Contemporary responses to portrait collections seminar, Birmingham, Tuesday 16 July 2013
This seminar showcased excellent examples of collections undertaking collaborations with artists, sponsoring mentorships, and fostering participation projects with various audiences. Many of these innovative portrait-focused projects were taking place in the West Midlands at the time, as part of the Art in the Heart project. The seminar aimed to present some of these inspiring case studies and share the reflections of those involved; artists, collections, and participants.
Our venues for the day were Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (morning) and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts (afternoon), and the seminar was co-chaired by Toby Watley, Head of Programming at BMAG and Robert Wenley, Deputy Director at the Barber.
Synopses of presentations
Anton Want, Photographer
Pit Profiles: Re-profiled – The Changing Face of an Industry
In 2011, the National Coal Mining Museum for England commissioned Anton to portray workers at the Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire. The project was inspired by the work of H. Andrew Freeth (1912-1986) who was himself commissioned, shortly after the coal industry was nationalised in 1947, to record miners across the coalfields. Freeth’s on-the-spot drawings and miners’ biographies were published in the monthly journal Coal between 1947 and 1952, and many of the original portraits are held by the NCMME. Pit Profiles: Re-profiled provides a modern-day reflection on workers’ lives through portrait photography combined with oral-history interviews and written profiles. This talk was a reflection on the nature of the Pit Profiles: Re-profiled commission and how the original work and Freeth’s approach effected the new work’s direction. It also discussed the aims and outcomes of such a commission from the artist’s perspective.
Contact Anton directly (@Anton_Want) regarding the accompanying ‘Pit Profiles: Re-profiled‘ limited edition publication of his portraits from Kellingley Colliery.
Simon Taylor, Head of Learning, Ikon Gallery
Life Still: Portraiture and End of Life Care
Life Still is an ongoing project that presents exciting opportunities to develop the dialogue between Ikon and Birmingham’s John Taylor Hospice. Inspired by the unique history of the Hospice, the former home of influential photographer and politician Sir Benjamin Stone (1838–1914), Life Still takes inspiration from the collection of Stone’s images housed in the Library of Birmingham’s photographic archive. Simon explained how people receiving long-term palliative care, their families and hospice staff have worked with acclaimed artist Stuart Whipps, to create photographs that reflect their lives, their experiences and their surroundings. Themes of isolation, separation and transition have been explored and led by the people the Hospice helps. Through consultation the residents have used traditional and contemporary methods to explore the creative process.