Brighton Photo Biennial opened for its seventh edition at the beginning of the month, showcasing a broad variety of work from established and up and coming photographers, with many nods to the local scene in the British seaside resort town.
This year’s theme is ‘Beyond The Bias – Reshaping Image’, and the photographers and curators have been tasked with exploring ideas of identity via style, gender, sexuality, the body and the reversal of cultural norms. Of course, within the context of Brighton, much of the work explores ideas around the local LGBTQ+ community, and there are projects from further afield too, one of the most exciting of which is The Dandy Lion Project, which explores Black Dandyism through the work of multiple photographers, in many locations around the world.
The Dandy Lion Project has been curated by New Orleans-born Shantrelle P. Lewis — Andy Warhol Curatorial Fellow and 2014 Fellow for United Nations People of African Descent — and has already toured the States, most recently at the Museum of Photography in Chicago. Speaking at the opening, Lewis emphasised the influence of the men in her family as a child, and their close attention to detail when dressing. Her main drive in working with these images is adding a new facet to the aggressive mass tropes that exist within visual culture — television in particular. “These photographs are an act of rebellion against the stereotypes that are coopted by a media who want negative images of black men,” says Lewis. There are a few images of women also, adopting traditionally male fashions and aspects in some parts. “What does masculinity look like in 2016?” asks Lewis. “For women, what does it feel to be black and masculine?” The images provide an alternative view, away from country, class and sexuality. The definition instead, is Dandy. The exhibition is both a political and cultural statement, and a celebratory nod to exquisite fashion; as stated by Lewis: “I know I look good. You know I look good. Let’s enjoy looking good together.”
Another exhibition, Reimagine, brings together two photographers, Olivia Arthur from the UK and Bharat Sikka from India, who spent time together photographing locals from Brighton and Mumbai who are part of LGBTQ+ communities. Interestingly, the works shown by both artists are from the other’s country — although they took rolls of film in both — Arthur becoming interested in the relatively new moves towards more openness around LGBTQ+ discussions in Mumbai, and Sikka interested in the public presence that the community has in Brighton. The works address ideas of intimacy, fantasy and shame, and the photographers collected reactions from their subjects afterwards to discover how they viewed the portrayal of their own body and identity on film.
Brighton-based photographer and documentary maker Ewen Spencer is showing Kick Over the Statues at Fabrica, a darkened space filled with large-scale, billboard-like images which sit halfway between spontaneous street snap and contrived fashion shot, a blurred line which is intriguing; his subjects are real, picked from the streets of London’s Notting Hill, Manchester and Liverpool, but the lighting is often set, as are their poses. The pieces are a celebration of youth culture, which Spencer now roughly categorises as 16 to 30, as he says, youth starts earlier now, but lasts for much longer. I’ll drink to that.
Brighton Photo Biennial runs at various venues until 30 October.