World's best photos on show in Suffolk

World class photography has come to the wilds of East Anglia thanks to an enterprising link-up between Suffolk-based Wingfield Barns and the Royal Photographic Society.

Andrew Clarke

World class photography has come to the wilds of East Anglia thanks to an enterprising link-up between Suffolk-based Wingfield Barns and the Royal Photographic Society. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke is thrilled to discover that creative photography is alive and well and is on show outside London.

The cream of the world's photography is currently on show in Suffolk as part of the first - and it is hoped to be on-going - series of collaborative exhibitions between Wingfield Arts and The Royal Photographic Society.

This is the first time that the annual international exhibition has been seen at a venue outside London, except for the RPS own headquarters in Bath.

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Wingfield's general manager, Geoff Doggett described the acquisition of the exhibition as a real coup and something they are keen to build upon. “Photography is something of a forgotten art in this country. There are plenty of galleries showing fine art but not many with an interest in fine art photography. Photography has got quite a following and we thought that we would love to redress the balance and provide a showcase for the very best in photography.

“As with everything we do. Quality is an area in which we don't compromise. If we are mounting a photography exhibition then we are looking to highlight the best photographs there are. The Royal Photographic Society is the leading photographic institution in the country and their annual exhibition pulls together the very best work not only from this country but from photographers all round the world.”

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He said that of the 2,000 prints that made it to the final judging only 120 made it into the show - meaning that those prints on display were deemed to be the best of the best.

“The exhibition, now in its 152nd year, is so prestigious that people fight to become included and we are very proud that we have been chosen to be the first gallery outside London to host this stunning exhibit. This is the oldest and most prestigious print show in the world and it's on show right here in Suffolk.”

He added that he was delighted that the president of the Royal Photographic Society Dr Barry Senior opened the exhibition and made the point that the strong showing by younger photographers in the exhibition showed that the future of photography was in safe hands.

Geoff said that Wingfield intends to build a relationship with the Royal Photographic Society to become a regional centre for fine art photography which will provide people from East Anglia and the Midlands with an alternative to journeying into London or down to Bath to take advantage of the RPS and its work.

“The RPS has indicated to us that they are looking to develop a regional presence and we are very happy to work with the RPS to help them realise that plan.”

It was Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, a staunch supporter of the Society, who suggested that the RPS began to collect photographs to record the rapid technical process in photography, which was supplemented as time went on with collections of books, apparatus and a unique collection of photography.

In the meantime, Wingfield is also playing host to the newly formed Suffolk Monochrome Group who are staging their inaugural exhibition at the art centre galleries in early September.

The Suffolk Monochrome Group are a select group of twelve, dedicated and highly experienced photographers whose aim is to enjoy and promote the art of monochrome photography, in all it's various forms.

Processing skills, darkroom techniques, printing and computer manipulation means that the photographer can allow his artistic vision full reign while still keeping within the realms of what people regard as photography. The notion that the camera never lies may be well and truly finished - if it was ever true - but manipulation of the image is an essential tool to help a photographer communicate with his viewer and to realise his vision.

“A photographer's work has only just begun when he presses the shutter.”

From complex effects to colour balance, contrast and control of the printing process all takes place in the darkroom/computer work station after the images have been downloaded off the camera.

“What inspires me, is the imagination and the vision that goes into every single one of these pictures,” said Geoff. “The attention to detail is awe inspiring. A good photographer leaves nothing to chance. If something unexpected does happen then he is able to use it and turn it to his advantage.”

He said that the show is spread out over two galleries - with the prize winners being on display in Gallery One. “The wonderful thing for visitors is to tour the show and then decide if they agree with the judges. I think everyone has their own particular favourites and it's fun to sit in the car on the way home discussing the merits of the winners and suggesting your own alternatives.”

For me the most striking images were not always the prize winners - although Michael Birt's Lindsay Duncan portrait was fully deserving of its Gold Award, I felt the silver award winners were very ordinary especially when compared with David Maitland's startling frog and snake picture Who Eats Who? which only merited a bronze award.

Yoshikazu Hayashi's stunning Construction site fully deserved the Allen & Overy Prize for its wonderful framing and clever manipulation of brightness and colour.

For the image of the exhibition - and this was a tough choice - was Rowland Hill's captivating Windows of the Soul, a portrait of a woman's face wrapped in a Muslim Hijab headdress. To my mind, a much more arresting picture than the overly dark MO1: Persistent Jury which was just too dark and uninvolving to make any impression on me.

But, that's the beauty of any sort of art exhibition with art awards attached to them you can argue endlessly about the merits of the winners and losers but the very act of debate involves you in the work on display.

It is a dazzling exhibition and every visitor will have their own view on which pictures should have won the awards. The trick is to go along, see the exhibition and form your own opinion.

The Royal Photographic Society's 152nd International Print Exhibition runs at Wingfield Barns until August 30. Admission is �5/�2.50 under 18, Friends �4.50. Galleries are open from 11-4pm, Tues-Fri, Sun.

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