Photography graduate’s work celebrating difference gets national recognition
Debbie Todd, whose arresting photographic portraits celebrate the meaning of being different and aim to tell stories of marginalised people, was selected as a finalist in the People category of this year’s competition.
The accolade follows hot on the heels of Debbie winning The Northern School of Art’s Photography Award as part of the 2022 Anjool Maldé Awards.
“It was a lovely surprise to win the Anjool Maldé award and then to find out about the AOP finalist nomination was the perfect end to my degree course,” she commented.
Debbie, from Stanley in Co Durham, explained that her work seeks to explore the differences of people in the UK and looks at how people are viewed and why preconceptions are made.
“I specialise in working with people who are often seen as different, both physically, medically and neurologically, compared to the majority of society. I do this because I want to promote equality and diversity around differences within fashion and commercial photography.
“I like to take portraits that tell a story about the sitter; it is irrelevant whether in the documentary, fashion, or fine art style. I use locations or props that connect to the subject on a personal level. The subjects start off as strangers that I usually see online, then connect with, before collaborating with them on the work.”
For her exhibit at The Northern School of Art’s end of year degree show Debbie created a display of her portraits in repurposed frames.
“Some of the frames are over 100 years old and the images have been retouched to represent fine art paintings. The aesthetic of the exhibit was to make it look as though the work was displayed in an 18th century Manor House or castle.”
Debbie joined The Northern School of Art as a mature student. “I’m from a small mining village and there isn’t much promotion of creativity here. Growing up I always wanted to be an artist but was told that I needed to get a proper job as I would not make any money be able to support myself. I worked for a lot of years in admin and merchandising before I decided to take the plunge and sign up to study photography.
“I’ve always loved taking photos, but photography wasn’t an affordable hobby for me. Most Sundays, I would go to my Nanna’s house and look through her old photos, listening to her stories. I was, on occasion, allowed to use my Nanna’s small plastic camera. She used to let me use the free film that came back when processing her films through the post.
“It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I started taking it more seriously and I started studying for my degree when I was 38. I think studying these photographs as a child has inspired me to want to photograph people. I love creating a great image but mostly I enjoy engaging with the sitter, hearing their stories and learning about their lives. I then try to create an image that incorporates some of that personality and story to pass on to the viewer.”
Debbie graduated with first class honours from The Northern School of Art’s BA (Hons) Photographic Practice (with moving image) degree programme.
“I have really enjoyed the course. It’s been a massive challenge because I’ve done lots of things I haven’t done before,” she added. “I am considering studying for a masters at the School and eventually would love to be a portrait photographer working in editorial or fashion or for campaigns or charities to promote equality.
“I would love to live in a world where difference is celebrated and everyone feels equal no matter how they look.”
She is now working on her first solo exhibition where her work will be featured in the window gallery of Middlesbrough’s Pineapple Black gallery from 26 August 2022.
Further details of the BA (Hons) Photography degree course are available HERE