Brighton photo biennial review

Within half an hour of my arrival at my friends’ house where I was to spend the next two nights, dear Dermot had an epileptic fit – the first in his 66 year old life.  After what seemed to be an age while I tried to make him start breathing & stop looking so blue,  the ambulance arrived, the paramedics took all the readings they needed and whisked him off to hospital.   I desperately wanted  to take photos of him but my ‘ethical’ demons, my fear of invading his privacy, would not let me.  As it turned out, I was told by a doctor that, next time, I should take photos so that the examining physician would have a more accurate record of what had actually happened.  How close was I to the ‘personal and projected image’ theme of the biennial? Alas mine was certainly not influenced by concerns of style and fashion.

We went to several of the exhibitions  as a group & then Johnathan and I went to the one in King’s House, sodden after having been blown & drenched along the esplanade by the hurricane, and with a sense of adventure and the remains of an umbrella!  It was miles from where we started, dry and eager, on Saturday morning…

We were asked to consider several questions as we went through this and other exhibitions:

  1. How does photography reenforce or question cultural stereotypes?
  2. What are the effects of building a collection of types?
  3. Could the collections inform your practice?
  4. How does the approach taken here shape your understanding?

A. Reimagine:

I walked through the exhibition twice but did not go into the final film part.  My first reaction was to question why Olivia Arthur’s images of Mumbai subjects was placed first.  Was it the ‘exotic’ which was thought to have appealed to the viewers more readily and which would therefore engage them more quickly?  I know that I would also have questioned it had Bharat Sikka’s Brighton subjects been placed first.  If there are two parallel , equally long sides to the gallery, why were the images not placed opposite one another?  After all, regardless of whether or not it was intended, we were invited to compare the outcomes since the approaches to the subjects were the same.

The work of both artists was taken on large format film; they researched and developed the work together ; the work “revolves around individuals who identify themselves as being part of the LGBTQ+ community and importantly, a community that represents contemporary diversity in relation to sexuality and gender.” (Taken from the publicity leaflet for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2016).  A piece which stuck me most in Arthur’s work was ‘Simon’ because he takes on an unusual stance and because the light falls predominantly on his knee.  He is not looking at the camera, his right arm is open but the rest of him is turned away and to the side.  In the vitrine which accompanied this exhibition were two other images taken of Simon but they were not as striking as the one chosen.

The image which struck me the most in Sikka’s collection was that of the empty stage which was at an angle opposite a grid of images which had an empty window and a ‘proscenium arch’ architectural detail in it.img_3600

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Both these elements were important, in my opinion, because they represent windows into the lives of the people represented in the exhibition.

I found the signage really frustrating because there was no consistency in it and it was difficult at times to see what the labels referred to.

In answer to the questions, I felt that the images reenforced the stereotypes in that they did not present members of the LBGTQ+ communities any differently from how they have been represented in the press and other publications.  In my opinion, the exhibition strengthened the separation of ‘us and them’.   I did not feel that my understanding or perceptions were challenged in any way except, perhaps with Simon: he was an older person and we normally associate LBGTQ+ communities with young people.

B.  The Dandy Lion Project, curated by American Shantrelle P.Lewis,  questions black male identity in cityscapes.  This was a mixture of African and western portrait practices.  I felt that there were too many images saying the same thing.  I never looked at the digital element featuring vintage family archive images. I also found the inclusion of women dandies, in men’s dress very intriguing.

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Rose Callahan: Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi
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Sara Shamsavari: Terrence Lathan, London 2013.
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Osborne Machara: Mrs Kamau Njuguna – former governor Central Bank of Kenya. 2016.

C.  The Brett Rodgers talk started off as a biographical walk down memory lane as the director of The Photographers’ Gallery, London, presented images which reflected a personal relationship she had had with the photographers such as Fay Godwin.  The reminiscing soon changed into a lecture on photography history.  Sitting in the front, I was glad I could hear what was said very clearly.

Of the images presented, I appreciated the David Goldblatt probably because I know and admire his work more than that of any of the others who were featured.

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Brett Rodgers OBE, talking about the image by David Goldblatt.

D.  Kick over the statues

This enormous exhibition of Ewen Spencer’s work on youth tribes and music culture is a very powerful expression of the artist’s vision AND the exhibition organisers.  The lighting at the venue enhanced the work , in my opinion.   If, for example,  I look at the photo I took and compare it to what is in the advertising brochure, the effect is quite different because the lighting is very different and accentuates elements in the images not accentuated in the originals:

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My image .
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Brochure image.
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The lighting of the smoke/steam imposed at the exhibition of this image gives it a 3D effect which is not evident in its original state.

I really liked the music element presented with the images.  Somehow, youth culture seems easy to predate, like the homeless, the infirm … as if we know nothing about poverty, infirmity, alienation … What about middle-age cultures and sub-cultures?   Is it because the buying public is not interested in that? Or is it because that sub-group is more likely to tell you to cheese off?

E.  Fashion shows.  A side show on the same floor as the Dandy Lion show.

I am not sure why Nigel Sharon is named as the editor, and Michael Marriott the designer rather than the curators of the exhibition?

This show has an eclectic mix of images, origami, bottles – plastic and glass -and plant life – dead and living.  The blurb tells us it is all to do with the fashion industry and it certainly was captivating.  The wall of images of mostly model head and shoulder shots had some androgynous specimens making you wonder about the direction fashion is going.img_3609

I was left guessing about the origami – why is it relevant?  The lightbulb moment came when I thought : what else you can do with fashion magazines ? Perhaps that was the wrong conclusion.

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A super way of exhibiting the relationship between plant life and the fashion industry:

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Other images which caught my imagination & best represent the confusion of fashion advertising and the troublesome ‘male gaze’:

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F.  The Fringe:

Three shows:

  1.  DIY Dreams: The Regency Town House

The best part of this for me was the ground floor images in both the rooms: the modernist architecture and the props photographed during the restoration process:

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Artefacts recovered during restoration.
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A hole in the wall accentuated for interest.
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A fabulous arrangement and novel hanging.
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Another fabulous & novel hanging.

On the top available floor was the low contrast, “Slow time” work of Sam Laughlin.  Parts of this exhibition appealed to me:

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The bird nests, although not part of the Slow Time exhibition, were more exciting to me:

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Bird nest architecture.
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Who will forget how wet we got getting to the Regency House only to be told not to get our wet clothes too close to the images!

Assembly: Martin Seeds.

Perhaps I was too wet and tired but this political allegory of the fragile, Irish political landscape was too remote for me.

2.  King’s House: Crossing boundaries.

Johnathan and I decided to breeze-dry our clothes en route to the King’s House as our final immersion for the day.  It was arguably the most exciting part of the day for me.  I saw daring political exposés, natural photo explorations, sound in photos explorations and mechanicals in photography.

Of foremost interest for me was the photosynthesis and glass slide experiments which I had seen somewhere two days before the exhibition but did not have the time to investigate:

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Leaf and slide experiment.

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Another experiment with photo paper and chemicals probably alluding to the post-analogue nostalgia of the lecturers!:

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I also enjoyed the ‘schizophrenic madness’ of the Fotokub Fotopub Festival artistic expression of post-digital frenzy  – just up my liberated street!  An example of it is this Reinis Lismanis:

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The bicycle goggle box was an energisingly imagined mish-mash of retro-viewing experience:

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The Lostness Cycles by Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn.

The Soft Collective had a wonderful record of images ‘capturing the human condition.’ another expression covering the meaning of nothing and everything.  It just records what evidence people leave of having been somewhere – but beautifully, imo:Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 10.57.30.png

In the re-listening part of the exhibition, Helen Cammock’s “There’s a hole in the sky part 1” presents a disjunct between what is seen and what is heard which makes for challenging viewing.  But the references to cross-cultural exchanges are clear in the exploration of what is worth while in culture and humans.  Great viewing and listening.

Back to mainstream & the last exhibition visited:

Brighton Phoenix Centre: Dana Ariel’s ‘Encountering Perforated Ground’: 

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fabulous landscapes, meticulously printed by the artist.  Her statements on the publication are here:

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The reverence with which viewers are handling the material:

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A great experience and a stimulating time.

What I shall be experimenting with is printing on leaves; trying low contrast imaging and letting loose with digital mixed with physical collage.

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7 thoughts on “Brighton photo biennial review”

    1. It helped having my mobile to take pics to remind me of what I had seen. There was so much to see and reflect on. I shall post my experiments as soon as I have done some of my coursework which has suffered because of my other commitments.

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      1. Finally moving on! I took 2 months off this summer to spend with my family and friends I had not seen in 4 years and when I came back, I had much to do with the Sheffield exhibition to prepare. Now I feel ready to send my assignment 1 tomorrow or Friday and work on a steady rhythm from now on!

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  1. It is really interesting to read how someone else’s reflection on the same exhibitions differ from my own Anna. So hard to take it all in at the time and this makes me think ‘oh yes’. Hope your friend is now ok.

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    1. It’s all in my phone and on the info sheets that came with the displays and in my notebook = lots of aids. It also helped that I was with someone else most of the time & I could bounce off the odd idea with him / her. I haven’t covered everything yet – I shall keep adding as things pop up in my mind but I had to get it down so that I can get on with my coursework. My friend is much better, thanks. His muscles are quite achy from the spasms they went through, poor chap.

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