"But if it's everywhere and all the time, and so easy to make, then what's of value? Which pictures matter?" - Paul Graham
Despite the significant changes which have taken place in photography since the digital revolution, the question that Paul Graham asks remains the most critical: which photographs matter and why? The Biennial seeks to explore this by bringing together professional photographers, activists, film makers, photojournalists, street children from Brazil and collectives to explore the theme: ‘Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space’.
The Biennial also looks at the diverse platforms artists are disseminating their work through, from fly-posters, newspapers, billboards and the web. Jason Larkin’s Cairo Divided was first presented as a newspaper; Corrine Silva’s Imported Landscapes as Spanish billboards; Beautiful Horizon as zines and fly posters on the streets of Belo Horizonte.
Not long after I started at Photoworks, I met Julian Germain to discuss a project he had been involved with for over seventeen years. The Beautiful Horizon is an extraordinary project involving 3 artists (one being Julian) and the street children of Belo Horizonte. The children were given cameras and taught how to take photographs. The result is an intensely personal record of their lives and I was instantly absorbed by the project and the children; some of whom are now mothers, some of whom are dead. Photoworks and Autograph have been involved with The Beautiful Horizon over the years so it felt right to partner together with Fabrica in presenting this incredible archive.
As well as bringing work first shown in the public realm into galleries, we are taking work out into the public domain through installations and interventions. Whose Streets? Photos form the Argus Archives looks at street protests in Brighton over the last 30 years and will be displayed in lightboxes in Jubilee Square and as posters around the city. Another Space: Political Squatting in Brighton will be disseminated through a newspaper, with photographs displayed in the same locations they were originally made.
There has been some anxiety from certain quarters about these two particular projects and it will be interesting to see how the public responds to them. What debates and issues will develop from showing Brighton’s history as a political and contested space in the public domain and what power, if any, do these images still hold?
Preston is my Paris Four Versions of Three Routes will see 40 site-specific posters of photographs taken and displayed along Brighton’s constituency borders. When Adam Murray from PIMP came to Brighton to discuss potential projects, he was immediately drawn to the edges of the city, the places no tourists visit and which do not confer to the ubiquitous images always associated with Brighton. The proposed changes to Brighton’s constituency borders was an obvious place for PIMP to explore, with the ambition of getting audiences to investigate these boundaries; looking, observing, listening and perhaps discovering a Brighton they never knew existed.
It has been a real treat to meet up again with the legendary John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins. I have known Hoppy since my time at the Photographers’ Gallery where his portraits of the jazz greats used to fly out the door of the Print Sales Gallery. Hoppy was a big name in the sixties underground movements and was delighted that we wanted to show his lesser known pictures of protests, sit ins and demonstrations from that period.
Hoppy’s exhibition Freedom is a Career will be shown in the same space as Thomson and Craighead’s October, a multimedia installation exploring images produced by the Occupy movement. It was obvious that we would present these two installations together, drawing out the dialogue between the Occupy movement and the sixties sit ins, marches and mass demonstrations in public spaces.
We were very clear from the start that we wanted to approach Thomson & Craighead about commissioning them to create a new work that responded to the theme of the Biennial. Their approach resonates with our interests in how artists are interacting and intervening with images found on the internet, and how they are using them to explore and inform their own artistic practice.
Space has been a real issue for the Biennial. The lack of visual arts spaces in Brighton and the loss of the museum as a partner left us scouring the city for suitable spaces. We had secured use of the old fruitmarket which has been used in the past for a number of art projects, most memorably Anish Kapoor’s The Dismemberment of Jeanne d’Arc in 2010. It is a fantastic space – huge and atmospheric but with absolutely no infrastructure. The costs of 24-hour security, electrical cabling and health and safety were prohibitive. Before we backed away from the space, I had a meeting with the local police as the space was being used as a car park during the Liberal Democrat conference, when we were meant to be installing the work. It was very amusing trying to work out how we could accommodate both – car park one day, art gallery the next. Politics of space indeed!
For me, having always worked for building based arts organisations, this has been a very different way of working. There is no space we have control over, even the public ones, and the Biennial can only be delivered by the strong partnerships we establish with the city’s cultural organisations, stakeholders and politicians. The support from all our partners has been tremendous and the Biennial has really felt like a citywide collaboration.
So now we’re less than a week away from the opening of the Biennial. It is the biggest Biennial to date, with over thirteen exhibitions and public interventions and a packed programme of talks, tours, workshops and symposia for all ages and interests. The Photoworks magazine will be the biggest issue ever, covering the Biennial programme including new writing, interviews and portfolios. I’m incredibly proud of what the team have achieved in a fairly short period of time, especially Celia and Ben, the curators of the Biennial. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather improves by Friday and look forward to welcoming you all to Brighton over the next four weeks. Art and the seaside, what more could you want?
Published on 2 October 2012
Written by Emma Morris, Director of Photoworks