Artist of the Week: Shannon Pinnell

“At first, I had no plan as to what aspect of youth culture I wanted to focus on, I just took my camera out with me and shot anything.”

 

Shannon Pinnell is a photographer from Bedford, England. ‘Growing Pains’ is a photography series based on youth culture and friendships formed during our teenage years.

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When I looked back at all of my images, there were way over 100 photos so I kind of just put them all into separate groups and this group was the one that stood out the most.”

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Friendship and closeness stands out straight away. Whilst being candid, those in the photos seem completely open around each other, even in shots there are people just by themselves in the frame; the photographer is still there on the other side of the camera who they have some sort of relationship with.

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“I arranged the photos so gradually it gets darker, people get closer and people become more intoxicated even to the point where the camera itself doesn’t actually work properly anymore.”

 

Shannon is inspired by artists such as Chloe Sheppard, Richard Billingham, Cindy Sherman, Corrine Day and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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Shannon is currently at her second year of Bedford College studying photography and hopes to go on to UWE in Bristol next year to study fashion communications.

Life So Far Volume 01

Much like many other young adults my early life was a blur, but not for the same reasons. All of my experiences as a young child have been verbally passed on second hand, told by my parents. It is through these vision-like memories, seeming more like movie scenes than actual memories, that I have accumulated an identity for my past and heritage.

My Mum was engaged to my Dad when she was 16; a common wedding gift in my culture being gold and golden jewellery. She gave birth to my sister at 18 years old and had me a year later. It was at this time my Mum was forced to sell all of her golden wedding gifts to fund a full-fledged immigration attempt, completely uprooting her life at an age almost identical to mine. That was when the life familiar to me now began, being brought to the UK at a measly 30 days old.

I remind myself of this tale as I try to reconnect to my home country’s culture, and as I try to claw through the mist and establish my ethnic identity. In both the country my family found refuge, and the land I am native to, I am deemed a ‘foreigner’. I struggled with the acceptance of my cultural persona, provoking me to reject my heritage at a younger age; telling people England was my birthplace, totally in denial of my true ethnicity. I am still unsure whether this attitude was motivated by the repeated racism I encountered or simply the disconnection I felt towards my parents’ culture.

I was constantly surrounded by racism. Digesting racist slurs and even multiple physical attacks became a normality, and all due to my Middle Eastern origin. I began to hate where I was from, and refused to converse with my parents in their native language. This proved divisive due to both my parents’ weak grasp of English and the hurtful truth that their son did not embrace his Arabic culture. Alternatively, my sisters exercised their Arabic origins with pride, widening the divide and lack of cohesion between myself, my parents and their heritage. I was poisoned by the racism I had endured and immersed myself in the false reality that my Middle Eastern culture was wrong because it was ‘un-British’. It is still on my guilty conscience that I had attacked and blamed my parents for simply being who they are.

This racist reality began to fade as I found more accepting friends, and those exercising the racism were expelled from my life through school exclusion, prison sentences, leg tags- that kind of thing. It had become apparent that all of the people who had been intolerant of mine and my family’s ethnicity had ultimately become failures; this being an extremely self- expressive symbol in my life.

It was finally with my new group of friends and the eradication of the root cause of my racist trauma that I actually started enjoying life. I played drums in a band, fell in love with writing poetry and became interested in pursuing girls for the first time in my life. I am not sure whether these things were a catalyst for my new-found self confidence, or vice versa, but I know that it was at this point, between the ages of 14 and 16, that I made the most progress in moulding myself into the person I am today. My whole life revolved around partying and having sex with girls, whilst trying to build some sort of subliminal self-image and persona that I desired to project. It may seem dull that these were my main priorities, but in actuality, they were the best years of my life.

Whilst I was growing this self-mastered persona, my home life consisted of debating Middle Eastern politics with my Dad, deeply interested in the implications of the war in our native country. This is when my undying love for politics and foreign affairs was birthed; a love that has stayed with me throughout the rest of my life.

After achieving good GCSE results and making bonds with lifelong friends, it seemed that my life was thriving, and I finally had a feeling of belonging that I had never really experienced in my life. Contrarily, my family life began to slowly deteriorate, as my parents fought daily over my Dad’s actions and their financial situation.

As the failure of my parents’ relationship became more apparent to me, I began to rewrite the hazy naïve memoirs of my Mum and Dad as loving soulmates, that one conjures up as a young child, and realised the true nature of their relationship. When my family first immigrated to the UK, my Dad studied English followed by a vocation as a chef, which he later used to open his own restaurant. Meanwhile, my Mum, in her late 20s had to grasp English from next door neighbours and her own children, the only money she had was what was Dad gave access to her, and she did not know how to drive. With a more mature mind, I can recognise that my Mum felt trapped; being with a man that cheated on her, being responsible for three children with no job or money of her own.

It seemed like mine and my sisters’ independence and maturity correlated with that of my Mum’s, as she rose from the ashes and worked to pay for herself to study at college, made new friends and saved up to purchase her own car. My Mum is my lifelong role model without a doubt, overcoming so many hardships and eventually finding a job as a newscaster and moving me and my sisters to London. This was where my life as I come to know it now, truly began.

As discussed before, my life previous to moving to London revolved simply around going to gigs and parties with friends and talking to girls. It was not until after I moved down South that I truly learnt what struggle meant, not only from experiencing it myself, but also by seeing those around me struggle. To exacerbate my position, I was in a terribly abusive relationship for 4 months just after I moved to London and attended one of the worst colleges in the city.

My confident nature stuck with me from my previous home, and I started college wide eyed and seeking friends instantly. I planned to stick by the first people to show friendliness, and these people just so happened to be drug dealers, killers and fraudsters. They would stare me down every time I got lunch, their eyes following me until I left. This was a usual occurrence until one day I answered a phone call from my Mum in Arabic, to which one of the boys interrupted with arms outstretched exclaiming “Ahhhh you’re one of us brother I didn’t know you were Arab! We were planning on robbing you we thought you were some white boy”. Despite being scarily backhanded, this was one of the first experiences where my Arabic heritage had been viewed as a positive, which gave me a comforting warmth and made me ardently stick with these people.

I changed a lot in the next few months; my style altered, my music taste differed, I began to try drugs (something I was always starkly against), even the way I spoke became more typically ‘London-ised’. Spending every day with my newfound friends soon revealed their true selves. I would remark that I was hungry and they’d buy pizza for the entire class. I would express my dislike for someone and they would all threaten to attack them on their way home. I’d be invited to what I thought was a house party, which actually proved to be held at huge apartments in central London, rented for two nights for nonstop parties and then abandoned. People were genuinely afraid of us and would attempt to join our ‘friendship group’, which I soon realised was a gang.

This group of boys saw each other as a family, something that really gelled with me due to my previous difficulties feeling like I belonged to a family. This is when I was ‘brought in’ to make money with them. The dealers of the gang offered me drugs to sell with them on a weekly basis. It was the fraudsters who I had become closest with due to a mutual love of fashion; they offered to teach me how to execute fraud in order to make money, which was the path I chose. A brief summary of it was that everyone had a ‘line’ which often meant people would call me asking me to buy things for them at a drastically cheaper price, in return I got paid by them for committing the fraud. This uncomplicated, unfatiguing service bought me anything I wanted: the best nights out, coolest clothes and food whenever and wherever I wanted. However, the most significant outcome for me was that I got to pay my Mum’s rent under the guise of a bar job I had quit after a month. Everything seemed to be going well, until the reality of these crimes started to become apparent.

One of the fraudsters I was friends with got caught and imprisoned for 7 years. I witnessed another boy I knew get stabbed as I was waving him goodbye on a bus in Acton. I went from being bullied every day and being seen as weak, to viewing true weakness. 19 year old boys from estates losing their entire futures over money and conflicts. It was after one of my closest friends was stabbed in a barbershop in West London the other boys in the gang sat me down, gave me a knife and said “he was your boy you have to do it or they’ll fuck you too”. That was when it all hit me. The life I had been living and loving for the past year was sugar coated with the money and parties, providing a veil from this reality. My reality. By default, I had immersed myself in crime and murder despite my innocent intentions. I don’t think that feeling will ever leave me, and has provoked me to develop a deeply rooted scepticism of everyone I meet. Even people I know in my heart are good, I struggle not to distance myself slightly. It might be due to the shock realisation that my so called friends were in fact criminals, or the experience of true cold-blooded murder that has moulded me this way, or maybe both, or perhaps I’m still dealing with it. My intentions were merely to make money and have fun. I left that knife on the chicken shop table and haven’t spoken to most of those boys since that day.

I am now moving out to my own place, was the only one in my entire group of friends that has made it to university, I’ve revitalised old relationships and worked in a challenging, interesting job all summer. Life is moving fast, I’m growing up, but new experiences shape you for the better, and that’s my life so far.

Unhealthily Healthy

Eating disorders come in many forms. As someone who experienced it first hand, an unhealthy relationship with food is a complex psychological and physical battle, which literally drains the life out of you. For me, however, I didn’t even know I was suffering from an eating disorder until after I had recovered.

Orthorexia nervosa’s name was introduced in 1997 by American physician Steven Bratman. The term literally means a “fixation on righteous eating” and is used to describe patients with an unhealthy obsession with food. The disorder develops differently from person to person, but for most (myself included) it started with an innocent interest in being healthier. Little did I know, a year after this health-kick started I would be emotionally, physically and mentally inhibiting myself from living a normal life.

When I was fourteen I started going to the gym; I loved dance at this time and wanted to get fitter to improve my performance and chances of making it professionally. I must also admit that my dream of going into the performing industry provoked me to desire the ‘ideal body’, as my naïve teenage-self believed this was the only way I could be adequate. I struggled at first, barely motivating myself to go twice a week and when I did, sat on the rowing machine for forty minutes barely breaking a sweat. But I powered through, eventually finding enjoyment in running and weight lifting.

After a couple of months I was in the gym three times a week without fail, watching fitness Youtubers and downloading new workouts to inspire me. I felt great. I felt fit and healthy. I then read somewhere that fitness and the ‘ideal body’ was mostly based on diet. I didn’t think I ate unhealthily until I read hordes of information naming sugar the enemy, carbs a one-way ticket to flab and processed foods an inhibiter to any fitness progress. I realised I needed to do something, so I stopped having sugar in my tea, cut out junk food and made healthy meals. But it wasn’t enough.

Then came my biggest mistake. I downloaded the calorie counter app on my phone and began logging my daily food intake and exercise. At first I told myself it was interesting and simply a tool for me to use in order to be more inwardly healthy. Looking back, that was a lie. I began to stick religiously to that app; planning my meals to keep in line with my macronutrients, and ensuring I did not exceed my calorie restriction. By this time I was going to the gym at least five times a week, doing intense calorie burning workouts each time.  It scares me to think at this time I was fourteen, balancing school with this oppressive lifestyle.

These apps are not designed for kids, so when I put in my measurements and stupidly picked the ‘lose weight’ setting, my daily calorie intake was set to around 1,200. This ridiculously unhealthy number which I stuck religiously to, is not enough for an active, growing young person. I eventually stopped having my periods and didn’t get them back until about a year later.

I think the scariest aspect was that everyone around me was inspired by me and were proud of my ‘healthy’ lifestyle. My parents made healthy recipes and told me they were proud their daughter was so independently health conscious. My friends asked me for diet tips and praised my figure. That’s the awful thing about Orthorexia in particular; in most cases the effects are mostly psychological not physical, which is why no one suspected that I had an eating disorder. On the outside I was a determined, motivated, healthy girl but really things were taking a downturn.

I couldn’t eat at restaurants unless I had looked at the menu before and saw there was something ‘healthy’ enough for me to have. I would eat before parties because I knew there would only be junk food. It sounds silly but I think the most upsetting part was the fact I refused to have cake on my fifteenth birthday because in my stubborn mind, the slightest slip up would reverse everything I had worked for during the past year. I believed every stupid fitness article I read and ended up restricting my diet even more, to the point where foods like bread and pasta were viewed through my eyes as unhealthy due to their high carb count.

I find it hard to put into words what life was actually like during this time, but it was more the things I missed out on that define it. For eighteen months of my life I didn’t eat one piece of chocolate, or a McDonald’s, I lived on salad and boiled veg and baked chicken and fish, I was constantly fatigued from exercising every day. Imagine a life where food and exercise are the only thing on your mind 24/7. It got to the point where I was getting up at 6am to go on a run before school, as well as going to the gym every evening. Despite this all sounding so extreme in hindsight, under this disorder I never once felt like I was doing enough.

I began to suffer with depression and anxiety around this time; it was not until after I recovered from orthorexia that I recognised the correlation between these mental health issues and my eating disorder. I was so obsessed with being ‘healthy’ and ‘perfect’, and so harsh on myself that I developed an extremely negative opinion of myself and experienced devastatingly low self-esteem. I was putting my mind and body through hell in order to reach a goal that realistically was non-existent. I isolated myself from friends and lost interest in things I loved, to the point where I felt so alone that the only thing I could turn to was my obsession with health. It was a vicious cycle that felt inevitable.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how my recovery started. I was not seeing any doctors or councillors, so overcoming my eating disorder was utterly self- motivated. I channelled my determination and stubbornness that had enabled me to develop Orthorexia, into the goal to get my life back, but most importantly, my happiness. I deleted all the toxic apps and information that was poisoning my mind and took up other activities like writing for a music blog, in order to find enjoyment in other things. After a couple of months I was eating out in restaurants without a worry, eating food without even considering my calorific intake, and exercising in a healthy way. I am now seventeen, a healthy weight, a healthy relationship with food and the happiest I’ve ever been.

Orthorexia is not currently classified as an official eating disorder, but after experiencing it and how it majorly affected my life at such a young age, I definitely think its awareness should be raised. My most crucial piece of advice is don’t believe everything you read and if you begin to feel oppressed, sad or worried about yourself, talk to somebody and seek help.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney

Is The Cinema an Endangered Species?

After my older brother – only three at the time – had seen his first film in the cinema, he ran up to hug the screen. He’d just seen ‘Toy Story’, and he was enraptured.

The week before last, I went to see Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. (Well, technically, I saw ‘Dunkerque‘, the version dubbed in French, because I wasn’t going to let being on holiday make me miss out on seeing the latest Nolan film.) If you’ve heard anything about the film, you’ve almost certainly heard about its use of sound – the eardrum-bursting, speaker-smashing volume of dropped bombs and shot torpedoes. I was sitting in the kind of old cinema that recalled the glory days of film, with dark red velvet seats and a whirring projector hard at work, and I was immersed so thoroughly in the film that each sound and sight rippled through me as though each shot were stolen straight from my own experience.
It’s easy to worry about the cinema nowadays. No, I’m not about to turn into that one elderly relative who accosts you at family gatherings specifically to bemoan the dying art of letter-writing, or ask you what ‘a Netflix’ is. God knows I’m no stranger to spending countless hours hiding beneath my duvet, watching enough ‘House of Cards’ to make my eyes ache. (The best invention of recent years, in my humble opinion, is the “skip intro” feature they’ve just introduced on Netflix.)
Still, in a time when upcoming releases are leaked in their entirety online, I worry about one of my favourite experiences being consigned to extinction. When we can find just about any title somewhere online – even if it takes us some time and effort to find a link that doesn’t look so totally dodgy that it’s going to spell the death of our laptop – I wonder whether eventually there’ll come a day when people just don’t bother to see things on the big screen.
The cinema requires rapt attention. There’s etiquette to be followed: don’t talk, don’t fidget, don’t chew your nachos or slurp your slushie too loudly. You can’t press pause to go to the toilet; you can’t rewind if you miss a crucial portion of dialogue. The number of times I’ve sat there pained, twisting my legs and trying to keep focus, because I’ve needed the loo but I can’t bring myself to leave the film are too numerous to count. It’s expensive, too. I’m a student, and the thought of paying nigh on ten pounds to see a film – ten pounds I could spend on, say, a few meal deals to continue to subsist on, or three bottles of phenomenally crap Tesco wine – feels a little bit like being ripped off.
And yet, in spite of the price, the decorum, the effort, and the popcorn-ridden carpets, I’m still so willingly seduced by the ready magic of the cinema. There are so few activities which dissolve the outside world in the same way. Sitting there in the dark, it’s difficult for anything else to contend with the supremacy of the sounds and the sights unfolding before an audience. Even when I’ve seen bad films, I’ve never regretted spending two hours engrossed in someone else’s story. (Apart from maybe the two Adam Sandler films I’ve had the extreme misfortune to have watched on the big screen.)
I’m not about to cancel my Netflix subscription. (Mainly because I still have half a season left of “House of Cards”.) But my big love affair will always be with the stories unfolding on the cinema screen – and hey, that’s ten pounds for a ticket I’d otherwise just spend on cigarettes.”
Georgia Luckhurst
@glluckhurst

Appreciating our Europeanism

If you believed everything you heard then you probably wouldn’t understand why we are even that bothered about Europe. Geographically, socially and soon to be politically, the UK is the most estranged country from the European continent. Most Brits don’t feel the same connection to their European identity as our French, Italian and Dutch cousins. For me, however, I’m growing more and more aware of my European identity, our cultural similarities and my own pride in them all. So I’m taking it upon myself to remind everyone of all the things we take for granted as Europeans, and that our similarities, and differences, are a cause for celebration.

Unlike some other continents, such as North and South America, Europe is not united by language. There are about 109 languages spoken throughout the continent, including regional dialects and non-EU countries. Maybe it’s because I’m a French student, but I think that’s awesome, in the true sense of the word. And, having attempted to teach myself Spanish, Italian, German, Polish and Swedish to no avail, I can tell you first-hand that these languages are as diverse as they come, which reflects the extent of the cultural diversity on the continent. Us Brits have our own cultural quirks that are just as much a part of the bizarre European social tapestry as any other. Not only that, but it’s clear that Europe is not one homogenous unit, but is full of linguistic diversity. So, yes, while I am a total advocate of Britain pulling its socks up in terms of bothering to learn other languages, and not expecting the whole world to pander to our English tongues, it’s reassuring to know that not being able to speak Greek, Bosnian or Estonian doesn’t make us any less European.

Despite not having travelled extensively in Europe, I’ve been able to find connections everywhere. In Poland, I found a country with a very similar climate, and a people with very similar customs to ours. In northern Spain, there is green countryside to rival our own, in Italy ancient ruins not dissimilar to those in Britain, and France a language that is the basis of English. These traits that we share are a testament of both nature and history, something that reminds me of our fundamental shared foundations. And yet our differences flourish, and are also a cause for celebration, with Spanish bar culture, French philosophy and British humour being just small brushstrokes making up the wider portrait of Europe. In light of all these wonderful things, which we both influenced and were influenced by, why do we seem so reluctant to identify with them?

As a continent, we have a common history, with churches, castles, remnants of Roman conquest and ancient battlegrounds littering almost every European country. Kings and queens were traded between us to secure international relations, mixing our cultures in the process. We travelled all over the continent in order to influence and to gain outside knowledge. During the Renaissance, we took as much pride as any other European state in our cultural innovation and pioneering thought. Even in the 20th century we were part of the Europe divided by war and politics. Right up to this day, where we as a society, despite our outward inward-ism, celebrate European food and indulge ourselves with Eurovision, I struggle to understand who drew these arbitrary boundaries between Britishness and Europeanism and why we still abide by them.

To be able to travel for just a few hours and be in an entirely different country, with its own unique language, history, mannerisms and society, is something so uniquely European and we don’t even appreciate that privilege. This thought particularly struck me when I was flying back from China: of the 12 hours in flight, at least 3 of them were spent over China. Back in Europe, I could drive to France from Britain, and then drive a few hours more and be in Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg or Switzerland. Mere hours away are the natural beauty of Mont Blanc, the architecture of Barcelona and the shops of the Champs-Élysées.

Whilst I strongly believe that we should take greater pride in our beautiful continent, I also believe that our pride in Britain should simultaneously manifest itself as European pride. After all, our country is full of interesting people, cosmopolitan cities and natural beauty just like the rest of Europe. Despite being separated by water, for mainland Europeans, a trip to London or a weekend away in the Lake District is just as desirable as our city breaks to Paris or holidays to the Algarve. Contrary to what seems to be the perceived British attitude, we are not superior to Europe. We share in their heritage, their values, their problems and shortcomings. Our little island is an important part of the European story, and we should take more pride in that fact.

I personally don’t understand where this reluctance originates. What is there to be ashamed of in Europe that we should not already be ashamed of in our Britishness? Europe has a history as ugly as it is beautiful, as I discovered first-hand when visiting Aushwitz-Birkneau in Poland. This all-too-recent evil is repugnant and a cause for distance from humanity, but also a cause to unite with our European counterparts. To continue to distance ourselves from the unsightly parts of European history is to do a disservice to the victims of this history, and to ignore the part we played in it. Not only this, but it is only through unity that things like this can be prevented in the future. Whilst I acknowledge that this is perhaps an exaggerated interpretation of our distanced relationship with Europe, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect nations to take lessons from history, no matter how small the lesson nor how heinous the crimes. The fact that this happened already, within the last century, is evidence that it could happen again. Without sensationalising the past, it’s important that we keep perspective by remembering the events that shaped us as a continent, good and bad.

The entire history of Britain is European. Romans, Vikings and Normans invaded us; our country is a by-product of Italy, France and Scandinavia. We have fought both against and alongside the rest of Europe. We helped to shape the great European cities just as ours have been shaped. This age-old cooperation is irrefutable and irreversible: whatever the future may bring, our fate is forever entwined with Europe’s; we are Europe. Our ties will never truly be severed, and I will not relinquish this European identity that I am only just discovering.

Harriet Corns

@huntyharri