HIP Photography Festival 2017

Various locations, Hull; 30/09/17 to 30/11/17

HIP Photography Festival (aka HIP Fest aka HIPfest aka HIPphotofest aka HIP Festival  aka Hull International Photography Festival – a bit of branding consistency wouldn’t go amiss…) 2017 is the fourth iteration of an annual photography festival that takes place in Hull.

A lot of emphasis is placed on events such as artist talks and interactive workshops, though I just managed to see a handful of exhibitions (some had been and gone) so didn’t really get the full festival experience. As part of an OCA study visit to Hull – that also took in the Turner Prize 2017 – eight of us spent the afternoon looking around various popup galleries in the city centre.

Spaces of Sanctuary is a collection of photographs by Joanna Vestey, put together with the support of Bridgid McConville of the White Ribbon Alliance. It is concerned with the experiences of refugee mothers who have sought sanctuary in the UK, pregnant on arrival or with newborns, and how they are treated in the UK system. The images are of interior spaces – flats, drop-in centres, waiting rooms – empty of people, depicting different aspects of the UK refugee maternity experience. Each image is accompanied by a short text vignette about an individual’s experience, plus a reference to an appropriate human rights clause. As a viewer you get more of a sense of the personal story from the text than the photograph.

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‘I DIDN’T EVEN SWEAT’, 2016 by Joanna Vestey

Whilst I understand the rationale for not including people in the images, I personally felt that this was a missed opportunity for making more of an immediate connection with the viewer. There was an accompanying video that did feature the refugees themselves, but this was an adjunct to the main display and to be honest I’m not a huge fan of needing video ‘explainers’ for artworks. Overall, the project came across as thought-provoking but strangely detached for a subject that could have packed more of an emotional punch.

Great Britons of Photography is a group show based on Peter Dench’s recent book of the almost-same name, collecting images from a dozen living UK photographers. It’s a strange, arbitrary mix of subject matter. Some of the success of the show is in the curation / juxtapositions. I was particularly amused by the decision to display Harry Borden’s portrait of a closed-eyes Thatcher next to John Bulmer’s scene of laughing coalminers.

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Great Britons of Photography (installation view)

For some reason I was really drawn to this photo of Lily Allen by Chris Floyd, who I’d previously considered quite a mainstream celebrity portraitist – here he uses an unorthodox composition and surprisingly soft focus to produce a quite ethereal portrait. The irrepressible semiotician in me couldn’t help but read a political message into the positioning of Allen to the left…

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Great Britons of Photography (installation view)

From one Dench project to another (he’s getting lot out of being a festival patron, it seems), next door was Dench Does Dallas, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. I found almost all of the images to be unremarkable, save for the four or five that were printed particularly large – he selected the right ones to emphasise, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of interest in the rest of them. I find Dench’s work to be a little ‘laddish’ – the majority of his entries in the group show featured scantily-clad women’s behinds, and he seems to have an above-average interest in drinking culture. He comes across like a teenage version of Martin Parr without the warmth.

The other observation I had with the Dench set is his strangely wordy captions – they are paragraphs rather than lines, and are often so wholly descriptive that one doesn’t need to look at the picture – it’s like he’s providing descriptions for the partially sighted.

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My favourite photo I took in this gallery was this portrait of a police officer. It was only after I took it that I realised that the set of Dench photos behind her is all about the Dallas police…

Anyway, if I thought that Peter Dench’s work could verge on distasteful, it was nothing compared to Dougie Wallace’s Harrodsburg. He’s a cross between the harsher edge of Parr and the street work of Bruce Gilden. His photos, like Gilden’s are taken close, in-your-face, with lots of flash. He ambushes his subjects, and they rarely if ever come across in a flattering light. He seems to have an agenda to depict these over-monied folk as ugly people, if not always physically then certainly morally. I just find this kind of sneery, judgemental and invasive photography as lacking in morality itself. His photos project unlikeable characteristics onto strangers, fairly or otherwise. I get that the super-rich are deserving of critique and satire, but he dehumanises individuals.  Even rich people are still people…

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Harrodsburg, 2016 by Dougie Wallace

This photo in particular bugged me. To take a photo of people who specifically don’t want to show their faces – then display it in an exhibition – strikes me as aggressive.

The last thing we looked at was a group show, In & At. The premise is a kind of photographic exchange programme between four recent European Cities of Culture: San Sebastian 2016, Pafos 2017, Aarhus 2017 and Hull 2017. To be honest the only set that I really connected with was Andrea Lee’s colourful street scenes of San Sebastian. They gave me more of a sense of the place than any of the other projects.

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Andrea Lee, In & Out group show (installation view)

Main takeaways

If I’m absolutely honest I was a little nonplussed overall. the group shows were the most interesting to me, with quite a few new names to add to my ‘ones to watch’ list.

The two big names here (Dench and Wallace) are a little too tonally similar, and in a genre that I find problematic anyway, so the lack of diversity was a bit of an issue for me.

However – it was really great to get together with a bunch of other students for the day – and I did enjoy the morning visit to the Turner Prize – so there’s actually no such thing as a bad study visit 🙂 Big thanks to Hazel and Nik for organising it!


Sources

HIP Photography Festival http://hipgallery.co.uk/festival/ (accessed 19/11/17)