• Andy Whysall

Free Range, or There and Back Again

An interesting thing, Free Range. I’ve thought about it for a good while and I hate to say it, but I am wondering what its number one merit really is or whether there really is one big merit to be gained from it at all. It’s great to be able to see work by other photography students from around the country; it’s good to have the experience of manning your own show, running an opening night etc for complete strangers. It's just hard to say what the main take-home was.

Free Range has been going for a decent number of years. It’s at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane in London E1 – a huge building repurposed for art. It’s a clever idea….two separate weeks of photography and one of fine art. Around 13 universities' and colleges' degree work is represented at each of the three weeks. It’s not cheap to take part, the rental of the spaces runs into thousands of pounds, then there are ancillary costs such as insurance and transport, and for the students, travel, accommodation, meals and pandering to the constant urge to snack while the galleries are quiet.

While none of us won any of the three prizes available for the week's show, it wouldn't surprise me if our excellent Alice Hill was the only one in the building that week to actually sell - and not one, but two pieces.

As you might expect, we thought we were very good, and certainly not run-of-the-mill. There was an awful lot of work from institutions that all clearly lean heavily towards the commercial with glossy studio work (I'm not saying it didn't look great; there were some really amazing images on show). Our course leader, Dr. Sarah Bonner, pointed out that what many were lacking in comparison to us was rigour. Every one of the projects we had on show was the result of months of research and developmental practice and it was plain from our statements as much as from our images; many of the others simply didn't convey any sense of that.

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