Jan McCullough, winner of the graduate series prize in the 2016 Breakthrough Awards, talks through what her success meant, and how she's progressed over the past year
Jan McCullough won first prize in the Graduate – Series category of BJP‘s Breakthrough Awards last year with Home Instruction Manual, an innovative project exploring the concept of the ideal home. The title came from a 1950s manual for military wives the Northern Ireland-based photographer found in a secondhand shop; renting an empty home for a month, she decorated it according to contemporary online advice, and photographed the results in a deliberately amateur style.
Winning a spot in the Breakthrough group show in East London’s Truman Brewery, she decided to include a huge roll printed with this advice in her installation. Since then, the project has had a high-speed trajectory. “Shortly, after winning Breakthrough, I was really happy for my show in Seen Fifteen Gallery London to be nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Award, and my book shortlisted for the Arles Book Award,” she says.
“I have been installing my work in several solo show and group shows [over the past year], such as the Format Festival in Derby, Landskrona Museum in Sweden, Belfast Exposed Photography Gallery and The Library Project in Dublin.”
The Breakthrough Awards offer four photographers the chance to win – there are graduate and undergraduate awards, both divided into series and single image categories. Those picked out by the jury – which this year includes Maisie Skidmore, online editor of AnOther Magazine; Emma Bowkett, photography director of the FT Weekend Magazine, and Emma Lewis, assistant curator of Tate Modern – are published in BJP’s online and printed channels as well as taking part in the group show.
“Winning Breakthrough was a real surprise and a fantastic encouragement,” says McCullough. “It was great to meet with the other artists and to work with the team at BJP. Also, it was a great opportunity for my work to reach out a wider audience both through being published in BJP and to exhibit in the London show and be featured in its surrounding press.”
For McCullough, showing her work in these high-profile exhibitions has kick-started an interest in exhibition installations, and she’s discovered “an enthusiasm for the possibilities of a physical installation in a gallery context”.
“For the next works, I’m interested in developing this aspect of my practice, considering new ways to present my work specific to its subject,” she says. “I want to play around with how my installations could generate an experience for the viewer, guiding them to consider their own encounters with photography in the construction of their identity.”
She’s also working on a new photographic project, exploring similar terrain in a new context. “It’s about the editing of identity, and the methods people use to visualise and organise their aspirations,” she says. “For this, I place myself in situations in response to self-improvement materials, seminars and groups.
“For each project, I always start with an initial idea, then spend months researching and exploring it playfully in sketchbooks,” she adds. “This time I’ve been working with photographs and video as well. I don’t want to give too much away yet but I’m excited to see how the work evolves over the coming months.”
For more information on the Breakthrough Awards, visit: bjpbreakthrough.com
BJP’s Breakthrough Awards are generously supported by: