Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 : Commun ities, Collectives & Collaboration
Weekend Study Visit with OCA
The weekend was packed full of people, places and photographs. Many thanks to Gareth, Angela, Clive, Jesse and Russell for their input. Here are a few of the highlights (and one lowlight) for me as I look back at the experience with the benefit of hindsight and with ‘presentation’ more or less in mind.
Brighton University Gallery
We gathered here to start the weekend and were taken in to see Afterimages work by the artists Cornford & Cross. I understand that they create work through discussion and debate, positing different conceptual ideas. We were informed that they had created Afterimages by deconstructing images that were originally exhibited as photographs on aluminium, i.e. scratching off the surface of the aluminium – see here Russell encouraged us all to imagine we could see parts of these images. He also encouraged us to see presentation in terms of different aspect ratios; the thickness of the blocks, the way they were framed. All I could see was a faint, blurred reflection of myself. It would have been different maybe if I could at least have seen some kind of proof that there had once been an image there, even if only a tiny portion. Yes – I could see Russell’s point regarding comparison with a palimpsest but with that there is both texture and evidence of the scrapings and what once lay beneath.
Is this all about how we reflect upon what we see; everyone perceives differently; the image reflects ourselves back to us; the life of a photograph from creation to decay? I don’t know! I felt as if this was some kind of game, a contemporary artistic con and I wasn’t willing to play it. The Emperor’s Suit of Clothes comes to mind. Not to be compared with artists such as Thomas Demand, the sculptor and photographer who creates architectural models that he then photographs (in large scale) and destroys. There’s an interview here with Demand.
Q: How many clues might a viewer need from an “open” work to retain their attention, including a story.
Real Britain 1974 : Co-optic and Documentary Photography
This Exhibition aimed to “….explore how the Co-optic Group attempted to establish an authentic representation of 1970s Britain” in monochrome which was the preferred aesthetic in the 70s (Biennial Brochure). The group aimed to combine the ‘new’ independent photography inspired by US examples, with the style and forms of 1960s photo-journalism. This Exhibition celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the group’s Real Britain postcard project in what was its first public showing from the archive. There’s a Guardian article here. I don’t remember these postcards at the time but to look at them now was so evocative for me. Martin Parr’s brilliant image of two people sleeping amongs rows of empty deckchairs – the slight cruelty in the way in which his wide angle lens barrelled out the man’s chest as it pulls at his shirt – tie askew mirroring the barrelling effect, also mirrored the same effect created by the woman’s arms under her fluffy jacket. The John Knill Ceremony 1971, photographed by Homer Sykes , who has a wonderful web archive. Girls in pale dresses amongst a crowd streaming down what looks like a steep hill with a church spire on top. Portrait aspect – again at a slight tilt to exaggerate the steep slant of hill and steeple. It immediately reminded of Whitsun and how (if there was enough money in the family) the girls always had a new dress for Sunday and maybe even one for Monday. We went knocking on doors and were given pennies. Goodness – it was begging! Not Whitsuntide in Sykes’ photograph at all, but St Ives, Cornwall in July 1971 and a local ceremony.
I can’t find much information about the Co-optic group itself although I recognise most of their names. Wondered if they still meet-up. Certainly they met their aim in showing the real Britain. They’re the kind of photograph I would want to buy now when I’ve been to places but then? I’m not too sure they would have matched my visual thinking style then. I was living in the “real” Britain so maybe those postcards wouldn’t have appeared different enough to me. I wanted vivacity and colour in my life at the time.
In terms of context,
Postcards proved to be popular items in the resurgence of ephemera that took place during the 1970s. The Arts Council had used them in its “Two Views” exhibition in 1972. They also featured in student assignments and regional Arts group competitions (p. 49, Photoworks, 2014)
I’m certainly very aware of their use now so postcards have continued to be a creative and economical way of demonstrating creative expression and gaining publicity.
I had wondered whether the 1970s postcards were successful – seems they were as 50,000 cards (selected by a group vote) sold out within a year, followed by a reprint. There were criticisms though from within and outside the group and it ceased operations in 1977. Some members of our group thought the postcards were stereotypical. Parr’s slightly cruel humour was noted. Some were quirky, with a politicised view. To me, what came through was how a narrative can be created with one image and the importance of composition and aspect in creating the effect.
Amore e Piambo : the Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy
This was a collection of press photography from the 1970s, which was a turbulent period in Italy. It included archive prints; television news footage, film sequences and sound recordings, plus some Italian photo-books loaned from the Martin Parr collection.There is a sombre essay Photoworks (2014) by Roger Hargreaves and Frederica Chiocchetti who write that this Exhibition, far from offering answers, “…… seeks to concoct a viscous minestrone from the ingredients of the season: gnostic terrorism, coalition government, conspiracy and collaboration” (p.91).
In some respects, the curators created order through the presentation, vitrines – dark wood cabinets, with open, glass-framed doors containing wood frames on the right hand side as we entered through the door, with photobooks in glass display boxes in front of them
series of bookshelves, displaying photographs in double frames of different sizes and aspects – divided into divergent ‘categories’ such as celebrities and politicians.
Further down the room there were deep box frames on small plinths – photographs of assassinated politicians – resembling tombs. These were arranged on the floor in front of a large board containing a statement by Aldo Moro’s family made 9th May 1978, the day of his execution by members of the Red Brigades, with unframed photographs of flowers and wreaths stacked below.
Brighton Photo Fringe at the Vantage Building
Exhibitions here included work by emerging photographers and photography collectives
4th Floor – Inhabit: Alison Bettles, Fergus Heron and Alison Stolwood
Three artists exploring intersecting domestic and natural worlds
Her series, Unruly Habits used found, inherited and household objects to create installations, “where the home becomes a backdrop or theatre set for picture making and the “the ambiguous line between the documentary and the theatrical” is questioned. Her work is striking – deep, brilliant colour, strong lines, particularly diagonals, dissecting negative space.
Photographs of Harlands Pond an old farm pond located within a housing development near Uckfield, and exploring nature in the centre of an often encountered but overlooked places – not the sublime but taking on a documentary feel. He uses a large format view camera and available light which turn what might at first seem ordinary into something with a still grandeur. I noted that one of his series is on Chobham Common which is in my neck of the woods.
At first you think it might be a greenhouse somewhere but then realise the plants may be on a wooden floor rather than a shelf and there’s some kind of backdrop behind them. I’m sure I’ve seen her work before in Source or Hotshoe magazines. There’s a lesson for me here regarding “still life” and its possibilities, also, again, how something ‘ordinary’ can be made to seem special with creative framing.
He was showing some images from Sun-Urbia and his ongoing new project 36 Views. He is loosely basing this on Jeff Wall’s work A sudden gust of wind which, in turn, was based on Hokusai’s Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri from the portfolio thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, and examining Brighton as both a seaside town and a city by the sea. Straightforward documentary style photographs I think but large format and with beautiful colouring.
I haven’t captured them so well here, but I was entranced by these ‘mobiles’ – small lightboxes twirling and twinkling.
I think I was the only one who enjoyed them because there were comments like, “too much like Christmas decorations” etc, but they drew me towards them. I couldn’t find a reference anywhere to the names of either photographer/s or series. I’m also remembering now the discussion on the OCA Flickr site here regarding negative comments about photography by the Guardians Art critic Jonathan Jones and the words “It’s amazing how long some people can look at a photograph. I observed the observers, rapt before illuminated images that I really can’t look at for more than a few seconds.” He was referring here to the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I have to admit that when I visited it previously I was aware how these backlit images seemed to have lost all materiality. I still think there’s a place for Lightboxes if they’re used appropriately though.
This photographer is represented by the Laura Noble Gallery which gives information on her series I shall say goodbye with my strengthening love for you, forever and ever. The series “draws on myth, fairy tales, private emotions and environmental destruction” and “generates an allegorical narrative that is both enchanting and haunting”. It is housed in a collection of 5 individual concertina volumes
There was a beautiful simplicity about them; differential placement of images; mix of portrait and landscape aspect, some text but not a lot. Here is a video which shows them more eloquently than I can write about them.
Her website also contains responses to her work from two writers, Nick Burbidge and Charlotte Barrow. I wanted to keep on looking at her books and they were the highlight of the weekend for me. I am so pleased that OCASA have now organised for her to talk to OCA students on the 6th December.
A talk by Chloe Dewe Mathews
Chloe was there to talk about her project Shot at Dawn dedicated website here which was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford as part of the 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art commissions. She travelled to sites where British, French and Belgian groups were executed for cowardice and desertion between 1918. The project comprises images of 23 locations at which these soldiers were shot or held in the period leading up to their executions and she created a visual architecture of the places, following a rigorous process where all the photographs were made as close to the exact time of execution as possible and at approximately the same time of year.
The square, large format images are sombre in hue, heavy with import, although a part of me wondered what my reaction would have been if I hadn’t known the historical context as there is no sign of what happened – no memorial or inscription. Would they just have seemed like straightforward landscape or building shots?
Chloe also referred to another project of hers where she utilised small photographs with scraps/pieces of words as a kind of dialect like Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. These were then posted back to Brighton. I have actually contacted Chloe for more information about this as I didn’t catch everything she was saying about it so will add this if/when I hear back from her. In the meantime, I have tracked down some information from Photoworks, here and I look forward to learning more about the Nadsat language.
(Postscript May 2016) : Looking back I realise now that I never found out more about about the project she had devised, whilst working in Russia on her Caspian project – devising a photographic dictionary of Nadsat. Nadsat was created by Anthony Burgess in 1961 whilst writing his book A Clockwork Orange. I did email her about it but the link she sent to me was a Photoworks http://photoworks.org.uk/creating-nozh/ one I already had. Of course, this got me interested again now. Another internet search didn’t give me any leads but I did find an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.
Circus Street Market
Vicki and I were guided here by Russell. The area reminded me a little of the large hangar like sites at the Arles Festival last year. It was twilight by then and the space seemed rather empty and intimidating with its dim lighting, although the food stalls were very welcome.
The project I was most taken by was A Return to Elsewhere displayed in large lightboxes and looking very vibrant in the twilight. The project is a collaboration between Kalpesh Lathigra (UK) and Thabisa Sekgala (SA) exploring communities in two primary locations (where they began at the same time) Marabastad and Laudium in South Africa and Brighton in the UK. They were looking at Indian Communities and one aspect that was particularly interesting for me was the link between Brighton Pavilion and Woking. In the 1914-18 War the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for wounded troops from the British Indian Army. Some of those who died were buried in the Muslim Burial Ground in Woking which I wrote about here and I have continued to take photographs there.
I wasn’t expecting to write as much as this so it shows how inspiring I found this visit. At this point I won’t comment on the Sunday morning work review as this fits more appropriately into my preparations for Assignment One. In the meantime, I’ve noted some thoughts on Presentation:-
- How “open” can a work be to retain the viewer’s attention? How much does the viewer need to know about the context (Co-optic and Italy).
- The importance of composition and aspect in creating an effect and constructing the narrative, especially in one image (Co-optic group and Amore e Piambo)
- The use of bookshelving and deep box frames to add grandeur and gravity to important events.
- The way in which an apparently simply concertina book can frame such an eloquent narrative. (Johanna Ward)
- How often something apparently ordinary can be made to seem so interesting by ‘Installing’ it or creating a sculpture from it (Alison Bettles and Alison Stolwood).
- To remember the use of text in all its infinite varieties.
- Lightboxes definitely have a place for me. They can make images ‘glow’ out of the darkness, but they have to be used appropriately
- The many ways in which postcards or small photographs can be used (Co-optic and Chloe Dewe Mathews). I already have a project in mind!
17th November 2014
Photoworks (2014) Issue 21 : Collaboration, Photoworks, Brighton, UK