East London Photography Festival: Photomonth

I’ve often written about the lack of photographic festivals in England, and so it is hardly surprising to find that now two come along together.

Photomonth, the East London Photography Festival is now I think in its fourth year, but this year it does seem to have taken off into something rather more significant. I’m not sure how many of the events I’ll get too, but one certainly not to mix is the show at Rich Mix on the Bethnal Green Road, where ‘East End Street‘ includes the work of Paul Trevor.

I first got to know Paul’s work through the magazine ‘Camerawork‘ produced by the ‘Half Moon Photography Workshop‘ set up by Wendy Ewald and based around the Half Moon Theatre in Alie St, just off Aldgate. (Later it morphed into Camerawork.) Indeed it was an exhibition in the theatre foyer there that first really took me into London, and started me photographing there. So you can really blame ‘My London Diary‘ on him!

Paul’s project with the ‘Exit Photography Group‘, ‘Down Wapping’ prompted me to visit Wapping and the group’s ‘Survival Programmes‘, looking at Britain’s inner cities in the late 1970s, is surely the most significant documentary project of the era in any country. Although all three photographers made significant contributions, it is pictures by Paul – such as the opening image of Mozart Street in Liverpool – that provide most of the real excitement in this great body of work.

This is the first show for which Paul has opened up his ‘Eastender Archive‘ although some images are already familiar. I’ve long regarded him as one of the best and most influential photographers in Britain at the time, and one whose work has never really received the attention it deserves from the public, although well-known by other photographers. Unlike some others of the time he hasn’t chosen to seek publicity and ride with the various trends to become the darling of the galleries and curators. But it does look as if, at long last, his work is beginning to get the attention it deserves.

Showing along with Paul is work by Stephen McLaren, who was one of the curators of the rather disappointing show of Contemporary British Street Photography at Photofusion last Summer (his own work was some of the more interesting in the show.) I was one of several photographers who told him that Britain had a great (and continuing) tradition in street photography – including the work of people such as Paul Trevor, of which he seemed at the time (and in the exhibition text) to be blissfully unaware. And when I’d told him, John Benton-Harris, who I think has personally contributed much to the street tradition here since he arrived from the South Bronx, took over and told him too!

London 1975, (C) Paul Trevor, from ‘Cities of Walls, Cities of People’

I showed a half a dozen pictures by Paul some years ago in Clerkenwell in the London Arts Cafe show Cities of Walls, Cities of People, which also included street photography by two old friends, Jim Barron (who sadly died not long after) and Paul Baldesare, although for that show I included some of my own urban landscape rather than street work.

Another familiar name to me is Anna Fox, who is giving the Photomonth lecture, talking on 8 November about her new publication, Anna Fox Photographs 1983–2006 (Photoworks/Impressions
Gallery), coming out in late 2007.

Altogether there are around 50 venues taking part in Photomonth, including Magnum, Host and others around Shoreditch as well as some further east. I have to say much of what is on offer doesn’t particularly excite me, but at least it does seem to be a proper festival in London, even if much of what is in it simply reflects the recent upsurge in photographic spaces in the area covered.

I hope to cover a few of the events in Photomonth over the next few weeks (some don’t start until November), though despite asking to be put on the press list and being promised information, somehow nothing has arrived.

One day, the photography establishment will realise that the web exists and is worth using. Just not yet. Even when I wrote for a site with hits per month in 7 figures it was often hard to get treated seriously as press.

Hereford? Another, rather shorter feature to follow in a few minutes.

Peter Marshall

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