CURRENT PROJECTS: 10 projects commissioned in collaboration with rural communities across the Midlands

We are delighted to announce, with thanks to Arts Council England, a new programme of 10 projects in collaboration with rural communities across the Midlands.  The selected photographers and artists will work with communities to explore issues of rural life, lifestyles and environments.  The projects will focus on rural economics, health and wellbeing, diversity, young people, land rights, cultural identity and post Brexit agriculture.

The commissioned photographers & artists are; Alannah Cooper, Emily Graham, Guy Martin, Leah Gordon, Matthew Broadhead, Murray Ballard, Navi Kaur, Oliver Udy & Colin Robins, Polly Braden and Sam Laughlin.

The projects will culminate in a new publication and a symposium which will be a platform for sharing work as well as having dialogue and debating the issues and concerns that have been discovered and raised through the production of the work.

Image Credit: Deer browse-line (various species) from the series A Certain Movement, by Sam Laughlin

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

01 02 2020

Marco Kesseler

Marco Kesseler has been creating new work about the hidden Midlands landscape where our food is produced and the seasonal staff that work tirelessly to harvest it.

Kesseler’s work has been shaped by Brexit politics and how they have provoked many uncertainties within the agricultural industry, revealing the uneasy relationship between the nation’s reliance on seasonal workers, and growing English nationalism that often draws on nostalgia of the English pastoral, but which bears little resemblance to modern life. With 99% of seasonal staff in the UK migrating from Europe he was keen to portray some of the people that sustain an essential industry picking our food at a time of political and ecological flux.

The photographer has visited and worked with farming communities across the West Midlands to find out more about some of the rapid changes and challenges faced in the industry. Some of the larger farms have been working collaboratively with researchers and robotics engineers to develop mechanised fruit picking, with some farmers thinking it may be as little as 5 years away before harvesting soft fruit and tomatoes can be automated on a commercial scale.

More recently Coronavirus looks to disrupt an already fragile industry that the nation relies on. In early April ’20 the Government predicted a shortfall of 90,000 workers to harvest the fruit and vegetables, which have already been planted. Concordia, a large scale recruitment firm announced a “Feed The Nation” campaign but with no concrete plan for support from Government, farmers and ordinary people and businesses have taken it into their hands to find solutions. Some farms have now chartered flights for migrant fruit pickers and volunteers have also been recruited following their change of work status due to the pandemic.  Since launching in April over 15,000 people have signed up to offer their services to more than 200 participating farms.

Kesseler has been looking at representations of agriculture in art through the ages, from ancient depictions to present day, there has been one constant, which has remained unchanged – the human presence and interaction with the landscape, and more specifically the use of our hands in the process from sowing to harvesting. As more and more parts of the agricultural process give way to new technology and machinery, the potential for the future of food to be fully mechanised may not be such a distant concept, the photographer believes that this is an important time to be recording this work and to work with an essential workforce living on the periphery of society.

Marco Kesseler is a photographer based in the UK, with an interest in the role of narrative, studying both fact and fiction, as a reference point in representing contemporary social stories.  Working with communities over an extended period of time, previous works have documented the socio-political effects of the Ukrainian revolution; living in hiding with Albanian families persecuted in the age old traditions of blood feuds, as well as celebratory traditions in Greece.

Past exhibited works have been included in The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, Paris Photo, PhotoIreland Festival, The Renaissance Photography Prize and The Sony World Photography Awards and clients include The FT Weekend Magazine, The New York Times, TIME and The British Journal of Photography.

Image Credit: Marco Kesseler

We are delighted to be once again working with Coventry University and The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum to deliver three talks by acclaimed photographers Lottie Davies, Lisa Barnard and Arpita Shah.

Lisa Barnard
The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
18th March | 6pm
(Plus Booking Fee)

Lisa Barnard’s photographic practice discusses real events, embracing complex and innovative visual strategies that utilise both traditional documentary techniques with more contemporary and conceptually rigorous forms of representation. Barnard connects her interest in aesthetics, current photographic debates around materiality and the existing political climate.

“Barnard describes herself as a photographic artist, but her work seems unapologetically political. She pays homage to, and undercuts, the tropes of documentary realism”. Sean O Hagan, Guardian Review of  ‘Chateau Despair’.

Barnard is an Associate Professor and Programme leader on the MA in Documentary Photography at The University of South Wales. She has two publications both with GOST, Chateau Despair, supported by the Arts Council and Hyenas of the Battlefield, Machines in the Garden, supported by the Albert Renger Patzsche Book Award. Her latest work, The Canary and the Hammer was published by MACK in September 2019 and was funded by the Getty Images Prestige Grant.

Book your ticket here.

Arpita Shah
The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
25th March | 6pm
(Plus Booking Fee)

Arpita Shah is a photographic artist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She works between photography and film, exploring the fields where culture and identity meet. As an India-born artist, Shah spent an earlier part of her life living between India, Ireland and the Middle East before settling in the UK. This migratory experience is reflected in her practice, which often focuses on the notion of home, belonging and shifting cultural identities. Shah’s work tends to draw from Asian and Eastern mythology, using it both visually and conceptually to explore issues of cultural displacement in the Asian Diaspora.

Shah’s project ‘Nalini’ which was shot across India, Kenya and UK and explores the artist’s own maternal lineage was debuted at Street Level Photoworks in 2019 and will be touring to Impressions Gallery, Bradford from 17th Jan – 28th March 2020. Shah is currently developing new work across the Midlands exploring British Asian female identity commissioned by Grain Projects.

Book your ticket here.

To date we have been delighted to host talks by the following;

  • Mat Collishaw
  • Faye Claridge
  • Nathaniel Pitt and Donall Curtin
  • Tom Hunter
  • Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl
  • Bruce Gilden
  • David Birkett
  • Daniel Meadows
  • Simon Roberts
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Matthew Murray
  • David Hurn
  • Trish Morrissey
  • Guy Martin
  • Lua Ribeira
  • Liz Hingley
  • Geoff Broadway
  • Anand Chhabra
  • Mark Neville
  • Kate Peters
  • Arpita Shah
  • Katrina Sluis
  • Indre Serpytyte
  • Lottie Davies

Image Credit: Lottie Davies, Quinn

Grain Projects, New Art West Midlands, Aarhus Billedkunstcenter and Galleri Image are delighted to announce that Laura Dicken has been selected as the successful recipient of the International Bursary 2020. Laura will now undertake a period of research in Aarhus, Denmark, in March 2020.

Laura’s research proposal was selected by representatives from each of the four organisations from a batch of very strong and exciting proposals. The panel were particularly impressed by the focused, specific approach Laura took to her proposal and by the clear case she made for the impact of the bursary upon the development of her practice.

Laura’s work ‘You Are Another Me’ explores migration through the lens of the female (and female identifying) experience. The project includes portraits and stories of women from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities who have, for various reasons, migrated alone. By facilitating the telling of these disparate stories she hopes to bring new voices to the migration narrative and to highlight not only the vast differences but to celebrate and illuminate the many similarities. Having worked with participants in Copenhagen, in a pilot of this project, Laura is now able to use her research methodologies to connect with communities in Aarhus, to promote understanding, compassion, international cooperation and collaboration.

Laura’s ongoing body of work is a series of projects which are collaborations with individuals, communities and arts organisations. Through her work Laura hopes to create opportunities for previously untold stories to be shared authentically and with agency. Her process is built around meaningful connection, conversation, workshops and photography. Laura is interested in illuminating the shared human experience and celebrating the extraordinary ordinary.

About New Art West Midlands
New Art West Midlands is the Contemporary Visual Arts Network for the region. Our purpose is to strengthen and develop the contemporary visual arts sector in the West Midlands, creating defining opportunities for West Midlands’ artists and curators, and working collectively to safeguard the future of artists and our sector.

About Galleri Image
Galleri Image is a non-profit exhibition space, which aims to promote high quality photo-based art by showing Danish and international photography and video art. Founded in 1977, the gallery is the longest running non-profit exhibition space for photographic art in Scandinavia, and for many years it was also the only photo gallery in Denmark. Over the past 40 years, Galleri Image has achieved an international reputation for its exhibitions and has contributed considerably to the recognition and understanding of photography as an important and independent medium in the world of visual art. Based in Aarhus, Denmark, and with free entry to all its shows, the gallery regularly hosts talks, discussions, seminars, workshops and guided exhibition tours. We actively seek to support young talents and frequently tour our exhibitions around the world.

About Aarhus Billedkunstcenter
Aarhus Center for Visual Art (Aarhus Billedkunstcenter, AaBKC) is an artist resource center serving visual artists in Denmark’s Central Jutland region. Based in Aarhus, Aarhus Center for Visual Art strengthens the local arts community by creating opportunities for networking and collaboration between artists and institutions, offering professional development services to artists, facilitating discourse and community outreach with public art events and hosting residencies for local and international artists and art professionals.

Photo Credit: Laura Dicken

GRAIN worked with a group of young people from the rural town of Whitchurch, Shropshire. Jamie, Rowan, Kelsey, Robyn, Matthew, Noah and Dylan attend the youth group at Beechtree Community Centre in Whitchurch. They created their own photography projects to tell the stories of how they live their lives, what the town and community mean to them and to explore what its like to grow up in a rural town.

Whitchurch is a market town in northern Shropshire. It lies 2 miles east of the Welsh border, 20 miles north of the county town of Shrewsbury, 20 miles south of Chester, and 15 miles east of Wrexham. At the 2011 Census, the population of the town was 9,781.

You can see the work created by the young people by following the
@WittyPhotographers Instagram page.

The project was led by Stephen Burke and in partnership with The Hive, Shrewsbury and supported by Labyrinth Photographic and Arts Council England.

Image Credit: Photography by Robyn

Arenig is the name of the mountain to the north-west of Lake Bala, North Wales. This location is where artist Matthew Murray has producing a series of landscapes in response to the work of painters J. D. Innes and Augustus John who produced work at Arenig between 1911 and 1914. Murray’s approach is a personal representation. He depicts the landscape through what he feels rather than what he sees. Curator Roger Watson said of the work, ‘a series of dark mysterious landscapes that are cinematic, giving an emotional response as well as a sense of the solidity and earthbound sensation of the environment.’

The Arenig series, explores modern printing processes and early historical alternative printing techniques and how different printing approaches can give a different understanding and interpretation towards the final physical image. Photographing at Arenig and its surroundings locations, documenting diverse landscapes, surfaces and textures throughout; the different seasons allow Murray to experiment using a number of printmaking processes, each process giving a different result.

Murray is working collaboratively to explore new techniques and to reflect on the landscape. He is working with artists, emerging practitioners and communities looking at how people emotionally connect and respond to the landscape. This way of working will inform the work, harness strong ideas, show the exploration of place and identity, topical observation and the transformative moments within the landscape. Through research, collaboration, exhibition and publication, the intimate insight and obsessive study, will allow audiences to think about their own experience, memories and emotions when faced with landscape and nature.

“Photographs are about memory – or perhaps about the absence of memory, providing pictures to fill voids, illustrating and sometimes falsifying our collective memory (Lippard, 1998: 60)”

The new work will feature an engagement programme including workshops, masterclasses and a photo walk.

The work will be exhibited at Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum, Wiltshire in the summer of 2020. A new publication will accompany the exhibition.

Associated Events:

Photogravure Workshop with Jack Whitwell
9th and 10th November from 11am – 5pm
Hot Bed Press Studios,  First Floor, Casket Works Cow Lane, Salford M5 4NB
£45 (plus booking fee) for 2 days, 5 places, book your ticket here.

Learn copperplate photogravure in a two day workshop, taught by printmaker Jack Whitwell. You will learn how to expose, etch and print a 10×8 inch sized photograph of your choice. A high resolution image must be sent via email to,  at least 3 days ahead of the workshop. Some prior experience of etching and photography may help, however, it is not essential as full tuition will be provided.

What is Photogravure? The photogravure is an intaglio print, much like an etching, aquatint or mezzotint. The continuous tone of the original photographic negative are etched, in varying strengths of acids, onto a copper plate using a carbon printed gelatin resist and an aquatint halftone. Ink is then applied to the etched plate, wiped with a cheese cloth. Dampened cotton rag paper is laid on the plate and is then run through a roller press. The image in ink is then transferred from the plate to the paper. Photogravure is a true continuous-tone ink printing technique. Hand printed photogravures have an atmospheric and object quality that is unique to the process. The print will also last a millennia, without fading, if cared for.

Photo-Walk with Fleur Olby and Matthew Murray
14 November Lickey Hills
12.30 – 4pm, meet at Lickey Hills Visitor Centre & café
Lickey Hills Country Park, Warren Lane, Rednal, Birmingham B45 8ER
£3 (plus booking fee), book your ticket here.

Join Matthew Murray and photographic artist Fleur Olby at the Lickey Hills for a photowalk.  Matthew and Fleur will talk about their approach to the landscape, their methodology and how that informs their work. Fleur’s narrative is in visual poems, she works with plants and food, in gardens and landscapes. North Yorkshire based she has exhibited her work internationally and has been She has had one monograph published by Fuel publishing and self published her latest one –  which is in the V&A’s National Library of artists books and Aperture’s library and The Photographer’s Gallery bookshop.  It is also part of her forthcoming exhibition at the Garden Museum in 2020. She has also had her work featured in The Observer magazine, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph.

Please dress sensibly for the conditions, and bring with you any refreshments you may require including, water, hot drinks and food.

Workshop with the Photocopy Club, In association with Matthew Murray
8th February | 10.30am – 5pm
The Shell, Birmingham City University
£25 (plus booking fee) 10 places only, book your tickets here.

The Photocopy club workshop gives you an insight into the history of zines, self publishing and street photography. You will get to shoot, curate and design as a group and you will have an introduction into Japanese book binding.

Participants need to bring a digital Camera (camera phone) Laptop and any cables to download images. No pre skills, but an interest in photography and self publishing.

The Photocopy Club is an open submission exhibition project which supports photographers and collectors through a series of xerox exhibitions, workshops, talks and events.  Since starting in 2011 TPC have curated over 30 group and solo exhibitions within the UK and abroad.   TPC has exhibited at the LAABF and the NYABF as well as OFFPRINT London and the Berlin Miss Read Book fair. They have worked with The Photographers Gallery, Magnum Photos, Photoworks, Woohoo Space, Joberg Photo School, Adidas, UCA, John Doe, Margret, Dr Martens, Doomed Gallery and a verity of photography festivals through the world.

The work is supported by Arts Council England, GRAIN Projects and the University of Gloucestershire.

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