The critic in me. An asshole. An apology.Written by Benjamin Chesterton
I’ve just arrived at Format Photography Festival and Pete Brook (aka Prison Photography) is manhandling me.
I don’t mind. I’ve known Pete online for many years but this is the first time I’ve met the big bearded dude. Bear hugs are permitted.
After crushing me we tour the book fair.
He wants to know what I think about a project.
Immo Refugee which in the words of Colin Pantall ‘is a documentation of the Jungle Shacks in Calais (which have now been flattened). It’s by Maria Ghetti and Marco Tiberio who are part of DEFROST studio.’
After flicking through the publication I don’t know what to think.
I get the point. Or maybe I don’t.
I’m genuinely frustrated by the lack of recognisable faces when photography talks about refugees and asylum seekers. It’s a negative reaction based on the fact I’m a volunteer English teacher of refugees/asylum seekers in Birmingham. Most of my crew have come via Calais. They have lives in those shacks. They are an open bunch and they’re happy to be photographed. This publication doesn’t close that gap.
As I explain all this to Pete I start to become acutely aware that the guy who painstakingly, with thought and intent and care and concern, put this together, is standing less than two metres from me. I’m probably talking loud enough that he can hear me. Probably.
But I don’t bother to engage with him. Just place the prospectus back and walk away.
Later I feel sad about this.
In the courtyard of one of Format’s venues Defrost have erected a tent with a for sale sign. I dig this. I even try and break in. It’s actually a poignant reminder of the journeys some of the refugees I teach have come on. I realise they would appreciate this project.
I was ignorant to judge the work for what it cannot do. For what it never claims to be. Let’s talk about what’s there. And why. With the guy. Benjamin, for fuck’s sake get over yourself, he’s just standing there.
After my post last week about Format festival an old friend writes to me:
Just read your Photo Festival piece. Went there last year to get my work reviewed. Loneliest day of the year – the low-light was when I showed my work at the hour long walk through session at the end of the day and not one person stopped to even look. Fact!!! Anyway when are we meeting up for a curry and a film?
Jeez. We can be ass-holes can’t we. Without even meaning to be. We can hurt people. I need to remember that.
To Marco and Mario. I’m really sorry. I should have taken the time, but I didn’t and I regret that. You did a great thing. And if you’re ever in Brum and have a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon, please come and share your work with my class. Afterwards the beer and curry are on me.
To everyone else. That boy, that girl. That person with the book open. We’ve all been them. Don’t be me. A little encouragement. Please.