Tag Archives: photography

Day 1 – National Photography Symposium 2018

To summarise a symposium is a both a clarifying and difficult task; to provide honest insight into the words, perspectives and experiences shared, and the connections made – here, reflecting on the National Photography Symposium 2018 (NPS2018). With speakers and delegates from far and wide across the field of photography, and beyond, it was timely and interdisciplinary in focus – photography and its online and offline roles in, and changing relationships with, technology, science, environment and sustainability, education and the world of work, journalism, gender, health and wellbeing, agriculture and the rural, community action, the “B” word (dare I say Brexit) and more. Over the next week, I’ll be sharing reflections from the three-day event, where I invite you in to read, respond and ask questions…

Paul Herrmann (Director of Redeye Network), Day 1 of the National Photography Symposium 2018, 1 November 2018. Photography by Drew Forsyth.

The first day began with an introduction by Redeye Network’s Director, Paul Herrmann, to the legacy of the late (and greatly missed) Pete James, to whom the opening lecture was dedicated. Co-founder of GRAIN, researcher, curator and archivist, Pete was described by his peer as a kind, gentle and completely unpretentious person, known for his erudition, conversation and side-splitting laughter, and more so his “engine of knowledge”, connection to audiences and thus, his reputation in the field of photography in the UK. Most recently, encouraging artists, including Vanley Burke and Paul Hill (and others), to deposit their collections in public libraries and fundamental in establishing the Photographic Collections Network (PCN). Throughout the three-days of NPS2018, Pete remained in mind, where conversation often returned to his approach and work, as reflected in the memorial lecture given by Professor Elizabeth Edwards.

Setting the foundation for NPS2018, Elizabeth presented ‘Photographs and the Public Library: Back to the Future’ by mapping the symbiotic relationship of libraries to the history of photography through a sense of hopefulness and positive action. She began by highlighting the importance of the library in photography’s firmament through the emergence of “local collectionism” – specifically, the gathering of photographs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here, “Back to the Future” defined the inclusive and inscriptive nature of the past for the future – an inclusiveness (photographic inscription as historical record) and immediacy (providing alternative histories to mitigate the terms of how to collect).

Professor Elizabeth Edwards, Day 1 of the National Photography Symposium 2018, 1 November 2018. Photography by Drew Forsyth.

Once seen as the university of the everyman, the library provided civilised, liberal and civic identity through free access to reading, often becoming the cultural powerhouse of the town whilst strengthening civic pride. By “plotting historical mayhem” through photography, they became fundamental in the local and regional collected memory of civic action. More directly,  photography as record – inscriptions, infrastructures, landscape and experience, local and modern.  As such, the library and their collections of photography gave strong definition of place to define people or community – a topography of the past, firmly rooted in the local. This record of local conditions was also used to understand what was historically relevant at the time.

Professor Elizabeth Edwards, Day 1 of the National Photography Symposium 2018, 1 November 2018. Photography by Drew Forsyth.

As part of the latter, Elizabeth notes a “photographic bibliographic entanglement” – photography as objective knowledge networks in the library (in themselves reliant on networks), where the visual is an often unarticulated component. She acknowledged when engaging with photographs, it creates strong histories and local belonging linked to wider agendas of community history – “belonging to place” – alongside an optimistic view of what photography could deliver as part of collaborative practice through a process of social exchange, re-invigorated by contemporary communities.

As a visual and historical anthropologist, Elizabeth wants to listen to what people say and give voice, bringing into focus the importance of taking photographs out into new public spaces – “use the library as a site of free exhibition” – for local visual histories to become visible, relevant and dynamic to new audiences. Throughout her identification of collections of photographs clustered in the early 20th century, she consistently returned to the notion of hopefulness and “Back to the Future” as best explained in the mission statement of the on-going partnership project, Connecting Histories.

A few questions resonated from the opening lecture, including:

  • What is the relationship between museums, galleries and libraries?
  • How do the circumstances of both libraries and collecting differ today?
  • As citizens, how can we encourage libraries to collect and what should be collected?
  • For photographs “living in limbo”, where do they sit beyond disciplinary archives?
  • As archives, what do we mean by survey and nostalgia and are they related?

In a time of precarity and insecurity, where socio-political, economic and cultural conditions are changing every single day, we are often unsure as to what is fake or truth, creating a constant questioning and feeling of flux. Photography has the capacity to be the tool to document, translate and define this moment and as Elizabeth has stated, to influence and develop “a future for all”. Although, the legacy and resonance of NPS2018 is difficult to track and quantify, one thing is clear: without provocation, there is no action; without action, no legacy for a developing future. Go home and find community relevant photography that would help to build a bigger picture of where we all live (or once lived), and get involved with your local library – as I have today. This blog post was written from my local authority library in Stafford, where I’ll be returning throughout this week to share further reflections from NPS2018.

Dr. Rachel Marsden
(Guest writer for Redeye Network)

Pioneering Days: Paul Hill on Photography at the Midland Group Gallery

At the Symposium Val Williams and Paul Hill spoke about photography networking though the Midland Group Gallery in Nottingham in the 1970s and 80s. Here, Paul Hill outlines his personal experience and involvement with the movement.

My own involvement with the Midland Group Photography came about because in 1973 I was teaching photography part-time at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. I had been a photo-journalist since 1965, but was always interested in doing my own personal work. Through my teaching, and particularly through my friendship with Bill Jay – editor of Creative Camera and later Album – I was aware of how powerful the medium could be for expressing rather than describing.

But where could you show such ‘personal’ work in the late 60s – early 70s? Personal work for ‘thinking photographers’ was something you did ‘on the side’, whilst working in journalism, advertising, industry, fashion, or teaching.

Val mentioned in her presentation The Photographers’ Gallery in London. I had an exhibition there in 1971 of mostly personal documentary work, which was great as the gallery was ‘the only show in town’ then.

My teaching at the poly and Derby College of Art meant that I was working with lecturers and students who wanted their creative, non-applied work to get to a wider audience. So a grass roots group called Exposure, made up mostly of these lecturers approached the Midland Group, and the result was Midlands Seen. John Blakemore and Richard Sadler were members of Exposure and may have shown work at the Midland Group before, I think, but probably in a group show.

As Val mentioned the head of photography at the poly, Bill Gaskins, was most influential and, as well as participating in this first show, he asked some London-based high profile photographers, like David Hurn, David Montgomery, and John Benton Harris to exhibit with us. This showed we were serious and could vie with even The Photographers’ Gallery!

There was quite a lot of media attention as it was novel to see photographs in art galleries in those days. Even the Guardian reviewed. The formalistic approach taken by some of the participants, including me, was innovative in the reviewer’s eyes:

… to examine a portion of something in detail … is how the majority of people are teaching themselves to see now. If any popular art form or style is going to develop from this popular method of looking, Nottingham may inadvertently be the place to start it.

The first issue of the East Midlands Arts Association tabloid Artefact wanted to feature Midland Seen and they asked me to write a piece, which they entitled Photography – A Non-Art? It was also commissioned in response to a recently published interview with Lord Snowdon, who was then the public face of photography after his marriage to Princess Margaret in the 60s.

His view was that luck plays too great a part in photography for it to be considered an art. It was a craft, and he loathed the idea of signing a photographic print. An accountant doesn’t sign your accounts, he said, so why should a photographer sign his photographs?

I trenchantly argued in the piece that photography was a stand-alone art form, and concluded a pretty long piece thus:

In this country it is not very surprising therefore that even people who are deeply appreciative of the conventionally accepted creative arts – people, one supposes, like Lord Snowdon – do not put photography alongside painting, sculpture, music etc..

It is because they do not understand it; and like most things people do not understand, they are frightened of it.

Among those frightened of photography at that time were most fine artists. Vic Burgin was a lecturer in the Fine Art Department at Trent Poly then, and wrote in Camerawork that those photographers who sought to establish photography’s credibility as an art were like rats swimming towards a sinking ship.

It was a philosophical and ideological battleground then, but I think we know now who won!

Anyway, back to the Midland Group…

Some members of Exposure were asked to become Midland Group Photography charged with creating a programme of photographic exhibitions. These included Thomas Joshua Cooper’s first British show, and John Davies (a Trent Poly student) showed with 2 other Trent students later. But our ‘big idea’ was the annual Midland Group Open. We decided that if we wanted good work we needed the magnet of well-known selectors. Val has mentioned Jean Claud Lemagny and Aaron Scharf. They were followed by John Szarkowski, R.J.Kitaj, and many more over the ensuing years. Robert Mapplethorpe – wanting to impress selector John Szarkowski, no doubt – sent in 2 pictures, which guaranteed media interest and persuaded many more photographers to submit work in future years.

For a period the Midlands, and particularly the East Midlands, became – I do not think it is an exaggeration to say – the epicentre of British photography. It was because a group of photographers wanted to change things and the Midland Group offered them that opportunity which they eagerly grasped. I do not think it is too fanciful to say that if the photography networks and initiatives of the early 1970s, Val has alluded to – and is researching into – hadn’t succeeded, we probably wouldn’t be in this room today….

Paul Hill, June 2014