GENERATIONS Family interview with Anneka French
Developed by GRAIN Projects in partnership with Multistory as part of Birmingham 2022 Festival, a large-scale cultural programme designed to coincide with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Julian Germain’s GENERATIONS (2022) project is focused upon families based in Birmingham and the Black Country that have four or five direct lineage generations. Anneka French speaks to one of the four generation families who took part: Marian Wallace, Melanie Flynn, Jason Wallace and Leo Walker-Wallace, all born and living in Birmingham.
Anneka: What prompted you to apply to take part in GENERATIONS?
Jason: It was Lucy, Leo’s Mom, who found out about it. She works for a company called Arts Connect and obviously knew that we have four generations; it’s something special in our family and in other people’s families. GENERATIONS sounded like a cool thing to be a part of.
Anneka: Absolutely. It’s special to your family but you’re also part of a wider network of other families in similar positions. And how about you, Marian? What did you think when Jason floated the idea?
Marian: I thought straightaway, yep. I like family history and social history so I was quite happy to go along with it.
Anneka: How important is photography to you as a family?
Marian: Yes, we’ve got lots of pictures. And now that pictures are taken on phones, we’ve got even more. Jason sends us loads of pictures of Leo all the time. I’ve always liked looking at photographs and talking about the family history, trying to make sure that the children know about our history and how they came about.
Melanie: And the photos make lovely memories to look back on later through the albums.
Anneka: Did Julian look through some of your own photographs when he came for the shoot?
Marian: Yes. I was really, really impressed with Julian and Stephen (Burke, Project Producer at GRAIN Projects), they were excellent. They didn’t just look at the photos. They were actually interested in the photos and asking, who’s this and who’s that and how did you come up to Birmingham? I thought that was great.
Anneka: It’s quite an unusual thing to have to have a photographer come to your home, especially people that you don’t know very well. What was it like inviting strangers into your home for the shoot?
Marian: When they came, they put a big light up and moved furniture around. It really was an experience but a good one. Julian and Stephen looked at the albums, they took photos out and marked all the correct places and put them all back again. It was like having a real photoshoot! I’ve never known anything like it.
Melanie: It was really professional but it was very relaxed as well. We couldn’t have asked for anyone nicer.
Marian: Mel said they’d be coming about 10.30am/11.00am and I thought they’d be here about an hour or so. But it was 1.40pm, I think, when they went. Our friend who comes to dinner every Sunday was waiting for his dinner and it wasn’t even in the oven!
Anneka: Your friend was a bit perturbed then I guess?!
Marian: No, no, he’s seen all the photos. He’s looked at the ones in New Street Station and he’s interested in it all anyway.
Anneka: How was Leo during the shoot? Keeping a little one occupied is not always the easiest thing.
Melanie: He was really good. He was fascinated by all!
Marian: Leo’s Mom was here and she was sort of looking after him and Ted, my husband, was here as well. Leo was really good, just looking at the camera. We got told off for smiling, Mel and myself, by Leo was quite serious and really, really well behaved.
Anneka: Have you been to see any of the photographs exhibited yet?
Melanie: Yes, we went to see the big billboards on the Coventry Road all together and then we’ve all been individually to New Street Station.
Marian: It was my birthday when we went to the Coventry Road and we went at eight o’clock in the morning, so that there wouldn’t be many people around to recognise us!
Anneka: Oh, why do you want people to recognise you?
Marian: Well, just feel a bit embarrassed, don’t you …
Anneka: All those all those autographs …
Melanie: Jason wasn’t embarrassed. He was telling everybody at New Steet Station, ‘that’s me on the photo!’
Anneka: What was it like when you saw the photograph on that huge billboard scale?
Melanie: It was amazing. You know, I didn’t really know what to expect and it was great to see the other photographs as well.
Marian: Yes, there were about five or six other families on the billboards. It was lovely to see them and read their ages and their relationships.
Anneka: Have you had a chance to meet with any of the other families so far?
Marian: No, not at the moment but there’s a get together in August, which Julian and Stephen said will be a chance for all the families to meet. So we hope to go to that.
Anneka: That will be really nice. Perhaps it might be an opportunity to talk about your experiences and families. Was GENERATIONS being part of the Commonwealth Games cultural programme and, as you say, the social history of the city and of the West Midlands, additional motivations for you?
Marian: Yes. It’s good to be part of that wider story. You feel proud to be part of the history of Birmingham really.
Jason: I think that’s sort of what Birmingham is. It’s one big community. Whether we’ve met other families or not, you feel a connection already.
Anneka: The programme is a big celebration of the city. Big sporting events don’t come around too often and that sense of pride and celebration of the city, again, is not something that happens enough. Birmingham is generally derided by people that are not from here or don’t live here.
Marian: Exactly. Yeah, people always seem to be glad to grumble about Birmingham but it’s a good place to live.
Anneka: I think one of the lovely things about looking at all of the portraits is thinking that without you and your husband, you wouldn’t subsequently have all the rest of your family here. There must be a huge sense of pride for what you’ve achieved?
Marian: I’m proud of them all.
Anneka: Did you find anything about the project challenging or surprising?
Melanie: None of us had any issues. The whole thing was all good from start to finish. The only unexpected thing was a good one as Julian and Stephen invited my Dad and Lucy, Leo’s Mom, to be in a lovely family photo after they had completed their pictures for the shoot. That was a really nice, unexpected gesture. They then sent us a copy of the photo and it’s become a firm family favourite since. We are glad the project has taken off so well and is getting so much interest
Anneka: What do you feel that you’ve all gained from the experience?
Jason: There’s definitely a sense of pride in there. I think you can see that from a lot of the other photos. Obviously, I’ve never met any of them but within the way people are standing and the way Julian’s captured them, there’s pride. I think a lot of people probably would say the same and you get that impression seeing the work. I had to ask a lady to move out of the way when I went to see the photographs in New Street so I could get a photo and I said, ‘yeah, that’s me up there’. She wasn’t bothered! But you do feel proud and happy.
Marian: I’m pleased to be able to tell my friends all about it and I think you do gain a lot from the experience.
Melanie: It’ll be something good to look back on when Leo’s older and hopefully, he can show his kids and say, ‘well, this was me when I was little and famous!’