Sunday, March 27

Format Festival in Derby, UK. Part 3: the opening weekend

On Saturday, after critically reappraising the exhibitions at Quad with Joni Karanka of Third Floor Gallery fame, we buzzed off to see the photo exhibits at the Silk Mill aka Derby Industrial Museum. Unfortunately, this interesting museum, which hosts temporary exhibitions, faces an uncertain future after Format: ‘The Silk Mill will be mothballed for a period of time after Sunday 3rd April 2011.’ Ouch.

Next, onwards with Joni to Déda, a dance-focused performance space type building to view some more exhibitions, including pictures by Kate Hooper. After bumping into a succession of great photographers who I had only previously had contact with online, the afternoon was spent critically appraising the beer at Ye Olde Dolphin pub. Several photographers who had attended the University opening party the previous night were now suffering from the effects of over-refreshment, which made me feel slightly less bad about missing out on that event.

Sunday – you can’t go home again
On Sunday morning I had a wander down by the River Derwent. Very scenic, and a nice weir. There seemed to be dozens of lifebelts in the parks next to the river – in the water, up trees, but just about none in their designated positions.

In the afternoon I got on a train and took a look around Nottingham city centre. Like the daytrip to Birmingham, this proved to be a bit of a mistake… Again, I had hoped to take some photographs but I found Nottingham city centre uninspiring. I had been a student there in the 1980s, and it was nice to see the trams for the first time, at least. I remembered the Hockley area as being a slightly ‘alternative’ area of the city, centred around the veggie deli Hiziki (no longer there as far as I could see) and the radical Mushroom bookshop (definitely not there – closed in 2000) but it seemed less distinctive now.

With no inspiration for photography I embarked on what I knew would be a pointless and slightly depressing nostalgia-fest, visiting some old addresses and favourite haunts from ye olde 1980s, such as Russell’s bar, which turned out to be a pleasantish bar called The Orange Tree. Could have been much worse.

Further out in Lenton, I checked two old addresses – 10 Teversal Avenue and 128 Harlaxton Drive – expecting to find my blue plaques, but they were conspicuously absent. For one long, glorious summer at the Teversal address, we were graced with the presence of the-then Trent Poly photography student Nick Waplington, but even this remains unacknowledged by the blue plaque people.

Moving back in the general direction of the city centre, I passed by another old local, The Happy Return. The pub looked less than inviting, which reminded me of the old landlord’s cheery farewell at the end of the evening, ‘now fuck off to your trendy student parties’.

By now, my feet were giving me real gyp. In a sitcom-type scenario, I had left my shoes overnight on the radiator of my suite at the Kingsway Retail Park Travelodge and they seemed to have shrunk. I hobbled down through the upmarket Park area in order to rest my limbs at the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub.

Despite being a major tourist attraction (carved out of solid rock underneath Nottingham castle, etc., etc. see website), I was pleased to discover that the beer was pretty cheap. As I was nursing my half pint in the atmospheric surroundings, who should walk in with a pint of foaming ale but Micky Dolenz. Yes, your actual Micky Dolenz, out of The Monkees!

To be continued

Thursday, March 17

Format Festival in Derby, UK. Part 2: Friday

Warning: contains no Format content.

As I was at Format in Derby for several days, I thought I’d use the opportunity to take some pictures at other places in the east Midlands. On Friday, I rose early from the splendour of my suite at the Kingsway Retail Park Travelodge, got the bus into town, walked to the train station, and made the short train journey to Birmingham. I hadn’t been there for about 20 years.

Funny old day
It turned out to be what modern philosophers call a “funny old day”. I could see that Birmingham city centre is a modern, vibrant place but somehow we never really clicked. As I wandered round the neat retail zone and later a bit further out around the canals, cubey glass-fronted chain restaurants, pubs and glassy high-rise hotels I struggled to engage with anything at all, either photographically or emotionally. I began to pine for the messy bits of Derby I had seen out of the bus window on the way into Derby city centre that morning.

Where does time go?
Late afternoon I enjoyed a quick visit to the Ikon gallery, then popped into a canal-side pub/café with a great view, and ate a cheap and crap snack meal. Several hundred young people wearing Justin Bieber T-shirts streamed by. I had planned to get back to Derby early evening for socialising, etc., but having wandered so far from the train station, I then spent ages looking for an Internet café to check my emails. In the end, I arrived back in Derby at about 11. I don’t know where the time went. In short, I cocked up on Friday.

Back to Format proper tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 9

Format Festival in Derby, UK. Part 1: Thursday

I’m currently nursing a couple of very sore feet from just having spent 5 days walking around the excellent Format photography festival in Derby (plus some other parts of the East Midlands).

The theme for this year’s festival is street photography, “Right Here, Right Now: Exposures from the Public Realm”. Headline names include Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Miss Aniela, and an In-Public group show in which some of my humble photos are featured. The festival runs from 4 March until 3 April 2011.

As a sometimes journalist and writer, I was mindful of my responsibilities and took some notes over the Thursday to Monday of my visit, which straddled the opening weekend. However, reading through them now they seem to consist mainly of a list of things I ate, which in turn seemed to be mostly baguettes from the excellent Spar inside Derby’s new bus station. Hendersons Relish flavour Yorkshire Crisps and Spar’s own Jaffa cakes also feature prominently.

Anyway, rather than give a detailed account of the festival that I will probably never get round to finishing, I’ll just dive straight in and give a quick impressionist sketch of the few days that I was there.

Thursday – openings
After a frantic train journey up from Weymouth to Waterloo (late due to a fatality on the line) and then up to St Pancras for Derby I somehow arrived in Derby on time, and wasted no time in dumping my stuff at my hotel, the Kingsway Retail Park Travelodge.

Situated two miles from the city centre, the hotel is ideally located for the out-of-town PC World, Homebase and M&S Food, and has good connections to the city centre via the Mickelover bus that runs late into the night (£1.40). It was also the cheapest hotel I could find that didn’t have horrendous reviews on TripAdvisor. (Naming no names – Heritage Hotel – don’t drink the water.) I stocked up on some provisions at M&S Food, where all the beautiful people in Derby seemed to be shopping, and headed back into town for the In-Public opening.

The In-Public show looked great – the 20 members of the collective each had several pictures, all well displayed and arranged. Nick Turpin and David Gibson had done a sterling job for In-Public in taking care of the logistics over the long road to fruition of the exhibition. Nick had also invested a huge amount of time producing the In-Sight film, an excellent documentary featuring many of the In-Public members in conversation and photographing in situ. The documentary is being shown continuously during Format, and I’m sure it will run and run elsewhere.

The In-Public show is in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, right next to the Bruce Gilden exhibition.

Bruce Gilden and Nils Jorgensen at the In-Public show.

Next, I moved on to the Quad building to view the exhibitions. What a fantastic focal point a modern, well equipped building like this is for the arts and for Derby. If only there could be one in every town and city. We can dream.

There are far too many noteworthy displays in Quad to mention them all. I’m sure Peter Marshall will be listing them all on his blog at some point. Ones that stuck in my mind were Dougie Wallace’s tram window pictures going up the stairs, the HCSP slideshow, and the Garry Winogrand slideshow of (to me) largely unseen colour shots selected by Joel Meyerowitz. The Winogrand was an unexpected bonus – as far as I could see, this was not even mentioned in the programme. The only minus point for the Quad displays is that many of the advertised exhibitions consist of a small number of pictures, so if you are going for, say, the Jeff Mermelstein you might be disappointed to find only (I think) four pictures. I suppose this is a consequence of having so many well known names in the Quad building (Kollar, Mermelstein, Griffin, Orville Robertson, Meyerowitz, Amy Stein, Brunelli, Lezmi for a start).

At 7.30 pm the brave ventured outside into the cold for funny and eloquent speeches by Brian Griffin and Joel Meyerowitz. Over the evening I bumped into David Gibson, Peter Dench, Kate Hooper, Nils Jorgensen, Laurence Stephens, Andrea Hadley-Johnson, Kate Kirkwood, among many others. At one point I found myself gushing to a suited stranger about how friendly the locals and organizers were and how great the Festival was - the stranger turned out to be Format Co-Director Mike Brown, so it was lucky I had only good things to say...

10:21 pm Thursday

For late-night quality food and service I can recommend the chips at Nads Fast Food Takeaway, 3 Morledge, Derby, DE1 2AW.

And that's the end of Thursday. To be continued.