Tag: Derby

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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An evening with Ken Loach at Derby Quad

Ken Loach’s film the Navigators may be a decade old, but the themes of redundancy and uncertainty clearly resonated with the audience at Derby Quad’s special screening this week.

Set in Sheffield in the mid-1990s, it tells the story of a group of railway workers whose industry is being privatised. Loach is known for his rich characterisation and social realism and this film is no exception: we see the banter of the railway workers, the real choices they have to make and the relationships they have with their families and with each other.

It’s also a highly political film. We are invited to laugh at the absurdity of corporate jargon creeping into the previously state-run railway industry and we are also shown the potentially devastating consequences of privatisation, particularly when safety is compromised to save money.

Watching this film in Derby, it is almost impossible not to see parallels with the ongoing problems at the city’s Bombardier plant. Earlier this year, the firm was forced to shed 1,400 jobs after losing out on the £1.4billion contract to German-based Siemens. It goes without saying that this will have a terrible effect on the workers, their families and the local economy.

The screening also included a Q&A with Ken Loach, along with a short film he made as part of a collaborative project called 11’09”01 – September 11. This project saw 12 directors create short films in response to the September 11th attacks in New York. Loach was heavily criticised for his contribution, presumably because it was seen as anti-American at a time when American patriotism was king.

Loach decided to depict the 1973 coup d’état in Chile which also happened on September 11th. The military coup led to the downfall of President Salvador Allende and a period of unrest. With help from the Americans, Pinochet took power and imposed his brutal regime on the Chilean people until 1990. This short film is told through the eyes of a Chilean musician who escaped to London and it is an incredibly powerful elegy about a period of history which is often overlooked.

Ken Loach (picture by Graham Lucas Commons)

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Powerful portrayal of Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop

The intimate surroundings of Derby’s Guildhall Theatre provided the perfect setting for a new production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, directed by Tom Attenborough.

The play is set in a dingy motel room in Memphis and as rain beats down on the windows, Martin Luther King Jnr – who was perhaps one of the 20th Century’s greatest orators – is struggling to write a speech.

The Martin Luther King we see, expertly played by Ariyon Bakare, is not the one that history remembers: he flirts with his chambermaid, he chain smokes and above all, he doubts his own ability. And separated from his wife and children, he even doubts his role in the Civil Rights movement.

For some audience members, this might make for uncomfortable viewing because the King they see is flawed and has moments of weakness. But the play also reveals something of the danger of mythologising historical figures who are ultimately human.

The action takes place on the eve of King’s assassination in Memphis and just before his death, he is given a glimpse into the America of the future. And despite the fact that the country eventually votes in a president of Afro-Caribbean descent, it is still one plagued by poverty and prejudice.

The play had just two characters and it is rare that you see such passionate performances in theatre. But Bakare and his co-star Ayesha Antoine, who played the motel chambermaid Camae, put every ounce of energy into the performance and looked visibly exhausted at the end.

Playing such an iconic figure as King could be problematic and there is a danger of the performance being too sentimental or weak in comparison to the man himself. But Bakare proved that he was able to deliver a powerful performance when he addressed the audience, as well as portray the vulnerable side of his character.

For more details on future performances at the Guildhall visit www.derbylive.co.uk.

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