I managed to go along to the University of South Wales, Newport graduation show to see the work of this year’s batch of Documentary Photographers. The standard was really high and there are several series that I can easily imagine seeing in the Guardian or being made available as books in the very near future. The exhibition, We Are This, is being held on the third floor of Jacobs Antique Market in Cardiff but the last day is 14 June 2014 so you will need to get your skates on. The We Are This website has images from each of the 31 graduates and contact information should you want to know more.
In order to better see some of the works I’ve taken images from their websites – click on the photographers name for direct links:
Triin Kerge Kodukoht (Place of home)
This work visits the homes of Estonian residents. Estonia, a country that was occupied by the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years, regained its independence in 1991 and in 2004 it joined the European Union. It has attempted to leave the past behind, however there are still elements in the country reminding us of the history. The project takes place between Autumn 2013 and Spring 2014 showing the changing seasons captured through the windows of the homes visited, reminding the viewer of the continuous change taking place. This work will be shown in the Estonian National Museum.
I love the soft pastel colour range of this series and the careful framing of each room is really well thought out. I find the images appealing because they remind me of kitchens from the UK in my youth – the screen images do the prints no justice, the level of detail is incredible. When talking about her work a few months ago Kerge saw the project progressing to focus on the tower blocks that dominate the Estonian urban landscape. I don’t think that this is necessary as it would detract from the grubby charm she has captured already.
Sam Peat – Nothing Like It
Peat’s project is about the challenges facing the NHS and how these manifest themselves in Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments. The images focus on the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport. On average this A&E department sees a new patient every six minutes and thirty seconds, every single day of the year. Like most A&Es that have to cope with additional stresses from the reduction of services elsewhere in the NHS, the department is under constant pressure to perform despite the limited numbers of staff and resources that they have.
Peat has spent several weeks building up a rapport with the staff of the Royal Gwent and this has given him great access for his photography. He quickly discovered that the night shift staff tended to be more approachable (perhaps because they were more tired) and meant he was better able to portray the environment as run down and harshly lit. Each day staff are put under more demands to pick up, patch up and push patients out the door. In instances where Peat had to maintain patient confidentiality he has used clever framing and blurring to make the patients anonymous. The series is stronger as a result, we don’t need to see every face to be able to imagine ourselves, friends or family being part of this giant NHS machine.
Sissel Thastum – I Am Here When You Are Here
Through the nature, the landscape and the feminine form, I am here when you are here mediates a close and intimate relationship between mother and daughter. It is a bond that is found within the return to the familial; the home and the mother. Portrayed through a melancholic language our relationship to each other, to our age, our gender and our identity become underlying themes.
This was one of the most intimate and ‘quiet’ projects I have seen this year. Thatsum, working in conjunction with her mother, has produced a series of images that are memorable and thought provoking. As part of my own research I look at a lot of documentary photography and this series struck me more as fine art work – and is stronger as a result. It reminded me of the Sabine series by Jacob Aue Sobol but has a much more delicate and feminine touch. The large gallery space didn’t really suit this work (and the images from her website don’t do the prints justice); I would love to see how it would be presented as a book. If you are having problems viewing her website and you use Chrome you may need to switch to another browser.
Laura Böök – Pudasjärvi
There are more reindeer than people living in Pudasjärvi, a small town in Northern Finland. With the local population drastically shrinking, the town has set the exceptional goal that in 2018, one in ten residents will be an immigrant. This ongoing project focuses on Congolese families who have moved to Finland to start a new life after fifteen years of living in refugee camps.
Böök’s images are the result of a project that she has been working on for some time and she has made repeated trips over to Pudasjärvi. The wider body of her work includes family album portraits from the Congolese migrants and these are a mix of happier times and harsher life in the refugee camps. These images, when added to the current environmental portraits, work really well to show the stark difference of the lives of the subjects.
This work deals with a really contemporary issue and I love that Böök has found somewhere that is actively looking for migrants at a time when Europe seems to be trying to close the doors. There were only a few images form this series on display from a much larger collection so hopefully the entirety will make it into print soon as I’d love to see the project when it is completed.