Everywhere you look in Sunderland you see photography and video art. It’s in the galleries, museums and on the streets. The Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art and Sunderland Museum are showing ‘You Are The Company in Which You Keep’ and the rest of Sunderland appears to be showing photographs everywhere as part of the month long festival ‘The Social: Encountering Photography’.
Sunderland Museum has the work of seven artists who use photography and video as their medium.
Among the seven are:
The work from Natasha Caruana is entitled ‘Fairy Tale for Sale’. It is a series of photographs from the online adverts placed by women who for various reasons have decided to sell their wedding dress. In order to sell their now redundant wedding dress they have put online photographs of their dress shown in the best possible light and of course the best possible light is when it was worn on their wedding day. To anonymise these photographs the faces have been covered with sticky paper or blue tack, scratched over, scribbled on and in one instance covered with distorted smiley faces.
There are so many of these photographs that you realise that women selling their wedding dresses aren’t in the minority although I’m sure, or maybe I’d like to think in my romantic mind, that some kept them even if they just ended up in the kids dressy up box.
The photographs ask so many questions, the most obvious being why? If you bought into the fairy tale enough to buy the cake, the ring, the dress, why jettison part of that fairy tale? Is it economics, weddings can be incredibly expensive, merely practical, where do you keep a meringue like confection of a dress in any reasonable kind of state until death do you part, has the dream turned sour and you are now contemplating divorce? It may also ask the question do woman really buy into this ‘is the most important day of your life’ idea that they have been drip fed or do they feel obliged by society norms?
There is one photograph in the ‘Fairy Tale for Sale’ series of a bride walking towards the camera in her finery with a guy walking beside her holding her hand and dressed in a t-shirt, track suit bottoms and trainers. If he was the groom I guess he wasn’t buying into the fairy tale.
If you visit Natasha Caruana’s website you can view some of her other work which include; ‘The Married Man’, which is a series of snapshots taken on 80 dates she had with married men, and’ The Other Woman’ which is a series of portraits of the other woman in a relationship.
Both series of photographs ask many questions both in their subject matter and how they have been photographed. The images in ‘The Married Man’ are a series of snapshots and seem almost as furtive as the men she snapped must have been. While the portraits in ‘The Other Woman’ series speaks volumes about the women through their expressions, how they present their bodies and the settings they are in.
With this kind of subject matter Natasha Caruana appears to be almost fearless in her use of the camera to take on and explore difficult subjects.
As a photography student in 1972 Daniel Meadows rented an empty barber shop in Greame Street in Manchester’s Moss Side. The shop then became a free photo studio. To have your photo taken there was free because, as Daniel Meadows says, he was learning his trade and was unsure of the outcome.
It may be that Daniel Meadows was being unfair to himself and his abilities as the photographs produced are a joy to see. Rich in their black and white textures with an almost oily feel to them. I would loved to have known what combination of film and paper he used or if it was it all down to how he lit them?
It may be that if the studio hadn’t been free we may not have had such a broad spectrum of children, teenagers and adults turning up to have their photos taken. The images include a hard-working mum, (is there any other type) with her hair brushed back to tidy it up a bit, a handsome, possibly middle-aged guy in his Sunday best, sharp suit, sharp dressed guy, a foster mother with four of her foster children, a lovely looking guy called Jazz Cole, a young mum with her baby on her knee and more cheeky kids than you can imagine including Angela Loretta Lindsey aged 8 with her brother Mark Emanuel who together make one of the lead images for the exhibition.
Although the series of photos is a chronicle of that particular time in Manchester’s Moss Side and Manchester does have a very strong character of it’s own, the images could still be a chronicle of any working class area in any relatively large conurbation; yes it could be Newcastle, Gateshead or Sunderland in the 70s.
Daniel Meadows has been known to say that he is a fan of Ivan Illich’s ‘Convivial Tools’ and he speaks of the democratisation of media. With Greame Street in 1972 Daniel Meadows certainly democratised photography, what could he do to make it more democratic… drive around in a double decker bus inviting people in to have their photos taken?
James O Jenkins
James O Jenkins has produced a series of photographs of people dressed ready for taking part in various annual activities that take place the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and he has given the series the title ‘United Kingdom’. It goes without saying that the photographs are incredibly well taken and produced but one thing that James O Jenkins has done is take the people out of their natural setting of the festival or occasion and placed them against a white backdrop. The result seems to accentuate the eccentric nature, if that is fair comment, of the characters the people dress as.
The photographs include amongst many others; The Hunting of the Earl of Rone, the hunt according to their website ends with him being thrown into the sea; The Whittlesea Straw Bear Man Festival, which appears to be a person dressed in a huge black beard and a hat of ivy; The Burryman, which is a man covered in burrs and sporting flowers both as a hat and about his person. There’s many more wonderful characters in the series and with some of them you realise that the ‘Mighty Boosh’ may be more real than we think.
There’s a lot more to be seen in and around Sunderland at the moment and just considering these three wonderful photographers hardly scratches the surface.