Category Archives: Exhibitions

Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur, Humber Street Gallery

Hull, Portrait of a City

I have recently been to see two exhibitions at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull. Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur were asked to explore the culture and creativity of Hull, UK City of Culture. Both exhibitions were displayed in large galleries and each was very different to the other. Colour v black and white being the first thing I noticed and then, familiar v formal. Given the subject matter of documenting Hull’s culture I was interested in the two very different interpretations.

Martin Parr

I have seen some of Parr’s work before, at the Hepworth, Wakefield and I considered his exhibition ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’ in my studies last year, Martin Parr at the Hepworth. I was therefore keen to see more of his work and went to Hull at the end of December 2017 to the Humber Street Gallery. A delightful gallery; small looking from the outside but huge spaces within, and a lovely cup of coffee. As soon as I entered the gallery I recognised the images as Parr’s trademark style. Vibrant colour as always with a touch of humour. Parr’s images were interesting and captivating. I wanted to look at every detail.


The Gallery

Parr’s images explored the diverse food and eating culture of Hull giving a ‘fresh perspective on this extraordinary year for the city’ (Hull UK City of Culture 2017, 2018). We see fish and chips, patty butties, specialist supermarkets and gastro pubs which all serve to illustrate the emphasis that is placed on food and social eating in the culture of the  City. The display above was made up of many smaller images in rows in contrast to the main display of larger photographs. Below is a closer view.

Three of Parr’s images

We see not only the social aspects of food but the serving of it and the display of it.

I like the use of red in these images. Red suggests energy and passion and features a lot in these photographs. The eye is drawn to the small red accent in the top image which makes the viewer linger over the dining room for a while. The red clothing in the bottom two images draws attention to the men as being proud and vital in their community.

A favourite image of mine

When I was about ten years old in the seventies my mum used to take my sister and I to a fish and chip restaurant every now and again. We always joked that we wanted ‘bread and butter, buttered on both sides’ as that is exactly what we got after the bread had been stored like this in a warm restaurant for a while.

Hard working and proud

Parr’s images show a culture of hard work surrounding the running of businesses and preparing food.  This photograph epitomises the family dedication to working hard and making a successful living. The humour of the blackboard joke is typical of traditional Yorkshire humour from the past and we get a sense of history from it as well as a sense of mutual respect through the irony. We know that the joke is only a joke.


I was very interested in the informal nature of the display of this series. The photographs were aligned close and secured with what appeared to be tacks. The informal presentation complimented the informal feel of the images.


Olivia Arthur

I wanted these images to be in colour! My main query was why were they in black and white. One of the Gallery’s volunteers explained that the images had been taken with an old camera and hence the black and white. I have since come across this explanation:

The choice to shoot 5×4 black and white photos was very deliberate on Olivia’s part as a means of slowing her process down and being more careful about the photos she was taking. “I have to change the film after every single shot so it all becomes a bit more considered, and I am really enjoying that at the moment,” (It’s Nice That, 2018)

Arthur’s images explored the city’s youth culture from ‘Elvis impersonators to pet snakes, football, bodybuilders, teenage style, relationships and young families’ (ibid). Arthur’s work was made possible by building relationships with the young people and being invited into their homes to photograph them within their own environments. The result is a series of images that show an honesty and individuality among the portraits of the young Hull residents.



The Gallery

What was striking about this gallery was the use of white and blue walls. It immediately felt welcoming ans stylish and interesting.


I compared this presentation with the informal presentation used by Martin Parr. Parr used ‘tacks’ to secure his non framed images. Arthur uses frames set equidistantly, like you would hang pictures in your home. This gave a more formal feel to the exhibition.


I felt that the white walls and blue walls worked well together and enhanced the display when contrasted with the black frames and the monochrome images. It was very bold and striking.

One image

Above is an image of a young Hull resident, exploring her passion for dancing and set in her own home. We get a sense of personality here, identity and way of life.


I thoroughly enjoyed these exhibitions. Two very different approaches to the representation of Hull’s culture. It has made me consider topics and presentation and differing viewpoints as well as interpretations and technical differences.




Hull UK City of Culture 2017. (2018). Hull, Portrait of a City: Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr – Hull UK City of Culture 2017. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].

Humber Street Gallery (2017) Gallery publicity paper (available at the time from the Gallery)

Humber Street Gallery, Press Release

It’s Nice That. (2018). Behind Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr’s show, Hull, Portrait of a City. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].


All images were taken on my phone with permission from the very friendly and helpful staff at the Humber Street Gallery.


No Man’s Land, Women’s Photography and the First World War

Impressions Gallery, Bradford,  7 October 2017

No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land: Women’s Photography and the First World War is an exhibition currently at the Impressions Gallery, Bradford and I was lucky enough to visit just as an informal discussion was taking place between the Gallery’s curator Dr Pippa Oldfield, three artist; Alison Baskerville, Dawn Cole and Chloe Dewe Mathews and members of the public audience.

I will start this post with a few details about the artists and the exhibition. I will then summarise my learning from attending this event today.

The exhibition covered two main areas.

  • Images of the Great War taken at the time by two women who worked as nurses (Mairi Chisholm and Florence Farmborough) and by the UK’s first female official photographer sent to a war zone (Olive Edis).
  • Images by the present day artists named above.

Dr Pippa Oldfield

The Gallery’s curator introduced the event and acknowledged that war photography is usually seen as something that is a masculine practice and that the event offers a rare female perspective on this masculine subject.


Mairi Chisholm

Snapshots from Pervyse, Flanders, 1914-1918

Mairi used a small snapshot camera to take images of life and suffering as she witnessed it around her. Her images have been produced from her photograph albums. Mairi was a nurse and ambulance driver during the war and saved many lives.  Some of her images are of herself and her friend amid the suffering, clearly placing these women at the forefront of war.

Exhibition of images by Mairi Chisholm


Florence Farmborough

Photographs from the Eastern Front, 1914-1917

Florence, a keen photographer, was a surgical nurse during the war. Her images include graphic scenes of the results of war, including corpses in battlefields. Scenes that were likely withheld by mainstream media. Unfortunately, on the day, I failed to take any images of her display.


Olive Edis

Photographs from Northern France and Flanders, 1919

Olive Edis was a photographer, she ran her own business and took images of celebrities She was commissioned to record the changing roles of women during the war. Her photographs show women at work for the war effort. Her work is an invaluable historical resource and can be seen displayed in the image below, behind the speakers. Her images show the valuable work of women as engineers, telegraphists, surgeons and so on.

A closer view of one of her images is shown below


Alison Baskerville

Soldier, 2011-2016

Alison’s exhibition can be seen below:

Alison is a British documentary and ‘insider’ photographer who had a career in military army photography. When questioned about her work she said she was using modern practice to reclaim history for women.  She commented that she did not identify with being called a ‘female’ photographer nor with being called a ‘war’ photographer and that women have to reclaim photography in general. She said she would rather be called ‘a photographer covering a variety of subjects’. When asked if she thought women and men took different images, she replied by saying ‘no, we don’t have gendered eyeballs’. Alison’s inspiration was Olive Edis and her series of images of women in the war. She wanted to photograph contemporary women in the army like Edis did a hundred years ago. She in effect has updated Olive’s series to show modern women in similar situations today.

Dawn Cole

Adventures of a VAD nurse, 2009 and ongoing

Dawn found her great aunt’s old photographs and diary in the attic and was immediately inspired to make art in response to what she had uncovered. Clarice Spratling had volunteered as a nurse in France during the war. Dawn is not a photographer but she says that as a printmaker she ‘responds to photographs and uses them as source material’. Her work from a distance looks like lace but she has used words from the diary to create prints with hidden extracts from her aunt’s writing. If you look carefully you can see the words ‘ men had eyes removed’ around where the hand on a clock would show 11.

Chloe Dewe Mathews

Shot at Dawn, 2014

Chloe’s work shows the ‘secret’ that troops were killed for desertion (cowardice) during 1914-1918. Her images were the largest of all those on display and showed the locations where the men lost their lives. When questioned about her work, Chloe explained that she had heard the phrase ‘shot at dawn’ where men were executed at first light and wanted to take on the commission, in the context of documentary photography, to uncover this shocking subplot of war. Chloe said that it was important that women are commissioned more and that they have the authority to take images of ‘masculine’ subjects. Her work can bee seen here:

What I have learned by visiting this event

At the front of the discussion space were seated four women; the Gallery’s curator and three artists. I suppose that it felt a little unusual that an event with war as its theme was headed by four women, and certainly the issue of gender expectations came up during the conversations.

The artists described themselves as photo journalists and documentary photographers and I was surprisingly pleased to hear the terms and to see the work connected with the genre as it linked to my studies and gave the terms a real life context.

Without narrative such as that provided by Dawn Cole below I would have struggled to see the connection between ‘lace’ objects and the war. I didn’t know of lace edged postcards and I liked the intertwining of the masculine and feminine in the images which, to me, showed how both sexes are equally included and affected by war.


Through the narrative that Chloe provided for her ‘Shot at Dawn’ series we learn that the images were taken at precise locations where soldiers lost their lives. Without this, how could we have known? This is an example of documentary photography and I liken it to the work of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother which comments on real life and perhaps acts as a catalyst for reform.

It was invaluable to see the narrative and hear the women speak of the context of their work in order to appreciate their work more fully. This event encouraged me to consider context and narrative and gave me the opportunity to consider these terms in relation to a physical event.


All photographs were taken at the Bradford Impressions Gallery (with my camera phone)and I have been given permission by the curator to display them on my blog. Many thanks to the gallery for a very worthwhile and enjoyable event.