If anyone ever questions you about the strength of Birmingham’s photography community then I strongly advise you tell them about the 2018 Birmingham Photography Festival! Over 200 people listened to and engaged with great speakers who presented on a range of topics during a one-day programme of talks. Here is a round up of how the day went!
Kicking off the day was street and documentary photographer Walter Rothwell, talking on the subject of “Street Photography”. Walter took the audience through a masterclass in examples of capturing the “decisive moment”. From the streets of London to Cairo, the audience were treated to an amazing range of images packed with moments of tension that made the viewer question the period immediately after the shutter was triggered. His use of comedic juxtaposition in his images, such as 007 pointing his gun at the head of bystander consuming a sandwich, drew plenty of laughter from the crowd! Clearly a popular subject, Walter was questioned extensively by the audience who took the chance to have their questions answered by a real authority of the genre.
Claire Armitage took to the stage after Walter to present on her 365 self portrait project. This was no talk about how to take a selfie, trust us! Claire’s project uses self portraiture in an unflinchingly open and exposed way to explore her identity and emotions each day. Taken with absolutely zero sense of vanity, her strikingly intimate images drew the audience into highly personal moments in the photographers life. It was interesting to hear Claire talk about how focussing her photography onto a year-long project helped to kick her work out of a rut that she felt she had fallen into, something I’m sure we can all relate too from time to time. Claire’s presentation of her work, along with her exploration of the history of self portraiture, really caught the imagination of the audience who questioned her on points of discipline, approach, and the impact her highly personal images had on her close relationships.
Talking on matters of representation, our third headline speaker, Andrew Jackson, took the audience on a trip through his inspirations in his earlier career including Robert Frank and Vanley Burke, to his most recent work which enabled him to build connections with his parents and their home country of Jamaica. Using photography as a means of building connections across great distances, and using it as a tool to demonstrate the way in which peoples can be represented, or misrepresented, Andrew showed the audience a stunning range of portraits, landscapes, and intimate details. Highly personal images of his parents in their youth, juxtaposed with them in old age, and images of their life, visibly moved the audience while also building their intrigue about his work. To say Andrew’s talk at the festival was well received is a massive understatement, he had a queue of people lining up to ask him questions and talk to him after his talk ended.
Lunchtime during the festival gave the attendees a chance to look at the work of their contemporaries in the festival print pin up session. Each attendee had been asked to bring a long a favourite print from their own portfolio to share in a communal pin up area. The display tables were covered in fantastic images, from urban landscapes, to portraits, and architectural shots. As part of a special festival competition, attendees were also sent out on a mission at lunchtime to take street, urban landscape, and close up details images! The prize, a chance to spend an afternoon in a Staying Cool at the Rotunda penthouse apartment shooting the Birmingham skyline! More on that later though!
After lunch, our fourth headline speaker, Emma Case, moved the audience to tears with her highly emotive talk on her award winning wedding photography and her personal projects. Personally, I never thought I would cry at other people’s wedding photos, and I sure most of the audience didn’t either. That was before Emma played a montage of moments from her wedding career to a soundtrack of Regina Spektor which took everyone back to similar special moments in their own lives. As if that wasn’t enough, a single image of a carpeted staircase in the family home of one her brides, a staircase which had seen a whole family’s history from childhood to old age, really had the room reaching for the tissues. Her insight in to dealing with her work being taken out of context was also particularly interesting. Emma’s inspirational talk most definitely woke the audience up after lunch!
In a break from the presentations of the morning, the afternoon continued with a panel discussion with well known Birmingham-based photographers Ross Jukes, Kris Askey, Tim Cornbill, and Verity Milligan. The audience got the chance to quiz the panel on topics such as early mistakes they made, to how they keep their work fresh.
Following the panel discussion, the audience then had their chance to present their work in our Pecha Kucha inspired session. We were inundated with submissions for this part of the programme on the run up to the event! In the end though, Alexa Jones, Ben Davis, Garry Jones, Ceridwen, and Joseph Allen Keys were the lucky ones to have their submissions chosen. Talking for 5 minutes each on their own work, their talks connected with the audience through their similar experiences of finding photography, being a photographer in Brum, and what they are doing with this interest/obsession.
To close the event we felt it was appropriate to touch on some of the history of photography in Birmingham, and who better to do that than one of the founders of the 1992 Birmingham Photography Festival, Derek Bishton. Derek’s talk took the audience through the history of Ten.8 magazine, a Birmingham-based Photography journal which was distributed internationally in the 80s and 90s, which Derek co-founded. One of the legacies of Ten.8 was the fortnight-long 1992 Photography Festival in Birmingham which was a hugely successful event which was unfortunately was not repeated until this year’s festival.
The day ended with about 100 of the newly inspired attendees joining speakers and organisers for a beverage in the pub where they discussed the talks, their inspiration, and the Birmingham photography community.
When we started organising the festival we cautiously hoped that it would be a success, but we didn’t know for sure. However, seeing over 200 people get so much out of the programme we put together, to see and hear them talk about how it had inspired them, well that really showed us that it was a greater success than we could have imagined! From this success we plan to build for the future, not only for next years festival but also for smaller events throughout the year. Make sure you sign up to our monthly newsletter to keep up to date on what’s happening with Birmingham Photography Festival!
Last but most certainly not least, we will be announcing the winners of the festival competition this Saturday evening on social media, so keep an eye on our accounts! You never know, it could be you!
Words by Fraser McGee
Images by Martin O’Callaghan and Fraser McGee