Portraits from the North East Crafts People exhibition, Sunderland

by John Cogan ARPS

The Portraits from the North East Crafts People exhibition at Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden opened on Saturday, 1st April 2017.  Opened by the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland, it will remain there for the rest of the month.  As far as the Portraits Collective goes, all sounds good. 

There is something very, very satisfying in concluding, satisfactorily, a major project like our Crafts People.  You start, after defining where you’re going and what you want to achieve, with little steps.  Whether it was first one, or not, Joe, Peter and young Ian (Peele) went to photograph James Mason a professional hedge-layer and dry-stone waller.  That was back in the early months of 2016, before the birds started to use the hedges and Mr Mason and his apprentice would have to turn to repairing/making dry stone walls.  From that shoot there were over a dozen images.  About the same time Ian and Brian went to photograph Ruth Thompson at Sylvan Skills.

Looking back at the facts and figures:

Forty-three Crafts People were photographed and, though not exhaustive, we had what we wanted, a manageable number of subjects.  This meant:

43 craftspeople x two A3 panels each = 86 A3 panels in total.

83 sheets needing an average of 4 images per sheet = 332 individual images we had to choose.  In some cases we needed more to convey the complexity of the craft process. 332 images chosen from a potential portfolio of over 4500 images made at the shoots (which is 43 shoots x 2 photographers x an average of 50 images per photographer).

These figures do not include re-worked panels, mistakes made in the printing and the photographs of the photographers (which constituted a further two A3 panels of smiling faces).

After the initial opening exhibition at The Witham in Barnard Castle, this is our first full exhibition.  The prints were “home-made”, something we had discovered possible when Dave Murrell printed our Veterans’ Project.  Dave, Peter and Ian mounted them and, with Velcro dots fixed to the back, they were ready to be affixed to our display panels.  Setting up the exhibition on the Wednesday before opening, it mattered little how carefully we measured and placed them on the boards because , no sooner had we moved on to the next panel, young Ian would come and, with unerring skill, re-position all of them solely by eye.

Come the Saturday, April Fool’s Day, we attended the opening.  Peter, as befitted the El Presidente, escorted Doris MacKnight, the Deputy Mayoress of Sunderland, and her husband Keith.  In their matching chains of office they stood at the podium and addressed those gathered.  Thoroughly supportive of our project and hoping to use the exhibition to highlight the craft skills of the region she remained longer than expected and took great interest in what we had produced.  The phrase “Sunderland’s City of Culture bid” was mentioned a couple of times.

Underlying all this activity was a confirmation of our central aim: that we live in an area blessed by so many riches and yet, so often, people fail to “Spread the Word”.    Each project builds upon the last one and as our reputation grows so does our responsibilities and our challenges.  People have been kind enough to welcome us into their homes and work places and we are constantly humbled by their generosity.  On a selfish note, the chances to photograph these people benefits or development as photographers immensely.

Our aim is, and always will be, to celebrate the region with our photographs.  Hopefully, those who visit the Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden (and all the other venues) will feel the same.

John Cogan April 2017

Photos John Cogan



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