Image from Jeremy Deller's Poking About project, which he created working with Bradford Museums and Galleries' archive. Image © Bradford Museums and Galleries.
Jeremy Deller has worked with film, posters, brass bands and reenactment societies, but Bradford Museums and Galleries invited him to look through its photographic archive for an exhibition called Poking About. Using Victorian glass plate negatives, portraits from the now-defunct Belle Vue Studio, snapshots collected by the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit and the Telegraph and Argus local newspaper, he's built an intriguing look at the local population over the last 150 years. The exhibition is on show at the Bradford 1 gallery until 27 November but it was included in the Ways of Looking festival so BJP caught up with him shortly after the opening to find out more.
BJP: How did you put together the project?
JD: I had no idea of the theme when I was working on the project, I just went to the archives and looked at what was interesting to me. The Belle Vue Studio was of great importance, it’s an incredible document, but they’re also fantastic portraits. They were just gold really - I probably could have taken any 50 images and made a good show.
I liked the fact the daguerreotypes were these very simple portraits – they’ve been around for 100 years but nothing has really changed that much. In general I think daguerreotypes are amazing objects, I can’t believe how cheaply you can still pick them up at flea markets. It shows how undervalued photography still is.
I included the images from local newspapers because they are the archive of the future, it’s work that becomes more over time, and local papers document local life. I was also interested in that style of local newspaper photography – it seems that people are always looking directly at the camera and annoyed about something. I also picked out images from the Bradford Recording Unit [which collected locals' photographs and oral history from 1983-2003].
There’s no overall concept to what I’ve done, I was literally poking about, but all the images show local people from the last 150 years. Some of the people in the daguerreotypes might have known the Brontes, I found that kind of amazing. What’s interesting about the older portraits is how formal they are, even in the 1950s and 60s. People struck poses, it was a serious business.
BJP: Why did you choose to cut the local newspaper photographs out of the papers?
JD: I wanted to find a way of showing how all the pictures work, [and to do so] I felt I needed to take the pictures and not the text.
BJP: What do you think about the fact your name is on the exhibition, although you didn’t take any of the photographs?
JD: I was the curator, so obviously I didn’t take the photographs, but I picked them out. How the gallery chooses to present that is up to them.
BJP: How do you think your exhibition relates to the theme of ‘Evidence’?
JD” I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. As a festival theme I think it’s a good one, though. A lot of festivals have themes that I find quite difficult but ‘Evidence’ is a big umbrella that you can put practically anything under.
BJP: You’ve worked in many media, why use photography?
JD: I’m at ease around photography. I was given a camera when I was about 10 and going away with my school for the first time. When I showed the photographs to my parents they really liked them, and it’s the first time I remember thinking ‘OK, I’m good at something’.
Classic black-and-white photography was a very important part of my artistic education and although it led on to other things for me, I’ve always had a massive interest in it. I’ve never had a problem with using photography as a platform; I’m not interested in the great arguments around photography as art.
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