Study Visit – 1st April 2017 – Format Festival

On 1st April, I arrived at the Quad in Derby for a study visit with tutor Andrew Conroy and 6 other students to visit and discuss the Format Festival of Photography which was happening in various locations throughout the city.

We started off in the Quad itself where the exhibition area was displaying several different artists.

We spent quite some time discussing the installation by Ester Vonplon, which consisted of several photographs of cloth draped across ice, plus a large piece of the cloth itself piled into the middle of the room. We discussed the meaning of this display, thinking that it was some sort of comment on the effect of man on the environment, and thinking that the photographs were taken in Antarctica. It was noticeable that this was one of the only exhibits that was not accompanied by text.

In fact we were proved completely wrong as when we were handed a copy of the exhibition notes, it appeared that the photographs were of glaciers in Switzerland, which are covered by sheeting to help prevent them being melted by the rays of the sun in summer. The piece, which was called Gletschefahrt, (glacier cruise) was considered by the artist to be a requiem for the glaciers.

Another piece in the Quad was Bridge and nearby scenery by Zhang Jungang, which were photographs taken over a period of three years in his home town in China which is badly affected by pollution. These photographs were generally dark and showed the changing light throughout the day and the various seasons. These were unframed prints mounted directly onto the wall.

Sadie Wechsler was displaying a wall of photographs of a changing scene as houses were built on what was previously desert land. Underneath the photographs were excerpts from a diary, with some sections emphasised whilst other parts were obscured. These appeared to me to be taken in Israel, where the Israelis are increasing the areas of building into Palestinian territory, however there was nothing to indicate this either in the notes or in the diary entries.

There were also immersive displays by Lisa Barnard; The Canary and the Hammer and Norikonaka Zato & Kenta Cobayashi, the latter of which included a virtual reality headset with sound to complement the physical display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Quad, we went on to Dubrek, a small café in Becket Street, which had a display called Magic Party Place (Dreams of a New Town Utopia). This was based around the Essex town of Basildon which was built after the Second World War to accommodate the overspill from London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition consisted of a multi-screen presentation and a series of black and white photographs. The problem that I had with this display was that I know the town very well, having been born in Essex and having lived about 10 miles away from the town until fairly recently. As such I saw no aspect of the town in either the video display or in the photographs. Apparently Basildon is considered a typical town as far as the voting for Brexit was concerned, which was the justification for the exhibit, but personally I could see nothing in it. The photographs, which were too variable to really form a series, could have been taken in any town in the country. They seemed to be trying to show a gulf between the young and old of the town, but to me it really did not work.

We then went on to St. Werburgh’s Chapel, where there was a single display, a large lightbox with an image of a forest on each of its four sides. It took a little while to realise that the photographs were taken of the same clearing from four different angles. To add to the confusion, there was a pool of light in the middle of the clearing which appeared to be artificial. Again we found it difficult to understand the reasoning behind it.

Finally, we moved on to the Museum and Art Gallery, where the top floor had an exhibition of studio photographs by the local company of W.W.Winter. These ran from 1854, when the company was formed, up to the present day. There were some interesting examples of studio photography from the days when 10 minute exposures were the norm and the subject’s head had to be held in a brace. One picture showed a man holding a small dog, and it was obvious that it had proved impossible to keep the dog still as that part of the image was blurred. We felt that another photograph, of a rower, could easily have been taken in the 1970s but was actually from the early 1900s.

On leaving the museum, we had a short discussion on how successful the festival had been. The general opinion was that it was too spread out, and too weak in places. It was also felt that the publicity for the festival was poor, as few people were in most of the venues, and most people in the city knew nothing about it happening.

After a short return to my hotel, I visited a couple more of the exhibits, firstly those taking place in the Riverlights shopping precinct where an empty shop area held a display about the problems faced by gay Muslims, and which also held a couple of immersive displays by Daniel Regan and Antonia Attwood called Be Here. Now.

I then walked to the Cathedral to find that the exhibition there was closed, but there were some more photographs in the basement of the Cathedral Café. These were interesting as they had been part of an exercise for a local photography course. The tutor had asked each of his students to take five photographs in their own bedrooms. This created a varied selection, from favourite toys to meals eaten in bed. Each set of five was accompanied by a portrait of the student.

All in all, this was an interesting day. Although some of the exhibitions were a disappointment, it was great to meet some other students and Andy the tutor. This to me is an important part of the studies, otherwise it is easy to become completely isolated.

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