Film is not dead. The 35mm camera is an integral part of photography, with grainy textures, light streaks & burns and retro-looking aesthetics, film captures scenes in a way where candidness rules supreme over shots looking slick and glossy.
Hailing from the North, Cicely Grace knows her stuff about film photography and capturing moments for what they are. With a mix of film and digital photography in her repertoire, a platform celebrating the realness of where she hails from and a growing portfolio including shoots with the likes of Killa P and Novelist, Cicely has momentum propelling her as she looks to push her talents more in 2019. Through The Lens, edition twelve, let’s see what she has to say for herself.
Talk about The Dirty North, how did that start and what’s the purpose of it now?
“I’ve always done film photography, not seriously but I’ve always had a point & shoot camera on me since when I was little really so it kind of got to a point where I had so many photographs. I like to get them printed in photograph form, I have shoeboxes full of them. I thought what was I going to do with all this stuff so I started The Dirty North as a blog first of all, I’ve done it for a little while, it’s just photos of me and my mates on nights out, messy stuff really. I’m from the North as well so I try to represent it quite a bit, the gritty stuff especially but then I took my digital photography more seriously, maybe like June last year and I kind of found it hard to find a balance between the photos so a couple of my mates were like “this is sick, why don’t we all get on it” so I’ve got a few of them involved on the blog as well.”
The Dirty North is messy, gritty, has tattoos, graffiti, nights out, is that the sort of aesthetic you wanted to go for with it?
“Yeah, it’s called The Dirty North, that kind of stuff and my digital stuff I feel have completely different looks. Honestly I’ve never really known what to do with it, it naturally came together. It’s just photos of everyday life with my mates so I guess it is a bit gritty or whatever, yeah.”
What campaigns have you done, who’ve been your favourite people and brands to work with?
“To be honest, with brands I want to push that more because I haven’t really worked with that many. I worked with something for Ellesse last year, shooting a model for Instagram so that was pretty cool, I shot her in a gym somewhere and the only other real brand work I’ve done is helping my friend with his vintage brand, it’s called Gone Fishing Vintage, we’ve photographed some pretty cool things for his website.
Other than that, it’s the music side of campaigns I’ve been getting into, Killa P was the first person I shot in terms of grime and that kind of stuff. I have so much love for him, he’s been really kind to me, checking in on me every now and again asking how things are going with my photography. When I shot with him, it was during the day and my evening plans got cancelled so he let me come to the studio he was going, showing me the stuff he gets up to, it was quite nice to get a background of who he was while shooting him.”
Portrait photography looks like a major passion for you, what’s so interesting about it?
“I love photographing people, I don’t photograph anything else. With portraits, you get to know who the person really is and the way things are going in the world and in life, being and looking unusual has become a bit more accepted nowadays. That’s what excites me about photographing people.”
What is it about graffiti and tattoos that are your niche, is that the style you like to go for with your work?
“Definitely. I think it comes from my friendship group and growing up with the people in my life. A lot of my friends are graffiters, I’m around them all the time, I’m not condoning it but there is a sort of lifestyle that comes from being in that scene where you think “fuck everyone, fuck the system, I’m going to do this my way without paying for shit”. Although I don’t condone it, that lifestyle is inspiring I suppose so yeah, I kind of like that dark look.”
Does it give you a purpose, an identity, something to represent you whether others like it or not?
“Umm...yeah, I suppose so. Something I like to do when I’m photographing people is shooting them where they feel comfortable, somewhere that means something to them so going back to Killa P, we literally just shot around his estate, there’s nothing in the pictures to show that it was his estate but at least it’s somewhere he’s comfortable in and where he’s grown up.”
You want something candid rather than something forced?
“Yes, exactly. That just works with photographing people, making them feel comfortable. There’s so many cool places to shoot, especially in the North, abandoned buildings that just sit there for time, it’s easier to access those sort of places than in London.”
You shoot models and musicians so why do fashion and music fit together so well?
“I think with the way even high fashion brands are going so like Louis Vuitton and with musicians like Octavian and Skepta, they’re heavily involved with fashion. I think that’s just the way life is going with pop culture, for fashion brands to keep their relevance. Fashion and music go hand-in-hand, they’ll always be a thing especially with music videos, people wearing certain things and brands getting pushed because certain people wear them.”
Do you think you’ve grown as a person through your work?
“Umm...yeah, see the thing is, I’ve done 35mm stuff since forever but I did photography in college, I’ve always had a love for it but my life got to this point where...it was June last year when things became to come together. I worked in retail for quite some time and I ended up getting an assistant manager job and I was working all the time and without even trying to push it, my photography took off, it was going and going.
I got to the point where I couldn’t do both at the same time, it was without a doubt premature but in January, I shot with Novelist, I live in the North but I’m always coming down to London, trying to chase photography and stuff, I shot with him and he told me “forget anywhere, I needed to be here, to have the time to do it” and it really stuck with me.
The day after I got back home, I handed my notice in...I didn’t even hand a notice in, I just never when back. It’s kind of a strange place in my life at the minute, I’ve moved back in with my parents and I’m 27 so it’s a bit long. I do feel like I’ve completely grown as a person in the last few months, being able to wake up in the morning and decide what I’m going to do with my day, having full control of what I want in my life and how I’m going to get it has changed me as a person.
So being in control of your life and your work is liberating?
What are your goals for photography and beyond?
“With The Dirty North, I want to put on an exhibition so there are plans going on for that.”
Up North or down South for the exhibition?
“I’m from Newcastle so that’s the thing, it’d have to be up North. In terms of me personally, I’ll always have a love for where I’m from but at the minute, I’m trying to move to London, I want to push my photography which is kind of all I’m focused on, I want to work with more musicians and I really, really want to work with more brands. The two musicians at the top of my list are Octavian and slowthai and with brands, my favourite one without a doubt is Nike.”
So you’ve got those goals, now the time’s to put in the work.
Follow Cicely on Instagram (@cicelygrace) and find her portfolio: https://cicelygrace.myportfolio.com/