STORIES

Black Country Lungs

Corinne Noordenbos

Health, we take it for granted but, as soon as we are ill, we ask questions. How can we get better? Who is to blame? Could we have avoided it? Corinne Noordenbos, November 2017

Black Country Lungs is a new photo book and exhibition, made in collaboration with Multistory and Dutch photographer Corinne Noordenbos. It tells the stories of people living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the Black Country through photographs and first hand testimonies. For her first ever UK commission, Corinne worked with us between June 2015 and May 2017 to research meet, observe, record and photograph people in hospital and in their homes.

Corinne has a long-standing interest in exploring the human condition by photographing health issues so, when statistics showed that Sandwell and the Black Country had more health-related problems than other areas of the UK, she used this as a starting point. She says: “I decided to focus on COPD and lung problems. I was curious about the connection between the Black Country and ‘black lungs’”.

The next stage was an intensive stage of research. We spoke with experts in the field, researchers from public health organisations and hospital doctors and nurses. In order to meet participants, we worked closely with partners such as Sandwell Community Respiratory Service and the Respiratory Ward at Manor Hospital in Walsall, as well as attending ‘Breathe Easy’ groups and British Lung Foundation Singing Groups. Eventually we were invited to visit people at home to take their photograph and hear their stories.

Listening with patience for people to tell the stories of their lives is a slow and exacting process. Respect is essential – it takes time to connect with someone and become close. Eventually we achieved a real sense of intimacy and the COPD sufferers opened up to us and told us extraordinary stories of their lives.

Black Country Lungs is a large format book, designed by Ben Weaver, made up of 20 photographs and stories of people with COPD. The book will be gifted to participants, health centres, hospitals, schools and libraries in Sandwell. There will also be limited copies to purchase via our online shop for £20.00 plus P&P. Black Country Lungs was presented as an outdoor exhibition, along with a programme of events, at The Shakespeare Garden by Lightwoods House in Lightwoods Park in Smethwick from 17 – 31 May 2018 where the official launch took place on 17 May, 2018. We worked closely with Juneau Projects to design a unique outdoor exhibition. Corinne lead a guided tour on 19 May, 11am – 12 noon.

In advance of this, we are delighted to say a selection of work from Black Country Lungs was previewed at an outdoor exhibition at the University of Birmingham’s Arts & Science Festival from 12 – 18 March, 2018. There was a few associated events including a unique opportunity to hear Corinne Noordenbos discuss the Black Country Lungs project followed by a panel discussion to explore what collaborations between artists, researchers and scientists can bring to understanding the human condition.

Corinne Noordenbos is a photographer and educator. She was born in Amsterdam where she still lives and works. She has a long career as a portrait and documentary photographer working for a variety of editorials. In her own projects, she concentrates on daily matters, often with a personal starting point. Her series of ‘Modern Madonna’ was made just after she became a mother herself and her project about Alzheimer’s after her mother was diagnosed with the disease. Her work has been exhibited all over the world. Her contribution to education in The Netherlands has impacted on the development of photography internationally. Corinne was Head of Photography at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague until April, 2015.