Inverted Landscapes – Camera Obscura; David Bethell

Camera Obscura, David Bethell
Camera Obscura, David Bethell










Having worked with artist David Bethell on two previous occasions it was exciting to invite him to respond to the Peak District landscape and to create a camera obscura.  In his practice David is inspired by the rural landscape and natural environment.   He frequently uses performance, film and photography in his work to animate his installations and sculptures within the location and to explore a narrative.  David worked with GRAIN Projects to create a unique camera obscura for Ilam Park in the Peak District, inspired by the landscape and heritage there and in collaboration with the National Trust.

Ilam Park is a 158-acre country park situated in Ilam, on both banks of the River Manifold five miles north west of Ashbourne, and is owned and managed by the National Trust. The estate includes the remains of Ilam Hall, built in the 1820s.  Nearby, within the village, a Saxon church stands which houses the shrine of a Mercian king.  Most significant is the beautiful landscape, an area of outstanding natural beauty, including Bunster hill just beyond the church and the magnificent example of a picturesque landscape in the foreground.

It is the church that forms the basis and design for David Bethell’s site specific, temporary and largescale work which functions as a camera obscura. Visitors were able to engage and experience the surroundings as an inverted landscape from within the installation.   The commission  captured the pastoral and picturesque landscape and the immense beauty of the position.   David is now creating a legacy plate, inspired by the images captured by the camera obscura and a  Wedgwood plate from the eighteenth century Imperial dinner service created for Catherine II, that featured the same view of Ilam.   For more information read the commissioned writing by Selina Oakes and see


Commission; Indre Serpytyte

Image of Trench Art Vase from ebay
Image of Trench Art Vase from eBay














Commissioning acclaimed artist Indre Serpytyte to research and make new work in response to the history of women and conflict in Birmingham has been inspiring.

Both world wars radically altered the conception of the domestic and its associated realms of decoration and display, especially in terms of gender and labour. With women being drafted into industrial labour, such as working in munitions factories and men sent to fight in war, the ways in which the home was occupied, used, maintained and thought of shifted dramatically.

Throughout the war, the home became a place of waiting and loss, repositories of memory, as well as objects and artefacts sent home from family and friends involved in the war abroad.  Domestic objects acquired uncanny significances, reminders of death as much as domestic order, figuring absences as they haunted shelves and mantelpieces.    No more is this more unsettlingly the case than in the vases made from spent ammunition casings, many of which were decorated with ornaments depicting flowers or commemorative inscriptions and imagery.

Mostly women had made the original ammunition casings which were sent over for the use in battle, and which were then returned by those who had used them, though now bearing the marks of domesticity from the sites associated with home. But this home to which these vases were sent and which they reference in the manner of their ornamentation and their shapes was now a very different one; not least because many of the women who were often the recipients of these vases were often working long shifts and sometimes rehoused by the factories that had created the casings. The vases were, then, both a memory of a conception of a home no longer there, sometimes quite literally, and the very things which had so unsettled that notion and, in fact, had destroyed its physical fabric abroad.

The GRAIN project with Indre will use these vases as a way to explore the complex relationship between domesticity, ornament, labour, class, gender, war and trauma that these vases contain and gather. Through various forms of display, which we are currently considering, the project will explore the forms of material culture that emerge at this historically specific moment while also thinking about conflict and material culture more generally. Exploring the vases’ forms and ornamental inscriptions, the project will consider these objects and their decoration in terms of the bodily and psycho-social relations they established. The work will explore the objects and materials of war, while thinking about what stories are told in the manner of their display and contextual re-positioning.








What Photography has in Common with an Empty Vase; Edgar Martins


Edgar Martins
Edgar Martins

Taking as a starting point a collaboration with HMP Birmingham, its inmates and their families, in his new work Edgar uses the social context of incarceration in order to explore the philosophical concept of absence and address a broader consideration of the status of the photograph when questions of visibility and documentation overlap.

It has been enormously inspiring working with Edgar Martins as part of his Grain commission.  The work seeks to reflect on how one deals with the absence of a loved one, brought on by enforced separation.

From an ontological perspective it seeks answers to the following questions: how does one represent a subject that eludes visualization, that is absent or hidden from view? How does Photography address the politics of visibility in an era that privileges transparency but is also skeptical of fact? And what does it mean for photography, in an epistemological, ontological, aesthetic and ethical sense, if it does not identify with the referent but the absence of the referent?

Finally, can photography exist outside a relationship with evidence and memory and does this invalidate its capacity to document and represent?

Edgar Martin’s work employs a multifaceted approach encompassing speculative, documentary and historical archive imagery (ranging from portraiture, landscape, still-life, abstraction, etc.), text, projection, audio and photo-installation, signalling his growing inclination towards a more interdisciplinary perspective of the practice of photography and the experience of images.

This project is structured in 3 distinct chapters/moments and the outcome is a research project, photobook and exhibition.

Based on a commission by GRAIN Projects, in collaboration with HMP Birmingham and supported by Arts Council England and Birmingham City University.



Elalmadinah… To The City; Liz Hingley











In 2017 I commissioned photographer and anthropologist Liz Hingley to make new work for exhibition in collaboration with Syrian families.  Through workshops the participants contributed their ideas and stories and Liz explored the city and its collections to create a project that represented how people settled in Coventry and made the city the culturally rich place it is today.

Following a series of collaborative workshops and conversations the new work was a culmination of sculptural works, made by local craftspeople in silver and gold, a display from the historical collections that represented time and ‘keys to the city’ and a series of images in lightboxes.   Exhibited as a contemporary gallery installation in a unique structure in the darkness the work appeared like a place of worship, a space for quiet contemplation.   Representing each of the participants the work reflects on the value and meaning of personal experiences, people’s journeys and arrivals in a new city.

The installation was exhibited at The Herbert Museum & Art Gallery from December 2017 to February 2018.

This project was commissioned by GRAIN Projects and is generously supported by Arts Council England, Rubery Owen Trust, Coventry University and The Herbert Art Gallery.

Settling; Sam Ivin


















It was an enormous pleasure working with Sam Ivin and the Appetite team on ‘Settling’, a new community photography archive in Stoke on Trent.   Sam led workshops with people that have made their home in the city, working with individuals who had moved to Stoke following WW2  and those that were seeking asylum from present day war atrocities.  A diverse range of stories, cultures, memories and visual references were represented.

Following numerous workshops hosted by community groups Sam worked with the team at the Big Feast Festival to curate a small display of people’s photographs.

Photography is part of the people’s  journey; from the places, family and communities they left to their new lives in Stoke-on-Trent.    Sam created an archive of photographs that spoke of arrival, familiar memories and new experiences, bold and brave journeys and extraordinary situations.  The residency took place from June to September 2017 and we are now looking at ways in which we can sustain the activity and develop the archive.


Photography Residency; Sam Ivin, A collaboration with Appetite

Sam Ivin, Sudan from Lingering Ghosts. 2015, Fabrica.
Sam Ivin, Sudan from Lingering Ghosts. 2015, Fabrica.
















Following an Open Call process it was a priviledge to award emerging photographer and collaborative practitioner Sam Ivin the residency in Stoke on Trent, in partnership with Appetite and Creative People and Places.  Saw was appointed to create a new community photography archive and exhibition.  Sam had previously made ‘Lingering Ghosts’, a celebrated project in partnership with Fabrica.

‘Lingering Ghosts’,  saw Sam visit  Sanctus St. Mark’s, a refugee support group based in St. Mark’s church in Stoke-on-Trent.  This body of work, commissioned by Fabrica, Treviso, Italy, saw him working with refugees in all parts of the UK.  Since publishing the award winning and critically acclaimed Lingering Ghosts in February 2016 and exhibiting the work around Europe Ivin has become increasingly interested in the integration of migrants in UK cities.

Sam Ivin is a photographer whose work focuses on social issues and the people connected with them. His pictures attempt to demonstrate the impact situations have on his subjects. By documenting their stories and perspectives he hopes to provide a more personal, tangible understanding of them. He studied Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport graduating in 2014.  Since then he has been awarded numerous significant photography prizes including the Magnum Photos Graduate Photographers Award, May 2017, The GMC First Prize, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, March 2017, the Best Graduate Single Image, Runner Up,  British Journal of Photography (BJP) Breakthrough Award 2016 and the Winner of Best Single Image, Human Category at Renaissance Photography Prize 2015.

The project is a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite, supported by Arts Council England and is part of the Creative People and Places Programme.

Sacred Things; Liz Hingley

Liz Hingley, Dressing for mosque, Soho road, 2009 from the series Under Gods
Liz Hingley, Dressing for mosque, Soho road, 2009 from the series Under Gods

Inviting acclaimed photographer and anthropologist Liz Hingley to respond to the Grain Projects Commission Opportunity and work with Syrian families and refugees in Coventry was a fantastic proposition.  Commissioning Liz to make new work for an installation at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, during the City of Culture selection phase, created an ideal opportunity for collaboration.    Having got to know Liz and her work ‘Under Gods’, ‘The Jones Family’ and seeing the results of her work from her time in Shanghai, she was ideally suited for a project that engaged with the community and told a unique story of people and their city.



Kern Baby, A Child for Sacrifice; Faye Claridge

Kern Baby, Compton Verney
Kern Baby, Compton Verney











The giant corn dolly Kern Baby is a five meter high sculpture, created by artist Faye Claridge as a result of a research residency where she studied the images and archives of Sir Benjamin Stone.  The sculpture has been exhibited at Compton Verney and at the Library of Birmingham, accompanied by a series of handmade prints entitled A Child for Sacrifice.  

Claridge uses folklore and reminiscence to examine our past relationships and our current sense of national and personal identity.  In making this work she also worked with young people from a Warwickshire village to re-interpret customs using artefacts from the Marton Museum of Country Bygones.

Spirit is a Bone; Broomberg & Chanarin

Broomberg & Chanarin
Frau eines Malers, Painter’s Wife     Broomberg & Chanarin














The artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin were invited to respond to a Grain commission at the Library of Birmingham.  Over two years they encountered, researched and questioned the photography collections at the library.  In the book ‘Spirit is a Bone’ they have made connections with the archive and their own work and concerns.

The book combines a new series of portraits made with a Russian camera which was made for face recognition and surveillance, ‘non collaborative portraits’, where human contact is not made, with a new critically engaged essay by Eyal Weizman and a response to images from the Sir Benjamin Stone archive.

In the book photographs open up the relationship between technology and ideology – theories of race, class and occupation.  The photographs collected by Stone in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the Library of Birmingham archive, are visual evidence of his interest in history, science, nature and cultures.  Like many, widespread in the Victorian period, Stone had a need to classify, know, collect, control and own.  His album no 50 ‘Types and Races of Mankind’ includes what might be called non-consensual images, made for the scrutiny of others and to increase understanding.

The book and essay prompt questions about engaging with archives and access to them.

In Camera; Mat Collishaw

In Camera, 5 Sides of Bacon (Stolen Property), Mat Collishaw 2015
In Camera, 5 Sides of Bacon (Stolen Property), Mat Collishaw 2015

In 2014 Grain commissioned acclaimed British artist Mat Collishaw to make new work in response to the Library of Birmingham photography collection.

In Camera is an installation created around a series of 12 crime scene negatives made for Birmingham City Police Force during the 1930s and 1940s.  Collishaw discovered these uncatalogued images, made to provide evidence in alleged in actual crimes committed in the city, hidden amongst an archive of orphaned police negatives whilst exploring the Library’s photography collections.

The exhibition of new work ran from September 2015 – January 2016 at The Gallery, Library of Birmingham, in parallel with the major survey show of Collishaw’s work at The New Art Gallery Walsall.

The work prompts questions about the medium of photography, its historical role as witness and the way in which our reading of images are affected when they shift from public to private.  The work sees Collishaw continuing to explore the potential for images to be both shocking and alluring.