In musical terms an octet refers to eight singers or musicians who perform together in complementary fashion. In Octet, currently on exhibition at St Mary in the Castle, eight Photo Hastings photographers exhibit together in a complimentary fashion that any musical ensemble would be proud of.
HOT reporter John Cole went to the opening to talk to the eight photographers.
Octet has been organised by photographer Ian Land, who has curated an impressive body of work that is lyrical, poetical and at times musical in its breath of styles.
Lauris Morgan-Griffiths painterly images of Cuba avoid the usual clichéd imagery that so many photographers fall into: classic American cars, cigar makers, Che Guevara icons and elderly musicians. Instead, her images feel more painterly than photographic. “Cuba is a country that is dark at night, as street lighting is at a premium. But I do not think of the darkness and shadows as despair, but rather transition. There is of course a dark side to Cuba’s history, but the atmosphere of the country is colour, music and laughter.” Which glows from her three images.
In Claire Land’s b/w series of prints, I can almost hear the music in her lyrical images of people dancing and floating along the Hastings beach front. “In this series of images I want to show the transient nature of people in the solidity of the familiar urban and natural landscapes.” Her photos are all shot on film on her Olympus OM4, using, in her own words, “a rickety old tripod.” There is certainly nothing rickety about Claire’s musical imagery.
Mel Brewer has created an impressive display of photos of the Bethnal Green geometers. Twenty-five b/w images on a 5×4 foot single piece of poster paper are a moving record of what she calls ‘The Casualties of Progress.’ “When I first set eyes on the gasometers I was astonished by their construction. Apart from the sheer scale of them, it was the decorative quality of the ironwork, homage to the Victorian sense of beauty and functionality. Their loss will be felt keenly by those who see them as historical icons of architecture, a majestic visual link to our industrial past.” Which Mel has fortunately preserved for us in her b/w imagery.
One of the joys of teaching is that you learn so much from your students. When Alison Purdy was on a photography course I ran, she challenged my ideas of what a photograph should be by creating stunning mirror works that used photos as a part of the overall construction, rather than the primary focus of the artwork. For the Octet exhibition, she has created an octet of mirrors, all a meter high, that combine her passion for photography with contemporary glass decoration techniques. “My collection is inspired by the sea and the local environment, using textures, colours, photographic imagery and embellishments to capture the atmosphere of our coastal town.” And capture it she does in a way that challenges the concept of the single image saying it all.
Anne Lydiat’s photos remind me of Elliott Erwitt’s iconic image of a young couple in the midst of a kiss, reflected in the rear view mirror of the car they are sitting in. Anne’s photos were taken while on board a wooden sailing schooner, along the east coast of Greenland. “I used the portholes as the lens of the ship, and a hand held mirror that reflects both what is present and already past.” The images are rich and full of colour, yet have a certain edge as they challenge you to figure out what is real, and what is reflected.
Tom Jervis is a photographer of many talents. Before moving down to the south coast, he had a successful career as a commercial photographer in London. The work in Octet is a taste of the diverse collection he has produced since moving down here: still life, portrait and constructed images. “I have always tried to create a painterly feel to my photographs.” This painterly feel is most evident in a shot of a seagull flying in front of Brighton West Pier, the colours muted and soft like a painting.
Lesley Parkinson also brings a sense of photographs as paintings to her work. Lesley’s work looks at the surfaces of water, in particular, ponds where the water is contained. “I am interested in exploring the relationship between what is on and below the surface of the water and how these layers merge to form one image.” Her photo ‘Tranquillity’ especially captures this sense of merger, more an Impressionist painting than a photo. “This is a digital photograph which hasn’t been manipulated in any way. I took it in early morning when the light was shining across the water, giving a painterly effect. In a way, it was a happy accident, as I shot it with the sun directly in the lens.” A very happy accident indeed.
The sense of photographer as painter continues with the work of Ian Grant. His photos, muted blends of colours, framed in black with gold inset, are like miniature paintings from another era. “Currently I use an old Bakelite film camera which has no controls, a hopeless viewfinder and a huge appetite for fun. With the Bakelite I seek to get to the tipping point where a recognizable image disintegrates into pure colour and light. Using it has resuscitated a childish sense of adventure.”
A childish sense of adventure! What a wonderful phrase, something to strive for in our work, in our lives. And which is so evident in the work exhibited in Octet.
Octet, at St Mary in the Castle, Pelham Crescent, Hastings, TN34 3AF, runs from 31 October until 13 November, 10 – 6 daily.
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