Writer on photography for The Guardian and The Observer
Overview: Several things struck me about the this year's graduate work. Documentary is more than holding its own in the digital age. Portraiture perhaps less so. It was difficult to pinpoint the dominant influences. (This is a good thing.) There was less use of found photography or images sourced from the internet than I expected. There was less work questioning traditional forms of photography than I expected. Several students seem to be grappling with loss and illness and the demands of depicting or representing the same. I am in two minds about the predominance of theory in the teaching of photography at undergraduate level: too often the accompanying text speaks of an ambition that is not evident in the photographs. (Even though he did not make my shortlist, I would like to give a special mention to Scott Caruth, Glasgow, for the brevity and humour of his text and some great images.) As always, the good work speaks for itself and, more often than not, it speaks of instinct, patience, rigour, diligence and attentiveness.
Blackpool and the Fylde College - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: A direct and well-considered approach to cultural identity that challenges our notions of the same. I liked the serial formalism of these portraits and the way they nudge the viewer into questioning what exactly is being portrayed. Individual or collective identity? Constructed identity? Veiled - in more ways than one - identity?
Selector's Comment: This work stood out for the consistency and maturity of the vision. Five understated but powerful images that add up to a psychological narrative of displacement and transience. These interiors are also implicit portraits. I thought it was a difficult subject handled with a real lightness of touch and a keen eye for the almost mundane details that say so much.
Selector's Comment: Another consistent vision and a great understanding of colour and composition. The subject matter is arresting even when you realise these makeshift structures are not watchtowers but 'doocotes' (pigeon lofts), built by working class men in pursuit of a hobby that also provides an escape from the often brutal everyday reality of inner-city Glasgow.
Griffith College Dublin - BA Photographic Media (Part Time)
Selector's Comment: Found photography, design, serialism and a 'knowing nod' to Warhol, Bennett's work was clean, clear and deceptively simple. I love the way that he took the discarded objects that had been thrown over the wall of a house and made them into something else entirely. A hymn to disposability and a paean to Pop.
University College Falmouth - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: This is intriguing and ambitious work that deftly questions the conventions of war reportage. But, it is also intriguing because of the self-contained word it creates, where everything is unreal but oddly familiar. A virtual landscape that is eerily resonant of the real thing - and of photography's historical rendering of the same.
University for the Creative Arts Farnham (UCA) - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: A merging of portraiture and documentary, Carter's gaze is unflinching and unsparing for one so young. 'Urges' is an insider's glimpse of the sex swingers' underground in the internet age and the hidden faces of the participants add to the abiding sense of absurdity that attends furtive sexual couplings in drab suburban bedrooms.
Selector's Comment: An opaque landscape of longing that is almost a dreamscape, Salisbury's haunting images of coastlines speak of exile and not quite belonging; an in-between place that does not quite seem solid. Her landscapes are haunting and hauntingly similar. The illegible text sewn into the photographs adds to that sense of displacement.
Sean O'Hagan writes about photography for The Guardian and The Observer and is also a general feature writer. He was named interviewer of the year in the British press awards in 2003 for his profiles of footballer Roy Keane and musician Brian Wilson, among others. He is the winner of the 2011 J. Dudley Johnston award from the Royal Photographic Society "for major achievement in the field of photographic criticism" for his writing in The Observer and The Guardian. Read Sean's blog: On photography.