On Wednesday 24th, I headed to Brighton to attend the Brighton Photo Biennial.
I had only visited Brighton at the age of 12 during my very first trip to England (16 years ago!); all I remembered was the seeing the Pavilion from the bus, a bunch of local drunks throwing stones at us for being italians and my friend misreading ‘erotic’ novel for ‘exotic’ at a local bookshop. All in all, nothing much.
I have to say, I unexpectedly found Brighton absolutely lovely as a city, the weather being quite clement. People were extremely laid back and relaxed and the general atmosphere was buzzing, with amazing graffiti everywhere. It was like being in artsy East London minus the douchebags.
I had never been to a photography event of this kind and for some reason I thought it’d be bigger. I discovered that the Brighton Photo Fringe, in which I could have been possibly even more interested, was running alongside the Biennial although this had not been widely advertised. I understand that the two events were separate, but I really think it would have benefited both to cross-advertise on the web, instead of simply on paper in situ. I had organised my day in order to visit most of the Biennial exhibitions and I was gutted I didn’t have more time to visit the Fringe as well. So anyway, this is a little, very personal review, as of someone a level higher than the average happy snapper but way below your typical academic.
The theme for the Biennial was Photography and the Politics of Space, something I was obviously really interested in, and it aimed at looking at how public and private space is constructed and represented. I would have loved to attend the Symposium on Saturday 20th, but unfortunately I was working.
So here it goes:
Trevor Paglen, Geographies of Seeing. A slightly sinister exhibition about the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. I am not really interested in the subject of intelligence and surveillance, but I have realised that this exhibit has stayed with me a lot longer than I had predicted. I admired Paglen’s dedication for taking on a research that I would frankly feel very uncomfortable with, documenting astral operation that do not officially exist and top-secret governmental sites. I felt extremely uneasy at the sight of the satellites and the covert bases, this eerie picture in particular – which proves the beauty (and the success) of his work.
Photos from the Argus Archive, Whose streets? A selection of images spanning 40 years dealing with local protests. Straight reportage which I found pretty boring. I went, I looked, I left. And had lunch.
No ohlo da rua, The Beautiful Horizon. Produced over seventeen years, this archive comprises of photos taken by the children living on the streets of Belo Horizonte in collaboration with artists Julian Germain, Patricia Azevedo and Murilo Godoy. An interesting exhibition, which undoubtedly took a lot of dedication, but which in my opinion doesn’t say much new on the subject of child poverty. One obviously appreciates the fact that for once, it is the children taking photos of their surroundings and not the photographers, but I think it would have been interesting to know how photography has changed the lives of these children; what impact did seeing their own world through a lens has had on their lives? Do they see it differently? What has this process meant for them? By representing themselves in and through their photographs, are they more aware of their place within society? A lot of this is explained in the interview that the artists have given (published in Photoworks), but it is not clear from the exhibition itself.
Urban exploration. This animated collection of photos taken by several urban explorers, with added text and soundtrack, was hosted in a box-car on the beach which I thought was ‘cool’ but way too small to host guests and way too bright to show a movie. That said, I sat through the entire film and could have stayed there all day. As far as I know, it was the first time Urbex was being given proper recognition within the industry and while this may award it some status as ‘proper’ photography, I was sad to see it surface from the underground where it grew. The photos had special meaning to me and were in a way painful to watch. They reminded me of why I took up photography in the first place, what I wanted to pursue with it and frankly I asked myself where have I gone wrong. Why am I not as enthusiastic as I used to be? How have I become so fearful of exploring the spaces around me, why do I stuck always to the same routes? This exhibition (and the talk that followed) was the reason why I wanted to come to Brighton. Now that I am at the end of my academic journey, I need to ask myself these questions.
Jason Larkin and Corinne Silva, joint exhibit, Uneven Development. This focused on the impact of Urbanisation on the environment and society. I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, I thought the photos were aesthetically extremely pleasing and the two photographers complemented each other’s work very well. I appreciated Corinne Silva’s work in particular, Imported Landscapes, which was more of an installation piece than a documentary per se. Being more interested in conceptual documentary making, it was very interesting for me to see what she had come up with.
Omer Fast, Five Thousands Feet is the Best. A drone pilot’s account of flying unmanned planes in Afghanistan and Pakistan from his base in Las Vegas. This was an amazing film which mixed fact and fiction, real documentary with dramatisation. I absolutely loved this piece, not necessarily because of the story in itself but because I found it extremely refreshing in its approach to documentary making. The documentary, the interview, grounds the film firmly in reality; the dramatisation allows the author to fill in the visual blanks that inevitably occur and allow the viewer to draw broader conclusions. I think pieces like this are absolutely necessary in order for the genre to develop further. It is important to strive to keep producing original good-quality pieces in a documentary market increasingly over-saturated and this film for me did exactly that.
Edmund Clark, Control Order House. About ‘modes of control, conditions of surveillance, censorship and representation’. I looked at this quite quickly, to be honest, and didn’t find it particularly moving even though it was eerie to see photos of rooms completely devoid of any sign that could identify the tenants, which I think was the point overall. I realise that granting access to the places probably constituted a major part of the photographic process and one I probably would not have appreciated had I not tried to negotiate access to restricted areas as well in the past.
Later on that evening I attended Bradley Garret’s talk on Urban Exploration and I intend to write a separate piece about it in the future.
I greatly enjoyed my trip and it has given me a lot to think about both in terms of photography practice and interest. It has come at an important time, when I need start walking alone in an industry that I find more confusing than ever. And who knows, maybe one there I will be there too.
For now, I am back to writing my dissertation.