City as Studio: Photographs of Oxford by Young Artists

Emma Ridgway is Head of Programme, Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford. Here she discusses the gallery’s recent City as Studio project, our new art photography book. City as Studio: Photographs of Oxford by Young Artists is available to buy in our shop now.

This summer at Modern Art Oxford, we release our new publication City as Studio: Photographs of Oxford by Young Artists. This art photography book presents 50 local perspectives on Oxford, offering a unique insiders’ view of the world-famous city.

In the book’s foreword, written by BBC Arts Editor (and Oxford resident) Will Gompertz, he comments: ‘Each image is as different as the people who took them, highlighting once again the wonder of the human condition: we all see the world slightly differently … They are not snaps, but works of art: thoughtful, beautiful, questioning.’

Song Unheard. Photo by Fatima Masood

The book is a culmination of a Modern Art Oxford Studio project, which took place in the autumn winter term of 2017/18 with students aged between 16-18 years, and their teachers, from Cheney School, City of Oxford College and Oxford Spires Academy.

The studio project responds to intriguing questions posed by our image-dominated era: what can we learn from visual culture today? What do we gain by paying closer attention to other people’s perspectives? Can art photography enable us to understand the wider world, and our place within it?

Untitled. Photo by Jade Knevett

In response, the young local people involved in this project utilise the public space of the city as a site of study, exploring it like a studio, learning through creative exploration, and enabling us, as readers, to learn from Oxford through their eyes. The photographers’ overarching concern is that there is much that goes unappreciated in daily life. They speculate on the feelings of fellow members of the public, and show interest in how people move through the city’s space. All taken in the winter months, their compilation of Oxford images inevitably includes low light conditions, wet weather and the city’s characteristic mists that arise from its many waterways.

Reflecting on their experiences in an art-criticism editorial session, one young artist described this form of art-making as involving ‘more risk-taking so I was outside my comfort zone’. That is the point of such photography – both the making of it and viewing of it – it invites us to go beyond what is familiar, to think deliberately about what we see. Writer Susan Sontag states the importance of ‘an ethics of seeing’, highlighting that ‘photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe.’ The City as Studio book invites us to take a more considered look at images, and appreciate how we look and what we see around us in everyday life.

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