Hothouse came to Birmingham on 26th November 2016.  The Redeye initiative, in collaboration with Grain, created a vibrant day hosted at Glenn Howells Architect’s seminar space in Digbeth.

Largely it was emerging talent that was sharply on display.  The format was a 10 minute session for each of the 12 photographers to explain, contextualise and illustrate their approach and images.  A short burst of questions were addressed, with good audience engagement after each.  The day was very well organised and the pace was well mannered and allowed for decent breaks and portfolio reviews in the ante space during the whole day.

So, here is my personal reflection of all the work on show;

Even though Stewart Wall was not well enough to attend Paul Herrmann, of Redeye, took us through his presentation which focused on the work of a monumental mason; monochrome images showing the pride and precision of the mason’s workshop.

Next Corinne Perry, having graduated from Birmingham City University (BCU) set the theme of highly personalised work, responding to depression.  Images showed her occupying and being trapped in her bedroom, some views bore a resemblance in part to Lucien Freud’s paintings, with dramatic floor board angles and expressive, often naked humanity.  Corinne made reference to a Victorian novella ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ that inspired some of her work.  Happily Corinne was expressing the view that in making work she was finding a pathway to improving her mental health.

Joanne Coates, Yorkshire born, but with a fascination with the Orkney Isles used the tool of photography to visualise the story she wanted to tell about life and work in one of the most northerly parts of the UK.  She lived there for the period of working and image making.  She explored mental erosion, escapism, Brexit, lost ways of life and the idea of hinterland in her work.  She conveyed a mystery and ambiguity in her expressive images.

Juliana Kasumu, another graduate from BCU, set the scene with some of her acclaimed early work, then turned to her work in New Orleans and its community of Senegal origin women. Life has been tough and places still express the slave trade history of the city. A brief video showed the colour, liveliness and joy of the women she worked with.  Her monochrome, film based, images reduced the colour to texture via strikingly powerful poses.  She was able to gift all her subjects with prints before departing.

Olli Hellmann provided a colourful counterpoint to the previous series of work as his premise was the behaviour of tourists in Hawaii and London with two collections showing the tourism, Magic Tropics Wonderisland and Interesting Angles respectively.  The American series showed how the cliched view of a place finds its way onto back drops, beaches and clothing, with a human herd mentality that caused for some humorous views.  The contortions of tourists using paving stones as the preferred surface to rest their smartphones when pointing up to London’s landmarks.  Funny and consistent behaviour.

Evonne Bain from Edinburgh School of Art showed a series of images under the title un-monumental. Her advanced use of Photoshop enabled the figures in monumental public art to be removed, leaving the plinth and  groundscape as a remnant, provoking a thoughtful insight into celebration of human endeavour and its loss.  Seeing or not seeing as a way of challenging memory and perception of place.

Melanie Latoré, a student who studied through the period of the dreadful fire at the Mackintosh school of Art told us of the practical and emotional effect the event had upon her and her output.  She also braved her way through a collaborate project and ended up as the sole image maker. Her work showed the ordinary but significant views of her world as the outcome of a regular and annual editing down of images, demonstrating that reduction can distil to the essence of a story.  She showed in ingenious two sided display of 12 hinged flaps each with two images as part of an interactive exhibition.

Jessa Fairbrother held conversations with her mother, both literally and metaphorically preceding and after her early death.  Jessa’s inability to have her own children added a layer to the insightful mourning that she movingly described through her images.  Her photographs show performative, haunting, rich, embroidered, burnt, buried, transforming images to a higher state of illustration and meaning.  She sought to ‘make sense of what could not be made sense of’ as a wife, daughter, sister, artist, carer and orphan. My observation was that her hand in transforming the images had captured not just the manifest sorrow but the richness and colourfulness of her mother’s life and her garden flowers.  It was moving to see and hear.  Delivered with calm decorum.

Alison Baskerville talked about photography that mattered.  As an ex-military, campaigning activist she was concerned about what her subjects got back from being involved in her work.  Despite being in Nepalese community where people struggled to eat whilst she was laden with expensive kit, her work consistently provided and created dignity and poise throughout. She dismissed photo-agency’s desire for sensation.  She then focused her work on her adopted city of Birmingham and her work within the black lives matter demonstrations, having been invited to be part of the organising group.

Mark Wright, a Midlands photographer, and another BCU graduate, introduced his work as a departure from the ‘poetic, fine art imagery’ of his university work into social documentary which was research led around fracking and its impact on people before work commences on the land in Lancashire.  He showed work in two facets; the people whom he spent a long time with talking about the long, patient revealing of the fracking company’s drive to, apparently, invisibly crack into the ground under the land which was then shown as a collection of beautifully captured ‘stillness’ of  the place.  His work had given people a platform for expression.

Jean-François Manicom and Fabienne Viala provided a double act as conceptual artist and academic respectively.  The clever, participatory project based in two of the most deprived peripheral parts of Paris created 47 compositions all with a back story.  There were three talked about in greater detail. Three young men from Egypt and Morocco were treated to a dream fulfilling moment of glory wearing borrowed ski wear then three more adopting the imperious pose of army uniforms entitled ‘return from Algiers’.  Then a mill backdrop to an idyllic scene with faded processes applied to provide an apparently authentic but mythological image.

Dimitri Haddad was introduced as part of the Grain international exchange programme.  He had been in Birmingham for 2 weeks making new work.  His exhibition in Beirut had ingeniously recorded the two sides of the street that formed the ‘green line’ between 1975-1990, separating the city into Christian and Muslim halves with the civil war raging.  His family archive provided us with a view of the generational gun-totting rite of passage for three generations.  Haddan though used his small camera to shoot.  He stitched the series of images together in batches and some buildings were distorted causing viewers to query their era and remind people of the horror, commerce, architecture and contemporary nature of the place.

As a Brummie myself I have heard Vanley Burke speak about his place in Birmingham’s heritage and visual history many times and was not able to stay for his finale talk, but departed feeling inspired, moved and informed by the 12 people, all humane, intimate and powerful.


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