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Photography that gets people looking, thinking and talking.

24 November 2018. Impressions Gallery Bradford. Exhibition and Portfolio Review study visit.

Expanding people’s perceptions and understanding of photography by ‘getting people looking, thinking and talking’. So, goes the ‘strap-line’ of Impressions gallery in Bradford, where I attended an exhibition study visit and portfolio review, along with a small cohort of committed and inquisitive students. Impressions is one of my favourite places to reflect on the way contemporary photography informs my understanding of the world, challenging assumptions through surprising subject matter and innovative exhibition strategies. I had already attended the opening launch of the current, Chloe Dewe Mathews’ In Search of Frankenstein, having seen her previous, Shot at Dawn, sites where soldiers were executed for cowardice and desertion as part of the No Man’s Land forgotten of the First World War. The play on words of ‘shot’ here, significant as it highlights that the pictures are not just about a subject (the brutality of war in that case) but also about the process of photography itself. In both projects the subject is meticulously researched, leading to metaphorical aftermath landscapes depicting themes such as memory, place and time; refracted through her considered use of medium format film.
In Search of Frankenstein depicts the Alpine region that once inspired Mary Shelley’s novel. In 1816, Mary was holidaying at Lake Geneva during ‘The Year Without Summer’, the result of a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world. Confined indoors, Mary and her companions (including poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley) held a competition to write the best ghost story. Two centuries later, Chloe Dewe Mathews returned to photograph the snow-covered Alps, also revealing a network of underground bunkers, built to shelter the entire population of Switzerland in the event of a nuclear disaster.

This challenge to what is possible with such a ‘realistic’ medium was particular noted by the student attendees at the gallery, who had come to see the exhibition as well as have a review of their own work with gallery staff. Curator Dr Pippa Oldfield and Director Anne McNeill both stressed the importance of collaboration and partnerships. Student organiser of the day, Andrew Fitzgibbon (Skipton) along with Anna Goodchild (flying in from Torbay), Allan O’Neill (Worcester) and Alan Fletcher (Derby) all showed their work, ranging from identity portraits, alternative depictions of the life experiences of a prisoner, the architecture of food-banks and an archive found in a discarded suitcase.
Many discussion points were brought to the surface both during the structured portfolio reviews and the subsequent reflection on the relevance of the Dewe Mathews exhibition. Student Anna Goodchild welcomed the “very encouraging, critical-friend reviews,” remarking on the parallels in the two separate strands of Dewe-Mathews’ work with her own: the use of cold aluminium frames for the internal bunker shots as a foil to the white wooden box frames of the external landscapes, with enlarged pages from Mary Shelley’s original manuscript. This created contextual associations, alluding to broader contemporary themes such as the destructive environmental impact of climate change. As student Alan O’Neill reflected: “straight forward representation becomes superficial and banal as I become much more inspired by the metaphorical and abstract qualities of photographic imagery”.
Curator, Dr Pippa Oldfield commented on how much she enjoyed talking with us all and that this kind of sharing of knowledge reminds her why she chose to do this work – for people to better engage with photography: “I never tell people what to think or use jargon or art-speak, rather I give pointers for visitors to interpret”.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to organise exhibitions, promote education and keep a gallery such as impressions running and the day certainly got students ‘looking, thinking and talking’, as Andrew Fitzgibbon remarked: “The visit was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had since starting to study…there was excellent advice about producing different statements for different audiences”. Alan Fletcher echoed this: “It can take years for projects to develop. Chloe Dewe Matthews work shows a multilayered presentation is an effective way to visually engage with its audience. This approach to my work is something that needs consideration for the future”.
In Search of Frankenstein by Chloe Dewe Mathews is at Impressions Gallery: 5 October 2018 to 5 January 2019. You can find impressions opposite the Science and Media Museum, next to the new City Park in the heart of Bradford city centre. Admission to the exhibitions is free.
Chloe Dewe Mathews In Search of Frankenstein at Impressions Gallery: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=87
Spectrum Photographic Printers on No Man’s Land at Impressions Gallery: https://spectrumphoto.co.uk/no-mans-land
Chloe Dewe Mathews web site: http://www.chloedewemathews.com/home/
Student attendees’ blogs can be seen here:
Anna Goodchild: Anna Goodchild: www.annasyp.wordpress.com
Andrew Fitzgibbon: https://portrait.fitzgibbonphotography.com/study-visit-impressions-gallery/
Allan O’Neill ‘Wasted Rain’ project: https://allanoneillidentityplace.wordpress.com/category/assignment-5/assignment-5-submission/
Alan Fletcher Reflections on his on-going ‘Suitcase’ project: https://www.oca.ac.uk/creative-arts-degrees/ba-hons-photography-degree/ and reflections on the study day: http://somewhereandnowhere.weebly.com/journal/oca-impressions-gallery-portfolio-review-study-visit
Images (included)
Featured: Chloe Dewe Mathews In Search of Frankenstein impressions exhibition installation used with kind permission from the artist: Credit: Chloe Dewe Mathews /Impressions Gallery.
Others: Credit: Garry Clarkson
Alan O’Neill (left) and Andrew Fitzgibbon (right) during portfolio review.
Anne McNeill reviews the work of Anna Goodchild.
Pippa Oldfield talks to Anna Goodchild.
Anne McNeill takes a closer look at the work of Anna Goodchild.
Alan O’Neil casts a meticulous eye over the work of Anna Goodchild.
Alan O’Neil ‘Wasted Rain’ Project.
Andrew Fitzgibbon presents his work with Anne McNeill (right) and Dr Pippa Oldfield (left).
Alan Fletcher and his on-going ‘Suitcase’ project.
Roll of C22 unprocessed film as part of Alan Fletcher’ project (above).

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Posted by author: Garry Clarkson
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4 thoughts on “Photography that gets people looking, thinking and talking.

  • It was a brilliant, stimulating day & to think that we nearly lost it for lack of support! I am sorry Andrew had to go through that stress of trying to decide whether or not to call it all off.

  • It was an excellent opportunity not only as a exhibition study visit but also as a portfolio review along side peer interaction. If anyone has an opportunity in the future to attend such an event it is a well recommended experience. I took so much away from it.

  • Discussion, collaborative working, ‘learning twice’; seeing your own work influenced from the strategies of others by telling a story through association rather than traditional ‘telling’. We all got something by engaging with established high level curators and artists.

  • Having researched Chloe Dewe-Mathews’ series “Shot at Dawn” I wish I had been fortunate enough to visit the gallery and see her work. Without the narrative associated with each image in “Shot at Dawn” (the name, time and date of each execution at that location) the images could be interpreted as just a series of landscape photographs. The viewer would not see the real horrors and injustices which took place at those locations, all evidence has been erased over time. By creating this series and including the narrative, as she has done, she will inevitably get people thinking and talking about subjects that may take them out of their comfort zone. It certainly did that for me.

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