Hit the North Hobo Photo
In a new exhibition, arts organisation presents a selection of fascinating northern-based photographers, as Oliver Atwell discovers
You could often be forgiven for buying into the idea that art and culture is a purely London-based affair. It’s been a bone of contention for many years from artists and organisations across the country, who feel like they are hitting their heads against a brick wall as they attempt to penetrate the London-centric coverage afforded to music, art and literature. With that in mind, it’s always a pleasure to encounter an organisation that is committed to exposing artists that exist outside the capital’s sphere and is dedicated to promoting the exhaustive wealth of talent that exists further north. Hobo Photo is one such organisation, and the exhibition ‘Hit the North’ brings together eight photographers, all of who are based in or around Manchester.
Of course, Manchester has an incredibly rich history of talent in the arts, so it’s not surprising to see that the photographers represented in ‘Hit the North’ are focused on producing images that are challenging and vital. Hobo Photo’s aim is to not only promote new work, but to also highlight older work that in some cases may have fallen a little under the radar. On display you’ll find a variety of genres, including portraits, landscapes, still life and documentary. Each project – each image, in fact – has something vital to say about not just its immediate subject, but also the context surrounding it.
One of the immediately striking projects comes courtesy of Daniel Meadows; this project was formulated in 1972 when he was still a student at Manchester Polytechnic. Just down the road from the college – Moss Side’s Graeme Street, to be exact – Meadows found a disused barber’s shop and hit upon the idea of using it as a photography studio. Once he’d set up a functional and minimal interior, he began inviting passers- by and friends to have their portraits taken for free. Meadows then put up the images in the shop window and gave each sitter a free print. Unfortunately, he soon ran out of money, so was forced to shut shop. Feeling disheartened, he did what any of us would do in the same situation – he laid the images out on boards and nailed them to a tree in a park. He obviously did
‘Meadows laid the images out on boards and nailed them to a tree in a park’
the right thing because, in the following years, his work found its way into several major collections and exhibitions and he is now seen as an important figure in the post- war photography scene.
Another portrait project that is fascinating to study is Chris Harrison’s
Under the Hood, made in 1994, which consists of a series of portraits of young men from the Salford area. In other circumstances, through the eyes of another photographer perhaps, these men could easily have been made to look fierce and confrontational. Basically, anyone else would have made them look as working class as possible. However, Chris takes the set and lighting motifs of Renaissance portraiture and elevates his subjects, imbuing them with borderline vulnerability and dignity.
Also represented in this exhibition is Phoebe Kiely, a more recent photographer who has already seen her work displayed at the Tate Modern and Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Kiely’s haunting and strange images of everyday ephemeral scenes are all shot on film and printed in a darkroom. This analogue process does much to enhance Kiely’s beautifully odd slant on the world. Each frame requires real attention. You won’t always know what you’re seeing, but you’ll want to keep looking.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough space here to do justice to all the participating photographers. Suffice to say, everyone’s work is more than worthy of inclusion, whether it’s Liza Dracup’s Dutch-inspired taxidermied still-lifes, Matthew Murray’s unusual and other-worldly landscapes or Tessa Bunney’s delicate floral images that explore the domestic flower growers of northern England.
Allium Cristophii, 2017, from the series Farmer Florist by Tessa Bunney
The Three Lads, Salford, 1994, from Chris Harrison’s series Under the Hood
Chew Piece Plantation, Saddleworth Moor, 2016 by Matthew Murray
Daniel Meadows’s Group Portrait, 1972