Writer & Photographer Beth Exley
I’m helping to run a photography walk around Digbeth with Bristol-based visual artist Jack Lewdjaw, as part of the public programming for The Age of Dreamers is Over exhibition at Grand Union. I’ve been co-curating this exhibition with my university course-mates and the wonderful staff at Grand Union since September, so it’s such a relief to have the finished product out in the world.
Jack’s works that have been included in The Age of Dreamers is Over largely draw upon commercial signage and imagery, so this walking workshop has been planned to offer insight into his artistic process and how he draws upon features of urban landscapes for inspiration. To begin with, Jack encourages all of the group to sit on the floor of the gallery space – which is currently very dark and lit mainly by his neon work, ‘Happy Place’ (2019).
The atmosphere is cosy and relaxed; Jack cracks a few jokes and chats with us about his work and intentions for around twenty minutes.
It’s fascinating to hear an artist talk about their work when sitting directly in front of it. Jack describes how he constructed ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ (2019) from picture frames and acrylic, and then goes on to describe how different types of signage grab his attention – apparently flat, modern signs do very little for him. But he always finds his attention drawn to chunky 3D lettering.
After this short talk and a cup of tea, it’s time to head out and take some photographs. I’m not a natural photographer but the workshop has been advertised as ‘phone camera photography,’ and under Jack’s guidance I think I’ll be alright.
We head out onto the street outside Minerva Works and Jack immediately points out a large sign attached to a derelict building advertising TVs and Printers that looks like it must have been made in the 1980s. Jack explains that his background in freelance graphic design has left him with a keen eye for fonts.
Hearing someone be so interested in something as seemingly innocuous as fonts and signs is quite funny but also quite lovely – it’s great to see someone be so passionate about their work that they can make you interested in something you’ve not really thought much about before.
We walk further down the road, stopping at a few specific things Jack himself finds interesting – a door where the paint has been peeled away by tape, bricks filling a window, an unusually shaped bollard. Seeing him point out these small design choices and strange textures on streets I’ve walked down one hundred times is eye opening. I’ve lived in Birmingham for about five years, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the place in this much detail.
After letting us snap some photos of the street, Jack stops and asks us all what we’re interested in photographing, or what we notice we always end up taking pictures of.
One girl on the walk says any kind of dogs, another person says things that look out of place in the surroundings. I have a quick flip through my camera roll and see that I seem to take a hell of a lot of photos of reflections in water. I’ve never realised this is something I gravitate towards, but it is definitely something I find very visually interesting.
As we begin to head back to Grand Union for a second cup of tea and to get out of the rain that’s started to plop down, I find myself reflecting on the beauty that can be found in seemingly boring objects and locations. This walk with Jack has left me with the desire to slow down and take in my surroundings a little bit more – whether that be in Digbeth or further afield.
To find out more about Jack Lewdjaw visit his website here: www.lewdjaw.com
The Age of Dreamers is Over is running at Grand Union until 25 June, find out more at: www.grand-union.org.uk/exhibitions/the-age-of-dreamers-is-over