'The Blue Olive Tree' (2015)
"I grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, and I lived there until I was 18 when I met my husband. Growing up life was tough. My mother was very strict and we all worked hard. One of my jobs was to go door to door selling eggs. The kids at school teased me, calling me ‘Poultry Penelope’.
If someone meets me now, I avoid talking about my background. This has been my way of leaving 'Poultry Penelope' behind. But I also know I don’t want to be ashamed of where I came from."
When I talked to Penelope about creating a portrait, her mixed feelings about her background were very clear. When I was thinking of concepts I thought it would be interesting to show ‘Poultry Penelope’ as she is today – a glamorous woman – and somehow integrate her roots into the way she sees herself now.
Penelope liked the concept and we arranged to go ahead and set up a photoshoot. Her family farm is long gone, but she asked around and some friends of friends with a farm near Devon were happy to provide a location.
Penelope brought some of her own favourite clothes to wear in the portrait – elegant choices that reflect her personality. I wanted to show her barefoot, relaxed and at peace, but you can see her favourite shoes in the olive tree behind her, and eggs in one of her own bags. We chose other props to make it seem as if she was taking a break from work, and to represent traditional elements of life in the English countryside.
On the day of the shoot we spent a day at the farm and everyone got involved. Some neighbours brought over the chickens, and at the end of the day we all enjoyed traditional food together.
"The photo shoot was great, and I really enjoyed the whole process. I have hung the finished portrait in my bedroom. Now when I wake up, the picture reminds me to be proud of who I am."