Derby has a long history of innovation in industry and, more recently, as a centre for photography. This month sees the Derby Photography Format Festival back in town again, filling exhibition spaces with a huge range of subject matter, photographic styles and methods of presentation. Since the late 1970s Derby has attracted photographers from across the UK and further afield, primarily to the Derby Photography degree course offered by the University – one of the first courses of its kind, and the reason I now live in the City. Many of the graduates from the course have remained in the area, creating a strong centre for photographic culture. The Format Festival provides a focus for this culture, attracting many visitors and offering local Derby photographers and residents a visual feast of photographic art
Derby photography festival Theme
The theme of this year’s festival is “Factory”, and this has been interpreted very widely by a huge number of photographers: many have chosen to present strong documentary work on such contemporary themes as the rise of China and India as new industrial giants. A shining example of the documentary style is the work of Oliver Woods (above), who visited a remote town in China which is dominated by an open-cast coal mine. The resulting photos in “Red Star, Black Gold” are epic in scale and apocalyptic in their depiction of smoke, dust and fire. Massive steam engines emerge from the swirling fumes creating the impression of this being some kind of time-slip. This is the reality of China’s economic upsurge – one which ultimately benefits us in the West through cheap consumer goods. The photos ask us to consider the true cost of this second Industrial Revolution. In the same venue at the University (where the Derby photography degree courses are based) you can see other views of Asian working life, including Kajal Nisha Patel’s striking study of the Indian fabric industry – beautiful colour images of the hot, dangerous work undertaken in order to supply clothing to the West.
Humour has its place
Not all the photography is serious in intent or presentation: some artists take a more detached and amused view of our modern industrial world. Andreas Meichsner’s quietly funny photos at Derby Museum are large, highly detailed colour prints of people engaged in apparently ridiculous activities such as painting spinach onto dinner plates. It turns out that these are scenes from the German product testing centre, though nothing is fully explained. We are left to draw our own conclusions about the activities depicted and the values they represent.
At Derby Quad Erik Kessels fills a large gallery with an inspiring collection of massively enlarged snapshots taken from old family albums. Though not obviously connected to the theme of Factory, they are a reminder of how much our world has changed in a short space of time. These blurred, faded images from 40 years ago now look just like Instagram photos posted on Facebook, except these are the real thing, lovingly shot on Instamatic cameras. Kessels’ selection of images is hugely entertaining – there’s a whole section of snaps of the same woman on various holidays, gradually getting older and seemingly further away from the camera. He also delights in the way that images become damaged, scratched and otherwise aged, and even includes a section of “mistakes”: thumb over the lens, heads cropped off, double exposures and the like. For its physical scale, stylish presentation and gentle humour Kessels’ collection of found images is one of my highlights of the Derby photography Festival.
Become a Derby Photographer
Anyone can become part of this year’s festival by uploading photos from their phone to MobFormat, from where they are printed out for the public to edit and stick onto the walls of the Chocolate Factory venue.
The festival continues until 7th April, 2013.