A guest post by Camilla Brown, a speakers at this year's National Photography Symposium taking place on the 20th-22nd April in partnership with Format Festival.
This image is taken from a series titled Careful by a recent MA Photography graduate from Middlesex University, where I work. I first came across C Y Frankel’s work at BA level when he was working on his series My Brent Cross made around the 1970s shopping centre in North West London. When he was studying, the university photography department had recently relocated to the Grove Building in Hendon. Frankel was living at home locally whilst studying. This more recent work, Careful, broadens out from earlier themes but still has its roots both metaphorically and geographically in the same area of London.
As it happened I started working at Middlesex University at about the point they relocated to Hendon in part as the photography department moved quite literally to the end of my street. Working freelance as a mother of young children my work was becoming increasingly local in nature. Frankel’s work therefore had a very particular resonance for me as he captured and played back to me the area I knew so well. It is an odd area and an odd image, a suburban area not deprived yet equally not regenerating at the pace of so many other parts of London. There is the continual ebb and flow of new communities to the place and yet it is also home to a distinct and entrenched demographic who have for generations called it their own. This image is a particularly quiet work and captures a typical home. It has been caught at a moment where a mist hangs eerily around the house. It is a place that is at once ubiquitous and yet also unique and for residents it is instantly recognisable in Frankel’s work.
It is so local that I was keen in conversations with Frankel to see how he could widen out its appeal. How could something so specific become more universal? Of course countless personal photography projects make this leap: Larry Sultan’s Pictures from home; Richard Billingham’s Rays a laugh to name but two. But at a nascent stage it can be hard to work out which students can do it. In part my role at Middlesex is to help with the students' professional development, which leads me to often repeat that making the work is only the tip of the iceberg. Often the real graft is getting the work out there and showing it to people. There are many ways to try to do this which require a big expense, or one could suggest investment, of time and money. But of course that is where living in the Web 2.0 age offers us all new horizons and possibilities – the virtual network.
Frankel submitted this series to a Lensculture Emerging Talent 2015, at which point I was not involved in any way with their work. Through his work's merit he was one of the award winners for that category which gave the work some online exposure and meant it was also exhibited. For him the best outcome was the online portfolio feedback session with an internationally connected photography specialist. Dialogue and feedback on projects and work is often the thing most photographers want. Submitting work to a black void with no response leaves them with so many unanswered questions. Virtual platforms seem a new way to offer that global perspective, and Lensculture is a website keen to nurture and develop an online community for photographers.
The Lensculture platform has not transformed life for Frankel still working to find his way as a photographer but it has answered one specific question – could the local work he made have a global reach and appeal? could he embrace the glocal? Resoundingly so, and for me that is the curatorial question that can only be answered by having your work seen in amongst your international peers’. As a curator it is partly by looking at a lot of work that you can assess where someone’s practice sits. Some fly others flounder. Frankel flew on this platform with a sincere, questioning and quiet documentary series. As is often the case - it is not the work that shouts the loudest that has the greatest impact but the understated and the considered, perhaps the work that is ultimately more Careful.
Camilla Brown trained as an art historian completing her BA at Leeds University she then studied for her MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is a curator, writer and lecturer on contemporary art, specialising in photography. For ten years she was Senior curator at The Photographers’ Gallery, London previous to which she was Exhibitions Curator at Tate Liverpool. She is on the Board of Directors at Quad.
Since 2012 she has held an academic post as Senior Lecturer in Creative Industries at Middlesex University, and in 2015 was appointed Visiting Fellow in Photography at the University of Derby. She regularly gives talks at universities, museums and galleries. She writes for artists’ monographs and history of photography books, and is also writes submission reviews for Lensculture. In 2016 she will publish a chapter titled ‘A curators perspective’ for a forthcoming book Photography and research: the idea, the process and the project, a Practical Guide for Photographers to be published by Focal Press.
Camilla will be speaking at this year's National Photography Symposium about her own work over the past 8 months with Lensculture. She will explore what such online platforms offer photographers and curators and what the challenges are of presenting work in this context.
Image at the top by C Y Frankel