Blog Archive

13 12 2015

Spirit is a Bone

Over the last two years Broomberg & Chanarin have encountered, explored and researched the photography collections at the Library.   They have made connections with the archive and with their own work and concerns.

The book combines a new series of portraits made with a Russian camera which was made for face recognition and surveillance, ‘non collaborative portraits’, where human contact is not made, with a new critically engaged contextual essay by Eyal Weizman and a response to images from Sir Benjamin Stone’s archive.

The essay asks two main questions; What is the potential impact of technology on portraiture and citizenship?  And what is the ideological link between Stone’s activities and the photographs he collected and the facial recognition technology?

Echoing August Sander’s seminal work, Citizens of the Twentieth Century, the series of portraits are cast according to professions.  The portraits are produced with new technology, with little if any human interaction.

In the book photographs open up the relationship between technology and ideology – theories of race, class and occupation.  The photographs collected by Stone in the second half of the 19th century, in the Library of Birmingham archive, are visual evidence of his interest in history, science, nature and cultures.  Like many, widespread in the Victorian period, Stone had a need to classify, know, collect, control and own. His Album no 50 ‘Types and Races of Mankind’ includes what might be called non-consensual images, made for the scrutiny of others and to increase understanding.

The book and essay prompt questions about engaging with archives and access to them.

The book is the result of the artist’s encounters and interactions with the photography collections at the Library of Birmingham made possible by a commission from GRAIN and the Library with support from the Arts Council of England. The book is published by Mack.   Click here to pre-order a copy.

Image Credit:  Frau eines Malers
Painter’s Wife
Femme d’un peintre
Жена художника


In Camera:  a legal term that means keep private, confined or hidden.

Camera obscura (Latin: ‘dark chamber’):  an optical device that led to photography consisting of a box or room with a hole in one side through which light from an external scene passes through to make or reveal an image.

In Camera:  a term used by photographers to indicate that an image is authentic, having been made from the real, and presented without any cropping or post production.

In 2014 Mat Collishaw was commissioned by GRAIN to make work in response to the Library of Birmingham photography collection.  The Library of Birmingham and GRAIN are proud to present the exhibition of new work, supported by Arts Council England.

In Camera is an installation created around a series of 12 crime scene negatives made for Birmingham City Police Force during the 1930s and 1940s.  Collishaw discovered these uncatalogued images, made to provide evidence in alleged and actual crimes committed in the city, hidden amongst an archive of orphaned police negatives whilst exploring the Library’s photography collections.

The work prompts questions about the medium of photography, its historical role as witness and the way in which our reading of images are affected when they shift from the private to the public.   The work invites the audience to speculate about these backdrops; the circumstances of the crime, victims and suspects.

The newly commissioned work exhibited is a collaboration with The New Art Gallery Walsall and their major survey show of Collishaw’s work which also runs until the 10th of January 2016.

Both exhibitions see Collishaw continuing to explore the potential for images to be both shocking and alluring where he asks us to look beneath the surface and discover more complex questions and forces at play.

Mat Collishaw will be giving an Artist Talk as part of the exhibition on Thursday 22nd October from 6pm. The talk will start with a guided tour of the exhibition space. Tickets are priced £3 and available for purchase the Eventbrite. Click here to purchase.

Click here for details of the special limited edition print created by Collishaw as an outcome for the commission.

Image Credit: In Camera; 5 Sides of Bacon (Stolen Property), Mat Collishaw, 2015

27 05 2015


Album 31 is an exhibition featuring new work by Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl.  The artists were commissioned by GRAIN to respond to the Library’s photographic archives, specifically those of Victorian photographer and parliamentarian Sir Benjamin Stone.  Album 31 establishes a set of practical and conceptual principles that provide a model for Rickett and von Zwehl to work collaboratively.

Amongst the extensive collection of albums meticulously compiled and catalogued by Stone, is ‘album 31′, in which he placed the photographs he wanted to keep but which didn’t ‘fit’ into any of the index categories that structure the rest of the collection. The images within this album are positioned according to a different set of criteria, where subject matter, processes, time frames, co-exist in unexpected relations and where both humor and the spectre of human darkness emerge.

Rickett and von Zwehl became interested in recurrent motifs in Stone’s album 31 and how these awkward juxtapositions could become productive as well as meaningful. They explore how Stone’s otherwise structured approach, governed by intention and purpose, is corrupted by contingent and possibly unconscious relations. His archive becomes an agency through which Rickett and von Zwehl not only process Stone’s legacy, but their own quite different practices, and the changing history of photographic imperatives and behaviours.

Using Stone’s original album as a starting point, the artists have set about revisiting and retrieving material from their own outboxes. This appropriation of the margins of artistic practice – a history which includes the out-take, footnote, off-mike, artistic marginalia of many kinds – reusing material that for whatever reason did not ‘fit’, enables them to consider a different set of rationales, narratives, emphasises, and trajectories.

Album 31 tests the implications of playing with meaning through re-contextualising and re-positioning subject matter, to resist the possibility of a single interpretation and resolution. They are interested in working together as a process that offers companionship, support, conviviality and the sharing of ideas but also can bring about tension, difference, negotiation, and compromise.

Miscellaneous, page 20, Sir Benjamin Stone Collection, Library of Birmingham

Miscellaneous, page 20, Sir Benjamin Stone Collection, Library of Birmingham

The City of Six Towns is an exhibition of new work by Mark Power made in response to a commission in Stoke-on-Trent.  The exhibition is in the public realm, located in the new Albion Square in the city centre from 18 November 2014 – 20 February 2015.

Power is a Magnum photographer and a Professor of Photography who has investigated and depicted landscapes and visual stories from all over the globe.

The new commission and exhibition, entitled The City of Six Towns, will feature 50 new works from Power and will be distinctive, illustrating the city as he finds it. Like visual stories or postcards from the city the work created will be personal and a narrative in pictures, telling the unique story of life in Stoke-on-Trent today. The work will be presented in Albion Square, the large new public square in the city centre, and will feature landscapes, people, interiors, street photography and more as Mark Power builds his picture of life in Stoke.

Power began his photography career in 1983 in the editorial and charity fields. In 1992 he moved into teaching where he is currently Professor of Photography at the University of Brighton. Power has published six books: The Shipping Forecast (1996), a poetic response to the esoteric language of daily maritime weather reports; Superstructure (2000), a documentation of the construction of London’s Millennium Dome; The Treasury Project (2002), about the restoration of a nineteenth-century historical monument: 26 Different Endings (2007), which depicts those landscapes unlucky enough to fall just off the edge of the London A-Z, a map which could be said to define the boundaries of the British capital; The Sound of Two Songs (2010), the culmination of his five year project set in contemporary Poland following her accession to the European Union; and Mass (2013), an investigation into the power and wealth of the Polish Catholic church.

Image credit: © Mark Power

Mat Collishaw has been commissioned to research and make work in response to the photography archive at the Library of Birmingham. Following a period of research he will create a new work as an edition that can be purchased.

Collishaw makes alluring, poetic and shocking work with a visual language that embraces diverse media. Themes and subjects from histories and religion are explored, often the darker side of nature and human character, and yet the work is beautiful and awe-inspiring.

He is interested in the history of photography, in its subjects, techniques and machinery and often references histories in his work, in particular the Victorian period. It is therefore apt that he has been invited to respond to the archive which is rich in photography from the earliest period.

Born in Nottingham (1966), Collishaw studied at Goldsmiths College of Art. He took part in the now legendary Freeze exhibition, curated by Damien Hirst, at Surrey Docks in London in 1988 exhibiting the celebrated Bullet Hole. He became known for brutal, confrontational and challenging work. Over the past decade, his work has been exhibited in numerous solo shows around the world, including; Cohen Gallery, New York, Camden Arts Centre, London, Freud Museum, London, Museum of Contemporary Art Warsaw, Pino Pascali Museum Foundation, Bari, Italy and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

A co-commission GRAIN, Library of Birmingham and The New Art Gallery Walsall.

Image Credit: The Poisoned Page, 2013 – C-type photograph

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.