“How should I stand?” Tim Mitchell’s Question Cloud booth

Bexie Bush asks the question

“How should I stand?”

“Just be yourself!”

“Does this writing read ok?”

“Can you help me phrase my question?”

“Who’s ready to go next?”

“Can someone else take the reflector?”

“Who wants to hold the finishing rod?”

“Don’t decapitate our model! That cloud is deceptively heavy.”

Questions, banter and jokes are thick in the air and new acquaintances made, as people gathered in groups to take their turn asking a question in the Question Cloud booth. Not only were they able to prop-wrangle and give moral support but they were able to discuss and refine their questions with the help of their fellow participants.

Photography can be a lonely job but not on that day – everyone mucked in to make these portraits – holding reflectors, moving lights and props, advising on sentence grammar, reassuring the sitter, even taking over the camera.

Devised with artist/curator, Clare Patey and Stories of Change project leader, Joe Smith, the Question Cloud booth was having its second outing at the launch of Futureworks at the Derby Silk Mill – an event filled with debate about Derwent’s energies past, present and future, informing the questions that quite literally ‘hung in the air’ above our sitters. Their only prompt on the occasion being “What question about energy – past, present or future, would you like to ask of a person or institution – past, present or future?”

The style of the booth is in part a nod to the tradition of studio portraits going back to Victorian times and into painting beyond that and specifically also a nod to Derby’s own Joseph Wright – the widely acknowledged painter of the Industrial Revolution. His voice is echoed slightly in the lighting and the incorporation of a new Orrery structure-in-making, courtesy of one of the Silk Mill’s Thursday evening makers, who will themselves be the subject of a subsequent booth. The image also includes the Grasshopper steam engine in the background, an irresistibly beautiful piece of local heritage, housed in the Silk museum. All on a blue sky background, befitting of a blue-sky-thinking question cloud.

We all mucked in that day and hopefully the Question Cloud booth captured something of the day’s energy exchange. On one hand the portraits are a document of who was there and what they were thinking, on the other hand they are hopefully part of the process of the day itself, informing it’s other outcomes. Lastly, it is hoped that the portraits from this booth and subsequent ones will continue to provoke thought and fuel exchange, inviting people to answer and discuss the questions raised by the sitters, possibly online, possibly elsewhere.

It has been a nice surprise to find that humour and playfulness have a role to play too. There is something fun and performative about such a portrait booth. Lights, camera and a costume of sorts, create a magic that invites people to act up a bit and play around. Perhaps humour and play can be a disrupter of stale narrative, inviting us to take control of the story again, allowing lateral thought and releasing discussion from stasis, when it is most needed.

with thanks to the author, Tim Mitchell

Tim Mitchell’s Cloud booth was part of the Future Works project launch on 18th December 2014 at Derby Silk Mill

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