Amelia’s Magazine | Newport’s New Talent: Documentary Photography Graduate Exhibition

By definition, patient treatment Documentary Photography as an artistic genre attempts to capture truthful, web objective, accurate images which are undistorted by interpretation. They provide a record or ‘evidence’ of social and political situations with the aim of conveying information. According to film theorist Paul Rotha, “Documentary defines not subject or style, but approach. It justifies the use of every known technical artifice to gain its effect on the spectator.” While it may be best described as a mindset of the photographer, the purpose of this approach to photography greatly varies; from the straightforward need of recording, revealing or preserving, to more passion driven motives such as persuading or promoting, analyzing or interrogating.

Kiryl Smaliakou

With these understandings and interpretations of this interesting arts category in mind, I attended the preview of Wake: Newport’s Documentary Photography show at the Candid Arts Gallery and was pleasantly surprised to find such a range of response and method in the graduate’s work on display. I have picked out a handful of students that really stood out for me; not just for their technical ability or mastering of the medium, but for their rationales, their background stories and their enthusiasm for their chosen subjects.

Siobhan Canavan: The Remembrance of Things Past


Reminding us that ‘when our memories of people and places fade and blur, the photograph may be all that remains as a replacement’, Canavan used a once mass-produced but now retro-esque cheap ‘toy’ camera, the Holga (designed in 1982) to create these fanciful, eerie, dreamworld images. Using the Allt-yr-yn View Nature Reserve outside Newport as her backdrop, Canavan explored the nostalgic childhood recollection evoked by dusty forgotten family albums, carefully complemented by the format and presentation of her work.

Kiryl Smaliakou: Saturday Nights


From the beauty and wilderness of rural Wales, to the shock and awe of the happy-go-lucky capital, Cardiff. Smaliakou described her venture out into the city on a series of Saturday nights ‘more exciting than my dreams and more frightening than my nightmares’. Less out of focus, red eyed or unflattering than pictures drunkenly taken at arm’s length on your mate’s disposable camera from Boots, but just as brutally telling, insightful and honest, these photos taken on black and white film accurately depict the lifestyle and activities of a generation of young adults, and will provide beautiful if not cringe-inducing evidence of a capital’s sordid goings-on for decades to come.

Ivar Kvaal: Tethered To The Polestar


I was fascinated by this project, and Kvaal’s detailed written accompaniment to the photographic images provided a wealth of interesting background that without the images would have surely been understood in lesser depth.
The Samis, indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, have experienced mistreatment, hardship and struggle in preserving their heritage and culture. Kvaal cleverly highlights the anchor-like quality that the Polestar, an omnipresent night sky navigation point, has for the Sami people. In an atmosphere of lost identity and cultural oppression the Polestar serves as a shining reminder of their history and traditions.

Francis O’Riordan: Black Valley


Another photographer exploring political-geographical themes was O’Riordan, who singled out Ireland’s Black Valley in his project. Interested in human behaviour, technological advances and our growing dependence on modern amenities in a quest to live easier, more convenient lives, O’Riordan chose to capture the last community in mainland Ireland to have been connected to the national electrical grid, which happened as surprisingly late as 1979. Using night photography as a tool to underline how light represents our modern existence these photographs use the less is more principle and it works perfectly.

Piers Cunliffe


Examining what draws different people to climbing or mountaineering, whether for stress relief, for excitement, for payment or competition, Cunliffe portraits ordinary people who are linked, if by nothing else, by a pursuit of cliff faces and dizzy heights. The photographs are intended to provide a visual link to the everyday person and provide us with a clue as to why they climb.

Meg Rumbelow: Only Animal


This project focuses on specific species or breeds of animal that are currently being tested on in UK labs. The photographs have titles originating from the defining codes used by the Home Office when in correspondence with the laboratories. Rumbelow states her aim as being ‘to rekindle the relationship between viewer and animal, questioning the way in which we view animals today’. Animal testing is just one way in which humans have disconnected from the magical intuitive relationship they once had with nature, though she remains hopeful that her pictures can put us back in touch with the value and respect these creatures deserve from us.

Tobias Beach-Wyld: The Summer Isle Project


This project had me wondering whether the intent was a hopeful or a rueful reaction, as I experienced both in short succession. The documenting of a community that is amidst a substantial population shift, such as this isolated group of islanders in the harsh and dramatic Outer Hebrides, has been timed carefully to ensure enough remains of the ‘old way’ to give a fair impression of the way things were, and the remaining inhabitants who are witnessing their community transform to a settlement that Beach-Wyld calls ‘as homogenized as the rest of the United Kingdom. Immigration and integration are surely positive, forward-thinking and inevitable human phenomena, the images beautifully captured here seem full of imminent loss and awkward transition.

Hugo Feio Machado: Requiem to a dying planet


In Merzouga, a small settlement in the region of Er-rachidia on the Moroccan border with Algeria, a devastating lack of water dominates and dictates the landscape, and all life that surrounds it. Machado wanted to represent the beauty and colour that exists in these barren terrains despite the odds being set against them. He is also interested in the ecosystems that are maintained there and explains ‘the farming is of a sustainable nature, where plants need each other; but it is the hand of man that makes these plants a symbol for life’.

Corinne Flynn: A Case Of Clothing


If you’ve ever wondered what happens to unclaimed left luggage once the last passenger has left arrivals, Flynn can fill you in. After three months all the suitcases, backpacks and holdalls are auctioned off and the contents are reborn and re-worn in strangers’ wardrobes. This little-known discovery makes a fun and observant commentary on perceptions we have of the clothed body, our ties to our possessions, and the invention of certain narratives and identities for these belongings with unknown histories.

William Edward Head: Humane Errors. Vol.1


For me the bravest project and the one which haunted me the most after leaving the exhibition was Head’s photographs from Talgarth, a mental institution which was closed in 2000 after the best part of 100 years of housing patients. Each ward had its own selection of repeated wallpapers, perpetuating the uniformity and dividing nature of the institution. The prints may suggest a bright, cheery optimism but in truth they hide a terrifying reality of the treatment and segregation of some of the most vulnerable members of society. The inclusion of bird carcasses, the last living beings to inhabit Talgarth, are a macabre reminder of it’s dark history and they seek our empathy for the residences and furthermore the experience of all who were institutionalised during the 20th century in uncompromising conditions.

Wake: Exhibition of Newport’s Documentary Photography Graduates

Candid Arts Gallery
3 Torrens Street
London EC1V 1NQ

1st – 4th July
10am – 6pm

Free Entry

More information about each photographer mentioned and the others in the exhibition can be found here.

Categories ,Documentary Photography, ,Graduate Show, ,London

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