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Guest Blog – Photographing architecture

On Valentine’s Day I ran a short day course on creative photography at Nottingham Contemporary.

A fantastic group of 14 people gathered to experiment, learn and share their photography with each other.  The course was entitled Framing Architecture and my mission was to try to link the exhibitions currently showing at Contemporary with ways for participants to develop their inventiveness with photography.

The group had different levels of experience using cameras, some very knowledgeable and skilled, others just starting out with point-and-clicks.  What I really enjoyed about the day was all the connections that were made between the exhibitions, the building itself, and the participants sharing and encouraging each other.

The Nottingham Contemporary is a well photographed building.  Not just from the outside, where it has a surprising presence, but inside too – I often stumble across fashion students in the stairwell doing their photo shoots!  So how could I help the course participants to see it differently?

We began by looking at Thomas Demand’s photographs, Model Studies, currently exhibiting.  Demand has photographed architectural models very close up, then printed them really big, so they become quite abstract.  I spent some time analysing with our group how Demand’s compositions were working, the lines and shapes, colours and light play.  Because the photographs are quite abstract and with my background as a painter, it was really interesting to break down the precise elements that made up each composition.

Then the participants set off to use this knowledge in response to the building of the Contemporary itself.  The architecture really lends itself well to abstract photography, with fantastic plays of different materials creating junctions, bold angles and curves, and forming unusual shapes against the sky.

Sharing our photographs, you could see that the influence of Demand’s compositions were really strong in their images.  It was also very interesting to see how differently people had interpreted the compositional devices.  Some got in very close with minimal shots and studied textures, others stood further back to make the most of dramatic angles.  The group were obviously proud of their achievements as they felt they could make up a good exhibition themselves!  I agree, some of the results were stunning and every single person had something good, so we are going to ask them to upload their best shots onto the Contemporary’s Flickr page.  I’ll update you when this happens, it will be worth having a look!

The other exhibition currently showing is Decolonizing Architecture Artists Residency, which includes small models of buildings as well as a huge construction of a nearly floating structure that cuts across Gallery 2.  This gave us even more architectural subject matter.  I loved the way our day of photography played between models, photos of models, photos of architecture and architectural models, big, small, close-up, distant.

Once again, I felt I had a fine day with Nottingham people (and some from further afield – we had participants who had come from as far as Wales and Liverpool!) who were open minded and with a thirst for learning, and from whom I learned a lot too.  This is why I love working on the Learning Team at Nottingham Contemporary.

About Joanna:

“I’m an artist working in the public realm.  I undertake commissions, generate my own projects and am involved in arts education.  I’m interested in mapping, walking, connections, public space, modes of travel, change, sense of place and looking sideways, using a wide range of media for temporary and permanent artworks.”



Twitter: @JoDacombe

All images by Jo Dacombe

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