Less Faff, Less Flash by Jocelyn Allen

The Bump & The Beard (33 weeks)
The Bump & The Beard (33 weeks)

I had pretty much no experience of being a mother pre-COVID-19 as while England was entering its first lockdown, I was entering my third trimester.
I completed my first self-portraiture series in 2010 and since then my personal work has mainly involved me photographing myself at home. Because of this COVID-19 has not really affected my work, but having a baby has.

In late-2019 I felt smart naming my pregnancy project, Waiting For Things In A Time When You Rarely Wait For Things. Before or after each shoot I wrote up to 30 long hashtags – Instagram’s limit per post – to accompany the chosen image/s. I had started this approach organically with my previous project, Ulterior Monologue, in response to my awkwardness around hashtags. Though at first I was just lightly mocking them, it soon felt like a less revealing way of sharing a diary.

With the arrival of COVID, the title became a bit of a joke but I was relieved to have something to keep working on – as it is often harder to start a project than to continue one – and for something to countdown to.

I documented my growing bump, as well as my husband Tiago’s working from home beard. I realised that most of my friends and family would not see me pregnant in real life, so it was nice to have a record of the changes to my body. It also became a place for me to vent my worries and frustrations, and to share things about pregnancy that I previously did not know that I thought might interest others.

My British-Portuguese daughter, B, arrived breech two weeks early in hospital on a bed in June 2020, when I was sure that I would be a 42-weeker at home in a birth pool in Liverpool, England.

Breastfeeding, Bottle Feeding, Whatever Feeding (26th June 2020)

It seemed natural to follow up my pregnancy project with one about motherhood. Oh Me, Oh Mãe (mãe is Portuguese for mother) follows a similar format to Waiting For Things. However, in a post-birth high phase (where I did not really sleep for two weeks) I decided to start a blog, Jockey Greys, where I expand on the hashtags. The writing aspect of my work is now really helping me to process how I feel, and I hope that someone else will find it useful and/or reassuring.

Currently I aim to do two shoots a week for the project. I usually work on the different elements – shoot, hashtags, and blog post – throughout the shoot day whenever I have a chance. I am currently posting with a two-week delay which allows time for me to select the final image/s, so I usually add some updates or new thoughts before publishing.

Art is very therapeutic for me and if I am not able to create than I feel low, which combined with questioning my parenting skills everyday can leave me feeling quite rocky. So, for my mental sanity I need to be able to make work.

Having a baby means that I have had to change how I do things. Waiting… was predominantly lit with a studio light, with all shots taken on my ‘professional camera’, but with Oh Me, Oh Mãe a third of the pictures so far have been taken with my phone and I have used natural light more. I am less precious about how I make work as I now have less time to and making anything at all often feels like an achievement.

My best time to work is in the evening, but I am usually tired and do not want to stay up too late. B’s first nap of the day is often the longest, but she will often wake up prematurely which can be frustrating when I feel like I am just getting started on something. Sometimes I find I am more productive during her shorter naps later in the day when I know I have less time to faff.

Jocelyn Allen, They Say That It Takes A Village To Raise A Child, But We’re Cut Off From The Village (7th October 2020) from Oh Me, Oh Mãe

A new challenge to my practice is that two weeks ago we moved in with my Grandmother in Birmingham, as we felt stuck away from my family (my parents and sister live close-by) and did not know when we would be able to see them again. I currently have no ‘studio wall’, but I am intrigued to see how my work evolves and I am keen to start on other projects that are not necessarily related to my daily life

Every day I stand B up on her feet and while her legs were once like jelly, I now feel them getting stronger. This just reminds me that by doing a little bit of work here and there it can soon make something bigger, and for now I am just trying to take life one day at a time.

To find out more about Jocelyn Allena’s creative practice on her website or IG