Helen McCabe


It’s that time of year again, I remember it well – spring sort of breaks out of winter and all that you have been working towards suddenly hits like a bolt out of the blue – your show is upon you, imminent, no time left whichever way you look at it; the last minute detail rears its fickle head again.


This year I literally stumbled upon a series of pop-ups scattered around Nottingham’s city centre, they have been showing degree shows like this for a while now, but it always fascinates me to find art tucked away in spaces on the restaurant and shopping routes, like a treasure hunt in waiting.

It was just such a space that I found off Bridle Smith Gate. The space under the NTU umbrella degree show name of Raw-photo 2010.


Quite simply I wandered in and glanced around four walls of what seemed like very different works. Usually I will start looking at the first to hand, but found I had a momentary-without-thinking not sure I want to look at these just yet. I don’t know why I changed my mind but on looking closer a lot became clearer.


There, without embellishments were a series of 7 photographic portraits of unadorned and simply positioned, male soldiers faces.


The photographs didn’t scream out at you they were subtly lit and exuded a sense of calm.


My subconscious I believe, had initially took in the uniform, an image especially of late that has reverberated through the media in the UK and indeed around the globe. But the images I, and we all see in the press usually come with a traumatic message, a thing maybe we don’t readily succumb to – and there has been so much.

Hence my hesitation.

I continued to look and noticed a small amount of explanatory text at the beginning of the line of photographs. My knee jerk reaction is usually don’t tell me! I want to receive my own impression. But the information was simple and subtle; these men were on their way to Afghanistan.


The thing that struck me most about the work was it was all about the faces, whatever lay behind the process it was the compelling nature of the expressions that quietly reflected their momentary pause in front of camera.

I will stop there as the images should speak for themselves, here are two of the seven:

Helen McCabe Soldier

Helen McCabe Soldier

Soldier  :   by Helen McCabe

One very astounding thing for me was the difference but similarity of their collective gaze.

Underneath the images were a few randomly placed quotes from the soldiers echoing a resolve and recognition of imminent dispatch.


I really recommend looking at the images on her website to see how Helen intended to portray them.




Helen’s show and the Raw exhibitions are now coming to a close. With the inevitable packing and clearing of the space I asked her what she saw ahead of her…

Part of raw-photo 2010
RAW2010 space in Bridle Smith Gate


“My future, is quite unknown at the moment.  I want to stay within the industry of Photography, be it in a Photographic gallery or an archive.  But I also hope to bring what I love about Photography to others by way of photographic workshops, that suit beginners or people with experience.  Hopefully visiting places like photography clubs, schools or colleges”.

And the immediate future?  ….

“As for my work…I hope that by carrying this on alongside a job Photography will continue to be something I do because I enjoy it and not just something to keep me living.  But we shall see in the coming months”.

I also asked her about the inevitable student loans, and, on leaving the University space; how she was planning to afford her own studio, equipment and the like….


“At the moment the only ‘debt’ per se is my student loan (and an overdraft). But thankfully I’m not too worried about this because of the leniency of the repaying. Knowing that until I’m earning I do not have to pay it back, and then its rather small increments which are automatically deducted so no worrying about forgetting to pay it!”.


“So it’s not going to hinder me I hope or at least I don’t plan to let it”.


“As for things such as equipment and studio space. At the moment I am lucky enough to have parents with a garage not in use. So with some persuading and hard work I want to turn this into a studio for myself, at least for now (everyone’s got to start somewhere!).


Equipment wise, when I land a job after graduation I will be saving money as much as possible to buy the equipment I need, and I plan to get it second hand.


Thankfully there are a fair amount of photographers with a lot more money than me, who like to upgrade their kit, often leaving me with their cheaper (but usually in perfect condition) older equipment. This is how I afforded my camera; a hobbyist who’s upgraded leaving me with a barely used, new looking camera”.


I did initially return to the space and was really pleased to see the quality of all the work involved. And wondered what if this had been shown in a different city?. Not to say that Nottingham hasn’t always had some sort of connection to London based Art through local galleries. But It is still a provincial city.

Helen had been keen to stress that although she is from London she liked the idea of branching out of art centric cities.


And with the thought of location very much on my mind. I was extremely pleased to come across a Degree/MA pool of images, info and events now available via web ushered in by the combined Universities of Leicester De Montfort, Nottingham Trent, Loughborough and Derby along with the Arts Council called UK Young Artists; for all who are interested, be they artists, curators, buyers, collectors or whatever.


Which is kind of blowing away the usual suspect’s habit of hovering around the same Universities like Goldsmiths, St Martin’s and the like; creating the safe bets of recent times.

It’s a start!

Having said that! Helen is also excited to be included in Free Range 2010. A big independently sponsored graduate show based at the Truman Brewery Building in London which shows Art and Design practices from all over the UK.

With the obvious quality of work emanating from this show, the signs are it’s looking very good!.


And as Helen and her contemporaries prepare to embark on a new phase in their creative lives, where time, money and studio space all come into play big time. Events like this by both the Arts Council and Free Range can really, only be a good thing.

I will be including another Photographer in the next series with works by Zoe Boundry


And will be back this Wednesday with New York Artist Man Bartlett