Lancashire Photography Festival
Preston – outdoors – on now until May 23
I’ve been blown away by the response to Lancashire Photography Festival.
Holding an outdoors art event like this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s one of those ideas you sometimes have, but never think will actually happen. I had been talking up the idea of an outdoor arts-based festival for two or three years around Preston but could not get anyone interested in doing it with me. But when lockdown came along it quickly became obvious that an outdoors art exhibition at a time when all other arts venues were closed was a no brainer.
I began a massive period of research last summer which started with putting the images of cult artist Cold War Steve in the windows of The Larder on Lancaster Road. I talked to dozens of outdoor photography festivals around the world, plus specialist producers and printers who have staged similar exhibitions, installations and events.
Special thanks during this phase goes to freelance producer Julie Brown, Imitating The Dog’s Simon Wainwright and their projection specialist Andrew Crofts. Nic Greenan, lead of cultural partnership for Bradford City Council could not have been more open and helpful speaking to me about the outdoor photo installations in Bradford. Photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn supported me and the advice and encouragement of Jean-Christophe Godet, the artistic director of Guernsey Photography Festival, gave me the belief that a festival in Preston was possible.
Aimee Grundell’s openness and willingness to talk about her experiences of printing and installing outdoor images was absolutely invaluable. She went on to oversee the printing and installation of the festivals two major exhibitions – John Davies’ landscapes on Winckley Square and Peter Dench’s The British Abroad on the hoardings of the former BHS building on Fishergate. If Jean-Christophe gave me belief and insight to make it all possible, Aimee stepped forward and made the dream a reality.
There was a huge amount of planning for this festival before any image was ever printed. Finding locations and gaining permissions was far from easy. There were a few problems. Quite a few. I did complain to the council a couple of times when things weren’t happening.
I should also give huge thanks to those people who came and helped me install almost 200 images around Preston. It took me a week to put paste the images up and – timewise – I would not have been able to get all this done without people turning up and picking up a brush. For the first three days I had massive help from Teddy Cook and Betsy Byrom, then along came Jill Reidy, Norma Foulds, Charlotte Young, Richard Davis, Dave Bennett, Jill Cross and Ruth Wenham. Then I had huge problems with a five-metre high image of Preston Bus Station – this would not have gone up if it was not for Tarquin Scott and Richard McCann.
It was brilliant to do workshops and engage with over 120 local photographers, with many of them going on to produce six-image documentary photo essays, most of which can be seen at Preston Market hoardings. There are too many people here to mention – including Preston Photographic Society and all the Blackpool Sixth Form College photography students who have taken over windows of The Larder – but I’d like to thank everyone for taking part, and also thank those who helped on the organisation side.
Doing any kind of photography project during lockdown is hard – doing a documentary one is even harder, especially as some people taking part had little or no photography experience. But it was brilliant to see the beautiful and diverse images produced by people who had taken part in the workshops.
And possibly as important as the photographs are the people who have shared information about the festival to all your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve not begun collecting data on this properly (a quick check tells me the #lancsphotofest hashtag has reached 200,000 people) but I know from the multiple mentions and notifications I get every time I look at my phone that this festival has been loved and shared by so many people. I’ve heard countless wonderful stories and read unbelievably kind words about the festival – I was even told that the people of Connecticut, New England, USA, want their own outdoor festival after seeing images from this one in Preston. So if you are one of those people reading this who has shared details about the festival or photographed it – thanks for all your support.
I got funding for this festival from the Arts Council England to develop my own career as a producer. I’m so grateful for them for that. This festival is a move away from my work as a producer with theatre and performance (I also delivered Lancashire Fringe festival in 2017 and 2019 if you didn’t know) but it has been a brilliant experience.
The festival is essentially a pilot – to test ideas and see what works and doesn’t work. Some of what I have done has not worked. Also, there were initial plans for some special events and projection installation but these were dropped because of lockdown and social-distancing concerns. I hope these can be added in the future. I did not have enough money to do some massive full-building prints. Floor prints in the Fishergate Centre didn’t happen because they were closed. If I had a bigger budget, more images would have been cut to fit irregular spaces and window shapes. I hope all that can come if this festival develops into something bigger. For that to happen, I am going to need support from Preston to enable me to develop this festival into a truly unique event in the north of England, if not the UK – and then the world.
And now, with work on the festival done, I now turn my attention to my next project. I just don’t know what it is yet.
But like any good freelance photographer and producer, I’m available for work.
(Sorry if I forgot to mention anyone)
PS No one has told me if there has been any complaints about the photos of drunk people on Fishergate. But I’m telling you now they’ve made people laugh out loud.