An Exhibition of Photographs by the 1:20 Group

Janet Hall

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To commemorate the recent successful re-structuring of St Paul's Church, Brentford, which allows it to accommodate a community centre, Brentford Parish Resources Committee commissioned a comprehensive photographic portrait of the area and invited the photography group, '1:20', to undertake the project. Rose Harding, Parish Administrator, was the driving force behind the venture and was keen to promote the churches converted nave for use as an exhibition space. She wrote in her introduction to the catalogue: 'This project seeks to capture some of the spirit and the diversity of the people of Brentford, its architecture and landscape. The photographers have recorded and interpreted not only many of the activities which have taken place throughout the community over the year but also some of the more intimate spaces which are not readily apparent to the casual passerby. Each photographer was given the opportunity to interpret Brentford in his or her own way and the resulting exhibition reveals a variety of interpretations and styles.' The resulting exhibition which ran from 1 - 31 May, was comprised of 162 prints and took up much of the wall space in the community area, the church and the meeting room, as well as utilising both sides of several screens. All the prints were mounted in the same size frames and were all for sale at the same prices, £40 for framed prints and £30 for unframed prints.

The group's name refers to its make-up - one exhibition: twenty photographers. Twenty photographers therefore took part in the project which came to fruition over a period of one year allowing a full coverage of Brentford in all seasons. Most of the participants were invited to become involved by the group's founder, the photography teacher Randall Webb, and had at one time or another been pupils of his. However, the fact that the photographers had worked under the tutelage of one person in no way gave the exhibition a bland uniformity. Indeed it was the variety of styles and photographic treatments which gave the exhibition much of its appeal. The majority of the work was made up of traditionally treated black and white prints although different toning techniques had provided visual variety. Further variety was provided in some instances by the use of infra-red film, photo-emulsion coated paper, photo-etching and digital imaging. The selection and hanging processes was deliberately democratic. Each participant submitted a selection of images from which up to 10 were chosen, and the selection process ensured that some work was chosen from each participant's submission. No-one's work was therefore rejected outright. The overall standard was high and it was obvious that for most of the exhibitors photography represented more than a pastime or hobby, and was probably more of an obsession. 1:20 is typical of many photographic groups which have sprung up over recent years which aim to encourage photographers, whether amateur or professional, to develop their own direction in the company of like-minded people. A group of such photographers would therefore work in very individual ways, and when asked to work within the constraints presented by a project such as this, might have felt restricted. But the town and environs of Brentford offered a rich variety of subject matter and each exhibitor was able to find a satisfactory outlet for his or her photographic métier. Of course involvement in such a project also has advantages allowing photographers access to areas which might otherwise have been out of bounds, as a quote from the parish magazine, 'The Grapevine', pointed out. 'We have worked very hard to gain access to some of the lesser-known locations and hidden parts of the town. ...for example the interior of St Mary's Convent in The Butts.'

Three principal areas were identified for documentation. 'Aspects of the community as it currently exists before change takes place', 'hidden views of Brentford', and 'a record of a year in the life of people who live, work and play in Brentford.' Within this brief the scope for 'people' pictures was generous and all aspects were enthusiastically tackled by the exhibitors who captured subjects from a new-born baby to the very elderly in a wide diversity of situations and activities.

I was particularly impressed with Nancye Gault's community photographs which had been executed with much sensitivity and skill, producing warm-toned black and white prints which beautifully complimented the subject matter. In this exhibition no section of the public escaped the photographers' lenses. The Duke of Northumberland was photographed in Great Hall at Syon House, as was Henry the boat dweller aboard his vessel moored in Brentford Canal. I particularly liked the groups of children at play. Maria de Fatima Campos's photographs taken in the gymnasium at the Green Dragon

Infants School, and Richard Davis's Brentford School girls at basketball practice and boys on the pitch of the Brentford Football Club, were full of vitality and movement, capturing extremely well the uninhibited abandon of young children. Some photographers had found abstractions in the everyday world. Diana Pope's enigmatic image of the reflections of a loading shed was striking for the simplicity of its composition, as was an altogether different image by her which had caught a tambourine playing member of the Bibleway Pentecostal Church starkly silhouetted against a window. I was also caught by Jocelyn Horsfall's ultra close-up pictures of cactus sections which threw into relief the strong designs made up of bold patterns and shapes on which she was concentrating. Of course architecture featured heavily in the exhibition. This was portrayed wittily in a pair of pictures by Franco Chen - one entitled The Windmill, and the other in Windmill Road - neither of them showing any sign of proximity to a windmill. The traditional and modern were contrasted by Philippe Cohat in two of his pictures - a view of the M4 Flyover and Beaufort House in The Butts. Quentin Ball had photographed a variety of architectural subjects using infra-red film which imparts a characteristic ethereal glow to the images produced. This technique is not universally successful, but for Quentin's subjects, which included a series of photographs of Gunnersbury Park, it had worked extremely well. It is not possible to comment here all the work in the exhibition, but I think Robynne Limoge's contribution calls for a mention. I was particularly struck by her studies of St Mary's Convent in the Butts. The subdued mood of these photographs was particularly apt and captured beautifully with a direct vision and a sure-footed sincerity, the stillness at the heart of the environment. By the time it closed the exhibition had managed to attract 1,700 visitors and 70 prints had been sold. Much of this success was due to the efforts of Brentford Parish administrative team which had managed to obtain a great deal of press coverage, plus a substantial amount of sponsorship from local businesses. As a result the public's interest was engaged and the production of high quality posters and a very comprehensive A4 size catalogue was made possible.

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