As Alison Bettles takes on her first year as PhotoHastings (Ph), Co-chair with all of the effort and interaction that that entails, it might be interesting to reflect on the Ph journey so far. Ph has supported approximately 140 exhibitions and cinema presentations and around 50 practitioners talks. Many more photographic practitioners than that have taken part as both organisers and exhibitors.
Ph started as the Photo hub group, (Phg) following a conversation between Lucy Bell and Andrew Moran at Hastings art school in 2009, Grace Lau joined as co-chair and meetings followed at Lucy’s gallery in Battle and at the art school. Plans were swiftly put in place for the first exhibition year, 2010. Grace established a link with the Brighton Photo Biennial, (BPB), and a ‘bio-rhythm’ for the group was set. This constituted a BPB fringe showing year, followed by an ’Interim’ Phg year, which was also in concert with members of BPB. This arrangement took place between the 2010-2013 period. A constitution was written placing us as a not-for-profit group in 2011, following consultation with Hastings Voluntary Action, the Media Enterprise Centre – UoB (University of Brighton) and other arts professionals.
In the autumn of 2014 under the aegis of Catherine Kemp, director of that specific photo-season, Phg was re-named PhotoHastings in agreement with Alex Brattell and the steering committee, taking Ph in a newly independent direction. Since that time Ph has staged an annual photo-season. The Ph steering committee is currently comprised of knowledgeable founder members who have been with us since the start of our activities; Alex Brattell, Neville Austin, Robin Hutt and John Cole—recently Tracy Jones, our web developer, has joined the committee and acts as Marketing Lead. With such a strong team in place, Ph has survived and flourished.
The ethos of Ph has always been to be open, accepting and accessible. Our membership from the earliest days has been fluid, with a mix of traditional and new members in any given year. Although standards have always been high, Ph has never been judgemental. It has not had to have been, membership has been taken up by those who take their practise seriously, who have displayed great intelligence, skill and judgement in the taking and making of photographic work. We have been blessed with a plethora of high-quality exhibitions both single-person and group shows. The Ph model is simple and collaborative and has never fallen into the stasis of a centralised management, retaining the custom of a ‘fringe’ attitude, with an emphasis on openness, experimentation and personal contribution of effort. There exists a ‘lightness of touch’ that encourages members in their plans; Ph supports those who subscribe to a collaborative outlook.
In the Photology talks, instituted and arranged by Alex Brattell we have experienced an array of fascinating evening events from academics and visually-based photographic practitioners, extending Alex’s idea for Ph of delivering ‘photo-centricity’ to our sea-border zone, taking in Hastings, Saint Leonards, Bexhill and Rye.
Another aspect of Ph activity is that it has greatly contributed to the development of a higher-education degree course in photography at East Sussex College. The University of Brighton, the accrediting university, required that there was an overt interest and a market for photography in our area if they were to support such a course. The history of our group lent gravity to the application of the college. A full degree course was awarded following a great deal of hard work by staff at the college over several years.
Since the 2014 changes, Ph supporters have worked hard; showing annually brings with it many more pressures than the original biennial rhythm. All work, including that overseen by the committee, is done voluntarily and paid for by practitioners and organisers themselves. However, the group rallies and continues to show; even over the difficult lockdown period. Overall, Ph has been successful in giving a platform for photographers to make and show work. In fact, the platform is all that there is. The content always belongs to the practitioner. In the years that Ph, (and in its time Phg), have been running we have supported the work of both accredited and non-accredited photographers. A quick look through the archive reveals lauded and applauded practitioners in both visual and verbal presence with Ph:
Martin Parr | Alma Haser | Nigel Shafran | Val Williams | Stuart Griffiths | Nigel Green | Simon Roberts | Sharon Haward | Daffyd Jones | Chloe Dewe Matthews | Simon Norfolk | Grace Lau | David Campany | Chris Wainwright | Nicole Zaaroura | Brian Griffin | John Stezaker | Simon Baker | Claire Richardson | Andy Moxon | Michelle Henning | Anne Lydiat | Ingrid pollard | Sedat Aral | Peter Kennard.
It is easy to admire these practitioners as masters of one creative attitude or another, however, the true heroes of PhotoHastings are those who give their time, care and attention to the needs of others, those whose efforts remain unseen, in organisation and curation, this, has been the magic behind our very specific creative-collect.
PhotoHastings has not stood still, it continues to be a conduit for ideas and approaches to making and showing work encompassing and supporting the views of independently-minded practitioners and their desire to create new communities.