Aly Jackson, fine art photographer

separation avulsion 2Photographer Aly Jackson spent her childhood in the North East and if she’s honest that’s where her roots are deeply planted.

But at just 16 she upped sticks and headed south to be with her teenage sweetheart – a decision that was to change the path of her life forever and to influence her art in later years.

At the time, in the early 80s, she had no idea of the impact the move would have, but the Chesterfield artist says she has always had a real feeling of “having missed out” because she left the place she calls home as the region faced up to huge cultural changes.

“I lost something when I left because when I went back to the North East it had been taken apart by the closure of the pits. The community I had known had gone forever.”

It is that separation, the memories it had created alongside the social injustice experienced by her kith and kin, which Aly used as the theme for her graduation exhibition at the University of Derby last year.

“Separation – Avulsion” is a series of monochromatic prints of layered digital images that won her the Purchase Prize in the 2013 degree show.

The university now has two pieces of her work in its permanent collection and she had images in its recent Best of the Best exhibition at the Markeaton Street campus. She has also been given an associateship of the Royal Photographic Society.

Aly, 49, can’t hide her delight at her early success, especially as she embarked on the academic adventure in Derby almost on the spur of the moment.

“It was quite serendipitous I have to confess and I am really quite proud that my work is being recognised like this,” she said.

“I went on a foundation course in art at Chesterfield College in an effort to tear myself away from working excessively long hours. After my two years I was going to give up and go back to full time work – having had my fun.

However I got a distinction, which I wasn’t expecting, and that made me think again. Even though I hadn’t formally applied for a place I phoned the university just to see what the chances were and within a week I was signed on to the Fine Art course.”

The young Aly had always had an interest in art, especially photography and when she first arrived in Chesterfield as a teenager she chose the subject at evening classes.

Over the years she has worked at taking better pictures but, as for many other people, life took over, and her interest remained just a hobby until, as often happens, she was faced with reflecting on what she was doing and why.

The relationship with the teenage sweetheart fizzled out and she ended up marrying the man she describes as her rock and support when she was nearly 30 and they now have two teenage children.

Ten years ago she became self-employed and it was then that she found herself working ridiculous hours.

“It got to the stage where I was writing a report until 4am and then faced with driving 130 miles to a meeting on just two hours sleep. It was at that point I decided I needed to re-evaluate what I was doing.

“I am just so glad I made the choice to go on the foundation course and then that I was able to take it further and go to Derby.

“The degree course was incredible and I learned such a lot. Over the three years, despite working with other media, I was pulled back to photography as I just find it so incredibly satisfying.”

Aly works in black and white because she finds colour distracts from the narrative of memories (whether imagined or real) and social injustice that she is trying to evoke with her work.

Her recent work is more abstract and she has also taken a series of portraits of people on the steps of Wakefield Cathedral. These pictures will be part of an exhibition at the cathedral that opens on February 3.

To find out more about Aly’s work go to