On October 15th 2016 I attended a study visit to the annual Brighton Photo Biennial with some of my fellow students and here are some of my observations and interpretations of some of the many exhibitions on show.
Reimagine featured two photographers using large format cameras in different styles to show the LGBTQ+ community. The two photographers were Olivia Arthur and Bharak Sikka. Olivia Arthur used the black and white medium to depict what I felt was intimate portraiture. The portraits were often central, sometimes a ‘snapshot’ style was employed but atmospheric lighting and interesting composition/subject matter elevated it. Combining this with the quality of resolution from the large format camera skilfully used made the pictures stand out, especially the subjects from their respective backgrounds. I found the nighttime photographs by the sea very interesting because of the otherworldly lighting and the slow shutter speed used to capture the moving waves as well as people. Combining this with the perceived processing of the film – that of darker blacks and brighter whites, these few shots looked almost charcoal in finish with the slow shutter speeds making the waves/people appear as visible brushstrokes.
The lighting used by Bharak Sikka was again beautiful, using what I presumed to be mainly window lighting for most of the portraits. Sikka used colour to bring out the interesting colours and subjects to the viewer as well as a central composition for almost all shots. This made the photographs feel more objective for me than Arthur’s work but still with a lot of depth and charisma present for each photograph. I noticed again (similar to Arthur’s half off the exhibition) almost all the photographs were unframed except for curiously a selection off small, framed photographs towards the back of the exhibition. In general I liked the lack of framing because all my attention was concentrated on the content of each photograph (of which there was plenty of detail) and the on the most part consistency of lack of framing was good. If all photographs had been framed similarly, I would have conversely appreciated that effect too but the lack of framing didn’t take anything away form the well-printed photographs on display in my opinion.
In Sikka’s exhibition there was a vitrine present showing unedited photographs that hadn’t made the walls of the gallery. It was interesting to see some of the other photographs albeit in a much smaller size which didn’t feature on the walls. Here I could observe the editing process of choosing which photographs had been decided to be displayed. Lastly there was a slideshow tucked away at the back of the exhibition showing quotes from the sitters of the photographs saying something of their experience of being photographed. Unfortunately I didn’t notice this slideshow at the time because it was quite tucked away but we discussed the significance of including the slideshow in the study group. I felt (without having seen them) that the quotes would offer further insight into how the sitters were feeling and their experiences of being photographed.
Contrary to many of my fellow students, my favourite of the two projects for Reimagine was Olivia Arthur’s black and white series. I could see the beautiful window lighting and colourful portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community as being powerful in Sikka’s work. This was especially true of some of the larger portraits in my eyes. Ultimately the (also) beautiful lighting and the more subjective, atmospheric photographs of Arthur’s work was more atmospheric and though-provoking for me.
Then we moved on to The Dandy Lion Project and this was my favourite exhibition I visited at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. This was partly because it featured some of the most stylistic portraits I’d seen, which was probably the intention of the project for the audience. This was because the photographers behind The Dandy Lion Protect openly wanted to show off the vitality and expressiveness of (mainly) young, African men. I felt this was largely successful, although because there was such a variety of photographers (over 30 featured) (and) photographs (over 150 images) on show, it became almost overwhelming with a bit too much to take in. Having said that I felt I could look around with an eye-catching photograph around every corner of the exhibition (which in my opinion was incidentally laid out quite haphazardly). The work on show was full of colour and bold so perhaps it was not a coincidence that the exhibition appeared quite full-on; mirroring the photographs appearing in it.
After the Dandy Lion Project exhibition viewing, the last official exhibition we visited was Kick Over The Statues, which was held in some sort of church and featured work that was very contemporary and urban. To reflect this the exhibition was presumably purposefully very dark with urban music playing at times, inviting the viewers to become more immersed in the exhibition which I felt was a nice touch. I found out the photographs depicted young carnival-goers at Notting Hill Carnival 2016 which made sense of the music and urban/contemporary feel to the exhibition.
My impressions were the photographs were very atmospheric and full of detail for the impressive size they were printed at. However, the lighting (in a row of two or three lights directly above each photograph) didn’t work well for me. I didn’t see how else the photographs could have been lit in a large church while maintaining the gritty urban look I observed was the intended environment for the photographs but it did take away from the impact of a few of them for me.
Overall I learnt a lot from the exhibitions and talk I attended and was left feeling quite inspired. As mentioned, The Dandy Lion Project was my favourite exhibition I viewed.