Having a word with… Les Monaghan

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Les Monaghan is a photographer based in Doncaster. His interest is in society, with a particular interest in those that are deprived and affected by recent changes in political policy. His current project, Relative Property is an investigation into a few of the more than a million people that are living in destitution in the UK today. His aim is to engage with and truthfully represent  a subject that is continuously misrepresented in mainstream media, in order to make the public aware of the struggles that millions more in poverty are moving closer to facing on a daily basis.

Where did you study photography?

I took photos as a kid and they all had camera shake. At Doncaster Art College studying graphic design I enjoyed the dark room and printing (I was mediocre), the teacher was uninspiring but he did get excited about an essay I wrote on Tim Page – the only interesting book I remember in the library. I didn’t go to Uni till much later, I studied on the fantastic (and now defunct) History of Film, Photography and Graphic Media. Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Tagg’s The Burden of Representation were the core of the course. Two modules were with John Taylor, Uses of Photography I and II, it was awesome, he’d already published A Dream of England and we saw the research for Bodyhorror. John Taylor’s thinking has probably filtered into most of my work. I did a Practice module, we had tasters  and then I chose a couple of years worth of photography. We didn’t get anything like the help that you would expect – it was solely tutorials – but my tutor did note that I had ‘an eye’. I would take 3 to 4 monographs home a week; Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Chauncey Hare, Chris Killip, John Davies, Peter Fraser, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Bill Owens, Karen Knorr, John Kippin and Victor Burgin are who stuck in my head.

What inspires you to create your work?

Inspiration is from what I see and what bothers me, I got particularly aggrieved by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on destitution published last Spring, and by the reaction it did and didn’t get. That anger sustains me even now, as the Relative Poverty project drags on.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

The scene is what it is, the people who would get ahead in any other business or industry get ahead. A friend once said to me, “there are so many great photographers we haven’t heard about”, I think he’s right.

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What format do you like to shoot in and why?

Like most people my age I started in 35mm film, from press days I was always pushing film. I tried some medium format but I’ve been happy with the practical quality of DSLR since 2010, Nikons are pretty good in low light.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

Relative Poverty takes most of my time currently but its been a struggle to fund, so I continue to take community based work and I’m grateful that there still is some to be had. Today I spent an hour or so with one of my families shooting as we walked through town. Tomorrow I have some commissioned portraits to make. Wednesday I’ll spend the morning with one family and the afternoon with another.

Images from Relative Poverty and The Desire Project (2015-16).

You can follow Les on his blog here:

http://lesmonaghan.blogspot.co.uk

and follow and support Relative Poverty here:

http://www.relativepoverty.org/

 

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Having a word with… Stuart Pilkington

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Stuart Pilkington is an art photographer and curator based in the United Kingdom and a member of Documenting Britain.

Where did you study photography?

I’m one of those people who has learnt photography outside of a formal education.  I was clueless as to what I wanted to be when I was a youngster and so I ended up in stifling office jobs and feeling on a certain road to nowhere. So when I bought a 35mm SLR at the age of 27 I set about slowly teaching myself photography.  I attended a few night classes but my main education has come from reading books about image making, watching YouTube videos by people like Soth and Hido and asking questions of photographers whose work I love.

What inspires you to create your work?

I think it’s important to be on a path to somewhere in life and it doesn’t matter what that path is.  So I now finally, (it took me a long while to get going), do two things, I work on a long term photography project once a week and I try and go out with my digital camera every day to flex my muscles and make images for Instagram. I want to get better and better at photography and the only way to do that is go out regularly and shoot, shoot, shoot. It’s not only about play and enjoyment, it’s also about problem solving, asking yourself ‘why didn’t that work?’ or even the opposite question ‘why was that successful?’. It’s a never ending conveyor belt of learning but it’s not an experience similar to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill it just means that you can keep at it well into your dotage and keep a twinkle in your eye.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

I think it’s burgeoning like most other countries in the world.  Apparently there has been an upswing in people doing photography courses in colleges and universities. Through social media I have connections with a few pockets like Falmouth and Brighton but I know there’s stacks out there. And the quality of work by these students is phenomenal. As for emerging and emerged photographers there is a plethora of excellence out there too. Obviously London is where many gravitate to but there’s a wonderful bunch up in Scotland and also Wales. And then there are these wonderful event organisers like Miniclick, Photo Forum and Photographers Dining Club who put on talks and events. Document Scotland, Documenting Britain and A Fine Beginning are great examples of collectives too.  However, I suspect I have only scratched the surface – there’s a whole undercurrent that I’m not aware of.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I would love to shoot in large format, however, it’s too prohibitive for me cost wise so I use my medium format 6×6 camera instead. I bought my Wista and Hasselblad after emailing Erika Larsen and Kate Hutchinson and asking them what cameras they used. I just love film, the alchemy of light on film is still a marvel to me, even though I haven’t mastered it yet. I do go out with my digital SLR to do the Instagram work but I think I will always shoot in film with future long term projects. I like the challenge of the square format, it’s a whole new set of problems to solve when considering how to compose etc. Eventually, I would love to understand how photographers like Clare Hewitt and Laura Hynd play with a Vermeer light in their square format portraits. I have a long way to go before I’m a fraction of the way there.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

I’m a lot busier these days making my own images but when I’m not doing that I’m curating my group project entitled The Swap. That should end two years after it started in August this year. I’m also busy trying to formulate a book of The Swap and speaking with printers and the like. Other than that I am administering the first Pilkington Prize which is a landscape photography competition this year and I’m setting up a photography agency with sixteen photographers on board. So it’s a combination of snapping the shutter, thinking time, curating and admin.

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Could you tell us about the photos you have shared with us?

I stopped the woman by the yellow door only to discover that she couldn’t speak English but we navigated through that and the image was taken. It was one of those moments where I saw her walking towards the yellow door and I thought “hmmm that green in her dress would go well”. I could have let the moment go but instead I grabbed it and was pleased to see afterwards that the door had a shadow on the floor in the form of a different shade of pavement.

The man with the hoodie by the green door was my attempt to slightly represent the fashions of today. There are a number of hipsters and hoodies in my images. I like the fact that the sunshine gave a different light quality to this one and he looks like he’s rising from the ground.

The four girls by the plinths were in Ellesmere Port. I hadn’t a clue what they were doing when I looked into the ground glass and when I pressed the shutter. It’s only when I got the image back from the lab that I was chuffed with their poses. The people in the images are probably more responsible for a successful image that I am – they often like to play about.

http://www.stuartpilkington.co.uk/

Stuart’s work is currently on show as part of Fèis presents Documenting Britain at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Scotland from 25th April to 23rd May.

http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/event/feis_documenting_britain

Having a word with… Melanie Friend

-® Melanie Friend-courtesy Impressions Gallery. Tank rides, Abingdon, Oxon, 3 May 2009 RGB

Melanie Friend is an English photographer with a long professional history in the medium. Melanie initially worked in journalism and has worked on gallery orientated projects since the 1990s. A solo show, The Home Front is currently touring the UK with Impressions Gallery.

Where did you study photography?

I studied for a part-time BA Photography 1984-88 at the Polytechnic of Central London (which became University of Westminster) when I was already freelancing. In 1999-2000 I studied part-time again on the MA Photography run by Anne Williams at the London College of Printing (now LCC, part of University of the Arts London).

What inspires you to create your work?

Anger at injustice has been a strong inspiration over the years. In the 1990s I focused on the violence in Kosovo (when it was effectively a police state); then I moved on to look at immigration detention in the UK. Much of my work has focused on conflict in one way or another. I’m more interested nowadays in focusing on subjects closer to home, and themes have expanded. The ‘creative process’ is unnerving at times, but I like the intensity & fulfillment of letting my ideas develop over a long period of time, while maintaining overall focus and direction. I get inspired by on-the-ground encounters, experiences and observations, backed up by research & reading. I’m open to inspirations from different sources (e.g. a 19th century engraving, a thread from an earlier project, a news story, a film, a poem).

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

It’s incredibly vibrant but very tough financially for photographers & practitioners/artists these days. It wasn’t easy when I started out in the 1980s but there were fewer photographers trying to earn a living; we got much higher freelance day rates and reproduction fees for the ‘bread-and-butter’ work.  In 1986 I joined the photography agency Format, which was originally a cooperative and a very supportive network of women photographers. (I joined Panos later on, in addition). It’s great seeing new collectives or groups of photographers springing up now – sometimes friends who graduated from the same BA/MA course. I took on hourly paid teaching work in the 1990s and now I am a senior lecturer (part time) at University of Sussex. Right now it’s difficult to publish a book with a photography publisher or get a gallery show owing to the production costs, competition, pinched budgets & public sector austerity cuts affecting galleries/museums. On the positive side, today there are more festivals, grants, portfolio reviews & prizes out there, and opportunities to self-publish and to publish online. It feels like an entrepreneurial & inspiring scene, although much of it is dependent on enthusiastic volunteer labour!

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I work with medium format film at the moment and I photographed The Home Front, on a Mamiya 7 II rangefinder. I used a Fuji 6cm x 9cm rangefinder for Border Country, the preceding project. After seeing the processed film, I get a small selection of negs scanned. I like the quality & design of the Mamiya particularly, and that in good light outside I can hand-hold it, and dispense with lugging around a tripod. The Mamiya is lighter (& cheaper) than a digital equivalent. Since my mid 30s I’ve had chronic back/neck stuff going on, and so it suits me better. It’s good to have both negatives & high res scans for my archive too.

I like to work with as little equipment as possible and to focus on looking and waiting – for the right light, for what works. I am also a bit addicted to the mystery of not knowing exactly what I’m ‘getting’. I love going to the lab to collect my processed film: feeling that anticipation and uncertainty, being surprised sometimes by the results. Seeing immediately what you’ve got on the playback screen on the back of a digital camera just doesn’t have that edge; but digital cameras have a lot of flexibility and are more economic if you’re shooting large numbers of images. I use a Lumix for research photos & holidays, and my iPhone camera.

-® Melanie Friend, The Home Front, Red Arrows at Clacton, low res

An exhibition, The Home Front was shown at DLI (Durham Light Infantry) Museum & Art Gallery) following a show at Impressions Gallery in Bradford last year. Could you tell me a little about that? 

In autumn 2013 The Home Front exhibition, curated by Pippa Oldfield, opened at Impressions in Bradford as a solo show, and Impressions Gallery are now touring it. This autumn it was shown at DLI Museum & Art Gallery (Durham) and is showing at UH Galleries (Hertfordshire) 14 November 2014 – 31 January 2015.  The Home Front book was published in 2013 by Dewi Lewis Publishing in association with Impressions Gallery. It is an accompanying publication rather than a catalogue of the show, with essay by curator Pippa Oldfield, and foreword by Hilary Roberts of the Imperial War Museum.

Much of my earlier work used still images with sound; but The Home Front comprises still images only. It focuses on air shows and on the normalization of war in our culture. I took the photographs over four air show ‘seasons’ 2009-12. I’ve written about this on my website and am about to write about the work for a journal so I am keeping this brief. Here’s the URL for my website page on The Home Front and the link to the Impressions Gallery page:

http://www.melaniefriend.com/thehomefront/

http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=57

My next project, Standing By, is closer to home and focusing on my parents. I have shown it as work-in-progress at two conferences to date. It’s a sound-led installation piece I started way back in 2000, & uses still images taken from several sources: my Lumix, iPhone, 35mm and medium format photos, & scans from family albums. Another project is in the pipeline but is at the ideas stage right now.

www.melaniefriend.com

Images – Top: Tank rides at Abingdon Air and Country Show, Dalton Barracks, Oxfordshire, 3 May 2009. © Melanie Friend/courtesy Impressions Gallery.

Bottom: Hawk T1 military trainers (Red Arrows), Clacton Air Show, Essex, 26 August 2010. © Melanie Friend/courtesy Impressions Gallery.

 

Melanie’s book, The Home Front is available now from Dewi Lewis Publishing:
The Home Front cover for Alex

 

Having a word with… Blazej Marczak

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Blazej Marczak is a Polish photographer living in Aberdeen who specialises in portrait and documentary photography. Since 2012 he has been working on a long-term project entitled Neighbours in which he interacts with the locality around him and creates beautiful portraits of individuals and families in their own homes. He began his project in Edinburgh and has continued in Aberdeen since moving there. The series reflects contemporary life in Scotland and a multicultural society that has been in place for generations. He also continues to document Aberdeen and its people in his most recent project, The Grey City. Marczak’s photographs reflect his acute awareness of his surroundings and document contemporary life and landscapes at a pivotal time in Scotland’s history.

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Where did you study photography?

I studied at Stevenson College, Edinburgh and received my BA from the University of Abertay, Dundee.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I use full frame digital as this is a format that I can afford at the moment. I also love digital for its accessibility, and the low cost of use after the initial investment in a camera. I think all formats are good; it all depends on what you want to use them for. I would love to move to large format in the future as I like the rigour, the flow of working with the format and the possibility to print large without losing quality. I am using a D800 at the moment as this camera is the best body available to me for large prints from digital files.

What inspires you to take your photos?

It could be anything from a book, a chat with someone I know or someone who I just met on the street. It could be a word in a dictionary, a link to an article which I discovered in Google by coincidence. A turning to a street that I wasn’t on before. A statistical data sheet, or a painting.

How do you feel about the photography scene in Scotland today?

I know many photographers that are making excellent work and are in love with the medium. Of course, I don’t know about all of them as I am just at the beginning of my career. We have some amazing exhibitions in Scotland from time to time for sure, but I think photography as an art form is unrepresented. This is a general trend, not only in Scotland.
Unfortunately the majority of photographers have to be careful and watch the terms & conditions all the time with their pictures, as many galleries, organisations and publications are constantly trying to take advantage of their love and dedication to the medium.
Unfortunately this comes from both lesser and more established organisations. Many of them are shouting about being dedicated to photography and to being supportive for photographers, but at the same time they are relying on unpaid internships, which are mostly targeting recent graduates who can’t afford to work for free.
We can only influence the photography scene by doing the things we love and by taking a part in the activities we believe in.
By refusing to undertake unpaid jobs – falsely described as “opportunities” – and pointing out our reasons so that we can help ourselves and others in the creative industries.

My favourite place to enjoy photography is the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh which is really getting better and better, but I think we need more independent places. They seem to pop up from time to time and are offering great shows but unfortunately some of them don’t stay around for long. I used to love The Institute in Edinburgh but it is gone now.
Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow is great and Peacock Art Centre in Aberdeen is also featuring some good photographic shows time to time.

I am often getting the impression that photography as an art form is still undervalued, especially by private galleries and it is not treated as an independent art form.

It is also hard to convince the owners to show photographic prints to their audience and make them buy them.
The possibility of unlimited photographic reproduction could be behind their decisions but we have to remember that even art work in bronze, prints etc. were possible to be reproduced in many quantities over centuries. On the other hand, I am very happy to see that the independent book scene is flourishing. I think that, despite all of the challenges, we are fortunate to live in a golden age of photography. Rapid change in technology has made a huge influence on how photography is published and distributed, but we – the young photographers – have to find our own place in this constantly changing photography environment.

bmarczak.com

Having a word with… Café Royal Books & Craig Atkinson

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Craig Atkinson is an artist and lecturer at UCLan in Preston. He has become increasingly well known in photography circles for his series of photo books, published under Café Royal Books; they have recently featured photographers such as Hugh Hood, Jim Mortram and Phil Maxwell.

As well as publishing and promoting other photographers in this beautifully presented series, Atkinson takes pictures himself. A continuing subject for him is Preston Bus Station, which is also the subject of his most recent publication, Preston Bus Station Exit Town Centre.

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Craig was kind enough to answer a few questions for BITE:

Where did you study?

I studied Fine Art to Masters level. I kind of found myself on that path and stuck to it. I don’t regret it, I think there is a lot of room within ‘fine art’ to manoeuvre and explore. My work has changed a lot since graduating. I did my degree at Leeds Met and my Masters at UCLan in Preston, which is where I’m now a lecturer.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I like taking pictures, and I like editing. So really anything is good. On the other hand I’m into tech and gadgets and testing things. At present it’s all digital. I like the freedom digital allows – purists will hate me! I like to shoot and edit and then sleep on things for a while before doing any more. I love film like I love printmaking but the processes are too slow for me. The way I do use film is my ‘Someone Else’s’ series, where I use film that’s left undeveloped in 35mm cameras.

What inspires you to create your photographs?

I like recording. I like control. I like the fact you can press a button and keep what you see. It becomes more important, perhaps, when the thing you can see no longer exists, so the photograph becomes an historical record. So I collect, hoard, record, document – whatever you might call it. I am a collector naturally I think, but I have a very hard edged minimalist side too which really battles with the collector. Digital images are great to collect, they take no room!

What inspires you to create photobooks?

Initially I wanted a way of exhibiting work quickly, that was easy to disseminate, affordable to make and buy, collectable and very well produced, leaving the production, in general, to someone else.

I used to paint big heavy abstracts, so it’s all a kind of response and opposite to that process.

I like to publish books that are a little like old National Trust type leaflets. Kind of informative precious little things. They started as zines but I don’t really see them as zines any more. I’m not sure why, perhaps they are less DIY. I see them as small books.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the North today?

I don’t really know. It’s strange really, I’m not into scenes. I like to make the work I want to make; if it falls into a scene, style, place etc it’s accidental. I work with photographers from all over the world so I’m not much good with specific local knowledge! UK photography seems to be very London centric, as does UK creativity. It shouldn’t be, it’s just a hangover from earlier last century I guess with the big art schools. I like living and working in the North though, it gives me more room and London is only a train ride away. Scenes though, I don’t know, I’m sure there must be lots happening somewhere. Liverpool have some good shows, Bluecoat, Open Eye…’Soft Estate’ at Bluecoat is excellent.

www.caferoyalbooks.com

www.craigatkinson.co.uk

Having a word with… Paul Kenny

© Paul Kenny

Over the years Paul Kenny has photographed and paid close attention to details in the landscape around him. His approach has fundamentally been a photographic process; however, his artistic nature has led him to explore and evolve his techniques over time, much like his own creations. Like a barnacle attached to its own ecosystem, he has returned again and again to the North-East coastal regions of England, the Scottish Highlands, and more recently to Ireland, to explore and unearth the “awe-inspiring in that which is easily passed by”. Developing his own technique by dripping small amounts of sea-water onto plates and letting them dry over a period of days, he has constructed a series of stunning tidal and celestial images, using flotsam and other natural elements he has found in his environment. The camera has become less important for Paul Kenny, yet his work is as clear and beautiful as his vision.

Born and educated in Salford, in the Northwest of England, Paul Kenny completed his Fine Art Degree at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1975.
In 2004 he returned to North Northumberland where he now lives and works not far from Holy Island with his wife Margaret.

Paul Kenny was kind enough to answer a few questions for BITE:

Where did you study photography?

I did a degree in a Fine Art in Newcastle. There was a photography room with equipment, the Ilford Manual of Photography and a monthly subscription to some great magazines.

I’m pretty much self taught.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

The Epson V700 is the image capture device of choice right now, because it makes the images I want to.

What inspires you to create your photographs?

The urge to communicate not only what I see in the world, but also what I think.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the North today?

I’m not sure where you mean by north. There seems to be a lot of interesting people collected around the North East… but in general there is an overwhelming amount of photography around.

Grayson Perry in his Reith lectures said something to the effect that “we are drowning in a sea of photography” and I sympathise with that view. This image taken at the unveiling of Pope Francis speaks volumes and is scary in its own way.

A lot of photographers need to remember, it’s only a medium like oil, paint or charcoal, it’s limited; it’s only as good as the mind of the person manipulating and using that medium.

© Paul Kenny

paul-kenny.co.uk

Paul Kenny is represented by Beetles + Huxley Gallery, London.

Having a word with… Al Palmer

Seeing Al Palmer’s photographs for the first time is like stepping into a world devoid of human life. His landscapes of neglect appear both lonesome and wild, yet are imbued with a stark serenity. Palmer photographs mostly in the North-East, capturing bleak disused industrial sites and abandoned homes.

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Palmer has exhibited widely in the UK and USA and is also a joint winner of the Hearst 8×10 contest, 2013. As well as photographing, he publishes fantastic photography books and zines as Brown Owl Press, also based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Al Palmer was kind enough to answer a few questions for BITE:

Where did you study photography?

I’m a fine art graduate. I mostly painted until the second year when there was a course trip to Barcelona. We visited the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and there was a retrospective of a photographer whose work I’d never seen before. It was Robert Frank. I knew then what I wanted to do. From then on I photographed more and painted less until photography was all I did.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

For long-term project based work, I mostly shoot with medium format cameras. For essays and stories (as well as commercial work) I used a variety of equipment, both film and digital. They’re just tools.

What inspires you to take your photos?

My work is primarily relating and reacting to the man-made landscape. It can veer between topographic documentary studies and more poetic narrative-based works.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the North today?

I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask about the North having a photography scene. My profile is higher in the US than in the UK, I barely exhibit here and don’t know too many other photographers in the North. There’s certainly not the scene that, say, Brighton has which is absolutely buzzing currently. Newcastle does have the Side Gallery focusing on documentary photography and PH Space (which is part of the NewBridge Project) which is a fine art photography space. The NewBridge Project have just opened an artists bookshop called NewBridge Books. What the North does have is space for people to work; it’s cheaper to be here than London so photographers can turn their lens on the lesser seen at their own pace.

www.alpalmer.co.uk

www.brownowlpress.com