Free Range – Part I

Free Range descends upon the old Trueman Brewery in East London each summer. It’s the showcase for the country’s art courses and over a period of several weeks showcases fine art, fashion, graphic design and photography.

As you’d expect from student work the quality varies wildly – both across individuals and courses – but its always an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so, drifting around the warren of rooms.

By far the strongest work on this first brief tour of the 2015 shows was by the University of Westminster. I’m not sure how the various spaces are allocated but they certainly merited what seemed the largest and brightest space in this old industrial building. My favourite piece was ‘Modern Living‘ by James Berrington – a series of prints of individual house bricks, all shot at the same angle under even light. I was fascinated by the variety of colours and textures or the bricks, and by how strangely edible they looked – like blocks of crumbly biscuit or slabs of soft fudge. However it was lunchtime and I had eaten yet, so perhaps that was colouring my judgement.

Of course, shooting typologies is nothing new – its been a familiar approach from Bernd and Hilla Becher onwards – and the internet is awash with subject-based collections of images ‘curated’ by anyone with access to a smart phone and an armoury of retro-filters – but I liked the stripped down style of these images. Taken individually they could be commercial stock photos – but en masse they looked almost pop-art. And I found myself wanting to know more about these bricks than I did about most of the more obviously worthy subjects on show.

Jasper Jones trod familiar territory – man’s impact on the environment, incongruous urban forms in vast arid landscapes – but presented them in a mixture of formats juxtaposed in a variety of interesting ways. Increasingly I find myself wanting to move beyond the single image, the overly respectful photo book which treats an image, however mediocre or hackneyed, with the reverence that only an excess of white space and a tastefully minimalist caption can truly capture. I want to see images juxtaposed and cropped and printed in different styles, placed upside down and printed across. I’m not sure Jones was entirely successful but I was glad to not be confronted by yet another row of tasteful black frames and white borders.

Not that tasteful is bad. A beautiful images is a beautiful image and I loved Sophie Fauchier‘s dreamy images of her father’s country house in Normandy – all soft focus and atmosphere – it felt like watching an art house movie with subtitles on a Sunday afternoon in winter (you know, that feeling). The best image, a pair of bright red wellington’s lying on the bank of a lake, all hazy Whistler blues – reminiscent of Nicholas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’.