A guide to the Brighton Photo Biennial

Published: September 30th 2014

© Brighton Photo Biennial

    Challenge and stimulate

This is what the Brighton Photo Biennial (BPB) has aimed to achieve with a wide and varied audience since its inception in 2003. Bringing together works from various artists, each festival is launched with a theme represented within the exhibitions and talks held during the month. With the seaside city of Brighton and Hove the setting for this feast for the eyes and the mind, students can enjoy the eclectic styles of the city as they travel to the event’s numerous locations.

What is the Brighton Photo Biennial? 

Made up of more than 50 events the Brighton Photo Biennial looks to work that has been produced through various new and creative partnerships. Collaborations are not limited to photographers and particular specialists within a field. Whether photographs have been developed with scientists, environmentalists, film archives or a combination of young and old people from local and international communities, work based upon the chosen theme are selected and appreciated. Students will have access to examples that emphasise this community cohesion, but contrastingly can reflect pushing the boundaries of intrusion as work enters the political sphere of the past and present. 

Most importantly, the Brighton Photo Biennial promotes numerous opportunities for students to question what they see. Through also attending talks that explore topics and exhibitions on display, students are encouraged to develop independence of mind in creating their own ideas. With such a broad range of photographs to view, the Brighton Photo Biennial also opens the door to students to understand the use of materials and new concepts used by artists and identified in the collaborations. 

Time, space…history depicted without words

The inaugural season (BPB 2003) saw a number of collaborations and prestigious additions from the likes of Alec Finlay, Boris Mikhailov, Beat Streuli, and Rachel Harrison with Peter Fraser. Students may recognise the establishing and legacy of The Art Car Rally and Boot Sale which opened up the market for the regular-Joe to afford the works of artists. The success of the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2003 set the benchmark for the event where the curator was determined for future events not to forget what can be achieved through collaborations as well as developing unique and contrasting themes which would continue to interest art lovers.

2006 saw this contrast take shape with historical, contemporary and newly-commissioned photographs taking centre stage. The river bank image from Henna Nadeem exhibition included a transparent floral overlay which itself builds upon a classic print against a modern-day scene. Work from Richard Avedon saw his 1963 The Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution piece depict the female descendants of the founding fathers of the USA. The picture captures both a historical organisation as well as exuding the perceived qualities seen in the likes of Washington and Jefferson where glory and toughness was apparent. The timing in which Richard Avedon captured this picture also brings about a contrast between elitism and a certain aloofness as the women prepare for the photo. It is this type of well-selected additions that students will find enlightening and beneficial in their learning. 

Inspiration can be found in many forms and the photos for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 tapped into an issue that has not only dominated the news in recent years but the lives of many; war. Memory of Fire: the War of Images and Images of War looked at the making, use, circulation and value of war photography in contemporary society. Images of war provide a cacophony of messages that dive into emotions, individual struggle and the morality of actions against the fellow man. The big question: How have images been shaped by changing political and social conditions? This theme brought about a great opportunity for students to debate and supported students in interpreting the participants’ critical understanding of photography with additions from Broomberg & Chanarin, Philip Jones Griffiths and Simon Norfolk. 

This fourth instalment in the BPB saw the world’s first frame free photography festival introduce New Documents (2010) which looked at the immediacy and vibrancy of contemporary photographic practice. From a global outlook in 2008, BPB 2010 took a local focus that brought together historic photography and new commissions inspired by the diverse communities of Brighton and Hove. With involvement from the University of Brighton, BPB brought out the talent from Brighton’s student community and provided an opportunity to develop skills, ideas and new ways of working. Notable additions also included Rinko Kawauchi, Vivian Sassen and Stephen Gill.  

The success of the Brighton Photo Biennial saw its 2012 theme enter the Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space. Photographers will understand the importance of composition and what the studied environment brings to the photo. BPB 2012 explored how space is constructed, controlled and contested and how, while photography can be used and seen as a release for creativity, uniqueness and independent thought, it is ultimately bound by this process and the space that lies before them. Students used works from Edmund Clark, Omer Fast and Corinne Silva to explore this theme and also identified how these artists work with this process.

Brighton Photo Biennial 2014

This year, Communities, Collectives & Collaboration will bring together a wider community to embrace innovative perspectives and new approaches to generate original work and look back at archive material. Instead of work being bound by single genres, students will be able to see a range of works that bridges communities and cultures. 

BPB 2014 will see the integration of online spaces reinforce the more than 45 contributors as well as a number of workshops and talks. Student groups will benefit from contacting a member of the Travelbound team who can ensure a crossover between groups travelling to the BPB venues is avoided. As with all events from the Brighton Photo Biennial, it is not only photography students who benefit from the festival. There truly are cross-curricular links that can benefit students from art and design to sociology where interpretation of the people, environment and artist’s message can be considered and identified as a case study. 

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside...

The location of Brighton & Hove itself also brings vibrancy to the event. Known for its quirky lanes and colourful characters, there is inspiration for aspiring photographers around every corner. From the beach setting to Devil’s Dyke, the Brighton & Hove area truly brings a varied and unique landscape. 13 venues across central Brighton allow groups to make the most of their time in the city as they explore the 21 exhibitions on show at BPB 2014. Tours to exhibition areas are also available with a dedicated Programming Team on hand to explain themes to students and prompt questioning. Whether you decide to join the workshops for a hands-on experience or decide to get involved with the conversation at one of the many talks with artists, teachers and students alike will appreciate the opportunity to learn and discuss the themes and issues around each piece of work.

Add BPB 2014 to your calendar

With the Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 starting in October there is already a buzz of activity around the festival. There is still time for student groups to reserve their space at the exhibitions and enjoy the opportunity to add to their creative development through responding to the themes and photographs. Beneficial to expanding the students’ contemporary art practice, the success of past BPB events plus the host of notable names such as Eugenie Dolberg, Emma Critchley and Erica Stourti set to attend this year, is set to make BPB 2014 a fantastic festival of photography that opens a conversation to students from all subject disciplines. 


‘A photograph can’t coerce. It won’t do the moral work for us. But it can start us on the way.’ 

Susan Sontag, American writer and activist.


To find out more about leading a student tour to Brighton Photo Biennial 2014 this October, simply call Helen and the Student Tours team on 01273 265238 or contact them online here.