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Derek Jarman at Dungeness © John Cole

Derek Jarman at Dungeness © John Cole

John Cole, Brian Rybolt and Bob Mazzer’s photographic journey

As part of PhotoHastings Festival, Hastings Arts Forum is hosting two photographic exhibitions with four artists – a celebration of Hastings’ photographic talent. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths dropped in to see what was going on. In one gallery Ian Land has a solo show, The Land of Cockaigne – Travels through Brexit. And in the other gallery is the Gang of Three – John Cole, Brian Rybolt and Bob Mazzer – all well-known artists in the Hastings area, photographers with very different themes and concerns.

John Cole

I hadn’t seen Cole’s images of his 30-year study of the UK health care industry. An American, he came to the UK in 1985 and was appalled to see the tabloid press’s portrayal of AIDS as the ‘gay plague’. He consequently “decided to shoot a project that emphasised a more positive reaction to AIDs diagnosis”: a project that lasted five years as he worked first with the Terence Higgins Trust and the London Lighthouse. Then in 1988, when Derek Jarman was diagnosed with AIDS, Cole was commissioned by The Illustrated News to spend “a truly memorable day photographing him at his house in Dungeness”.

Premature baby. Nurse's hands and a 5-day-old baby that was born 10 weeks premature. It is seen inside an incubator. A premature baby (born before 37-42 weeks of gestation) © John Cole

Premature baby in an incubator. Nurse’s hands and a five-day-old baby that was born 10 weeks premature (defined as born before 37-42 weeks of gestation) © John Cole

The AIDS images are fragile, poignant, sad and some, surprisingly, uplifting. There is a doctor/nurse in her surgery theatre scrubs looking up reflectively; a laugh between a doctor and a dressing-gowned man at the London Hospice in 1996; and one very poignant image of a tiny baby with a hand hand cradling its head, while the other holds the tiny baby’s hand ­– a hand that looks old, way above its years as if it had already lived a life.

There are two images of Derek Jarman, one standing quietly on Dungeness beach, another with his honest, intelligent and kind dark brown eyes shining out at the world. I met him a couple of times, a gentle man. And sad night vigils, men holding lit candles, remembering friends. It should never have been like that, with such a raft of people gone.

Brian Rybolt

Brian Rybolt’s propitious ‘finds’ of military defence towers in the Thames/Medway Estuary must have been irresistible to him. Many photographers, but particularly Rybolt, love to capture abandonment and decay. His series of photographs of Ospedale de Mare, an abandoned hospital in Venice, Dungeness and Hastings Baths (now the skate park, the Source) are all evidence of lived-in use.

Rybolt – another American – heard about these defence towers and researched them on the internet. “These defences built during the Second World War seem to me like quadrupeds walking towards the land: very menacing, striking and strange.”  They really look otherworldly and threatening, stuck out in the sea.

SS Montgomery Masts © Brian Rybolt

SS Montgomery Masts © Brian Rybolt

He found it was possible to go on boat trips to view the structures close up and personal. The posts sinking into the sea are remnants of SS Montgomery, a wreck packed with high explosives; precarious and unstable. Consequently, there has never been any attempt to raise it from the sea. The day Rybolt was out at sea, cormorants were perched on the masts  –  “they seemed to be presagers of death.”

A workers’ voluntary group keep a weather eye to help preserve them, not to decay and disappear from the seascape. A hard job resisting the sea storms and wind. He managed to go on a trip with those men and clamber aboard the platform where he captured the spirit of the place; a rusted  bath, the general traces of wear and tear. They couldn’t stay there too long as the wind got up. But his aim is definitely to go back for a further visit.

Bob Mazzer

Bob Mazzer has been taking photographs, man and boy, for 50 years, since 1969. He has concentrated on the street and the Tube train – what he refers to as street photography: those characters that are always there, you only have to look. Mazzer is almost never seen without a camera hooked over his shoulder, waiting and prepared for that odd moment, personality to appear before his camera.

 ALINE in her mother's bath in Paris © Bob Mazzer

ALINE in her mother’s bath in Paris © Bob Mazzer

The images are a selection from a forthcoming book, Bob Mazzer, taken in America, Wales, London, Paris, Hastings/St Leonards and Wigan. They include some of his well-known photographs of the Tube and Hastings people, but others are, it seems, having a fresh airing.

Mazzer mainly shoots in black and white, so it is surprising to see colour images: back in the 60s of naturists at a hippie festival in Norfolk juxtaposed with a passing rowing boat; the colours of a Woman on Passing Routemaster, Oxford Street were reminiscent of one of my favourite photographers, Saul Leiter. Besides the concentration on characters there are a few touching, appealing images of what looks like family members, like Aline in her mother’s bath in Paris.

Altogether, a refreshing and reflective exhibition with humour, sadness, history, life and death. To be seen.

Gang of Three, part of the 2019 PhotoHastings Festival, is on until 10 November at Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0BU. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm.

Ian Land’s exhibition, the Land of Cockaigne, is on during the same period. See The Land of Cockaigne – Travels through Brexit.

Private view of both exhibitions: Friday 1 November, 6-30-8.30pm.




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Posted 16:12 Friday, Nov 1, 2019 In: Photography

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