Friday, November 18, 2011

Hereford Photography Festival

Seeing work exhibited at Hereford, I decided to look at it in terms of People and Place.

For a more general introduction to the day visit at The Hereford Photography Festival 2011 ...

The main exhibition of the festival was called "Time and Motion Studies: new documentary photography beyond the decisive moment" which featured work by five separate photographers. We are told by Simon Bainbridge, editor of The British Journal of Photography and festival curator, that "each employs a carefully thought-out strategy for their study, a methodology by which to transcribe and communicate ideas about the world, tackling subjects that aren’t always obviously photogenic."

The first group of images we see are by Vanessa Winship made in Georgia between 2009 and 2010. These are high quality black and white images made with a large format camera and black and white film  printed on to black and white paper giving a quality that one does not see with digital. There are no captions to the photographs; some have blank backgrounds, others give a sense of place. The people who are pictured, all seem to be under 30, both male and female; there is a kind of "ethereal beauty" to these portraits and it is evident that she was looking for people who reflected her imagined view. She sees Georgia as "a place that seemed to be in love with it's own idea of self."

Winship travelled with George Georgiou whose images were on show in the main part of the gallery. Called "The Shadow of the Bear" a reference to the Russian influence in Serbia and Kosovo where these photographs were made, these were a succession of still images the significance of which was not immediately apparent; they seemed to have no narrative and not in any particular order as one could read them up and down or from one side to another. There were two large prints that stand out among the smaller ones; of these two larger ones, the image of a well but scantily clad woman in what looked like silk is standing in the middle of a road as if trying to hitch a ride. Is she a prostitute or a well dressed lady waiting for a lift, part of a marriage party perhaps; the male gaze is likely to understand this differently to the female one! The woman's face is pointed away from the camera which further adds to the mystery of this image.

Manuel Vasquez has a video installation (Lonely Crowd 1 and 2) which showed people moving around in a space, the limits of which were unclear. There are also some very large photographs that reflect a similar scene of people passing in a public space without interacting. These are high contrast scenes with the background being lost in shadow; in the prints, compositing seems to have been done. These images are about surveillance, "In a society full of prying eyes like ours, everyone can become both spectator and actor in the quotidian spectacle." They were shot in Madrid's Atocha train station, site of the 2004 terrorist attack.

The most startling images were of people playing video games, another exhibit that contained both still and video. A special camera was used here, The Red One, which captures both video and high resolution images. The range of emotions that these people display is considerable;hey knew they were being photographed yet consciously this appears to be something they have forgotten as they become obsessively involved in their games. This work is by Robbie Cooper who aims to capture a ceratin naturalness in his subjects even if they are not behaving naturally.

The final series of photographs are by Donald Weber, a Canadian working in the Ukraine, who took years to get permission to photograph inside an interrogation room. The people who come here are suspected of minor crimes and the photographer waits until they finally confess thereby capturing the emotions they display at the time. Although the subjects give their permission to be photographed, this work raises ethical questions as people are sharing private moments of remorse. The images are all tinged by dull orange tones characteristic of photographs made under indoor lighting. The exhibition space is narrow and confining, not unlike the room in which the images are made.

Entrance to the Hereford Art Museum

This exhibition was shown at the Art Museum in Hereford. For the other exhibition of note that we visited, Solsbury, it was necessary to walk about a mile to Hereford Art College where the exhibition was being held. Initially, I was put off by the political content but the pictures were well made black and white prints (even though they had been digitally printed) by someone who was actively involved rather than a bystander.

The exhibition marks 15 years since the road protest of 1994 where a number of protestors took to the trees in an attempt to prevent a road being made through woodland. These images are well composed and capture private moments of the demonstrators in the trees although other images show them being dragged away by security guards. Defiance is captured here and this body of work succeeds in highlighting the injustice of the situation, often lost in media reports.

Some images are quite amusing such as a man with a baby Magpie on his head, the Magpie having been disturbed from it's nest owing to the chopping down of the forest, yet still manage to make a point. The image that advertises the exhibition as a whole is both simple and lyrical, showing a protestor swinging in mid-air. Other images show the danger some protestor's put themselves in which created an even bigger problem to the guards evicting them who could not afford to cause any kind of accident even though they were obviously contemptuous of those they were arresting.

This kind of work might be considered dated but it is refreshing!

Looking at Photographs - Jose Navarro and Gareth Dent of the OCA