Vanessa Richards
Mannafest - Raw Material Media and Music

Vanessa Richards began her writing and performing career as a musician in Vancouver in the mid-80's, performing with a number of local bands such as "Bolera Lava" where she was lead singer. After moving to England in 1992, she quickly established a niche within the burgeoning young Black performance culture of Brixton in South London. Her work output has been prolific since then, as an organizer, writer, performer and singer/recording artist.


'Digital Windrush' - In 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived in Tilbury from the Caribbean, with 500 West Indian people on board. They camped on Clapham Common and began the search for work and housing. They began to establish themselves and their families who followed them against a background of hostility and racism. Fifty years on, in 1998, young black people in London, poets, artists, musicians, rappers and DJs, looked back on the the stories and achievements of these people, and their own families, in the context of thie own lives and experiences in modern day London, and consider what has been achieved and at what cost.

The aim of this project was to run a series of reminiscence and production workshops, utilising poetry writing, video and music production, culminating in public presentations and live performance work.

Vanessa Richards
Poetry Placement with Raw Material

Original Title: Workforce
New Improved Title: Travelling Light

This project gave me an opportunity to recontextualise the impetus and inspiration for my work. In this report I would like to outline some of the Influences and experiences this commission offered. 

                                                    Summary of the proiect:::::

Raw Material applied for a grant, "Workforce", to enable a poet to work in a digital capacity around the theme of their current project, the Windrush years. Originally I was interested in exploring the changing attitudes towards work from the 2nd generation Caribbean and African youths. A parallel narrative of the two generations would create a sound collage and be edited to include visual metaphors.

A number of unforeseeable technical factors contributed to this idea trans-mutating into something eventually more rewarding. "Travelling Light", built on the themes of aspirational migration and its effects on families. Still using a through line of vocation, it asks questions about how identities and communities are formed.

The oral and visual narrative refer to creation myths, travel, labour, abundance and personal freedoms. Using melodies based on Yoruba praise songs, calypso and early jazz the voice uses the simple poetry of song to augment my family photographs creating an ambience of a bygone era that is perhaps still with us. I call this approach a Docu-Fable.

Animated figurative paintings by Canadian artist and colleague Jan Wade, float through the film presenting another interpretive layer and creating a magical-realism counterpoint, it was my desire that Travelling Light should view like a blues sounds. Bittersweet. Hopeful. I feel good about the results. Real good. 

           What the Poetry Placement has enabled me to do::::

Working in a digital capacity I was afforded an entirely new way of thinking and constructing images. In the past I used stills photography to capture the visual poetry of the people and places I've travelled through. The images were not part of my work that I shared with the general public. Using these slides as the basis for the film gave me a great sense of continuity.

For a period I explored using the video camera to shoot new footage but upon looking at the rushes, it became apparent that I constructed in stillness. The images were almost identical to the kinds I would take on my stills camera in that they held very little motion and were focused on composition. This was interesting and revealing to me. To understand how I see. So with this in mind I tried to take advantage of this moving image camera however I found the resulting footage at a less mature state than the photos. A whole new way of seeing and capturing was discovered for me. For the purpose of this work I opted to use the still photographs already acquired. I have gained a new respect for the skill of telling tales with moving images and have recently committed to a new DVD camera in order to better learn this language at a pace appropriate for me to feel no pressure to produce but to explore/learn. This is a tremendously exciting and empowering off shoot of this commission.

The language of computer editing was something new to me. I had done the old fashioned type a little bit previously so I knew that I was keen on the process. Locating an animator and editor capable of working with my vision and with the skills necessary to deliver it was a challenge. Eventually Vera Ritter, a former staff member of Raw Material, came on board. This was timely as she had been the artist in mind when the application was first put forward but then she left the company to pursue freelance work. This made accessing her kind of skills challenging on account of the time and costs that had already been built into the Raw Material side of the project. Bringing other people into the Raw Material studios was not always feasible if one did not know their computer programmes. Bit of a deadlock. By way of Divine intervention Vera called me up, unaware of the project and said she would like to collaborate. Did I have any time or interest. Well yes, I did.

She guided me through how she achieved the desired effects and was most encouraging in enabling me to storyboard more effectively the rostrum work. This was an incredibly liberating moment to be able to write how the shots should be seen, at what pace, from which angle as well as how they should blend from one to the next. I was able to construct the way of seeing this story and I am grateful for the time she took to teach me part of her craft and the respect she gave towards my vision.

Presentation of Travelling Light::::

The film was shown as an integral part of my solo performance in the British Festival of Visual Theatre in October 1999. I also screened the work at the Sacred Circle/Spoken Word conference and festival at the New Jersey Centre for the Performing Arts this Nov. 

                            Future Obiectives for Travelling Light:::::

The film has received favourable reviews and people are encouraging it's wide distribution to festival and television possibilities. Copies will or have been distributed to: The Poetry Society; The London Arts Board; The Arts Council of England; The Poetry Library; INiva Black Cultural Archives; The Women's Archive; African and Asian Visual Artists Archives; The Banff Arts Centre; Western Front Video in Caribbean Contemporary Arts; University of the West Indies; Jamaica Social Investment Fund; Various Film Festivals

In closing I would just like to say Thank you again for an extremely fulfilling opportunity. I learned much about my practise, my inspiration and new technology. It has been invaluable to me.

Young Poets Network