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Breakthrough Awards: Jan McCullough one year later

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Seen Fifteen Gallery © Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist

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

It was while leafing through a 1950s manual for military wives she’d found in a secondhand shop that photographer Jan McCullough came up with the title for Home Instruction Manual.

The innovative project, which explores the concept of the ideal home, scooped the Northern Ireland-based photographer first prize in the Graduate – Series category of last year’s BJP‘s Breakthrough Awards. Renting an empty home for a month, she decorated it according to contemporary DIY advice she found online and photographed the results in a deadpan, deliberately amateurish style.

For the Breakthrough group show in East London’s Truman Brewery, McCullough decided to include a huge roll printed with this advice alongside her pictures. Showing her work in this way kickstarted an interest in more experimental exhibition strategies, and McCullough has discovered “an enthusiasm for the possibilities of a physical installation in a gallery context”.

Home Instruction Manual ©Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Solo Show Belfast School of Art © Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist

“I’m interested in developing this aspect of my practice, considering new ways to present my work specific to its subject,” she continues. “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.”

Since winning Breakthrough in 2016, the project has had a high-speed trajectory. “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’ve 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.”

BJP Breakthrough awards four photographers – two graduate, two undergraduate, across series and single image categories. A jury of industry professionals – 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 – will pick the winners whose work will be published in BJP online and in print, and exhibited in a 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.”

Now McCullough is 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 explains. “I place myself in situations in response to self-improvement materials, seminars and groups.

“For each project, I 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:

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Seen Fifteen Gallery ©Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist.

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Seen Fifteen Gallery ©Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Belfast Gallery © Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist.

Home Instruction Manual exposed at Belfast Gallery © Jan McCullough, courtesy of the artist

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