The day was in two parts: see the exhibition of ‘swaps’ that David Hurn had accumulated over many years with an accompanying talk by Hurn followed by a tour of the Foundation then after lunch, a session where students presented work and asked for guidance/feedback on it.
I was unaware of Hurn’s work before signing up for the day and was surprised by how much work he did with stars of stage and screen. The documentary that was suggested in advance of the day was interesting in that I saw that he used natural available light only, he didn’t use flash to light his subjects. I asked him about this in Bristol and he was quite open that he had never really mastered flash photography so did not bother with it, he was happy to use what light was available at the time. To be fair, taking stills on a film set would be well lit anyway and get round the problem of low levels of light affecting the outcome as it does with a music studio for example.
The exhibition was smaller that I anticipated but well laid out and interesting to see which photographs were swopped together. There could be one of Hurn’s photographs displayed with two or three other people’s work, all linked with black lines. There were some well known images alongside Hurn’s but most I did not know so it was good to look at other photographers and their work. Hurn’s talk was also interesting, on how he started the swop project and having the courage to actually ask famous photographers to do this with him. As time went on, it obviously got easier as he was a well known photographer. His advice was to just get out there and ask!
The tour of the Foundation was led by a young intern who showed us the wide range of books in the library, many of them Parr’s own books. There were some that were worth thousands of pounds and we were all reluctant to handle them, some were huge and others tiny but there was a huge range of books and titles on the shelves. Round the back was the engine room where they keep copies of Parr’s books as well as some of the many contact sheets and other interesting items such as the handmade books for preprinting by some well known photographers. Unfortunately I didn’t write any names down as I was more interested in being there and absorbing the experience rather than cataloguing it. I learned from that one. However, there were lots of things that were eye catching and interesting and colourful. Afterwards, I looked up Parr’s books on the Black Country and Scotland as they were two places that were of relevance personally. I am not particularly a fan of Parr’s work as I find the people aspect too much but some of the portraits for these two books are more sensitively done. It would be good to see real copies of both books rather than web pages to get a closer look at the images. This is what I took away from this – the handmade book by the photographer in comparison to the printed version and how they differed. The handmade book had a presence that the printed one didn’t, maybe it was the actual photographs rather than prints as part of a page that made it more real and tactile.
The afternoon session was filled with a diverse range of photographic practice from students at all levels, from basic photo books to playing with chemical reactions to obtain different results that could still be seen as ‘landscape’. I did not present any work but was still happy to see what other students do and their approaches. I was in between assignments and at a point of being at a brick wall so to let go and look at other students’ work was a way of getting my brain to take another route to inspiration. It all informs what we do and may suggest another way of looking at the same subject. There are some creative people out there and sometimes I feel that I am way down the ladder in those stakes!
I found it a very informative day and I always enjoy looking at proper prints up close. There is something about seeing a proper print, as I have already commented on with the handmade book. The other bonus of a study day is the interaction with other students to talk about work we are doing, have done, approaches to assignments and a way of feeling not so isolated in our studies.