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The South West Graduate Photography Prize

We talk to Fotonow about the South West Graduate Photography Prize

Fotonow established the South West Graduate Photography Prize in 2010 in order to showcase photographic work emerging from the region to a national audience. The prize, in its second year, has been exhibited at Vyner Street Gallery in London where it attracts an audience from diverse sectors of the photographic industry. ‘Essentially we want the high quality studies being made in the South West to be more visible and the artists to feel supported’, says Matt Pontin, co-director of Fotonow, and Photography lecturer at Plymouth College of Art. After three years since the prize began the prize has showcased 18 artists, who have all, in their own way, moved forwards into interesting areas of practice. We talk to the directors of Fotonow about this year’s South West Graduate Photography Prize, currently on show at Knowle West Media Centre until 15th July 2013.

1. How are finalists selected?

We put a call out in May and come the deadline in July, we have a large number of applications to sift through and make sense of. The photographic endeavours are varied and there is no specific agenda, we're looking for considered projects which have been developed during the final year of a BA programme. Usually there is visible rigour in what we select, and although themes vary, selected works are often pertinent to the region. This aspect is something we intend to build upon.

2. How have previous graduates benefited from winning the prize?

Each year we appear to have six very motivated artists, all seem to push on and achieve good things, we'd like to think the prize supports this good energy within the individual. The 2010 prize winner, Celine Smith, undertook a residency with Fotonow and produced new work in a community context here in Plymouth (where we're based), she then went on to curate the prize with us in 2011. That year artist Ibolya Feher was selected to work on an educational project with Fotonow in Brislington where she supported a group of young people in making new work and having an exhibition in their youth centre. Then we have last year's winning artist Mark Perham making new work in Temple Quay Enterprise Zone for Knowle West Media Centre, a show of his work will be presented at Bristol Temple Meads.

"Plymouth College of Art offers a very practical approach to studies, with good input from academic staff along the way. The college is growing in exciting new directions"
Directors of Fotonow

3. Could you introduce some of the finalists in this year’s show? What do you like about their work?

We put the call out this month, so the 2013 prize is still to be decided. The show will be at Vyner Street Gallery from 9 -13 October and we imagine it will be even more busy than in previous years. To reflect upon the work of current prize finalists, who are all currently on show at Knowle West Media Centre, we enjoyed Mark's somewhat contemporary musings on Cornish culture, Adam Pedley's deeply emotive explorations of Devon and Philip Shannon's accomplished documentary portrait project looking at hunters.

4. Are there any unifying themes in the finalists’ work this year?

We sense the themes will be varied as always, when you have dozens of series of work to look through some things do begin to emerge - the landscape of the region, personal reflections on place, the coast. Last year we seemed to witness a number of portrait projects where woodlands featured as a backdrop. Our interest as Plymouth starts to build up to City of Culture 2017 aspirations will be to push the notion of culture, we'd like to think that the current social shifts in politics might be reflected in some of the projects that are submitted. Perhaps documentary work will be more prevalent in 2013.

"Good photography has purpose and an audience."
Directors of Fotonow

5. What makes good photography for you?

That's not something we really reflect upon too often, we may even like a bit of bad photography in the right context. There are now millions of us making good photographs, often there is little to distinguish any hierarchy at all, which is a very positive thing. Anyone can make photographs, and we tend to look for what is good about the context that these are being presented. The graduate prize does however look to push what is diligent, passionate and considered in uses for photography, how the practitioner evolves work over a longer period perhaps. Good photography has purpose and an audience.

6. What are your thoughts on photographic practice in the South West today?

There is a burgeoning scene here, supported by growing numbers of graduates in the medium, and also growing numbers staying in the region. The quality of higher education institutes in the South West stimulate a reason to practice here, likeminded people seem to enjoy being among one another. We're interested in how we move this to a more productive place where there are more opportunities for practice, more spaces to show work and means for new audiences to develop, beyond preaching to the converted. Fotonow aims to maintain its journey in being a regional organisation to showcase good work, and support emerging talent.

7. And at Plymouth College of Art?

The college has been stimulated by having a good neighbour in the university. To have a diverse mix of students in the city working within the medium can only be healthy. Plymouth College of Art offers a very practical approach to studies, with good input from academic staff along the way. The college is growing in exciting new directions, it can only be a matter of time before that new photographic department appears alongside some of the new infrastructure currently being constructed for applied arts. That said, photography is always a fast changing medium, and creating a space that is fit for purpose will always require input from industry and external organisations. Perhaps like modern cameras, they can be out of date by the time you get your hands on one. The highlight for the college students is the opportunity to take part in Free Range at Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in London, this year the show is running from 13 -17 June at T2 gallery and we highly recommend you go and see it.

8. What other projects are Fotonow working on?

We're working on a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project looking at the history of Plymouth City market, making a series of interviews and portraits exploring its fifty year history. A series of film screenings and exhibitions will take place in October to celebrate the collective work we make. We also have our ongoing Camper Obscura project which keeps us out and about; this weekend we are at Site Festival and we have been recently booked to be in Scotland in September. We've moved office too, to Devonport, so that we can develop the camera obscura at Seymour House, something that we're relishing the chance to explore.


Are you a graduate interested in applying for the next South West Graduate Photography Prize? Fotonow have recently put out a call for submissions through higher education institutions for next year’s prize. Applicants need to be graduating this year from a course in the region. For further information and to keep in touch join the South West Graduate Photography Prize Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/SouthWestGraduatePhotographyPrize