The Format Festival theme this year was Habitat. There were a wide variety of exhibitions on display by around 60 individual artists and collaborations, at many venues across the city including the obvious museums and art centres but also pubs and commercial premises.
W W Winters Archive
A personal favourite was a history of W W WINTERS – claimed to be the oldest continuously working photographic studio in the UK since it opened in 1867. It was staged at Derby Museum in an exhibition called “People, Places and Things” The gallery traced the history and development of commercial portraiture studio over a period of 150 years or so. The image at the top of the page is my pick of the day. It is clearly an old photograph in terms of the dress, the mutton whiskers and the quality of the image when seen up close. However the pose seems strikingly contemporary to modern eyes.
What is most surprising is that the archive has survived at all;
“In 2013, Debbie Adele Cooper created a self-initiated artist residency at the studio. While exploring the building, she discovered a bricked-up partition in a dingy, damp corner of the junk-strewn basement. Knocking through the brickwork she unearthed something thought to have been lost for all time: a slew of glass-plate negatives dating back to the mid-19th century. Amidst flash powder bottles, cigarette packets and beer bottles from Victorian times, Cooper and the Winter team found an estimated seven tonnes of photographic prints. Among them were thousands of portraits of the people of Derby; a treasure trove charting not just the progress of the city, but of photography itself as it weaved into our collective social history.” (British Journal of Photography, 2017)
Technology in Imaging
There were two events that made particularly interesting use of imaging technology to create images from non photographic process that I found intriguing.
The first was Masamichi Kagaya’s Autoradiographic Images used to illustrate the radioactive fall out following the Tsunami that badly damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plan in Japan. The motivation for the project was the feeling that because radiation is not immediately obvious the ongoing effects go unrecognised by the general population “We are unaware of the presence of radiation… it is too small to see; it cannot be heard; and it is odorless” (148apps.com, 2017)
The images dramatically alter this perception. What appears as a harmless glove in the photograph is very different to the image showing the radioactive pollution as dark specks in the Autoradiographic image.
The images were of a wide variety of items, perhaps the most thought provoking were those of plants and animals showing the degree of radioactive material they had ingested.
The other exhibition that used technology was Liz Hingley’s exhibition called Breathing Brass a study of Brass Band players from the former mining area of Bolsover. Hingley was fascinated by the way that a player’s breath moves around an instrument to create sound.
“Clearing the lungs of coal miners was one of the initial functions of many brass bands. Fascinated by the way that a player’s breath moves around an instrument to create sound, Hingley employed a specialist infrared optical gas imaging camera, which is normally employed in heavy industry to pinpoint gas leaks. This technique reveals the journey a player’s breath takes as it passes through a brass instrument, simultaneously leaving a trace of their DNA and tarnishing the metal. Through this process the instrument and player permanently alter each other.” (Formatfestival.com, 2017)
These images were mixed with traditional photographs of players and their environment. Interestingly the venue was an outside display which is illuminated at night. I had never considered why so many collieries had brass bands but of course it make perfect sense to undertake regular exercise to help keep miners lungs clear.
Apart from the innovative use of technology this subject struck a personal chord with me as my own father died in 2004 of an industrial lung disease, Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos and which is invariably fatal.
I looked at a number of other exhibitions including those listed below. The links are to the Format descriptions of the artists and their works.
Babara Karant 820 Ebony / Jet – A study of the Johnson Publishing company’s building reflecting its African American history.
Claudius Schulze – State Of Nature. A study of man made structures environmental defence structures and their impact on the landscape
Rachel Glass – The Domestic Aviary a study of people who keep caged birds.
Ying Ang – Gold Coast A study of this area of Australia revealing its dubious history compared to how its promoted today.
Magda Biernat – Adrift Comparison of environmental impact between the Arctic and Antarctic
Dragana Jurisic – Yu: The Lost Country A personal journey of loss and rejection following the braking up of Yugoslavia.
Jon Tonks – Cargo Prophecy Coconut King Bath based photographer who has spoken at Bath Spa about his ongoing studies of remote Pacific communities.
There was lots of thought provoking imagery to reflect upon across all exhibtions, one aspect of the festival that was very interesting was the wide variation in the style of display and framing being employed across the festival.
There were traditionally framed images in uniform sets, images in a variety of sizes in the same display, images pasted directly onto the wall, pinned to the wall, hung from wires and bull dog clips. However one particular method interested me and that was separating the frame from the print. So a simple box frame is attached to the wall, no glass, and the print is simply pinned to the wall inside the frame. I took these camera phone images to illustrate the method and the effect.
I think this is both attractive and cost effective as traditional framing of large prints is prohibitively expensive. I have decided this is how I will display my In Step project images at the degree show in June.
One final thought is that the logistics of this visit to Derby were frankly not the best in terms of the time spent travelling versus time at the festival, I think this at least partly explains the extremely low attendance numbers from 3rd year students. It made for a very long day,particularly when I add in the 2 hour round trip to commute to and from Bath as well. I do realise the costs and logistics involved but think an overnight stay would have been more productive as there was much it simply wasn’t possible to see in the time available.
That said I really enjoyed the festival – I just wish I could have spent longer there.