OCA students visit the Hereford Photography Festival

John Umney, Jose Navarro and Stephanie Hollis reversing the roles of the tutor and the student at Hereford © Amano Tracy 2011

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

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?

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10 comments for “OCA students visit the Hereford Photography Festival

  1. 19 November 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Jose, thanks for all the links, I would give almost anything to have been there.
    The Robbie Cooper works on the kids in front of pc games, I find actually quite disturbing. I teach young teenagers here in China, and I have trouble with a few of them who are unable to communicate, and one kid who can not show any emotion, but who changes into a totally different human being when in front of a screen.
    The one who caught my eye is the girl in the pic above…. for so many reasons I won’t go into it here.

    I’ll go through the other material at a later time.
    It would be interesting to know why you guys felt the MA students’ show was disappointing… it connects in my mind with us (students) trying to arrange our own exhibition space, and it would be nice to know of pitfalls we should stay clear of, if it was something you picked up there.

    Anyway, thanks for the nice post!

    • 19 November 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Dewald

      The second year MA students show was held in a market place which looked good.

      One of my favourite photos was of a bird in flight – yet how did this connect to the theme of the exhibition “A Social Landscape”. The show as a whole lacked coherency, a body of works rather than a work.

      Some of the printing was sub-standard; a magenta caste in a sky was one example.

      It seems to me that the challenge of a group exhibition is a common theme; it can be fun to work together in this context! If one does not, one just has this collection of images which are perhaps more adverts for the photographers concerned.

    • 19 November 2011 at 6:54 pm

      I’m sure you would have contributed to the discussions with insightful comments Dewald. Yes, the photograph of the non-responsive girl also made an impact on me. As if her emotions had been numbed out by immersion in the computer game. Scary.

      Newport…I say I was disappointed and I say it with all the affection and respect that I have for them. My own MA is from Newport after all. They’ve always been a point of reference in documentary – they still are. But I failed to get inspired by what I saw at the Buttermarket, where the exhibition was held. I felt that some of the work lacked the accessibility that documentary should exhibit. You want to reach your audience after all; you don’t want to spoon-feed them, but you aim to achieve a degree of communication between photographer and viewer with conceptually challenging yet accessible photography. Why would you make your work public otherwise?

      I also felt for the MA students because, as Amano pointed out, presentation wasn’t up to the standards that we saw in the other exhibitions, which I think did the Newport students a disservice. Jim Golberg can get away with sticking prints on the wall with BlueTack and still win the Deustche Borse Prize, but he is Jim Goldberg after all. Choosing appropriate presentation solutions shows deference and respect for the environment in which your work is shown – in the case of Goldberg, his presentation was appropriate within the context of his body of work.

      Having said that, and in fairness to the Newport students, I also think that the eclectic range of approaches that the display exhibited was worth the visit, no matter how oblique some of them are. Newport continues to push the boundaries of documentary, which can only be good for the world of photography.

      Anyway, needless to say, that’s my own personal opinion.

  2. 19 November 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Yes, it was a worthwhile day as OCA study days usually are!

    A chance to discuss with others and meet some of the faces behind the names …

    My initial blog is here …


    It contains a link to a more detailed consideration we of the work we saw.

  3. 20 November 2011 at 8:38 am

    My first study day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have recorded some thoughts about it here: http://jsu-photo.blogspot.com/2011/11/people-in-hereford.html

  4. anned
    20 November 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Yes, thanks for arranging it, I also really enjoyed it – its the first photography festival I’ve ever been.

    Dewald, I thought the MA display needed some explanatory text, I think that maybe it was work in progress rather than finished work, and perhaps for that reason and the lack of text it didn’t have enough cohesion for me to understand what some of it was about, although I liked the ones with dogs and their owners legs – that was self-explanatory! And there was another one I really liked that had cows at night with their backs aligned with the horizon, that one is still making me smile.

    I don’t have a blog, but I particularly liked George Georgiou’s The shadow of the Bear in the Time and Motion Studies exhibition. Which I’m continuing to think about – I found that the most thought provoking piece of work in the exhibition. Although I’m still pondering on the idea of it being “dangerous” – to me it said a great deal about the human condition, how we live our lives out in the environments we find ourselves, and how they impact on us personally. It had more effect on me than many of the other pieces there – I’m still trying to work out why I have that reaction which is at odds with other peoples – I think its to do with the quality of the photographic finish, that some of the other works seemed so very polished/finished/technically done (? I’m not sure of the right word really) that the sense of them relating to reality seemed to be lost (for me anyway.) and because of that I found it harder to relate to them. George Georgiou’s work on the other hand I found interesting on many levels including the intellectual, to me it did seem to be based in reality observed in the moment and offer it up (albeit in a mediated way) for us to see what we could see in it – patterns, randomness of life, etc, and also I suppose ask a question about the decisive moment -through using photographic sequences juxtaposed with the much larger one-off shots. (I could go on but that’s probably more than enough from me)

  5. Dave
    20 November 2011 at 9:39 pm

    There was one Newport students work I found interesting, which was Christina Williams. I really liked her image of the pregnant woman and the washing basket/line, but I must admit I really didn’t find any others stimulating.

    I loved robbie coopers portraits, and was interested to read he’d repeated the setup for adults watching porn, but it was manuel Vasquezs work that really inspired.

    Thanks for a great day.

  6. 29 November 2011 at 10:53 am

    “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Blanche DuBois I think from “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams. I contacted Vanessa Winship – Georgia, 2009 – 2010 and not only did she agree for me to reproduce one of the images for my blog, but, despite the fact that she is on location right now, took time to answer some questions and provide some feedback and insight into the series. I will update the blog accordingly.

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