FMP: Visit to Midlands Arts Centre.

So; as the work at university continues for my final major project, I say university and so I should. I have called the place where I go college before but I’m in the university section as I am studying a higher education course so, enough of that.

I visited the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham as part of my photographic research on portraits and to try and find some inspiration from the works. The main gallery downstairs had the exhibition entitled Handsworth Self Portrait: 40 Years On.

In 1979 Derek Bishton, Brian Homer and John Reardon set up a ‘pop-up’ photography studio in the street and invite passers-by to photograph themselves by way of a shutter release cable that they would control, thus being ready for the decisive moment of when the photograph was actually taken. This idea of ‘selfies’ was unheard of at the time unlike now it is a household term used by many, even apple smartphones have a ‘selfie’ section in the photos stored.

In excess of 400 people stopped by to take their selfies at the time and the blueprint created an individual collection of images of people living and working in Handsworth at the time.

40 years on there are 44 original hand printed images by Reardon at the time and 207 images gathered together by Bishton from the original negatives which have never before been seen in the public eye.

FMP.jpgHere is an image of the ‘pop-up’ studio in the street, ingenious!

The collection shows Handsworth’s vibrant, multicultural community at the time and gives the viewers an opportunity to see what has changed over time.

Birmingham MAC are keen to speak to anyone who is in the images so if you were from the area at that time and remember this it would be worth getting in touch with them at:

FMP-19.jpgAudrey and her friend with members of African Star reggae band: October 7, 1979

FMP-4.jpgTing A Ling: August 25, 1979

FMP-13.jpgSohan Lal: September 22, 1979

FMP-2.jpgKhalda: September 22, 1979

FMP-17.jpgJulie: September 22, 1979

FMP-5.jpgNigel: October 7, 1979

As you can see, all these images are very similar in the fact that they are taken with a light coloured backdrop. I think this is to accentuate the subjects and maybe add some fun to the shoot for the people as they probably have not had themselves in a photographic shoot before so this adds to the fun. also, all the photographs were taken with a medium to smaller size aperture. Something like f5.6 to f8 I would say. This would be so that the subject is all Sharp and the photographer wouldn’t have to keep re-focussing a great deal as the depth of field would stay the same and the subjects would always be in the focus zone.

This pre-focussing is commonly used in street photography where you focus on a zone and wait for the subject to enter the frame, people call this the fishing technique. You can have the background in the frame like a shop front for example and then wait for the subject to walk past and the you capture the whole scene without the need to focus on the person again. This is especially useful when you are using manual focus cameras and lenses.

You can see in most of the images the shutter release cable in the subjects hands and I think this makes the series of images as a whole more prominent.

In a lot of the images the subject has some sort of ‘prop’ or something from their life with them like the cycle Nigel is sitting on and the dog in the image of Julie. Contemporary portrait photographers often have props in their images to contextualise the images, a football with a footballer and a cricket bat with a cricketer and so on. If it is not a prop then it could be a selected background like the Kop at Anfield Stadium with LFC clearly showing even though slightly blurred by bokeh in an image of the Liverpool football club manager for instance. This adds to images aesthetically and their meaningfulness.

if you can get down to the Birmingham Midlands Arts Centre I would advise it as there is always something worth looking at.

bye for now……..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s