“Concerning Photography” RPS symposium @ Sheffield Hallam University

Having heard about this week-end through the OCA, I decided to attend. There are a number of good speakers such as Paul Reas who I find myself sitting opposite at breakfast on the first morning. I have a couple of his photobooks, Flogging a Dead Horse and I Can Help, which are now a little dated as they are about 30 years old; however, they are visual statements that seem likely to survive, records from a moment in history. His Wikepedia entry  seems quite accurate and gives some feeling for the man. I don’t however confront him though I might have; I don’t really know what this conference will be like and am not sure what I expect from it. What brings me up north from sunny Somerset?

Jury's Inn - my hotel in Sheffield

Jury’s Inn – my hotel in Sheffield

It seems worthwhile to consider photography rather than to just blindly pursue it. What is photography really about and what are we as photographers trying to achieve? I am not sure the conference will ask such questions and might just be about certain photographers showing us how good they are. Well, it helps to see good work but one also needs to understand what makes it worthwhile. I really do not know what I am in for today and tomorrow but a certain amount of dialectics would be welcome; photography is a medium that tends to be taken for granted yet remains elusive. It is not easy to determine what makes a worthwhile photograph rather than one that just fulfills a brief.
Another photographer we are due to see is Melanie Melanchot
She studied at The Royal Colege of Art from 1990-1992 and seems to come from a completely different background to the working class origins of Paul Reas. One body of work she has made is called, Voyage Around My Mother, which rings bells; her photography of old people as in Ageing Bodies seems poignant.
Photography might be about making the unconscious conscious but in the study of it, I sometimes wonder whether the reverse is not taking place! By the end of this conference, I find myself questioning the way I go on investing information about photography so much so that I am now a bit like a walking encyclopaedia, ready to correct even OCA tutors of which there are two here. Neither of them are particularly friendly or appreciative of me being the only OCA student to make it over to the event. Very different from other OCA tutors who are much more involved with the college, being regular guides for study days as well as commenting frequently on forums.
Chris Coekin is another speaker. Like Reas, he is a photographer turned university lecturer and is a tutor at that OCA. I studied his book, The Hitcher, and found it to be humorous as well as an in depth study.
I have had very little to do with the RPS and as I enter the “Heartspace” where the conference is taking place, I reminded as to why. There is something institutional about it and when I sit down to enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee, I am almost deafened by a couple of elderly men talking about camera equipment; one is describing his attempts at bird photography! The gathering seems convivial but is mainly middle-aged white; not a coloured face in sight just an occasional tan! Later I reflect on my negativity at these first impressions; I might have said hello and introduced myself rather than sneering slightly at the in-talk but I expected something more than techie talk.
Melanie Melanchot has not appeared so we start with Paul Reas who is currently putting together a book of 30 years of his work which means reassessing his practice and considering it in a way that he has not considered it before.
Reas became interested in photography through music and the North Country Soul Scene which is still going today. Echoes American soul music from the Southern States which had a ring that the more saccharine sounds of white music lacked. Talked about segregation which the North also feels in the UK. Attractive tunes but also questioning lyrics. Reas became politicised and attracted to political literature and in particular the photographic representation in such books.
Paul Reas

Paul Reas

Worked as a bricklayer after leaving school at 15 but later went to university to study photography, being taught by people such as Keith Arnott and David Hurn. Other influences were Bill Brandt and Ian Berry, Don Mac Cullin and Mark Power. There were representations of the North as a dark and brooding place that Reas did not recognise.
Notion of the concerned photographer; photography could that help bring about social change. August Sander was striking in his representation of working people with dignity rather than as a lower class. Preoccupied with working men rather than working women; felt an affinity with working class men having been one himself. Had tutors Daniel Meadows and Martin Parr arguing over his work! Meadows favoured straight documentary approach while Parr saw images that stood out a little more, had a more artistic impact; a photograph did not have to be an accurate representation of life.
Tony Ray Jones and his visual choreography fascinated him. Often left not knowing what the picture is about but rather asking a question. Spent a lot of time on beaches photographing. Reas also interested by American photography both the more idealistic Ansel Adams and the more contemporary, Lewis Baltz. Robert Adams and Lee Freidlander.
The “Valley’s Project” in mid 1980’s was an early body of work Reas made. More influences from Stephen Shore and William Eggleston as well as Paul Graham and Martin Parr. Peter Mitchell and Bob Phillips are less well known as is John Popadec, Ron Mac Donell and Charlie Meecham. Mostly working with big View cameras; Reas used the Plaubel Makina which was a medium format camera that also provided a different way of working. Ernst Haas was another photographer exploring colour yet in a more formal way to some of his contemporaries.
“Beyond Caring” was a controversial book by Paul Graham; controversy centred around use of colour or was it about the depersonalisation of the individual within the space of the photographs? Not what people expected! Graham replied that black and white was a reduction, a form of depersonalisation. Martin Parr came out with The Last Resort but also photographs from Ireland. Parr’s approach more subjective than that of Killip; Parr found the term “social documentary” problematic and assumed a more opinionated stance. Other photographers learning at this time were Paul Seawright and Anna Fox.
Reas trying to talk about the complications of consumer culture. The out of town shopping centre was new, an example of a different way of shopping. Featured in Who We Are exhibition at the Tate Britain. Making photographs of the socio-political landscape. Books use smaller images and often one needs to see them much bigger; not just for effect but also for detail. There is innuendo in Reas’ work if one cares to look for it which is often there in the detail. Used the Plaubel Makina for much of this work to give an edge of quality. Need to read his photographs to elucidate meaning. At time of making this work, Reas was working as a technician at Newport, only able to work at week-ends. The success of this work allowed him to work independently as a photographer, travelling around; enjoyed the challenge but found himself making images that had context outside of the magazine or other editorial assignment.
Next body of work, Flogging a Dead Horse, looked at the heritage industry and it’s commercial representation that was a facade for other kinds of living.  A stereo-typical North being marketed. Examined declining industries and their culture. For instance, Constable Country was one subject as was Dickensian heritage. Photographing and depicting rather than merely representing consumerism.
His work attracted advertising companies, somewhat paradoxically, which meant he needed an agency. Kept a documentary approach as this was what the advertisers wanted. Reas enjoyed this kind of work even though it was much more contrived in approach. Sometimes worked more spontaneously being followed by a director who paid models encountered on street to get appropriate model release forms. Took Reas over who found he was starting to loose contact with his roots; seemed contrived and he gave it up to start teaching. Still works but now in a much more thoughtful way similar to his original approach. Worked in Elephant and Castle area around 2011-2012.
Before his talk, I exchange a few words with Reas and tell him I have a couple of his books to which he replies that I have the whole collection. I joke that I should perhaps have it made into a boxed set! Reas seems quite proud of his working class origins or certainly conscious of them; my origins are more middle class perhaps, I went to a Public School and although not really proud of this, I do experience a sense of separation from most people that some might interpret as privilege.
There is a COFFEE BREAK after the first talk and I look at books on sale from Dewi Lewis; there is a healthy discount and some books worth looking at. While looking at a book presentation by OCA tutor Derek Trillo, the man himself turns up and we have a little conversation but don’t really make contact. I do not quite understand what his book is about. There are a group of Photobooks on show from the RPS Photobook competition which was judged by Gerry Badger who has written extensively about the Photobook.
Melanie Melanchot

Melanie Melanchot

The next speaker is Melanie Melanchot who has a Teutonic twang to her voice; her blond hair is cut short. The first image she shows is of a naked older woman, the artist’s mother. The camera is more than a device, it is a collaborator, a protaganist. Melanchot is concerned with gender politics, representation of the body. One off pieces photographed with a 5 by 4 camera, resulting in large from film prints. The works become art in the sense that they are quite unique objects. Making colour as well as black and white images. Photographing her mother she is working with someone she knows well but Melanchot is asking a lot from her mother as she exhibits these images in galleries.
Performance art! The presence of the camera creates a performance and it is this that Melanchot is photographing; a response to the presence of the camera. She continued to photograph her mother and work with people posing for her even with strangers in public spaces. Worked like this in Moscow. Issues around permission to photograph in Russia; can have equipment confiscated. Even laws about groups of people gathering in a public space. Yet Melanchot stops people on the street, shows them examples of her work and encourages them to pose for her although after 10 minutes, security guards are likely to appear. The people photographed are the ones who happened to be there and agreed; no deliberate choice of people; they are asked to do this as a protest and possibly emailed results but encouraged to disperse if security does appear.
Berlin Postcards! Old images from about 100 years and more ago. Melanchot is German! History inscribed in these images; there is a lot of information here that can be investigated. Decide to restage these images! Same buildings but different facades with different people. After Germany, she started to do the same in London. Photographs from museums of subjects such as street parties. Photography is a storage place with the camera as an organiser; people have to arrange themselves in relation to the camera. Also using movie footage. Decided to make a film too, using film in a sculptural way. Decided to stage her own street party, a street where people had lived for generations although one end has become more privatised. Works with a core group who live in the street. Movie shot to show street stretching out in front of one. Chose Cyprus Street in London.
The movie opens with camera moving down the street, following a few people as they approach the party! The camera continues down the street, passing through the party with people paying little if any attention, as they know what is happening and expect it although some children obviously want to be stars! Eventually the rolling camera stops and the party goers congregate for a group photograph.
(An elderly man who is part responsible for organising this event talks as the film is being shown! Seems to be lacking in respect for the audience and the artist as well as being an unnecessary distraction! Perhaps some people might be reacting to me taking the occasional photograph.)
After assembling, and standing in front of the movie camera awhile, the crowd disperse; a moment of stillness in a continually moving image. Melanchot talks quite a bit about the influence of the camera on her work. After the crowd disperses, the camera moves on until the end of the street.(I later learn that the camera was carried on a crane to prevent it from shaking too much and giving a privileged perspective!)
Her work has necessarily become more controlled over the years yet Melanchot still likes to leave space for the unexpected to enter.
Dancing all night in Paris is another short video made in 2012. There is no music but one can hear the sounds of shoes scraping over the floor as the dancers dance. The space is almost as important as the dance. Some dance alone, others dance together! The dancers are skilled and perform different dances. After awhile, one hears exclamations from the dancers but these are not loud and the sound of their steps continues. More and more dancers appear and the space fills up. There is no sound of music!
She started making a series of photographs around a place in Switzerland where there is a ski slope; different because instead of people, she started photographing a place which was a liberating moment. Close up of rain followed by a wider view of the place with cars going along a road at night; gong like music plays in the background; these are different views of the ski slope! The camera works it’s way up the ski slope.
Melanchot has been working with people recovering from addiction. Her most recent work that is due to be shown soon in London. I chat to after the talk about her “sculptural approach” which is based around the analogue use of film and the objectivity resulting from that. She used a crane to keep the camera steady while progressing down the street she was filming.


Melanie joins me for LUNCH and I show her the BBC book, The Secret History of Our Streets, of which she is unaware. Melinda Gibson also joins us and we discuss China, in particular Beijing. Liz Bingley also joins the group; someone else who has been in China since she is working in Shanghai.
Melinda Gibson

Melinda Gibson

Melinda Gibson is the first afternoon speaker. She grew up in a world surrounded by photography, her father being an avid amateur while her mother also carried a camera. Both she and her sister used cameras. She did a photography A level and continued studying photography although she was initially not keen to do a university course since she wanted to make photography her career; she is now a university lecturer! She worked for awhile as an assistant for Martin Parr, cataloging his many negatives.
The Photograph as Contemporary Art, a body of work she started in 2009. Resulted in part from her teaching experience and overall survey of photographic art. Became aware of a canon of photography represented by particular photographers. Influenced by Charlotte Cotton’s book by the same name, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, as well as by Susan Bright. Melinda is appropriating work! Every second some 4,000 photographs uploaded to Facebook according to one estimate; where does this work go?
Appreciation of photography depends upon our understanding of the context! This is along the lines of what Derek Trillo mentioned to me about his book.
Cutting up others work might seem arragoant! Assembling and disassembling imagery. Female artist looking at male archives. Examining traditional sense of how we see and how we look. Only providing context of photographs such as captions as well as showing the photograph; front and back of photographs are very different. How to make material interesting even exciting? Method of presentation! Showing backs of photographs; requiring effort to turn the photograph over to see the actual image! Her books are hand made hence labour intensive. Individual response to those who buy copies.
Thomas, a Parisian photography collector approached her via an email containing links; she was unsure what the intention was and emailed him back. There was a reference to Martin Parr saying what a great photographer Thomas was! Thomas collects old photographs from China bought from a man who collects old film from garbage; he then boils down the old film for the silver content. Thomas wanted Melinda to come out and help him archive all these images. Melinda Was being valued for conceptual approach. She edited 500,000 images down to 110; some images were repetitive but further editing was made possible via subject matter. Negatives were carefully printed with varying success. Often negatives damaged in some way resulting in effects that can be considered attractive while also offering an understanding of the discourse of photography. Sculptural element obvious!
Most recent project also a book though book not her intention. Worked with “Self Publish, Be Happy” company and helped produce number 6 in their book club. Asked to produce an additional new element. Work needed to have never been seen before so Melinda needed to make new work. Her studio got burnt down during which time she managed to make some iPhone images. Stuck Polaroids on wall while destruction of her studio was happening and came back to claim them soon after! There was a sensory experience of the disaster such as the smell of smoke in her hair though this smell has been compared to a smoky whisky. Due to set fire to some of her work at Tate Modern in the turbine hall next Sunday as part of Photo London.
Melinda Lives and breathes photography. Excited by the endless possibilities opened up by contemporary photography.
I follow out an elderly man (quite a well known photographer who I studied with for one a day workshop in photography once about portraiture) who farts continuously possibly unaware that someone is right behind him or possibly not bothered by the fact. I hang back a bit but there is fortunately no smell to contend with. Quite literally, an old fart! I might have said hello to him but I don’t.
I buy a book, “Empire” by Jon Tonks which I think will help in my Ford Street project; showing subjects this book might give them some idea as to what I am doing! I would like to buy another book of John Blakemore photographs since I studied with him yet the reproduction although good is not up to the original standard.
Experience a Eureka moment! Sitting there, I can’t help but feel I might be more open to some of the people here rather than resort to internal criticism. The British reserve hinders one from making contact since not only am I burdened by it but the others are also suffering from it! The sly British fox who would rather keep his distance and register the situation when he or she might jump into it. I do however make myself known to Averil, the woman who is organising the event.
The last talk of the day is given by Chris Coekin who has made a newspaper edition of work called Chewing the Cud. I had anticipated Coekin’s humour from his book Hitcher and it is evident from the start of his talk.
Chris Coekin

Chris Coekin

Going to show and discuss 4 bodies of work including photographers he has been influenced by as well as cultural communities. Coekin left school at 15, got a job, went into the building trade, got into photography; younger but similar career trajectory to Paul Reas and also interested in Northern Soul. Work is based on his experiences.
Blind Vision, an early work, represents his way of working; it comes from 1996. This project was a starting point for his own later work. Based around blind people; portraits of subject, use of text, landscape imagery – these created triptychs. Working across different genres with different styles. Photographs of people with their guide dogs.
Photographed places abroad such as in India but was not satisfied with this approach; would rather photograph in his back garden, things that relate directly to him rather than the exotic.
Knock Three Times is another project; work done in 95/96. Published by Dewi Lewis. Combines a variety of ephememera. Thinks of himself as a writer! Lot of photographs from his life included. From a working man’s club that he visited for 10 years. Dragged to such places as a kid! Coekin plays the pop song Knock Three Times; it has always struck me as one of the more banal of pop tunes. Family photo from a working man’s club. 70% of images are constructed with rest more spontaneous. About the way the club is or was at at the centre of the community. Trying to reflect change, using metaphor; reflects people, the community yet also himself. From the working class but now a university professor like Paul Reas.
Metaphor at heart of much of his photography. Not really interested in documenting club activities such as pigeon fancying. Thinking about and then constructing images such as when using signs, text. Childhood memories playing on his awareness of making photographs as was knowledge of way other photographers have covered this subject of working man’s clubs. Wanted to do something different. Worked on this book with David Campany! Coekin photographed at the club for an extended period. Making his own photographs but also using archive material. Intertwine fact and fiction in his own experience of the place as well as using ephemera existing as history.
This publication juxtaposes documentary evidence with photographs; there may be a letter on one page and a photograph on the other.
Hitcher is another project. Read Jack Kerouac On The Road, listened to Woody Guthrie, read Laurie Lee “As I walked out one Summers Morning” and was further inspired by the excitement of the journey; a cover photo of the Laurie Lee book he had proved to be a direct inspiration. Went hitching himself and wanted to do a project on it. Chris shows some pieces from a violent film about a hitchiker which also influenced him. Idea of the stranger! Three elements also to this project; self portraits of Coekin on the road (did make the journeys himself although photographs often constructed by using a camera with a self-timer); collected all the signs that he used for later reproduction; close up photographs such as of feet, discarded times of rubbish, road kill, found objects and people who gave him lifts who were photographed with a larger medium format camera as they deserved more attention. He questioned the people who gave him a lift as to why they did so; their answers became part of the text for the book.
There is an interesting combination in this book of the layered elements, the way they are juxtaposed. Coekin wrote a short story to accompany it while there was also an introduction written by someone else.
Final body of work that Coekin discusses is Manufactory, parts 1 and 2, collectively called The Altogether. Wanted to make a different body of work to those who had already covered manufacturing. Trade Union ephemera included. Images of workers working; he collaborated with the workers finding digital photography equipment helpful. In fact, he used a digital Hassleblad (borrowed from the college he was working at) so that he could immediately review work with the people he was shooting. Got workers to pose. Found flash helpful in getting appropriate saturation.
Photographed details such as the factory floor, looking behind machines at places no one had seen for years. Pseudo-landscapes. Found old discarded tools and started photographing them as they were odd yet quite beautiful objects. The factory closed down towards the end of Coekin’s project.
Finds working with the 2D image as in photography, a little restrictive! Photographing books with images in and also creating sounds to accompany his images! Coekin is conscious of his past and uses photography to communicate it.
The day ends and I return to my room to relax a little, meditate, and prepare for the evening event.
Around eight o’clock there is a dinner. About 30 of us sit around a large table! I am sandwiched between a recently retired Scotsman who is an enthusiastic amateur photographer who nevertheless takes it quite seriously and travels around with his wife who is also a photographer; he leaves me his email address; borthwick_alan710@gmail.com On the other side is a retired ITV film director, Hugh de las Casas, who has made a book about a river near to his home in Suffolk which he has known since a child; it is a self published work of 500 copies with captions at the end of the book rather than alongside the photographs.
After the dinner, there is a talk by Liz Bingley who shows her Under Gods work, published as a book by Dewi Lewis Publishing, that was made from 2007 to 2009. She has photographed different religious communities in Birmingham, somehow managing to gain their confidence. I find this work surprisingly good perhaps because I have tried to do similar work myself and failed. Her being the daughter of a couple of Anglican priests as well as having an Anglican priest as a step-mother probably helps. Bingley has also worked in Shanghai from where she returned a couple of weeks ago and is due to return to in a few months time.
I return late to my hotel room after having a good night cocoa with Lauren, a man who works with oil companies, an occupation he finds tough and intends to retire from soon and is looking for a new career. As a photographer? He is old enough to realise the difficulties implied by that.
For awhile I watch comedy on the TV before falling asleep.
Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack

After a full breakfast the next morning, I make my way back to the university lecture hall where the first talk with Laura Pannack is just about to begin. She Studied at Brighton University where she was encouraged to try all kinds of genre and discovered her interest lay within portraiture. She has interrogated different ways to make portraiture as in photographing her subjects behind glass, waiting for an undetermined amount of time before taking the photograph etc She likes photographing young people apnd researched the way they were being portrayed in contemporary culture and found they were not being represented fairly. Photographed them against neutral backgrounds. Moved onto photographing young couples who had not got into serious commitment by virtue of not having had their hearts broken or anything but were living chaotic lives. Felt privileged by being allowed into the world of these young people. Not taking guardian role or encouraging them to be too irresponsible. She likes drawing pictures in a book about possible subjects. Gregory Crewdson has adopted a strict approach of highly contrived sets! Laura uses analogue because it is something of a performance in itself and helps to slow her down.
Decided to photograph Young British Naturists who she found on the net. They were welcoming, all under 30. Friendly response but Laura found her subjects wanted a more journalistic approach. Needed to change tack. Simon Roberts, a photographer who has given her support, advised her to get formal permission from subjects or stop the project.
What unites us
What scares me
What interests me
She photographed at different naturist clubs over a period of 2 years with subjects in agreement!
Laura started in painting and drawing and is still attracted to oils and sketching; although photography has endless possibilities it is not as free as painting
Apart from Crewdson likes Philip Lorca Di Corcia as well as Vanessa Winchit, Rob Hunstra, Taryn Simon and so on.
Attracted to Alternative processes – likes the idea of experimenting, being scientific, that the camera is just a box, vision counts, exploring information that the viewer can contemplate. Another influence is Annie Liebovitz … not just a jobbing professional, she really ekes out the essence of her subject e.g. Lennon with Yoko image, Hymie Goldberg in bath. Laura likes David Hockney who is not afraid to try new things!
What kind of photographer am I?
Are these boundaries safely defining me or creatively restricting me?
Laura lectures a lot and noticed a great difference in university courses; some encourage aping of successful photographers which she does not like.
What kind of photographer is Laura? A curious one as well as a passionate one. Her specialisation in portraiture means she can spend a long time with a person yet not so long with a commodity such as bread!?
Works for week-end magazines and among her work is a story on bewitched children; working alongside a charity. The children are being killed indisciminitely. Bizarre experience but felt privileged to be and wanted to better understand the culture that had created this killing
Feels some of her subjects are brave to agree to be photographed; respects her subjects. Laura feels it can also be a burden for the photographer to see work published that does not really represent the photographer’s insight or commitment.
Laura does advertising as well as editorial work. Works with a massive team in advertising. Personal projects also.
Another body of work is called The Grey Zone. Lot of pressure to make bodies of work, concentrate on a theme … Laura still does this, sits and researches but also likes to pick up the camera and go for a walk.
How do we face creativity?
Random wanderings with an analogue camera. Does not have to take pictures. Walks with friends. The Grey Zone!
Experimenting with Polaroids and a camera called the Polaroid 180; in this instance, collaborating with a friend. Polaroid film is now very expensive. Wet plate collodion is another process she has experimented with
Sometimes images planned to every detail; images stand alone but still relate to theme of work. She considers herself a story teller
Youth without age, life without death!
Pursuing lots of projects. Finds Romania an inspiring place building objects and placing them in the landscape. Came across a term “The lunar forest”.
After another coffee break, the final speaker is Peter Mitchell whose book I bought last year; we also met and chatted over dinner with Martin Parr and Brian Griffin! Peter is a great wit and modest, being a seminal art photographer in Britain who is not well publicised. He has recently had a new body of work published called Everything Means Something to Somebody; this has been published by RRB Photobooks who run the Photobook Festival in Bristol and is there first published Photobook. I obtained a copy of Mitchell’s other book, Strangely Familiar, which is all about his home patch in Leeds. It struck me as a useful book about the locality a photographer was in which is something I find myself confronted with.
Peter Mitchell

Peter Mitchell

“And now for something completely different …!” says Peter Mitchell by way of introduction. He has no middle name! Has been called “the recluse in the north” “the Alan Bennett of photography” but calls himself The Winged Cobra Workshop!
Talk about attitude possibly aggression. Starts with a photo of graffiti from his local telephone box. Shows snap of nude couple with kid, backs all turned, from mid 20’th century America; photographer argued with Ansel Andams and then dissappeared.
New Conservative government likely to help photography! Shows poster from 1920’s interested in graphic aspects of photography. Another image of a Brownie camera advert ( text and drawing); Kodak and Eastmann have now gone.
Found photo of a woman sitting on a baby crocodile possibly large lizard. Both woman and croc appear to be smiling! This image reveals a primary attribute of photography.
Ooooh no …… titter ye not!! This phrase is credited to the late Frankie Howard and is another example of the typology that Peter likes. Now everything has all gone digital.
Photo of a bound album that he inherited from an uncle. Had to rescue it as it was being used as a door prop in a relative’s house. Shows family photos with witty comments. “Real not fake” a quality of photography revealed in family photos. Shows a photo he took of his parents in their garden from late 1960’s and then a photograph of himself sitting on a scooter around the time he got a job working for the civil service in Whitehall. Worked for many years for Ministry of Housing.
Later went to college to study photography. Did a course in printmaking. At that time, photography education was technical. Shows an early print he made of plimsoles; a limited edition print from the same negative was the way artists sold their work. Nowadays a different procedure!
Shows an old photograph from Sheffield of a spoon and fork company that used to occupy the area on which the building we are now using for these talks stands. Made pictures that were later intended for screen prints. Shows another photograph of Old Sheffield and a picture of someone standing outside his home who refused to be moved on by the council.
Moved from London to Leeds. Started in a squat with friends. Moved into a flat that he later bought. Leeds a football city! Photograph of a sign put up for the death of a footballer, Billy Bremner.
“Lots of people die in Leeds of course … Lots of dogs in Leeds too!” quips Peter as he talks us through his photographs.
Walked into Leeds City art library and said he wanted to do a show of screen prints. They were not interested but they did want other of his work. Peter has had a range of ordinary jobs such as factory worker, lorry driver. Uninteresting, ordinary things, things no one notices have been subjects Mitchell has photographed. Small but interesting things! Things have not changed since 1975 for Mitchell.
Photographs of people outside their buildings; buildings that were later destroyed. Businesses that went under and dissappeared. Leeds one of first cities to be made out of red brick, a process that had started in Tudor times.
Some of his prints sell. One has sold 5 copies and so one of his best sellers. Images of a Leeds that has dissappeared. They tell a story of a time that has passed. Photograph of a swimming pool in Leeds, one of many swimming pools that has since dissappeared. The Leeds International pool has more recently gone; it was a centimetre or so too short for international records to be made!
Photo of ghost train. Photo of an old motorbike. Connection between aircraft ugliness and Leeds. Old Tetley factory now gone; it was a beer but no longer exists. Peter avoids bright red things and blue skies in his aesthetics.
“Please say if you are getting fed up with this!” says Peter as he shows his pictures. They are fascinating records of a Leeds that is no more and are interesting pictures in their own right.
Photographs of shops and their shopkeepers. Every snap has a story.
Picture of Mars. From Viking Lander 2 1986.
Mitchell has a show coming up at Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Got a photograph from a space lab of Mars. Made a poster from this. Putting borders around photographs of Leeds that give impression that they have been taken from a lunar mission to Leeds from Mars!
Urban decay and ruin! Where did this aesthetic come from? Derelict buildings in Leeds!
Photographs of demolition workers. Time destroys one’s negatives owing to microbes etc photographs of blocks of flats that were later destroyed. Some found, some photographed by Mitchell. Some images created for propaganda reasons later appropriated. Mitchell did a book on flats that is recognised as a classic on architectural photography.
Mitchell likes America a lot and has visited 5 times. Photograph of Nazraeli, an author and publisher. Did a book with them, helped by Martin Parr. 47 photographs, selected from 90. Mitchell proud of this book. Publisher in Southern California.
Produced a limited edition poster for Strangely Familiar. Image of building that once employed 3,000 people that is now empty.
Mitchell does not work on projects rather photographs something that attracts him, that he has noticed and wants to record. LS7 4DX is his post code and a working title for a growing body of work made in the area.
Beautiful photographs of run down places. Old metal signs being stolen that are now replaced with plastic signs. Photographs of sites where Yorkshire ripper victims were found. Photographs from Yorkshire Ripper era.
Photographs of rubbish. Sometimes rubbish would hang around for a long time but council now better at disposing of it.
Mitchell continues to show us pictures he has made. Often, the object seems obscure so he explains their relevance. Strange stories!
Peter gets a lot of letters; does not have email etc he shows some photographs of his junk mail as well as an Islamic rally poster from late 1980’s! Wing Cobra, Mitchell’s emblem, taken from another old factory now closed down.He draws inspiration from children’s books.
He finished with a photograph of a scarecrow; with characteristic self-depreciating humour, he says scarecrows tell his story in a silent way.
The talks are all over, various people are thanked. An organiser, Brian Steptoe, comes forward and talks about …The PHOTOBOOK OPEN INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION which will be shown next weekend at the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern which is to be filled with Photobooks. There will also be an exhibition open to all in a small Central London gallery this september. For the 2016 competition, there will be 3 selectors; last year just Gerry Badger, author on Photobooks, was the judge. I may enter!
Dewi Lewis Publishing store

Dewi Lewis Publishing store

The week-end has been interesting but eventually I find myself tiring of continually looking at a screen for inspiration, to see good work. Across the road is the Taylor Wessing portrait competition, an annual event that tours around the UK. Here are photographs that have been printed, that are visible behind glass and framed, one does not have to sit in the dark to look at them, their visceral quality cannot be hidden but stands out. I would like to spend more time with these images but am tired and it is time to return to Somerset.
The week-end has been enjoyable and I find myself questioning my own direction in photography. Three of the seven speakers I have heard before and I wonder if I want to go on listening to artists talks, to photographers showing me how good they are. One needs to work, produce ones own results rather than get over fed with other people’s ideas. Next week though I shall be attending more talks at Photo London with only a couple of days at home before doing so. Greater more contemporary photographers on show!
I am doing all this because of my choice to study photography, to learn an art if indeed there is an art to learn. Anyone can pick up a camera and make images but these may or not be relevant although perhaps this does not matter if one enjoys the process. I would like to make images that others are interested in though and the ability to communicate with others means learning from those who have managed to do so.

5 thoughts on ““Concerning Photography” RPS symposium @ Sheffield Hallam University

  1. Quite a stream of consciousness account Amano – some of which made me chuckle. What do you mean about questioning your own direction in photography?

    PS I actually used to work as a secretary for a spoon and fork factory, in Sheffield, when I was very young!

    • Hi Catherine Thanks for reading my blog and glad you experienced some enjoyment!
      Direction in photography? Well, I sense I am progressing but towards what or what might this progression be. One develops skills, one might start to enjoy it more … yet what is one trying to achieve through one’s work? Perhaps nothing, the process is enough! I do nature photography but have not been able to make this part of the BA although I managed an assignment in which I covered an endangered species. The BA course gives one the chance to experiment I find and perhaps enjoy going nowhere yet my publisher wants my work and this does not seem to be in harmony with OCA demands. A secretary for a spoon and fork factory!! That sounds promising … trust your course is going well. I recall your woodland photos.

  2. I do hope at least some of the presenters encounter your blog and take in the degree of ATTENTION you have paid them. You really were very present at this event and in turn have made every effort to include us as readers. Great to have the photographs too! Thank you.

  3. Pingback: The Hitcher by Chris Coekin | landscape studies

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