WHAT IS ENGLAND? UPDATE

March 1st, 2010 admin

Last June I flagged up a photography project being launched by Stuart Pilkington called What is England?

Since that time, Pilkington has gathered together 50 photographers each of whom will be representing one of the 50 counties in England. Their brief is to represent their own style of photography as well as their nominated county. Some live in the county they represent and some are discovering or rediscovering it for the first time. Photographers taking part include Zed Nelson (Greater London), Chris Floyd (Surrey) and Emily Mott (West Sussex).

Today we’ll be able to see the first results of the project, with the photographers presenting their visual response to theme ‘Person’. Check out the website here.

On 1st May the responses to ‘Group’ will be published, 1st July ‘Work’, 1st September ‘Play’, 1st November ‘Urban’ and lastly 1st January 2011 the word ‘Rural’.

DESTROYING THE LABORATORY….

March 1st, 2010 admin

Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment is a speculative mix of photographs by Magnum photographer Mark Power along with poems by Daniel Cockrill (mentioned on the blog previously here). The pair were at Host Gallery last week to give a performance of the work.

As Max Houghton reports on the Foto 8 website:

You can view/listen to a podcast here.

An exhibition of the work with more live performances by the pair can be seen at the Atlas Gallery, London in June 2010.

Cockrill is part of a poetry collective called ‘Bang Said The Gun’. You can find out more on their website here and Facebook page here.

EUROPEAN FIELDS

February 8th, 2010 admin

During my commission for the Bradford photograph, I took a few shots at some Sunday league football matches. An experience which reminded me of Hans van der Meer and his fantastic body of work European Fields: The Landscape of Lower League Football.

European Fields by Hans van der Meer (Steidl, April 2006)

Several shots in his book were taken in Bradford, including these-

© Hans van der Meer

© Hans van der Meer

© Hans van der Meer

Here’s the publisher’s blurb – At the beginning of the 1995 football season, Hans van der Meer set out to take a series of football photographs that avoided the cliched traditions of modern sports photography. In an attempt to record the game in its original form – a field, two goals and 22 players – he sought matches at the bottom end of the amateur leagues, the opposite end of the scale to the Champions’ League. And he avoided the enclosed environment of the stadium and tight telescopic details and hyperbole of action photography. Preferring neutral lighting, framing and camera angles, he chose instead to pull back from the central subject of the pitch, locating the playing field and its unfolding action within a specific landscape and context.Van der Meer has applied his democratic viewpoint across the playing fields of Europe over the past decade, having travelled to every country with a significant history of the game.taken him from small towns in the remote regions of Europe – from Bihariain in Romania to Bjorko in Sweden, from Torp in Norway to Alcsoors in Hungary, from Bartkowo in Poland to Beire in Portugal – and to the fringes of the major conurbations including Greece, Finland, UK, France, Germany,  Switzerland, Holland, Slovakia, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and Italy.

By the way, my Bradford commission photograph will be unveiled at the opening of the National Media Museum We English exhibition on 11th March 2010. (nb. it’s not of Sunday league football!).

NMM EXHIBITION, PART 3

February 8th, 2010 admin

As part of one of my upcoming exhibition of We English photographs at the National Media Museum (12th March – 8th September), and as discussed previously on the blog, we will be including photographs from the Museum’s own collection, introducing the English at leisure from a historical perspective.

Since September last year I’ve been working closely with Ruth Kitchin, Collections Assistant, on the selection and curation of works for the exhibition. Also involved was Stephen Daniels (Professor of Cultural Geography at Nottingham Trent University and author of the essay ‘The English Outdoors’ from We English) who was invited to the Museum to discuss the development of the selection. Here is a short film, shot in the Museum archives on 24th November last year, when we all came together to discuss some of the considerations for the selection.

Since 2005 Stephen Daniels has been Director of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s programme in Landscape and Environment. He has published widely on the history and theory of landscape imagery and design. His books include The Iconography of Landscape (Cambridge University Press, 1988) co-edited with Denis Cosgrove, Paul Sandy: Picturing Britain (Royal Academy of Arts, London July 2009) and the influential book Fields of Vision (Polity Press, Jan 1994).

Writing in the latter, Daniels describes landscape imagery “as not merely a reflection of, or distraction from, more pressing social, economic, or political issues; it is often a powerful mode of knowledge and social engagement. As exemplars of moral order and aesthetic harmony, particular landscapes achieve the status of national icons, and imperialists, almost by definition, have annexed the homelands of others in their identity myths, projecting on ‘foreigners’ pictorial codes that express both an affinity with the colonizing country and an estrangement from it.” In the book Daniels shows how various artists–including painters, landscape designers, and architects–have articulated national identities in England and the United States from the later eighteenth century to the present day.

You can download Daniel’s essay ‘The English Outdoors’ from We English, here.

DEMISE OF THE GREAT BRITISH PUB

January 12th, 2010 admin

If you’re in Nottingham this week, why not check out this show by photographer Chris Etchells at the Surface Gallery.

The demise of the Great British pub exhibition invite

IS BRITAIN GREAT? VOL 2

December 15th, 2009 admin

I’ve just noticed that The Caravan Gallery have launched a second volume of their incredibly successful book ‘Is Britain Great?’. Since it’s first outing in 2000, the project has grown into a cottage industry selling everything from postcards, visitor guides and journals to greeting cards, wrapping paper and prints.

Picture 1

From their website- “The Caravan Gallery is a mobile exhibition venue and visual arts project run by artists Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale who are on a mission to record the ordinary and extraordinary details of life in 21st century Britain. Eager to examine clichés and cultural trends, they are particularly drawn to absurd anomalies and curious juxtapositions, typical of places in transition and in the process of reinventing themselves as regeneration fever sweeps the land.

Simultaneously seduced by and suspicious of the rose-tinted tones of tourist information brochures, and frustrated by their yawning omissions, Williams and Teasdale set out in the year 2000 to redress the balance, sidestepping the brown signs and interpretation boards to see what lies beyond. Their findings constitute a substantial and ever-growing archive, a highly subjective survey-cum-tour guide to the ‘real’ Britain in the new millennium.

The Caravan Gallery, a diminutive mustard model (circa 1969), with white walls and beech floor on the inside (like a ‘real’ gallery), provides the perfect setting for an evolving exhibition of  photographs made in response to places visited; at any one venue, location-specific work arising from a previous research visit is exhibited alongside other material from the Caravan Gallery archive.”

caravan gallery2

“Audience diversity and social inclusion are fundamental to our project. The Caravan Gallery project is accessible to all and operates in a range of public and highly visible locations. Although access to the caravan itself may be difficult (although not impossible) for people with certain physical disabilities, we will ensure that provision is made for full participation in the area set up around the caravan. This could include taking part in surveys, looking at exhibits and shows in an adjoining marquee etc. People unable to enter the caravan can view a certain amount from the outside and are able to look at a portfolio containing images displayed inside the caravan.”

Here are a sample of the photographs, taken from their online gallery-

ContactSheet-001

THE OUTSIDER’S VISION

November 30th, 2009 admin

As Peter Hamilton identified in his recent article in the BJP, some of the most acute observations of Englishness have been made by foreign photographers. Hamilton writes- “An outsider can stand back from the society and look at it dispassionately, finding equally odd and worthy of note the things the locals take for granted. This was probably why the German-born Brandt found the juxtapositions of his The English at Home so much grist to his mill.”

Alongside the photography of Brandt, Hamilton cites another body of work – Charmes de Londres (1952) – a collaboration between Izis-Bidermanas and Jacques Prevert, which uses place in the sense of the great metropolis as a signifier of Englishness. Though intended for a French market, it was also published in English as Gala Day London in 1953, with an additional text by John Betjeman, a quintessential expert on Englishness. As Hamilton explains “Izis deals in many ways with cliches about the English. There are foggy streets, Tower Bridge glimpsed through a grimy warehouse window, Thames-side activity, Battersea power station, street markets and the East End. But it is also a view that humanises the streets and offers a visual perspective that was influential for the Picture Post generation.”

A more contemporary study made by a foreign photographer would be Byker Revisted by the Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. She is perhaps best known for her book Byker (1983), a seminal portrait of the terraced Newcastle community, eventually bulldozed to make way for the Byker Wall and the wholesale redevelopment of the area. She began her project in 1969, when she moved to the North East of England and lived in Byker for seven years, until her own house was demolished. Thereafter she continued to photograph and to collect testimonies from the residents for a further five years. Sirkka returned in 2003, negotiating an individual journey through the new Byker, building a portrait of the estate as it stands today. Here are some of the new photographs-

2846 David with daughters Kadie and Robyn and Ty-dog © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 2008

2847 Colin © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 2009

Some individuals had been photographed in the original project. In an official explanation of the work, we’re told that Sirkka “found a few of the remaining extended families of the traditional working class for whom the estate was designed. There are the self-defined individuals who seem to flourish in a street plan outsiders find impossible to navigate. Perhaps because she had been a stranger in the original Byker, Sirkka found herself drawn to the refugees, housed in the hard-to-let properties at the bottom of the estate, where the limitations of its planned lifespan have become most visible.”

2850Asylum seeker family from the Middle East © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 2007

2854Jean with daughter Gemma and her friend Kara © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 2007

You can see more of the photographers here.

Born in Myllykoski, Finland, in 1948, Sirkka began taking photographs at the age of twelve, inspired by her aunt Oili, who was a skilful amateur photographer. She developed a keen interest in documentary photography and later decided to study film making in the UK, enrolling at the Regent Street Polytechnic film school in London. Whilst there, she met up with Murray Martin and a number of other fellow students, with whom she formed the Amber Collective. In 1969, the collective moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England, with a commitment to documenting working class communities, in film and in photographs.

Here are some of her original Byker photographs (more of which you can see online here):

558 Kendal Street © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 1969

547

Children playing house with discarded junk near Byker Bridge © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 1971

560

William (Willie) Neilson, Lawrence Square © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 1971

550

Young woman in Mason Street © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 1971

554

Isaac in front of his ‘Raby Swap Shop’ © Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, 1974

Another foreign photographer whose work you can find on Amber Collective is that of Peter Bialobrzeski. Bialobrzeski spent a year documenting Britain between 1991-1992 for a project called ‘Give My Regards to Elizabeth’. The work was shown at Side Gallery in 1993, however, it was never published as a book.  You can see a selection of images on the Amber website here.

Over the years Amber has built up a significant photographic collection, much of which you can now view online. And it’s well worth a look (here).

NOW THE TIME RETURNS AGAIN

November 23rd, 2009 admin

There’s a feature in this week’s British Journal of Photography (Issue: 18.11.2009) written by Peter Hamilton. Now the time returns again explores the new crop of photobooks, including We English, that document England/Britain. Hamilton’s article looks at the tradition of the national survey, discussing work from the likes of Bill Brandt and Ian Berry to Edwin Smith and James Ravilious.

Hamilton writes “Englishness has been a constantly recurring theme for documentary photography in recent years. In the last few weeks Chris Steele-Perkins has brought out England, My England, Simon Roberts has contributed We English and Sirkka Lisa- Kontinnen Byker Revisited. Each slots into a different niche of the national question about who ‘we English’ are, yet all intersect within the larger Venn diagram of photobooks about England or Britain.”

Picture 4

Now the time returns again by Peter Hamilton, BJP, 18.11.2009

Hamilton concludes “At the end of the day, the English famously have a sense of humour, something which touches so many of these pictures and books. Few English photographers are lauded as ‘great’ in the conventional histories of photography, that is to miss just what makes English photography so notable. By not taking itself too seriously, it has always managed to look at Englishness itself, and the rest of the world, with unjaundiced eyes.”

You can download a pdf of the article here.

And on the subject of the BJP, I’m going to be doing a book signing at their Vision 09 event this coming Friday in London. I’ll be doing the signing from 1.30pm on Chris Boot’s stand.

THE COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF PETER MITCHELL

November 16th, 2009 admin

I’ve recently come across a few references to the work of the British photographer, Peter Mitchell (some of his work was included in ‘How We Are: Photographing Britain’ at Tate Britain in 2007) and I’m intrigued to find out more.

peter mitchell 01

Kingston Racing Motors, Leeds, 1974 / Hudsons Newsagents, Seacroft Green, Leeds, 1978 © Peter Mitchell

So far I’ve been able to garner this information-

In the 1970s, Peter worked as a truck driver for Sunco, and photographed the sights of Leeds on his journeys around the city. He had the first landmark colour photography exhibition in the UK at Impressions Gallery in York in 1979 (the gallery is now based in Bradford). Titled ‘A New Refutation of the Viking IV Space Mission’, the show depicted the factories and small shop owners of Leeds, all photographed in a very formal manner with the aid of a stepladder. The idea was that this is how Leeds might be seen by aliens departing from their spaceship when the Mission from Mars finally lands on the unsuspecting city!

peter mitchell 02

Small funfair in Roundhay Park, Leeds, 1982 / Home of the Underhill Brothers, Starbeck Lane, Stoke on Trent, 1982 © Peter Mitchell

In June 2007 Mitchell was included in a group show curated by Martin Parr at the Hasted Hunt gallery (now Hasted Hunt Kraeutler) in New York entitled COLOUR BEFORE COLOR. Parr selected a group of European photographers who were working with colour photography in the early 1970s either before or at the same time as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in the US.

In an attempt to redress the balance, Parr’s exhibition attempted to demonstrate that an equally lively colour photography culture was evident in Europe both before and during the 70s. This work has been largely overlooked as it was not put together as a movement, nor was it promoted by high-profile institutions in the way that work by Eggleston, Shore and Joel Meyerowitz was.

In February 2008 Mitchell had an exhibition at the PSL Gallery in Leeds along with the work of Eric Jaquier called Strangely Familiar. Together they captured a bygone age in Leeds, with dance halls and coal yards, factories and mills.

You can read an interview with Mitchell and Jaquier in the Yorkshire Post here and see some of the photographs from the exhibition on the Guardian’s website here. There’s also an essay over on American Suburb X here written by Professor David Mellor.

Picture 1

Screengrab from Amercian Suburb X

Other than these links, there’s precious little about his photography on the web. If anyone knows of other references to Mitchell’s work, then please let me know.

IS GOD STILL AN ENGLISHMAN?

November 10th, 2009 admin

And here are details of another book about the English being penned by author, broadcaster and journalist Cole Moreton, which is due to be published next Spring. It’s called ‘Is God Still an Englishmen – How we lost our faith (but found new soul)’.

Moreton has a website and blog for the book, which you can read here.

Picture 1

And here’s his blurb-

“Who are we? What do we believe in? Where are we going?

Those questions used to be easy to answer, but there has been a revolution. The God who ruled over us for five hundred years has been overthrown. The soul of England has been transformed, almost without anybody noticing. Gone are the shared values that once made school children rise and sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. Gone is the confidence of a nation that seemed so sure of itself and what it believed in, even as recently as the wedding of Charles and Diana, our last great festival of certainty.

Since then the number of people who go to church on Sunday has halved. More of us go to IKEA. Millions still believe in God but never want to go near a pew again. We have completely lost faith in the Christianity on which our nation was built, the religion – so bound up with class and power – that shaped our myths and legends, our laws and government, our language, literature, art and culture. Why have we turned away, and what does it mean?

The long-predicted death of the established Church has already happened, argues Moreton, himself a former teenage fundamentalist. He uncovers the battles, blunders, sex scandals and financial disasters that caused it. But this extraordinary story is about all of us, not just the Christians. Can a new national identity emerge, now that we have a thousand gods instead of just one? Moreton says yes. From the miners’ strike to the climate camp, and from Hillsborough to the funeral of Jade Goody, he reveals how a constantly evolving but uniquely English spirituality remains at the heart of who we are.”

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