Art festivals are often accused of not engaging enough with the cities in which they are hosted, appearing for a short while and then disappearing until the next edition. Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 breaks away from this formula with the theme of Communities, Collaboration & Collectives, embedding itself within the city. These themes create the foundations for the festival, and also give a holistic view of contemporary photography. The festival represents where photography is today and where it has come from, presenting historical archival shows in synergy with contemporary exhibitions to reveal new relationships.
The idea of ‘community’ is explored in a number of shows such as ‘Real Britain 1974: Co-Optic and Documentary Photography’ and ‘Amore e Piombo’ which re-visit archival images to reveal political histories. ‘Real Britain’ looks at the historic documentary photography movement in the 1970s and the collective organisation of the Co-Optic group.
‘Amore e Piombo’ explores the new style of paparazzi photography that developed within the Italian political system of the 1970s, revealing celebrity, scandals and death as politics and show-business met each other through the lens of the press photographers of Rome’s Team Editorial Services agency. Presenting these images together reveals the situation of the press, photographing
celebrities in the morning then political assassinations in the afternoon, to capture one of the most turbulent times in Italian history.
Alongside these archival shows sit contemporary exhibitions such as ‘So Like You’ by artist Erica Scourti, and ‘Plane Materials’ by Cornford & Cross. Rather than presenting imagery, they look at what imagery is. ‘Plane Materials’ presents a series of minimalist objects, or ‘afterimages’ where the image has been removed, presenting only the physicality of the object.
Simon Faithfull’s ‘Reef’ embraces collaboration with experts in the field of Marine Biology. Faithfull took a boat on its last voyage out to sea, where he sunk it to become an underwater sculpture. The boat was quickly colonised by fish to create a new community, all captured by cameras mounted to the boat and displayed in Fabrica’s gallery space.
In the Circus Street Market, a space historically used for buying and selling has been transformed into a space for looking at collaborative working methods. ‘Five Contemporary Photography Collectives’ displays the work of ABC, Burn My Eye, RUIDO Photo, Sputnik Photos and Uncertain States, who all present collective ways of working together, nationally and internationally.
Alongside this is an exhibition by ‘The Photocopy Club’ that shows photography in its material form. For the exhibition, The Photocopy Club have invited people to form collectives and submit to an open submission for selection, creating images using the humble photocopier. Photography is often seen as a solitary process, but more artists are choosing to form collectives and work collaboratively. These exhibitions show the strength in this method, revealing new possibilities through collective organisation.
The idea of collaborative partnership was harnessed in the commission of South African Thabiso Sekgala and Kalpesh Lathigra from the UK. The pair traded places to explore Indian communities in Marabastad and Laudium, South Africa and Brighton, UK. Exploring these peripheral communities, they reveal the nature of immigration in these two different environments.
Collaboration is at the heart of exhibitions such as ‘The Mass Education Project’ and ‘The Amazing Analogue: how we play photography’. In these two shows, artists were brought in to work with people from the Brighton and Hove area. The Mass Observation Archive has been giving individuals a chance to document their everyday lives since 1937. For the Biennial, the archive worked with people from the Brighton community, enabling them to tell their stories and present their community through images, diaries and workshops.
In ‘The Amazing Analogue: How we play photography’, photographer Jan van Holleben worked with a group of young people to re-interpret the Hove museum collection of glass slides made by photographic pioneers in the area. In the project, the process of making was as important as the final image, playing with the photography was a process of imagination and re-interpretation, an exploration into the micro worlds displayed on the slides.
The Biennial explores photographic history, and its potential futures focusing on collaboration and working together. The exhibitions interweave and form relationships throughout the festival with archival shows informing the work of photographic collectives. The Brighton Photo Biennial itself can be seen as one collaborative project. Foregoing the single curator model, they invited many organisations and artists to inform the 2014 programme. It is through the Biennial’s theme of Communities, Collectives & Collaboration that it succeeds, providing many potential outcomes to emerge.