Macula Collective - 5 Years Old / by Robert Darch

Five years ago today I set up a photography group for young people. Tom Coleman director of Unveil'd has kindly written some words about his involvement with the Macula Collective.

'I scraped through school with a mixed bag of GCSEs, with the worst grades in Art and Graphic Design - the two subjects I should have enjoyed the most but felt completely un-inspired to do any work for. I was skipping school a lot to hang out with my girlfriend. We got drunk on a Monday afternoon when I should have been in double maths and I stuck photocopied, pretty graphic porn on my art final piece (it was otherwise an ink drawing of an owl). I handed it in, wrapped in a bin bag and got stuck trying to jump the school fence running from my teacher before she opened it.

I went to college for three weeks, it didn't interest me. On a rainy day I told my tutor, a Philosophy teacher I was dropping out, he asked me what I was going to do instead and I remember murmuring something about a photography blog I had been running since I was fifteen. He looked bemused and off I went.

The cafe I was working at cut my hours, it was late autumn 2013, there was nothing to do and no jobs going. I volunteered in a charity book shop for a while just to get me out of bed. I saw on Facebook a little photography gallery Dodo Photo was opening in Exeter and they needed a hand setting up. I went along, met Martyn Windsor who was also helping and Brendan Barry, who was living above the gallery space at the time. I painted the toilet. I told them both about the blog I was running and Brendan said I should get in touch with Rob, who ran 'Foto Group'. Me and Martyn both went and met Rob and the other members. I had something to sink my teeth into and we re-branded to Macula Collective. Every Tuesday we would look at each other's work or go out into the countryside to take pictures. I was still shooting loads of film of my friends getting drunk so Macula gave me a kind of constructive space to think about the work I wanted to make.

Rob's work was developing too as he had just started doing an MA at Plymouth University. His pictures always heightened the places we had seen into a dream-like state. I have just got back from Wales, having photographed the beginnings of a new long term project. There are hints of Rob's work in all of my images, I've learnt to read light through his camera more than mine.

I turn twenty-one in exactly two weeks. In the last four years I founded and ran Unveil'd alongside Martyn, producing three photography festivals with the next set to take place in 2019 and planned to be the biggest yet. I have curated a number of exhibitions and had my work shown in three different countries. I have had the chance to meet some of my personal heroes and raised the funding to fly my favourite photographers into the UK to give talks as part of Unveil'd. Sitting next to your heroes is humbling and petrifying at the same time, more so when you are physically exhausted after pulling everything together last minute and trying to find the last bit of energy to make sure they are looked after.

Rob, Martyn, Jessica Lennan and myself now head up Unveil'd, pulling in all of our respective skills and contacts. Brendan teaches foundation degree photography in Exeter so we have a close partnership with the School of Art and the students. Rob and Jes moved into Dodo Photo when Brendan moved out, it's now functioning as their personal studio with some exciting projects in the pipeline.

I have been invited to give talks and guest lectures at galleries, organisations and universities over the last few years, nervously accepting each offer. I applied to do a degree of my own at London College of Communication, realising the constructive space, network and facilities that come with a university setting would benefit me. My place was accepted.

I move to London tomorrow to start University and i’ll be sharing a house with Peter Butterworth and Stan Jeffrey, both fellow Macula members.

The first event I did as Unveil'd was in some Edwardian toilets in Bristol, taking it's name from the line "And now, unveil'd, the toilet stands display'd" from Alexander Pope's poem. I hadn't made the connection until now that the last four years might not have happened unless I had painted the toilet in Dodo Photo. Whenever I've given talks I tell the audience or class to hang out at galleries, help out and sweep floors. People usually think I am joking or speaking generally but I'm being serious. Sweeping the floor is the last thing that happens before a show opens. It means someone has turned up and got their hands dirty, they're not just there for the free beer. I always clock those people and they're the ones I want to work with.

I think it's funny the way things have worked out, I've ended up doing what I always said I wouldn't, just with a very strict set of rules about how to do it and what matters to me personally. I owe the next three years of (University) life and probably everything that comes after them, to Rob and the collective. I have an inkling they might be pretty good.' Tom Coleman.