Artquest PEER FORUM at The Photographers’ Gallery

In partnership with Artquest, we recently made an open call inviting submissions for a group of artists to form a peer mentoring group here at The Photographers’ Gallery. The programme aimed to assist the collective by providing them with the funding, space and resources necessary to establish their own peer forum.

Here, Oliver Whitehead, Projects Curator at The Photographers’ Gallery, talks to successful applicant, documentary photographer, writer, curator and teacher Lewis Bush about his experience of coordinating the Artquest PEER FORUM. The group included artists and photographers Alma Haser, Andrew Youngson, Christopher Bethell, Clare Hewitt, Jocelyn Allen, Marcia Chandra, Max Colson, Tim Mitchell and Tina Remiz.

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Image: The Photographers’ Gallery

Oliver Whitehead: Can you tell me a little about the practices of the peer-mentoring group? Is there a strand that unifies each member?

Lewis Bush: Probably the only unifying strand is that we all work with photography! It’s a very diverse group which is part of what makes it so interesting to share work as the ideas you get in response are informed by diverse feelings about what makes for interesting photography and art. Some like Chris Bethell are more informed by documentary practice, others like Jocelyn Allen by fine art. Some like Clare Hewitt are working in the tradition of large format photography while others are working with appropriated photographs as I often am.

OW: How did you all come together and what advice would you give to any groups of photographers & artists in a similar situation?

LB: The group was originally was the brainchild of Tina Remiz who got us together to meet and share work long before we applied for support from Artquest and The Photographers Gallery. In terms of other groups wanting to do something similar my advice would be to find people you think are making interesting work and who are fairly easy going, and also not to make the group too large. There are ten of us and that feels like a good number since it’s large enough for an interesting plurality of voices and for debate and dissent to take place, but still small enough that everyone can show work and voice opinions. Fewer people also obviously makes it easier to find a space that can accommodate you, and when we first started that was one of the main difficulties.

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Image: The Photographers’ Gallery

OW: What makes for a conducive, supportive crit environment?

LB: I think a sense of equality is really important, the feeling that all ideas and voices are equally valid and that there is no such thing as a stupid idea or a bad piece of work. There is a trust element in a peer mentoring group and with time people open up and become more willing to take risks with what they show and the questions they ask of the group. That’s maybe one of the advantages of having a group that is a readymade circle of people who already know each other to some extent, but I expect it comes in time to any group.

OW: Has taking part in the Artquest Peer-Forum here at TPG changed the dynamic of you as a group?

LB: Since we knew each other before to some extent there hasn’t been any great shift in the group dynamic. I think the regularity has just helped to reinforce existing friendships and relationships and convinced many of us that we want to continue sharing work in the future.

OW: Can you provide an update on any notable achievements throughout the time of the peer forum (an obvious example would be Alma’s successful Kickstarter campaign).

LB: Part of what was interesting about this experience was that we were all sharing projects at very different stages of completion, and so the achievements rather reflect that. Alma Haser successfully crowdfunding her Cosmic Surgery book was the most notable achievement over the six months. I think she shared the dummy book with us during the first session and then by the final one six months later it was all funded and is now on its way to being made. For other people the achievements were maybe more modest but still individually significant. For me the achievement was turning around a project which I had been on the verge of abandoning at the start of the peer forum process because I felt it was beyond being resolved, and by the end feeling I had really figured out what I was trying to say and what I needed to do to achieve it.

OW: Finally, what’s next for you all?

LB: We plan to keep meeting and sharing work and we’re just thinking now about the logistics and best way to do that, having a meeting room at the gallery for six months was a real treat and now we have to get back to the realities of finding usable meeting spaces again! For me personally the experience had turned me into a bit of a peer mentoring evangelist. It’s something I want to spend more time on in the future learning more about it and thinking about ways to incorporate it into my own teaching, and hopefully promoting it to photographers at all levels.

For further information about public education and projects at The Photographers’ Gallery, see here.

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Image: The Photographers’ Gallery

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