Photography Critic for the London Evening Standard and BBC Radio 2 Claudia Winkelman Show
Overview: The quality and range of the work on display here reflects the trends and fashions which students draw from: exhibitions, competitions, photography magazines, photo-books and the explosion of photography websites. With all those ideas and possibilities swirling around them, it must be confusing for many student photographers to find a focus. But many here did hone in on a subject, genre or process and produced an articulate expression of their choices and theoretical or narrative style. Looking over the web of images here, certain trends stand out. The growing interest in treating the surface of a photographic print as the base object to work with: transforming the subject into the object to start again. Such images are re-worked and re-contextualized. Subjects include illness and particularly the death of the elderly and of parents; found portraits and family photographs are being painted over, cut up, collaged and embroidered - possibly a relief from purely digital manipulation. Collages are even popular possibly because of the ubiquity of John Stezaker's magnificent works; his inspiration threads through this collection as much as through that of professionals.
Selector's Comment: Describing his photographs as subjects of performance, absurd inventions, and hand-made suicide devices, Claxton presents us with materials which inevitably raise laughter. From the glowing blue t-shirt he wears to model them, to the household materials used in their Heath Robinson construction, Claxton fosters a black humour in suggesting how we might end our lives with ease. Paradoxically, we are told, the very existence of such devices would be more likely to prolong life.
Selector's Comment: Landscape becomes Land Art when Max Compton's 'Breaking the Surface' transforms woodland scenes by scratching a single, perfectly straight line across each photographic print. The presence of these lines, created by cutting through the surface of the ink down to the white paper, introduces what appear like white rods into otherwise unexceptional views. The positioning is perfect and the effect transforms the scenes by cleverly changing the sense of dimension, depth and composition.
Selector's Comment: The red cardigan on the girl sitting in a rough farmhouse shed, drew my eye straight to this image. The girl's stare suggests a sudden surprised turn of her head, similarly with the older woman in the field with her cow. My second fascination is with the two older men who appear oblivious to the camera, involved in their own world. The photographs are beautiful vignettes, silent moments of country life. The images from Douglas's personal website reveal a series of character studies which confirm her sense of composition, context and sensitivity to the subject.
University of Central Lancashire - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: Fashion photography outside of magazines struggles for recognition as Fine Art and is often the least praised in competitions. Bethany Hewitt ignores the classic styles and predictable 'shoots', instead working with collage to challenge traditional depictions of women. By replacing facial features with cut-out patches of blackness, she ironically creates a new, unconventional, Dadaist beauty. The collage which opens this series, reveals her tremendous skill which results in a myriad of model-perfect faces and lips. Works on Hewitt's own website reveal strong influence from the pioneering photo-collagists Hannah Hoch and the contemporary John Stezaker.
Norwich University of the Arts - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: Stephanie Howard's work, in her own words: "splintered and distorted nude figures are found enveloped in an inky blackness, often unnervingly transformed." The shaking images are reminiscent, she says, of Rubens' 'Fall of the Damned.' Her subject is a naked old man who becomes increasingly frenzied and therefore more abstract and overlayered as we are led through the 'fatal movements' of her title. A rich existential atmosphere pervades and Howard suggests that it is a comment on the foreboding future hovering over our lives.
Selector's Comment: Chuck Close comes to mind when viewing this incredible series of mosaiced photographs resembling pretty post-cards. Creating the works must have required a vast amount of digital time and patience to build a subject which needs to be seen - the effect of the US appropriation of Shannon Airport in transporting soldiers and weapons to the Iraq War. Jordan's response is a deliberately incongruous but beautiful collection of images whose glowing shamrock-green grass and holiday-blue skies serve both to distract from - and focus attention onto - the real subject in hand.
Blackpool and the Fylde College - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: Helen Manley's work deals with the emotional aspect of caring for family members with Alzheimer's. Manley uses black and white photography with just a dash of colour in one image, which illuminates the otherwise dark world her subject inhabits. The floating pages from the book symbolize fragmented and floating memories, some already loose, some still breaking free. The intimacy of these single portraits work perfectly alongside the grid of four where the subject sits in a chair and fades like her thoughts. This is currently a popular subject; Helen Manley's depiction is outstanding.
University for the Creative Arts Farnham - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: 'The Face Between' refers to the cliff faces along England's South coast. Created using a 5x4 camera, these images show the dominating scale and the sculptural forms occurring naturally through erosion and the effects of the weather. However Pearce's images also feature the human assaults on this particular landscape - from roads carved through rock to scenes blocked by walls. The resulting, angular constructions cast coastal engineers as unwitting sculptors, creating new beauty in natural settings.
Arts University Bournemouth - BA (Hons) Photography
Selector's Comment: Having acquired a photo album of 'snaps' of an anonymous family, Jonathan Pearson developed the scenarios he found by literally making links and connections. Pearson's process involved a method of embroidering with cottons allowing him to suggest an intense and involving narrative surrounding the people depicted in the photos - their lives, their relatives, the buildings which hold their life stories.
Sue Steward is a writer and broadcaster on world and fringe music and photography for the The Telegraph, The Observer, The Guardian, BBC, Songlines, and The British Journal of Photography. She is the author of Salsa: Musical Heartbeat of Latin America.