Opting for a study visit to the Hereford Photography Festival instead of going to see a retrospective of Martin Parr at the M-Shed in Bristol wasn’t an easy decision to make, but we couldn’t have possibly missed the longest-running photography festival in the UK. BJP’s editor Simon Bainbridge, who seems to have embarked on a personal crusade to promote contemporary documentary strategies, curated this year’s core exhibition. We knew it would be an engaging study visit.
The medieval city on the banks of the River Wye is a wonderful venue for a photography festival, and a crisp, sunny autumn day made the visit even more enjoyable for Gareth, José and a group of fourteen dedicated OCA students. The exhibition Time & Motion Studies: New Documentary Photography was our first port of call. It is the main exhibition in the festival and it deserves far longer than the one hour we spent at the Hereford Museum & Art Gallery, where it was hosted. The thought-provoking and visually-stimulating bodies of work on display at Time & Motion show a common pro-active photographic approach. They denote photographers taking firm control of their visual and conceptual output, with clear intentions and goals, avoiding the reactive method of classic documentary – hence the exhibition’s subtitle ‘beyond the decisive moment’.
Robbie Cooper’s oversized portraits of people, mainly children, engaged in solitary computer game playing are accompanied by a short video of the same subjects at play. Still and moving images are rapidly converging and Cooper’s strategy is evidence of it. The concept underpinning this work is beautifully simple, yet extraordinarily powerful. Computers and the internet are not only fostering new kinds of interaction but also, and most worrying, new kinds of solitude.
Interrogations, by Donald Weber, is a collection of images operating along the undefined boundaries between the private and the public. Photographs of arrested petty criminals at the moment of their confession convey a raw honesty that is painful to see. It is painful because in most images those photographed show obvious guilt, which is a strong emotion usually confined to the private domain. So there are interesting ethical issues surrounding Weber’s work. You can find out more about the photographer’s stance and methodology on this Prison Photography blog and make up your own mind about it.
However, it was the work of fellow Spaniard Manuel Vázquez which I found the most moving in the Time & Motion display. His visual renditions in response of the 2004 Atocha bombing in Madrid make use of universal metaphors of dark and light, life and death, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality yet conveying a strong and poignant message. Vázquez also explored the multimedia environment for this body of work.
In the afternoon we visited other exhibitions including a disappointing display by MA students at Newport and Adrian Arbib’s enduring B&W images of Solsbury Hill. The work of the PhotoVoice collective was also present at Hereford. Their participatory photography projects involving disadvantaged communities are always stimulating. On this occasion Photovoice also showed work by visually-impaired photographers from the Sensory Photography collective, which I found touching and inspiring.
So if you haven’t been to Hereford yet then hurry up because it’s only running for one more week. If you can’t make it then you can always buy the exhibition catalogue, which at £2.50 + £1.50 P&P is a terrific learning resource. Did I say the ‘L’ word – the learning log?