Work and Workers at Side Gallery

The Side Gallery is always worth a visit, and I have been meaning to get to see their new show for ages, so was pleased to be able to finally fit it in. Work & Workers is a curated exhibition of photographs from around the work exploring the theme of work, featuring everything from coal miners to call centres.

Spread across the whole gallery, it’s packed with gorgeous pics, including stunning shots of the Tyne Bridge being built, some of Chris Killip’s amazing ship building pictures (I talked about his Last Ships show at the Laing a while back), and some brutal pictures of the miner’s strike and Orgreave.

It’s unflinching and sometimes bleak, but often strangely beautiful, and always humane – it never loses sight of the fact that at the heart of even the darkest and fieriest industrial hellscape there are people living their lives.

Work & Workers is on till 8 Sep and is free. Go check it out!

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Forest and Ex-Voto at Side Gallery

Yesterday my friend Simon and I went to see the latest exhibitions at Side Gallery, which is always an interesting excursion. There were actually three shows on (all free, as usual), and although they were very different, they were all interesting in their own way.On the ground floor was Jason & Victoria: Disability and Partnership, an observation by Josefin Bengtsson which featured pictures of the titular couple, highlighting their experiences in a world where disabled people are still marginalised, and relationships between them are often erased, ignored or sneered at.Upstairs there was Forest by Yan Wang Preston, which was a fascinating though quite depressing look at ‘new build’ forests in urban China, and how trees are being transported and transplanted into new cities, with varying success (the story of Frank, a 300 year old tree that was uprooted only to die after being transplanted somewhere else, properly upset me, because apparently I am a person who cries over trees now.) Preston, a British Chinese photographer, spent eight years on the project, and it won first prize in the Syngenta Photography Awards in 2017, so it’s definitely worth your time.Probably my favourite of the three was Ex-Voto, by Alys Tomlinson (who won the Sony World Photographer of the Year in 2018), a series of landscape and portrait photos taken at religious (Christian) shrines in Ireland, Poland and France. I’d have liked more information about the subjects, but Tomlinson’s style – shot on large format film – made for luminous prints, with the portraits being particularly compelling. Lucky for me, Simon is a photographer (you can see his amazing work here) and was happy to explain the process that Tomlinson used and why it worked the way it did, and the challenges it involved, which made me even more impressed. I could get used to having an expert in tow…The exhibition finishes on the 9th June, so get yourselves along. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 11-5 and is free. (You can find more details here.)

Small Town Inertia at the Side

A day off today, which I used to catch up with my old friend Simon, the photographer. Given our mutual interest in photography (his expert, mine… less so) we decided to check out the new exhibition at The Side Gallery, Small Town Inertia by J A Mortram.

Running till March – and free – it’s an incredibly powerful show. Mortram’s pictures show the brutalising effects of austerity on the disabled, the poor, the vulnerable – and, crucially, his subjects get to speak. Most of the photos are captioned with quotes by their subjects, which makes it feel like they have some agency in this: we are not just poverty tourists, peering at their misery. And it is, for the most part, misery, with both loneliness and the abuse and cruelty of strangers a common theme, especially for those who are mentally or physically disabled. They are often insightful and eloquent about their situations – one quote in particular stuck with me, from “David”, who compares the poor to chickens, pecking at the weakest in their midst, instead of uniting against the farmer who will be cutting off their heads.

It’s not an easy show – I found myself on the verge of tears a few times – but it is an important one.

The Inner Eye at Side Gallery

Down on the Quayside for my weekly barre class – yes, I am still going – I decided to pop into Side Gallery and check out their new exhibition, The Inner Eye: Aspects of GDR Documentary Photography.

I have a longstanding fondness for Berlin, and a fascination for life in GDR, and the show didn’t disappoint. Three floors of stunning photos taken by the leading photographers of the time, most of which focus on the everyday life of the country, it’s a fascinating and enlightening exhibition, and definitely worth a visit.

The Side Gallery: About the North

Getting my culture on, I popped into The Side Gallery today to catch their exhibition About The North: Imagined Dialogues before it closed. I have long loved the Side. It’s free, holds interesting events that manage to be both locally focused and grounded without being parochial, and it’s small enough that you can take in a whole exhibition before your feet start to hurt.

About the North was a gorgeous show: a mix of photographers, some I had heard of but had no idea had ever set foot in the North East (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt), some known for their Northern-focused fare (Martin Parr) and some I was unfamiliar with. Much of the older photography was focused on poverty – indeed, some of it was from projects that had been commissioned specially to illustrate things like housing issues – but it was presented with a warmth and humanity that stopped me feeling like I was gawking.

The exhibition only runs till Sep 9: catch it if you can!