Photography and Cities

Well to be honest Stockholm and Birmingham but this could apply elsewhere. I recently came back from Stockholm where outside of work I discovered Fotografiska – a wonderful photography gallery in a converted dockside warehouse which was packed with visitors even though it was way of the beaten track. It is a  bit like the Bristol Watershed but solely focused on photography and with a much better view from its cafe.

Stockholm View from Fotografiska

Now I could talk about the wonderful and challenging exhibitions on there; Helmut Newton shocking but compelling and for me the better one Pieter Hugo  – a collection of his work in Africa which show real insight and empathy with his fellow Africans – however this blog post is about the potential of photography in cities.

I was also reminded of this when I bumped into an old colleague, Mike Cummins in @cafeort in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. A colleague in a pressure group I was involved in to establish an Independent Photography Gallery in Birmingham – we called ourselves Birmingham Photospace. Over a period of two years, about four years ago, we innovated, put on a few shows but eventually ran out of steam as many of these initiatives do. I reminded Mike who I was and that he had helped us in our work and he said to me; Oh I have just renewed the website; he had thought why not and he pulled it up to show me. So whilst the main website has long gone this specific piece remains. This was perhaps the peak of our work ‘Birmingham’s People ‘ and just looking at it I am still impressed. The photographs were not mine but by Matt Murtagh and Jennifer Peel  but I was equally proud of them.

Birmingham's People

Things have moved on in some ways. There is in the New Library an exhibition space for photography currently occupied by the really interesting Reference Works show – on the old and new libraries and the people who built them. There is also a new space in Birmingham City University’s new Parkside campus. As well the City under the leadership of Pete James has increasingly used street  exhibitions to show new and old works. The recent Findings exhibition in St Paul’s Square  and Church Street with images from Tom Hunter documenting some wonderful buildings in the Jewellery Quarter and around Colmore Row was a case in point.

So the question is – is it enough. Should we people who search out photography galleries in cities we visit shut up. I am not sure it is enough and I would like to have a discussion. There are ‘plans’ to turn the old Curzon Street station into a Photography museum; but as we know in Birmingham there are plans and plans. There is as well a really interesting group of photographers called Birmingham Loves Photographers which I have yet to engage with; but I look at the Stockholm Gallery; I look at the Photographers Gallery in London and I walk through Digbeth and spot the buildings that would make ideal such spaces and I dream. Stop dreaming!


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