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‘Living Room’ © Abkr Rastan

PhotoHastings welcomes two new photographers to the summer show

PhotoHastings summer exhibition at Stade Hall includes an astounding selection of images from 16 photographers. This year, the group has welcomed two new photographers working with a mentor. HOT’s Erica Smith was delighted to meet these budding photographers.

Abkr Rastan and Basil Jaber Alsheikh are two young Syrian men who were compelled to leave their home country and have found refuge in Hastings. Since 2019, they have been mentored by Nicole Zaaroura through the Site Line project.

They both talk eloquently about their work. Abkr Rastan’s photograph (above), is a diptych of two living rooms: the first image was taken on 25 October 2012 in his living room in Homs, Syria. The second was taken on 3 November 2020 in his living room in St Leonards-on-Sea. When I talk to him about the image, he tells me that the first living room no longer exists. This is not a metaphor. His former home was bombed. He tells me that the Site Line programme has helped him realise that there is continuity in his life. Working on his photography through lockdown was a valuable focus.

‘Destination 381’ © Basil Jaber Alsheikh

Basil Jaber-Alsheikh is a trained civil engineer. His quadriptych photograph reflects an interest in building and structure. It is also a narrative of his continued exploration of the word ‘destination’. The first three of these images were taken locally. The fourth one is an elevated walkway at Charing Cross station – photographed on his first visit to London. The steep, dry path is in Hastings Country Park, but for Basil, it also reminds him of his journey from Syria across the border to Turkey. The photograph on the beach came out of a time of despair – he could see nothing to photograph. His mentor encouraged him look again, and he created the simple sculpture out of two pieces of driftwood.

Photographs, inevitably, tell stories; a few of the show’s photographers talked about how they see photography as ‘short stories’ – we look at an image and find a narrative. I think of photography as silent poetry. All of the images in the exhibition are profoundly moving. They give you time and space to explore someone else’s world without words.

I applaud the Site Line project – studying photography is a wonderful tool to learn about a new country. The images speak for themselves, but the process of making the images and learning about photography and talking about your work gives the photographer a role and purpose within his or her community.

Their mentor, visual artist Nicole Zaaroura has designed and delivered creative lens based projects with the refugee community for the past 15 years. Her site responsive works are created in public, private, architectural and peripheral spaces across Europe, and she has been presented in festivals, residencies, and exhibitions internationally. She has a Site Line residency at De La Warr Pavilion which has run across the four Saturdays in July.

Basil and Abkr are only two excellent photographers featured in the PhotoHastings exhibition. I heartily recommend a visit to Stade Hall to drink in all the images and spot the themes which weave through the work on show. There are some beautiful painterly images of the sea (Steve Barnes, Jeremy Llewellyn Jones and Patricia Webb) and engaging seaside documentary (Ian O’Leary, Ian Land and Frank Francis).

Caoimhe McDonnell and Clare Hocter both explore trees as symbols of our time, whilst Rod Morris and Chris Coombes both use black and white photography to document in very different ways. Derek Cottrell – the Instagram master of mystery – exhibits a stunning triptych of the moon. Tracy Jones explores ‘My Cup of Tea’ and artist Sinead Codd brings photography in to the third dimension with her quiet installation ‘.- pause, look’.

The photograph that literally stood out for me was Louise Whitham’s self-portrait as a suffragette – ‘Face to The Dawn’. Lousie moved in to a seafront studio in St Leonards to take photographs of the sea, but was drawn to the previous owner of the property – a suffragette – who has begun to inhabit her artworks.

The PhotoHastings summer show is free and is open every day until 30 July from 10am to 4.30. It is at Stade Hall, Rock-a-nore and there will always be one of the photographers there to talk to. There is also a catalogue of the exhibition which has been published by Silverhill Press. It would be a crime to miss this gem of an exhibition.

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Posted 11:24 Saturday, Jul 24, 2021 In: Photography

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