They are leaders in their field, and the Guardian said of Paul Hill’s work ‘If a camera could capture poetry, this may well be what it would look like…’
Join Paul and fellow tutor Maria Falconer for our Seeing and Thinking Photographically workshop on 7 August. The workshop was so popular a couple of years ago that they have agreed to deliver it again!
The workshop, one of a series at our summer school, will focus on how we translate the three-dimensional world into an interesting two-dimensional picture. Paul and Maria will use short assignments to help you release your creativity and take your image-making to a new level.
They are both experienced professional photographers and teachers who have completed projects for numerous high-profile clients.
Here, Paul blogs about the beginnings of Midland Group Photography a network of photographers in the 70s and 80s…
I had been a photo-journalist since 1965, but was always interested in doing my own personal work. Through my teaching, and particularly through my friendship with Bill Jay – editor of Creative Camera and later Album – I was aware of how powerful the medium could be for expressing rather than describing.
But where could you show such ‘personal’ work in the late 60s to early 70s? Personal work for ‘thinking photographers’ was something you did ‘on the side’, whilst working in journalism, advertising, industry, fashion, or teaching.
My teaching at the poly and Derby College of Art meant that I was working with lecturers and students who wanted their creative, non-applied work to get to a wider audience. So a grass roots group called Exposure, made up mostly of these lecturers approached the Midland Group, and the result was Midlands Seen. John Blakemore and Richard Sadler were members of Exposure and may have shown work at the Midland Group before, I think, but probably in a group show.
Bill Gaskins, Head of Photography, asked some London-based high profile photographers, like David Hurn, David Montgomery, and John Benton Harris to exhibit with us. This showed we were serious and could vie with even The Photographers’ Gallery!
There was quite a lot of media attention as it was novel to see photographs in art galleries in those days.
The first issue of the East Midlands Arts Association tabloid Artefact wanted to feature Midland Seen and they asked me to write a piece, which they entitled Photography – A Non-Art? It was also commissioned in response to a recently published interview with Lord Snowdon, who was then the public face of photography after his marriage to Princess Margaret in the 60s.
His view was that luck plays too great a part in photography for it to be considered an art. It was a craft, and he loathed the idea of signing a photographic print. An accountant doesn’t sign your accounts, he said, so why should a photographer sign his photographs?
I trenchantly argued that photography was a stand-alone art form, and concluded a pretty long piece thus:
In this country it is not very surprising therefore that even people who are deeply appreciative of the conventionally accepted creative arts – people, one supposes, like Lord Snowdon – do not put photography alongside painting, sculpture, music etc..
It is because they do not understand it; and like most things people do not understand, they are frightened of it.
It was a philosophical and ideological battleground then, but I think we know now who won!
Some members of Exposure were asked to become Midland Group Photography, charged with creating a programme of photographic exhibitions. These included Thomas Joshua Cooper’s first British show, and John Davies. But our ‘big idea’ was the annual Midland Group Open. We decided that if we wanted good work we needed the magnet of well-known selectors. Jean Claud Lemagny and Aaron Scharf were followed by John Szarkowski, R.J. Kitaj, and many more over the ensuing years. Robert Mapplethorpe – wanting to impress selector John Szarkowski, no doubt – sent in two pictures, which guaranteed media interest and persuaded many more photographers to submit work in future years.
For a period the Midlands, and particularly the East Midlands, became – I do not think it is an exaggeration to say – the epicentre of British photography. It was because a group of photographers wanted to change things and the Midland Group offered them that opportunity which they eagerly grasped.
Paul Hill is a major influence on contemporary British photography. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1990 and was awarded an MBE for services to photography. He has exhibited throughout Britain, North America, Europe, Japan and Australasia and has written and published four books. His work is held in public and private collections, including the V&A, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, and Arts Council England.
A version of this article first appeared at Hill on Photography.
Maria Falconer is a university lecturer and Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Maria is also an experienced workshop teacher and professional photographer, whose work has been exhibited in the UK, Ireland, France, the US and East Asia. Her commercial photography has been widely published including The Guardian, The Times and The Scotsman.
For more information about the workshops we have available across the summer and how to book, please visit our workshops page.
All images © Paul Hill and Maria Falconer