Gradwatch 2020: Photographer Noé Warren, University of Brighton

Photographer Noé Warren is one of the ten creatives we’ve selected to feature in our annual Gradwatch showcase, where we put the spotlight on the art and design grads who we feel are producing outstanding creative work

“I’m not an experimental photographer in the slightest,” University of Brighton graduate Noé Warren freely admits. “I like people. I like to write them little love letters and photography is the best way of doing that I found so far.”

Warren’s photography slides between sensitivity and celebration, with care and collaboration woven throughout the image-making process. “A friend of mine once described my theme as ‘Stories and People’ and while it’s cheesy and not remotely groundbreaking, it’s probably true,” Warren tells us.

Warren’s experience of university was challenging yet invaluable: “I recently found my application portfolio while moving house and realised just how much I had improved in those three years of study, although I’d felt that I wasn’t making any improvements at all. I had learned so much and experimented in a depth that I would not ever have achieved in a different setting.” While working in the arts can be a chaotic lifestyle, Warren has found Andrew Simonet’s book Making Your Life As An Artist to be a helpful “anxiety reducing resource about being an artist”.

Photographer Noe Warren

The first photography exhibition Warren attended was a show on the work of South African activist and artist Zanele Muholi at the Photographers’ Gallery. They became “just a little bit obsessed” and read countless interviews with Muholi, captivated by the relationships Muholi struck with their subjects, which they had sometimes been nurturing for years before the photographs were made. “I believe that to be incredibly important. Most of my subjects happen to be queer and trans, mainly because I am queer and trans, and I feel a great responsibility to handle their faces and stories with as much as care as I can muster. And I believe that takes time, solidarity, care and friendship,” Warren says.

“Much of my work is collaborative or workshop-based, because I believe that the experience of making the work has to be equally as good – if not better – than the image,” Warren adds. Past initiatives have included queer history photography workshops for young LGBTQI+ people, and another series for transgender people about gender in sci-fi. Warren has also worked on a three-month AV project surrounding Brighton’s oldest queer pub, but their “most intense” project so far has been documenting their domestic life with their husband, who has a chronic condition.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has thrust most people into a new reality, Warren had already adjusted to daily life. “My husband is chronically ill and has been bed-bound for much of 2019. So by the time Covid-19 had reached Europe, we had already led a lockdown-type of existence for almost a year. When the lockdown came, nothing really changed in my little universe and it was so interesting to see the world collectively go through this process of necessary self-isolation that we had to go through individually just a year prior. I think it’s an experience shared by many chronically ill people and their families.”

“Ironically, the pandemic brought by a lot of structural changes to institutional accessibility that were invaluable to my personal situation as a carer; tutorials became video conferences, in-person submissions were now uploads, the extortionate printing costs that had me struggling all the way through my course just weren’t a thing anymore,” Warren says, adding that they hope these new ways of working will add weight to disability rights activists’ arguments surrounding accessibility in education.

However, the pandemic has interfered with Warren’s livelihood, having previously done commercial event photography to pay bills: “I’ve had to take a full-time job and photography is now no longer a part of my daily life if I don’t actively make it one.” They’re looking to weave the two together in a photo series involving the residents in the elderly care home where they work.

In the near future, Warren has their sights set on a nursing degree and hopefully an MA in Art Therapy after that, as a way of bringing photography and therapy together. “While I don’t know what that will look like yet, I believe that there is a niche in there that could be really interesting. Given my track record so far it’s really likely that I will be doing something community based, if someone should have me.”

Head here to see all our Gradwatch picks; @kweerphotography