Blog Archive

Following an Open Call photographer Sam Ivin has been awarded the new Residency commission in Stoke on Trent. The residency will see Ivin engaging with individuals and communities that moved to or migrated to Stoke-on-Trent from within the UK or internationally. Those that have made their home in the city and work in the city have made Stoke-on-Trent a diverse community and the city it is today.

Photography is part of these people’s journey; from the places and people they left to their new lives in Stoke-on-Trent. These photographs will be in people’s family albums, stored in shoe boxes, treasures and keepsakes for themselves, their families and friends.

Ivin will create an archive of photographs and a new work for exhibition.  The archive will tell the participant’s stories of arriving in the city and where their journey started from.  A positive project, Ivin will celebrate commonalities using images from local people’s own photography collections, having them work with these images to present a contemporary archive and a work for exhibition.

The residency will take place between June – September 2017.

During his previous project, Lingering Ghosts, Ivin visited Sanctus St. Mark’s, a refugee support group based in St. Mark’s church in Stoke-on-Trent.  This body of work, commissioned by Fabrica, Treviso, Italy, saw him working with refugees in all parts of the UK.  Since publishing the award winning and critically acclaimed Lingering Ghosts in February 2016 and exhibiting the work around Europe Ivin has become increasingly interested in the integration of migrants in UK cities.

Ivin will create an archive of photographs focusing on the migrant community in Stoke on Trent by looking back through family and personal archives, having conversations and delivering workshops.   He will investigate the topic of immigration through migrants’ perspectives.

Sam Ivin is a photographer whose work focuses on social issues and the people connected with them. His pictures attempt to demonstrate the impact situations have on his subjects. By documenting their stories and perspectives he hopes to provide a more personal, tangible understanding of them. He studied Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport graduating in 2014.  Since then he has been awarded numerous significant photography prizes including the Magnum Photos Graduate Photographers Award, May 2017, The GMC First Prize, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, March 2017, the Best Graduate Single Image, Runner Up,  British Journal of Photography (BJP) Breakthrough Award 2016 and the Winner of Best Single Image, Human Category at Renaissance Photography Prize 2015.

The project is a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite, supported by Arts Council England and is part of the Creative People and Places Programme.

Image Credits

Featured image above: Sam Ivin. Pakistan from Lingering Ghosts.  2015, Fabrica, Treviso, Italy.


Sam Ivin.  Sudan from Lingering Ghosts.2015, Fabrica, Treviso, Italy.

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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.

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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.

I Sell the Shadow to Save the Substance new work by Lucy Hutchinson is exhibited on The Photographers’ Wall from 2nd December 2014 – 22nd February 2015.

The body of work is the result of a residency undertaken by the artist at The Library of Birmingham, awarded by Turning Point West Midlands.

The work is a response to the study of Carte-de-Visite images from the library’s nationally and internationally significant photography collection. The Carte-de-Visite images, taken in Birmingham Studios, document the Victorian middle class dressed up in their finery. Staged against opulent backdrops and scenery the images often contrasted the subjects’ social status by using props as a representation of position and wealth.

In response to these historical images, the artist has developed three female identities. The characters and sets created are representations of women of British middle class heritage who have lived in Hong Kong for a number of years. Using the conventions of classical portrait structure, the presentation of these characters explores how these subjects, who no longer relate to either culture, attempt to remain quintessentially British.

Through combining contemporary and historical status symbols directly associated with ‘Britishness’, ranging from influential designers to ideas of moral hierarchy which are present in the British middle class, the artist has explored how these characters present their status and questions the importance of authenticity in images.

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

Image Credit: © Lucy Hutchinson

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01 10 2014

EMPIRE: Jon Tonks

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.

Since completing the project in 2013, he published the book ‘Empire’ through Dewi Lewis publishing. The book contains four chapters looking at each island visited. Through short texts that accompany the pictures, the book combines history and anecdote, telling the story of these remote and remarkable islands, with a curiosity about the lives of these distant lands that remain very firmly British.

As part of this touring exhibition the Library of Birmingham will be exhibiting works in vitrines that show the development of the project, from ephemera collected over the journeys around the Atlantic, to contact sheets from some of the 400 rolls of film shot, through to the 8-sheet prints of the book prior to its binding.

Photographs from the book are being exhibited at the Arena Gallery, mac Birmingham from October 18th 2014 until January 4th 2015.

The touring photography exhibition of Jon Tonks’ Empire was commissioned and co-produced by mac Birmingham, the Library of Birmingham, Ffotogallery, Cardiff and Impressions Gallery, Bradford.


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.

GRAIN has been awarded one the 19 AHRC funded CATH (Collaborative Arts Triple Helix) Projects, by the University of Birmingham and the University of Leicester.

Through CATH, GRAIN has established a cross sector team to investigate the shifting value of photography between the archive and audience engagement with it.

Within the context of digital media, the nature of archives in the 21st century is expanding. Whilst photographs continue to be curated and commissioned by cultural organisations, living collections are also being actively produced by wider demographics and archived on the Internet in a variety of ways. The culmination of these activities is arguably represented on the one hand by the intentional ‘public archive’ and, on the other, by the unintentional, ‘people’s photographic archive’ online.

Mining the Archive will explore the different intentional and unintentional archives that focus on two case studies: the previous and current sites of the Library of Birmingham, and the area of the Longbridge which used to be the home of the British Leyland automobile factory. In each case, the intentional archives will be compared to the unintentional archives posted online by individuals through sites such as Flikr, Facebook and Instagram.

Through the comparison of public and personal archives, the project will explore shifting notions of intentionality, value and collecting in order to establish investigate significant themes around what public collections represent in relation to the public(s) themselves, and will have benefit within debates on collection policies of cultural institutions. In addition, the collaboration between the University of Birmingham, GRAIN/Library of Birmingham and the digital SME The Swarm will enable a plural interpretation of the existing and imagined nature of archives in the 21st century.

Image: Francis Frith & Co, Reading Room, Birmingham Reference Library, c1890

The largest regional survey of photography

GRAIN commissioned leading researchers and consultants Wafer Hadley to look at photography audiences in the West Midlands region.  Following the largest survey in the region the results are in and a final report has been produced which will enable GRAIN and the Library of Birmingham to develop activity that is ambitious, relevant and developmental.

The research found that the region has a strong photography tradition but the region’s photography infrastructure has been relatively weak.  As a starting point there was little information on photography audiences and the research was commissioned at a challenging time for arts engagement.    The research showed that GRAIN has a strong foundation to build upon, and its sense of direction is very evident.  GRAIN is in a strong position to engage with existing and potential photography audiences through activity at the Library of Birmingham and regionally with partners and in different locations.

If you would like a copy of the findings of the report please contact

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.