Martin Parr at FirstSite, Colchester

An excellent exhibition and well worth a visit.

Last week I had yet another visit to Suffolk/Essex but this time a made a special effort to stay an extra day and visit Colchester’s FirstSite gallery on my way home. the FirstSite building has been open about three or four years is currently hosting its first major photography exhibition, Martin Parr’s Work and Leisure.

The whole gallery has been given over to the exhibition that is on until early October and it displays photographs taken throughout Parr’s life.

Within the entrance area is a selection of images displayed in a grid from Parr’s ‘Common Sense’ collection taken between 1995 and 1999 they make a striking and sometimes lurid display. Parr’s trademark style comes across clear and bright in the display of closely cropped cups of tea, cupcakes, sandals and lots of other ordinary every day items that I generally wouldn’t bother to document. Together though, they are very striking and really do give a taste of modern consumerist culture.

Parr CS


Along the gallery is Work and Leisure taken around the world between 1986 and 2015 these photos show people doing their normal every day jobs and also relaxing. The first group of photos show people at work dong what needs to be done to prepare products or services while the second group shows people relaxing and consuming. I was particularly drawn to a photograph of a large indoor swimming area/beach. It is a vast space full of people laying out on towels, sitting on the sand, paddling and swimming. It looks like a Where’s Wally picture.

Parr WL


Further along in the next gallery space are photos that Parr was commissioned to take of the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire. The bright rhubarb colours clash brilliantly with their surroundings. I particularly liked Parr’s image of a grower holding a large bunch of picked rhubarb which glowed against his navy overalls and muddy boots.

Parr RT

I have looked at Parr’s Last Resort photos in the book so often that they were very familiar when I saw them up close and for real in one of the next galleries. I was very pleased to see that most of my favourites were there on display.

Parr LR

I was pleased to see a few images from The Cost of Living collection. These were all taken between 1986 and 1989 in response to criticism of class voyeurism of Parr’s Last Resort photographs. It is a similar documentary effort to that of the Last Resort but about the middle classes, conservative gatherings and floral wallpaper.

My favourite exhibition though was The Non-Conformists, a collection of black and white film images of the people and places around Hebden Bridge taken between 1975 and 1980. I particularly like to see the elderly ladies at church, one where they appear to be asleep in the pews and another of a lady having a cup of tea below a representation of the last supper.


Parr HB

Other displays included a series of self-portraits and some ‘boring postcards’, both are worth a look but didn’t really do anything for me.

All in all I thought this was an excellent exhibition and it is well worth a look around, there is so much to look at and some of it is quite thought provoking. Parr really does have a lot to say about our greed and consumerism.

Russian History in Photographs

A fascinating new website has recently become available that illustrates Russian history between 1860 and 1999 using both professional and amateur photographs gathered from museums, newspapers, private collections and even visitors to the website.

With over 70,000 photos in the collection it covers everything from fashion, family life, business, culture, arts, architecture and military images. You can set the website to search photos between two dates or use a key word or theme to search a particular topic. In addition you can gather images into your own curated exhibition adding text and comments to enhance your viewer’s experiences.

I think it is a fascinating site and well worth a mooch through. You can easily lose an hour or two going from one topic to another. I couldn’t get the search function to work but as the site is in Russian and I was searching for things in English that’s not surprising. You will get on much better if you ensure that Google translate or other translating service is turned on.

To see more go to Russian History in Photographs.

Exhibition Reflection

I am very pleased with the way that the exhibition began. With our display being in the reception area of the college and because we wanted a large open space for people to walk around the team overseeing the HSAD degree show agreed to use it for staging the opening speeches. It did mean that when we arrived, the television screen and our table had both been moved so that a small stage to be erected but we had a quick shuffle about and put them where we were happy with them. We also removed all the tables and chairs from the common areas so that people had the necessary viewing distance needed to get the best view of our images. I was disappointed to see that one of the group had brought in their own table and moved their postcards and pen portrait away from everyone else’s and put them by their own work, this wasn’t what we had a agreed as a group and simply highlighted that they were doing their own thing. We decided to leave it and not cause a fuss at this stage, finally adding a vase of flowers to the table that held our own postcards. Then we were ready.

People were looking around our photographs while they were waiting for the show to open and I could already hear some positive comments.

The show was opened by Douglas Dunn, a poet that studied at Hull University and wrote a book of poems about Terry Street, the street that he lived on while he was here. He is now a professor at St Andrews University in Scotland. He spoke some very encouraging words and then an actor read a couple of his poems before visitors were encouraged to visit some of the other exhibition areas.

I hung around the photography area for about an hour, talking to some of the people that we had invited and generally chatting with visitors. I received some great comments about the exhibition in general with many saying that they hadn’t seen such a strong collection of images at a degree show in a long time and that the large sized prints really showed the photos off at their best quality. A few people had written in our guest book and their comments were also very positive.

Personally, all the comments I received were very encouraging and supportive. People were saying how great my photos looked on the wall and remarking at the detail in them. I did think that maybe a copy of the original painting nearby would have given the photos more context so that they would have required less explanation but perhaps I will do that if I exhibit them again anywhere. I also wondered if I should have had the explanation about my own work next to my photos but in the end I agreed with our decision to not do that and to let people see the work, make their own mind up about it and then come back to it if they wanted to.

I had brought some family along to see the show, including my brother, a tour guide for the National Trust who volunteers around Flatford and encouraged me throughout the course. He was very taken, particularly with The Hay Wain and has offered to purchase it. I think a loan may be better with a promise to return it to me for short periods if I arrange to exhibit it in other places.

I was very pleased to see Roland Gift, singer with the Fine Young Cannibals walking through the degree show even if no one else on the course was old enough to know who he was! One of the group had invited Peter Levy, presenter and reporter at Look North to see the show and he seemed to be pleased to call in after his broadcast.

Before people began to slope off there was time for a few quick photographs of most of the group together for almost the last time.

I had hoped to pop in and see the Year 2 exhibition and another exhibition that launched at the HIP Gallery but I was talking with people so much that I didn’t have time. I went instead to meet up with some family for a celebratory supper feeling quite pleased with myself!

Later on Facebook, I received another string of positive and encouraging comments from people who had not been able to attend the launch event. My work was also among some that caught the eye of one Twitter journalist. I feel quite proud of what I have achieved.




Final Major Project Reflection 20

This week we have been getting ready for the exhibition. Most of the prints have arrived and we couldn’t wait to unwrap them and have a good look at them. I’m actually very pleased with the way mine have turned out. They are very large – the size of two A0 landscapes joined together and the clarity on them is very good. I think that Ditto 4 Design has done an excellent job with the printing.


Made with 360 Panorama app for iPhone

When I arrived, the rest of the class were sitting together in the college reception area waiting, for I don’t know what. They had heard that the tutors were in a meeting

We started today by manoeuvring the prints from the college reception through to a large room where we could lay them all out. Once unwrapped and laid out and lots of mutual flattery and encouragement had been exchanged we began to measure out where the batons were to go. Laura and I did the marking and measuring, working on one print together across a large table while another couple made small etch marks in the back of the prints that would enable the glue to adhere better. Others helped to organise the prints and move them around, using white gloves, so that we could keep working on the table.

While this was going on, someone from the woodwork department was making some split wooden batons from MDF – a rectangle of wood, fitting just shy of the width of the image, that is cut along the length at an angle. One side is adhered to the print, the other side is secured to the wall forming a long ‘hook’ that the print can be dropped into. Another baton is secured at the bottom of the photograph to ensure that it hangs straight.

We again etched the side of the baton that goes against the print to help the adhesion then we used a wood glue to carefully secure the batons to the prints. We had to work quickly and carefully as we only had a few minutes to slide the baton into the perfect position before it dried. We then had to leave it, weighted down, a full 24 hours to fix permanently.

We finished most of the prints, only mine were left unfinished. The longer batons that I need will not be available until next week.

It was a good day and I think we all worked well together, which after all the back and forth that had previously happened on Facebook made a very nice change. Our tutor seemed to be really pleased with the way our final prints looked as a collection so that was encouraging too. I’m feeling quite excited about the exhibition now and look forward to seeing all the photographs hanging on the wall.

Final Major Project Reflection 19

I thought I would do an update today on how we are getting on with the exhibition promotion. It is frustratingly not going as planned.

Before Easter we were to take a still life photograph that illustrated our own part of the exhibition but was not going to be part of the actual exhibition. You can see mine here. Everyone on the group was supposed to send me a copy of their image by 12th May and I would use them to design a series of posters that we could use to publicise the event.

To date I have still only received one image. One person has contacted me to say that they will not be sending me anything as they don’t feel that their image reflects their project well enough and thinks it may confuse people rather than lead them to the exhibition. Other than that, despite several group chat requests I have not received anything else.

With only mine and Anete’s photos to use I have produced the following posters.

I used a similar layout and style to last year as this seemed to work well and it builds on our established brand.

I had planned to have these printed professionally on glossy paper but given the tight timescale and the lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the group I don’t think we have the time to do that now. Disappointingly I think we will need to print them out on copier paper and make do with that.

In my frustration I put together an excel spreadsheet of what everyone needs to do for the exhibition and for when. Given the attitude from everyone else in the group I don’t suppose anyone will take any notice let alone read it, but it made me feel better. I have suggested that the person in charge of social media uploads these images to the Facebook page, and then made suggestions for other daily entries. But seeing as they have not posted anything on there so far I expect Anete and I will end up doing that too.

I have set up an event on Eventbrite and linked it to a Facebook event, this will give the group the option to invite people using both social media and email. I have sent the Facebook event invite to my contacts once and will send to them all again a week or so before the launch.

In addition I have opened up a KingdomEvent account and created some really smart email invitations that we can use to send to specific individuals. Apart from the first few free ‘stamps’ each invitation costs money which Anete and I have paid for between us, enabling us to have sent that personalised invitation to more that 60 people. Event Kingdom has a handy database that tracks who has received an invite, who has read and opened the email and also who has responded that they are coming.

We straight away had about three people tell us that they couldn’t come for various reasons, but all wished us luck with the exhibition. A few responded that they were coming immediately and most haven’t responded as yet. I intend to send the invitation again to everyone who has not responded a week before the exhibition and then send another message to all of those that have responded positively on the morning of the exhibition saying that we are looking forward to seeing them later. This should remind anyone who has forgotten about us.

Between us, Anete and I have invited almost everyone that we have come into contact with throughout the course. All of these people have been a part of our journey and should be offered the opportunity to see the final outcome of it.

The other thing that has been happening this week is that Erin has been putting together a video that highlights some of our other work. It will be played on a loop on a screen next to our information table at the exhibition.

I think Erin has done a really good job with this and it shows what everyone is doing very clearly. I like the range of images that everyone has included I think that it is a very nice collection of photographs.

At the beginning of the week we received proofs of our photographs from Ditto 4 Design. There were a few issues with a mark on one person’s photo which Ditto confessed was their fault. The major problem was that some people had submitted images in sRGB colour which is great for on screen and on websites but a printer uses CMYK colour. The difference was causing a loss of detail in some of the darker areas on some of the images. There was a bit of confusion with some group members saying that they would withdraw their images but once the people concerned had worked out how to make the changes they were uploaded again and we were all back on track.

Final Major Project Reflection 18

This week we went, as a group to order our prints for the exhibition. Beforehand there was a lot of back and forth on group chat about how to resize our photographs to the correct size. But in the end using Photoshop to crop and resize the image I think we all made it! Amy was working in the morning and was unable to come with us so I had asked her to contact the printer herself and arrange to get her own prints there before hand, which she did.

The photographs I have finally decided to have printed are these.

I had some trouble overlaying the painting on the photograph but one of the other lecturers at college took the time to show me how to use Photoshop and mask layers to create the effect I wanted.

At Ditto 4 Design we took it in turns to download our final photographs and have the designer there check that they were in the right format and see if there were any issues or changes that needed to be made before we paid for our prints and double checked delivery arrangements. It all went surprisingly smoothly and was actually quite fun!

The group with Lindsay at Ditto 4 Design

There had been some discussion on group chat about the need for postcards/business cards at the exhibition, mostly from one person who didn’t want them. In class we had previously agreed that we would all have some postcards printed so while we were at Ditto 4 Design we ordered those too.

These are my postcards:

Natalie has ordered our names in vinyl lettering so we squared up money with her and ticked that job off the list of things to do.

We had another chat about getting some floor stickers for the reception area floor at the exhibition. I thought we had agreed it in class but on group chat a few people were dissenting so Anete and I wanted us to come to an agreement once and for all. It turns out that only Anete and I thought it was a good idea, everyone else wasn’t really bothered and when someone suggested that they would be ok with it if someone else paid for it I thought it was time to draw a line under the idea. We took a quick vote and made the decision not to go ahead with any floor stickers.

As I missed last week’s class, being on the way to Hannah and Mike’s wedding in Oxfordshire, I also took the opportunity to catch up on what I had missed. Not a lot apparently! There are a few dates that everyone had agreed to come into college and prepare the prints for hanging, which Anete passed on to me, but that is all.

It has actually been quite a tough week. One person has not been coming to class, not been part of the decision making and is countering every choice we have made with the argument “Well I haven’t agreed to that!” In the end one or two people weighed into the conversation with some quite strong words and it seems that they have finally come around. During what has actually been a very busy week I have found all the tension quite draining.

%d bloggers like this: