FFO: CONCEPTUALLY DRIVEN DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY // ART EVENTS CREATED FOR SOCIAL PURPOSE!
Who are you and where are you currently based?
I’m Tia Bryant, a photographer originally from the South West, but currently residing in the West Midlands, studying Photography at Coventry University.
My work explores a wide range of areas, primarily including analogue social documentary and landscape photography. I particularly enjoy exploring different cultures and representing the different types of people that I meet.
How would you describe your experience studying Photography at Coventry University? What have you gained from your degree?
I have loved university so much, I have developed so much independence and confidence both within my practice and as a person. My lecturers are so inspiring and I always find myself questioning photography, both the uses and the theory of it, and challenging myself to learn more and create my own opinions. I have learned that you don’t need a camera to be a photographer – photography takes so many forms and I’m enjoying discovering them all.
How do you use photography as a tool for social engagement?
In October I began teaching photography to a group of ‘underprivileged’ children at a community centre in Coventry with one of my course mates. We used our class to develop a body of work together called ‘Week by Week’ which highlighted the relationship created by working together as not only teacher and class but a community. The work responds to the presence of the community that can be created within photography with an aim to overcome the sometimes unethical nature that partners with working with a community, due to fears of undermining a subject in an attempt to be an insider. This was done through a collection of books that mirror the learning journey as well as the sense of community that has been established throughout. We also hosted an exhibition at the community centre all the work the children had created, inviting friends, family member and other people around the community to come in and celebrate the hard work the children had created.
What is your current photographic work about?
My university work is very different from my personal projects. At university, I have a keen interest in the current digital era and how it affects people. A recent project that I completed at University developed from the ever-growing use of CCTV cameras and online surveillance around the world. The body of work titled “Are You Being Watched?” is based on the concept of consent and how that revolves around the idea of surveillance and privacy.
Outside of University, I’m working on a project with a working title of ‘Roots’ that involves a very personal response to leaving the rural nest of Devon and heading to the brutalist, very urban city of Coventry to live and study. Within this project, I revisit a small county park that I used to visit a lot when I was younger and is a very peaceful and tranquil place. I’m typically an analog photographer, using 35mm film as I consider it a ‘slower’ medium, allowing myself to really think about taking the photograph, making it more intimate. The work invites the viewer to reflect on their own home or where they go to escape in today’s somewhat hectic world.
I’ve also been working with an up and coming band from Coventry called FEET. I met them at the university through a mutual friend and they’re really great and hilarious guys. They’re definitely going places so I feel very proud to work with them whilst they’re starting to get the recognition they deserve.
Does your personal work differ from your commercial e.g. working and photographing bands? if so, how does it differ? or does your approach/style/ medium the same?
I think it does differ, I’m still working on my specific style at the moment – I’ve got a lot to learn still and I’m not sure that I’ve mastered my technique yet. I used to find this frustrating because a lot of my work was very different, but since starting university, I’ve come to realise that a lot of my peers are in the same boat – there are some who do have a very particular style within all the work they produce, but for most, they’re still figuring it out. I enjoy working with film but a lot of my commercial work doesn’t allow for this because of its unpredictability, so I have to use digital. The work I have done with FEET has so far, been quite similar – although I’ve worked within different environments with them, whether it’s in a studio or a live performance, I always try to use a lot of colour to imitate their vibrate personalities.
What got you interested in photography and taking images?
I’ve loved photography ever since I was really young. My parents used to buy myself and my sister disposable cameras over the school holidays, or if we went away so that we could take our own photographs instead of asking for theirs all the time. We’d always get so excited to get them back from the developer and see what the outcome was and compare photos.
My first digital camera was a little pink one from a supermarket for my birthday and I would take it everywhere: to school, to the shop, everywhere – I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t have a camera with me. When I used to say that I want to be a photographer, I would get criticised because people thought it was ‘easy’ because all you do is ‘press a button’, teachers used to tell me that I was too academic to peruse a creative career, that I would be wasting my knowledge but if anything, it has challenged me just as much as any other subject – I’ve used my knowledge of Politics, Psychology, and Sociology alongside Art and Media to question photography and create work that aims to be both ethical and thought-provoking. I’m no longer afraid to scream and shout that it’s not just pressing a button, it’s so much more.
What ethical choices do you think a social documentary photographer should always adhere to?
There are a lot of fine lines and different opinions within social documentary and you often find yourself changing your mind again and again. I try not to take pictures of people without them knowing or consenting because I’m very camera shy myself and don’t like people taking photos of me, but obviously you can’t ask every single person within a photograph if they mind because you’d never end up taking it. I used to never even ask someone if I can take their photo out of fear of rejection so if I really wanted to take their photo I’d do it and end up with a blurry half-arsed one, so I think it is important for both the subject and yourself to ask for consent.
However, documentary photography often relies on truthfulness, so by making someone aware of the camera can often ruin the ‘validity’ of the moment and the image, so sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you stand within this type of photography, but I think as long as you’re making images that you love and that won’t directly affect or harm the subject, I think you can more or less do what you want. Take a look at Martin Parr, he’s made a career out of documenting people in a very satirical way, not caring much about the ethical value of the work, so it’s really up to each individual photographer to decide where they stand on the ethical spectrum.
Who are you inspired by?
Like my work, my favourite artists are very varied. I love photographers like Nan Goldin, whose photos are so real and personal – she photographed everything, inviting people to see her life and the lives of her friends. Her photos are so beautiful and raw, from the images of her AID’s stricken friends to intimate moments with lovers. Another photographer that inspires me is Rachel MacLean, the complete other end of the spectrum of photography. Her work is very modern and futuristic – using modern-day experiences of politics and social media, exaggerating them to create very controversial work.
What do you feel makes an ‘inspiring’ photograph?
To me, I find photographers that give a voice to those who may not necessarily have one, inspiring. Photojournalism always has and always will be a powerful tool, although it has negative connotations, it allows for activism and for people to see how the other half live and hopefully allow for change.
What are your future aspirations?
Although Photography is my true love, I’m also very interested in creating art events and helping emerging photographers to get themselves out there. This only developed whilst studying at university so I’m still new to it, but I’ve co-directed a few photography exhibitions and festivals which has made me realise how much I love to work with people. When I finish university, I think that I’d like to go into managing and directing art events to help young people like myself to find their feet in a creative career and get their voices heard.
What art events/exhibitions have you helped to put on in the past? how have they helped emerging young photographers to get themselves out there? And what did you personally gain from this experience?
I co-directed the photography festival Exposure, held in the Coventry Evening Telegraph (CET) building in the heart of the city centre. It was a five-day photography festival celebrating artist’s work from Coventry University. The festival held six exhibitions throughout the building, supported by a series of workshops for schools and colleges. Themes explored in the exhibitions include family, fashion, space, community, and culture. The festival provided a significant showcase for emerging artists in the city with over 50 individuals exhibiting their work. Exposure was proudly located in one of Coventry’s most iconic buildings and, in the context of Coventry 2021, the opportunities that the UK 2021 City of Culture offers to artists and audiences in the city is highlighted within the series of exhibitions.
The festival not only showed a variety of subject matter to view but also a collection of artists’ personal style and creative views on their chosen subject and method of practice. Some works, share personal stories with their audience, considering both how the participant wants to be viewed and the way the photographer, as either an insider or outsider to the situation, wants to portray the project. Others explore how spaces have personal effects on us through focusing on the finer details, a personal sense of nostalgia or through the physical location of each space. We used the opening night as a preview night, inviting a range of networkers, promoters and other professional creatives along to talk to the artists involved in the exhibition to promote themselves and help to get their foot in the door.
I was always a quiet student before taking on the role of co-director for this event, so this experience really helped me to gain a lot of confidence and believe that I can be a leader. Although it was hard work, having to lead and work alongside such a large group of artists, I was able to enhance my prior skills and learn new ones that wouldn’t have been possible without taking the role that I did.
I’m currently working with The Arches Project in Birmingham with a week-long art exhibition called ‘Hidden Talents’ in November. This, again, helps young artists get themselves out there, so keep an eye on their social media accounts for more information.
What advice would you recommend to young photographers today?
A job in the creative industry isn’t always going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it – people have loved and celebrated art for thousands of years, there is always going to be a demand for it and someone has to do it, so why can’t it be you?
YOU CAN ALSO SUBMIT TO THE HIDDEN TALENTS OPEN CALL HERE!