2014 date and venue announced

The sixth National Photography Symposium explores integrity in photography, considering:

  • Ethical routes into photography (who benefits from the many courses, competitions and opportunities on offer);
  • New business models for photographers that take account of changes in the economy;
  • Fairness in licensing and copyright;
  • The future for photo organisations – commercial cleverness and public service;
  • Sustainability, both as a photographic subject and in terms of best practice.

Plus special presentations on the Midlands school of photography; new thinking on archives; scans of the horizon by leading companies and institutions; and much more.

Dates and times: 2pm on 12 June to 5pm on 14 June 2014

Venue: The Library of Birmingham

Tickets on sale from 10 April 2014

2013 Symposium Report

Here’s a full report on the 2013 National Photography Symposium – NPS5 – by writer Vicky Anderson. A summary is followed by more detail on each individual contribution.

SUMMARY

A fascinating mix of speakers across the fields of academia, journalism, science and technology and the arts took to the Bluecoat to address the fifth National Photography Symposium.

Taking place on the same day as the launch of Look 13, the symposium was inspired by the festival theme ‘who do you think you are’, and examined a range of issues relevant to current theory and practice in photography, as well as considering the future of the profession.

With a format adapted from last year’s event, NPS5 had been programmed to take into account the broad interests and concerns of Redeye members of all backgrounds, including working professionals, keen amateurs, students and teachers.

As such, it incorporated everything from talks by veteran photographers to the awarding of the second Rob Sara Bursary, highlighting some exciting up-and-coming talent; and looked at techniques and approaches across the industry from to the impact of Instagram to the enduring appeal of black and white film.

The day began with a talk from Carol McKay, a lecturer from the Northern Centre of Photography at the University of Sunderland. Posing the question “are we all photographers now?”, she examined the rise of social media and photosharing websites such as Flickr and Instagram, and their impact on professional photographers.

Exploring how arts organisations and individual projects are increasingly seeing the value in crowdsourcing amateur photography through competitions and open calls, not only as a way to engage with audiences but also help as a marketing tool and with funding applications, McKay observed that professional photographers will need to respond to the change in perception of the practice that this democratisation has brought about.

The academic theory of performatism was introduced by second speaker Dr Raoul Eshelman, who discussed his ideas of the post postmodern movement in photography and the arts. Turning away from the hyper-artificial, faux-amateur style of postmodernism, performatism instead considers a higher sense of order and transcendence that reaches beyond the photograph.

The final speaker of the morning was Howard Hopwood, chairman of Harman Technology, the UK’s largest photographic manufacturer. Giving an insight into the history of the company, which incorporates the long-established Ilford Photo, he talked about the science behind some of its most popular products including multigrade paper and developer – and how you might even be wearing some of their technology in your socks. Hopwood revealed that to ensure the company’s future as “the best in black and white”, it has most recently diversified to employ the same silver halide compound used in its photography products as an active ingredient in odour control footwear.

After a question and answer session and lunch, the talks resumed with photojournalist David Hoffman, who has spent four decades taking pictures of protests, riots and demonstrations – with the scars, missing teeth and court cases behind him to prove it. Hoffman spoke of his mistreatment at the hands of the police over the years, and what he perceived to be the failure of the Met to view journalists at the scene of protests to be impartial observers, instead treating them as troublemakers and keeping files on their movements. From the Brixton riots in 1981 to the G20 demonstrations of recent years, he has seen it all – and told of his fear of the powers of police surveillance in the future.

This was followed by Susan Jones, the director of a-n, the Artists Information Company, who discussed problems in funding for artists. A recent survey by a-n highlighted the increasing trend of artists being expected to exhibit their work for nothing, even by flagship galleries. “Where has all the money gone?” she asked, suggesting that the artists’ lack of motivation for profit may see many taken advantage of, settling for much less than their time and creative efforts are worth, while others benefit.

Finally, some of the new legal issues facing professional photographers were addressed in a practical session by Gwen Thomas, the legal and business director of the Association of Photographers, and Nick Dunmur, a non-executive director of the AOP and chair of the British Photographic Council.

With changes to come in copyright and licencing legislation that will affect working photographers, they warned that although a great deal of speculation and scaremongering abounds, it still pays to protect your work for the future, and gave practical tips for copyrighting work and displaying online.

The day concluded with the awarding of the Redeye Printing Bursary with Rob Sara, now in its second year. After a showcase of work by the shortlisted photographers, the winner was named as Gillian Gilbert, a final year student at the University of Cumbria. Sara is one of the most respected printers in the UK, and offers two days of directed hand printing in his studio to produce a series of prints for the winner’s portfolio.

The theme of Look 13 – ‘who do you think you are’ – by accident or design may have inspired NPS5 to look inwardly at the practice of photography as well seeing the bigger picture. As the variety of speakers showed, the industry faces its own challenges in a rapidly changing climate, but as always there is common ground and support to be found in all sorts of different places; and its champions are as passionate as ever, whatever the future may bring.

 

CAROL McKAY

In the first talk of the day, Carol McKay posed the question ‘Are We All Photographers Now?’ and shared her thoughts on the pros and cons of sharing and exhibiting photography online.

Illustrating her talk with work by her colleague Arabella Plouviez, McKay, a photography lecturer at the University of Sunderland, discussed modern photosharing platforms including Flickr, their impact on professional photographers and the democratisation of the practice.

Crowdsourcing of images has become a source of fascination for professionals and amateurs alike in recent years, and social media has become a powerful tool. More than just sharing a quick snap on Pinterest or Instagram, these sites have become a key way for cultural organisations to engage with potential audiences, even spawning exhibitions in their own right.

Photography competitions open to all are a prime example, increasing in popularity and easier to participate in than ever in the age of digital photography and smartphones.

Such methods are as much a savvy marketing ploy as a commitment to art – and in some cases have become a useful device in supporting funding applications; one of the most successful examples being the Street Photography Now project, that saw 20,000 images uploaded to Flickr in a year.

McKay said photographers need to think how to respond to the changes social media has brought about.

“What has become clear is photographers’ interface with social media and online platforms is of great importance,” she said. “The changing expectations of photographic audiences is a challenge, as audiences are likely to engage in complex and varied practice of photography in a way that might be different to audiences of other practices.”

To highlight the impact of social media photography and how it has changed the landscape of the practice, McKay cited the work of two artists who have tried to contextualise this: Erik Kessell, in his 2011 installation Photography in Abundance, where he printed off all pictures uploaded to Flickr in a 24 hour period to fill a physical gallery space, and Ekke Vasli’s piece Watch Flickr Downloading Live, a fast-changing screen that can barely seem to keep up with the onslaught of new content.

 

RAOUL ESHELMAN

In his talk Performatism: Photography After Postmodernism, Dr Raoul Eshelman approached NPS5 as a cultural critic, to explain the concept of his term for post postmodernism. Performatism, he argued, is applicable to all strands of the arts and represents a new type of photography in itself, as opposed to a “warmed over modernism”.

To highlight his theory he used examples of work from photographers including Thomas Demand, Kurt Tong, Andreas Gursky and Mike Perry.

He explained that postmodernism in photography is recognised through its hyper-artificiality or amateurish, ironic style. This anti-aesthetic, superficial attitude can be seen in the type of photographs that are made to look random and taken off the cuff but belying great complexity and skill, such as Lee Friedlander’s Las Vegas (2002).

Alternatively, performatism uses space in an affirmative way to create a dynamic sense of order, and the viewer can assume an aesthetic attitude – suggesting a higher sense of order, a transcendence that reaches beyond the photograph.

Motifs include urban and industrial landscapes with a hint of spirituality, such as the ‘non-ironic Americana’ of the work of Mike Sinclair; nature and culture; people, placed in settings to suggest transcendence (for example, Nikita Pirogov’s The Other Shore series); interiors, opening out into other worlds (eg Kurt Tong’s People’s Park series); objects that have been made to transcend; and natural order overcoming chaos.

Dr Eshelman is a lecturer in Slavic literature at the Maximilian University, Munich.

 

HOWARD HOPWOOD 

Harman Technology is the UK’s largest photographic manufacturer, and its chairman and new business director Howard Hopwood gave an insight into the company in his talk Inspired by Imagination… Shaped by Science.

Mr Hopwood gave a short history of Harman Technology, as well as explaining what goes on behind the scenes in the firm’s plant and discussing the challenges faced by manufacturers in the photographic industry today.

Harman Technology, formerly ILFORD, is named after Alfred Harman who founded the company in 1879. It was put on the map in 1940 with the invention of multigrade paper, which revolutionised black and white photography. In the 1980s, the firm decided to specialise and concentrate solely on developing this product and becoming “the best in black and white”.

With the rise and rise of digital photography, Mr Hopwood maintains there will always be a market for film. “I try to maintain the view that film is the best way to capture an image”, he said. “I believe that not just because it is my livelihood but because you can have the confidence that if you capture something on film it is going to last.”

As well as longevity, another advantage to using silver gelatin prints is that it is valued by collectors as the format makes it difficult to replicate originals.

But as the market for physical photographs – and the support structure around it – gets smaller, Herman Technology faces problems including the volatile price of silver and raw materials becoming more difficult to source.

The firm continues to introduce new products, and one way of diversifying has been finding an alternative use for its silver halide compound – as the active ingredient in odour control socks.

Mr Hopwood says: “The Alfred Harman legacy is still alive. We are still there and still working on it. We will be the best in black and white and I think we are about there. We will be the last man standing in traditional photography – we have committed ourselves to that. It is a valuable business, and we are keeping it going. Through socks!”

 

DAVID HOFFMAN

David Hoffman was introduced to the symposium as “the second most arrested photographer in the UK”, and went on to give a short history of his 35 year career as a radical photographer, capturing images of civil unrest around the country.

His first-hand accounts of riots, demonstrations and protests – and the price he has paid to be at the scene over the years – gave a rare insight into the policing of these events and how it has changed, including an increasing wariness of on-the-spot photographers, who are now just as likely to be watched as any criminal.

From the 1981 Brixton Riots to the more recent G20 protests, Hoffman’s experiences of aggressive policing and what he claims to be tactics including the deliberate provocation of protesters and crowds by police – as well as the court cases he himself has won after being assaulted and arrested by officers under false pretences – not only told of threats to journalists but the danger of the UK “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

Hoffman’s photographs have on occasion captured images that illustrated aggressive police behaviour against photographers and civilians, from pictures of officers appearing to strangle a colleague in the 1980s (for which damages were awarded), to photographic evidence of his own bloodied and bandaged head after an assault.

“Attacks on working journalists are attacks on democracy,” says Mr Hoffman, who has won a number of court cases against the police thanks to the legal support of the National Union of Journalists.

Photographers working on these demonstrations have been followed, filmed and treated as protesters by police. Their details are on police databases part of a move, says Hoffman, to create “a perfect storm of surveillance” in order to deter people from involvement in protests.

“The police are determined to oppress dissent,” he says. “I’m not a protester or activist. I’ve never been a member of a political party. I’m a journalist, and have been for 37 years. Yet [the police] have filmed me dozens of times – there is even a file on me on the national register of violent extremists.”

 

SUSAN JONES

“The millennium was a golden age for the arts, which really flourished at that time. So where has all the money gone?” asked Susan Jones, director of a-n, the Artists Information Company.

In her talk, she revealed some of the more telling results of her organisation’s 2013 artists’ survey, in which half of those who responded said it had become too expensive to exhibit work – with less than a third saying they had not received any fee whatsoever to exhibit, and earning less than £200 was to be expected. In addition to this, increasingly artists are being expected to pay a fee to exhibit or enter into competition.

Jones argued that the altruistic nature of creatives –  those freelancers not motivated by profit, yet making the work on which the jobs those more securely employed in galleries depends – not only risks them being taken advantage of, but also devaluing their work and that of others as well.

“Artists increasingly hear ‘there’s no budget’. There is – but what that means is that the budget has gone somewhere else. That doesn’t stop there being good practice,” she said.

This was illustrated with a quote from fine art lecturer Pavel Büschler, who puts it thus: “The artist’s ‘old’ job is taken over by the intermediaries who ‘deliver’ the art to the public, who facilitate public access to art - curators, critics, arts administrators – and whose role it is to negotiate the practical and ideological terms and conditions of the ’services’ provided by artists in society.”

As such, the artist remains in a precarious position, subject to market preferences and trends and vulnerable to all kinds of uncertainty when working on projects.

Ultimately, Jones asks, we have to ask: Art feeds the soul, but who feeds the artists?

 

GWEN THOMAS AND NICK DUNMUR 

In the final talk of the afternoon, Gwen Thomas and Nick Dunmur discussed new legislation for photographers to be aware of and ways for professionals to protect their livelihoods in The Photographer of the Future.

Ms Thomas, the legal and business director of the Association of Photographers, and Mr Dunmur, a non-executive director of the AOP and chair of the British Photography Council, began with an overview of new legislation to copyright reform soon coming into effect. Issues include the way orphan works – images that cannot be traced back to their owner – will be made available for anyone to use; and the introduction of extended collective licensing, that will allow organisations to collect money on behalf of non-members as well as members unless they take steps to opt out.

They offered the following advice for photographers in the face of new legislation:

● Keep yourself informed – scaremongery abounds.

● Join a trade association or union, to provide a balanced view

● If your work is in a library or you sell online, consider registering with a copyright office in the US

● Join a registry, eg PLUS.

● Metadata is strippable, despite this being a criminal offence – make incorporating it in all your images part of your workflow.

● Be clear about what your photographs can be used for. Build in licences as part of your paperwork trail – this can also be built into your metadata.

● Consider adding a watermark to all online photographs.

● You can also consider extending the canvas of your image and add information as part of the image itself.

● Make sure all paperwork is watertight – incorporate standard terms and conditions, and include these again in your invoices.

● Be careful using social media – some sites will strip metadata. Only post photographs of little or no value, and nothing with an exclusive licence.

● Get out and meet people. Networking face to face still the best way to find work.

Not all of these steps will be relevant to everybody but choose the steps that are most appropriate to your particular work.

If you need to provide information about licensing and copyright to your clients, look at the Copyright4Clients section of the AOP website.

LOOK/13 Festival Guide

LOOK/13 is one of the UK’s most important photography festivals, and is supported by Redeye. Here’s a short summary of what’s happening, in particular around the opening weekend of 16-19 May 2013.


View LOOK/13 Venues in a larger map. If it doesn’t load, refresh the page
Key to map: Turquoise = Festival venue // Yellow = Redeye Lighbox venue
Red = Parallel venue // Pink = Party

Redeye’s activities at LOOK/13:

Events at The Bluecoat – don’t miss:
The National Photography Symposium; 17 May
Tom Wood talk; 18 May
John Davies and Laura Pannack talks; 16 May
The Perfect Portfolio; 16 May

Portfolio reviews, Photo Activist Boot Camp and Editing workshop are now sold out.

Other festival opening weekend events:

Kurt Tong talk // Lightnight // Made in Liverpool // Launch Party; 17 May
Photo Pulse // Fabricate // Caravan Gallery talk; 18 May
Eva Stenram & Lucy Soutter; 19 May

Tours:
Museum of Liverpool; 18 May
Exhibition Research Centre // The Bluecoat; 19 May

Main Festival Exhibitions:

Sander // Weegee // Adam Lee // I Exist (in Some Way) at The Bluecoat
Charles Fréger // Eva Stenram at Open Eye Gallery
Rankin // Keith Medley // Martin Parr // Tom Wood at Walker Art Gallery
Kurt Tong at Victoria Gallery
Rob Bremner at Wolstenholme Creative Space
Blackout at Exhibition Research Centre
Caravan Gallery at Museum of Liverpool

Redeye’s Lightbox exhibitions (group and collective shows from our workshop programme; part of parallel programme):

Fabricate Collective at Fallout Factory
Lamp Post Collective at The Brink
* Possessed at 81 Renshaw Street
Stranded on The Strand (Merseyside Planet Vessel and next to Travelodge)

Parallel Programme (official fringe):

Art of Pop Video at FACT
Barbara Kruger // Moyra Davey at Tate Liverpool
* Caravan Gallery at 79 Renshaw St and on the Wirral
E Chambre Hardman at The Hardmans House
Emotive Matters // Lawrence Giles at The Bluecoat
* Fab Collective at The Domino Gallery
In Parallel (Marc Beaussart, Peter Mearns, Tabitha Jussa) at St George’s Hall
Ken Grant at Beaconsfield Community Centre
Mark McNulty at Bold St Coffee
Nick Danziger at The Brindley
Pete Carr at Leaf
Processing (Kevin Casey, Stephen King, McCoy Wynne) at Cornerstone
Tom Wood at CASC Chester
3+2=1 Collective at 81 Renshaw Street

* Exhibitions with an opportunity to submit your work

Publications:

Ilives – Tony Mallon and Crisis Skylight
Searching – Marc Provins

Opening times:

Some venues are closed Sundays or other days. Please click on the specific date you want to visit on the festival calendar.
Some venues are by appointment: Beaconsfield Community Centre and The Hardman’s House.

Anything to add? Please log in and add a comment below.

Work and the Economy

In the work and the economy session at NPS4 we heard from Esther Teichman, Sara T’Rula and John Wright…. A heady mix of pondering on academic learning in photography, the pros and cons of self-motivated learning, and both of these relative to a commercial practice.

Esther Teichmann is a practitioner in her own right, she also works commercially in fashion, she used to intern with Rankin; she now lectures and tutors at London College of Communication.

Sara T’Rula has tracked an altogether less conventional route into photography. Having previously worked in Westminster with a background in politics and economics, she used experiences gained here in technology and online tools and approached The Photographers Gallery to offer them assistance with their well known project Street Photography Now.

John Wright, by his own admission plays no part in any academic, ‘art’ or exhibition-based photography. John is on the advisory board of the Young Photographer Alliance – an organisation that states on it’s website to be ‘Inspiring, educating and empowering the next generation of photographers. Formerly a “third-world reportage photographer” John has worked through the famous people making funny faces stage and now works as a successful fashion photographer.

So there we have it, chalk, cheese and, well… something entirely different from those, and in no particular order. All present had been tasked with the prospect of discussing work and the economy in photography based upon their own experiences, and it opened up a multitude of questions and shall continue to be debated for some time yet…

I shan’t at this point pretend that I write from an entirely neutral standpoint. I have a BA and MA in photography and am currently starting my lecturing career in what could be the most academic of all photography topics: critical and contextual studies. I try every day to help students see their work in relation to many of the ways in which to practice photography and I (try to) help them to inform their work with knowledge. That knowledge comes through research and through consideration to the communication of their subject matter, via whichever conduit of photographic practice that they choose. In this sense, I like to consider myself open-minded, but I’m happy for that to be judged!

Teichmann considered how her practice and lecturing might adapt to accommodate changes in the market. When there are structural shifts in the nature of teaching currently, how do we begin to support young emerging artists? The nature of academia itself, even aside from teaching, is of course not distinct from economic changes. Universities function as corporate institutions; they are businesses themselves, with a need to make money and to stay afloat in order to provide an education to their students.

Teichmann believes that current graduates are shifting their expectations relative to those of previous generations of graduating artists.  Unlike the Hirsts; Emins and Hunters of the world who get picked up straight from their graduate shows, she believes that there is more humble nature to this generation of emerging practitioners. There is a need/an ability/an understanding, call it what you will, of the requirement to multitask. There is less preciousness around particular working practices, wherein graduates will practice in two, or three, different ways at the same time. It is no secret that the dissemination of work has been radically altered by changes in technology over the last decade or two. Work can now be seen more quickly, in many different places instantly, it can be altered, appropriated, ambushed! With this though also comes a need and an ability to control where and how work is seen; self-management, self-teaching and self-publishing are now on the rise. As a practitioner, taking your work into the world has changed.  This is another market shift that may change the way in which students need to be educated…so how can teaching change to meet these shifts?

I don’t have any answers to these, rhetorical, questions. Suffice to say that the discussion that they fuel is important and necessary for the future of photography; and it is ongoing…

Through self-teaching, Sara T’Rula quietly tiptoed into a photography practice and career. A love of jazz and her own working practices aroused strong ideas around collaboration and she approached the Photographers Gallery to become their community manager, looking after the public and user interface for Street Photography Now. The Street Photography Now community continues independently from The Photographer’s Gallery since the project finished; it is a self-initiated community, which is having a lasting and tangible affect on photography in its oeuvre. The group of practitioners itself is changing to suit the situation that it finds itself in. Again here we are reminded that this current generation of practitioners can be seen to self-govern, evolve, adapt and diversify. T’Rula is enthusiastic about participation and collaboration and is working towards an online presence for a participatory project at Format 2013. How exactly does an artist/photographer disseminate and contextualise work now – how can we focus on this as both practitioners and facilitators? T’Rula is also working with Ed Clarke using multimedia to try to make his work complicit with changing standards in viewing and accessibility – making work with the audience in mind is not a new thing in the art world, but assuming infinite audiences just may be.

Echoing most of what has been spoken of previously, John Wright is also focused on reinvention in a challenging economy, it seem to be how he survives his environment. Formerly a reportage photographer in developing countries, Wright was hoping to make difference but found it hard to reconcile what he was doing. He felt personally exploitative for his own commercial gain and photographic vanity, so become a celebrity photographer. With a clear end goal to the aesthetic and the placement of his work, John worked on his impact and visual style, starting with ‘cheap’ glamour and celebrity shots and working up from there. Through these experiences he learned more and more about his technique and followed his own motto:

“Always shoot for the people that you want to move on a shoot for.”

He hit the ceiling doing celebrity shots, stating that one subject matter (celebs) limits creativity and so you can’t photograph in any way that you want. John now makes fashion images and is wise to advise that you always know your future aims.

“You can reinvent yourself, but you need a plan… a clear target.”

John Wright’s advice in this sense was sound, but I felt that he lacked an appreciation of the more wide nature of photography outside of his own practice.

Photography is a vastly expanding oeuvre, it contains many ways of seeing and practicing, many messages and many styles; there are now many ways of being a photographer. Photography itself will continue to expand and contract, evolve and devolve, and as working practitioners in photography we will need to echo this shift in both the practice and concept of photography itself.

It was with the Q&A session at the end of this discussion that the issues raised around finance, education and exploitation really came to a head. We discussed the nature of the internship, about which Teichmann believes that there is an ethical split. The photographic industry is dependant on unpaid work placements, but they don’t happen in other industries to the same degree. Ultimately, she believes that internships need to be evaluated by the individual. Those who offer internships are actually showing a spirit of generosity by taking you under their wing in terms of mentorship and support, which can be invaluable for learning. In a sense John Wright agrees when he says that an internship can provide a free education, but if you take nothing from it, leave. He believes that you must take opportunities when they arise as they won’t always come to you, you must be specific and find the opportunities that expose you to the skills that you need to learn.

It was through the conversation around an academic education in photography that things became most argumentative. Are undergraduate course worthy of the £9000 fees? What do they offer? Is it a relevant education?

Esther Teichmann thinks UK offers exceptional photography education; John Wright does not.  She believes that the theoretical component of UK courses is strong, widely respected and supported. Most importantly, university can become a great place to create a network of academic experience – writers, curators, managers, etc and this nepotism is vital to forging your career.

John Wright believes that the art world is self-perpetuating and exists only to support itself; he stated that no professional commercial photographer went to university. This was a statistic that I haven’t felt the need to prove, as I can’t believe it true…

T’Rula regards art networks as imperative for the development of relationships and that in this sense, education and commercial are both valuable places to make contacts in the industry.

In its full descriptive nature I don’t feel the need to regale the entire argument, suffice to offer the ‘statistics’ and questions below:

In some countries in Europe, academic courses are run in a quantity that echoes the proportion of that business type in the economy.

To go to university is socially progressive. It is not necessarily for training as a vocational photographer, but for providing an education about photography.

Universities send out students who are ill equipped to be photographers.

In the UK, academic courses can be run simply if there are enough students on them.

Apparently there are more students studying photography in the UK than there are taxpaying photographers.

We need to re-think academic courses to accommodate self-promotion and technical skills. More practical inclusion may be required.

Where do galleries and photographic organizations stand through times of academic change?

Funded establishments will always be key to learning about photography.

University teaches student how to think and supports their skills. Thinking is a crucial part of learning how to operate as a person.

In a time of diversification, when you need to broaden your skills to narrow them in the future, how wide do you stay and for how long?

Esther Teichmann can be found at: http://www.estherteichmann.com/

Sara T’Rula can be found at: http://www.saratrula.com/

John Wright can be found at: http://www.johnwrightphoto.com/

Keynote: Peter Kennard

Written by Sian Gouldstone, http://mythoughtsarecurly.wordpress.com/

I had expectations of the National Photography Symposium before I sat down to listen to Peter Kennard, clearly. They were mainly centered around the asking of original questions in photography. I was interested whether we would ask questions that haven’t been asked before, repeat or re-analyse those that have; answer questions for the first or last time; or whether we would not be able to answer questions at all. The more I learn and think about photography, the more of an enigma it becomes and this is what drives me… to teach, to learn, to discuss, and to ask and to try to find answers to the questions posed in relation to photography practices today.

Peter Kennard was interesting and driven, he offers and he asks questions of photography himself. It’s role and its procedures are scrutinized. Before all else though, I must point out that Peter Kennard is alive, still. He declared this to us himself, in person, in response to all the doubters… Ladies and Gentlemen; Mr Peter Kennard…

Kennard cites Heartfield, Rodchenko and Brecht as influencing and inspiring. I don’t know a thing about Brecht, I’ll admit; but I do know a thing or two about Heartfield and Rodchenko. Here we are, straight into montage and straight into politics with no introductions. Heartfield and Rodchenko made work that communicates and questions, it is of its time and more. It has a voice, one that speaks and asks, about the past, the present and the future. It is propaganda; it is inspiring. Peter Kennard, quite copiously, also makes work that communicates and asks questions. His work is propaganda, I guess, and it is inspirational.

Through this first session at the NPS, we were given information, factual and fictional, and asked to consider a range of issues through our relations with politics, plagiarism, Palestine, posters, poverty, printing & the photo-montage of Peter Kennard! The power of montage brings up all manner of issues, and despite the years that Kennard has been working, the issues raised by his work are still current – like Heartfield and Rodchenko, his work speaks and asks about the past, the present and the future. So far as I can see, it has always had a place, quite central, in a discussion around power and seeing in visual cultures.

Peter Kennard is of the old school of montage; paper, scissors, knives and glue. He himself explains that his work needs to be seen, and to be understood, quickly.  So it is simple.

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Peter Kennard, Broken Missile, 1980, photomontage

The work Broken Missile is a photograph that Kennard took, of a child’s toy and a spray-painted piece of cardboard. It is unfussy and is subject to interpretation, quickly.

Kennard refers to this work on his website:

‘The point of my work is to use easily recognisable iconic images, but to render them unacceptable. To break down the image of the all-powerful missile, in order to represent the power of the millions of people who are actually trying to break them. After breaking them, to show new possibilities emerging in the cracks and splintered fragments of the old reality.’

It is the simplicity of Broken Missile and its subsequent re-presentations that makes it a fascinating piece. It provokes an interesting discussion and asks obvious questions about political issues. It was the questions related to plagiarism in photography that I was more interested in though – we have seen this image plastered across t-shirts and placards; used, used and re-used. At this current time, 30 years after Kennard made Broken Missile, we are within the motions of a great change in the way in which we view, make and use images. Plagiarism and pastiche are key ways in which we are changing our understanding of the past, present and future of photography. Where do we stand?

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 A poster of Broken Missile taped to the fence of Greenham Common by a protester, 1982

Don’t think for a moment though that plagiarism offends Peter Kennard.  His use of iconic symbols extends to incorporate iconic paintings. Haywain with Cruise Missiles was a response to the siting of US missiles in Britain. In this, Kennard uses Constable’s Haywain to reinvigorate discussion on political issues, to symbolise the much-loved British landscape and possibly to metaphorically refer to the invasion of something that doesn’t necessarily belong to you.

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Peter Kennard, Haywain with Cruise Missiles, 1980, photomontage

Right now, I am introducing ideas from Kennard’s talk, but large debate on plagiarism, pastiche, mimic and copyright can ensue… and it would be right up my street! It raises the very contemporary discussion around authorship and ownership, audience and meaning.  How are they changing in a very digital and accessibility savvy period? Kennard himself was quite clear that he doesn’t have the legal team to govern the dissemination of his images beyond the uses that he creates them for. He goes on to say, however, that people will make money from his work, but if in the process of this happening, the money goes to the correct cause intended by his work, then he has no problem.

The rights to use images, who can see and use images, and how images are shown are all relative to Kennard’s approach in one way or another. He tells us that his shows, and other work, can be censored and filtered politically. Restrictions are literally, or metaphorically placed around work shown in public. This leads to one of the aspects of Kennard’s approach to his work that speaks to me of questioning. He refuses to be bound by the exhibitory nature of his work. Kennard shows in as many different and engaging ways as possible. On every seat in the auditorium was a newspaper page, and advert for his new show. Kennard showed manual work, darkroom work, gallery work, public intervention, digital work & interactive work.

The Self Portrait of Tony Blair was shown in a shop window, ‘Santa’s Ghetto’, on Oxford St; a piece that allowed interaction from the public, that touched on a contemporary zeitgeist related to self-imagining and identity.

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Peter Kennard, from Santa’s Ghetto, 2006

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…in the ghetto’s window on oxford street, London (http://www.kennardphillipps.com/)

Kennard also spoke of the café that he helped create in the City of London in Leadenhall market. The café offered soup for bankers, calculated at the same proportion of their average salary as an average African worker would pay – soup was charged at £111 per cup.

The issue of subversive work in public spaces raised questions about the traditional values of the art world. How accessible is art everyday? Do traditional artistic values and accessibility to controversial imagery limit photography as a genre?  Kennard used an example where Orange censored a Christmas message that he’d made. Orange subsequently withdrew the work, as they needed to bear in mind their corporate identity. The irony of this is that Orange lecture on censorship, and yet appear to censor work themselves.

The last thing that Kennard talked about was his book @Earth. @Earth is a sequence of pictures, which is intended to be read as a whole sequence. It is presented as a series of folders – each opening to reveal its series of images. Kennard says that a montage is a sentence. With this in mind, @Earth and can be read with a strong, intentional narrative. In some sense it is a retrospective thus far of Kennard’s career.

Kennard is keen to stress that the work he produces is primarily in montage.  Where collage stresses no similarity or reference between the images it uses, a montage does. The montage recognises skill on a surface, its images work together to communicate, to relate issues and to ask questions about the nature of what it presents. This is a metaphor it seems, for the careers work so far of Peter Kennard.

Peter Kennard can be found at http://www.peterkennard.com/ and at http://www.kennardphillipps.com/.