"Drift", "Lifting the Curtain", "Rock against Racism", Frantz Fanon" - Study Visit, East London 24th October 2015

This was my first study visit for a while (there haven't been any that I could easily get to) so I was quite looking forward to getting back into it. I always find these study visits to be really motivational and seem to lift my interest in the subject of photography again. That's not to say that I'm not interested anyway, but it just gives things a boost!

This particular visit was quite a comprehensive one, taking in 4 different exhibitions in 3 locations - all of which, I believe, were part of the Photomonth East London. There were 2 tutors with us for the day: Rob Bloomfield, who I have met on study visits a couple of times before, and Simon Barber who I was meeting for the first time. Due to the size of the student group and the small size of the venue for 'Lifting the Curtain' we were split into two groups. I was in Rob's group and we headed off to 'Drift' in the Truman Brewery building on Brick Lane.

Drift is an exhibition of work by 11 different international photographers - the over-arching theme is contemporary urban culture. Although there was quite a diverse range of work (portraits/landscapes/street photography) I did come away feeling like there was a thread relating to urban life which ran through the exhibition. Presumably this was the idea so you could say that it worked! Additionally there was little that might be called abstract - which was also pleasing for me. Most, if not all of the images were either straight photography or were easy to read in a conventional sense. Sometimes with abstract images, particularly when there are many,  one (me anyway) can lose touch with what the photographer is attempting, or you can lose interest visually. I felt satisfied that I could comfortably read these particular images. Maybe this aversion to the abstract is just a symptom of my lack of artistic exposure in my youth! We were fortunate to be able to speak to one of the photographers, Beatrice Tura, who had a body of work entitled Terra Firma on display. It was interesting to hear that her project - which explores the transient nature of the urban ground we walk on - began with her simply being out taking photographs; the idea for the project came after she had looked at the images.

After Drift, we moved on to the Town House Gallery, just round the corner in Spitalfields, for Lifting the Curtain an exhibition by OCA student (graduate?) Keith Greenough. This was great, as not only was the setting marvellously quaint and quirky but Keith gave us a really in-depth talk about his project from the conception to the final exhibition and everything in between - it really was a useful insight in to what's to come for those of us who intend to go for the degree. One of the important things that came out of this for me was that Keith stressed the need to be enthusiastic about the topic which you intend to work on. This may go without saying, but there really does need to be something that grips you about a project otherwise it would be very difficult to pursue it to the end. The project itself I found extremely interesting and the pictures and associated texts made for very interesting viewing. All in all it was a great success and very useful for us students to see.

After lunch in Old Spitalfields Market we walked (in the rain) to Rivington Place, the home of Autograph ABP. There were two exhibitions on here; the one listed for our study visit was Syd Shelton's Rock Against Racism. The images in this exhibition were of the turbulent period at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s when in the UK there was an uprising of racial disquiet along with the consequent backlash of anti-nazis. Personally I remember it quite well, having been an adolescent youth myself at the time! This mood was certainly reflected in the music of the time, where bands like The Specials, The Beat and UB40 appeared, mixing black and white musicians in the same bands - something which was quite unusual I recall. It was a strange time and looking at Shelton's exhibition it was sometimes difficult to see who was on which side so to speak; white skinheads in tight jeans and Dr Marten boots danced alongside black reggae fans to the same music. There were also several images of marches attended by both groups, and numerous images of large groups of police with riot shields which showed how tense the feelings were at the time. I think some youths confused skinheads with punks and neo-nazis with anti-nazis; I know I certainly did. I enjoyed the exhibition, partly for nostalgic reasons but also because there were so many great documentary images in there. 

An exhibition also being shown at Rivington Place was Bruno Boudjelal's Frantz Fanon. Although it wasn't scheduled as part of the visit, we had a bit of time spare time so I took the opportunity to head upstairs to have a look. The Rock Against Racism exhibition was in a brightly lit space and the images were loud and contrasty, whereas Boudjelal's exhibition was in a quieter darkened room which lent itself to the ghostliness of the images which were predominantly hazy and slightly out of focus, often with no clear subject. The images represented and corresponded to the stages of Frantz Fanon's life as Boudjelal travelled within Algeria to Fanon's workplace at a hospital in Blida, south of Algiers to his birthplace in Martinique, to Tunisia and finally to his place of burial in Algeria. On the opposite wall to the images were a number of quotations, presumably from Fanon which gave a clearer idea of who he was and of his thinking. What fascinated me about this exhibition was that it made me want to learn more about this man as to be honest I'd never heard of him before visiting the exhibition. The images were abstract and not particularly appealing to the eye in a traditional sense, but the topic or theme of the exhibition was interesting.

After browsing the exhibition I met the other students along with Rob and Simon, in the cafe where we spent another hour or so chatting about the various pieces of work we'd seen.

My shadow at the Frantz Fanon exhibition.

My shadow at the Frantz Fanon exhibition.

What I personally continue to take from attending these study visits is that there is always more to learn about than just taking, or looking at 'good' photographs. When I first picked up a camera, and even when I started this course, I believed it was all about taking good, or better photographs. Of course this is still important, but these days I notice I am regularly jolted into researching new areas within the broad base of interest which photography and photographic study can suggest.

One area which continues to crop up, particularly on study visits, is the context of the photograph - for example how it is displayed, by who, and where. As I begin Context and Narrative I am particularly looking forward to investigating this further.