Custodians is a body of work which explores the role of the individual within large structures. I have used the often grand buildings of Oxford and a selected 'custodian' to reflect on the individual and areas of temperance and permanence.
When I review this work I am struck by the themes of grandeur; the institutions the epic scale and magnitude of these places. I set out to explore the extraordinary colleges and buildings of Oxford, behind the closed doors, often beyond the reach of the 9.5 million visitors a year who come here, and to meet the ‘Custodians’ who play a pivotal role in perpetuating these world renowned institutions, for which Oxford is so well known. I was especially interested in the ‘Custodians’ role within these institutions, seeing it as a metaphor for so many peoples lives, how we are all largely shaped and influenced by the structures around us - how defined we are by them, how much they form us and exploring the themes of transition and permanence, the sense of being alone but not alone. Within this series I was curious whether the Custodians ‘owned’ the space or if it ‘owned’ them. The notion of the guardian; the conservator, who is responsible for it - whether these portraits would show them as shaped by such places or as a disjunction to them, intrigued me. Betancourt-Nunez said of Bernard Fuchs work: “Humans and their surroundings enjoy equal status in Fuchs formally taut compositions”. With this ‘Custodians’ series; they seem also to belong together yet do not fuse into one. I have chosen to show people in a moment of stillness, often gazing to the distance, as if to play to play a little with the subject gazing out to distant nature referencing the popular motif of romanticism in 19th century painting. The criteria I set for this work was that it would all be photographed in Oxford and each venue would elect one person, an omnipresent ‘Custodian’ who would be involved. Venues ranged from the Ashmolean Museum to the Pawsons Cricket Pavillion, from Christ Church Cloisters to a dissecting room in The School of Anatomy. Some are well known - some much less so.
Joanna Vestey MA is an Oxford based award-winning photographer. Her work has been published in many national and international newspapers and many international newspapers and magazines – National Geographic Adventure Magazine, Geographical Magazine, GQ Magazine, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, House and Garden, The Times, The Week, The Telegraph etc. She has worked with Associated Press in Jerusalem and has work with both Corbis and Getty. She studied photography at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design and at Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem and has an MA in Social Anthropology from The School of Oriental and African Studies. She has done much photographic work with charities and NGO’s including World Vision, The Red Cross, AMREF, Amnesty International and most recently the White Ribbon Alliance. She has published four books and her work has been exhibited widely. Her work is held in by several collections including 5 images recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.