Artists in Waterloo #9: Rachel Wegh

Throughout Waterloo Festival 2020, we've been platforming artists who either live in or are connected to Waterloo. To finish off this series, Rachel Wegh, a photographer, filmmaker, writer and lyricist living in Waterloo since 1998.

Rachel is a photographer, filmmaker, writer and lyricist living in Waterloo since 1998. She is known for her wildlife photography and specifically for her photo projects exploring the barriers - physical, psychological, philosophical and political - that we put up between ourselves and nature, of which we are a part. Rachel has shown her work at exhibition in New York, London, France and the north of England. She works as a tutor at City Lit where she teaches various courses in creative nature and environmental photography and has developed an innovative course in Mindful Photography that she devised as a result of her own experiences. She also practices as a consultant and mentor for creatives and carries out portfolio reviews for clients.

My first encounter with wildlife was when I was growing up in Ilford, north east London. The beautiful Valentines Park was just at the end of my road. Its abundance of trees were perfect for grey squirrels and its large boating lake, a haven for waterfowl. I’d catch the bus in the mornings to school, as I was invariably in a rush, then walk back through the park at the end of the day. Even then, a stressful day at school could be soothed with the sights and sounds of nature. It’s only now though, that I appreciate its true value to a city girl like me.

I discovered the schools photography club in sixth form and was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of six girls from my borough, to visit Glasbury in Wales for a week. Redbridge Local Authority had a house there for its schools to visit and take part in outdoor activities. I loved being driven around the area by land rover, exploring the south Wales countryside in search of wildlife; then walk among the woods, hills, valleys and villages, taking photographs of anything that caught my interest.

But I’d never thought of photographing wildlife as a career. I applied to study instead to be Town Planner. It wasn’t until many years later, in 2005, and a wealth of working life behind me, I decided to leave and go back to college to study for a BA(Hons) in Wildlife and Environmental Photography at Blackpool & the Fylde College (part of Lancaster Uni).

It was an incredible experience and I found myself travelling to the outer reaches of Scotland, the wilds of Yorkshire and Lancashire and photographing the visceral beauty of rural Poland, the wildlife of South Africa and an environmental project in Brazil.

Barriers v Nature, Brazil

My photography looks at the everyday wildlife we over-look like pigeons, to the the way we, as human animals, differentiate between human and non-human nature on physical, psychological, philosophical and political grounds. My planning background came in useful for this. Transboundary Conservation, the feminist discourse on nature and psycho-geography were also issues that would go on to inform my photography projects.

Blackpool Pigeons Project | Dependent Origination
Barriers v Nature, On Safari Project, South Africa

I left Blackpool with a First and went on to study for an MA in Wildlife Documentary Production in Salford. In 2009, I made two films on mindful and environmental wildlife themes. This was before the practice of mindfulness was taken up as a serious route to wellbeing and engagement with our natural world. One of my short films was praised by naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham for its ‘quality’ and ‘imagination.’

This film called ‘Chasing Pavements' was an official selection at the American Conservation Film Festival and the Culture Unplugged Film Festival.

In 2010, I moved back to Waterloo where I was diagnosed with Osteoarthritis after finding my ability to walk and manage my camera equipment was becoming limited. The years since have been marked by four operations and a necessary change in my working practices. However, this has not stopped me pursuing various creative projects and goals.

‘When someone give you lemons, make lemonade’ so the saying goes and despite various ups and downs, this is what I have sought to do.

In 2013, I photographed the WRENS who actively participated in the Battle of the Atlantic during WW2, as part of the commemorations in 2013. It formed part of a collaborative exhibition called ‘Stranded.’ The work was exhibited on billboards in the centre of Liverpool as well as a lightship moored in the Liverpool docks, as part of the Look 13 International Photography Exhibition. The work was not only a celebration of the contribution by the Wrens involved in this war effort, but a comment on the ageing process, memory and linked to the environment and nature via the women and their gardens. This gave the veterans a ‘visual voice’ that they had not been given before, as the achievements of their male counterparts were honoured with medals and the women had to settle for just the medal ribbon!

Women of the Battle of the Atlantic Photo Project

As a result of my experiences with chronic pain, I have begun to write lyrics for songs about my experiences. Since January 2019, I have been studying with an organisation called BOOK Music & Lyrics in Soho and working with a composer to bring the songs to life. I am also working to producing some online workshops in collaboration with philosopher and psychologist Austin Caffrey, also a Waterloo resident and the host of the Waterloo Philosophy cafes.

I have just begun to put together a photography and written history project about Waterloo, specifically focused on the residential properties, people and services that sit to the east of Waterloo Station. We, as residents of Waterloo, are used to people being surprised to find out that people actually live in here, so I decided it was time to tell the stories of our communities covering the past 100 years.

Pearman Street, Waterloo VE Day Party 1945

Waterloo History Project Areas

The project will take place in three phases as shown on the map.

If you have information you would like to add to the project in terms of residential history and personal stories, please email me at the address below.

Rachel Wegh

27th June 2020