Curated by Photoworks, this year’s Brighton Photo Biennial aims to promote the idea of ‘A New Europe’. With the United Kingdom in a state of political flux, the BPB showcases the geographical and cultural bindings that will forever be a part of the UK’s future.
A shared history
Political uncertainty in the form of Brexit has been at the forefront of the nations’ minds over recent years. The BPB pulls back the curtain to remind us that political decisions do not define national identity.
Exhibits such as the Cross Channel Photographic Mission (CCPM) demonstrate the link the UK will always share with Europe, representing a physical constant in this time of uncertainty.
The photographers’ works on the CCPM portray an idea centred around connection and forming a physical gateway to the rest of Europe.
Heading into Brexit, the tunnel’s purpose of connection feels under threat. The future is uncertain of whether this ideology of European connection will be maintained and the CCPM conveys those thoughts poignantly.
The CCPM also projects a history of the people and a realisation of how times have changed. The capturing of workers unearthing Medieval tombs and gritty close-ups of Roman artifacts sparks curiosity and appreciation for those who had walked Europe in past years.
Footage of the Biennial exhibits. Joel Nicholas talks about his perspective of the CCPM
Is it a new Europe?
With the theme being labelled ‘A New Europe’, it is difficult to see this in some exhibits. The BPB illustrates European history, but does not express what is new, only what has happened. Instead, certain exhibits surround history and international links with no suggestions of the future.
What does give us a clue however, are the texts which accompany the exhibits. ‘A New Europe’ is better received with phrases such as ‘intertwined future’, but the photography should be what best expresses the theme, not the supplementary information.
That said, an exception is Emeric Lhuisset’s work with cyanotypes which create a brilliant representation of the fluid and ever-changing nature of Europe portrayed in the BPB. Cyanotypes are blue and white images imposed on treated surfaces after exposure to sunlight.
The exhibit’s cleverness is due to the non-fixed behaviour of the pieces. Cyanotypes fade after prolonged light exposure, eventually turning solid blue. This disappearance could represent the stories fading into European history or perhaps being forgotten, two views completely open to interpretation.
Forgetting European stories can be associated with the concerning nature of Brexit and conveying this message through non-static exhibits is inspiring.
Bill Brandt’s work portraying 1930s English life is recognised as an early attempt at photographing a nation. If the same exhibition was run with photos from today, English life is very much becoming one of social and racial equality rather than the clear segregations of the past.
As a result, connectivity and change will always be a part of Britain no matter what political motivations exist and Mr Brandt’s work illustrates this positive message.
The 2018 Brighton Photo Biennial is a fitting tribute to European history that cleverly conveys its thoughts of a fluid and ever-changing continent.
But, more could be done to visually explore thoughts of what will happen as countries transition into ‘A New Europe’ and not just illustrate past endeavours. While reminders of the past can be beautifully presented, the future is what also needs visualising.
However, Brexit and a flavourful European history have been the foundations behind inspired exhibitions and their quality.
The biennial shows that times are changing and Brexit is simply another part of that diverse European history. That said, the significance of the political years ahead and whether or not Brexit will rewrite the history books is left up to the viewer to imagine – a missed opportunity for this year’s event.