Threshold 2012: Newport Documentary Photography

Some of the exhibition space.
Some of the exhibition space.

I had a busy time this weekend and it was all photography based.   I spent the morning getting shown aroundSwansea Metropolitan University as a potential student and then finished off with an afternoon at an exhibition by final year Documentary Students from Newport University.

Threshold 2012 is an exhibition being held in Newport’s Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre from Friday 5th October until Saturday 13th October.  If you are in the area and have a chance to get down and visit then I would highly recommend it.

The exhibition brings together the works of 25 final year Documentary Photography students.  The student’s have to plan and organise the exhibition as part of their course, and the works are a response to a brief set in the ‘Conceptual Documentary’ module.  Each of the images has a deeper meaning and when you arrive at the exhibition you are given a useful guide that explains what the images are about.

As I made my way through the exhibition I looked at the images first without the guide, this meant I got an overall feel for each image and could make up my own ideas about what it stood for.  By looking at the guide I could then see if I was anywhere near the photographer’s intent.  Usually I was way off the mark or failed to read fully into the image but it was a fun experience nevertheless.

Some of my personal favourites from the exhibition are shown below with selected text from the accompanying guide.

James Kieran: What Makes you Happy
James Kieran: What Makes you Happy

These images were taken in locations where James once met his dates.  He set the exposure time to match the amount of time he spent thinking about his lover (ranging from three to eight minutes!).  In the book of the work the images are accompanied by text from his personal diary – an addition which personally I found detracted somewhat from the strength of his images.  I originally thought that the text was supposed to fit into the blank spaces beside each of the images but apparently this was actually just a deliberate framing technique by the photographer.  There is a strange simplicity to the images and the lack of an obvious narrative in the exhibition meant that my interpretation of this series was completely wrong (I was going with childhood dreams and nightmares).

Dimitra Kountiou:  Disindustrialisation
Dimitra Kountiou: Disindustrialisation

I was drawn to Dimitra’s images as they reminded me of my own work capturing shots of abandoned shops.  Dimitra grew up in Greece and returned there to take pictures of an area that was once a thriving commercial and industrial complex.  For me this was once of the more traditional Doc Photo series and was far less conceptual than some of the others.  I thought that the display technique was interesting as you had to stand back to look at the main image, but were then forced to step ‘into’ the display to see the smaller pictures.  The series wasn’t strong enough to stand as a typology (but I’m a lover of typologies) but the differences in each chosen location meant that I didn’t get bored.  It is interesting to see how the effects of the recession have been so universal – these shots could have been taken almost anywhere in the USA or Europe.

Christian Fowler: Suspension
Christian Fowler: Suspension

For me this series was the strongest emotional piece on display.  Christian’s father had died six years ago and this work looks at the way that memory can fade over time.  An old photo of his father was frozen inside a huge block of ice.  The ice was placed in different locations around his home, his dad’s favourite chair, in bed beside his mother and so on.  As the series progresses the ice melts and shrinks in size until all that is left is the original photograph.  The book that Christian made of these series was really strong and the images were beautifully captured – I particularly liked that there was sympathy for the subject, but that he was not afraid to show the imperfect details of his home.

Daniel Wallace: Bus
Daniel Wallace: Bus

This was my favourite single image from the show.  I have a strange attraction to images with clean lines, muted colours and a sense that that subjects have had their image ‘stolen’ from them.  Daniel’s series looks at how bus stops become part of their environment and can become a sense of focus for the micro communities that form to use them.  I’m not sure about the bulldog clip hanging technique though (you can see several of the series were displayed this way from the first picture in this post) – I felt that this was definitely a series that warranted some expensive mounts and frames.

Ciaran Woolcombe: Surrounded
Ciaran Woolcombe: Surrounded

I love street photography, it’s my current favourite pastime, and I often take snaps of abandoned rubbish.  I was therefore delighted to see that this was the sort of thing that final year student’s were also filling their time with.  Ciaran’s work aims to show how our everyday lives are spent surrounded by multinational global corporations.  Combined with this is the fact that commerce and capitalism pushes us to discard items that we see as ‘rubbish’ in the pursuit for newer items.  Ah, candid snaps and rubbish – heaven 🙂

Luke Santilli: Inzanagi and Inzanami
Luke Santilli: Inzanagi and Inzanami

My favourite series of the exhibition was Inzanagi and Izanami by Luke Santilli.  This was a very conceptual series that is intended to show how everything is in a constant state of flux.  I didn’t take a photo of the actual display (doh!) and so the image shown above is taken from the Threshold website.  Unfortunately this screen version doesn’t do justice to his work, as the printed version was just amazing.  It looked like a stylised abstract painting and the colours were really eye catching.  There is just enough detail in each of the images to have an idea of what the subject matter is, but you had to get up close to see what was going on.  The thing that really made this series was the printed book that accompanied it.  The book uses a Japanese bookbinding technique to give it a real hand-crafted look (like the book in the link).  The pages inside were not your typical shiny white but instead had a variety of textures.  Some of the pages that contained text were printed on a transparent paper and it felt like I was holding an artists precious diary.  The catalogue that comes with the exhibition has the details of all the photographers and through it I managed to contact Luke and order a copy of his book – I’m going to surprise myself with it on Christmas morning 🙂

I cannot finish this post without saying a massive thank you Denise Fotheringham who was kind enough to talk to me for a good half an hour about the different work on display.  More importantly she told me loads about the Documentary Photography course at Newport and allayed a lot of my niggling worries about the content and relevance of the course.  She was a great ambassador for the University.

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