Chloe Dewe Mathews won the series category of BJP’s International Photography Award this year with her lyrical images from Caspian. But unlike many of the other entrants, she’s never studied photography. Instead she graduated in fine art at The Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University, then worked in the film industry for a few years before teaching herself how to use a camera.
“For me, photography became a solution because I could be independent, spontaneous and more creatively engaged,” she says. “In feature films, you always work within a structure and you have to plan every shoot carefully; I liked the freedom you have with a stills camera. Fine art gives you more independence, of course, but it can also become too self-referential, so I was attracted to documentary photography because it felt more outward looking. I was keen to explore what was going on around me, as well as stepping out into the wider world.”
Starting out in his father’s carpentry workshop, Ken Grant first pursued his interest in photography through a two-year technical course, studying with unemployed shipyard labourers in the mid-1980s. He’s now a respected documentary photographer who also teaches at the Belfast School of Art; as his work on New Brighton goes on show alongside his early mentors Tom Wood and Martin Parr, and BJP caught up with him on his approach to pedagogy
“I was the first to move to New Brighton, and it was by sheer chance,” says Tom Wood. “I studied fine art part-time [a Fine Art Painting BA at Leicester Polytechnic], then went back to the car factory where I had worked before. Then I found a job as a photo technician at the poly [now Wirral Metropolitan College, where he went on to teach], and we moved there in September 1978.”
Thus began a golden age for photography in New Brighton, which lasted until 2003 when Wood moved to his current home in North Wales. In the intervening 25 years, Ken Grant also lived in New Brighton from 1992-2002, studying for a spell at Wirral Met, and Martin Parr was based just 20 minutes away from 1982-1985. Between them the three photographers created a huge body of work on the seaside town, which is based just across the River Mersey from Liverpool in North England.
When Polish photographer Wiktoria Wojciechowska first heard about the ongoing Ukrainian conflict she was in China, shooting a project titled Short Flashes, which went on to win the 2015 Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award. “I was cracking the internet but everything was so blocked I couldn’t get any information,” she says. “I was asking all my friends, then I realised not many people knew about it, even though it’s so close [as Ukraine borders Poland]. I was really inspired to go by fear, by wondering how I would react if the same thing happened in my country.”
Paulien Oltheten has won the Arles New Discovery Award with her series La Défense, le regard qui s’essaye. Rencontres d’Arles will now buy €15,000 of her work, and add it to the festival collection.
La Défense, le regard qui s’essaye encompasses a video essay, a photo series, and a collection of objects, and was shot mainly in the La Défense financial district in Paris. Recording people going about their everyday lives, the series creates imaginary links between them, adding a fictional element to a documentary project, and a layer of poetry to the otherwise unremarkable. Born in 1982 in Nijmegen, Netherlands, Oltheten studied at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, and is now based in Amsterdam and Paris.
Oltheten was selected from the ten photographers who made it into the Arles New Discovery Award exhibition this year – Sinzo Aanza, Monica Alcazar-Duarte, Christto & Andrew, Anne Golas, Chandan Gomes, Thomas Hauser, Anton Roland Laub, Ali Mobasser, Feng Li, Aurore Valade, and Wiktoria Wojciechowska.
Paul Kooiker’s latest photobook, Nude Animal Cigar, is a peculiar hybrid made up of variations on the three themes revealed in the title. It’s as if the weirdest and most beautiful nudes, mournful animals and mysterious still lifes of cigar butts have been picked out from photography’s 176- year history. But although the images look old- fashioned, they have all been made within the past five years by this contemporary Dutch artist. Applying sepia filters to all the images, he lends the series a vintage and melancholy feel, and by virtue of the treatment knits this motley trio of monochrome motifs together.
“My work is successful if it is about looking, and about photography,” says Kooiker in his studio, located in a quiet street on the southern periphery of downtown Amsterdam. “Ultimately, my work is about looking, and looking is the ultimate act of voyeurism. It makes the work accessible, as everybody is able to recognise himself in this act. It also leaves the viewer confused. What I want to achieve is to make the public feel accessory to the images they witness.”
Born in The Netherlands in 1964, Paul Kooiker is known for creating unsettling, uncomfortable work. Focusing on themes of watching, voyeurism, and distance, his exhibition at FOMU, Untitled (nude), draws the viewer into a seemingly obsessive world, which shows on everything from nudes to eggs with the same sense of queasy intensity. “Kooiker raises questions,” reads the FOMU press material, “but rarely answers them, so it’s over to you.”
The exhibition is Kooiker’s first major museum show outside The Netherlands, and he’s created a new series specially for it titled Eggs and Rarities. When studying at art school (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Den Haag from 1982-1986, then the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam from 1990-1992), Kooiker made a photographic ‘encyclopaedia of life”; now, 30 years on, he’s attempting a more comprehensive version.
“In many ways Another Europe questions whether Europe is other at all,” says Hamish Park. “While this is not an explicitly political exhibition, I do hope that it will go some way to reminding the audience that we share deep cultural roots which go beyond geographic borders or treaty arrangements, and that what we share is as significant as what makes us distinct.”
Park has just curated an exhibition called Another Europe which goes on show soon around Kings Cross, London, mounted on specially-designed concrete benches. Featuring one photograph from each of the 28 European Union member states, shot by a photographer from the country, it’s been organised by the Australian Cultural Forum London to celebrate both the European Year of Cultural Heritage, and Austria’s presidency of the EU council. It’s also interesting timing for this exhibition in the UK, as the country negotiates Brexit.
“When I was younger I was jealous of photographers who had their own very personal subject matter and aesthetic. It’s so important to allow yourself the freedom to be truly creative,” says Dutch artist Viviane Sassen. “Experimentation is central to my practice.”
Sassen’s daring and idiosyncratic approach hangs somewhere between fashion and fine art. At the core of her practice is an understanding of the importance of constant experimentation, thus making her images complex, unexpected and disarming. Her works are often an exchange or interaction between different elements, contributing to the tactility and physical quality of images. Colour, shape, powder and paint are just some of the tools she uses as enhancers.
“None of the people I met wanted to move, they were happy there,” says Bill Stephenson, who photographed the last residents of Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield before it was demolished 30 years ago. “The tenants felt like they were being pushed around, they didn’t know where they were going. They loved living in that brutalist housing, it was a special place for them.”
Set on one of Sheffield’s seven hills, the four high-rise flats were once part of Park Hill Estate, at the time the largest social housing estate of its kind in Europe. Built between 1957 and 1961, Park Hill had a deck access scheme considered revolutionary at the time, which provided walkways wide enough for small vehicles like milk cart, and earned the estate the nickname “streets in the sky”.