Bristol Photo Festival kicks off in May, a new biennial celebration with a year-round programme of commissions, collaborations, and exhibitions by both local and international artists. In its first year, the theme is 'A Sense of Place', undoubtedly inspired by a year of lockdowns and disruption but a coming together as we remembered the importance of community and belonging.
For the first time ever, Bristol's major visual arts institutions, alongside independent and unconventional spaces, have come together to create a programme to demonstrate the power and diversity of photography. The festival will launch in late May with exhibitions including work by Laia Abril, James Barnor, Chloe Dewe Mathews, Jessa Fairbrother, Adama Jalloh, Lua Ribeira, Jem Southam, and Sarah Waiswa amongst others.
This will be followed by major exhibitions in the autumn by Stephen Gill, Lebohang Kganye and Thilde Jensen, Firecracker, Robert Darch and Helen Sear alongside a series of outdoor shows. The exhibitions are accompanied by an events series, workshops and collaborations both on and off-line to bring the festival outside the conventional gallery space.
The theme for this first year is 'A Sense of Place', which the Festival describes as: "To photograph a place is to describe a location that has been shaped, nurtured and even contested. It can define the frontier between nature and culture and hint at the complexities of ownership and access. It can be attended by competing narratives and polarised histories, whether they lean left or right. It can shape our understanding of the world and the qualities that come to define us…and it can be about belonging, appreciation and knowing a place so well that it is like no other."
A few highlights include 'Island Life' at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which draws upon photographs from the Martin Parr Foundation collection to show the changing fabric of our cities, society and collective identities. Focusing on post-war from the UK and Ireland, the show will bring together images by over 60 photographers including Khali Ackford, Pogus Caesar, Elaine Constantine, Sian Davey, Chris Killip, David Hurn, Ken Grant, Markéta Luskačová, Graham Smith and Tom Wood. Collectively, the images form a compelling study of national behaviour.
Also on show at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery will be James Barnor: Ghanaian Modernist. Barnor was Ghana's first international press photographer working from his studio Ever Young at the time of independence in 1957 and selling his pictures to the Daily Graphic and Drum magazines.
He came to Britain in 1959, photographing London and returning to Accra where he established X23, the city's first colour photography studio. Ghanaian Photographer showcases Barnor's Black modernism, a fusion of pan-African futurism and 1970s style.
Artists Heather Agyepong, Jessa Fairbrother, and Lua Ribeira have also been invited to collaborate with Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. The artists' own work will be displayed alongside and juxtaposed with the Museum's collections and archives.
Meanwhile, over at the Royal Photographic Society, will be IN PROGRESS: Laia Abril, Hoda Afshar, Widline Cadet, Adama Jalloh, Alba Zari – a new show commissioned by the Society consisting of five solo exhibitions of both new work and work-in-progress, by some of the most innovative photographers and photo-based artists working today. It will explore a wide range of issues – including personal history, cultural identity, nationality, community, migration, displacement, memory, responsibility, morality, belief and the creative process – and highlights the diverse possibilities that photography offers in the pursuit of both artistic and social progress.
On show at Royal Fort Gardens will be Growing Spaces by photographer Chris Hoare, a chronicle of urban land cultivation in Bristol. Since April 2020, Hoare has been slowly and methodically documenting the allotment-goers, landscape and seasonal changes across the official and unofficial growing spaces of the city. The resulting photographs will be exhibited in the inaugural edition of the festival to coincide with the publication of a book of the project by RRB Photobooks.
For all the details of what's on, where and when, go to bristolphotofestival.org.