BLOG Jack Pugh

NWR Issue 114

Revolution at Ffotogallery

The revolution will not be televised, but it was and is photographed. Diffusion, Cardiff’s International Festival of Photography, organised by Ffotogallery, takes ‘Revolution’ as its theme, 100 years on from the Russian Revolution. The festival recognises that revolutions have happened since then – focusing on those of 1968, as well as dwelling on what ‘revolution’ means in the present day . The exhibitions are displayed in various locations in and around Cardiff, which means visiting Diffusion is also a tour around the city. They are divided up according to four categories: Picturing the Revolution, Building the Revolution, the Data Revolution, and the Sexual Revolution. This recognises the multifarious nature of ‘revolution’ itself – whether it happens in the street, plain to see, or more hidden, away from sight.

I took a trip to Ffotogallery in Penarth, where Marcelo Brodsky’s and ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins’ work focused on the revolutions and atmosphere of the late 1960s. From there, I went to the Munitions Factory, where much of the work was based around the precarity of work and shelter. After this, I went to Wood Street to see kennardphillips’ State of the Nations (commissioned for Diffusion, exhibit pictured), a damning look at the current political climate, and Sebastian Bruno’s The Dymanic, a touching look at life inside a local newspaper. The final stop of the tour was Laís Pontes’ Born Nowhere/Born Now Here, an exploration into constructions of identity in the age of social media. It would be impossible to cover the whole exhibition, so I’ll focus on two exhibitions here, differing in tone, scale and focus – Marcelo Brodsky’s 1968 – The Fire of Ideas and Sebastian Bruno’s The Dynamic.

I was lucky enough to be shown around 1968 - The Fire of Ideas by the artist himself. He took me through the various images of many protests happening around the world at the time. They are not his own images (he was thirteen at the time, he tells me). What are his are the various annotations and additions on top of these images. He says the way in which he annotates the photographs is instinctive. I watch him at work for a while, quite casually Tipp-Exing something out at the top of a photograph. The words and phrases are mainly political slogans. Brodsky tells me that where he knows the language he has kept it in the original. Where he doesn’t, an English translation is displayed. He points out a phrase on an image of the protests in Paris: ‘sous les pavés, la plage!’ (Beneath the streets, the beach!). The phrase came to be emblematic of the 1968 revolutions. It spoke, literally, of the sand thrown in the face of the police in protest. It spoke figuratively, too, of creating movement out of the very concrete arrangement of the city. The movement of social institutions, the movement of history (as Marx said, ‘revolution is the locomotive of history’), and the movement of the people themselves.

In Brodsky’s work, words are given equivalence with the images they adorn. They don’t so much caption what the protestors are saying (they do not need to be spoken for) as to build and recreate the revolutionary atmosphere of the time. It is not the voice of individuals we hear but that of the crowd, of the pure event of revolution. One of the more notable images is ‘Dakar, Sénégal, 1968’. Here, there are no people. The image was taken after a clash between police and protesters. The street is littered with shoes left in the aftermath. Brodsky has coloured them in, creating confetti out of a scene of violence. The street becomes a wedding scene.

Revolution does not only happen on the streets, though. Sebastian Bruno’s The Dynamic is a moving portrayal of life inside a local newspaper. A reminder that revolution also happens on a smaller scale. The paper was founded by two friends in 2015 in Abertillery, one of the most deprived areas of post-industrial Wales.

At the gallery in the centre of Cardiff, we enter a mock-up of an office. It is evening in here, we imagine. Dimly lit by a single strip light (the other is not working), we come across a desk strewn with various papers, cups of tea, an open packet of Doritos, and a phone. When we pick up the phone, Julian Meek, co-founder of the paper, speaks to us. He tells us of the history of The Dynamic and shares with us a poem he has written.

What is most powerful about this exhibition is its portraiture. In one, Meek stands out in a garden, cigarette poised in hand, nattily dressed in a red shirt, jacket, blue novelty tie and sweatpants. He is illuminated by harsh artificial light from one side. He is either unaccustomed to being photographed, or does not enjoy it. Or perhaps both. In another, Tony Flatman, the current editor of the papper, walks slightly hunched over, illuminated by the same harsh light, Tesco bag in hand. There is a quietly confident look on his face, tempered with determination. What we see here is a quiet, industrious, Welsh revolution. Two men determined to make a go at a paper (some might say that today that’s an odd, risky enterprise).

It speaks to something larger than the production of a paper. It’s about, I think, keeping a community alive. Here revolution is related to revival (Abertillery was also home to another, more well-known, revival just over a hundred years ago). The editor reminds us in the blurb for the exhibition, following WH Auden, that ‘men are longing for the news’. ‘That’, he says, ‘is worth working for, if nothing else.’ The Dynamic was certainly a highlight of the festival – it shouted the loudest because it spoke the softest.

Revolution is in the air. Diffusion is a reminder that revolution is local as much as it is global. It is a reminder that revolution is as much raging against the machine as against the dying of the light. Revolution is found equally in the personal and the political. I have not even touched on the scope of the festival here, especially its exhibitions on the sexual and data revolutions. I can only suggest you get in a revolutionary mood and make your way to Cardiff or view its archive galleries.

Jack Pugh is a Cardiff-based writer.

Diffusion photography festival in Cardiff finishes on 31 May.




       


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