SWGPP Essay & Bristol Show

I particularly enjoyed the catalog essay for the South West Graduate Photography Prize, and I have finally got round to asking for a copy from the author, Matthew Pontin, Creative Director at Fotonow CIC. See below. I’m going to copy this in to my About page for future reference. Please note that you can actually buy a copy of the catalog from Amazon.

It’s worth mentioning that the show is coming to Bristol as part of the Bristol Photo Festival and will be open at Knowle West Media Centre from May 28th.

Higher Ambitions

The Guardian website recently proclaimed that ‘higher education is pumping out people with degrees into a jobs market that doesn’t need them. It’s blighting lives – and undermining the university system itself’*. The writer in question was examining the role of university education in relation to the economic prospects of ‘indebted’ and ‘underemployed’ graduates, and suggested ‘if he (the graduate) studies creative arts and design, he’d be 1% worse off’ than the non-graduate.

Worrying, but perhaps more concerning is the focus upon the financial reward (or not) of university education, suggesting a statistically uphill struggle for the UK’s emerging graduates. And such makes Matthew Sheather’s photographic study The Graduates crucial visual evidence, where the individuals (willing to have their portrait made) are clearly employed, as it turns out, within an industry they never studied towards entering. The scene being painted hints that most would certainly abandon their work tomorrow for a more relevant or better paid post.

With a little more consideration, this study actually shares a proactive willingness to work, regardless of educational background, a trait most likely learned through the commitment to three years (or more) of academic study. Sheather clearly conveys a concern for the future of his peers, this collectiveness is something that will be more prevalent, and binding, within the generation of graduates looking for opportunities within UK industry.

Nicholas White conjures historical context alongside military landscape, geographical spaces that converse about loss, maybe war – without the bold junctures of press photography. It is in this subtleness, of academic visual research, where the significance of university education becomes apparent – educated thoughtfulness, creative rigour and the genuine constant return to understand Dartmoor’s manipulated locale. This interest in the landscape of the South West is also considered within Katie Emmett’s photographic ‘explorations’ of a Cornish farm, nature quickly offering a metaphor for our interactions; wild spaces that sit uncomfortably alongside farmland, photographs that remind us of our basic needs, food, that the land can provide (and not necessarily the money that the job will bring).

The theme of resourcefulness appears in the work of Sydney Cunningham, where the ‘graduate’ reminds us again that there are alternative means by which a community can thrive. A desire for the opportunity to be self-sufficient, to move away from unsustainable economics, made clear though a documentary series that supports the concerns of those more than aware of environmental issues, the consequences of the expansion of our airports. There are higher ambitions than graduate employment at stake here, threads of research that should speak volumes to academic institutions as to some of the areas of study and conversation that the graduate desires to explore.

Patrick Graham directly critiques the institutionalised space, formal photographs that remove the soul from the architecture, a stark reminder that without the students there is no academic institution, which might suggest that the students of the future will, very much so, be in control of the direction they aspire to take their education. Graham explores the fine line between work and unemployment, the anxiety of a job defining identity. It was another Graham (Paul) who presented Beyond Caring and somehow this contemporary series grasps at a history repeating itself, through the vacant spaces that the graduate has now departed.

India Pocock presents a series young adolescents, locked into using mobile media devices, an uneasy juxtaposition of human venerability while supposedly in control of technology, or vice versa. This work binds some of the themes already apparent with the South West Graduate Photography Prize exhibition, where commercial advertising, its role in society is interrogated. Katy Brothers also employs a similarly refined aesthetic, the still-life of taxidermy animals; presenting death, anthropocentrism and simply curiosity within a photographic representation.

The graduates we see here emerge from their respective universities with a complex understanding of visual narrative – synthesising ideas, sharing knowledge and using photography to navigate extensively researched experiences. Success can no longer be measured by job-title, nor economic prospect, it is in the investment in their own education and the subsequent freedom in thinking and communication that will define the future of the modern graduate.

One senses these graduates have a more eloquent sense of what lies ahead for society, beyond what employment statistics might threaten.

Matthew Pontin BA(Hons) MA Creative Director at Fotonow CIC

*http: //www. theguardian. com/commentisfree/2013/sep/23/freshers-failed- experiment-higher-education

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