David Hurn at Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol 30.6.18

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.

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Grayson Perry at Arnolfini, Bristol

Since being pointed in his direction through this course, I have really liked Perry and his work.  It’s a refreshing change and is made doubly interesting by the television programmes that he has made that explain the context of the work.  I recently watched Britain Divided, on a plane journey of all places, and was interested in seeing the two pots that he had made in response to the views and opinions of the opposing parties of the Brexit question.  Holly Woodward, another OCA student, wrote a blog post about visiting this exhibition and her reaction to it, and since Bristol is close by it was a golden opportunity to visit and see his works up close.

I went to visit the Arnolfini just before Christmas last year and just in time, as the exhibition closed on the following Sunday.  It was busy with plenty of people circling around the exhibits, reading the information and talking about them.  Again, it was refreshing to be somewhere where it was a mix of ages with children as well as adults, it wasn’t quiet as people discussed the work and the ability to take photos on my phone without feeling like I was stealing something.  The overall impression of the exhibition was of colour – the work was varied in bright colours and the tapestries were huge and full of colour and detail.  The pots are covered in lots of tiny detail and I would have liked some more time to fully go round each one.  Like Holly, I was interested by the gold motifs that adorned most of the pots.  They looked arabic in some way, perhaps religious symbols? They were small but stood out against the backgrounds so attracted my attention.  The pots are about Britain and what people value about it, and yet this “foreign” symbol was on it too so perhaps he was commenting on the wide range of faiths that make Britain unique.

The tapestries were attention grabbing, not least because they often took up most of a wall.  One was a deep red and looked like a map, and it was set on a backdrop of tower blocks.  The places and street names were all ‘buzz words’ that are in current everyday use, and I found this amusing because they are the sort of words and expressions that can irritate me or make me laugh when used all the time.  This piece struck me as being very much of the here and now a comment on society and how we use language.

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Grayson Perry, Red Carpet, 2017

It also reminded me of the opening scene from Eastenders with the map of the loop of London and the Thames.  However, it could be anywhere.

The pots are fascinating and full of comments on certain situations.  One was on how those with money can see good causes as being good for the CV or because they are told it is a good thing.

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I got the impression that he is poking fun at The Establishment, at set views and things that we believe because we are told to do so.  Is it possible then that we are enjoying the exhibition because he makes it light hearted, almost not serious and therefore more accessible.  The descriptions accompanying the exhibits were all written by him in an easy to read style, and you could almost hear him talking about them.  I believe that this is what makes him popular, it is the accessibility of him and his work made more so by television appearances.  Having said that, I took my husband and he knows only Perry’s name not his work and he enjoyed it even without any prior knowledge.

From a photography point of view, there is a lot going on and shows how images can be used in several ways.  The pots used transfers of personal photographs and other things from advertising, all merged together in telling the story.  There is a lot to look at in all the works on display, there is colour, there is size and there is humour.  The work is clever without being highbrow, accessible with or without any knowledge and I found that to be a positive change from other exhibitions that I have seen.  I often feel disconnected from the work and this is made more so by the atmosphere of galleries.  Art needs to be discussed whatever your opinion and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you miss the meaning as long as you get something from it.  This exhibition made me want to be more creative in the way that I approach my own photography