Aug 152013

This week Ian Davies and I have travelled to Cardiff to find out about the photographic community of South Wales, as part of our continuing amplification visits for Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery [funded by the Joseph Rouwntree Foundation’s Amplified, Resilient Communities Project at De Montfort University]. We wanted to specifically find out about Ffotogallery and Third Floor Gallery, two prominent proponents and champions of photography and photographic practice.

The first leg of our visit took us to Penarth, and the Turner House Gallery, where Ffotogallery hosts it’s main exhibitions. The gallery was purpose built as a display gallery by the wealthy philanthropist James Pyke Thompson in 1888. The gallery has a sense of calm and quite that means it is a good space for contemplation, though on an education day the gallery can be busy and active.

DSCF0593We headed back to Cardiff to the Chapter Arts Centre so that we could experience the Ffotogallery training rooms, and chat about education practice of Ffotogallery and how important hands-on experience is and the resurgence in interest in analogue photography. Walking into the teaching rooms we were greeted with the smell of photo chemicals, and I was instantly transported back to my days in the darkroom at Southport College and my photography course. It was great to see two active darkrooms, and to hear the enthusiasm of Emma Daman Thomas as she explained how the darkrooms operate and what courses are like. Lisa Edgar, head of education at Ffotogallery talked us through the development of the gallery and it’s ethos, and the challenges that established galleries face given the present funding climate.

A quick taxi back into the centre of Cardiff, and we made contact with Maciej Dakowicz who is one of the people driving and championing Third Floor Gallery. Third Floor is an independent gallery space run by a highly-committed and determined team of photographers, who are focussed on keeping their independence from the ‘bloc-funding’ model so that they can develop and maintain their independent voice.

The gallery is aptly titled as it’s at the top of a steep flight of stairs. The present exhibition is “Pictures From The Real World” by David Moore, which revisits photographs taken in the 1980s of people living in Derby. In the centre of the gallery was a TV with a speech of Margaret Thatcher running. I asked what the reaction has been, which according to Małgorzata Kopczyńska, it’s been somewhat mixed. Younger people viewed the video as interesting, whereas older people had a negative response and reaction. A marker of age and time passing.

fotor_WP_20130814_022-1024x767We then met-up with other members of the Third Floor team in the City Arms, which is a stones-throw away from the Millennium Stadium, and has been accorded the honour of being the best pub in Cardiff – which I wouldn’t disagree with. We met with Joni Karanka and Claire Kern who introduced Ian and myself to the delights of the South Wales micro-brewing. A few pints later, and some good contacts made, we stubbled into a taxi to get to the university halls of residence we were staying in (and rather further out of town than I had expected).

The following morning we headed to Cardiff Bay to have a look at the Welsh Assembly home, which was a very nice place to do some planning and some reflection on our visit to Cardiff and the galleries we have seen so far. Next week we are in Bradford and Leeds, followed by a trip to London. We certainly will have plenty of information and interviews to use for the podcast we are going to make. I’m not going to share the opinions and ideas we’ve noted just yet, but it’s been fascinating and invigorating to say the least.

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