Brentford: ‘The shape I’m in’ photography exhibition

Image above: One of the photographs in the exhibition, by Jacinta Cook

A group of amateur photographers who are based in Brentford have put their photography exhibition online, having had their work on show to an empty room for most of the year.

The ‘Better Pictures’ group meet once a week and take pictures all over London. In the spring of 2020 they were pleased to launch an exhibition of street photography in Watermans arts centre, featuring images taken locally in Brentford capturing changes in the area.

Their pleasure in seeing their work on display was short lived. Opening just before the first lockdown, the exhibition has had a rough ride throughout 2020, due to the varying levels of COVID restrictions. It managed about a week of being on show before the centre was closed for the second time.

The photos are now available online, and the arts centre has promised an extension of the physical exhibit once they are allowed to open again.

Image above: Better Pictures group (photograph taken before 2020). Michael Nolan third from the left.

The project aims to capture the radical changes happening in Brentford. The town centre has been under threat (or promise – depending on your viewpoint) of redevelopment for about twenty years.

Now finally the redevelopment is going ahead, under the banner of ‘The Brentford Project’, which aims to revitalise the High St, adding new shops and a cinema and extending the Thames Path to open up new walking routes down by the river.

The Grade II Listed St Lawrence’s Church, originally designed by a renowned Brentford architect, Thomas Hardwick, is also being refurbished.

The shape I’m in takes the theme of ‘reducing Brentford to basic shapes’ with use of shapes in every photograph providing a vision of the area. The photographers hope they have captured Brentford as it goes through a period of change.

I talked to Michael Nolan, a member of Better Pictures, to discuss the new exhibit.

Images above: photos by Michael Nolan

‘Richness of history’

“We’re all interested in photography, we’re all amateurs with varying abilities and we take pictures all over the place. Brentford is our kind of ‘homing base’, we always seem to come back to Brentford because there’s such a richness of history and change and interest in that area” Michael told me.

A couple of years ago, Better Pictures exhibited their work at Watermans under the theme of Reflections. The exhibit was a success and they were invited back again with a new theme: Brentford: The shape I’m in.

“There were about 12 or 15 of us who took a couple of photographs each largely around changes in Brentford, old buildings, new buildings and interesting angles” said Michael.

“The areas that have been brought back to life through redevelopment are interesting because otherwise they would just be sort-of decaying. You’ve got a 1960s former police station which is a huge, huge building and nearby you’ve got a church spire.”

In one shot taken close to the nearby pub, The Beehive, the contrast of the two buildings shows how different types of buildings and redevelopments of the past have changed the area of Brentford for better or worse.

Image above: photo by Denis Palmer (left), photo by Michael Nolan (right)

Why Brentford?

Though Brentford has become the muse of the Better Pictures group, it may come as a surprise that few of them live locally.

“We come from all over the place” Michael continued.

“I live in Ashford in Middlesex, some people live in Ealing, some people live in Teddington, some people live in Hounslow.”

The reason they’re so well acquainted with the area is because they were students on one of Hounslow’s Adult Education photography courses. Their teacher was originally from Brentford, which meant they met up there often.

“It’s sort of like our spiritual home but yeah it’s very nice. We’ll all meet up and have a coffee or have lunch and then go round and take some pictures so it’s a nice little sociable group too”.

Creative People and Partnerships is LB Hounslow’s initiative to bring creativity and culture to the borough. They have worked with Watermans to allow Better Pictures to exhibit their work by installing the exhibit and providing website access and originally earlier in 2020 some leaflets to publicise the exhibitions.

“They’re behind us and they’re encouraging us and we’ve formed this sort of link with them because we’re sort of ‘regulars’ at Watermans now. We’re very grateful for that sponsorship it means a lot.”

Image above: Photograph by Jacinta Cook

Images above: Photographs by Ian Trowbridge

Online exhibition

Due to COVID-19 the original exhibition in March was cancelled. Ongoing Tier 4 restrictions in London mean the physical event is paused until further notice.

Watermans have offered an extension of the exhibition into the beginning of February 2021, so if the restrictions are lifted in time it’s possible to see some of the photographs in person.

The event is free so no ticket is required, but you might be waiting a while for Tier 4 restrictions to be lifted.

You could instead view their work on their website by following the link below:

Brentford: The shape I’m in – 2020 Exhibition

Also, below is a YouTube video made by the Better Pictures group with Michael Nolan at the exhibition at Watermans earlier in the year.

Photographers who’s work is on exhibit are as follows: Laurence Acher, Margaret Baldwin, Dave Cook, Jacinta Cook, Paul Franklin, Rose Jackson, Amanda Kuijvenhoven, Andy Longfellow, Aseea Mahmood, Mando Mendolicchio, Petya Nikiforova, Michael Nolan, Denis Palmer, Anne Parkinson, Beatriz Pullin and Ian Trowbridge.

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