Peter Dench at FORMAT Photoforum, Derby

I realised by the end of tonight’s FORMAT Photoforum with Peter Dench at Derby QUAD how much I’ve been criss-crossing his career. Whilst I knew I’d seen his photographs previously, hence my reason for going along tonight, I hadn’t realised how many times I had in recent years. I though I’d first seen an exhibition of his at the Dog Eared Gallery in 2012 during the sadly now defunct London Festival of Street Photography which left an impression as I liked his take on what being British is about.  But I realised that I’d also seen some of his photographs during my first FORMAT Festival in 2011 which concentrated on street photography, which his photographs most definitely are although I’m not sure whether he’s what many people would describe as such. The next link with Peter Dench was an unexpected one which was his involvement with White Cloth Gallery where I saw his exhibition although I didn’t know he was also actively involved in the gallery.  A gallery that I like although I always seem to turn up there when there’s a function on these days so rarely get to see an exhibition.

So back to tonight. I’ve kept saying to myself that I must do more exhibitions and learn more on photography, so when I had an email from Format Festival it seemed like a good opportunity to go along to my first Photoforum, and I’m glad I did. When I lived in Derby about 15 years ago now, QUAD didn’t exist, but one of its predecessor organisations was Q Arts of which I was briefly a council-appointed member of its management committee. I only wish I’d had my passion for photography then and that QUAD had existed in its current form as I think I’d have been there a lot.

What was particularly fascinating about today’s Photoforum was that it not only consisted of Peter Dench doing a run through and talking extensively about some of his photo projects – largely A&E (Alcohol & England) and England Uncensored – but also about how his career has worked. His discussion on his photographs went in to details about how they were put together, the background as to how the commission happened, who the people were, what led up to that specific picture and also taking on the issue of whether they are exploitative or not. Despite being a fan of his photographs and so consequently this being a great opportunity to hear him talk about them, it was his thoughts on how he sustains (or doesn’t) life as a professional photographer and how he got his commissions that I found most interesting. His reflections on how life has changed in the photographic world and how to succeed in the business must, I imagine, have really struck a chord with the many photography students in the room. Another striking part of tonight was Peter Dench’s interesting and plain speaking style and his sense of humour. He wasn’t afraid to disagree with other people’s opinions and he was particularly critical about his former lecturers at the University of Derby although the place has clearly improved since. It was all very interesting and I think the first of many Photoforums that I’ll attend.

Just to give a flabour here are a few of my favourite Peter Dench photographs, although there’s so many to choose from:
from England Uncensored there’s this, thisthis and this
from A&E there’s thisthis, this and this
I also love his project The Zabaleen of Garbage City

Finally, a note on Derby. Every so often I happen to be in Derby for one reason or another, and it really stands out how much the city has changed. When I lived in Derby it felt like a large town pretending to be a city. These days it really feels like a city. Some people I’m sure won’t like how it’s altered but the redevelopment of the old Eagle Centre (now Intu Derby) and the bus station, along with QUAD makes the city feel a lot more impressive and substantial. It’s also been interesting tonight to see how the Castleward area is being redeveloped with housing which will hopefully give Derby the more attractive gateway from the station that it has long needed. Derby has always had its attractive areas and it was quite a nice place to live but it never really stood out as offering what other cities had. These days it’s really beginning to.

A photo a day

I wanted to take on a small personal project.  One that involved a commitment but not difficult and that involved something I already enjoy.  Photography felt like a good option given I always feel I should do it more, and so having spotted a retweet from someone doing a One Photo a Day challenge it seemed like a good idea.

I love photography but just don’t feel I have the technical skill to achieve what I see in my mind when I look at something. No doubt some time soon I will do a photography course to help me learn that part, but one simple thing I can do, and something all the professionals recommend, is to just keep taking photographs. One Photo a Day feels a good way to help make that happen. Many photographers say you should always carry a camera with you, well I do, but only in the form of my phone. I simply can’t carry my usual DSLR with me to work and everywhere else I go. So a less good quality and harder to achieve my aims phone camera it will have to be.

So what is the One Photo a Day going to be about? Well some days I already take lots of photos and it’s also not unusual for me to tweet ad hoc photos as I think it makes tweets more interesting, but the difference with this project is that I’ll try and take one photo of something that sums up my day or life in general or just something interesting or curious that I stumbled on. It’s one photo that means something rather than just an illustration to accompany a tweet or as a series of things in a photographing splurge. Sometimes I might be arty and other days it may just be something mundane. But most of all it has to be relevant to that day.

For some time now I’ve had the Instagram app on my phone but I’ve never used it. I remember one person being really surprised that I didn’t use it but I’d never seen the point given you can tweet photos or put them on Flickr, depending on what you are trying to achieve. But Instagram feels really appropriate for this project. It feels pure and simple. Just about the photo and nothing else.

So tonight I made a start and took this photo. It’s a view I see every day on my commute to and from work and so pretty much sums up every day. It’s from the Stockport Viaduct over the Mersey valley looking roughly East over the town centre towards the Pennines and on clear days you can see for miles.

If you’re interested in seeing how it goes then do follow me on Instagram although I will also tweet a link to it every day.

Photofusion Salon/13

Ever since I started taking an interest in photography, Photofusion is somewhere I’ve thought I should go to.  Not only has it always seemed to have some interesting exhibitions, and always used to take part in the London Street Photography Festival until the festival’s sad demise, but it has a real sense of community about which has made it one of the places where I’ve considered taking a photography course, even though that would mean having to make a special trip to London for it.  What has always put me off though is the need to travel to Brixton.  I know that Brixton isn’t that far out of the centre of London but it’s not near anywhere else I go these days, (although one friends used to live in the area until he moved), and so when I have so many other places I want to go nearer the centre or towards my friends in West Hampstead, it feels that much more of an effort.  As today has seen my second visit to London this month (I know, it’s madness and I might now have a sixth trip to add to my existing five), and thanks to the useful Fotoura website, I decided today was the perfect time to visit and see their current ‘salon’ of members’ photographs.

Salon/13 is the best of the hundreds of photographs submitted by Photofusion members.  The intention is to show off the best of  their work.  There is no theme.  The style is entirely up to the photographer.  The result of this is an amazing collection of hugely contrasting images that are amazing to look at.  In my mind I think I am fairly narrow in my appreciation of photography, but this exhibition has blown that away.  The range and brilliance of the photographs on display got me hooked.  Just as I found one photograph that I thought was my favourite, I came across another that I enjoyed as much.  From portraits to urban landscapes.  From street photography to quirky abstract images.  There’s something for everyone here, but more importantly, something that everyone will appreciate even if it isn’t their usual style.  Whilst I was trying to conjure up the words that described my own thoughts I stumbled on this review from the Evening Standard that has pretty much said it all already.

Picking out any one photograph is impossible, so here are a few favourites:

  • Andrew Upshall.  A photograph of the commute to work.  An ordinary event, but the way this guy is captured you’d think he was a film star.
  • Naresh Kaushall.  Wow.  As soon as I saw it.  It’s the mystery, the sadness and the red glow.  Conjures up thoughts of old smoky jazz clubs.
  • Lydia Goldblatt.  These photos create curiosity.  Who are these people?  What has happened to them before the day when they had their photograph taken?  Why are they sad?
  • Katarina Mudronova.  A quirky collection of photograph of mundane food items and cookery tools in unusual compositions.  Weird but interesting.
  • Andrew Meredith.  Hashima Island is somewhere I’ve long had a fascination with.  Abandoned buildings are not an original theme in photography but the composition and the large format of these are amazing.
  • Tom Leighton.  His portraits of the neighbours in his block of flats are fun, engaging and human.
  • Ed Walker.  This photo shows real human nature.  Tiredness.  But is it from work or from a night out?  It just conveys a feeling that we all have at times.

There were so many more photographs I could have mentioned, but these give a flavour of what I enjoyed.  The exhibition has been perfect in giving me inspiration and making me want to go out right away with my camera.  I couldn’t, but I followed it up with another trip to Take a View 2013 at the National Theatre and a walk along the Thames to appreciate the ‘golden hour‘.  With a bright and blue sky, today was a perfect day to re-energise my passion for photography.