Category Archives: Exhibitions & Books

Jo Spence Study Visit

The visit took place at the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, led by tutor Wendy McMurdo.   Wendy had arranged for gallery director Ben Harman to give a brief introduction to the exhibition.  In the event Ben stayed for most of the morning giving an excellent commentary on the curation and history of Spence’s work.

Before the visit I had done a bit of research on Jo Spence and had formed a kind of affinity with her as a person.  Jo was a political activist and feminist who challenged the “norms” of gender, sexuality, immigration and inequalities in the 1980s.


Image result for jo spence: Jo Spence on the front of Spare Rib magazine.

Through her diverse analytical documentary projects including her own struggle with cancer, the exhibition confirms for me what I had perceived in my research.  The exhibition was divided into one of her last works of self-portraiture which includes photo therapy (a technique she developed with Rosy Martin to work through personal issues of sexuality, family and class), her early work in the 1970s  in her Children’s Educational Workshops, developed with collaborator Terry Dennett. and a section entitled “The Polysnappers” which was a collaborative work with fellow students Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro and Charlotte Pembrey called Family, Fantasy and Photography for their degree show. This work has been unseen for 35 years.

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Children’s Educational Work contact sheet

The exhibition was raw, powerful and impressive.  It was superbly curated and a credit to the gallery for bringing together the work of this important social documentary photographer.  Skye Sherman in her column in The Guardian describes Spence’s work, “As raw as a scraped shin”  and I think this sums it up perfectly for me.  It hurts, makes us feel uncomfortable and sorry (for ourselves and maybe for others too).


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Spence using plastic skeleton’s in a humerous way in her Final Project  series

My affinity with Spence began by recognising in her many of the women I knew in the 80s who were also challenging the accepted norms and stereotypes in society.  As a social science graduate  of the 1990s, I also identified with the struggle to challenge those norms documented in the exhibition.  I was particularly looking forward to the Children’s Educational Workshops she led.

It was in fact The Polysnappers that really stood out for me a pictorial documentary using both original photographs of Spence and her fellow students alongside contemporary newspaper cuttings and advertisements.  In this post-feminism era this work is important in reminding us how far life has changed for women and those with different sexual persuasions but reminds us how things have remained very much the same for many sections of society.  Although, some things may have changed it is important that we remember how things used to be and how things haven’t changed much e.g. for the young, those who are disadvantaged and living in challenging circumstances, and immigrants.  Many of the topics depicted in Family, Fantasy and Photography can still be seen making headlines in todays newspapers.

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In my view this work should not be lost and should be on permanent display somewhere.


La Gacilly Photo Festival, Morbihan, Brittany: Japan

I first came across this annual photo festival in 2015.

The pretty town of La Gacilly in the Morbihan district of Brittany has for the past thirteen years, hosted an annual photo festival.  The exhibition is outdoors and exhibits can be seen throughout the town.  The cosmetic company of Yves Rocher Foundation has it’s headquarters there and whose goal is “the protection of nature”. and it strongly supports the festival. The Rocher company has it’s herb garden in La Gacilly where it grows flowers and plants for use in it’s products.  It is here in the garden where a large proportion of the exhibits are displayed.  A visit to the festival is like attending numerous exhibitions (31) and I will document my visit in parts covering the three themes of the exhibition.

There were three themes for 2016, Japan, Oceans and Environmental issues.  The main focus was on Japanese photography which the organisers state is often ignored.  In addition to the main themes there are categories for colleges and schools and also for three up and coming young photographers chosen by a panel of the organising committee.

This first review is of Japan and I have to agree I came into the description of the organisers of not really knowing or having seen many Japanese photographers.  I loved them all for various reasons.  The dedication of Ohyama, the simplicity of Ueda and the documentary of Tanumasoj.

The Japanese photographers:

Yukio Ohyama: who has dedicated his life work to photographing Mount Fuji and there were 3 enormous installations on the wall of two buildings.

Mount Fuji, La Gacilly

Mount Fuji, La Gacilly2

Shoji Ueda: who returned to the sand dunes near to his home in Tottori as his backdrop to photograph over and over again his family and friends and creating what has been described as as series of stills as if from a film strip.  He developed a particular surrealist style which made him famous. However, The Guardian  (accessed 17.8.2016) in December 2015, hailed his book as “the most beautiful, surprising photobook of the year” and which included shots from other of his photographic series.

The shot below is typical of Ueda’s style with vast empty space and simple composition.

downloadShoji Ueda (accessed 17.8.2016)

Takeyoshi Tanumasoj: With the ascension of Hirohito to President in 1945, a new society was created in Japan.  Photographers moved to this new era by abandoning beginning to capture reality as opposed to the old style of propaganda romanticism of previous imagery which hid the real Japan.  Takeyoshi, inspired by Cartier-Bresson  immortalised the shift to modernism.  His street scenes captured in “the decisive moment” style documented the changes in the Japanese urban population as they began to adopt a Western lifestyle. I particularly like this image that captures the “modern” young women looking disapprovingly as their traditionally dressed counterparts.


Takeyoshi Tanumasoi

The three Japanese photographers that I have described above are only a few on display at La Gacilly.  What I observed about all three photographers was that they discovered a style which worked and became famous for their series in the chosen style.  However, it did not prevent them from going on to develop other creations which were in at least moderately different and at greatest totally different to what they originally became famous for.

There were more Japanese photographers exhibiting and all had something credible and often incredible to say, from the changing world of Japan and the early diplomatic exchanges with Europe, to the busy cityscapes and beach scenes and the tsunami and nuclear disasters of the country.  Some of which I will cover in my review of the themes.

I found the photography often moving and iconic and if you are travelling in Brittany before the end of September (or between June and September 2017) I would highly recommend a visit to La Gacilly (but beware it gets crowded on August Bank Holiday weekend – the one nearest to 15th August).,+France/@47.7724061,-2.2245041,12z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x480fa242eb6c30d3:0x6062024848c53b24!8m2!3d47.7651619!4d-2.1312


Charlie Waite Exhibition

I caught the last day of Charlie Waite’s “Silent Exchange” exhibition in he newly opened Beaumont Gallery at Woodlands Road, Mere,  Wiltshire.  The images no longer appear on the gallery website but here is a link to his home page.

Renowned worldwide landscape photographer Waite brings together landscapes from a number of countries as well as from the local area of Wiltshire and Dorset.   The images are all beautiful sometimes in their simplicity and sometimes with added drama.  Waite describes his photography as a deeply personal experience and has said that it is  “a rather fine interaction between me and the landscape with the camera as the intermediary”.

I really liked this one (link above)  with it’s almost infinity like appearance and all in high key.

Landscape photography is a passion for Waite.  He has described the making of his images as a deeply involving personal experience, or as he has put it “a rather fine interaction between me and the landscape with the camera as the intermediary”.  Waite has been compared to Ansell Adams and  also describes his work and the pre-visualisation first coined by Adams as an important factor in his passion for landscapes.

I have a shot similar to the link above.  I wish that I’d had the patience of Charlie Waite, who waited a long time for the shot to be composed the way he wanted it.  He was disappointed that during his wait some of the cows lay down (not part of his visualisation), but he later felt that they added something more to the shot.

cows (1 of 1)

I was there a long time and my aim was more about the reflection and there were no storms brewing so I wouldn’t have been able to recreate the drama but next time, I will be looking at the landscape in a different way and trying to be a little more patient!

Waite’s understanding of light is apparent and most of his shots  have a particular beauty to them, which captures some dramatic and powerful images.  Yet some are so simple in their composition it made me wonder why my shots don’t turn out like that.  It may have something to do with in his words  “More often than not,  light is the great catalyst that can reveal and finally yield the image one yearns for.”

If Charlie Waite was hoping for an emotional response to his images they certainly moved me.

The Photography Show

I was unsure about going to a trade show, partly because I wasn’t sure if there would be any real learning to be had and secondly I didn’t want to be tempted into buying expensive gear I hadn’t thought through properly, which is my wont.

However, as the Student Day was free and it gave me the opportunity to visit my family in the Midlands I decided to give it a go.

I booked my ticket and two sessions, one with Scott Kelby and one with Alex Soth, whose exhibition “Fallen Leaves” I had seen.

I was impressed by the amount of information and tutorial available.  The trade show itself, was secondary although I did receive some good advice on lenses for my two cameras but I wasn’t tempted at the show.  In hindsight I should have taken the opportunity to receive a fantastic discount on one of the lenses.  C’est la vie!

The first session “What they don’t tell you” with Scott Kelby was entertaining.  if somewhat a little flippant and maybe controversial.  He has a unique style to provoke and in doing so evokes a fair amount of criticism.  The review  below was a compilation of an on-line discussion about Kelby’s books and style.

I think one can take Mr Kelby at face value,  there is no doubt that he is a successful photographer and writer contributing to magazines as well as an expert in Adobe applications.  I did have one or two “ah, hah” moments during his talk.  Especially on the importance (or not) of EXIF data.  Kelby reiterated that this is only relevant to the exact day,  camera, lighting, position of the photographer and environmental influences.  Similarly, he advised that we should trust our eyes and not always the histogram,  he demonstrated this with a set of three images, showing us only the histogram at first and asking which was properly exposed (one appearing to be correct, one over and one under exposed).  No prizes for guessing that they were all properly exposed.  One was a shot in general daylight conditions, one was a low key shot and the other a high key shot.

Overall, I enjoyed his talk and although it cannot be said that it was of academic use it was at least a useful reminder of not to take it all too seriously!

About Me

Alex Soth, on the other hand was a much more serious talk not as entertaining as Kelby but  more interesting.  He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has published over twenty-five books including Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004),  NIAGARA (2006), Broken Manual (2010)  and Songbook (2015).  Soth is a member of Magnum Photos and has had numerous exhibition all over the world.

The session focused on the how he created his photographs during his road trips on The Mississippi, capturing emotions including loneliness and  love and in doing so described how one of his pictures leads onto the next.  Sometimes it was hard to see just how this worked.  If there is one criticism of the Soth session it was that he jumped about a bit and he lacked a little enthusiasm.

One other really positive about the trip was meeting up with five other students and mulling over the pros and cons of distance learning.  A great bunch of people and so good to put faces to names that appear on emails and in the student Facebook pages.


Bath Student Study Day: Gold & Grayson Perry Tapestries

On 23rd January, a small group of photography and textiles students met in Bath to visit the Holburne Gallery and the Victoria Gallery to view the current exhibitions of “Gold” , from the Royal Collection and the Grayson Perry tapestries, “The Vanity of Small Differences”.  One could say a juxtaposition of topics.

Holburne Gallery

The Gold exhibition explores how the exquisiteness of gold is represented throughout art.  The exhibition which is beautifully curated, draws from every department of the Royal Collection.  The exhibits themselves range from the ostentatiousness of a gold charger weighing a hefty 8.8kg (19lbs) and still used in Buckingham Palace, to the simplicity of a bronze age pure gold cup (my favourite exhibit). (accessed 29.1.2016)


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The exhibition was divided into three areas of spirituality, power and status.  There was a huge lions head “donated” to William IV by the East India Company having previously belonged to Sultan Tipu and formed the centre piece of his magnificent throne.  Even the most simplest of exhibits represented ostentatiousness and demonstrations of wealth such as the delightful opera glasses encrusted with pearls and diamonds.  There were exquisitely gold embossed book covers, the place gold has in painting as well as several gold bowls, pieces of jewellery and gold gilt tables.  Not normally an exhibition I would have visited but found it fascinating and beautiful.

We also visited the main gallery where there was an exhibition of Michael Eden’s 3d printing which was fascinating. Inspired by 18th century pottery Eden manages to place his ideas firmly in the 21st century with witty titles and modern technology.


These exhibitions have opened my eyes to objects in art that I would not have given a great deal of attention to.

Victoria Gallery

The Vanity of Small Differences is a well known set of tapestries by Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry.  The six tapestries in the series featured Channel 4’s three-part series, All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry shown in June 2012  where Perry explores British taste as an inspiration for his art.

In the six panels of The Vanity of Small Differences Perry relates the rise and fall of a technology magnate and consists of the characters, incidents and objects.  I had the sense in the gallery that Perry was sitting somewhere looking on with amusement as we all identified with on various aspects of the tapestries.  It starts with the birth of Tim Rakewell in Sunderland and follows his life from humble working class beginnings through his university days and on to his country retreat in The Cotswolds.

Perry’s influence of the “Englishness” portrayed by Hogarth and Renaissance painting is evident in the tapestries.  Each tableaux relates to a religious

The Vanity of Small Differences tells the story of the rise and demise of Tim Rakewell and is composed of characters, incidents and objects Perry encountered on journeys through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds. Hogarth has long been an influence on Perry’s work and this exhibition is heavily influenced by “A Rake’s Progress”.  He also manages to link scenes to mainly Renaissance paintings. The tapestries also include a narrative woven into each tapestry spoken by one of the characters.

A magnificent piece of work which is powerful, political, humorous and thought provoking.  A most creative way of linking existing influences and interests to tell the story. (accessed 29.1.16)

With both of these exhibitions I have learnt a lot about how art is produced and perceived and what purpose it might have for the artist as well as the perception of the viewer.





Diyanita Singh at the Hayward Gallery

Diyanita Singh’s first major UK exhibition is a retrospective of her work spanning several decades.  The show is divided into three rooms, presenting her photographic work differently.  The first gallery shows smaller, perhaps experimental work.  The second gallery shows the self-termed ‘museums’, which are free-standing wooden structures reminiscent of dressing screens that contain photographs slotted behind frames.  These ‘museums’ are an eclectic mixture of perceptions.