Strange moment in the shop at first site the other day. My eye was caught by this book (Ravilious in Pictures), tucked away in a corner between the NeoNaturists and Gainsborugh’s landscapes. The contrast amused me!I first came across the work of James Ravillious (the son of Eric Ravilious) when I did a small piece of work for Beaford Arts in North Devon. Originally Ravilious was asked by the then director of Beaford to complete a small photography project. But what began as a simple project became an obsession – resulting in some 80,000 black and white images recording and documenting rural life – from landscape to farming, from everyday life to special occasions (see here). His images are extra ordinary – capturing in their simplicity – a way of life in rural Devon which was fast disappearing. Without any description the images are innately theatrical – capturing character and narrative in a single frame. I was reminded of that archive yesterday when I visited Peterborough Museum for the first time. In between meetings I’d hoped to explore a bit more of this extraordinary building – a former surgery/hospital but found myself instead drawn in by the Chris Porsz exhibition – Peterborough Through A lens.
Porsz (known locally as the Paramedic Paparazzo) has been documenting the people and streets of Peterborough since the late seventies. As a result his quick fire photography– like the work of Ravilious – documents social change. The result is an exhibition that makes you both laugh and cry and is a reminder that a picture (or in this case a photograph) is worth thousand words.
Porsz is at pains to point out that he is an amateur photographer . In many ways though the distinction is irrelevant as whats so clearly important about the collection (which totals some 2000 images) is the way it documents the city. These are essentially story images. He tells his tales of Peterborough in the simplest, clearest possible way leaving room for the viewer to complete the narrative him/herself . Porsz walks me round the exhibition telling me the real narrative behind each image (some of the stories are heartbreaking – some uplifting – others simply a reflection of a life). Interestingly I’d already spent time with many of the images and constructed my own narratives – some of which mirrored the fact – some of which were very different. The line between story telling and documenting is an intriguing one echoing something Lindsay Anderson once said ‘art is not only about what is, but what could be’.
It’s arguable that Porsz photography follows a long tradition that both James and Eric Ravillious were part. Using art (in Porsz case photography, Eastern Angles will be using theatre in 2013/4 through the Forty Years On project) to document social change.
Whats undeniable is his images tell a compelling story (particularly the reunion series where Porsz recreates older images from the archive). The exhibition is highly recommended – and not just for locals –. It runs until May 18th.