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Photographer Dan Bass in front of one of his ‘Work’ series at The Space (photo by Erica Smith)

Lovers, fighters, smokers, workers… and photographers

In case you hadn’t noticed, Hastings is currently saturated with photographic images. From John Cole’s tarpaulin-sized portraits of fishermen hung around the Stade, the ‘Edge’ group show along the footbridge at Hastings station, all the way to Dan Bass’s trestle mounted prints next to St Leonards station, the town is awash with established and developing photographers. HOT’s Erica Smith embraced the Photo Hastings festival and reports back…

I first saw one of Dan Bass’s photographs in 2008 in a temporary gallery space on a day-trip to Margate. At first I thought I was looking at a photo of Gehry architecture set on a sea shore. Looking closely, I realised it was an extreme close-up of the sole of a washed-up trainer. Shot low and sharp, it was one of a never-ending series of lost items, each one photographed with the care and technical attention normally given to luxury items rather than detritus.

Dan Bass is a Margate lad who has worked in the building trade and within art-based education projects. As well as being a practicing Artist/photographer, he currently works as a freelance technician at the Turner Contemporary, The Beaney Museum in Canterbury and for private clients in London and the south east. When I found out he was exhibiting at The Space near Warrior Square station, I was keen to see his latest work – a piece called ‘Work’. Bass’s images are graphic images of manual labour – wheelbarrows, ladders, ‘men at work’. The prints use imagery to make Warhol-like repeat patterns and are mounted on white trestle table legs. The work is a tribute to Robert Tressell – whose book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was written in Hastings 100 years ago. A second part of the exhibition is on the walls of the dis-used cafe in the middle of Bottle Alley – this setting gives an opportunity to have a closer look at the prints.

Bass felt very at home whilst he set up the show. “Hastings and St Leonards have a lot in common with Margate. They are not rich towns, but the people who live here have been very welcoming.” His favourite experience was when a very enthusiastic three-year-old joined the private view party. “Apparently she always stops to look through the railings at the installation pieces in The Space. She was really excited to see the gates were finally open and insisted on coming in to have a close look at the artwork. It was great to see her and the Mayor chatting about the work.”

On Saturday 25 October, Dan Bass & Christine Gist will lead an informal Q&A session at Electro Studios Project Space – ESPS, Seaside Road, St Leonards TN38 0AL from 7–8.30pm. The session focuses on Dan’s practice and ‘Work’. It will be an ideal opportunity to find out more about the inspirations and motivation of this humane and humorous photographer.

Mods on the Underground © Bob Mazzer

This On Saturday 25 October, local photographer Bob Mazzer’s exhibition ‘Underground’ opens at Baker Mamonova Gallery in Norman Road, St Leonards. Whilst Bob Mazzer is well known on home turf, his collection of photographs taken on the London’s Underground since the 1960s has recently brought him international fame, thanks to his photographs being featured on ‘The Gentle Author’s’ Spitalfields Life blog. This resulted in the publication of a beautiful crowdfunded volume of Underground photographs – a document of London life over the last 40 years.

All images © Bob Mazzer

Bob Mazzer reluctantly accepts the label of ‘street photographer’, he considers himself more of a diarist – he photographs whatever attracts his attention as he goes along his life path. He has taken some stunning nature and landscape photographs, but he excels at taking engaging photographs of people. Some of his underground images are candid, taken with his camera at hip level, rather than held in front of his face, and it is apparent that the subjects are not aware of being photographed. In others, the subjects are fully engaged with Bob – some posing outrageously, others just sharing a moment of humanity with an energetic former-hippy photographer.

Throughout the forty years of photographing the underground, Bob rarely went down the escalator with the sole intention of ‘getting good pictures’ – and on the few times he did, the results weren’t worth it. What he likes about taking photographs on the tube was ‘entering a theatre where I can look for interesting stuff – setting my camera to 1/60 at F/4 and waiting to see what happens.” The close proximity of strangers leads to unexpected interactions – “People allow themselves to behave in a very intimate way in a very public environment – snogging, arse-showing, fighting.” His photographs are all different, but repeated motifs include kisses and punch-ups, blokes passed out on the shoulders of women and people smoking on the underground – a concept that shocks the under-30s!

I asked Bob what he thought about the parallel story of Vivian Maier’s photographs – the American nanny who secretly shot street photos with her Rolleiflex from the ’50s onwards. The huge stock of her photographs were never published until after her death. Posthumously, she is the hottest photographer on the scene. The film Finding Vivian Maier was screened as part of Photo Hastings last Sunday night. It is apparent that she shared Bob’s love of humanity and desire to document ordinary people’s lives. But Maier never ‘stepped into people’s lives’ in the way that Mazzer is bold and cheeky enough to really engage with his subject. He rarely forgets the time and place when he takes a photograph of someone, and it is apparent from the way he talks that when he has met a subject of one of his pictures, thirty years later, he is delighted to re-form that initial fleeting attachment.

Mazzer gets a little bored of the parallel with Maier – he has made a living from taking and exhibiting his photographs. Maier’s motivations were different, a very secretive character who hoarded her photographic images alongside newspapers, cassette tapes and little enamel brooches. Back in the ’70s, Bob was in a little french town ‘en fête’. “There was an older french photographer, dancing on tables and shooting film at the same time. I remember thinking ‘I want to be him!’ – and now I am like that!”

What I liked most about the mixture of photos in both Bob’s book and his slide show at The Stade on Tuesday night is the lack of chronology. Sometimes the fashions, or the film quality or the upholstery of the seats help to date an image, but often what is most apparent is that humanity hasn’t changed that much – despite personal headphones and the selfie-obsessed generation.

Bob Mazzer’s exhibition Underground runs from 17–31 October at Baker Mamonova Gallery, 43–49 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea East Sussex TN38 0EQ
Tel: 01424 457830
Signed copies of his book ‘Underground’ will also be on sale there, priced £20.00.

Posted 11:32 Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014 In: Photography

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