Blog Archive

11 02 2020

Alannah Cooper

Alannah Cooper has been researching the rural tradition of well dressings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire with particular focus on the village of Endon in the Staffordshire Moorlands.   . Due to Covid – 19 for the first time in the history of the Well Dressing in the village the event was cancelled.  In response to this Alannah has been making work that responds to the historical themes associated with the event staging the predominant rituals and customs that draw our attention to their existence and truth.

Alannah is a photographer inspired by capturing the wildness of tradition and the nature of craft. Photographer, writer, interviewer, and craftswoman herself, her portfolio has been built on her insatiable need to explore. As a fashion photographer, she dedicates her time to projects that bring her to people and places where fashion exists in different ways.

Originally from the Orkney islands, Scotland, her ideas alive from the materials of rural land and the lore she grew up around. It is not uncommon for her work to feature family members, home towns, and the small patterns and details that can remind the viewer of their own. Today, she continues to search for new interpretations of rural surroundings that enchant the everyday life of craftsmanship, explore the accessibility of creativity, and promote the sustainability of fashion.

Alannah Cooper has an MA in Fashion Communication from Central Saint Martins and before that she spent four years at Heriot-Watt University in the Scottish Borders. She was the first-ever recipient of the New Fashion Image Prize at Central Saint Martins, 2018 selected by Lou Stoppard and Simon Chilvers

Image Credit: by Alannah Cooper

11 02 2020

Emily Graham

Emily Graham has been making work in her hometown of Rugby, the project titled ‘Alspath’ looks at the intersection of the rural with industrial heritage. She is interested in how the countryside can be hidden in our more urban boroughs and districts. Emily has been exploring how people (particularly young people) interact with these green spaces and is working collaboratively with young people in the area and with Photography students at Rugby College.

Emily Graham is a photographer based in London. She gained her BA (Hons) in Photography at the University of Brighton, and has recently completed her MA in Photography at the University of West England.

She was one of the recipients of the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward award 2017, selected as a Commended winner of the Genesis Imaging Postgraduate Award 2018, shortlisted for the Brighton Photo Fringe Open Solo 18, awarded third prize in the British Journal of Photography’s International Photography Award 2019, and most recently, shortlisted for the Images Vevey Book Award. Her work has been exhibited nationally & internationally, including at Format Festival 2019 as part of their thematic Forever/Now, and most recently at Pingyao International Photography Festival, China and in Profound Movement group exhibit at Houston Centre for Photography.


Image Credit: Emily Graham

11 02 2020

Guy Martin

Guy Martin has been making new work in rural areas of the West Midlands responding to the impact of ‘County Lines’ drug gangs.

The County Lines is a reminder of the often misrepresented rural landscape as something picturesque, idyllic and safe. Instead the realities include income inequality, poverty, poor access to services, poor public transport, limited social housing, poor transport connections and a lack of access to education.

These pictures were made based on conversations and meetings with Vennture (a Hereford based charity) and West Mercia Police. The project reveals the location of a meeting point where drug dealers and drug users meet, locations of where murders and violent crime have taken place, where rival drug gangs have fought for control and glimpses of police stations and buildings where under-resourced forces are trying to counter the spread of crime into their counties. Other pictures are informed by the locations of men and women experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping and how they too are ensnarled in the selling and taking of drugs.

‘County lines’ refers to a crime where drug gangs exploit children and vulnerable adults to make them courier drugs and money across the country from the gang’s bases in large cities to customers in rural towns and villages. The ‘county line’ itself is a phone line, controlled by the dealer, which can be given to a runner who the drug users can contact for a delivery.

Gangs are hiring vulnerable young people and adults across rural areas as part of the planned expansion of their business from cities into rural populations – using them as mules as they are unassuming enough to avoid suspicion and detection.

The rise in county lines drug gangs comes at a time of harsh reality in rural communities.  Budget cuts to local councils and a decade of austerity have led to less policing and public services in the rural West Midlands. Rural crime is on the rise, quite often to repay debts that vulnerable young local people have incurred as they get involved with the selling of drugs. Violent crime of this sort flourishes especially when young people feel they have no stake in the future of their communities.

The coronavirus outbreak has affected entire industries, including businesses and employers in rural areas. The market for drugs is more resilient and demand increases during times of crisis.

Guy Martin (b.1983) graduated with a B.A(HONS) in DocumentaryPhotography from the University of Wales, Newport. He has been a member of Panos Pictures since 2011. From January 2011 he began to document the revolutions sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa. From 2012 he was been based inIstanbul Turkey, where he produced ‘The Parallel State’ his first book about the rise of Turkish soft power and the complex new identities in the Turkish Republic. The book was published in 2018 by GOST books and subsequently was listed as on of Time Magazine’s best photo books of the year.

Image Credit: Guy Martin

11 02 2020

Leah Gordon

Leah is working in Shropshire and is researching land ownership and histories to gain a deeper understanding of the enclosures act, the impact of the industrial revolution and in parallel the American and Caribbean plantation system. This historical past is vital to having a critical understanding of the systems and politics of now.

The enclosure acts describe the legal process through which common rights over land were terminated and the common land converted to the exclusive property and use of a landowner.

Due to the COVID pandemic, local archive offices were closed we found it easier to start by identifying, researching and discovering the stories of why these small pieces of land retained common land status and therefore tell the story of the enclosure through the remainders.

Leah has been working with people that still had common rights over land and discovering how they exercise these rights. She has been making portraits and interviewing people about their stories, commoners’ rights and to find any historic stories they knew about the land. These stories will be used for a small book based on this project as well as extended wall text for an exhibition using constructed portraits of commoners within the landscape along with an imaginative use of the archive and the poetry of John Clare, to intertwine the traces of history, Empire & the contemporary state of the land.

Leah Gordon (born 1959 Ellesmere Port) is a photographer, film-maker, curator, collector and writer. In the 1980’s she wrote lyrics, sang and played for the feminist folk punk band, ‘The Doonicans’. Leah makes work on Modernism and architecture; the slave trade and industrialisation; and grassroots religious, class and folk histories. Gordon’s film and photographic work has been exhibited internationally including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Dak’art Biennale; the National Portrait Gallery, UK and the Norton Museum of Art, Florida. Her photography book ‘Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti’ was published in June 2010. She is the co-director of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; was a curator for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale; was the co-curator of ‘Kafou: Haiti, History & Art’ at Nottingham Contemporary, UK; on the curatorial team for ‘In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art’ at the Fowler Museum, UCLA and was the co-curator of ‘PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince’ at Pioneer Works, NYC in 2018 and MOCA, Miami in 2019. In 2015 Leah Gordon was the recipient of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Travel Award for Central America and the Caribbean.

Image Credit: Leah Gordon.

11 02 2020

Matthew Broadhead

Matthew Broadhead’s third great-grandfather Frederick William Broadhead was an artist and photographer based in Leicester during the late 19th century, and this is where Matthew has made new work, in the ancient Charnwood Forest.

His great-grand father captured the romantic landscape including Bradgate Park, Ulverscroft Priory ruin and the slate quarry in Swithland Wood, and these features of the landscape still exist today. Using large format camera equipment, Matthew recorded the wider landscape of Charnwood Forest and referenced the geology, fossils, landscape, wildlife, human activity, human influence, social history, stories and folklore of the landscape.

He has photographed people that participate in the landscape to focus on its use today, their understanding of place and history and their motivation for using the land.

Matthew Broadhead is a British photographer based in Southwest England (b.1994). In 2016, he graduated from the BA (Hons) Photography program at the University of Brighton and gained sustained recognition for his body of work A Space for Humans: The Moon on Earth. A Space for Humans was featured in The British Journal of Photography, Wallpaper*, The Exposed Issue 2 and Fisheye Vol 1.

Matthew has also been selected as a winner for awards from Magnum, Photoworks and Organ Vida. In late 2019, he graduated from the new MA Photography course at UWE Bristol with a new body of work titled The Sleeping Photographer. Matthew’s practice is an engagement with photography as a critical medium and explores conjunctions between different subjects, notably geology; anthropology; history; folklore and mythology.

Image Credit: by Matthew Broadhead

11 02 2020

Murray Ballard

Murray is working in Boston, Lincolnshire, the rural town that had voted with the largest majority to leave the EU during the referendum. Visiting the town post Brexit to photograph the post Brexit community and their future hopes and concerns he found a community affected by Covid during 2020 and the impact the pandemic has had on agriculture and food production.

Boston’s local economy and much of its identity is built around agriculture, with Lincolnshire producing one eighth of the UK’s food. The surrounding landscape is dominated by fields of barley, wheat and oilseed rape; alongside more specialist crops such as: potatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages, carrots, beetroot, onions, lettuce, spring onions and tomatoes. These crops require more labour to grow and harvest, which has led to a large influx of Eastern-European agricultural workers in the area.

The resulting images are the beginning of a contemporary portrait of Boston and perhaps go some way to highlighting some of the things that led people to vote to leave the EU in such significant numbers. They also show the effects mass agriculture is having on our environment and the damaging relationship between consumer culture and food production.

Murray Ballard (b.1983) is a British photographer born and based in Brighton, UK.  He graduated from the University of Brighton in 2007 with a first-class degree in Photography.  The following year he was selected for Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed 08 – the annual showcase of work by ‘the most promising recent graduates’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. From 2008 he assisted Magnum photographer Mark Power for several years whilst continuing to work on his own commissions and self-initiated projects. Most notably his long-term investigation of cryonics – the practice of freezing the dead in the hope that future science and technology will be able to bring them back to life.

In 2011 the British Journal of Photography recognised him as ‘an emerging photographer of note’, following his debut solo show The Prospect of Immortality at Impressions Gallery, Bradford. The exhibition went on to tour both nationally and internationally. Venues include: Side Gallery, Newcastle; Format Festival, Derby; Breda Photo Festival, Netherlands, SI Fest, Italy and DongGang International Photography Festival, South Korea. In 2016 GOST Books published an extensive monograph of the work, which was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture First Book Award.

His photographs have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers including: Esquire, FT Weekend, GEO, GQ, The Guardian The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times and Wired.  As well as the photography journals: 6 Mois, British Journal of Photography, HotShoe and Professional Photography.

Image Credit: Murray Ballard

11 02 2020

Navi Kaur

Navi Kaur has been researching and working with restaurants set up and managed by Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani families across rural parts of the Midlands, with a particular interest in those in rural areas of the Peak District and Shropshire.

For decades, setting up restaurants has been an integral part of the South Asian diaspora experience in the UK and to capture these significantly important moments of shared culture, she has been working on a documentative film piece to share stories of successful South Asian businesses that have built positive relations within these rural areas.

With the film Navi will share perspectives on the migrant experience, and the importance of food, identity and culture, through the lens of running an independent South Asian restaurant within a rural and predominantly white areas of the country.

Navi Kaur (b. 1993) is an artist and educator based in Birmingham, UK.

Navi often makes work commenting on the migrant experience, specifically around journeys, environment, storytelling and documentary. Inspired by an archive of family photographs found in her grandparents’ home, she produces work in response to the lives they have built here in the U.K, encompassing their Sikh faith and daily regimes, working predominantly through the processes of digital photography, film and installation.

Navi works closely with her Budimom, Surinder, and Baba Ji, Karamjit (paternal grandparents), to better understand her own heritage and culture through feelings of displacement in organised environments and highlights the importance of celebrating cultural diversity through cross collaboration.

Image Credit: by Navi Kaur

The Anthology of Rural Life is an ongoing photographic project by Oliver Udy and Colin Robins. A photographic project whose intentions are to produce an archive of material that reveals and documents continuities and shifts in patterns of rural life.

Oliver and Colin have created new work in the village and civic parish of Meriden, Warwickshire. The decision to photograph in and around Meriden was prompted by two factors; one geographical and one symbolic. Meriden sits in what is sometimes called the ‘Meriden Gap’ – this identifies the, roughly 10 square mile radius of rural, pastoral and agricultural land situated in Solihull and bordered by Birmingham and Coventry. Equally Meriden promotes itself as the traditional ‘centre’ of England and this is manifested in the plaque on an ancient cross standing on the village green as well as in the ‘Heart of England Social Club’ and the ‘Heart of England Conference and Events Center’.

Meriden then, presents a microcosm of the various forces impacting upon contemporary rural life. This includes farming, land ownership and management and green-belt developments (including a prospective hub of the new HS2 initiative). Equally it, rather self- consciously, presents an ‘image’ of England framed by notions of tradition, nationalism and social and cultural identities. These latter factors have been amplified by Britain’s withdrawal from membership of the European Union.

Both of these aspects, the physical and the symbolic offer rich territories to visually investigate. Furthermore, given the current circumstances surrounding Covid 19 which somewhat compromised interactions with individuals – it was the landscape and architecture of the region that the photographers decided to concentrate upon, and perhaps are best placed to express some of these themes.

The duo have made a new series of images in the West Midlands to add to previous studies made across different areas of Europe. This will extend the body of work in terms of location, but also offer a chance to engage with particular aspects of the region, including the contemporary representation of the rural idyll in a contemporary multi-cultural, digital society.

Image Credit: The Anthology Of Rural Life, by Oliver Udy & Colin Robins.

11 02 2020

Polly Braden

Polly Braden has been making new work in Shropshire and Warwickshire in collaboration with single mothers. Through photographs and interviews she highlights the actual lived experience of austerity and particularly universal credit, on single mothers, working in low paid jobs whilst bringing up children.

Her work is based on collaboration and representation and advocates for women. Polly’s research looks at the economic impact of government policy that has created hardship and injustices. The women she works with will be shown as hero’s not victims. They are photographed full of life, with their children, using small gestures and intricacies to highlight bonds and female strength.

Polly Braden is a documentary photographer whose work features an ongoing conversation between the people she photographs and the environment in which they find themselves. Highlighting the small, often unconscious gestures of her subjects, Polly particularly enjoys long-term, in depth collaborations that in turn lends her photographs a unique, quiet intimacy. Polly has produced a large body of work that includes not only solo exhibitions and magazine features, but most recently four books: Adventures in the Lea Valley (Hoxton Mini Press, 2016), Great Interactions: Life with Learning Disabilities and Autism (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2016), Out of the Shadows: The Untold Story of People with Autism or Learning Disabilities (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2018) alongside writer Sally Williams, and London’s Square Mile: A Secret City (Hoxton Mini Press, 2019.)

Caption: Lindsey. From the book Out of the Shadows: the Untold Story of People with Autism or Learning Disabilities. By Polly Braden

07 02 2020

Sam Laughlin

Sam Laughlin walked the length of the West Midlands region in one trip, starting in the Wye Valley and Herefordshire and walking north to the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District. He made work that explores the conflicting political, economic and social influences behind rural land management in the west midlands area, focussing on the ways in which these influences are manifested in the physical landscape, and the resulting effect on biodiversity.

Habitat loss, whether due to intensive farming practices, forestry, or housing development, is one of the most significant factors driving the global mass extinction event which is currently underway. A recently published report from the WWF revealed that humans have caused the loss of 60% of wild animals globally since 1970. This number was 50% just four years ago. These startling figures represent a global trend, but one with local causes rooted in our expectations of individual landscapes; what they should provide for us and where we view their value in an age of expanding consumption.

Sam Laughlin is a British visual artist whose recent practice is primarily concerned with intricate natural processes. Mainly utilising large format black and white photography, his work is characterised by its slowness, taking the form of long term projects intended primarily for exhibition.

Laughlin’s work has most recently been exhibited at Jerwood Space, Impressions Gallery, John Hansard Gallery and Towner Art Gallery. In 2015 Laughlin was commissioned by John Hansard Gallery to create work over a 4 year period. In 2017 he received the Jerwood/Photoworks Award.

Image Credit: Wildflower ‘Island’ from the series The Growing Things by Sam Laughlin

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.