Blog Archive

Friday 21st May 2021
9:30 am – 17:30 pm
Online (places must be booked in advance)

The Rural Gaze will consider, explore, debate and review how photographers and photography practice develops and responds to the rural.

In January 2020 GRAIN Projects commissioned acclaimed, established and emerging photographers and artists to make new work in collaboration with and in response to rural communities and locations. In the new bodies of work the photographers explore issues of rural life, environments, economics, politics, land use, community and cultural identity against a backdrop of post Brexit agriculture, the global climate emergency and the Covid 19 pandemic.

The projects range from the poetic, documentary, conceptual and archival and demonstrate a range of different approaches to photography about the rural that is not dominated by the picturesque, pastoral or romantic but by important new voices that show the complexities, connections and diversity of the rural landscape, people and places in a state of significant change and dramatic shifts in agriculture and rural communities. The work also remarks on the city and the countryside and shows our essential and integral relationship with the land and the rural.

The artists and photographers are Alannah CooperEmily GrahamGuy MartinLeah GordonMarco KesselerMatthew BroadheadMurray BallardNavi KaurOliver Udy and Colin RobinsPolly Braden and Sam Laughlin. They will be joined by academics and writers Camilla Brown and Mark Durden to facilitate the symposium.

A new hard back publication, to be released this summer, will feature all the projects along with new writing by Camilla Brown and Mark Durden.


  • Symposium Ticket; £15 standard / £10 concessions (plus booking fee)
  • Symposium Ticket & special pre order publication price; £35 (plus booking fee)

Tickets Available Here.

For Student block bookings made by an institution please email


Image Credit: Around the Stump (c) Murray Ballard

11 02 2020

Alannah Cooper

Alannah Cooper made work focussing on the village customs, folklore and traditions of the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District. Having researched communities, rituals and annual customs that are particular to villages like Endon, Ipstones and Froghall she then found them all cancelled during the Covid 19 pandemic and so became reliant on her research and reconstructions.

In the work AND IF THE DAY HAD OTHER THINGS TO SHOW, THEY ARE FORGOTTEN NOW she asks ‘What can be determined about a place by the stories lucky enough to be written down and the clues found in archive images?’ Endon’s Well Dressing, which dates back to 1845, is celebrated and blessed annually with a May Queen, May Pole, Scarecrow competitions and a host of activities. Dressing the well with cut flowers is used to celebrate nature and fertility, now arranged into images of man’s footprint – buildings, boats, bridges and flags. Alannah’s research looks into the possible pagan origins of well dressings and their existence as a celebration of clean water following the pandemic of the Black Death. She stages 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 revisited a plot of unmanaged land on the edge of the Midlands town where she grew up attempting to reconcile memory, visual impressions, and the relationship between land and personal mythologies.

DIRFT is an attempt to recall these formative spaces encountered in her youth. The work seeks to piece together the visual impressions that impact on one's psychological attachment to place – the physical, sensorial aspects of environment – and the contradictions within such spaces – both familiar and strange; protective and hazardous in their secrecy; freeing and enclosed; unseen and visible. Emily is interested in the relationships between place and possibility, between sight and story, between photograph, narrative, and memory.

Emily 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

COUNTY LINES refers to a crime where drug gangs exploit children and vulnerable adults to have them courier drugs and money across the country. The practice severely affects rural towns and villages, including across the Midlands, linking the villages to the city gangs in a way that is often invisible. The “county line” itself is a phone line, controlled by dealers, who arrange the deliveries.

Guy explored rural communities where gangs are hiring vulnerable young people and adults using them as mules as they are unassuming enough to avoid suspicion and detection and where county lines have had a devastating impact on the most defenceless and exposed individuals in rural communities. His work was made against a backdrop of an estimated 2000 county lines drugs routes from large cities into the countryside, in a business worth over £3 million each day.

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

MONUMENT TO THE VANQUISHED (after Albrecht Dürer) | ENCLOSURE ACTS is a project by Leah Gordon made in Shropshire on and around areas of common land.

Enclosure describes the legal process, which primarily took place between the 16 th and 19 th century, where common rights over land were terminated and common land converted to the exclusive property of a landowner. This project starts from a belief that a deeper understanding of the process of enclosure, along with the industrial revolution and the American and Caribbean plantation system, is essential to a critical understanding of the systems and politics that we inhabit now.

Leah identified the small pockets of common land that still exist in Shropshire and photographed people who still had common rights there. She interviewed them about their personal stories, commoners’ status, and explored the history and local myths of the land. These stories provided a mechanism for understanding the historic legacy of enclosure and loss of commons.

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

CHARNWOOD FOREST is a series of photographs made in Leicestershire. Tracing the steps of his third great grandfather Frederick William Broadhead, a British artist and photographer who visited the area on a number of occasions, Matthew reviewed his descendant’s depiction of the romantic medieval landscape of Charnwood forest and views of Ulverscroft Priory ruin and slate quarries in Swithland Wood.

The area is undulating, rocky and picturesque, with barren areas and extensive tracts of woodland, which are now part of The National Forest. Large swathes of the Midland’s landscape had been left scarred by centuries of coal mining and other heavy industry, which led to the establishment of The National Forest Company in 1995. Retracing his ancestors’ steps in the present revealed that many ancient features are persevered whilst irreversible changes made by sites of heavy industry came full circle through their transition into nature reserves and spaces for leisure.

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 made work focussing on the South Asian diaspora experience focusing on a Bangladeshi restaurant in the Staffordshire Moorlands. For decades, setting up restaurants has been an integral part of the South Asian diaspora in the UK. The local Indian (or curry house) has long been the staple Friday night favourite and rural communities have embraced the food culture and experience.

Following a period of research into restaurants that are owned and managed by Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani families across the rural West Midlands, Navi focused on the Mehek restaurant, near Leek, Staffordshire. In her work she depicts the resilience of first generation immigrants and the dreams and aspirations of their descendants.

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 on-going collaboration between photographers Colin Robins and Oliver Udy. Together they are producing an archive of material that reveals and documents continuities and shifts in patterns of contemporary rural life within European communities.  Their contribution to ‘The Rural Gaze’ was made in the village of Meriden, the so called traditional ‘centre’ of England.

Meriden sits in what is known as the ‘Meriden Gap’, a roughly 10 square mile radius of mostly rural, pastoral and agricultural green belt sheltering in, what is now, the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull. The notion of it as the ‘centre of England’ is manifest in its roadside signage, in the plaque on an ancient cross standing on the village green as well as in the ‘Heart of England Social Club’, Heart of England Conference and Events Centre’, ‘Heart of England Aeromodelling Club’ and so forth. Colin Robins and Oliver Udy are photographers and academics who work as a duo.

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

11 02 2020

Polly Braden

Polly Braden collaborated with two single mothers and their children in the rural West Midlands to create bodies of work for HOLDING THE BABY. The project shifts entrenched assumptions, particularly about single mums, and highlights the imagination, determination, strength and resilience of being a lone parent. There are over 2 million single parent households in the UK. 91% are single mothers. Creating a home, making a world for ourselves and our loved ones, is a fundamental human process.

Through a collaborative process based on photographs and interviews, the project highlights the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a single parent – the economic pressures, benefit sanctions, difficulty finding affordable childcare and isolation – and how despite financial hardship, single mothers succeed, nonetheless, in creating a sense of home and belonging.

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.)

Image Credit:  Polly Braden

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.