Joy Gregory

Madam Photo

For our commissioning project Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, Joy Gregory has created a diary-like series of photographic and textual fragments drawn from her daily walks and encounters during lockdown.

Since the 1980s, Joy Gregory has been at the forefront exploring the wider cultural politics of identity, race and gender. Her practice employs photographic media – both analogue and digital – from still to moving image and camera-less photography alongside installation, objects and sound.

Autograph commissioned Gregory to create new work in response to the wider context of the Covid-19 pandemic for our project Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other. Taking her regular walks in the local neighbourhood as a point of departure Gregory created Madam Photo (2020), as a documentation of her everyday rituals. At Burgess Park, South London she encountered the same strangers, who became familiar faces, sharing passing conversations with one another while maintaining distance in fear of close contact. Organic objects such as leaves and sticks were then recorded as sun prints, alongside fragments of recalled conversations, events, memories and news headlines noted in her diary. This metaphorical idea of ‘exposure’ is transmuted in Gregory’s signature style photograms – producing a diaristic pandemic record: a ‘mechanism for mapping’, and healing.

To contextualise this new art commission, we invited curator Anne McNeill to reflect on Gregory’s artistic engagement with her physical environment, the importance of creative acts of self-care and seeking respite in a global pandemic. This is published alongside a conversation between the artist and Autograph’s director Mark Sealy.


Breathing Space
Curator and writer Anne McNeill responds to Madam Photo

Isolation, Distance, Encounters, Invention: In Conversation with Joy Gregory
Autograph's director Mark Sealy speaks with the artist


Madam Photo (2020)

Wednesday 27 May
Burgess Park looks like party central so much rubbish everywhere

Thursday 28 May
Dreamt of Dad dying.

A delivery man arrives before Rebekah, so I help him and load it into the studio. The packages are really heavy, and I end up hurting my finger very badly. Moaned all day. Steve came over to visit for tea with Sunil.

Friday 29 May
Very late to my walk.

I’m thinking we came into this as winter gave way to spring. I imagine it won’t end even as summer is swallowed by winter.

See Madam Photo running.

Monday 1 June
One thing I’ve noticed today is that now London has come out of lockdown it took absolutely ages to cross the road and I’m early to my walk its only 7:10.

…I seem to have a very busy schedule ahead…I am busier now than I was before the lockdown.

I’ve just seen the ladies with the poles climbing a hill. I’m not sure I can get up there…

Tuesday 2 June  
I went out an hour earlier today so leaving at 5.55am rather than 6.55am - the difference is enormous. It’s so much quieter and for the first time in weeks it didn’t take so much time to cross the road. But it was still busy, and I heard the most deafening sound of another airline going overhead it was actually almost like the Concorde.

Just found a bunch of cherries which I’m going to make a print out of and maybe a big cyanotype. Monika came over and we had tea in the car park it was of course for several hours ... I always wonder where the time goes.

Wednesday 3 June
Saw the ladies with sticks in the park, they rave about a nature reserve which is on the left-hand side.

I walk over that way through the park and see what they mean. You can hear the birds and everything ... I need to go and have a look at that again.

Monday 8 June
The birds are pecking at the cherries today...

A lot of the people that I used to see have disappeared. I presume they have gone back to work. There are more socially distanced exercise classes in the park. I am walking past a bunch of people doing star jumps in a socially distanced circle with the teacher in the middle.

Tuesday 9 June
I realise I missed a number of days because I can’t remember what happened so Friday must have been the 5th of June or 4th…the days are rolling into one. The park is very cold today, but the thing I’ve noticed is that the traffic has got louder. A bloke in the park calling after his dog.

About the ARTIST

Celebrated for her pioneering work on self-identity and auto-portraiture in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gregory’s intimate engagement with ideas around blackness, femininity, and beauty is epitomised in her seminal series Autoportrait (1989/90). Autograph’s first artist commission, the series was a direct response to the lack of representation of black women within lifestyle consumer magazines. Her subsequent body of work Objects of Beauty (1992-1995) delved into questions of aesthetics and body politics, combining the Victorian process of collotypes to capture a range of objects often associated with feminine beauty and constraints of Western fashion industry. Similarly, themed artistic investigations continued with series such as Girl Thing (2000-2005), Cinderella Tours Europe, (1997 – 2001), and Fairest, (1998/2010).

Gregory has worked and exhibited widely both in the UK and internationally and participated in numerous biennales and festivals over the years, including the 2017 Venice Biennale where her work was represented in the off-site Diaspora Pavilion. Recent works include Overlooked and Underreported (2017), Coloured Girls (2018), Home (2018), The World is a Handkerchief (2019) and Barbie at Sixty (2019-20). Alongside the continuation of a long-term project in the Kalahari and several collaborative projects in development, Gregory has recently completed a commission for the Black Cultural Archives Breaking Barriers (2019-20). Her work is represented in the collections of Autograph, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Arts Council Collection, UK; The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; and Yale British Art Collection, USA.

You can follow Gregory on Instagram, and see more work on her website

About the project

Initiated during the first months of lockdown in 2020, Autograph has commissioned a constituency of ten UK-based creative practitioners in our immediate artistic community to create an open-ended visual arts project in response to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Working with photography, film and lens-based media, Autograph’s curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora have been in close dialogue with each artist to produce these new bodies of work. The artist commissions reflect Autograph’s long-standing work advocating for photography and film to address visual politics of rights, race and representation.

Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other will be presented as a group exhibition at Autograph's gallery in Shoreditch, London, from autumn 2021.


Read our senior curator Renée Mussai's introduction to the Care | Contagion | Community project

View the completed artist commissions

Visit the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other exhibition at Autograph

Purchase a copy of the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other book from Autograph's online shop


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Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

Images, from top: 1 - 19) Works Joy Gregory's commission Madam Photo, 2020. Mixed media, dimensions variable. © and courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Autograph for Care I Contagion I Community – Self & Other.

Other page images: 20) Joy Gregory, 2021. Photograph by Sunil Gupta.