Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud

John Ruskin, the noted Victorian Art Critic and Social and Political thinker was born 8th of February 1819. Consequently a number of exhibitions and other events are being held around the country to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. Ruskin spent his last years at Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water, overlooking the Old Man and the other fells, so had a strong connection with the Lake District. Abbot Hall in Kendal have a strong connection with Ruskin and have a number of his drawings and watercolours in their collection. So, it’s not surprising that in this celebratory year they’re holding an exhibition.  Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud has been produced in partnership with York Art Gallery and University of York and is showing in Kendal from 12 July to 5 October.

Ruskin championed the work of the great British artist JMW Turner, proclaiming him to be ‘the greatest of the age’ and so the exhibition is intended to be

the first in-depth examination of the relationship between both men, their work, and the impact Ruskin had in highlighting climate change.

Abbot Hall website

Our first ever visit to Abbot Hall, way back in April 2012, was to see another exhibition featuring the works of Turner – Turner and his Contemporaries: The Hickman Bacon Watercolour Collection – we’ve been back many times since.

The exhibition includes a large number of paintings and drawings by both Ruskin and Turner, together with some by their contemporaries, and occupies the whole of the first floor of the Gallery.

The curators also commissioned contemporary artist Emma Stibbon to produce some large scale works in response to Ruskin’s concerns about the environment.

In June 2018, Royal Academician Stibbon retraced the steps of Turner and Ruskin visiting the Alps. She took the route made by Ruskin in June 1854 when he produced a series of daguerreotypes (early photographs) of Alpine scenery, to see what remains of the glaciers today.

Her work shows how geography has been impacted by climate change over the last two centuries.

Abbot Hall website

Turner’s paintings are usually nothing short of breathtaking and that was certainly the case with those works – mainly watercolours of British and alpine landscapes – included in the exhibition

JMW Turner, The Passage of Mount St Gothard, Taken from the Centre of the Teufels Broch (Devil’s Bridge), 1804 © Lakeland Arts Trust

Ruskin himself wasn’t a bad draftsman and water-colourist himself (although his paintings are not in Turner’s league, there aren’t many artists who are) and the exhibition featured a large number of his architectural drawings and landscapes. During his time at Brantwood he painted many pictures of the lake and fells, including this one of the Old Man seen from his home over the lake.

ohn Ruskin, Dawn, Coniston, 1873, Watercolour over pencil, Acquired with the support of a V&A Purchase Grant and the Friends of Abbot Hall, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria

During his travels in the Alps Ruskin photographed a glacier in the Alps, near Chamonix (photography being yet another of his interests)

John Ruskin and Frederick Crawley’s ‘Chamonix, Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc Massif’ photograph taken in June 1854

Emma Stibbon returned to the glacier and took photographs using another early photographic process, cyanotype, from the same position. Her images reveal just how far it had retreated as a result of climate change.

Stibbon is quoted in the Guardian

When we think of the Alps,” said Stibbon, “we think of iconic white peaks. By the end of this century, there probably won’t be any snow.”Advertisement

She added that Ruskin was ahead of his time in realising “the Industrial Revolution was affecting air quality and that air pollution was linked to the use of coal. He could see that glaciers move and I think he suspected that there was some [ice] recession, which would have been starting around that period in the 1850s.”

Another interesting and thought provoking exhibition at Abbot Hall.

Martin Parr – Return to Manchester

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After a quiet January due to both of us suffering from a bad cold and chest infection, we had a couple of busy days last weekend. On the Friday we had tickets to see the St Petersberg Philharmonic at the Bridgewater Hall with our son (the tickets were his Christmas present) so we decided to make an afternoon.

First stop was the Manchester City Art Gallery to take a look round the major exhibition of photographs of Manchester and some of the surrounding towns by Martin Parr, the well known documentary photographer, who studied at Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) between 1970 and 73. (He was almost kicked out, apparently, for failing a photography theory course!)

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The city made an impression on the young lad from the suburbs. He’s quoted on the exhibition website as saying

“I remember so well arriving into Manchester in 1970, having traveled from the safety of suburban Surrey. It was exciting and felt very real. “

As a keen photographic student should, he explored Manchester, taking photographs of the city and it’s inhabitants. And since leaving the city he’s returned on several occasions . This exhibition includes photographs from his student days and subsequent visits to the city. And the City Art Gallery also commissioned him to create a new body of work on Manchester and its inhabitants in 2018.

The earliest photos were largely black and white, “street photography” featuring mainly working class locals in the streets and pubs of the city, and several series of photos one featuring the homes and residents of a street in Salford,

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another one of residents and staff in Prestwich psychiatric hospital, the interior of Yates’ Wine lodges in Manchester and nearby towns and a photographic game involving matching up couples who were photographed in Piccadilly Gardens.

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I particularly liked the 1972 series June Street, a project with his friend and fellow photography student Daniel Meadows.  They had hoped to photograph the real Coronation Street, but it didn’t exist. So instead they selected a typical street of terraced houses in Salford – June Street.

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They got the residents to pose in their living rooms. The resulting photos brought back the memories of my youth as the interiors of the houses and the clothes the residents wore were very typical of the 70’s.

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The people appeared to have dressed up in their best outfits and were quite formally posed – quite different from Parr’s later work which are mainly (but not exclusively) informal “street photos”.

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I was never a drinker in Yates’ Wine Lodges which were but did venture inside very occasionally. But the photos, including one from the town where I grew up, really got across the atmosphere of the bare, “spit and sawdust” establishments.

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These days Parr is best known for his photographs emphasising bright vibrant colours, particularly yellows and reds, with his subjects caught unawares or in informal poses. A major part of the exhibition were photographs taken during recent visits to Manchester


……………… meeting people shopping, in hairdressers, in Mosques, in cafes, at markets, in factories, at parties, playing sport and in the gay village. He has captured scientists doing ground-breaking research at Manchester University, fans of the city’s world famous football teams and the state of the art facilities at the BBC in Media City. (Exhibition website)

and was interesting to see the city from his viewpoint.

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He must have took far too many photos to display full size so there was a large selection of smaller photos covering two sections of the wall.

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Here’s a few of my favourites

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At one time I spent hours doing this!

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And these photos taken in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford bring back memories of when I was more active politically

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The exhibition also included a short film with Martin Parr talking about Manchester and the exhibition and showing the printing of some of the photographs on display in the gallery.

“Affecting Change” at the Open Eye

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While we were in Liverpool last weekend we called into the Open Eye Gallery which is located in one of the modern glass buildings at Man Island near the Pier Head. The photographic gallery is in it’s 40th year and it’s always worth  a visit to have a look at whatever exhibition is on. We’ve seen some excellent photographs and discovered some talented photographers during our visits.

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The current exhibition Affecting Change

looks at how real change is made today, and what role photography has in that process. The exhibition features five rising photographers working in the North West.

The works on show look into the daily lives of people working hard to transform the lives of others. The artists have worked in collaboration with various collectives across Liverpool, a city renowned for transcending insular politics by championing positive change.

There’s even an opportunity for visitors to contribute their views on how to affect change, originally by writing on the wall (see photo at the head of this post), but as this has become filled up (obviously plenty of people have views on this!) the comments have to be written on sticky notes that can be stuck to the nearby door.

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Addressing the issue of how migrants are treated, Yetunde Adebiyi has produced a series of photographs based around the work of Between the Borders, an organisation dedicated to improving the experiences of asylum seekers.

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I particularly liked the wall of photographs by Jane MacNeil 

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There are controversial plans to redevelop the North Docks area on the Liverpool waterfront. A lot of the publicity has focused on how the development could affect the look of the historic waterfront with talk of removing its Unesco world heritage site status. There’s been less written about the affect a major development will have on the people currently living and working there. Working with the North Docks Community Group, the photographer has produced a series of images , featuring people from the local community and the places where they live and work.

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Jane MacNeil usually specialises in street photography, so this series based on posed portraits is something of a departure for her. But a successful one in my view.

Upstairs, Danny Ryder has recreated the inside of the not-for-profit radical bookshop News From Nowhere. Now located in Bold Street, a street of independent shops, many years ago I used to spend many an hour browsing the shelves in the shop in its original location near the entrance to the Queensway Mersey Tunnel.

The replica bookshop also functions as a reading room and social space, with seating and hot drinks provided.

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Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men

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I’ve finally got around to writing up my impressions of the exhibition of photographs by Salford born photographer, Shirley Baker at Manchester City Art Gallery. The Gallery website tells us:

Shirley Baker (1932-2014) is thought to be the only woman practicing street photography in Britain during the post-war era. Baker’s humanist documentary work received little attention throughout her sixty-five years career.

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“My sympathies lay with the people who were forced to exist miserably, often for months on end, sometimes years, whilst demolition went on all around them.”

The exhibition which was originally shown The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

specifically focuses on her depictions of the urban clearance programmes of inner city Manchester and Salford.

with photographs mainly taken during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the years when I was growing up – not in Manchester or Salford, but in a Lancashire mill town less than 20 miles away. The urban landscape was similar to that of the big city – with terraced streets and post war development. Other than the first year of my life (which I can’t, of course, remember) we lived in modern housing, initially on a Council Estate and then, in my teens, on a new build estate. But my grandparents lived in a terraced house on a typical street.

Shirley Baker was very much a “street photographer”, and took photographs of ordinary people – the women, children and “loitering men” who lived in the poorer parts of the “twin cities” of Manchester and Salford, in and around the terraced streets, bomb sites and slum clearances.

These photographs really resonated with me – as well as most of the visitors to the exhibition who I overheard talking as I walked around the galleries. The streets, the clothing and the activities depicted in the photographs, all brought back memories.

The young boy in the cowboy hat could have been me – I had one too and would have dressed just like that when I was a similar age.

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and when I was a little older I could easily have been one of these boys fishing down the grid for “treasure” or one of the children playing on the makeshift swing made from a rope tied to the lamp-post in the picture at the top of this post.

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The clothing the children and adults in the photos are wearing are very much the same as I remember. So very different from today’s “designer” outfits that even relatively young children wear today.

And the lady in this photograph is wearing very typical clothing for the time with her overcoat and headscarf – she could have been walking down any of the streets in my home town when I was growing up.

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Here we can see an older woman cleaning the pavement, and possibly whitening the step with a “donkey stone” . People were poor but took pride in their homes. With her patterned housecoat covering her dress, her atire is typical of that worn by a working class woman of her age in the 60’s and 70’s in the north of England.

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Inner city Salford and Manchester were poorer areas than the town in which I lived. So I don’t recall things as being quite as grim as in many of the photographs when I was a child. Nevertheless the photographs are representative of the world in which I lived.

I’d not heard of Shirley Baker before. It was difficult for women to establish a career as a photographer in the 1960’s.

(She studied) Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology, being one of very few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training. Upon graduating, she took up a position at Courtaulds the fabric manufacturers, as an in-house factory photographer. Working in industry did not meet her photographic ambitions in wanting to emulate a ‘slice of life’ style similar to that of Cartier-Bresson. She soon left to take up freelance work in the North West. Further study in medical photography over one year in a London hospital did little to settle her ambition to work as a press photographer. Hampered by union restrictions on female press photographers, she abandoned plans to work for the Manchester Guardian. Though she took up teaching positions in the 1960s, ultimately it was in pursuing her own projects where she came to feel most fulfilled. (Source)

More of her work can be seen on the Shirley Baker website.

When this exhibition was shown in London, many of the visitors (probably mainly middle class southerners) must have thought they were staring at a different world. But for me, and other visitors to the Manchester gallery, it brought back memories of our childhood and youth. (I’ve nothing against middle class southerners, by the way. I may have grown up in a working class family, but have to admit to being a middle class northerner these days)

In summary, this is an excellent exhibition which I will, no doubt, revisit, probably more than once, when I’m in Manchester over the next few months.

Addendum. I was in Manchester today to meet up with an Australian friend (like me a middle class professional, who grew up in a working class mining community) who was in the city for a short while. I introduced her to Lowry (she’d never heard of him) by showing her some of the pictures in the Gallery’s collection – and then took her to the exhibition to show her the world I grew up in.

About the Young Idea

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I was the right age to be a punk. However, although I liked some of the music, the aimless anarchism of the punk movement never appealed to me. But punk did achieve something significant– it renewed and refreshed popular music, taking it right back to the basics. Later, this allowed new bands to emerge, rediscovering older styles, but with a more contemporary twist. One band that did this was the Jam. Their music and style inspired by the Who, other 60’s Mod bands and the soul of Tamla Motown and Stax. And they adopted a retro, 60’s Mod style too. Now that was something that did appeal to me.

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So when I was down in London and had a few hours to spare the morning of the second day, rather than hide away in my hotel room with my laptop working, I decided to take some “me time” and visit the exhibition about the Jam which was taking place at Somerset House.

About the Young Idea (the title taken from their single In the City) was

the first comprehensive exhibition about the extraordinary band whose music immortalised life for Britain’s disenchanted youth during the late 70s and early 80s. Through unseen material and fan memorabilia, the exhibition charts the trio’s journey from Sheerwater Secondary Modern in Woking to superstardom, (Somerset House website)

The exhibition explored the origins and  history of the band, the influence of Paul Weller’s father, John (it included a video tribute to him), their music and lyrics, their style, memorabilia and their relationship with their fans.

The first room looked at the origins of the band and included some interesting photographs of a young Paul Weller

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and some drawings that he’d done

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There were examples of their instruments (I can’t resist a good guitar!)

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Clothing epitomising the Mod style

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Records and record sleeves

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and badges that would be worn by their fans (very popular at the time)

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The band’s music was radical, many of their songs addressing social issues and progressive ideas. Many of them are still relevant today – The Eton Rifles, being particularly adapt when Old Etonians and other ex public schoolboys are ruling the roost.

Not surprisingly, examples of their music featured heavily being played on videos at the beginning

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and towards the end of the exhibition

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There’s only so far you can go  with a style of music and they split in December 1982 when Paul Weller decided it was time to move on, exploring different styles with the Style Council and as a solo artist. He’s still going strong.

Open 1

A visit to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, which is inside one of the black glass clad modern buildings on Man Island, between the Albert Dock and the Pier Head, is always worthwhile. We’ve enjoyed all the exhibitions we’ve seen there since we discovered it a coupe of years ago.

The Gallery, which was launched in 1977, was one of the UK’s first galleries dedicated solely to photography, which is poorly represented in traditional art galleries. It moved to it’s current premises in 2011. The current exhibition, Open 1, is the first of a series of three annual exhibitions showing work selected from photographs submitted by the artists themselves. It features the work of six artists concentrating on social portraiture – photographs of people but emphasising social issues and concerns.

I particularly liked Desk Job, a series of photographs by Louis Quail of people working in offices. With deindustrialisation more and more people have to work in office environments and to me the photographs captured the boredom that this type of work often entails and also the close similarities between offices in different parts of the world.

Desk Job #9. 2013 © Louis Quail

“As we have moved into the technical and information age, there has been a shift towards more office-based work. Whatever our job title or geographical location, our tools and environment are becoming similar. It is quite perverse; to travel around the world to photograph inside an office that looks like its in Croydon [UK].” (from an interview with Louis Quail  for Wired magazine quoted in the exhibition guide)

In G20 Double Takes, Billy Macrae took photographs of various locations during the G20 summit meeting in London 2009 and then revisited the same locations where he took a second photograph, including the original picture in the shot, positioned so that it fitted in to the landscape. Here’s an example

G20 Double Takes 2014 © Billy Macrae

So the frantic action from the demonstrations slots in and is superimposed on the more sedate later scene.

The most shocking images, though, were from the Juvenile in Justice project by Richard Ross, comprising photographs taken of juvenile correctional facilities in 31 states in the USA. There are, quite frankly, some shocking images and accompanying stories.  A sad testament to the tragedy of a divided society in the world’s richest country.

György Kepes at Tate Liverpool

György Kepes Leaf and Prism

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist. In 1930, he moved to Berlin, and later joined the studio of László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian photographer who had taught at the Bauhaus Dessau. Moholy-Nagy left Germany to escape the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam, then London and then finally settled in Chicago where he set up the “New Bauhaus”. Kepes followed him and was invited to work at the new art school as head of the  department of Colour and Light.

Although he didn’t consider himself a photographer (he was a painter, a designer and a film-maker), he worked in the medium and produced some excellent images. The Tate exhibition shows 80 of his photographs, photomontages and photograms produced during his time in Chicago, around 1938-42

There were some conventional photographs, although not the subject matter was not entirely mainstream

György Kepes ‘Ear (AN 514)’, c. 1939–41
© estate of György Kepes

Ear (AN 514) c. 1939–41 (Source Tate website)

He also shot “still lives” using scientific apparatus, sometimes in conjunction with natural objects.

But many of the images on display were photomontages and photograms. A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. It was a favourite technique of Moholy-Nagy who began experimenting with them during the 1920’s.

The Tate website tells us

Kepes’s photograms, made without a camera, were instead produced in the darkroom by arranging and exposing objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper. The subjects – such as leaves, eyes, feathers and cones and prisms  – reflected Kepes’s varied interests and included scientific and mechanical items alongside objects from the natural world.

There’s a good review of the technique here, which includes a discussion of Kepe’s work

György Kepes ‘Hand on Black Ground’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Hand on Black Ground c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

György Kepes ‘Leaf and Prism’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Leaf and Prism c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

With it’s surreal images, the exhibition complements the Leonora Carrington exhibition also showing at the Tate. It also ties in with LOOK/15: the Liverpool International Photography Festival. This is the third biennial photography festival held in the city and there are photographic exhibitions showing at venues including the Walker Art Gallery, the Bluecoat and the Open Eye Gallery.