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.
Andrew Smith‘s Vélo, a photographic paean to cycling, summer, and the back-breaking beauty of the Tour de France, opens at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, on Saturday 30th June with an event that will also feature live music from Jez Matthews and Collette Dutot. The exhibition consists of images taken from Andrew’s book Vélo that has just been released in a first edition run limited to 60 copies. Tim Krabbé, author of seminal existential cycling novella The Rider (‘Sometimes you reach the end of something only because you forget for a moment that it isn’t over yet’) says that in Vélo cycling ‘becomes a visible myth.’
The opening event gets underway at 6pm, straight after this year’s Tour prologue in Belgium draws to a close. If you plan to come on your bike there’s limited lampost space immediately in front of Bank Street Arts but ample parking provisions around Sheffield City Centre. If you’re local it might be worth leaving your wheels at home- a bar will be open courtesy of Café Juniper.
Vélo runs until 31st July. After the opening event Bank Street Arts is open from Tuesdays- Saturdays, 10am- 5pm. You can find Bank Street Arts here.
Hear also: Pete Shelley’s pulsating theme tune to Channel 4’s 1980s Tour coverage.
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…
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.
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.