Lecture
Paul Brookes

 

 

Just to introduce myself, I would like to say that I am the chief executive of Photo 98. Now, from that you should understand that I am neither an artist, nor a curator, nor a critic. I am, essentially, a business manager of what was a very large-scale photographic enterprise that happened in the United Kingdom the last calendar year. I was a keen photographer as a teenager, obsessively setting up my own darkroom and taking photographs for many years. I then studied to become a filmmaker, and was involved in activity that crossed between documentary and fictional film making. I did this until I moved more into the business of producing and began working for a government agency, distributing funds to filmmakers and photographers. When the challenge of Photo 98 came up about four years ago, I very much looked forward to taking on what was involved. I hope I can share some of this with you over the next half hour or so. Then, what I’m going to do is talk about one particular artist’s project, briefly show some slides and then open the floor to questions and discussion. So, unless there’s a burning question, you’ll hear me talking for the next forty minutes.

This particular Year of Photography came out of a series that was set up as an initiative toward the millennium. People in the United Kingdom in the early 90s were saying, Well, the millennium is coming and we have to celebrate it. There were sports initiatives, bids for the Olympic games, and so on. In the arts, people said, We had better do something. We’re lagging behind everyone else. So it was decided to do a year celebrating music, then a year of dance, of drama, etc. Each year up to the millennium, a different art form would be celebrated. They decided to make it like sport, with a competitive bidding process. Cities would be asked to bid to host each celebratory year. It began in 1992, when Birmingham hosted the Year of Music. It was followed in 1993 with the Year of Dance and in 1994 with the Year of Drama.

That’s how they started it, but they didn’t think entirely ahead to the end of the decade and plan out all the Years. They left it open, so, of course, various politics and lobbies came about. The performing arts dominated the first few years and after that, it seemed obvious that there should be a Year of Literature and a Year of Visual Arts, which were assigned to the years 1995 and 1996. Again, there was a pause, and they had to decide what to do with the last few years. A Year of Photography was suggested, but most people argued that photography was included under Visual Arts. Others were lobbying for opera, but, again, many believed that was unnecessary, since there had already been a Year of Music. In the end, they came up with 1997 as the Year of Opera and Musical Theater and 1998 as the Year of Photography and the Electronic Image. (It is very interesting to note the words they are adding to these ‘Years of.’) This year, 1999, is the Year of Architecture and Design. Finally, the year 2000 will include all those different art forms in a celebration of the individual artist.

I will keep reflecting on that issue of Photography and the Electronic Image throughout this talk, because those words became very important. No one uses the words ‘electronic image’ now, and we had to make up our own definition of it. It did enable all sorts of opportunities for us, in terms of raising resources for the work, but it also reflected some of what the Arts Council of Great Britain wanted it to, which was the changing nature of practice by individual artists who were working across different media. Even if people come from a particular background, like photography, they can work in a mixed media approach. In the time when this competitive process was announced, in 1993, very few people had access to the Internet in Great Britain, and most people in the arts had not a clue what it meant to go on-line. There have been some substantial changes that have happened since the project was first put forward.

Those Years were expected to be fairly localized, regional celebrations. They were supposed to give the opportunity to places outside of the metropolis of London to show that they, too, were strong in their cultural practices. It was important for Manchester, for instance, to be able to show its strengths of interest in drama.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Year of Photography ended up to be the most successful Year and the one that gained the most national attention and promotion. It became the largest ever commissioning program of new work from contemporary photographers and artists that had happened in the United Kingdom. No one expected that. It grew out of all proportion from the regional idea of a fairly localized celebration that would happen in and around the city or region that won the bid. In the original idea of it, some good projects would be included, but it would mostly be a focus for things that were going to happen, anyway. It was envisaged to have that umbrella-like nature of centenary celebrations, where you say that anything relevant that is happening during that year/under the umbrella is marketed. But what we ended up with was a 12-month program of entirely new work, exhibitions and projects. Nothing was just going to happen anyway: that was one of our criteria, that it had to be specially done for the Year. To sustain that program over twelve months was going to need incredible resources. Surprisingly, out of all the Years, the Year of Photography raised the most money, by a long way.

I should say that, when I say ‘we,’ I am referring to a bid that came from a group of cities in Yorkshire. Yorkshire, in England, includes Bradford, where the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, a very large scale, national institution, is sited. There are also the cities of Leeds, Sheffield, York and many others. There’s a range of photography galleries, including the Impressions Gallery in York, the Site Gallery in Sheffield, etc., who collaborated to put together a bid.

I have brought with me a vast amount of print and publications which I am going to leave with you. One of these is the original bid document that we submitted on behalf of this partnership between photography galleries of Yorkshire. It is totally unreadable and very designer-led. It looks great, but none of it has got any substance to it whatsoever. It’s a load of bullshit, the whole thing. But it looked arty, modern and digital, and it was very good for convincing the panel of judges deciding on who should be the winner in this competition. Please, if you do look at it, don’t take any of it to be the truth of what finally happened. It’s not that people were trying not to say the truth at the time, it’s just that times do move on. When I got the job, immediately after Yorkshire won the bid, it would be true to say that the initial partnership was just eight photography galleries and small arts organizations around the area. One of the first things that was obvious to me was that there is no way you could create the kind of program we wanted to do just based on eight galleries. We had to build far more partnerships and make it far more national, if we were to succeed.

Just to give you some facts and figures, I am going to leave you a particular publication. The design of it isn’t our kind of design style. It was created by the Arts Council that set up the Years; they make a publication at the end of each Year. We contributed the images of the various projects, and it gives some facts, figures and basic background to the Year. It’s a useful document, though our own design style is a bit different from this. It can give you some sense of the scale of what the Year did achieve. We started with a very prestigious prize. It was well worth making the effort to bid, because the region that won the bid would receive $640,000 to run the Year of Photography, as an award from the Arts Council of England. You can imagine the local governments and the partnerships that were being set up. The original plan stated that it would turn the $640,000 award into the equivalent of $2 million, by raising more money from private and public sources. Well, we actually ended up raising $6.5 million cash-for photography, of all things! There were several millions more raised for marketing campaigns done by certain commercial companies. It was their own budget, so we never saw a penny of it, but we got some of the benefits. Plus, this is not even including the buildings and resources that were developed in a series of capital projects. Our responsibility was the cash revenue side of things—the resources to pay for the artistic program and its promotion and marketing. So, we raised $6.5 million. Through that, we managed to involve around 400 contemporary artists in the program, of which 101 were commissions, with a fee being paid to an artist to create new work for the Year. In total, there were some 310 different projects—think of the scale of managing these projects. They included 188 exhibitions, fifty public art projects and just over fifty community education projects. This is not to mention the conferences, competitions, publications and educational materials that were executed. When I look back, I think we are such a crazy group of people. We were a small team working in partnership with many others, but I am amazed by the scale of what we tried to achieve in what seemed like an extremely short amount of time. Each individual project, every small publication or TV series, involved a lot of work, and there were 310 of these, in addition to all the marketing initiatives.

One project involved the Fringe Festival, which was a way of allowing open space for people who weren’t officially in the program, not being curated by a gallery or a venue. Basically, any artist or photographer could put their work up, at their own cost, at one of the venues—shopping centers, hospitals, etc.—that we had secured. The Leeds Fringe Festival involved another fifty photographers who showed their work for one month during the Year. Other cities did similar things, sometimes working with materials owned by local governments, such as billboards or poster sites.

Somewhere around 2.5 million people came to see the exhibitions; about 1 million people visited our website, which is still up and running if anyone wants to see it, at the address: www.photo98.com. It’s not being updated any longer, but it’s still available to look at, and that might be the easiest way for anyone to catch up with some of what we did. I will show you, later, a supplement that we produced in association with the prestigious Times newspaper about digital photography. It went out to some 1.6 million readers. We did what was called, ‘the world’s biggest photography competition,’ which went to some 5 million readers. I really liked this project—I think you can see my populist tendencies here. There was a publishing house that did leisure magazines, one of them being Practical Photography, which is oriented much more towards the equipment side of things, rather than the artistic side. But they also did other magazines, things like Classic Cars, My Cat, Sea Angling, Your Baby. All of these different leisure magazines combined together, each running its own competition. Readers were asked to send pictures of their cat, their baby, their classic car, and so on. In terms of profile and publicity, it was great for us to reach those 5 million readers of different kinds of interest. What we were trying to do was to make known, through the competition, the existence of Photo ’98, and then give people the chance to call us up, or get on our website, and register to receive our free publication with a list of exhibitions. We were getting an audience for some of the work that was being created.

We had three different TV series, each of which was seen by approximately half a million people. We achieved a quite a large coverage. I’ve actually been asked to write a book, or series of books, about how it was organized. It took two and a half years of preparation, plus the twelve calendar months of the Year itself. That’s a very artificial window in which to work. Deadlines become extremely important. You would have to say to an artist, I don’t care whether this project needs another three months, because if you don’t finish it by December of ‘98, it’s simply not going to be in our program. So, there you are, folks–you’ve just got to get on with it. There was that kind of pressure, which forced the pace on a lot of things. Since then, it’s been about six months of doing some further publications, which I will also talk about, and reports, accountability processes, and trying to balance the books. Surprisingly enough, despite raising 6.5 million dollars, we spent more than we raised, so we still had a bit of a deficit problem!

But I’m not going to talk to you about that whole book that could be written. I will just say that it was a real roller coaster of ups and downs. We had some absolute low points, where it felt like we had failed totally. Somehow, every time we got to that low, we always found a solution. That is incredibly good for building your confidence. We became a very un-employable group of people by the end, since we had become very arrogant. We believed we could solve anything–we figured, just give us any problem you like, and we bet you that we can solve it. Some employers aren’t that keen on hearing that kind of talk! But we simply had a faith in our ability to find a solution to whatever problem we might encounter. Somehow, we always managed to dig ourselves out of the holes that opened up in front of us. Personally, it was certainly the most fulfilling job, and the best four years, of my life.

You’ve got to understand how we began with nothing. This was a group of a few photography galleries that set up an independent agency, Photo ‘98, of which I became the chief executive. There was no staff and no office. We had no reputation and no track record. To try to get to the place where you’re able to get important people behind you is scary, because you want it, but you haven’t got it. You look at other people in the arts business who have it, but they’ve been there for a long, long time, and you’re hoping to get it quickly. I’m not going to go into that detail, because I want to get on to some of the art work. I just want to explain a little about how we got so much money.

First of all, we were lucky. We were in the right place at the right time. If we’d been five years earlier or later, we might not have been able to achieve it. There were particular factors going on in the United Kingdom at that time, one of which was the national lottery. It had just arrived and it was incredibly successful. The number of people in the UK who gamble on the national lottery is bigger than any other European country. The amount of money raised by the lottery in its first year was far more than anybody expected, and some of that money was directed toward what we would call the ‘good causes,’ to heritage, to the arts, to sports, to charities and also to a millennium celebration. So, it was possible for organizations like us to apply for lottery money. It could only be used for capital, primarily for buildings and equipment. However, the one great thing we managed to get through was to allow public art to be seen as a capital asset that could last for a long time, similar to a piece of real estate. We managed to persuade the lottery committee that photography and digital image-making were capital assets, that they existed for the future. They were unhappy about things that were temporary, like a projection, but if it was, for instance, an installation that would be there for ten years, that was acceptable. What we actually did was develop a public art program, that had some installations that would be there for ten years, and a lot of temporary work that would be there for no more than three days. But we were able to bundle it into one single package, and so we received $2.5 million for our public art program. That was an enormous success for us. The difficulty of all these fundraising programs was that they always required match money: they will only give you a certain percent. In the case of the lottery, they will give you 75%, which is very generous, but you still have to find the 25% somewhere else.

The other beneficial thing for us was European funds. The United Kingdom finally came out of its isolation and decided it was part of the European community, and this allowed some regions to receive substantial European funds. These regions were mostly those that used to rely economically on coal mining and other industries, and who had suffered during the industrial declines of the 80s, when government policy was moving in a different direction. The unemployment that resulted was substantial, and that enabled a lot of European funds to be targeted toward these areas. Yorkshire is one of those places in the process of coming out of an industrial decline to find a new regeneration. We were able to put forth an argument that involved the concept of electronic imagery. Everybody loves the sound of I.T. and computers–it’s an industry, isn’t it? It’s the future, it’s an industrial base. If you think of photography and new media as a new industry, then you can create lots of jobs by expanding this work, the work we were going to do for the Year. So, why not give us lots of money for all these jobs? Plus, we were also going to promote all these projects that will bring visitors into the region and increase the potential tourist market. On that basis, the European funders gave us the match we needed against the lottery funds. It became like a game, where you were constantly trying to match funds. You never quite matched everything, but that just made you more ambitious. The game was endless. We actually ended up with five different European programs. For us, that public sector of lottery and European funding was where we were best positioned to raise substantial funds.

However, we still had a big gap, since everybody expects you also to get matches from the private sector. This is where we had some of our low points: trying to get support from private donors. The way European money works is 40-40-20. They’re willing to give you 40%, and you can match that with another 40% from another public source, such as the lottery, but 20% has to come from the private sector. That was the catch, always.

I will skip through most of this, but originally Kodak was going to be our main sponsor. In a nightmare scenario, Kodak got reorganized on the day they were to send us a letter confirming their substantial support. The head of Kodak in England got relocated to somewhere else in Europe, and there was some delay, after which they backed out of the project. Literally three hours earlier, they were about to fax us, in writing, the contract. Three months later, however, we came off much better, with Canon as our principal sponsor. Amazingly enough, Canon in the UK had never sponsored the arts or photography before. They’d sponsored the World Cup soccer, Formula One, and a range of other sports activities, but never photography. Getting them on board was a substantial achievement and, once we had got that, others came on board from the commercial sector. Certain stores, that sell photographic equipment or do processing, came along on a much smaller scale as sponsors.

The interesting lesson about the sponsorship was that it wasn’t the art that these sponsors were interested in, which actually was good news. We got no interference, whatsoever, by the sponsors about the artistic program. I employed an artistic director who, at the time, was very nervous, for good reasons, about us taking on Canon as a sponsor. But she had an absolutely easy time in relation to the sponsors. They didn’t understand what these artists were doing and they really weren’t that interested, but our marketing director had a terrible time. Every day, it was a drawn out dialogue with the sponsors. But I think that was good. What the sponsors wanted was art of high quality, that would be praised by the critics and peer groups, but they didn’t want to understand it, themselves. As long as it had a good reputation, they were happy. What they were really interested in was selling cameras. They were looking for a more popular audience. The particular ingredients were a certain amount of populism, a certain degree of status, and a very strong marketing campaign. We had to make sure we got into the populist press, not just the elitist press. We had to get important staff and personalities on board–the patrons, the TV stars, etc. We had to organize different campaigns. I’m not against doing that. I think it’s great to get to other people and open that up, as long as there’s a correlation between the cutting edge of artistic practice and people who might well want to do it from an amateur point of view. Building those bridges is good.

I’ll show you one kind of stunt that we did. Some of you may think it’s a bit tacky, but we decided very early on, when we hadn’t got any of this money, that what we needed to do was something just to gain attention in the press. We decided to commission, from a designer, a promotional costume made entirely out of photographs. The designer who did it was a very creative person. I couldn’t bring the costume with me on the plane, but it is extraordinary. Local photographers created images that were cut up, laminated and then eyelets were made all around them. Some seven thousand eyelets were created in this dress. For the skirt, we asked famous personalities and stars from Yorkshire to donate photographs of themselves, which were then printed into the fabric. I’m going to pass around images of the original design, the costume being modeled, etc. We also set up stalls around shopping centers before Christmas, where the public were invited to have their place among the stars. We took passport pictures that were built into the dress, in the wings that hang down. This got a lot of local press and public attention, and then ended up in the national newspapers. We were trying to do a number of things: we were trying to be populist and we were also trying to show that photography isn’t just prints on walls in galleries–there are all sorts of different ways that you can show photography and use it–and show it as a collaborative exercise as well. The designer was Christine Hughes, who lives in Bradford. She’s done some straight commercial costumes, but I believe this is her best work. The black and white photographs were by Tim Smith, who does both documentary and news photography. He was a good friend of hers, so the two of them working together were very keen on developing this project.

The costume became something that we could show to potential sponsors, and show them there was a bit of razzmatazz about this organization. It was very effective in starting to get some interest in what we could do. But initially, we got nowhere with the sponsors. We got a lot of interest but no firm commitments. Kodak had fallen out of the picture. One of the brave decisions that we did was to decide that the only way to get money was to spend a lot more money. We decided to produce a very glossy publication, specifically for potential sponsors, not for the art world. It’s a very slick document which has three sections to it. One of them included the work of some of the photographers we were going to commission. Another was the photographs contributed by the famous patrons we already had on board. The third section was where we asked young, contemporary artists to come up with a photograph on the theme of ‘98. We made them into a set of postcards. These cards became part of an exercise in getting people registered on our database to receive our publications. For example, one photograph shows a halo in the shape of ‘98,’ and another has a sign language ‘98.’ A lot of people played on the number itself. We had a massive circulation of these postcards, which people could fill out, and as an incentive to do this they would receive a free complete package of all the postcards. This was about a year before the Year began, and once it began they would receive our regular magazine, listing all the programs and events. So it was important that we built up this very large database. It was this ‘stunts’ kind of approach of getting celebrities on board and getting critical reviews and previews that effectively built up attention around the program.

Let’s get on to the program itself. I’ve mentioned the public art, which in a way was a bit funding-led. We had already managed to set up the public art as ‘capital.’ Obviously, we were going to have a large-scale exhibitions program, but it was about developing partnerships. It was about getting enough venues to have all the shows we wanted and then working with the curators and artists to create them. Out of the eight organizations we started with, we ended up with 130 partner reviews. One of our targets was to have every single art gallery in the Yorkshire region to have at least one special show in photography for the Year. Some of these local art galleries had never shown photography, just painting and sculpture. We wanted the pictorial staff of these places to feel confident about dealing with photography and digital imagery. We also made sure that every commercial and independent gallery did at least one photography show. We reached that target very easily.

So we had an exhibition strand; a public art strand; an education and community projects strand; a series of conferences that led up to the Year, through the year, and afterwards; and then a whole range of publications, not just about marketing but about the artistic program itself. We were not directly responsible for the buildings program, but the National Museum of Photography in Bradford raised its own money to go through a major refurbishment. It has just now reopened to the public. Then there was the work we did with individual artists, with people like you. There were so many different ideas and projects that were coming forward to us. We were trying to be a broker for people, suggesting different galleries that would be appropriate for different works, to try to get them included. There was also the commitment to commissioning. As I said before, there were 101 commissions, with fees, to artists to create new work. We didn’t manage all those commissions, but we often encountered good work, that we couldn’t find a partner for, that we decided to just manage ourselves.

The other thing we were determined to be was not just an umbrella for things. We wanted there to be a freedom for artists to express their work in different ways, but we also wanted to give coherence and shape to the program. Our basic vision for the Year centered around the millennium and on moving from the past to the future. Yorkshire’s past involves that industrial decline I mentioned before, and it is an important part of the history there, but we’re now moving into a digital age. We were trying to make a connection between these two different eras. It was primarily about British artists, but we wanted to put it all into an international context. Our approach may have not been exactly pro-American, but we basically said that things are now moving more into Europe. It was in a European context that we tried to place the British work. There were a few Americans that we featured in the program, but that wasn’t our primary emphasis. We also tried to show that the medium of photography has always been about new technology, from the camera obscura to digital imagery. It’s always been about artists responding to the new processes that were available. We took a deliberately vague definition of what was meant by ‘electronic image.’ We meant: ‘computer-based imaging.’ We did include some video, but we weren’t a festival of film or the moving image. That wasn’t the spirit of what we were set up to do. We came from a photographic base, but the nature of how the artists were working was from a range of mixed media. It was fairly flexible: if it was a video project that seemed to have a relation to photography, then great.

There are so many projects, that I don’t even know which ones to talk about. As I said before, I’m not a curator or a critic. Our artistic director would be better qualified to talk to you about some of this work. Still, I have always had an interest in photography. The press kept asking me at the time to tell them what our ‘best’ projects were, and I refused, because the quality of all those 310 projects was extraordinary. However, I now feel more able to say which were my own personal favorites. Later, you’ll be able to see the brochures that illustrate some of these exhibits. There were many exhibitions that were just individual artists having a one-person show. There were two that stood out for me. There was a Simon Norfolk exhibit For Most of It I Have No Words. It was essentially looking back at sites of genocide, not just Auschwitz, but a range of sites all over the world, including Cambodia, Africa, etc. It was the traces of the genocide that still exist now that we are seeing as we revisit those sites. That exhibition was at the Impressions Gallery in York and is now on tour. There was another exhibition of Sophie Calle’s work, which you are probably familiar with. It was her first show in England. Some of it was her past work, with the voyeur approach and its connection to Paul Auster, the writer, and there was a new piece of work where Auster had included Calle as a character in one of his books. The role was then reversed, and she was looking at him within her work. That exhibition was set up in many sites in Sheffield. It was an extremely complex and, I thought, extraordinary piece of work. Other exhibitions were what I would call curator-led. There would be a curator that brought together many artists to demonstrate a theme or a passion. One of those, that was at the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, was called Shine. Its primary purpose was to show the ‘shining’ new talent, to try to pick up on the people in Europe who would perhaps become the new stars. There was another called Chemical Traces, curated by David A. Mellor, that was looking at painters and sculptors who also used photography as art. They were British artists, all the way from the 60s, 70s and 80s up through the 90s. It documented these last thirty years, with the emergence of photography in their artistic practice. The Ugly Show, which Chris Townsend curated and was an exhibition looking at identity and the body, included artists such as Melanie Marchot, Richard Sawdon Smith and Jenny Sarille. There was a range of those kind of exhibitions that were occurring. There were also a few exhibitions that we brought in from abroad to provide some international context. If we hadn’t had the money, that could have been a cheap option for us: we could have traveled around the world looking at exhibitions that were already created, picked a few that we thought were good, and paid a hiring fee to bring them in. It would have been a quite cheap and, also, good way of showing work that British audiences wouldn’t have seen otherwise. But it wasn’t going to give opportunities for British artists. We wanted to commission new work and take the risk. Of course, we didn’t know how these works were going to turn out, sometimes not even up until the day they opened. It was difficult when we were faced with finding publicity shots to include in publications four months in advance, when the artist had not yet done the work. It would have been much easier to simply bring in touring exhibitions. The ones we did bring in from outside that were my favorites included the Kurdistan exhibition from Susan Meiselas, and Bonk Business from Finland. Bonk Business, an extraordinary exhibit of objects and photography, was essentially a spoof. It was a Finnish company that was set up in the 19th century that was based on anchovies and developed itself into a mega-empire. They built all this extraordinary technology, with machines and objects. The photography is all mocking the style of photography from 1924 or whenever. All the machines, the whole concept, is a creation of the artist, that is ‘Bonk.’ The whole thing is a joke. That was placed deliberately in the National Museum of Photography, because that’s a technology museum. Many of the public would go and look at it as technology.

Perry Hoberman, from New York, had an exhibition brought in called Faraday’s Garden. Again, the connection with photography is a bit difficult. It was all these household appliances, mostly from the 50s and 60s. It has to do with the whole family orientation of those decades, with their new domestic, electric products. The whole lot, as you walk past them, turn on. Everything’s quiet, but as you walk by, toasters start popping, gramophones start playing, and so on. It was a nightmare for the gallery curator, with all the safety issues concerned. At first, you don’t understand how you’re turning these things on. You think you’re putting your hand through a light, but it’s actually through your feet. That was a past piece of work, but there was also a new piece of work called System Update that we commissioned from Perry, which was a computer-based project. There was all sorts of furniture in the gallery and a computer screen, and you’re trying to rearrange the furniture to fit the image on the screen, which is different again from a camera that’s pointing at you. So you have three different spaces. Just as you’re beginning to gain some order between the three, somebody else in the gallery comes along, pushes something or another and messes it all up. And it’s not just one that gets messed up, all three have to be readjusted. It’s a very difficult collaboration between everybody in the gallery, to try to make an order out of this chaos.

That’s some of the exhibitions from abroad. Let’s go on to some of the commissioning program. One of our big projects was commissioning artists from around Europe. This was one of the projects in our initial bid. We wanted to commission photographers to reflect the issues of Europe as we go into the new millennium. It was pretty general. The question of how to select these photographers was a difficult one. We could still be here, in the year 2000, looking at submissions, if we made it a genuinely open process of inviting people. What we decided, in the end, was a bit like how you people are here. It was a nominating system, where we asked different curators, critics and so on to each nominate five people. Those five artists were then invited to submit a draft proposal, and, of those proposals, ten people were finally commissioned to create new solo exhibitions. There is a publication in hardback with each of the ten artists featured. The curatorial judges who chose the ten are open to a lot of criticism as to why they made the decisions they did, when they could have chosen anyone. It was a very interesting experience for us to work with the ten artists. It is significant that out of the ten, four of those were of African or Asian origin. There was Zarina Bhimji, whose work essentially looked at gardens and country houses, from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, to the Harewood House in Yorkshire. She was looking at those estates and gardens and their connection back to the people who had built the property, including a look at slavery and other issues. Her installation was an array of light boxes, also with some mirrors which had engraved on them advertisements from the 18th century. One, for example, was advertising for a black servant boy. There was also Joy Gregory, who is of African origin, whose work looked at certain connections to the Caribbean. It was a mixture of objects that she researched when she went to places like Trinidad and other places in the Caribbean. There were also photographs and a soundtrack: it was a very mixed media piece, which made it difficult for us to put on tour. Keith Piper, whose work has been shown in New York, dealt with the four frontiers of Europe, north, west, south and east. These are areas where Europe is pushing itself into the outer world, the northern frontier being Russia and the Soviet empire; the south into Africa; the east into Asia and the west into the United States. In the gallery, the four walls represented the four frontiers of his installation.

That was one major project, the European Commissions, but we then wanted to give more opportunities to local photographers as well. We weren’t exactly certain how to proceed, whether we should just start the project or raise the money first. We decided to go ahead and commission some Yorkshire photographers. We developed a range of themes about landscape, architecture, fashion, etc., and invited submissions from anybody who was either living or working in Yorkshire. That was produced into another two publications, one of them being The Unusual Suspects. We ended up with seven different projects and, in our belief, the work they produced is of as good a quality as the European Commissions. In the European Commissions, we were looking for slightly more famous names. Martin Parr was one of these. But in the Unusual Suspects, these people had not really been heard of, except perhaps by those of us who worked in Yorkshire. Their work was put in different spaces. Some of it was gallery-based work; some of it is in the form of a CD, that you can get as part of the package when you buy the book. It is by a photographer working with a performing arts company. Another project was created by working with a writer and a dance choreographer, that was made into a publication called Body Ink.

I also get very enthusiastic about our public art program. I’ll show you one or two slides about that. One of the things that interests me about public art is that challenge of it being in a completely different kind of space. There’s one project I really liked by Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey which was a photograph made entirely out of grass. There’s a certain kind of grass seed that’s being developed that will grow to a very long length. Depending upon how much light you expose upon the seed, it will grow either greener or yellower. Basically, what they did was to take over an old cinema, and a whole wall was covered with mud and grass seed. It was a darkened space with no lights on. Then, a photographic image of an elderly citizen of the location of the cinema in Hull was exposed, for a long period of time, onto the grass seed, after which the space was, again, darkened. A few days later, the grass started growing and the image is there, in tints of green and yellow. There was real definition of the lines in the person’s face, etc. They got this fantastic image of this elderly lady’s face, made entirely out of grass. When you walk in from a distance, you think it’s an interesting image, but when you get close you can see the actual grass. It was kept alive by a well at the bottom of the wall. I love that project.

Another project, also located in Hull, has to do with a ferry. Hull is a seaport, with a ferry that goes across to Europe. It is one of the major inroads into Yorkshire from Europe. The ferry goes to Rotterdam, and leaves at 7:00 every night. These artists created what was essentially a film about immigration through Hull, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. There was a lot of Eastern European immigration that happened at that time, partially due to the rise of fascism in Germany. These images were projected onto the ferry as it left the port. The ferry has to go through some areas very slowly, and then has to stop through a dock. There were two film projectors casting images onto the white side of the ferry. You had the people who were leaving on the ferry looking down on the projections, along with the crowd that had gathered to watch from the shore, all against the backdrop of the sunset. It only happened two nights, but it was an extraordinary piece of work.

Another one that I would choose is called Fold, which was at an enormous textile mill in Bradford. The artist, Jim Buckley, was looking at the history of weaving and created fifteen different projections from inside the building, projected outward. The images were of weaving and the loom. They were shuttled through the different windows. There were three different floors with five windows on each floor. The mill had been derelict for ten or fifteen years, but prior to that, it was the main place of work for all the local people. Huge crowds gathered to watch, and there was a tremendous emotional response from all the locals who were seeing this old building come back to life again. There was also a range of community projects that came about, associated with this.

One interactive project was called Flocked. It was by an artist called Lulu Quinn in Sheffield, who projected a sheep onto a shopping window at night. The more people that gathered to look at the image, the more sheep came out of their pen, and would stare back at you, the audience. If you walked away and left it alone, then the sheep would go away. It was that copycat kind of image that she was dealing with.

There was then, really a range of public art projects that used space in different ways, that I liked a whole lot.

Then there was a range of community projects that I haven’t talked too much about and which are harder to illustrate, because they’re more about process than product. One, for instance, was a cultural exchange with Palestine, where some youths from Palestine came and worked in Yorkshire and then went back to do some projects in the Gaza Strip. It was like a package holiday to them, that they called the Gaza Trip rather than ‘Strip.’ The community projects were all about forming partnerships. We developed a program of visits by schools to the galleries where the commissioned exhibits were shown. The schools were given some financial incentives to make these trips. We also did what we called a ‘digital van.’ We equipped a van as a chemical-based darkroom, as well as with computers and digital equipment, and toured it around villages in a particular area of North Yorkshire that had less access to cities, galleries, etc. We did the same thing with a barge that traveled around the canals of England, working with different communities.

We produced educational materials, one of which is a ‘Photo Pack.’ It looks at certain projects, including some of the Yorkshire commissions. It’s a range of materials designed for a teacher of photography around the sixteen-year-old level. I should mention now, I suppose, a CD-ROM that hasn’t quite come out that looks at all the best practices of our community-education program. That will be available and distributed soon, with a vast number of texts and images contained within it.

We also did a number of conferences, including a National Conference, which is a sort of biennial event in England. We became the hosts of that just before the Year began. We used it essentially as a way of opening up the debate about what the program was going to be. A lot of the artists who were going to be featured in the program did their presentations at the three-day conference. We also had some theme-based conferences, one of them about landscape photography, one about public art, another about collections, storage and archives, education and galleries, and so on.

There were competitions, one, of course, being the ‘world’s biggest photography competition.’ But we also got onto ‘Blue Peter,’ the world famous children’s program that’s been on it would seem forever. The show is always about making fantastic things in your own backyard or garden with your own mum and dad, and being practical and inventive, etc. It’s an extraordinary program and they did their own photography competition with us that worked very well. The Yorkshire television company did a weather competition, where every night it featured a photograph by a local resident of the ‘landscapes of Yorkshire.’ I will show you a couple of the images. It was very good for our advertising, since our name was mentioned in connection with every image. Our market research showed that particular competition as creating the most awareness of our program in the minds of Yorkshire residents. Another competition that I really liked dealt with the whole aspect of amateur photography, and the relationship between amateur and art photography, and who’s creative and who’s not. We set up a debate between different judges. We got some of the people I’ve mentioned, the more famous artists of the European Commissions, to meet a local amateur photographic club and talk about what makes a good photograph. These art photographers’ work was judged by the amateurs, and vice versa. It was a storm of a day! The different standards and values were debated through the day. It got a lot of national coverage. It was well-run and well-organized, and it did not under-value anybody in that forum. It was about recognizing the different values and seeing where people are coming from.

I’m coming towards the end of my talk, but I’ll just mention something about the promotion and strategies used to get people onto our database. You’ve already heard about some of our strategies, but other groups and companies had their own marketing campaigns. Canon, once they officially became our sponsors, produced extraordinary amounts of materials. They spent some $2 million on their own advertising for Photo ’98, including press ads, bags, brochures, etc. One of our retailers was Boots, a photo processing place, which gives your pictures back to you in a wallet. Two million of the wallets displayed ‘The Year of Photography,’ as well as different images relating to the Year, on them. The amount of people who came across the Year just because of these wallets was enormous. There was a digital photography supplement in The Times that was produced in association with Dixon’s and didn’t cost us a penny. The initial page is all about the technology of computer and cameras, but the center pages were all about our program. There were 1.5 million copies that went out to Times readers, plus the copies that were handed out in Dixon’s stores around Christmas time. We had lots of road signs everywhere, and plenty of parties, events and openings, with celebrity guests such as Prince Andrew.

If you think about organizing parties and events, you realize it’s a huge amount of work. But one day, in our craziness, we actually tried to do two in the same day, in two totally different cities. One was in London and the other in Leeds, so we split our staff into two teams. The project in Leeds was with an organization called Autograph, which describes itself as a Black photography agency for the United Kingdom. It acts as a promotional agency on behalf of British Black and Asian photographers. They brought together a whole lot of work and put it into an audio-visual format, with some music to go along with it. It was shown as a projection under some railway arches, called the Dark Arches. It’s a site that was taken over and made into an art space for twenty different artists represented by Autograph. It became a music event as well, with DJs that did a live performance along with the audio-visual program. While organizing that, we had another event where Herrod Blank from California, who we’d seen in a copy of The Face two years earlier, brought his ‘camera van.’ It’s made out of around two thousand cameras on the outside of a Dodge van. We thought it was a brilliant idea that we absolutely had to make a part of our program. It was one of those ‘stunt’ kind of things we liked. It turned out that to fly it over to England from New York would have cost $120,000. We did try going to Virgin Airlines to see if they would do it for nothing, as a stunt, but that didn’t come off. We looked at a boat through the Panama Canal and all sorts of other options. We wanted it to be the launch event for the Year, in January, and somehow we got it all sorted out. It was all ready to be put on a boat from California around December 27, and our big launch event with Prince Andrew was on January 5. They said it may arrive on January 6, 7, 8, or 9, but there was no guarantee. So, we couldn’t take that risk, with all the media that was set up around it, so we had to cancel the event. But we did, in the end, get it in June. Herrod was sent around the country, taking photographs. It was a peculiar kind of vision that Herrod had, which was one of documenting the British people from his van, as they are surprisedly looking at this monster of a vehicle as it passes. He created an image of ‘True Britannia!’ Those images were then blown up into large-scale photographs and displayed in a recently renovated car park off of Piccadilly Circus. We launched the car park. It was a sort of drive-through exhibition, alongside other classic cars and other aspects of ‘True Britannia’. It was made into an event for the media and famous personalities. This was happening in London while we did the Autograph event in Leeds on the same day.

All in all, it was an astonishing year. I think there are many legacies that will come out of the Year, though it is still early to be sure whether we succeeded or not, in some of them. I’m absolutely certain that the scale of the new work that was commissioned and created cannot have had anything other than a beneficial effect on the practice of photography and digital imagery. The nature of that work which is available in publishing and touring, etc., not just for the artists themselves but for the perception of photography and where it is going, will have a considerable legacy for some time. Another legacy has to do with the real problems that exist in the United Kingdom of accepting photography as art. I really don’t think that argument has been won, yet. Our contention was always to look at the way the Years came about. It needed a fight to give photography its own year. There are hardly any commercial galleries that sell photography. There aren’t very many opportunities to buy a piece of work on the basis of its artistic value. When I went to Boston a few years ago, I was amazed by the number of commercial galleries that were showing contemporary photographic work for sale. They were, of course, complaining about how few people were buying the work, and saying how much worse it was than it used to be, but it can’t compare to the situation in the UK It’s impossible for a city outside of London, such as Bradford and Leeds, to have one single gallery like that. Photography really has not been accepted as a valid art form, and part of what we were about was trying to make that happen.

We were certainly about creating new audiences for photography as art, and I think that would entirely justify our populist approach of making connections between a high quality artistic program and the more amateur perspective on things. I think we brought on sponsors who had never even thought of sponsoring photographic art before, and we have kept them interested. Canon went on to sponsor a new photography gallery for a five year program. We had a big effect on people’s basic understanding of marketing. It annoys me, the amount of local authority galleries, in particular, that think it’s enough just to show the artistic work and have a good opening, but don’t actually care about whether audiences come in to see the work. I think artists are equally culpable, at times, of being only concerned about the peer group–the critics, the arts funding bodies, whatever–as to whether their work is being appreciated. After the opening night, many aren’t too concerned about putting too much effort into the next eight weeks that the exhibition might be on show. They don’t seem to worry much about the audiences that might be engaging with the show. I was furious at the number of times that I, in my constant effort to drop by on all the different shows and see the work, would go into a gallery and find that, in say the case of the more electronic, interactive shows, it wasn’t working or that the gallery was sometimes closed for a meeting. There was an astonishing lack of respect for the ordinary visitor. We had a big struggle with some of the galleries about recognizing how they should promote the work and respect the audience. I think we gave a lot of confidence to people to curate photography when they hadn’t done it before, and help them understand, as curators coming from a more painting or sculpture background, what was happening in the medium. We gave some people a lot of confidence in the commissioning of work, which is really a scary kind of process, to commission something that you haven’t yet seen. Our whole approach toward people was to be creative. We said, you’ve got to be special, and it’s got to be something we believe is a creative project. We were willing to work with anyone who was able to convince us that they had the best creative idea. It had nothing to do with a person’s background or track record, it was all about the ideas they presented to us, and which ones we believed were the best. I believe we contributed greatly to that building up of confidence and creativity. I hope we changed people’s perceptions–the audiences, the people, everybody who was involved in the program. We certainly developed a range of partnerships that will have a long-term legacy of working together to deliver such projects.

Since I’m running out of time, I want just to distribute, but not talk about, one artist’s work. I want to try to illustrate your text-image theme here. There were a number of artists who involved all sorts of connections between text and image, for instance, Bhimji’s mirrors, and the Alhambra gardens. John Kippen who is the artist whose work I want to distribute, did a public art project which has three parts to it. He was asked to do a piece of work in Scarborough, a seaside resort. There’s a Rotunda museum which essentially shows geological objects. It has a 360 degree panorama in it, showing the geological strata of Scarborough. It has a whole series of curved glass cases showing different objects from the collection. Many of the objects are very peculiar. They are just things people have left on the ground, sometimes around Scarborough castle, a tourist attraction up on a cliff overlooking the sea. The things that people have left behind are odd, as objects: guitars, pipes, lockets, and so on. They are kept as part of the collection and sometimes shown in the rotunda. Kippin did a 360 panorama in the rotunda which was the view from Scarborough castle. He then created his own objects, some of them reflecting the objects in the collection, put them in resin blocks and planted them in the soil of the Scarborough castle ground. In the grass around the castle, you see pipes, scarves, etc. There were twelve different objects placed in the ground, while at the rotunda was a panorama, and the third part was a publication. The whole project was called Histories of the Imagination. You could say it was largely about objects and how they reflect the personality. He refers to Sherlock Holmes in the publication, and how you can tell from a watch all sorts of different characteristic traits of a person. But he also worked with a writer named Helena Hinn, who wrote some stories in the book which reflect his photographs of some of the objects in the rotunda museum. The book is comprised of these photographs, stories and reminiscences that bear relation to the objects. The visitors, if they went to the rotunda or the castle, could get the book free, if they wanted, and could also get a voucher to see the other parts of the work for free. There was actually a fourth piece of work, not by Kippin but related to the project, which was a community education program that we set up. It was a local group who took their own photographs, which were made into a newspaper and given to all the fish and chip shops in Scarborough. So all the fish and chips got wrapped up in these newspapers. It was called Fish and Chips With Snaps, for those who like corny titles! Hundreds and thousands of these were made and distributed. You’re welcome to keep these books that I’m passing around. You can see from the image that was displayed in the rotunda that there’s text that goes along with it.

Let’s go on with the slides. This is from a competition we had where people were invited to contribute their worst photographs. It was won by Tom Pemberton, whose photograph is called My Left Ear. He had the camera back to front, and just behind the top of his ear, you can see Whitby Abbey. We took him down to present our big, designer-led document to the Arts Council as part of the bidding process. He had never been to London in his life.

This is the next stunt. That’s Amanda Nevill, who’s the Head of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. We built this giant camera, made entirely out of Kodak rolls of film, with schoolchildren, on the day the judging panel for the bid came to visit. I’m just trying to give you a feel of the approach we took during the bidding process.

This is the Autograph project I talked about. That’s the screen at the back of the Dark Arches. There are also these different cubes that images were projected onto, the DJs, the music. The audio-visual itself is available now as a video that is shown on television. Stuart Hall is the overall writer/narrator on the project. Here are some of the artists featured in it: Clement Cooper, Chila Burman, Damond Bey, all looking at different images of identity. They were put together with a text about what it’s like to be of African or Asian origin in Britain today.

This is the ferry project. It’s not the greatest image, but you can see the image being projected. You can also see some slides projected onto the key side, simultaneous to the video projected on the ferry. The video lasted seven minutes, which was the amount of time the ferry had to stay still while the water was being adjusted in the dock.

Here is the photosynthesis, grass project. If you look at the people on the bottom, you can get a sense of the size of the image. There’s another one from the same artists, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, that is also made out of grass. It’s just a portrait in the side room of the cinema.

I haven’t really talked about the web projects. This one is called Mongrel. This was a newspaper that was produced, looking at images of racism. It was also a web project, that is kind of complicated to explain, but, basically, if you came up with any racist use of language, it blocked you from the next screen of what you wanted to see.

This is Gillian Waring who won the Turner Prize in 1997. It’s a video project, presented in an art gallery context, where adults are lip-synching to a soundtrack of children being interviewed about their aspirations, hopes, and loves. It is very disorienting to see these adults talking in childish voices about their fears, their parents and whatever else.

This is Muscles, by Claire Charmley and Lisa Watts. It was looking at issues of identity and the body, with one project specifically about body building. The images and the digital distortions of the body were wrapped around some false pillars in the gallery.

Jorma Puranen, an artist I haven’t really talked about, was from Finland. He was part of the European Commissions and his work was about the Sami people of the outer edges of Finland. He was looking at archives of the Sami people, and was very concerned with ethnography and the depiction of history. He took some of the reproductions from an archive in Paris and placed them back in the original landscape of where the Sami people lived. He developed it further in our Commissions by looking at the mapping process of original explorers and empires. People always used Latin to make maps. His work has to do with landscape, history and race. You can read more about this in the book of the European Commissions. You can see here how the landscape is being affected by modern processes like damming, etc.

We were also interested in documentary work as well. One criticism that came up was that we were just interested in installation-based art, which wasn’t true. This is Stanley Greene, an African American living in Paris. He works in the tradition of photojournalism.

This is the CD-ROM, Forced Entertainment, which was all about the urban landscape at night. It’s an interactive program where you can navigate through these 360 panoramas. You can find different aspects of what’s happening in this fictional city.

This is Robert Hardy, which is another text-based project. He has a filmmaking background, and there’s a fictional film script included. His images correlate and work with the script.

These are some previous images of John Kippin, the artist who did the Histories of the Imagination. I just wanted to illustrate the kind of work he has done and its exploration of the relationship between image and text. It’s very simple text that he’s using to illustrate certain issues.

I had better stop there, and thank you very much for attending.

Question: I am confused. You had different sites throughout Yorkshire, correct? When one person was showing, was it up for a whole year, or did the shows move around to different sites?

Brookes: Mostly, a project would last around six to eight weeks, if it was gallery-based, and then another piece would come in after that. For some galleries, it was photography the whole year, but others just had one Photo ‘98 project, and then would go on to doing something different. It depended on the nature of the space. There would be some projects that would be shown six to eight weeks in one site and then tour to other places in the country. But the majority were shown in one site for a limited amount of time.

Question: Who was your artistic director?

Brookes: Anne McNeill. She used to work for an agency called Photoworks, which is based in the southeast of England, near Brighton. She came on board a year before the Year started, so she was under contract for a couple of years to develop the partnerships, the program, the commissioning, and so on.

Question: It seems clear that there would be a lot of influence on the public perception of art as photography. What legacy do you anticipate for the perception of photography within the art world in Britain, in the London high art environment? How has photography’s role changed from this, or has it at all?

Brookes: I think it’s changed a little, but I still have some disappointments about it. I think within the London art world there is an elitism that still sees photography as populist, or as documentary and news, but not on the level of high art. I believe we challenged that, but wouldn’t necessarily say that we had succeeded. I would say that people were really surprised by the extent of truly brilliant work that was created during the Year. That continues to happen through the process of talking about it, showing work, publishing, and so on. I was disappointed at the time by some of the London art world’s lack of effort to see the work. But then again, with 310 projects, there’s no way you’re going to see all of it. There were just two people who saw nearly all of it, and that was Anne McNeill and myself. It’s just too much to see everything, but it filters on, because much of the work is continuing to be seen. So, yes, we did have a challenging effect. One danger of the whole program was that people would see us simply as a marketing success. But what they should be forced to see is that the program itself was the highest quality program of all the Years. Most of the others functioned as an umbrella, with a few good projects. What they were confronted with in us, with our success in the partnerships and the resources, was to create a sustained, high quality program throughout the Year.

Question: What kind of response did you get from the photography departments of established institutions that show photography, like Victoria and Albert? Were they excited and want to collaborate, or was it seen as a threat?

Brookes: Some institutions were brilliant. The V & A, for instance, took the challenge really well. We helped them, both in having Canon as a sponsor and in the opening of a specialized photography gallery. The V & A has got the best collection of art photography in the UK, and it’s only now that it has opened a photo gallery. There are other institutions who we felt were slow to collaborate and didn’t see the opportunities that we there. But we got strong enough over time to be able to say, if you’re not interested, we don’t care, we’ll go work with somebody else. We could say, it’s you that’s going to miss out. So there are a few institutions that look back now and say they missed out. It was a bit of a bluff, two years before, because we thought we really needed them, but as it turned out, we didn’t.

 

 

Analysis by Carol Inez Charney

 

 

As an American I am astonished by the ability of the Photo ‘98 organization to raise 6.5 million dollars within England’s depressed economy, when in the midst of American affluence, artists have little access to financial support. The role of the artist in today’s society is deemed less important than a computer programmer’s and is often seen as merely frivolous or decorative.

As the chief executive director of Photo ‘98, Paul Brookes’ task in raising such extensive funds and in organizing a project of this scope would be daunting to anyone, but where the arts are concerned, and particularly photography, I find his level of success incredible.

Brookes described himself as a businessman, which I see in many ways to be the reason for his success. The notion of the artist being supported solely by public agencies no longer exists or succeeds, having been replaced by ‘networking,’ fundraising and marketing. People laugh at Hollywood’s practice of the ‘power lunch,’ however the film industry is the most well-funded of the visual arts arenas.

One of the refreshing aspects of Photo ‘98 was that it was not solely about a post modernist art understood only by an elite faction, but rather commissioned art that included the audience of the common person living in the area. The work was not marketed to a limited art appreciating audience. By placing as much emphasis to entice the amateur photographer through local photo competitions, as well as the commercial and fine art photographer, the Photo ‘98 team created a tone of celebration and respect for photography as an art form appealing to all degrees of practice. By utilizing marketing and advertising strategies such as billboards, direct mail campaigns, newspaper and magazine advertising as well as a web presence, the success of the project was overwhelming.

Funding for public art is difficult to raise at times because it is considered not important enough in the USA. In the UK however, Photo ‘98 managed to raise 2.5 million dollars and support over fifty public art projects. The enthusiasm generated around having public art returns to the point that the need for public art was a marketed and advertised need. In America, there is a confused view of what is public art. There is a confusion around whether we are speaking of a piece of art which decorates a public space, or an artwork which comments on issues and asks us to question them. Through the support of an intermediary agency working in a business model, public art was embraced as much as art views in more traditional spaces such as museums and galleries. Perhaps we can learn something from the British in America from this approach to generate interest in public art?

As professionals we need to write about our work as well as the work of our peers, to promote our art and to utilize the machine we like to criticize called ‘the media.’ This allows artists the ability to communicate to both funding agencies and their potential audience. By writing more clearly about our work we open up the possibilities of financial support by establishing the relevance of our art in society. Maybe artists working together approaching funding from a marketing/business context could very well change the way people in America view the need for art, as well as the appreciation for it.