Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Horse Market by Malcolm Glover

Hard graft storytelling in black and white

Photographers follow myriad themes, subjects and techniques, stamping their own individuality and personality onto their projects. At Hastings Art Forum as part of Brighton Photo Fringe three respected photographers are exhibiting intriguing, disparate black and white documentary projects. HOT reporter Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went down to take a look.

These documentary projects are interesting as they are taken during the heyday of reportage. It was not a time that photographers went in with cameras snapping, get what they wanted and get out fast. It was an age when photographers spent time with their subjects, got to know them, saw lives close up, and got under the skin.

Going back through their bodies of work has been strange for all three of them, Bruce Rae, John Cole and Malcolm Glover. It doesn’t seem so far away and yet it is a different time.  As are their photographs which are already historical.

Smiths Dry Dock, Bruce Rae

Smiths Dry Dock, Bruce Rae

In the early 1980s as part of the famous Newcastle upon Tyne Side Gallery Bruce Rae portrayed the dying days of the the hard graft of the Tyne shipbuilding industry. The sheer size of the ships, the buildings even the launch chains dwarf the men, yet they are not diminished by it. Their faces show pride and honesty knowing they are skilled artisans and probably recognise, as Rae did, that the shipyards were under threat. There are painters and platers, sailormen, ginormous rudders  and  the gentle hands of a craftsman interpreting a draftsman plans into metal.

Sheep Shearers Lunch, Malcolm Glover

Sheep Shearers Lunch, Malcolm Glover

A different way of life was captured by Glover. He spent five years in a caravan living amongst the Welsh speaking agricultural community that he couldn’t really communicate with. A community even then seemed to be marooned in a time warp, he portrayed the atmosphere, the mundanity and honest graft of a hard  life of small holdings; milking parlours, gardening, a horse market where the horses would probably be sold for horse meat; a sheep shearers’ lunch served out of a boot of a car.

Both Rae and Glover were the product of an amazing photography education. Rae in Birmingham studied commercial photography, Glover in Newport studying documentary where there were ten students to two tutors – an embarrassment of riches, unheard of now. As students they  learned to really see and look, find the story and tell it.

Both  landed up at  the Royal College of Art. Rae had never heard of the place, but when he heard  that he could get a grant to take photographs, there was no stopping him. Photography changed their lives, it took them out of their environment and into unimagined places.

Meanwhile, in New York, American John Cole was  a writer who turned to his passion of photography. Not really a sports fan he somehow found himself sucked into the boxing life. He loved the sheer theatre of it; the smell of linament, the sweat, body odour, and the reverberating sound of the punches. Hard men. Cole took up boxing himself to really understand what he was documenting. He knows the sound and the feel to take a punch to the guts – and to see stars.

Lyndon Deny, Gleason's Gym, NYC, 1980 John Cole

Lyndon Deny, Gleason's Gym, NYC, 1980 John Cole

But it was the characters he loved.  And they were characters, some of the trainers and managers with lived and slept in faces. Sammy Morgan who carried an ice pick in case of trouble, a young boxer whose brother had died the week before in the ring and there he was wearing his brother’s memory in his shorts. He still has nothing but respect for those boxers, and the sadnesses in their hopes and dreams,  failures and punishment. Boxing expression  fall out of him – potato bags, palookaland, fall guy  –  and the hands come up as he jukes and jives.

Their work is a momento mori. They were all documenting a fast disappearing way of life. They have now taken up different themes:  Rae tender vignettes of composed subjects;  Glover, panoramic timescapes; Cole coming full circle and writing again.   They were all in a privileged time and place to meet those people, have an insight into their worlds. Glover acknowledges  “those five years spent in a camper van were in no way wasted… But I wouldn’t do it again.”

Hard Graft is at Hastings Art Forum from 24 October – 7 November.

Visit Malcolm Glover’s website
Visit John Cole’s website


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Posted 18:20 Friday, Oct 26, 2012 In: Photography

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