This is always a challenge and a catalyst for much debate in the studio.