The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, a photographic response to Simon Armitage’s poetry pamphlet of the same name, makes is second appearance this month. After debuting at Bank Street Arts in 2013, the show crosses the Pennines for a run at Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre.
The show is a slightly different version from the one that appeared at Bank Street Arts, where the photographers invited to take part were given the title of Simon’s pamphlet and asked to respond however they saw fit. Some chose to work using the title alone as a starting point, navigating maps of their own design, whilst others explored further the connections they’d made with Simon’s poems. Simon Carruthers, Jessa Fairbrother, Richard Chivers, David Barnes, Sam Mellish, Tribble and Mancenido, Roy Bayfield, Si Barber are those taking part. The Drive, featuring sound artist Ian Baxter and Simon Armitage reading from his poem ‘Gymnasium’, is also being screened at various points around the campus.
The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right runs from 2nd June until 27th June.
The November 2013 exhibitions of The Big Society and Here, again at Edge Hill University in Lancashire represented the first in a series of informal exchanges between curators, associates and creatives at the university and Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, featuring photography, text, poetry, design, sound and performance. There’s no (obvious) connecting thread between the shows in a conceptual sense, but rather than being straightforward facsimiles of their South Yorkshire/ West Lancashire incarnation, each exhibition will be expanded, constricted, chopped, changed, and tinkered with according to the vagaries of whim and circumstance. After their show at Edge Hill in October and November, Helen Newall and Mark Edward’s Dying Swans will be the first to make the trip Eastwards to Bank Street for an exhibition this September. Plans are also underway for it to be followed by The Unforgotten Coat, a collaboration between Clare Heney, Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on his acclaimed children’s book.
Ahead of this, following his show at Bank Street Arts in early 2013, Jim Mortram’s Small Town Inertia opens at Edge Hill on 3rd March for a 4 week run in the university’s Arts Centre. Jim’s tireless work on the project- subject of this recent feature in The Guardian- has meant that much new work has been generated since last year, so the Edge Hill show will feature photographs that weren’t included in the Bank Street selection. On June 2nd, The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, a series of photographic responses to Simon Armitage’s volume of poems of the same name, crosses the Pennines for its second exhibition. As well as featuring the work of an extremely eclectic group of photographers, the show also includes Simon reading from his poem Gymnasium, accompanied by sound artist and Bank Street resident Ian Baxter.
…or at least some of it: the full show consists of 30-odd of Si Barber’s photographs which will be at Edge Hill University’s Arts Centre until Fri 13th December. There’s more info about the exhibition here.
See also: more new work by Si.
Here, again , the collaboration with Angelina Ayers and Thomas Mann, is at the Arts Centre in Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire, this November and December. The show will be in the same venue as Si Barber’s The Big Society (more or less- it’s actually in the space just above it). Both open on Mon 18th Nov and run until Fri 13th Dec.
A year is a long time in politics, two a lifetime in documentary photography. Since Si Barber’s The Big Society exhibited at Bank Street Arts in 2011, the coalition government’s grandiloquent and much-trumpeted vision of the same name (‘a froth concealing the reality beneath‘) seems to have quietly faded from prominence. Instead of signalling the winding down of Si’s work, it’s provided him with further motivation to push on into the fringes of David Cameron’s Britain, pointing his camera towards the chasm between political rhetoric and everyday experience. Bureaucratic nitwittery, sentimental attitudes towards the military, weird and malevolent patriotism, and the draining ubiquity of consumer culture, are among the themes in a body of work that’s consistent with the traditions of British documentary photography, but also has something of the ragged urgency and immediacy of war photography. Provocative, angry, yet warm and affectionate, The Big Society takes its cues as much from Tony Ray-Jones‘ sweetly bemused view of Englishness as Paul Graham‘s burning indignation at unsympathetic and ineffectual governance:
The Big Society hops across The Pennines in November for an exhibition at the Arts Centre in Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire. It’ll feature 35 photographs from the entire project so far. On Thurs 12th Dec from 11-1 Si will be at Edge Hill’s Creative Edge Lecture Theatre to talk about the project. The session is open to all. If you’d like to know more, contact me at andrewdconroy[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk.
My contribution to the exhibition The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right taking place at Bank Street Arts. The soundtrack features a reading by Simon Armitage and drones by Ian Baxter. View in HD here.
The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right opens at Bank Street Arts om 14th May and runs until 30th June.
Just the title of Simon Armitage’s 2011 poetry pamphlet The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right is enough to conjure a sequence of images flashing through the mind’s eye: the motorway signage, the layout of the car parks, the caffeine bleariness, the piercing neon of the petrol forecourts, the relentless drone of the road… but how often do we think of motorway service stations as destinations… and how often as destinations in their own right?
John Clark thought that all this might provide the basis for a photography project and a couple of years ago asked me if I was interested in contributing to and curating an exhibition. With the blessing of Simon and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business, we invited a group of photographers to respond to Simon’s eleven word title: The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right. Some chose to work using the title alone as a starting point, navigating maps of their own design, while others explored connections they’d made with Simon’s original poems…
Si Barber, David Barnes, Andy Brown, Simon Carruthers, Richard Chivers, Alex Currie, Jessa Fairbrother, Sam Mellish, Andrew Robinson, and Tribble and Mancenido are those taking part. My own contribution, The Drive, features a soundtrack by Simon Armitage and Ian Baxter.
The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right opens at Bank Street Arts on Tuesday 14th May and runs until 30th June, partly coinciding with Sheffield Poetry Festival, which runs from 1st- 8th June. There’ll be an event to mark the show and which is part of the Poetry Festival’s programme, between 17-1930 on Saturday 1st June.
A Facebook page, featuring interviews from the participants, is here.
The book’s available in very small numbers and can be bought online and at Blackwell’s Book Shop, Cupola Contemporary Art, and The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield. Buy one of the copies of the book that are available online and you’ll also receive a print, bookmark and a link to download the book for iPad.
An exhibition opens on 15th January at Bank Street Arts.
The idea of ‘the road’ in art and popular culture still seems to most immediately evoke imagery and themes from films of a late-60s and early-70s US countercultural vintage: existential journeys across sprawling, arid landscapes; wind howling through long-abandoned frontier towns; displaced outsiders forlornly searching for a sense of belonging. ‘The road’ in British art and visual culture doesn’t usually have quite the same epic sweep or sense of doomed romance, perhaps because, as Jez Conolly notes, the ‘claustrophobic repetition and inescapable smallness of the British road’ gives UK-based takes on road culture a particular resonance that contrasts with those where the ‘transcontinental vastness of the States’ provides the backdrop.
A British road story that defies the geographical limitations of the UK is Paul Graham’s 1981 A1- The Great North Road series of photographs of a journey that started outside the Bank of England in London and worked its way North, taking the restless impulse of the road movie and splicing it with low-key observations of austere British life: ‘an essentially American idea with a drizzly British sensibility‘. A1- The Great North Road is also a key reference point for Sam Mellish‘s book Roadside Britain that also provides the basis of a touring exhibition that’s coming to Bank Street Arts at the start of August for three weeks. An exploration of the marginal cultures and service industries at the side of Britain’s road networks and ‘a proper labour of love’ that came together over four years, Roadside Britain‘s world is one that sits in quiet opposition to the corporate slickness and branded uniformity of the service stations that line the UK’s motorway network. Sam says of his work on the project:
‘…where Jack Kerouac used the road as a metaphor for coming of age, while Paul Graham documented cultures and societies along its way, by following a web of road networks, I sought to learn more about the social cultures instilled in our traditional roadside services industry. Many would argue that the age of prosperity of truck-stops and ‘worker’ cafés has long passed its glory days, yet at the vanguard of our trunk-roads remains a steadfast workforce playing host to countless commuters, day-trippers and truckers alike, while clutching a rich bond of social diversities.’
Roadside Britain gets underway on Tuesday 7th August at Bank Street Arts with an open afternoon, kicking off at 3pm and running until 5. Sam will be around to chat about the project and drink tea with anyone who’s interested in coming along.
Sam is also taking part in The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, a photographic response by a series of photographers to writing by poet and Bank Street Arts patron Simon Armitage. Also involved are US artists Tribble and Mancenido, whose Hurry Up and Wait series of photographs of life in and around American truck stops works as a sort of transatlantic counterpart to Roadside Britain.
Hear also: Chill Out
Last summer my residency at Bank Street Arts took me into a series of schools around Sheffield to deliver Photo Finish, an educational project that introduced over a thousand 6-11 year olds to sports photography. The project, developed in conjunction with Sheffield Children’s Festival, resulted in a series of exhibitions in venues across the city, turning a group of junior school children with little previous experience of photography into exhibited artists.
There’s a lot of baggage with ‘Children’s Art’. Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary My Kid Could Paint That tells the story of Marla Olmstead, an almost supernaturally precocious child producing abstract paintings that most involved seemed to think were way beyond her four years. Suspicions that Marla’s paintings were really made by her artist father dog the film, which becomes as much about meaning, value, and the fragile vanities of people trying to get a leg up the social ladder through the acquisition of art as it is a little girl painting pictures. My Kid Could Paint That represents something of an extreme example of the responses that can accompany art made by young children, and on a much more down to earth level, if Children’s Art isn’t being patted on the head with well-meaning condescension, there’s a tendency for it to be regarded as little more than a primitive by-product of a child’s growth and development.
I’m not sure that any of this can ever be avoided, but with Limpsfield Photography Project, Thomas Mann and I wanted to design a project that could at least put four classes of children from Limpsfield Junior School in a position to be as creative and unselfconscious as possible. Jonah Lehrer reckons that ‘there’s a cost of maturity, an unintended side-effect of being able to exert self-control that also stifles our creativity, that represses the imagination’, so junior school children are ideally placed to throw themselves into creative art projects… especially when they’re handed intuitive digital cameras and asked to photograph the very simple details, colours, patterns and shapes around them. Focusing on subject matter of this sort, we hoped, would also to some extent level the playing field, directing the viewer’s initial focus towards the photographs instead of the age of the people who took them.
Some of the results of Limpsfield Photography Project are currently on display at Bank Street Arts in an exhibition that features a selection of individual images and large-scale prints of these 4 composites:
The children’s photographs will be in Bank Street Arts‘ atrium and Juniper Gallery until 5th May. They’ll then be exhibited for a second run from 1st- 17th June. We’re currently working with children at Sheffield Children’s Hospital on Look Again, which will be exhibiting in the hospital’s Long Gallery later this summer.
The shimmering, spectral beauty and uncompromising brutality of the Tour de France passes through Bank Street Arts in Sheffield this summer in the form of Vélo, an exhibition of photographs by artist Andrew Smith. Reframing fragments of Tour transmissions and exploring the mythology and unrealities of cycling (of riders ‘dragging their souls on a string’) Vélo opens on Saturday 30th June at 6pm, shortly after the prologue of the 2012 Tour in Liège has drawn to a close.
The exhibition runs for the duration of this year’s Tour and features work from a book of Vélo. Tim Krabbé says of the book: ‘Cycling was mythical, but it survived its visibility. In Vélo, it becomes a visible myth.’
Vélo is the first of three road-based projects in development as part of the residency I’m undertaking at Bank Street Arts. Andrew is also one of a group of photographers participating in The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, which follows Vélo and Sam Mellish’s Roadside Britain. Updates about all three projects will appear on Twitter.
February’s instalment of PushPull, the photography slideshow and social event I organise with friend and collaborator Jessa Fairbrother, was our fourth, the second to take place at S1 Artspace, and first to feature a guest presenter. Theo Simpson spoke about Lesser Known Architecture specifically and his recent activities in general, which are increasingly focused on exploring the possibilities of the photobook as an object in its own right instead of just being a ‘container of photographs’. Amazing stuff.
PushPull #5 happens on 29th March at Bank Street Arts, starting at 730pm. Andy Brown has very kindly agreed to come along to talk about his involvement in You’re Not Alone, a powerful and moving group project initiated by Cat Powell and undertaken with Richard Hanson and Shaun Bloodworth that documented life in Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Prior to this we’ll be screening a number of slideshows that have caught our eye lately, serving up tea and coffee, and trying not to hoard the biscuits we’ll be bringing along.
Slideshows we’ve screened at the last two events have worked around particular themes: in February we showed work that was focused on social media and identity, and PushPull #3 was about rural and urban lifestyles and the places where they overlap. So far we’ve screened work by quite a stylistically- not to mention geographically- diverse group of photographers: Lena Adasheva, Miriam Aziz, Ingrid Berton-Moine, Josep Echaburu, Matthew Ellis, Gary Geboy, Katie Griesar, India Hobson, Jamie House, James Luckett, Veronika Lukasova, Amanda Mason, Simone Massera, Jim Mortram, Catherine Pearson, Laura Sackett, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, and Gemma Thorpe. We’re always on the lookout for interesting work to screen, so if you’d like to submit something for consideration you can find out more about doing so here. Over the coming months we’ll be bringing more guests to speak about their work at PushPull, and are looking into staging a special summer event that will include a heady mix of photography, food, music, chat, and, fingers crossed, glorious late evening sunshine…
This summer I’ll be delivering a short course for digital photographers in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University. Photography Summer Sessions runs for 5 days from 16th- 20th July and later on 13th August- 17th August and is, as the course webpage notes, ‘ideal for photographers who want to do more with their cameras and discuss photographic culture with like minds. If you know the basics of your camera but want to improve you will be enthusiastically welcomed to the course’.
Each day will consist of a morning session where we’ll look at and discuss a particular area of photography, before heading out to locations around Nottingham to produce images in a similar style. In the afternoon we’ll focus on editing, tweaking and evaluating your images. It’ll help if you know your way around Photoshop, but it’s by no means essential. While it’d be great if you could bring a DSLR to work with, if you’ve got a decent quality compact digital camera that will be more than adequate.
Throughout the week we’ll spend a day looking at:
People and the city
Street photography and the social landscape
Photography Summer Sessions will be a really good way for you to expand your portfolio, push yourself to work quickly to a brief, and generally get out into the field with a small group of like-minded people and take photographs in- here’s hoping- glorious sunshine.
You can book here on the course website. If you do so before 31st May you’ll receive a 10% discount on the course.
Following the opening of his Bank Street Arts exhibition of The Big Society- ‘A document of the credit crunch. A visual riposte to Cameron’s imagined nation and a critique of the voodoo economics which took Britain to the edge of moral and financial calamity’- Si Barber was in Sheffield for a week of activities in support of the show. These included lectures and Q&A sessions at Rotherham College, Sheffield Hallam University, Norton College, as well as a discussion group with PhD students from Sheffield University. In this short clip, from Si’s session at Norton College, he talks about caravans, flags, holidays, Sarah Ferguson, the English psychological state, and Britain’s imperial past:
The Open College of the Arts recorded this excellent audio interview, and Si has included a BBC Radio Sheffield interview about the exhibition on his blog. The Leeds-based Culture Vulture ran this article, which notes that the show’s ‘honest, raw imagery highlights the differences between how we live, and how we think we live.’ Not all feedback was so positive, and one of the more critical comments that sticks out from the college lectures was that the project was ‘cynical and exploitative’. Come and find out for yourself. Bank Street Arts is open until 17th December when it closes for the holidays and reopens in early Jan, when the show continues until 13th January.
Copies of Si’s The Big Society book and exclusive prints are available from Bank Street Arts’ shop and also via Si’s site.
Next Tuesday 15th November sees the opening of Si Barber‘s The Big Society exhibition that I’m curating at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. The show runs until January 2012 and includes more than 40 photographs from Si’s independently-produced book of the same name, some of which I’m delighted to say are exclusive to the Bank Street Arts show. This is just a few of the images that will be featured:
The catalyst for the project, which examines the inherent problems and contradictions of the coalition government’s intention to build ‘a big society that will take power away from politicians and give it to people’, came as Si ‘was listening to the radio when Prime Minister David Cameron was describing the way he wanted to reshape Britain. I found his nostalgia for the certainties of his privileged upbringing quite sinister really. It reminded me of an Enid Blyton story.’
Si will be in Sheffield for a few days to give lectures and take part in workshops with local colleges and universities, culminating in an open afternoon at Bank Street Arts on Friday 18th November. This will run from 3-7pm and anybody with an interest in the project is very welcome to come along and talk to Si about the exhibition and his work on The Big Society.
If you follow either my Twitter feed or Bank Street Arts’ you’ll have the opportunity to win a signed copy of The Big Society book, plus find out about the related projects we’ll be rolling out at Bank Street over the coming months.
Lenny Gottlieb’s sublime Lost and Found in America is a book that few of the amateur photographers featured could have imagined happening as they fumbled with their point-and-shoot instamatics in the autumn of 1968. Gottlieb worked at a processing lab in Boston and had the vision to rescue over 30,000 photographs that had been marked as ‘rejects, destined for the trash’ as Andrew Roth, who staged an exhibition of 500 images from Gottlieb’s collection, puts it.
The book is filled with the sort of sweetly intimate, technically clumsy fragments of home life that have come to define the family snapshot as a photographic genre; the collection’s impact heightened by the knowledge that the factory’s quality control staff, ‘making their choices about focus and exposure… carrying out their own personal censorship of the memories and moments of others’, had dismissed everything here as being unfit to be returned to their owners:
The book has an extra resonance in that the photographs are presented against the backdrop of the war raging in Vietnam and ‘the violence that flickered on our TV screens’. It’s an interesting, ambitious way of framing the collection, creating a stark contrast to the scenes depicted. Aesthetically, in the context of the current vogue for the retro-hip of expired film, toy cameras, light leaks, and chemical burns, a number of the collection’s photographs resonate with the sort of nostalgic, ethereal beauty that now comes as standard with iPhone camera apps.
As 21st century life becomes ever-more subject to photographic documentation it’s interesting to see how a previous generation responded to innovations in mass market photography, both in terms of how the elements within the frame were staged and arranged, and what was seen as being worthy of photographing- amongst the images of family celebrations and days basking in the early autumn sunshine are scenes of random everyday activity that, viewed without any contextual frame of reference, seem positively loopy to modern eyes. Gottlieb’s inspired sequencing of the images weaves a narrative thread that accentuates this, subtly and cleverly guiding the viewer through a unique collection, drawing parallels between the forces of global politics and details of everyday life.
Lost and Found in America is available through the peerless Dewi Lewis Publishing.
10 photographs from the Surface Tension series are being exhibited at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield this September as part of my residency at the centre. The show opens on Fri 2nd Sept and will run until the 30th.
In the introduction to his book The Big Society: Snapshots of 21st Century Britain, photographer Si Barber notes that ‘The notion that humanity is subservient to the market is so huge and all-encompassing it appears to be part of the natural order.’ The fallout of this notion is made all too apparent in the photographs that follow, which manage to examine the everyday effects of the recession with equal parts outrage, compassion, warmth, and wry humour.
If you’re in Sheffield between November and January you’ll be able to see for yourself- Si has very kindly agreed to exhibit photographs from the book at Bank Street Arts. Below are just a few of the 40-odd images that we’re putting together for the show, which I’m very pleased to note will also include a number of new, previously unseen photographs:
Si will be coming to Sheffield to do a Q&A session about The Big Society and there’ll be a series of related events to tie in with the show. Details are tbc, and the best way to find out about where and when and everything will be happening is to follow me on Twitter.
As well as being a timely piece of work given the recent unrest in England’s cities, The Big Society is also testament to one photographer’s determination to bring his vision to the wider world: not only has The Big Society been an enormously labour-intensive project for Si, he also produced and self-published the book that the exhibition is based on through his own Eye Ludicrous imprint. Click here to buy a copy for the outrageously decent price of 12 quid.
From October I’m delivering Exploring Photography, a 10 week short course at Nottingham Trent University that’ll be less about showing people one end of a camera from the other as initiating and supervising weekly projects for photographers to challenge themselves with.
Each of the sessions will run for two and half hours. The first part will be spent looking at and discussing a particular area of photography- street photography and minimalism, for instance, but these are by no means set in stone and the course will be shaped by the interests of those who sign up to it. The rest of the session will then be focused on organising a practical assignment to be worked on independently over the course of the following week, and then assessing everybody’s images from the previous week.
Exploring Photography‘s emphasis is very much on the creative rather than the technical, and taking part in the course is really just a matter of you having access to a reasonable digital camera- not even necessarily a dSLR- and some understanding of transferring images to a computer, tweaking them in processing software, and uploading them to the net. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re fairly new to photography or have been shooting for some time- the main aim of the course is to provide an accessible and supportive environment where photographers can develop their ideas and participate in discussions around lens culture.
You can sign up to the course here and by all means drop me an email at andrewdconroy[at]yahoo.co.uk if you want to know more.
Unlike a more conceptual children’s photography project I worked on last year, Photo Finish featured a heady cocktail of adrenalin, sweat, ear-splitting noise, and children instinctively photographing rapidly moving subject matter with very basic compact cameras. It also involved working with sufficiently large numbers of children to require the involvement of two assistant photographers- the unflappable Sabine Dundure and Tim Logan- to guide the children, help manage the sessions, and process a dauntingly high volume of photographs.
From 21st June, photographs that the children took are being displayed in venues around Sheffield, including Bank Street Arts, the Winter Garden, Ponds Forge, and Sheffield Cathedral. This is a handful of them:
As well as demonstrating the liberating creative effects digitisation has had on photography, Photo Finish also underlined just how instinctively children are able to get to grips with technology. Each session kicked off with a short introduction that outlined the absolute fundamentals of photography before each child then had just 30 minutes to document the sporting activities in front of them. Some of the children who took part in the project were as young as 6 years old, yet were very quickly able to respond to an extremely challenging set of tasks.
More schools photography projects at Bank Street Arts are currently being developed. Contact me at andrewdconroy[at]yahoo.co.uk for more details.
You can download a brochure with details of all this year’s Sheffield Children’s Festival’s projects here.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been appointed photographer in residence at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. The broad aim of the residency is ‘to put photography back at the heart’ of Bank Street’s activities, giving photographers in the area a platform to work from and a focal point for discussions around lens culture.
Several events are under development and the residency starts with an exhibition of Finding Lost Time.
Click here to read more.