The Lives of Others at Derby’s Format Photography Festival

By David Welch

At home I’ve got an old, disposable camera which I have never had developed. It dates back to my student days and no doubt it would make me cringe if I ever discovered what was on it. The pictures are probably as far removed from art as it is possible to be – and yet they mark a distinct point in time and an insight into an ordinary life.

I was reminded of this camera when I read about the work of Thomas Sauvin, who is just one of the photographers whose work will be exhibited at next month’s FORMAT International Photography Festival in Derby.

As befits a former industrial city like Derby, the theme of this year’s festival is Factory: Mass Production and it’s an idea that resonates in the age of digital photography.

Sauvin, who is French but lives in Beijing, explores the fascination we have with other people’s photographs in his exhibition Beijing Silvermine. He has collected thousands of negatives which shed light on the lives of Beijing residents in the years after the Cultural Revolution up to 2005. These images not only document the sometimes quirky but often uneventful lives of people they also give us an insight into the massive socio-economic changes that have taken place in China during this period.

In a similar vein, Notes Home is a collection of postcards which have been sent by factory workers from holiday destinations like Skegness and Morecombe. The technicolour images of the British seaside recall impossibly hot summers of ice-creams and fun, while the messages on the back give us a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people.

Reflecting the festival’s theme of mass production is David Welch’s Material World which asks us to think about our compulsive desire to consume. One of his pictures depicts a huge tower of cardboard boxes balanced precariously in a shopping trolley. Online companies like Amazon make it easy to buy almost anything with the click of a button – but perhaps seeing those boxes piled high might make us think twice about how wasteful it can be.

The festival opens on 8th March and runs until 7th Aprill. The exhibitions take place in a host of venues across the city, including the Quad, Derby University and Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

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