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In September 2012, I attended the Kaunas Photo Festival to participate as a reviewer in their international portfolio competition (blog to follow soon!…). At the event I caught up with fellow reviewer Alasdair Foster from Australia and put a few questions to him on perspectives from a different continent….
- [Malcolm] You left Scotland for Australia some 14 years ago and based yourself in Sydney – do you think of yourself as Scottish, Australian, or does the international dimension supersede these?
[Alasdair] I had a strange sense of coming home when I moved to Australia. It’s hard to explain, but I felt a strong sentimental attachment to the country from the get go: to its multi-cultural citizenry, its awe-inspiring sense of natural space, to its wonderful trees and, of course, its clement weather.
My perspective has certainly been expanded by living in the Pacific hemisphere, building on what I experienced and learned in the Greater Atlantic zone. Asia and the Pacific is an incredibly rich and varied super-region. If I say my outlook is ‘international’ then that is probably the Australian way of thinking, since we are almost all immigrants and come from so many parts of the world. That said, we are each the accumulated product of our peculiar personal histories, and so that ‘internationalism’ is situated within and inevitably limited by my particular background. But I have become profoundly respectful of the many cultures of Asia and the Pacific. I feel enriched and privileged to have the opportunity to work in this part of the world.
What I do miss from the UK is the scepticism that questions power. It exists here, but not to the degree or depth I remember from my time in the UK.
2. How do people in the arts in Australia perceive Scottish visual arts?
Probably about the same way the Scottish audience perceives Australian visual arts… not much. Really, aside from links through expats, there is little, if any, differentiation between visual art from Scotland and visual art from the UK as a whole. Brand ‘Britain’ is what is recognised, brand ‘Scotland’ does not get much of a look in. Even the Edinburgh Festival is seen as British rather than specifically Scottish. Not surprising really given Australia a country of 22 million and Scotland of 6 million separated by over 17,000 kms and six billion other people: quite a human and geographic distance to travel. That said, I would place Iceland higher than Scotland on the level of Australian perception in the contemporary arts just now.
3. You ran the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) for 13 years – what changes did you see happen during that time and what is your proudest achievement?
The two biggest environmental changes were a major increase in Commonwealth (national) funding for the small-to-medium visual-arts sector in 2002 and a growing acceptance within the art world of pop culture as a legitimate aspect of creative activity, if not public subsidy.
Interestingly, the uplift of public funding under the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy was the brainchild of one of Australia’s major arts philanthropists, Rupert Myer, who lead a report to the then (Right-leaning) government. It may seem surprising that it was a Right- and not a Left-leaning government that came to the rescue, but both sides have an ideological view of, and a political place for, the arts. Increasingly, however, the Left find it hard to argue for art ahead of education or health, and seem trapped in the either/or paradigm that poses this dilemma. The Right see culture as a mix of luxury commodity and national character, the Left see it in an increasingly short-termist light of instrumentality, which is difficult to argue convincingly when times are hard. Both sides are clear about one thing: the need for a diversity of income streams and the medium-term dismantling of contemporary arts that rely solely upon tax money to exist.
While I was director of ACP my colleagues and I worked to diversify the income streams, moving from the standard model of roughly 90% public subsidy to a situation where 60% of our income was derived from the provision of user-pay education and less than 40% from a mix of State (New South Wales Government) and Commonwealth (national) funding via the Australia Council. While we also attracted some commercial sponsorship, this remained a minor source of income, as did private philanthropy. Ideally we should have been more effective in bringing those additional streams into play.
During my time at ACP gross annual income tripled to over $2 million and enrolments in our classes rose from around 350 in a year to over 2,350; exhibition attendances increased from 13,500pa to 46,000pa. We also developed exhibition touring to a level that established ACP as the largest single provider of touring photo shows in the country. Meanwhile, the centre’s international profile developed to a level where up to 50% of our program was from overseas and in a given year some 100,000 visitors attended our exhibitions presented overseas.
However, the greatest sense of personal achievement came when we were able to use our educational expertise and equipment, and our fundraising and income earning capacity to establish a pilot scheme to provide free training to young homeless adults in our area. The aim here was not to train them as photographers but, more fundamentally, to use the ‘sexiness’ of the medium to help each individual take hold of a chaotic lifestyle, focus on goal setting and project completion, build self-confidence and a sense of self-worth and offer a platform on which to open a dialogue with the community in which they maintained a wraithlike existence.
For me art is an experience not a commodity, and the best art is transformative. These pilot projects transformed the lives of more than half of the participants in a sustained and positive way. While some may relegate such activity to the realm of “community arts” I think this is a mistake. We should understand the arts in a holistic way. The value of each aspect is diminished if it is segregated from the whole – no more so than the so-called ‘fine arts’ which, if excised from the living whole, are rapidly reduced to intellectual novelties and luxury commodities.
4. Is the term ‘resilience’ a common term in Australia?
Buzz words are handles for meaning. While the buzz word ‘resilience’ is not yet widely used in Australia, I think there is a growing awareness of the need to address its meaning.
As I understand it, ‘resilience’ was coined by the UK MMM (Mission, Models, Money) group as part of its agenda for creating economically sustainable arts infrastructure. It is the next stage after ‘sustainability’ (which is a buzz word in Australia). Whereas sustainability is about the individual (person or group) within the cultural ecology – a mix of environmental and individual strengths in synchrony – ‘resilience’ puts the onus on the individual or group. Resilience is a mix of fortitude and adaptability. It is a Darwinian idea. In terms of the cultural sector the fortitude comes from a strong support group and mixed economic basis; the adaptability is the ability to revise the vision and redirect the objectives to remain useful in the environment as it is and is becoming. Individuals or groups whose power base built on a small coterie or who rely on the support of a single funder, donor or market and who cling to their original mission come what may, will find it increasingly hard to sustain themselves. In the winds of change the rigid oak, however august, may tumble, while the flexible willow bends to the forces around it. I see this adaptation as appropriate when it is about remaining useful in the world and relevant in the community.
Putting both sides in their best light, it is the tension between staying true to one’s beliefs and remaining useful to the community (the cultural ecology) that is evolving around you. It may be morally most appropriate to remain true, but only if one also accepts that nothing is forever. In this case initiatives find their time and cease when that time passes. Any artist or organisation should not expect to continue to flourish simply because they have in the past. Equally, an organization that merely takes the easiest route without any clear vision or ethical framework will not hold together coherently. (The latter is true also of political parties more attentive to the latest opinion polls than to envisioning and enacting a coherent set of policies for the people who elected them – and those who did not – as we see today.)
Resilience comes from a balance between inner fortitude (a clear philosophical driver with a flexible modality) and continuing usefulness within the society it serves.
5. What good examples of mixed economy practice in arts organisations have you encountered recently?
I think ACP is a good example of an organisation that is heading that way. It was the only Australian contemporary art space to earn more than 50% of its income from non-government sources. It is the only visual art organisation in the country to own its building, and that generates a degree of empowerment and flexibility.
6. You were the founding (and as it turned out only) director of Fotofeis, the international biennial of photo-based art, which stage three events across Scotland in the 1990s. With the benefit of hindsight, what measures could have been taken to ensure the Fotofeis continued?
Any arts organisation (indeed any organisation) needs a leader fighting its corner the whole time. I had said from the beginning that I had a plan for three festivals and then wanted to move on, and I gave 12 months’ notice so that a new director could be identified and hired. When I left Fotofeis it was, I understood from SAC, the only contemporary arts organisation with the guarantee of triennial funding in place – something that is essential for a biennial festival. It takes a good three years to negotiate and fund a festival on that scale.
I have never understood why the Board did not hire a new director. Certainly adverts were placed and applications received, but months after I left Fotofeis, the position remained unfilled. In such a situation any organisation is vulnerable. There is never enough money to go around and if a company seems rudderless then it became ripe for de-funding. I don’t know the circumstances of the closure, but Fotofeis was wound up some time after I immigrated to Australia.
I don’t know how that was received in Scotland, but certainly the British Council in Sydney were very disappointed as it was one of the few British contemporary arts events anyone knew about here in Australia.
So my advice is:
- Make sure you have a leader and that that leader is actively fighting for the organisation at all times
- Understand the value of what you do from outside the paradigm of your own experience
- Ensure the Board actively champions what you do and undertake their responsibilities in a timely and effective manner
7. Tell us about the type of work you undertake for arts organizations with Cultural Development Consulting? Is this largely the not-for-profit sector, or does it overlap with the private sector?
Cultural Development Consulting is something of a speculative undertaking. I am attempting to map out and work across three distinct areas: academic research; strategic planning; and content production and dissemination. I am interested in how ‘cultural communities’ develop and ‘cultural conversations’ are sustained. This is particularly important in a region such as the Asia Pacific which spans much greater cultural differences than the Atlantic. As the shift of power moves to the Pacific, we will increasingly need those cultural conversations to develop empathy between people; enough empathy to engender the will to find mutual understanding in what will surely remain significant diversity. If the 20th Century was an American Century that saw a shift towards globalised monoculture, I think the 21st will be a Pacific Century marked by respectful but sustained pluralism.
For me a cultural community is more than a community of cultural practitioners. It is the whole community engaged as active participants in a network process of creation. That is not to say all people are equally creative. What I am saying is that no-one is without creativity, unless their education has been so ‘successful’ that it has been drained from them. Here, I align with Ken Robinson’s view that the Anglophone educational system is founded on principles that specifically alienate the individual from their creative talents; undermining their confidence in themselves as creative beings and shaping them to be passive consumers and workers. That clearly makes no sense in a world of rapid change where creativity is supposedly prized.
I work with both public and private interests (not-for-profit and commercial). The aim is to be effective, and to do that one needs to understand and engage with all sectors of the cultural ecology. My principle aim is in redefining the basis for public funding for the arts to encourage cultural communities at home and inter-cultural conversations locally and globally.
You can see more about what I do here: http://culturaldevelopmentconsulting.com
8. You are also the ambassador for a consortium of photography festivals in the Asia-Pacific Region – what does this involve?
The Asia-Pacific PhotoForum (APP) is an international consortium of festivals from the Asia-Pacific region that works collaboratively to promote photographic art as a means both of artistic expression and the dissemination of ideas in a globalising world.
Here, the Asia-Pacific (within the definition employed by this group) covers Asia, Oceania and the Pacific rim, from the Middle East to the western seaboard of the Americas, from Mongolia to New Zealand.I was recently elected as an ambassador for the group, with a remit to help build alliances between photographic festivals from across the Asia-Pacific region. I want to use my wide network and extensive history in the field of photo festivals to help expand and facilitate the group. My role, as with much of my international work, is about developing and sustaining intercultural ‘conversations’. As such it is essentially catalytic. I aim to help the development of strategic and empowering relationships.
While APP is the most extensive photographic network in the region, with member festivals spanning Angkor in the west to Auckland in the east, and Pingyao in the north to Ballarat in the south, there is considerable scope for the network to expand. There is strength in being part of a broad alliance of diverse festivals. There are economies of scale in terms of programming; there is the increased power for lobbying and the sharing of experiences to the benefit of all the members.
9. You’ve obviously been to many photography festivals and portfolio review events. What do you think of the Kaunas Photo-Festival?
The advantage of Kaunas is that it is small and friendly. While the mythos of the ‘meeting place’ model is that one will find instant fame, the reality of building a career as an artist (or as a curator) lies in establishing networks. The smaller festivals tend to be less formal, friendlier and, most importantly, freer in their thinking. I am a firm believer that it is in the margins of today that the history of tomorrow is written. Metropolitan centres and the corporate machinery of larger festivals tend to inhibit the ability to be flexible or open to new ways of thinking and doing.
10. What other festivals would you recommend to a Scottish based practitioner?
I would recommend getting to as many of the smaller festivals in Europe as you can afford; certainly the UK ones at least. Format in Derby, for example, has a very high reputation. In Europe there are many. Krzysztof Candrowicz, who runs Fotofestiwal Lodz in Poland, is a very dynamic figure and the event reflects this energy and network connections. Krzysztof established the Union of European Festivals of Photography (www.festivalunion.com) which gives a portal to many of the smaller European events not included in the larger and more international Festival of Light (www.festivaloflight.net). The best bet is to check out the festival timings and, where they have one, their thematic focus. Then pick an itinerary that suits your schedule, wallet and photographic style.
Alasdair Foster is the Founder and Principal of Cultural Development Consulting (CDC) which provides a range of future-focused professional services that promote greater cultural dialogue through the visual arts. With a firm belief that art is the territory of the many and not the province of the few, CDC works to extend visual ‘conversations’ locally, nationally and internationally.
Alasdair Foster has 20 years’ experience heading national arts institutions in Europe and Australia and over 35 years of working in the public cultural sector. He was the founding director of Fotofeis, the award-winning international biennale of photo-based art in Scotland (1991–1997) and, more recently, director of the Australian Centre for Photography (1998–2011). He began his career in the documentary film industry before establishing a successful photographic business (1980-1990). He has worked as an artist, curator, writer, editor, researcher, policy advisor and commercial photographer.
This years NPS took place at Somerset House and the Stand Hotel in London as part of World Photo London. There was a great selection of panelists from an extensive section of the photographic industry, all of whom were experts in their field and throughout the symposium imparted some of their knowledge.
The first session I went to was on Archives with Jem Southam, photographer and professor in the School of Art and Media at Plymouth University, Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Central Library and Brigitte Lardinois, Deputy Director of the Photography and Archive Research Centre at University of the Arts London.
One thing that was great was learning about a lot of online resources I wasn’t aware of, which I’ll post up throughout this blog, such as the aday.org website, which Bridgette Lardinos will be, I believe, curating. Bridgette is also the co-researcher with Val Williams over at PARC who has worked with Marjolaine Ryley to create the publication for her current show at Street Level ‘Growing Up in the New Age’, which Street Level are showing and which was part of Glasgow International Festival 2012.
On the 15th of May www.aday.org asks you to pick up your camera and photograph daily life which will serve as a historical archive.
Some of the questions raised were how do we manage and preserve archives, what are the best methods as there is no industry standard? Whose archives are chosen and who’s sadly will be thrown away? On top of this we then have to consider how we select who is chosen and what the deciding factor for that should be.
One thing everyone agrees on was the need for some sort of structure to help archivists answer these questions. It’s such a massive area and it’s one of these discussions that can go on forever, because no one can have all the answers and just the actual physicality of archiving someone’s life’s work is massive and that in it’s self creates problems of space, time, finances and the man power needed to archive our photographic heritage. These are questions that Jem Southam has been researching, I don’t believe there is any of his research for me to share here but there are other great resources such as PARC. Val Williams has curated an exhibition and book with the Daniel Meadows archive. We also heard from Pete James, who is a photo historian and currently works as the head of photographs at Birmingham Central Library showed us some of his work on the Sir Benjamin Stone and Paul Hill archive. It was fantastic to see three people who were so enthused and giddy about the work they were doing even though the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away. However they all agreed how import projects such as Daniel Meadows were, showing an archive to a public audience in an exhibition helps the public engage and in turn helps with raising the profile of the archives and the importance of preserving them.
A final thing about archives that all panelists urged for is that we shouldn’t just think of them in the past and it’s not just the job of people like Bridgette or Pete but working photographers who need to ensure they prepare their work in a structured way so that it can be archived. There is a lot of discussion around the way digital has changed how to archive and preserve digital work and the important of starting now!
Source Photographic Review are doing a three month season dedicated to archives. There are interviews with John Blakemore and the London Zoo Photography archive as well as many more. Have a look here.
The second seminar I attended was on the Print Market. The panel consisted of Zelda Cheatle, Gallery Director of Margaret Street Gallery WM Hunt, collector, curator and photographic consultant and was chaired by Jeffrey Boloten, Managing Director, ArtInsight.
Jeffrey Boloten started off the discussion with some graphs and figures, showing that the photographic print market currently is doing better than the general art market. It also showed new trends in photographic print sales veering away from fine art photography towards new areas of photography that are not made directly for sale such as fashion and documentary photography, with an impressive rise in documentary photography at 500%. It also showed a emerging trends; non-Western markets namely Russia, India, China and the Middle East. One important point was that the photographic print market generates high sales when not referred to as photography but art and doesn’t sell in dedicated photography galleries but art galleries. Part of the problem of course is the perceived difference of photography and art.
Of course, Street Level is a dedicated photography gallery so then how do we generate sales from photographic prints? This is something that is ever more urgent as a means of generating other incomes with demands being made on the public purse. Should all photographers start moving from ‘photographer’ to ‘artist’ to sell their work? So we then need to look at the photographers whos work does sell and why. What are the problems that the photographic print market faces? One thing was look at the reproducibility of photography as a de-valuing factor. So what then of limited editions? Zelda Cheatle believes that this is simply a marketing tool and holds no real value but on a more positive note believes that one image printed now will be completely different and unique to one printed ten years from now, which is of course true in many respects. A final and extremely important discussion was the longevity of digital photographic prints, which then looped back around to the reproducibility and value of photographic print. Whose responsibility is it to re-print if such a thing happens. An example was given of the fading Gursky that was on show at the Tate. There seemed to be a consensus that it was too early to know for sure but what happens when we get to that point, will we all be left with blank prints?
The keynote speaker this year was Peter Kennard, whose work Street Level included in its display at Vault Art Fair. See here and here. Peter Kennard is one of the UK’s most important photo montage artists. http://www.peterkennard.com/
His talk lead nicely on to the next seminar which was on the subject of Work and the Economy. This covered how as photographers you can support yourself, working in various fields such as art, teaching, commercial. This panel was made up of Esther Teichmann, photographic artist, John Wright, portrait and fashion photographer, and board member of the Young Photographers’ Alliance and Sara T’Rula, documentary photographer.
Esther Teichmann discussed how she worked across different areas, she teaches, works on her own projects and when possible she will assist other photographers. This is one thing I’ve been told by various working photographers is to stay varied. Shutting yourself off in to just one industry can be a big downfall for photographers. She stated she had just recently gotten in to photography but had seen an opportunity last year with the Street Photography Now project which was part of the London Street Photography Festival, and she basically took over the online presences and helped co-ordinate the whole project. So straight away we have a great example of how to get on in photography. This blended in well with a discussion between John Write and Esther regarding opportunities available to photography graduates, with arguments being made about how ill-equipped photography students are when they leave their photography course. John sighted Blackpool and the Fylde College as an example of one photography course that seems to have struck a good balance between technical, critical discourse and preparing students for working in the industry but both agreed that there was some issues with the graduates coming from photography courses, a main one being the high percentage of people doing photography and the amount of jobs out there. Staying on the topic of opportunities for graduate photographers – internships were discussed. John Wright runs an internship programme and made the point when questioned on the ethics of internships and un-paid work experience that if someone takes up an internship they need to really question what they are getting from it and if nothing, then they should leave. There is a lot that can be gained in internships in place of money and it’s up to the people doing it to be savvy and ensure they are getting valuable experience from it.
The final seminar I attended was on Collaboration. The panel consisted of Anna Fox, photographer and Professor of Photography, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham; Anthony Luvera, artist, writer and educator and was chaired by Anne McNeill, Director, Impressions Gallery, Bradford.
I thought the discussion would focus on ways organisations could collaborate more heavily but was more focused on other collaborations and partnerships in the sense of sponsorship when Anne talked about Ways of Looking Festival for example, they sourced money from different places such as hotels who gave free rooms or local printers who printed up exhibitions for them in place of cash donations.
The second example of collaboration was with Anna Fox who discussed how her university had set up an exchange programme between UCA, Farnham and IDC, India. They showed how the students worked collaboratively to create work which resulted in an exhibition and produced a network of photographers who have continued working collaboratively after the end of their formal education.
The most interesting presentation on collaboration came from Anthony Luvera. I’d seen his work while I was studying and so it was really interesting to get more insight in to how the final project came about. If you haven’t seen his work, have a look here: http://www.luvera.com/. He worked with homeless people to create a project titled, ‘Assisted Self-Portraits’. His project and his work are very interesting in the way he approaches working with a vulnerable group of people but he has managed to actively involve participants to create their own images and to create their own stories. On his website it states,
Luvera explores the tension between authorship (and artistic control), and the ethics involved in making photographs about other people’s lives.’
The work he has done is a great example of how to work with people on collaborative projects and create a project that is devoid of stereotypes.
So I hope I’ve given you some insight in to the weekend. There was a lot of fantastic, insightful and well argued discussion from a broad range of people working within photography. A big thanks to Paul Herrmann of Redeye for keeping discussions focused and on cue. The weekend was wrapped up with Photography Question Time which again raised a lot of questions and we spent a good bit of time going over ethics and morals within photography. There were a few seminars I didn’t get to because they ran parallel but all audio is going online at the NPS blog at some point in the next week I believe. http://redeye.org.uk
In late March I travelled to Budapest with Aitch (aka Peter Haining) to look out hundreds of single page artworks covering several years of the DATA project – to scan and bring back the digital simulacra on a Hard Drive for a show at Street Level in April. Jet2 fly relatively cheap flights out of Edinburgh – though these have went up recently since their budget Hungarian airline competitors went bust in March – and there are a number of hostels that provide exceptionally cheap accommodation, should that be your mode of preference. So if you buy your food to cook yourself you can live there probably cheaper than you do at home. Across the street from where I am staying, the old and the new blend – new buildings retain the magnificent architectural features of the old, which remain pock marked with bullet holes, either from WWII or the Uprising in 1956.
The project in question is DATA – Daily Action Time Archive, run by Dundee artist, Pete Horobin which involved documenting 10 years of his life on a daily basis, from 1st January 1980 to 31st December 1989, using art, films, audio recordings, journals, photography and a few other methods to construct a detailed time capsule of a decade. The project was based in The Attic, at 37 Union Street, Dundee, a laboratory visited only by a select few who he collaborated with, locally and from many national and international locations. The Attic Archive closed down in 2011, the contents of which have since been distributed far & wide – the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Dundee University Libraries, but the most of this now resides in the incredible archive which is Artpool in the centre of Budapest.
Artpool Art Research Centre is a non-profit institution located in the centre of Budapest, and it is dedicated to contemporary avant-garde media arts and it houses a public library, multimedia archives, and an exhibition space. It draws upon the extensive archive directly relating to the experiences of Gyorgy Galantai, who had previously founded the Chapel Studio in Balantonboglar (1970-73). Its collection includes books, magazines, documents, invites, catalogues, correspondence etc relating to the Hungarian avant-garde and also conceptual, performance, fluxus and mail art networks in Europe, America and the some from the UK (including Robin Crozier, Andre Stitt, and Peter Haining/DATA). They have a substantial collection of artists stamps, artists books, audio works, cassettes, etc and also a huge collection of Hungarian banned punk music from the late 70s. It has emanated from practice and from the strong relationships built through international networks. In other words it considers itself as an ‘Active Archive’ which means it ‘lives’ and it creates a lot of the material through activities which it archives. They have collections of material by Antonio Muntadas, John Cage and Ray Johnson, and hundreds more. It was first set up on 1979, but since 1992 it has operated from its current location with an increased international reputation and annual support from the Municipal Council – the latter however happens on a year-by-year basis, with no guarantee of sustained funding. Coincidentally, Gyorgy pops his head in the door of the room we are doing the research to announce that today (Tuesday 21st March) is their 20th anniversary of being in the current space. There’s no party as such. They are currently in negotiation with some bodies concerning the possibility of the State taking responsibility for the archive as a publicly accessible resource (as straightforward as that sounds, many archive collections can be inaccessible).
I give them some material and ask for a Scottish section to be entered into their inventory for future researchers – these books include Transmission’s publication, ‘Social Sculpture’ by Sarah Lowndes, The Mag.Net Reader, Free Association, plus some collected brochures of Street Level. I also give them a copy of ‘This Cannot Happen Without You: the collected archives of the Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus +’. I point out that the Basement Group was the main port of call for performance artists in the period of the late 70s and that their archive is worth being aware of (Locus + have the archive of Alastair MacLennan, for example, another Duncan of Jordanstone ‘alumni’ from the dark days of Scottish art!).
There are connections between Scotland and Budapest. In 1849 the Chain Bridge, which was Budapest’s first bridge across the Danube, was completed. At the commencement of the build, its chief engineer Adam Clark, a Scotsman, had asked for English language church services to be held for his workers and their families during the several years build. A school was started in 1846, funded by Jewish Christians. In 1932, a Scottish church missionary named Jane Haining became matron of a school’s girls’ home. There was growing anti-Semitism throughout Central Europe at this time and at the start of the war in 1939 she returned to look after the welfare of the mainly Jewish girls. She was asked to return to Scotland by the church but refused, on a few occasions it is said. She was arrested in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz where she died a few months later. Her crime was helping Jewish children and listening to the BBC.
On the way home, I’m slightly anxious at customs – Aitch has already shared several stories of raising some eyebrows with officials, including a frozen trout and a bag of freshly harvested carrots from a field, in his bag going into Belfast, a first for customs officers I am told. He has also managed to create a security alert at the small airport in Shetlands. This time I have to take his camping kettle and knife in my check-in luggage. He is returning with a bag containing the original blood pressure kit he used throughout the 80s in the DATA project – a rather suspect looking piece of equipment in any x-ray scan.
Malcolm and I made a trip to Manchester to meet with Paul Herrman the Director of Redeye The Photography Network. We had a great discussion on organisational issues and how and in what ways photography advocacy organisations like both of ours can raise more cash from our endeavors. Paul discussed some of the challenges faced by small arts organisations and how the wide- spread economic situation has created a new set of pressures. One noticeable characteristic of Redeye is its enterprising approach, and how they have a plan in place to reduce dependency on ACE funding to 40% of overall income in the next 10 years. This is an ambition many small organisations will find difficult to achieve, but a productive strategy towards increased self-sufficiency.
Based in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, Redeye has an office space within the Chinese Arts Centre. It is made up of 4 staff: Paul Herrman (Director), Alex Hodby (Administrator), Petra van den Houten (Business Development) and Mark Devereux (Events Co-ordinator); a Board of Directors who meet quarterly and an Advisory Group who meet annually to advise on programme direction. According to Redeye’s website, its purpose is to support photographers at every level, and improve the health of photography generally. It aims to form a clear picture of the ways photographers and photographic artists are working now, and give them access to events, opportunities, advice and information that are relevant to their work and difficult to find elsewhere. Alongside this it works to bring photographic and other organisations together, to encourage ethical and best practice, and to build a voice for photography.
Currently, you can either be a Subscriber or Member of Redeye. To be a Subscriber is free and means you will receive monthly e-newsletters and can submit events, exhibitions and opportunities to the Redeye website, as well as contribute to forums. As a Member you get all of the above plus discounts on all Redeye activities, priority booking at Redeye events, up to 25% off equipment rental, studio hire and other services, invitation to members–only events, exclusive information and invitations for commissions and bursaries and an online profile page to showcase your work. A Membership costs £50/ year or £30 for students. Currently Redeye has 40 to 50 members: as their membership scheme is fairly new they anticipate this growing.
Redeye delivers masterclasses, talks, workshops, portfolio critiques, seminars and an annual symposium: most of which are charged to the audiences, helping Redeye cover the costs of such events. Redeye also receives income from Arts Council England, sponsorship, membership fees, consultancy and general fundraising. Recently, they have made forays into team- building photography days with commercial businesses. The Director Paul Herrman believes there is mileage in these types of activities for generating more income for Redeye. Crucially, as Redeye only has a small office space the organisation relies on strong partnerships to deliver its events, working with galleries, universities and other photographic arts organisations.
Redeye recently built a new website http://redeye.org.uk which acts as an interactive platform for its Subscribers and Members. The News and Opportunities section lists UK wide news related to photography, while the Portfolios pages allow Members to upload their work, the Forum pages encourage discussion and the Opinion pages give ‘guest opinions’ a chance to explore a topic in more detail. As Redeye doesn’t have a physical venue the website is essential as the ‘shop front’ signposting users, and creating a virtual meeting place to gel the network together.
Visited Autograph for a meeting with Mark Sealy (Autograph Director), Ajamu (artist and curator) and Deborah Cherry (writer and academic) regarding a partnership project focusing on the work and legacy of Maud Sulter. Maud was a Glaswegian artist, writer, playwright and culture historian who was active around feminist communities in London in the early 1980s, and a life long advocate of black women’s creativity. Amongst a prolific body of work, she has used a variety of conventions from portraiture to question ‘national’ heritage and the history of colonialism. The project is being developed by Ajamu and Deborah through Street Level and Autograph, and it is hoped other institutions will be brought in to the project as partners in the exhibition in 2014. It will be a fantastic opportunity to revisit and re-present some of Maud’s key works and celebrate her photographic projects. Other partner institutions are hoped to be involved.
“Notable works by Sulter include Zabat (1987; London, V&A), a series of Cibachrome photographic portraits of contemporary black artists, musicians and writers, posed as a theatre of ancient muses; Syrcas (1994; Wrexham and Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh), a set of montages and texts linking the horrors of African slavery with the European persecution of minorities in the 1930s and 1940s; Jeanne Duval: a melodrama (2003; Scottish National Portrait Gallery). This last was a series of self-portraits as Baudelaire’s muse, Jeanne Duval, recovering an almost invisible presence in a way that only Sulter could have carried off, with her beauty, sensuality, confidence and ability to dramatise a situation.
She was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to photograph several children’s writers, and used a special Polaroid machine which produced 20″ x 24″ photographs. This was also the medium for a series of portraits she made of Scottish cultural figures in the summer of 2002, and 10 of her portraits of writers were toured round Scotland by the Scottish Poetry Library in 2003-4.
Glasgow acquired the splendid portrait of Edwin Morgan from this series.
As well as her academic writing, she published several collections of poetry: As a Blackwoman (1985), which won the Vera Bell Prize for poetry that year; Zabat (1989); and Sekhmet (Dumfries & Galloway Council, 2005); and a play about Jerry Rawlings, Service to Empire (2002). “I often address issues of lost and disputed territories, both psychological and physical,” she wrote in 1994. “The central body of my poetic work is unequivocally the love poetry which is addressed to both genders.” Sekhmet begins with a roll-call of love and gratitude to friends, lovers, family across the world, to medics, and to the ancestors, “who walked beside me when I needed them most and carried me forward when the terrain was too rough but never absolve me of the responsibility for my own life and identity”.
Knowle West Media Centre is an exemplar organisation negotiating the complex intersection of community, art and social/ economic regeneration. Knowle West (an estate of 6,500 households) is an area of Bristol, which, according to KWMC’s Annual Report, faces high poverty, unemployment, poor mental and physical health and educational under-achievement. KWMC began in 1997 as a temporary photography project and has since developed to become nationally recognised; personally, I felt one of its strengths lies in employing some of its staff from the area, deepening the sense of engagement and understanding of the local context.
KWMC is now housed in an award winning, purpose built centre designed by local young people. KMWC’s team involved the community as much as possible during the planning process in order that they didn’t become isolated by the changes; with a new, larger- scale building on the community’s doorstep, they wanted to avoid the perception that the centre was ‘no longer for them’. The building, made with eco-friendly materials, is a huge asset to the terrific work of the centre: with extensive space and production facilities for exhibitions, video, sound and learning.
We had the opportunity to meet a number of staff members who gave their time to explain the operational/artistic arrangements at KWMC. There is a vast range of work being carried out, and it is obvious that as well as delivering a very strong education and arts programme they also have an enterprising spirit, which reflects the history of the centre. Only recently it was announced that KWMC would become an Arts Council England portfolio organisation, highlighting that KWMC has been very proactive in identifying ways of earning income. They have been sustaining themselves since the outset, adding to project grants through office space hire, doing web/ graphic design, consultancy work and workshops/ courses for schools.
Carolyn Hassan, the centre’s Director, told us about the new 6-month training programme for staff, named Somewhere Else. Born out of supporting the transition to an ACE portfolio organisation, it was deemed necessary that staff felt confident in the language and debates associated with the arts. With many staff not coming from a ‘traditional’ arts background it was decided that a bespoke series of talks and discussions was needed to promote confidence within the team. The programme will also lead towards the creation of a 3-year arts strategy; gathering input from across the organisation, as they feel a non-hierarchical approach is particularly important to KWMC.
The diverse arts and education programme at KWMC is very interesting. One of their obvious strengths is the wide variety of partners they have developed, including with Arnolfini, Watershed and Pervasive Media Studios, University of Bristol and also the University of West of England; alongside Local Authority, regional and community organisations. While we were at KWMC various members of staff told us about the youth programme, the recording studio, exhibitions, Green and Digital Neighbourhoods- a programme promoting the social, economic and environmental benefits of digital technology; Whose Data?- a project exploring new and innovative ways in which ‘live’ data can be represented to benefit local people; as well their recent project with internationally renowned artist Suzanne Lacy known for her exploration of social and urban issues .
There was some obvious links with Street Level’s Red Road Community Studio; (include live link -
as well as similar challenges in how you move between notions of activism, ‘high-art’, socially engaged practice, community cohesion and regeneration agendas. These challenges are also evident within the funding frameworks, especially as both KWMC and RRCS work across sectors, i.e. both within an arts and community context straddling the myriad of aims and objectives their funders require to be fulfilled. KWMC made the point that learning the language of the different sectors is ongoing and can make monitoring, evaluating and reporting complex. Interestingly, they have recently spent a great deal of time developing a project management system that will help them more expediently assess their core indicators of success.