Backgrounds: Portraits by Yumi Codner

By Somerset House

Backgrounds was a photography project that took place as part of the
Kaleidoscope exhibition, aiming to create a portrait of 21st century multicultural
Britain. Photographer Yumi Codner reflects on her involvement with the
project, as well as her own cultural background and photographic style.

Yumi (2019/2019) by Zeinab BatchelorSomerset House

I’m of dual heritage: my mother is from Hokkaido, Japan, and my father is Jamaican-born, and raised in London.

My grandmother arrived in the UK during the 1950s from Trelawny, Jamaica, and is of Scottish/Jamaican and Indian/Jamaican descent.

Soheila, Jacob and kids (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Soheila, Jacob and kids. City: London. Background: British

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As a photographer I’m always exploring new ways of capturing people and things through
using different techniques.

I’m interested in how I can change a mood of a picture and how I can influence the way the audience views my work.

I like to work with both digital and film to explore my ideas and produce work.

I would say my work explores a lot of my own experiences in life, mental health and other people’s stories.

Mae (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Mae. City: London/Haarlem. Background: Dutch/Spanish

Ayisha & Maureen (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Ayisha & Maureen. Cities: Birmingham & Leicester. Backgrounds: British Caribbean

Kieran (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Kieran. City: London. Background: Black Caribbean

Corann, Janie & Patricia (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Corann, Janie & Patricia. City: London. Backgrounds: Scottish/Antiguan, British & English/Caribbean

Lorna (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Lorna. City: London. Background: British Caribbean

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I really resonated with one participant’s story of being dual heritage of Mexican and Thai.

His story was similar to mine being biracial and getting asked questions like “where are you from?” I’ve also experienced a lot of questions like this and I never really know how to answer these questions because there are many different answers I could say.

Growing up I neither saw nor heard of anyone with the same “mix” as me and I think that made me feel like I stood out.

Alice & John (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Alice & John. City: Bingley, West Yorkshire. Background: Taiwanese

Jude, Janice, Astride, Lamour & Kettyna (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Jude, Janice, Astride, Lamour & Kettyna. Cities: Seychelles, London, London, London & Seychelles. Backgrounds: African/Indian/Chinese, African/Indian/French (Seychelles), African/Indian/French (Seychelles), Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago) & African/Indian/Arabic

Gus (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Gus. City: London/New York. Background: Nigerian/British/American

Fran & Jian (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Fran & Jian Wei. City: London. Background: Both British/Chinese Malay

Brenda & Marley (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Brenda & Marley. City: London. Background: British

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Documenting lots of different people has been a wonderful experience and made me appreciate how beautiful London is as a city.

It’s great that all sorts of cultures, people can come together and celebrate. I think it just shows us that we’re all quite similar in a way.

Doing this project has made me think about how important it is to capture more people and things around me.

Savana, Imani, Namia & Tianna (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Savana, Imani, Namia & Tianna. City: London. Background: Ghanaian/Lebanese/St Lucian sisters

H & Tracey (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

H & Tracey. City: Chippenham, Wiltshire. Background: Sri Lankan/British & English/Scottish

Zainab, Furhaan, Aamina & Yuauf (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Zainab, Furhaan, Aamina & Yuauf. City: London. Backgrounds: Libyan/South African, Pakistani & mixed

Vaness, Gifty & Natasha (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Vanessa, Gifty & Natasha. City: London. Backgrounds: Ghanaian, Ghanian & Barbadian/Jamaican

Indira & Otto, Maki & Cecil (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Indira & Otto, Maki & Cecil. City: London. Backgrounds: Bosnian/English & Japanese/Bangladeshi

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The thing that most excites me about photography is getting to capture my own perspective and bring to life my vision. I like to capture people because I think that everyone is interesting and has a story to share, and being a photographer helps me to connect with others. I try to capture people when they feel most relaxed and I think that this captures their sense of character best.

Darrell & Justine (2019/2019) by Yumi CodnerSomerset House

Creative Director Darrell Vydelingum and partner Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor of London for Culture and the Creative Industries

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This was part photography project, part ethnographic study. Photography allows you to explore different aspects of humanity in people to build up a picture of their background.

I like photography because it is a great conversation starter. People are more willing to allow you to ask them personal questions, and it is the deep interesting stuff that is the most intriguing and exciting.


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Backgrounds was inspired by Indian photographer Masterji's portraits of newly arrived South Asian immigrants and their families in Coventry. The project aimed to create a portrait of 21st century Britain today. We worked with five young Magunum-trained photographers who photographed visitors to Somerset House over the course of one weekend in June, and uploaded the portraits live to a dedicated Instagram account.

Follow @backgroundsproject / #backgroundsofbritain

The project launched at Generation Get Up! Weekend, a two-day programme of talks, workshops, screenings and food marking the first national Windrush Day at Somerset House.

Backgrounds is a collaboration with Create Jobs, conceived by creative director Darrell Vydelingum as part of Kaleidoscope: Immigration and Modern Britain, a free photography exhibition exploring what it feels to live as an immigrant, or descendant of immigrants, today.

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