Tag Archives: photography

A Voyage of Enterprise

10 Sep

Some months ago, the Shropshire Visual Art Network was appointed by Kate Gittins of the Market Hall, Shrewsbury to curate an exhibition to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Market Hall building.    After a huge amount of work, the exhibition launches this week:

MH flier front

I have taken a lead on this for VAN, working with fellow members/trustees Carola Fielden and Pat Jones and various other colleagues.  The exhibition features archive material, the original design drawings, work by artists inspired by the market, and photographs and stories of the many traders and people associated with the existing market building and its predecessor.  We have collaborated with Sarah Hart Media, historian David Trumper, and architect Paul Harries, partner of Baart Harries Newall.

Often likened by the public to a “starship”, “cruise ship” or “battleship”, the Market Hall was hailed “the most modern building in Shropshire” when it officially opened in 1965.  It remains an important commercial building, housing Shrewsbury’s 240ft clock tower, its thriving indoor market, a ground-floor shopping centre and now the town’s first university hall of residence.

A special celebration will be staged in the market from 11.30am to 3pm on Wednesday September 16th – the day of the official anniversary, followed by a private view at Participate from 4pm – 6pm.

The building is now owned by Shropshire Council, while the central stalls of the market are the responsibility of Shrewsbury Town Council.  So we have received support from both Councils and from Shropshire Archives.  It is planned to incorporate a digital screen as part of the exhibition above the main market floor, which will be installed by the excellent Microvideo – who, amongst other things, manage the video installation for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival.  The digital display will feature historical photos, photos of traders past and present, and art work by Pat Jones and myself.

Pat Jones, an artist based in the Market, commenced a 12 month journal of photography and sketches earlier this year due to finish in 2016.  Some of her photographs will also be shown at Participate Contemporary Art Space.

I had not originally planned to produce work for the exhibition myself, but was then inspired to take a series of photographs of fragments of the building fabric.  I will include more of the work, entitled Quotidian (everyday), in a later blog post.  Here’s one for now:

quotidian01

It is the people that bring the market alive, and in looking at photographs of Shrewsbury’s markets going back almost 150 years, I was fascinated by how certain details barely changed through the ages, despite the more obvious changes to buildings and clothing.  The social activities of meeting, buying and selling in the market are timeless.  I produced a photographic frieze illustrating this – here’s a small section of it:

composite2a

Art work in the VAN Gallery includes:

  • special edition prints by illustrator Linda Edwards;
  • a collage produced in a collaboration between Peter Williams and Pat Jones;
  • two paintings by Bethan Laura Wood, who won the People’s price at the Shropshire Open Art Exhibition with one of these paintings in 2002, and has since gone on to become one of the UK’s top young designers;
  • portraits of traders by Ian Collett (18 from a total of 30 paintings commissioned a few years ago by VAN)

In parallel, VAN has co-ordinated with Participate Contemporary Artspace who will be running an exhibition, entitled “Outside In”, concurrently with VAN. This also features contemporary artists’ interpretations of the Market Hall. Keith Ashford and Liz Turner have both produced work for the exhibition and have collaborated on a sculpture comprising a life size replica of the 37ft finial from atop the clocktower.

I’m a great believer in the market as a place where new enterprises and ideas can venture into business alongside long established family businesses.  The market can act as an incubator for new businesses willing to take risks in a supportive environment

Through the history of markets in Shrewsbury and across the UK there has been an ebb and flow between public and private control, and competition between the Market Hall and other street trading.  Nowadays, competition includes vast superstores, indoor malls, out of town shopping centres and the world wide web.  Global corporations control most of the goods available.

Yet the Market Hall flourishes today with full occupancy and a diverse range of stalls and services.  Many of which could not have been foreseen when the first indoor market hall opened in 1869.

Independence, local, high quality produce, and unique crafts are just some of the Market’s attributes, which global brands struggle to compete with.  The Market Hall arguably has the ideal blend of entrepreneurism, municipal support and community resilience needed for a time when sustainability and equality are key to long term prosperity.

In 2015, both the market and the town of Shrewsbury enter a new phase, re-shaping their identity, as a University is opened and the long empty section of Mardol House is converted into student accommodation.  A new age of enlightenment?

Melting into Air

6 Sep

Its been a while … most of my time and energy in the last year or so has been devoted to my family and my ongoing BA in Creative Art, which has its own learning log.  I’m putting together my degree show which will be a reflection on life of work in the Shrewsbury Business Park alongside the rural urban fringe of Springfield and my walk to work along the cycle track that was the Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth Railway… and maybe some deeper stuff.

In the meantime, I have left employment as environmental consultant with a global business.  Rather than a major change for me, I see it more of a continuation of following my beliefs.  The company I once knew, whilst still doing good work in promoting sustainability, had, as a result of a series of takeovers, changed into something I no longer truly believed in.  So now I am focusing on my art practice and more community based art and environmental work.  The ripple effect can sometimes work wonders from grass roots…

During the latter years of my work at the business park, the 50 minute walk to and from work became something I clung to as a means of remaining grounded in time and space.  The office environment of email, teleconferences, travel and virtual space tends to dislocate people from their surroundings and from real time.  The walk also became a form of activism or protest against the tyranny of the car and out of town development (and trendy cycling is not much better, although I do ride my bike occasionally) .  Well discussed in the essays “Edge City” by Paul Barker and “Carmageddon” by John Adams in the collection edited by Anthony Barnett and Roger Scruton entitled “Town and Country”.  As the number of people expanded in our office, we had to rent additional parking space at the local cricket ground about five minutes walk away, so the journey to work by car could become something of a frustration.

Having realised some years ago now, that my interest in walking the edgelands was driven by a fascination with psychogeography, I went further into its origins with Debord and the Situationists and earlier roots going back through the Surrealists to Baudelaire, Blake, de Quincey, and Defoe as described by Melvin Coverley in his book “Psychogeography”.  More recently, shortly after it was published in July 2015, I read the excellent book “Walking Inside Out” by Tina Richardson (who writes a great blog too at http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/).

In her commentary and compilation of essays from a variety of sources, Dr Richardson takes a comprehensive state-of-the-art view of what contemporary psychogeography is and how practitioners operate. Psychogeography has splintered into numerous walking “practices” each with its own title/terminology, and so its definition necessarily has blurred boundaries.  I haven’t been consciously “doing” psychogeography but my practice does seem to fall within these blurred boundaries.

During my walks (usually about twice per week), I documented the seasonal changes, and ever more subtle details of urban fabric with photographs and sometimes writing.  My photographs captured something of how I responded to the environment I saw changing over time.  My route varied depending on whether I fancied a more uptempo urban stride through the town or more peaceful walk alongside the River Severn, or through the Rea Brook valley.  So not strictly a derive since I definitely had to get from A to B, but I could meander via many permutations of routes.

It was a walk to and from work, not a photography expedition – so not technically great photos.  I quite like the spontaneity of some of the images though.  Some of these photographs inform the paintings I am producing for my forthcoming exhibition, and they will feature more directly in a book which will accompany the exhibition.

Here is a small selection, roughly chronological:

Since finishing at the Business Park, and with no particular routine other than the days when I take Eliza to school, I’ve missed the walk.  So I have introduced an occasional detour in the morning back from school around a route past Charles Darwin’s house when he was a boy, his family garden and around the River through Frankwell and back home.  Hoping to take inspiration perhaps from Darwin’s own well trodden paths.  More on this later…

The Walk to Work

28 Dec

Walking is better than cycling if you want to see the world and think.  The pace of walking fits with the speed of thought.  It takes me about 50 minutes to walk around the River Severn, through Longden Coleham, and along cycle paths (an old railway line) and finally across fields.  I love to do this in all seasons, and particularly during the dark mornings and evenings in November and December when there is a quiet atmosphere of anticipation of the coming festive season.

Things catch my eye and it is rare that I get to work with the result that I have had a good, methodical think through a particular problem or subject.  But it is great for letting the mind float free, alighting on objects, each sight distrupts the thought pattern but might just send my ideas in a new, revelatory direction.

During the early Summer, I planned to take photos of things that caught my eye and I began to ponder on how we see the world – our state of being.  Perception, conception, meaning and reality.  How do we interpret what we see, and what is reality.  Before I know it we could be into the depths of Wittgenstein.  There are numerous texts on the subject by artists and philosophers and scientists, so I am not saying anything wildly original here, but think about it.  What do you see? 

Our experience is not really like a continual film, but a series of snapshots, sometimes blurred.  We look, process, look, process, think, focus, think, look, process, refocus, think, look, process, look again, process, think… perception and conception.

I realised that the series of photos I took one day would almost certainly be different to the next and the next.  Snapshots would be influenced by mood, weather, thoughts, noises, smells, time of day, other people, wildlife, movement, recent and past memories and much more.  Our interpretation of a particular view is determined by our memory of past experience, and is largely an abstract construct before we actually consider what our eyes are taking in at that specific moment.  So even if by some miracle another person walked the route and took photos of exactly the same things, it couldn’t be for exactly the same reasons, and interpreted the same way.  And that’s before we even begin to consider the photographic image selection, framing, the capture itself taking account of light conditions, camera settings etc and the post-editing processes.  No two people could possibly see the same route however short, in the same way.

This calls for an experiment sometime – to get two, or preferably several more, people to walk a route, take photos, perhaps within 5 minutes of each other, then on different days, at different times, over a long period.  Then compare.

The decision to take a photo is influenced by so many factors, depending on the objective.  Sometimes it is such a fine line between stopping, considering, framing, releasing the shutter and continuing, or just saving the effort and leaving the image in mind only.  With digital cameras there is almost no effort, no waste, so the line is even finer.

So where am I going with this?  We cannot relate to the same thing in the same way, our individual life experiences are isolated and interconnected at the same time.  We’re heading into the fundamentals of photography and what it can reveal to us about the photographer.

On one morning in June, I set out to take photos of what my eyes alighted on – not everything, or I might never have arrived – but what I judged to be of a “certain” significance.  The camera battery gave up just short of my destination, and I took some 94 photos.  Inevitably there was an element of  selection/exclusion in what I shot.  I tried not to spend long with composition or thinking about the shot, and I used the camera zoom only where I considered that this represented my selective focusing on an object.  Similarly I only cropped an image in post production if this represented what I was looking at better.   I did very little manipulation of the image except to balance tones and colour. 

To avoid further selectivity, I have not discarded any of the images and so here is my walk to work on 17th June 2013.  Of course, I didn’t think much during the walk that day except about taking photos, so like with any scientific experiment, the intervention of conducting the experiment changes the conditions in which the experiment is conducted … but anyway:

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We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

2 Dec

At the same time that I was contemplating tackling a photo book for the Land in Hand exhibition, I began to think about another artist book.  For some time, I have been gathering photographs and more latterly a series of paintings loosely on the theme of woodland and how people use and abuse them.

The series of paintings already had a title “We’re not out of the Woods yet”.  This suggested a number of different meanings and interpretation.  The  U-turn by the Government on selling off woodland was by no means an end to  selling off public forest and “wild” land, so I raise an alarm that we may still have forests, but we shouldn’t take them for granted.  It references the time of austerity, but also on a wider cynical note it could refer to the fact that in many ways human cultural development has barely made it beyond a time when we lived in the woods.

I had run out of steam and inspiration with the paintings, but the series did not feel like it was sufficient to make an exhibition.  Combining images of the paintings with photographs seemed to fit well.  Then on reading haiku by Colin Blundell, I realised that many of his poems included specific trees, conjuring images very close to those I had actually painted or photographed.  So the logical conclusion was to collaborate with Colin and include a selection of his haiku alongside my images.  Arguably, since haiku is supposed to capture a moment objectively  without emotion, it seems “wrong” to link them with an image in this way, since the image impacts on the poem to create a new meaning.  But that in itself is an interesting experiment.  My photos and Colin’s poems describe independent moments, so putting them together creates a dialogue across time.

The book was put together as a “concertina” folded single stream of images constructed with 6″x4″ prints so that each image is on 8″x6″ unfolded double spread. 

We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

“We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet” – the finished book

Each spread was carefully edited to size and position the image and text.  The individual images were compiled so that they formed a loose narrative. 

I produced a limited edition of 25 of the books, currently retailing at £36 and their numbers are dwindling already.

A selection of images from the book is shown below:

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Coton Hill Allotments – Winding down

5 May

My last visit to the allotments to take photographs was on 26th October 2012.  I didn’t manage to get to the site during most of the harvesting season, but there was still much produce still in evidence.  Some of the winter crops, like leeks and sprouts were also well under way.

It was also good to see that at least one of the bee hives in the neighbouring field had been salvaged.  The bee colony had not been in great condition but hopefully it will thrive.

It was a cool damp day, but the Autumn colours of the leaves were particularly vibrant this year.  Colourful chard leaves also brought some brightness to an otherwise quite sombre day.  There were plenty of mushrooms around in the adjacent fields.

Some people were hard at work just starting out on preparing their plot and putting up fencing ready for next year.

Coton Hill Allotments – Summer?

24 Jun

It was a beautiful warm sunny morning when I visited in May.  After the warm weather in March, its been mainly wet and unsettled.  But there’s always a plus side for allotmenteers, as that means we don’t have to keep visiting the plot just to water the plants.

For me two of the key signifiers of an allotment are sheds and bean pole supports.  And they are certainly well and truly established at Coton Hill.  I’m fascinated by the character and care that goes into these constructions.

Most of the plots look immaculately well tended, whilst some begin to show signs of the torment of the owners’ struggle against weeds.  But I was delighted to see radishes being harvested in abundance.

Coton Hill Allotments – Open…its official!

15 Jun

I attended the official opening event on Saturday 21st April.  Thankfully the showery weather held off, just long enough for speeches of thanks and congratulations from Simon Howard, Lady Berwick and Cllr Andrew Bannerman.  The sun shone, and there was a tangible feeling of celebration of all the hard work, and relief at getting this far.

Most of the plots are now well developed in terms of fencing, sheds and other infrastructure, and plants are flourishing.

I left just as the hail showers started up again.

Coton Hill Allotments – And so it grows…

27 Mar

Suddenly with an incredible spell of warm, almost Summer-like weather at the end of March, the allotment has become an industrious place.  Its a busy time of year, but I managed to make a visit to the site early on 23rd March. 

I had a chat with the enthusiastic Martin Howard, who has done most of the work in developing the site.  He was continuing to work on the fencing and gates along the northern edge, having completed the work on the main entrance gates at the bottom of the access track.  He was awaiting further instructions on proceeding with the water connection to be made from the Berwick Estate. 

The most striking thing for me, was to see not only the immediate impact people have made on their respective plots, but the diversity of their approach.  As vegetation is not yet well established, the most obvious impact was the new sheds, greenhouses, cloches and other various structures.  Hard landscaping.  The idiosyncratic use of found and reclaimed materials is already evident, in addition to some brand new materials.

Some folk have gone for weed control and mulching – I fear the nettles will bite back.  Others have gone straight for digging and improving the soil.  Several of the plots have impressively neat rows of potatoes planted.  There is already a wide variety of vegetables and fruit bushes.  The most powerful signs of Spring were the few heads of rhubarb bursting out of the soil with an almost palpable energy.

The buds are emerging on the surrounding trees and the battle over territory with the rabbits goes on…

Coton Hill Allotments – Wintry reminder

15 Mar

So the day after our sunny visit to see the newly created plots (albeit interspersed with some fairly nasty hailstorms) I awoke on the 19th February to find a sprinkling of snow on the ground.  I rushed out to see the site and take some shots, and the snow was melting all around as I worked.  The sun came out and its was a beautiful crystal clear morning.

I exchanged a brief hello with Matt, walking his dog – thinking back, it seems like I have seen him on nearly every visit I’ve  made and I’m wondering just how much time he spends out here.  I can understand why anyone would want to be out walking in this landscape though.

I saw the first shoots coming through around the edge of the site, almost as a defiant thrust against the snow.  A clear sign that Spring is on the way, and it will be a race against time and weeds for the allotmenteers to get their seedlings on the go and then into the ground.  But not just yet, if this cold weather is anything to go by.

With the snow on the ground it was also all too evident just how much rabbit activity there is on the site.  Tell tale footprints led the way to burrows up to the north east corner of the site, and all around.  These mixed with bird footprints and the tyre prints of machines used to prepare the ground.

Once more I marvelled at the sculptural hedgerows intertwined with corrugated and wire fencing, gnarled trees, twisted branches and rabbit burrows.  There are some wonderful shapes, textures and details here, and it would be great to preserve the character of these.  I know that there are plans to lay the hedges, initially on the north side, and this will look good too, and will be a good way to set and manage the form of the site into the future.  But it would be a shame to lose all of the feel of the ancient landscape too.

Coton Hill Allotments – the little details

9 Feb

I spent the first visit wandering around the site noticing so many details of insects, vegetation, old rusty debris and I was most fascinated by the ancient lichens on the old fruit trees.  I took some macro photos, but difficult to get good shots without a tripod – something for a later visit.

On later visits I saw more of the signs of animal activity, such as hazelnut shells left by squirrels, stripped corn cobs amongst straw, and birds’ nests.

I’m also always drawn to the little signs of human activity, such as the rusty gates tied up with rope, shed doors, corroded corrugated sheets and barbed wire.  Given the site’s historical use as an allotment, it will be interesting to see what ancient objects turn up as the earth is dug open once again.

The allotment even when new, will surely be populated with found and adapted tools and other objects.  I like the ramshackle dishevelment of allotments, which on closer inspection reveal many layers of creativity, ingenuity, humour and general thrift.