Friday, 18 November 2011

Guest blog: Paula Youens, Artist of the Week

Paula Youens

What a delight to be in Chelsea's Shed! it's such a great name for a novel concept. All of us love sheds, don't we?  Mysterious dark places full of cobwebs, drying onions, faded seed packets, old bikes & abandoned bird nests. That's how I remember my Grandmother's. It smelt of creosote & mould.....
But this Shed is full of people  & crikey you're a talented lot! Some of you I already know, others are strangers. But  looking at your 12 images, I feel as if I do know you & what makes you tick.... people, events, action, humanity. Here's how I became addicted to 'snapping' & ended up in here with you all....
I only started using a 'real' camera at Art College. Most folk had small instamatics that produced tiny pictures. SLR's were expensive items & as students we used the college's cameras for a few hours at a time during photography lessons. The whole damn experience was infuriating. I hated light meters, exposure/shutter speeds, smelly darkrooms, reels of film & lines of drying prints. It all seemed so complicated! So that was me & cameras out of love with each other for some while.
Paula Youens
 Much later, after I'd graduated in Graphic Design & Illustration & now working, I was tempted back. This time it was serious. Friends were using amazing Pentaxs & Nikons, which were big, heavy lumps. So I saved up for the iconic (as used by David Bailey) OM1n. It had a little swing needle exposure meter & clever focus screen. It was easy to play with depth of field & speed. Initially I used B&W, but the 'darkroom' was a dank & dingy loo in our rented ancient farmhouse. It had a nightly slug invasion & spiders lurked behind the dripping prints in the shower. By daylight our efforts were disappointing.
Soon I'd added an OM2n, zoom & 28mm lenses, which were robust & light enough to cart around Mexico, USA & Europe. My first job as a designer was in the wildlife/conservation sector. Colleagues travelled worldwide from Antarctica to Borneo, from scorched deserts to frantic cities, always taking inspiring photos. How could I not pick up a camera again? They chose slidefilm for it's colour density & ability to easily transfer to print. There were 2 camps- the Ektachrome crew & the Kodachrome freaks. I became a Kodachrome 64 fan. The sharpness & depth were terrific.  I miss the excitement of opening that box of little slides, holding them up to the light. Did I get that shot? Group slide shows were competitive. Shots of icebergs versus bull seals fighting. (this was pre-Attenborough & his Frozen Planet series). My New York buildings & Spanish backstreets. My housemates worked for the British Antarctic Survey & we heard about the Falklands invasion of their scientists at a remote spot saw  the Argentine army.
The cameras got put away again......working for newspapers in London it was all illustration & drawing. Photos were taken on holiday & weekends & I'd swapped to Kodak Gold 200 film. 36 shots each roll, not all of them successful. I became obsessed with recording old shops, their displays & signs. In the 80's & 90's supermarkets had begun their march of mediocrity. Swallowing up the individual & quirky in our streets & towns. Swamping us in a tide of neon & plastic. Welcome to the clone town, where everything is the same. Nothing to suprise you, everything safe, clean & cheap. Then my beloved OM1 was stolen in New York, swiftly followed by the theft of my OM2 in Glasgow. Swines. Especially as they end up in a smoke filled pub, swapped for £20 or a bottle or two....
Later I won a Minolta in a  charity Christmas Card Competition, run by Habitat. The award was presented by Princess Margaret in a swanky Covent Garden restaurant. She was tiny & strikingly pretty. I learnt how to curtsey. None of those 3 things are around any more......Habitat bust, PM passed on to a palace in the sky, & the horrid Minolta sold & gone.
Though I bought a secondhand OM1 & an OM4, it never felt the same. I faced up to my darkroom terrors & enrolled on a Photography A level course at a Cambridge 6th Form College. Why is it so difficult to shunt the first bit of film into the spool? Frustration was balanced by the magical feeling as a black &  white image floats up out of the developing fluid.  Hours were spent in the darkroom amongst a whirling, hormone fuelled mass of 17 year olds. We all battled through deadlines & projects. Despite my newpaper background, I left things to the last minute. I got an 'A'....

Paula Youens
But now it's 2011. My wet film cameras are going mouldy. Everything is digital. I don't wait for the postman & the envelope of prints or box of slides.  Look at my Shed 12 shots, it's easy to see my preoccupations. The Irish pub decked out with a plastic Santa in May. A handpainted sign, politely asking you not to urinate in the street. The careful fruit & veg display by the last greengrocer in a small Scottish town. The glass of Guinness on the pub wall, constructed from mosaic tiles. There's art in them there streets! It's my duty to boldy go - as Captain Kirk would urge his crew - to boldly go & snap -with phone, Lumix & Canon. My graphic design background attracts me to lettering, tiling, signage, decoration & detail. Not many people, mostly shapes, patterns, texture, colour, surface. I'm just back from Andalucia. And what's on my iphone? a strange old fashioned barber's shop & a display of mouthwatering cakes in a pasteleria. Can't wait to see the Shed Shop in Barcelona....
So you see fellow Shed people, it's all of you that make this group thing work. But most of all it's Chelsea & her enthusiastic team that pull us all together. I use my cameras as an extra 'sketchbook' for my artwork & printmaking. The advent of digital makes this easy. I can prop my Lumix or iphone up in the studio & work directly from the screen. What I do is nothing special. I wouldn't even call myself a photographer, more a 'recorder/collector' of things. So next time you're in some strange back street, in some run-down town, don't worry about the woman who's bent over focusing on a rusty old enamel's only me...see you in the Shed or on twitter....I'm @DrawntoDevon

Paula Youens

Paula Youens


  1. Dear Paula,

    What a blogtastic blog! Brilliant and funny, poignant and inspiring.

    Keep the work going!

    chelsea x