Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Mohammed ©Bob Mazzer

Mohammed ©Bob Mazzer

From here to there

Photographic Portraits by Brian Rybolt and Bob Mazzer
at the Hastings Arts Forum

In recent years, classic portraiture seems to have been overtaken by the ubiquitous smart-phone ‘selfie’. Thousands if not millions of these self-indulgent instant snaps saturate the FaceTwitter social media sites. One wonders whether anyone is still interested in taking the time to create thoughtful photographic portraits? asks HOT reporter John Cole.

The answer is a resounding Yes, as evidenced by the stunning portraits by photographers Brian Rybolt and Bob Mazzer. Their exhibition, “From Here to There”, which is now on display at the Hastings Arts Forum until 20th September, is testimony to the power of portraits taken by two committed photographers who are more interested in depth of character than instant gratification.

Brian Rybolt spent two years photographing the residents of Grosvenor House in St. Leonards. “I was mainly motivated by how society thinks of its elderly citizens, which I don’t think is very positive,” said Brian. “I wanted to show the strength, wit and dignity of the sitters.”

Brian’s project has given him new insights into our ageing population, as well as insights into his own ageing. “I have arrived at a new understanding of how interesting our ageing population is. My photographs have helped residents to see themselves in a new light and has lead to their self esteem being expanded.”

Stanley ©Brian Rybolt

Stanley ©Brian Rybolt

“The project has also forced me to look at my own mortality,” continued Brian.” It has given me great hope about the reality of getting older. So many of my subjects were bright-eyed and positive, which made the idea of ageing seem less frightening.”

Brian’s portraits are reminiscent of Richard Avedon’s striking 10×8 portraits against a plain white background. However, Brian decided to use a black backdrop for his portraits. “By isolating my sitters with a black background it forces the viewer to concentrate on the person who is being photographed.” There is a quiet dignity to all his portraits and some are on the edge of haunting, as if being able to look into the crystal clear eyes of someone who is close to death. But there is also a warmth and joy to many of the faces, and the shots of the couples, such as Peter and Jean, are especially intimate, as if Brian had simply come upon them during a moment of joy.

Peter and Jean ©Brian Rybolt

Peter and Jean ©Brian Rybolt

Bob Mazzer’s photos of young people at St. Leonards’ Respond Academy are stylistically miles away from Brian’s work, and yet his photos have the same compassion and empathy.

“Taking photos inside Respond Academy was something close to both my home and my heart. At times, I never quite knew what to expect when I walked through their door, and though it wasn’t always easy, it was always rewarding.”

“I particularly remember one evening listening to a piece by a fourteen year old boy in the kitchen, that night’s impromptu sound studio (being away from the Respond hubbub and fairly quiet), a rap about a difficult life that was Shakespearian in scope, both universal and intimate and full of insight and poetry. I was moved close to tears.”

Gemma © Bob Mazzer

Gemma © Bob Mazzer

Bob’s work has a classic b/w feel to it, reminiscent of Danny Lyons early work. There’s rawness and edginess, such as his shot of Mohammed’s hand in front to his face, or Cairo looking through his fingers. But there is also a soft beauty evident, as seen in the portraits of Gemma and Jody.

Respond Academy is now threatened with closure. “Not to have somewhere that gives young people the platform for their creativity would be a huge loss to the community,” said Bob.

Both Brian and Bob spoke movingly about how much they had gotten out of these self-motivated projects. “When I’m working on a self-generated project like this,” said Brian, “I feel most alive as a photographer, as a human being.”

Bob agrees with this feeling of huge personal satisfaction. “I had the feeling that the young people in Respond Academy were what I been looking for a long time,” said Bob. “Like finding what you’ve been seeking all your life in your own back yard, reigniting the excitement of when I took photos with my first good camera.”

Two powerful bodies of work, two very different styles and both important documents of our society. Not to be missed.

Brian and Bob have produced an A3 poster of their work, which will be on sale for £3.50. All proceeds will go to Respond Academy.

Special event this Sunday
This Sunday, September 13th at 4:30, Brian and Bob will hold In Conversation at the Arts Forum, where they’ll talk about their work.
Admission is Free.

The opening night of “From Here to There” is this Friday, September 11th from 6:30 – 8:30 and is open to the public.

Hastings Arts Forum
36 Marina, St. Leonards on Sea, East Sussex TN38 0BU
T: 01424 201636
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 5pm



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Posted 14:55 Wednesday, Sep 9, 2015 In: Photography

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