Blog Archive

27 12 2023

Photo Café

PhotoCafé, Birmingham was an initiative that took place over four years to provide a monthly meet-up and live space for conversations about photography.  Established by Andrew Jackson and Attilio Fiumarella, in collaboration with GRAIN, meetings took place at 1000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter and were programmed monthly before moving online.  Speakers were booked to lead presentations and many conversations were had about exhibitions, publishing and photography careers.   PhotoCafe was timely and has inspired other meet-ups across the city that are photographer and artist-led.

Photo Café speakers include; Holly Revell, Laura Chen, Natalie Willatt, Tim Mills, Clare Hewitt, Laura Dicken, Elisa Moris Vai, Lesia Maruschak, Vera Hadzhiyska, Richard Mark Rawlins, Chris Hoare, Kirsty Mackay, Ania Ready, Gianluca Urdioz, Holly Houlton, Paul Romans, Tommy Sussex, Exposure Photography Festival, Emma Palm, Louie Villanueva, Angela Boehm, Dona Schwartz, The Other, Kelly O’Brien, Joanne Coates, Maryam Wahid, Camilla Brown, East Meets West, Multistory, Emma Chetcuti, Jaskirt Boora, Jagdish Patel, Liz Wewiora, Anthony Luvera, Rachel Barker, Sam Ivin, Mark Murphy, Andy Pilsbury, Nilupa Yasmin, Emma Case, Rob Hewitt, Living Memory Project, Geoff Broadway, Adam Neal, Emily Jones, Andrew Jackson, Atillio Fiumarella, Max Kandhola, Faye Claridge, Tom Hicks, Charisse Kenion, Gunhild Thomson, Marcus Thurman, James Abelson, Leanne O’Connor, Lucy Turner, Leah Hickey, Amanda Holdom, Tia Lloyd, Anand Chhabra, Beth Kane, Chris Neophytou, Jonny Bark, Fraser McGee, Peta Murphy, Red Eye, Duck Rabbit, Lilly Wales, Matthew Finn, Walter Rothwell, Richard Lambert, Anneka French, Caroline Molloy, Tarla Patel and Mark Wright.

In Spring 2018 GRAIN commissioned artist David Bethell to create a temporary camera obscura for Ilam Park, Staffordshire Moorlands.

Artist David Bethell is inspired by the rural landscape and natural environment.   He frequently uses performance, film and photography in his work to animate his installations and sculptures within the location and to explore narratives that speak of heritage, class and the land.

Ilam Park is a 158-acre country park situated in Ilam, on both banks of the River Manifold, owned and managed by the National Trust. The estate includes the remains of Ilam Hall, built in the 1820s.  Nearby, within the village, a Saxon church stands which houses the shrine of a Mercian king.  Most significant is the beautiful landscape, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a picturesque landscape of note.

It is the church that forms the basis and design for David Bethell’s site specific largescale work which functions as a camera obscura. Visitors engaged and experienced the surroundings as an inverted landscape from within the installation and were encouraged to engage with the landscape in new and interactive ways.

Writer Selina Oakes was commissioned to create a new piece of writing on the commission David Bethell Inverted Landscapes writing by Selina Oakes

Artist David Bethell has continued to work with the rural landscape and has shown his work nationally including at Home, Manchester and at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

26 01 2018


In 2018 GRAIN produced and co-curated Noises by Lua Ribeira at Argentea Art Gallery, Birmingham.

Photographer Lua Ribeira made Noises with British Jamaican women from Birmingham over a number of years, collaborating with them on the representation of contemporary Jamaican dancehall ritual.  Ribeira recreated scenes from dancehall culture at the participants’ homes, embracing the impossibility of fully understanding this cultural expression so very different from her own, Ribeira playfully dissects the ideas of femininity and sexuality within the performances.   Ribeira does not intend the images to comment on the Dancehall, but to become the ritual itself. The power of the transformations of the women and the innovation and provocation that they engage, often clash with Western ideas of femininity. ‘Mythological powers, the concept of female divinity and sacredness in Afro-Caribbean culture, were very present, fed by their folklore, universal subjects such as birth, love, death and sex are central to the encounters.’ – Lúa Riberia

The title is borrowed from author Dr Carolyn Cooper’s book ‘Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the”Vulgar” Body of Jamaican Popular Culture’..

Recipient of many international photography awards and now a Magnum Photos full member, Lua has continued to make work about ritural and expression.

For the exhibition a new piece of writing was commissioned by writer, curator and photographer Colin Pantall ‘Lose the Noise and you Lose the Meaning’

Commissioned by GRAIN in 2017 Liz Hingley, photographer and anthropologist,  collaborated with Syrian individuals who had arrived in Coventry through a distinctive UN program. Her aim was to capture the experience of the refugees  by weaving together archival collections and significant symbols of present-day life, Liz  explored the future of the UK’s fastest-growing city.

The work referenced the historic practice of presenting honoured visitors with symbolic keys to the city gates in relation to the SIM Card given to refugees as soon as they land in the UK. The SIM Card offers a direct link to scattered loved ones and an archive of photographic memories.  As an object and tool it thus offers an immediate sense of security, identity and home in a new place.

The work was curated as an  installation at  The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, the individual’s symbolic SIM Cards created handcrafted jewellery, personalised with symbols and exhibited alongside key collections from the city’s archive.

Liz has gone on to develop the SIM Project further giving tangible meaning to people’s virtual networks and exploring how the images we create and exchange through our smartphones map our place in the world and provide a portable sense of belonging.

The growing collection of personal SIM artefacts in the mobile exhibition have been made by over 170 participants from countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, Hong Kong, Ethiopia, and Libya at free workshops held in 7 countries across Europe to date.

People who have experienced displacement and those working to support refugees and asylum seekers are invited to intimate workshops.  In 2023 these took place at the Martin Parr Foundation and the Royal Photographic Society and in 2024 The SIM Project will be at Houston, Texas.

The SIM Project is led by Liz Hingley in collaboration with a growing team including Frank Menger of the Centre for Print Research at UWE, Bristol, jeweller Sofie Boons, Egemen Kızılcan and Janahan Sivanathan. The project is sponsored by 4JET innovations in glass.         

This project was commissioned by GRAIN Projects and was generously supported by Arts Council England, Rubery Owen Trust, Coventry University and The Herbert Art Gallery. Enormous thanks was also owed to Coventry City Council, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre and the participants in the project.

12 11 2017


In 2018 we GRAIN produced and curated an exhibition of  Matthew Murray’s new work at MAC, Birmingham.  Creating the work on Saddleworth Moor the photographer  created a photographic odyssey, an epic series of landscape works made over a period of four-and-a-half years. The exhibition was accompanied by a new publication, a symposium, and newly commissioned writing.

The location seemed untouched by human intervention with  Murray captured its changing moods under glowering skies, creating impressions, partly real and partly generated through the photographic process

In association with the exhibition GRAIN produced a national conference.  ‘Responding to A Landscape’ invited leading practitioners to speak on their processes and responses to landscape.  Those speaking alongside Murray included Richard Billingham, Chrystel Lebas, Jem Southam, Camilla Brown, Simon Constantine, John Hillman, Craig Ashley and Mark Wright. 

Supported by GRAIN Projects, Arts Council England, Gallery Vassie, mac Birmingham, Pirate Design and the University of Gloucestershire.

Image Credit:  Matthew Murray – Saddleworth Moor, Peak District

Friday 16th June 2017
9:30 am – 17:30 pm
Birmingham City University, The Parkside Building, B4 7BE

The State of Photography II will explore, debate and review how photographers and photography practice develops and responds in our current challenging times. How do we look at our world today and what does the world look like to photographers?

We invite acclaimed and outstanding photographers and artists who document the world around us to showcase their recent work. Each have different approaches to making their work which is issue based. They have been artist, story teller, observer, participant, explorer and poet. Their work has been made through collaboration, participation, community engagement, research and obstinacy.

Some document communities and people they are familiar with others offer external perspectives on social issues and situations. Does one offer a better way to tell a story? Is it important to come from a community or do you become too involved? Is it more objective to come in from the outside? How do we insure the engagement is sincere and does not exploit?

The documentary role of photography is changing, particularly as work is commissioned and made for gallery settings. Photography can impart the greatest truth of our times and sheds light on injustices, inequality and other aspects of our society. It has been and remains one of the strongest vehicles for change as photographers explore polities, gender, society, sexuality, diversity, economics and environment. It seems today – a time of political unrest, flux and crisis – more essential than ever to explore the role that photography can play.

During the Symposium we will hear from the perspective of the photographer, curator and academic. They share our concerns about the present and offer a diverse range of practices, experiences and stories that document the state of humanity and the world today.

The State of Photography Symposium aims to present new bodies of work, question and challenge ideas, as well as offering advice and talking about positive approaches to influence change, provoke, prompt and give a voice.

We will hear from and celebrate those that create self-initiated projects and commissioned bodies of work and see a range of photographic practices that are at the cutting edge of photography now.

Speakers include:

  • Andrew Jackson
  • Anthony Luvera
  • Camilla Brown
  • David Severn
  • Edgar Martins
  • John Hillman
  • Kajal Nisha Patel
  • Mahtab Hussain
  • Michelle Sank
  • Paul Herrmann (Redeye)
  • Peta Murphy Burke (Arts Council England)
  • Simon Constantine

Early Bird Concession: £15
Early Bird Standard: £18
Early Bird available until 31st May 2017.
Concession: £18
Standard: £25

To book your tickets click here.

*Please note prices include tea/coffee in breaks but do not include lunch. 

Photo credit: ‘The Bayou of Borba (Portugal)’, from the series Siloquies and Soliloquies on Death, Life and Other Interudes, 2016 © Edgar Martins.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 17.46.57

Thank you to everyone who contributed to our photography survey.

During Spring this year we set out to review our current Audience Development Strategy in order to inform our activities including opportunities for emerging artists and curators, new exhibitions, mentoring, professional development courses, events, symposia and commissions.

The research and review was led by independent consultants Wafer Hadley.   The results will be included in a report that will enable planning, programming, audience engagement activities and ongoing support for photographers.

Congratulations to our prize draw winner Katja Ogrin, whose name was chosen at random from all those who completed the survey.

If you would like to receive a summery of the findings, please contact

Image credit: Tom Hunter ‘Findings’ commission, Birmingham 2013.

In 2014 recent graduate Lucy Hutchinson was awarded a residency to respond to the collection at the Library of Birmingham and make new work for exhibition.  I Sell the Shadow to Save the Substance was based upton the artist’s research into the Carte-de-Visite archives at the Library of Birmingham.  Through the archive she explored aspects of gesture, class, status and wealth and in her new work performed for the camera to create female identities directly inspired by the archive.    

By merging contemporary and historical symbols linked with ‘Britishness’—from influential designers to concepts of moral hierarchy within the British middle class—the artist explored how these characters displayed their status. The artwork questioned the significance of authenticity in images and probed how these individuals represented their social standing.

The work was exhibited on The Photographers’ Wall, The Library of Birmingham.

Image Credit: © Lucy Hutchinson

01 10 2014


In 2014/2015 GRAIN supported the exhibition of EMPIRE by Jon Tonks as part of the touring programme.  Since completing the project in 2013 the book of photographs was published by Dewi Lewis publishing it then toured as an exhibition to MAC, Birmingham, the Library of Birmingham, Ffotogallery, Cardiff and Impressions, Bradford.

Empire is a fascinating journey across the South Atlantic exploring life on four remote islands – the British Overseas Territories of Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and St Helena – relics of the once formidable British Empire, all intertwined through their shared history.

Jon Tonks began the project in 2007, spending up to a month at a time in each territory, travelling 60,000 miles around the Atlantic via military outposts, low-lit airstrips and a long voyage aboard the last working Royal Mail Ship. Some 400 rolls of film, 24 flights and 32 days at sea later, the resulting work creates an insight into these distant places that resonate with a sense of Britishness which is remarkably recognisable yet inescapably strange. Jon photographed the people, the landscapes and the traces of the past embedded within each territory.

THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ WALL has been developed as a space in the Library of Birmingham dedicated to photography and photographers.

Launched in January 2014 the space will feature the works of emerging and established fine art photographers and will highlight the ambition and talent of some of the regions best photographers.

For more details of the forth show featured on The Photographers’ Wall, new work by artist Lucy Hutchinson, click here. The body of work is the result of a residency undertaken at The Library of Birmingham, awarded by Turning Point West Midlands.

From the 25th of February to the 29th of April 2015 the fifth exhibition to feature on The Photographers Wall will be on display. For more information about 5 Plus 5 click here.

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.