Adam Pugh, Art Network North East: With several prominent photography shows and significant developments in the region this year, seemed like a moment at which it might be interesting or useful to talk about photography.
I’d like us to think about needs – what exists currently, what does it look like from an artist’s and curator’s point of view; in terms of research. What does it look like in the region at the moment for people working with photography? And from there, where are the gaps, where are the opportunities? And to think as well, what does this mean? Do we need a space – does this need to be about bricks and mortar – or is it about something more intangible? But that already exists, effectively, in NEPN. What does it look like in terms of teaching and training, facilities and so on?
It would be interesting to go onto think about what exists nationally and internationally; to look at good (and bad) practice? What’s good? What’s worth looking to as exemplars nationally or internationally — and could we in the North East steal a march on what’s happening elsewhere: in London, for instance? What’s not happening that the North East could be well-placed to deliver? Because it seems to me that – and this is where this session arises from, of course – that there’s a really strong seam of photographic practice in the North East, both historically and in terms of contemporary practitioners. But how might we activate that history and link it to contemporary work — and, most important, support what’s happening in the region around photography now?
So it feels as though there are opportunities; there’s work to be done; things to be grasped. How do we grasp them? What do we do with them?
Let’s start with needs, though. Amanda, thinking about this first of all from the point of view of your work at NEPN, and how you perceive the lie of the land given you’ve been running NEPN for so long, what do you perceive to be the biggest gaps, but also possibilities?
Amanda Ritson: One of the things I’ve always done is talk to photographers about their work; about their practice and their development needs. Over the last couple of years, up until the start of this year, we ran an Arts Council-funded project, SHIFTS, which focused on professional development: this generated quite a lot of suggestions around tools, experiences and support. For context, the project was designed to listen to what photographers’ needs are. I was keen to go out and ask photographers about their needs around professional development.
We offered four bursaries. I used the application process as a means to gather information about what people were looking for, but also as a way of picking up on what they weren’t saying. We rolled this out as a workshop programme on the back of what the applications and a survey we’d run said. I also offered 24 one-to-one sessions for photographers. Sometimes these were quite lengthy sessions, talking about practice development, sustainability of practice, or about a particular project, and using that as a vehicle to think about exhibition or other outputs, what it looks like in terms of presentation, what the audiences for the work might be, or how they would fundraise for it; who the partners might be. Or it could involve looking at their work and talking about their visual strategy: is it doing what they want it to?
Lots of different insights arose from that. One of the major things was access to facilities, particularly specialist darkrooms, but also the critical context and support that accompanies that. There was a massive appetite to access Northern Centre of Photography, where we’re based, but also around the AA2A scheme [accessible via the University of Sunderland but no longer any other universities in the region].
I think maybe we could highlight the work of community and artist-led darkrooms, like the one led by Janina Sabaliauskaitė and Phyllis Christopher at Newbridge, Darkroom Kitchen and Tanners Bank, in some way.
In terms of the business of photography, there was a lot of focus on communicating who you are, and people expressed a desire for more support around ‘pre-pitching’: articulating why you do what you do, how you talk about it, who would be interested in your work, and so on. Obviously there was a lot around sustaining your practice financially, and environmental sustainability.
As ever, there was a lot of interest in peer-to-peer support: sharing methodologies, approaches, showing and sharing work.