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Get back to visiting exhibitions with the Bristol Photo Festival – it’s open now

Bristol Photo Festival 2021 listing image
An image from ‘Growing Spaces’ by Chris Hoare (left), and ‘Island Life’ by Clementine Schneidermann and Charlotte James (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)

Perfectly timed to coincide with lockdown easing, the Bristol Photo Festival is the perfect tonic for anyone looking to get out of the house and reconnect with physical photo exhibitions. 

A new UK biennial festival offering a year-round programme of commissions, collaborations and exhibitions by both local and international artists, the Bristol Photo Festival is open now, until the autumn. 

Bristol's association with photography has got stronger in recent years with both the arrival of the Royal Photographic Society's headquarters and gallery, and the opening of the Martin Parr Foundation in the city.

The inaugural event’s programme sees a summer showcase of photography exhibitions across the city followed by a full autumn programme of festival exhibitions and events including a book fair, film programme, talks series and symposiums. 

The summer exhibitions include work by Laia Abril, James Barnor, Chloe Dewe Mathews, Jessa Fairbrother, Adama Jalloh, Lua Ribeira, Jem Southam, and Sarah Waiswa amongst others. 

Major exhibitions will follow in the autumn by Robert Darch, Stephen Gill, Thilde Jensen, Lebohang Kganye and Helen Sear, alongside a series of outdoor shows. 

The exhibitions are accompanied by a series of events, workshops and collaborations both online and offline to take the festival outside the conventional gallery space. 

While the physical exhibitions are free, visitors are welcome to make donations – on a ‘pay what you can’ basis. Plus, to attend festival events at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, you will also need to book a time slot online beforehand. 

The work of photographer Stephen Gill will feature in one of the Bristol Photo Festival’s autumn exhibitions (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Highlights of the Bristol Photo Festival

‘MOSH, The Face 1997’ by Elaine Constantine, one of the images that appears in the Island Life exhibition (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Island Life: photographs from the Martin Parr Foundation

18 May-31 October 2021: Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL 

‘Pay what you can’ entry; pre-book tickets here (opens in new tab) for parties of up to 6 people.  

Drawing on photographs from the Martin Parr Foundation collection that show the changing fabric of our cities, society and collective identities, Island Life focuses on post-war UK and Ireland photography. The images collectively form a compelling study of national behaviour.

Island Life brings together images from more than 60 photographers including Khali Ackford, Pogus Caesar, Elaine Constantine, Sian Davey, Chris Killip, David Hurn, Ken Grant, Markéta Luskačová, Graham Smith and Tom Wood. 

‘Reading the Sunday Papers, Grays, 2011’ by Chloe Dewe Mathews – one of the images that features in Thames Log (Image credit: © Chloe Dewe Mathews/www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Thames Log | Chloe Dewe Mathews

20 May-29 August 2021: Martin Parr Foundation (opens in new tab), 316 Paintworks, Bristol BS4 3AR

Entry: free  

Photographic artist and filmmaker Chloe Dewe Mathews spent five years taking photographs up and down the banks of the River Thames, from its source in Gloucestershire to the mouth of its estuary. 

The resulting series, Thames Log, examines the ever-changing nature of our relationship to water, from ancient pagan festivities through to the rituals of modern life. 

A book of the project is on sale now, published by Loose Joints/ Martin Parr Foundation. 

‘Only when I got to fifty did I realise I was Cinderella (03)’ by Jo Spence, 1984 (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Jo Spence: From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy 

18 May-20 June: Arnolfini (opens in new tab), 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA  

Entry: free. Click here to book (opens in new tab).  

From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy is drawn from The Hyman Collection, one of the most comprehensive collections of Jo Spence's works, and focuses on the intersection between arts, health and wellbeing. 

It celebrates Jo’s work as a photo therapist, in which she used photography as a medium to address personal trauma – reflecting on key moments in her past. 

‘Unloading the Harry Brown, Hotwells sand wharves, 1978’ by Jem Southam, part of ‘The Floating Harbour’ series (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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The Floating Harbour | Jem Southam

From 18 June: Underfall Yard, Cumberland Rd, Bristol BS1 6XG 

Click here for information (opens in new tab)

One of Southam’s first major projects, this series of photographs of Bristol Harbour in the late 1970s provide a unique and definitive portrait of the harbour during a period of rapid change. 

After the closure of the William Hill shipbuilding yards in 1976, Bristol’s docks were run down and almost deserted. Southam decided to embark on the creation of an archival record of the docks, using an old-fashioned plate camera, and over the five-year course of the project exposed approximately 1,000 black and white negatives. 

Southam photographed sites including Bathurst Basin, Cumberland Basin, Narrow Quay and Welsh Back, alongside sets of pictures of specific types of dockland furniture – cranes, pumphouses and bridges. 

Studies were made of individual buildings and their setting, and then further pictures were made of these buildings in the wider landscape. 

Originally published in 1983, in The Floating Harbour, the majority of the works will now be exhibited in Bristol for the first time. 

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A store assistant on Station Road, Accra, in 1971 © James Barnor, courtesy Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)

James Barnor: Ghanaian Modernist

18 May-31 October: Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL 

‘Pay what you can’ entry; pre-book tickets here (opens in new tab) for parties of up to 6 people.  

Ghana’s first international press photographer, Barnor worked from his Ever Young studio when the country gained independence in 1957, and sold his pictures to the Daily Graphic and Drum magazines. 

Barnor came to Britain in 1959 to photograph in London, and when he returned to Accra he established the city’s first colour photography studio, X23. 

‘Ghanaian Modernist’ is a showcase for Barnor’s Black modernism, itself a fusion of pan-African futurism and 1970s style.

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‘Friendship and Dija 25 Future -1’, two of the images from ‘Lips Touched with Blood’ by Sarah Waiswa (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Lips Touched with Blood | Sarah Waiswa

18 May-31 October: Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1RL 

‘Pay what you can’ entry; pre-book tickets here for parties of up to 6 people. 

Collaborating with the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection (BECC) at Bristol Archives, Sarah Waiswa has created the exhibition ‘Lips Touched with Blood’. 

To reframe and challenge existing narratives around colonialism, power and identity, Waiswa’s contemporary portraits of African people will be displayed alongside manipulated portraits from the archive.

‘Claybottom Allotments’ by Chris Hoare, part of the ‘Growing Spaces’ series (Image credit: © www.bristolphotofestival.org)
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Growing Spaces | Chris Hoare

18 June-18 August: Royal Fort Gardens, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UH 

Since April 2020, Hoare has been slowly and methodically documenting the allotment-goers, landscape and seasonal changes across the official and unofficial growing spaces of Bristol, which forms ‘Growing Spaces’. 

Hoare’s project documents 11 sites across the city from established allotment sites to community gardens and improvised plots on disused lands. 

The project was conceived before the Covid-19 pandemic but its timing, coinciding with increased demand for green spaces for cultivating produce, allowed him to capture the formation and energy of a growing renaissance. 

The resulting photographs are a chronicle of urban land cultivation in Bristol and as well as being exhibited in the festival, will also appear in a book of the project to be published by RRB Photobooks (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: © Royal Photographic Society)
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Symposium: Diversity and Inclusion in Photography 

21 May 2021, online 09.30-17.00 GMT 

£5 per ticket: click here to book (opens in new tab) 

This one-day online symposium, curated by Jennie Ricketts, is a collaboration between the Bristol Photo Festival and the Royal Photographic Society (RPS). 

It will explore themes around diversity and inclusion through the work of photographers and those working within photography.

Find out more about the Bristol Photo Festival

Click here (opens in new tab) to visit the official website. 

Download a festival e-flyer (opens in new tab), which includes a map of the various locations. 

Read more

Chloe Dewe Mathews discusses her new work Thames Log (opens in new tab) 

The best online photography courses available right now (opens in new tab)

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Niall Hampton
Niall Hampton

Niall is the editor of Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab), and has been shooting on interchangeable lens cameras for over 20 years, and on various point-and-shoot models for years before that. 


Working alongside professional photographers for many years as a jobbing journalist gave Niall the curiosity to also start working on the other side of the lens. These days his favored shooting subjects include wildlife, travel and street photography, and he also enjoys dabbling with studio still life. 


On the site you will see him writing photographer profiles, asking questions for Q&As and interviews, reporting on the latest and most noteworthy photography competitions, and sharing his knowledge on website building.