Writer Megan Treacy / Photographer Andrew Roberts
To walk into Hockley Social Club today is to find a den of warmth and invigorating sounds sheltered from the bleak white skies outside. Friendly dogs, upbeat music, and chatting families contribute to a welcoming and relaxing Sunday atmosphere just outside of Birmingham City Centre.
Nestled a short venture within is the more intimate Artum space, which today hosts the work of Birmingham-based photographer and lecturer Ally Standing.
As I arrive, the tables are already substantially full and Standing is meandering between chairs to greet visitors. One unexpected sight is several chess matches at play alongside one wall, a sign that Checkmate! Birmingham have also occupied Artum this Sunday.
There is an undoubtedly relaxed feel to the exhibition; the photos are projected onto a single wall and play in a loop for its duration, allowing viewers to sit and watch the display or to return to look at the photos periodically as they enjoy friends’ company (or play chess).
The set-up of the moving projection simultaneously commands attention to Standing’s work while granting space for socialisation and discussion; as conversations are had, each cut of the screen attracts heads to see what the next photo will be.
The photos themselves are snapshots of predominantly urban environments, with Standing describing her practice as ‘psychogeographic’ — an exploration of the intersection between physical location and emotion or behaviour.
This element of her work certainly comes through as her images pass across Artum’s wall. Photos of spaces which hold the same emptiness don’t necessarily evoke the same emotions. Fluorescent lights reflected in the puddles of an abandoned car park make for an eerie and unsettling shot, whereas a vacant outdoor basketball court against a clear blue sky feels peaceful in contrast.
Among the exhibited photos are some familiar sights to Birmingham residents, whether that’s a white exterior recognisable from Minerva Works, an immortalisation of the now-demolished adult film cinema Taboo Cinema Club, or a less location-specific shot of fifty or so NOS canisters collected by a kerb.
A conversation with Standing reveals the worldwide scale of the locations featured in the exhibition’s shots, including Lisbon, Madrid, Wuhan, and Berlin.
Although sprawling in geographical span, the scenes and objects captured feel connected through Standing’s lens; moments of fantastic colour (a shot of an all-pink stairway stands out) or aesthetically satisfying composition (a diagonal roof cutting cleanly across the sky) feel like instances of beauty which might go unnoticed by another passerby.
Recurring also in the work is an eye for geometric forms, mainly those of urban buildings and structures, in their overall shape as well as in their smaller components.
A close-up shot of a Tetris-like window pane made up of small squares of obscured glass draws attention to its craftsmanship, highlighting for a moment an architectural detail which is probably passed daily without thought, the shape illuminated from within by warm yellow light as though spotlit for the camera.
Standing shares the photos exhibited are a mixture of DSLR, point-and-shoot, and iPhone shots, observing often the latter are her favourites since they are the most spontaneous — images captured unpredicted and without the expectation that a camera will be needed.
As the exhibition plays along, Artum remains steadily full of supporters for Standing’s artwork, among them being other Birmingham-based creatives such as Hannah Swingler, a poet with a debut collection published by Verve Poetry Press (‘This Dress Has Pockets’).
The afternoon is not only a show of wonderful art but of the fervently supportive nature of the Birmingham art scene, and the ever-lively and embracing atmosphere of Artum.
For more from Ally Standing go to: www.allystanding.com