British photographic history

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Exhibition: Hit the North, Manchester, from 19 April 2018

Hit the North celebrates northern photography across five decades. From incisive studio portraiture to grand rural vistas to quiet urban details, photographs will fill Manchester Central Library’s first-floor exhibition space. The show is curated by Manchester-based Hobo Photo, which promotes photography with high-quality roving exhibitions and prints are for sale.

In 1972, while studying photography at Manchester Polytechnic, Daniel Meadows took over a disused barber’s shop in Moss Side’s Greame Street. People came along to the ‘free photography studio’ and had their portraits taken for nothing. Daniel put the pictures in the shop window and distributed prints to people’s houses, but after eight weeks he ran out of money and had to close down. Feeling guilty because people could no longer see the photographs, he laid them out on big wooden boards which he nailed to a tree in the nearby park. Only in retrospect did Daniel realise that this had been his first exhibition.

Now widely regarded as one of the key British photographers of the postwar era, Daniel’s work is held in many major collections, including The Hyman Collection, The British Library, the Arts Council England Collection, the Martin Parr Foundation and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Daniel was the subject of a major retrospective at The National Media Museum in 2011-12, which subsequently toured nationally. Other notable solo exhibitions have been held at Photofusion, the Irish Gallery of Photography, the Photographers’ Gallery, Impressions Gallery, the Institute of Comtemporary Arts and the Oxford Museum of Modern Art (curated by Nicholas Serota). But being a photographer of the people for the people, Daniel has always found himself putting on exhibitions at more community-based places, from Nelson Arndale Centre in 1977 to a church hall in Miles Platting in 2017.

Based in Salford, rising star artist Phoebe Kiely prints her photographs by hand in a darkroom using traditional analogue processes. Despite only graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2015, her work has already been exhibited at Tate Modern in London and Open Eye in Liverpool, and she has also been nominated for two prestigious prizes: the 2018 Paul Huf Award and the 2017 First Book Award.

Her first book, They Were My Landscape, will be launched this May by leading photography publisher Mack at the Photo London art fair. Gritty urban details and fleeting glimpses of people accumulate and - just as with the prints in this exhibition - Phoebe’s everyday observations are elevated to the extraordinary by her poetic way of looking.

Matthew Murray’s latest book, Saddleworth: Responding To A Landscape was published in 2017 with essays by the artist Richard Billingham and Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Despite sitting in a long tradition of landscape art, the dark metallic photographs of Saddleworth in this show are the result of Matthew’s deeply personal vision, and reflect the circumstances of his life at the time they were taken.

Matthew’s work has been exhibited at leading institutions and events internationally, including at both the National Portrait Gallery and the Photographers’ Gallery in London, Paris Photo, Unseen and Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and Fotografie Museum Berlin. His photographs are held in numerous private and public collections, including The British Library.

Since 1968, Ian Macdonald has consistently photographed the hinterland of his native Cleveland in northern England, printing his work by hand using traditional silver-based processes.

The quiet pictures of people, industry and landscape in this exhibition not only communicate Ian’s strong feelings for his home region, they also convey his great passion for photography as an art form.

Ian’s work has been exhibited widely and is held in many public and private art collections from the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Danish Royal Library.

Chris Harrison was born and grew up in the north east of England. At 15, he became an apprentice in the local shipyard, and he subsequently took up photography while serving as a sniper in the British Army. Eventually, he earned a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art.

Under the Hood is the series of portraits Chris made of lads from Salford in 1994. Redolent of the grand tradition of painting, the lighting and drapery accords Chris’s subjects gravity and status. Yet the portraits are stubbornly photographic, especially in the down-to-earth elements such as bags, cans, fags and framing, which all gently jar against the set up. But most importantly, in between all this, there is something unresolved, uncertain, perhaps even edgy, as these lads stare back at us across a quarter of a century.

Chris was awarded the 16th Bradford Fellowship in Photography at the National Media Museum. His work has been shown widely including at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, the Barbican, Tate Britain, the German Historical Museum and the Imperial War Museum. His photographs are included in the collections of the V&A Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Media Museum, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Irish Gallery of Photography, the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art and the British Council.

Paul Floyd Blake left school and started work in the industrial laundry business, shelving his dreams of art college, which didn’t seem attainable to a mixed-race boy from the working class. However, he always kept up his interest in art, and as a grown-up he finally did a degree in photography, graduating with first-class honours in 2005.

Ever since, Paul has worked full-time as a photographer. Based in the North of England, he has achieved great things, most notably winning one of photography’s highest-profile awards, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in 2009. His work has since been exhibited nationally and internationally, from The National Portrait Gallery to the Foundation Pitti Florence.

The photographs included in this exhibition are from Paul’s cleverly-titled series Give Us A Sign. Perhaps they aren’t portraits, but they are - like all of Paul’s work - respectful yet inquiring, subtly showing us that there is greater depth and complexity than we may first have imagined. Whether or not God is in the pictures, of course, we cannot know. But if He is, he has quite some sense of humour.

For over 25 years, Tessa Bunney has photographed rural life, fascinated by the way the landscape is shaped by humans, from hill farmers near her home in North Yorkshire to Icelandic puffin hunters, from Finnish ice swimmers to Romanian nomadic shepherds.

The work in this exhibition celebrates the domestic flower growers of northern England, both past and present. Flower farms were once a familiar feature of the British countryside, but were gradually expunged by industrialised growing methods in the 19th century and then globalisation in the 20th. But now in the 21st, small flower farms are springing up again, fed by fresh interest in environmental sustainability and local seasonal produce.

Tessa’s work has been nominated for prestigious prizes including the Prix Pictet, and put into book form by several leading publishers such as Dewi Lewis and teNeues. She is also regularly commissioned by editorial clients such as the Financial Times Magazine and charitable organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children.

Exhibited widely, Tessa’s work has been shown at many of the UK’s key photography institutions such as Impressions Gallery in Bradford and Photofusion in London, as well as at important photography festivals internationally, including Noorderlicht in the Netherlands and France’s Rencontres d’Arles.

Liza Dracup’s work is rooted the landscape and nature of the North. To quote the art critic Michael Prodger, her pictures are “not about capturing a particular moment in time but about timelessness. Her focus is less on something fleeting … and more on the long afterlife of places, plants and animals."

These words ring true in the images of taxidermied birds and mammals included in this show. Photographed in a style reminiscent of Dutch still life painting, they also reveal just how extraordinary and valuable the ordinary and the local can be, illuminating a northern natural history we might otherwise ignore. The pictures also confirm Liza’s belief that there is an awe in nature, and it is still to be found in Britain.

Liza has been nominated for several top art photography prizes, including the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012 and the Prix Pictet in 2009. Her work has been exhibited at the likes of Impressions Gallery, Mercer Art Gallery, the Street Level Photoworks, the Dye House Gallery, and the Pitzhanger Manor House & Gallery.

First Floor, Central Library, St Peter's Square, Manchester

19 April-30 June 2018

#HitTheNorthExhibition

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