Olivia Swinscoe: the travels and inspiration of an emerging artist

Photographer Olivia Swinscoe is interested in how people live and how they sustain themselves and each other. She is joining the RBSA’s emerging artist scheme Next Wave. 

Moya Marshall asked her about her projects in the UK and abroad, becoming a Next Wave artist and Making Together, RBSA’s exciting collaboration with Sense, a charity supporting people with complex disabilities.

I hear you’ve been travelling recently! Can you tell me a little about where you’ve been?

Myanmar boys

Recently I’ve done some work in the Netherlands and Myanmar. Myanmar was the trip of a lifetime, I’ve wanted to go for ages – there’s something very special about the way I could interact with the people there.

Swinscoe Myanmar Water

Could you tell me about your work on Making Together – our project with Sense?

Supporting people’s engagement with the arts is very important to me. I find when working in this arena it’s less about becoming part of it and more about observing it and making it something for yourself.

I participated and documented one session at the charity’s TouchBase Pears centre in Selly Oak, and it was very meaningful. When on a project like this, I’m keen not to disrupt the experience people are going to have. Everything is designed to support their wellbeing and welfare.


At Sense, art teachers lead workshops with people from different residential homes across Birmingham. As many of the participants wouldn’t ordinarily have access to creative and visual arts, the workshops are lot less focus-driven and more experience-driven in order to make it significant for each participant.

An additional end goal for this particular project was to produce works for an exhibition at the RBSA Gallery, and my role was to produce photography showing different aspects of the day.

What struck me most was the importance of ensuring the autonomy of each participant came through. – how they engaged with the materials, and what they made.


Have you worked on similar projects before?

I was invited to document an improvisational theatre workshop exploring the experiences of migrants in the UK.

It was part of a project devised by the Serpentine Gallery in London, where the participants would relive their past and emotions in order to create a performance after a series of workshops.

The photographs I took became important as a point of reference for those involved.

Who are your influences?

I draw my influences really widely, looking at both photography and artists. My first big influence was William Eggleston, and Cartier Bresson, of course. Eggleston’s way of looking was really interesting to me, and you start to see the world in a different way.

I’m currently working on a way of turning my lens a bit closer… I’ve been photographing my family recently in an attempt to refine and pinpoint my perspective.

In terms of my wider travels, I like photographing people, and I trust people, too. I don’t put up barriers and so I tend to find people reciprocate and trust me back.

I’m interested in them and excited to meet them and find out what they are doing. This approach helps me get closer to people.

Are you excited about becoming part of Next Wave?

Absolutely. After working for ten years full-time in higher education, over the last year I made the decision to go part-time in order to focus on developing as an artist.

Now I’ve been selected as a Next Wave artist, instead of just working in isolation there are people there to support your growth; you’re not left to work out where you need to improve by yourself. It’s an opportunity to gain a mentor and meet other people in the field.

The Next Wave Associate Showcase will be held at the RBSA from the 25 March –  11 May.

Next Wave is a biennial project that was started in 2014 and provides exhibition opportunities to early-career artists of all ages. The aim is to support and promote exhibitors to help them develop their career in the arts sector. After each Next Wave biennial, several exhibitors are selected for three years free membership of the RBSA as Next Wave Associates.

Other current Next Wave Associates are: Yasmin Boyle, Matthew Gale, Rob Hamp, Claire Hickey, Anna Lorenz, Constantin Malmare, Jennifer Pardoe, and Natalie Seymour, Clare Pentlow.

Making Together


The RBSA will be offering free guided tours and multi-sensory tours during the Making Together show including a BSL tour on 27 February, 1-3pm. Contact Natalie at the RBSA on 0121 236 4353 to book a place.

Our accessibility video can be viewed at YouTube.

Making Together moves to TouchBase Pears as a community exhibition in March.

This project / exhibition is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and a donation by the Grimmitt Trust.

Lottery logo

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