Practice Development : Final Major Project
MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5
Figures 1, 2
I have been deliberately rehearsing the messages of the Pause Project and the exhibition title Birmingham Dust. Talking over and over again, at any opportunity has assisted in refining not only the vocabulary of practice, but attunes the mental process too (the reinforcement of repetition). To be compelling and convincing as a personality seems perhaps as important as the set of edited images themselves to engage people.
As I am a month away from installation, I have had meetings this week with the art blogger (Ruth Millington, fig 1) and also the PR (one-person) firm (Stacey Barnfield, fig 2) I have asked to spend a month promoting the exhibition. Alongside the zine production, too, the published words become critical to be acute, succinct, punchy and meaningful.
Firstly, the list of buildings;
The Clarendon Suite
Madin Studio 123 Hagley Road
1-4 Great Hampton Street
Christopher Wray Building
Steelhouse Lane Police Station
Here is why they were chosen for my shoots, within the body of work;
All of these buildings were ripe for change and thus became the primary target for negotiation with owners and agents, to enable me to carry out the shoots. I will often spend 5 to 8 hours in a building to understand its history and purpose and then closely observe its use, often uncovering surprises.
The project formed when I shot Edgbaston House on the Calthorpe Estate, in late 2016 and again in 2017, as I was expecting a series of banal and repetitive spaces over its 20 storeys, but in fact the things left behind were curiously engaging and a real find – both corporate and personal, from food, to tables, to pictures, signs, computers and a suitcase. I took delight in the intimacy, the detail, the unexpected – as if stories were emerging or being implied, peoples’ lives, their memories, the simple signs of abandonment. I use dust as a theme because it evokes the passing of time and neglect – it also shrouds but invites marks and traces of human movement, like fingerprints. Photography is a kind of imprint; light is shed onto an object then captured onto the camera’s sensor and that moment is caught. The moment precedes the wrecking ball or the polishing of the new. So, these memories are made solid when I create concrete tablets that are in the installation at Argentea gallery. It is as if I make concrete from the dust or crunched up walls.
All twelve of the buildings are within the wider city centre of Birmingham. I have been living here for 28 years now and I am certain that the sheer pace and volume of change in the city exceeds anything I have seen before. The routes we take are being altered, familiar forms, structures and buildings are being reconfigured, rearranged. All this change means we lose the past, so memories can only live in our mental catalogue and of course through images. We live so much now ‘in the moment’ but we calibrate where we are now with where we were – call it progress, call it growth, call it regeneration, but it is only those descriptors if we know where we have been and what things were like. Photography serves as a visual stimulus and founds these thoughts. This is why I make a statement of memoriam via the solidity and tangibility of concrete and, by contrast and counterpoint, the projection of the ephemeral, playing with light, remaking images onto new surfaces.
A little more about my back-story, where the themes interact with the text above;
Being an architect has given me an undeniable view of the world – the materiality, the shapes, the forms and meaning of things. This has seeped into my image-based work.
Add to that the fascination with Birmingham – the city that has absorbed two-thirds of my life. Its motto, Forward, provides fertile ground for architects; the liquidating of buildings just one generation old means the shiny new becomes the next wave of excitement. I intervene with my camera into the paused time before the demolition ball or clean-up moves in.
I have become more reflective; my images indulge that sentiment. Each building earmarked for change or death, however seemingly ordinary, I have discovered, is imbued with a patina of life, even when the people are long gone. There are marks, abandoned things, echoes of life.
So, the work is about memory – both the physical and the social – of Birmingham. Its prominent buildings like the Conservatoire to the ordinary, like shops in the Jewellery Quarter.
The work is not some vast vista documenting facades and huge volumes, it is more about the intimate, the detail, the lost moments, the leftover objects.
The exhibition is an exploration of the dust of time; dust as the sign of passing. The work divides into three very different media – I have been experimenting with concrete and this has become solid, tangible tablets, like a permanent memorial to the objects that will be gone, forever. Concrete is that hard material, almost like a remaking from dust. As a counterpoint, the other media is projection, where I will be creating an opportunity for the gallery visitor to see images in constantly rolling pairs – these are more transient, about light and moments of observation. So one thing you can touch, the other is fleeting. The third means for showing is the traditional, high quality, limited edition print, framed and behind glass, to demonstrate that the work is rooted and can be regarded in a conventional sense.
Stacey Barnfield image from, company website, accessed 13.5.2018
Ruth Millington image from Twitter (@ruthmillington) accessed 13.5.2018