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Prague is a bit like Amsterdam in the sense that it is an exceedingly beautiful city, but the kind of place you’re usually too wasted to really appreciate. Until recently I had not been to Prague, and with three hours to spare at the airport I quizzed my new temporary drinking companion, a lovely old Irishman named Mick, about his experience of the city. Sadly he only remembered a glimpse of it from the boot of a car – having been there on the ubiquitous stag do – but assured me that the momentary glimpse was a very pretty one. Stag do’s and tourist groups appear to make up the majority of the population of Prague in the city centre, the former marching around in full get-up; roaring, singing and swigging unidentifiable coloured spirits. The tourists loved it, and the kitschness of the spectacle actually tallied quite nicely with the mountains of tourist tat we had to orienteer through as we crossed the bridge into the Old Town. These various social interactions take place against a Disney backdrop of Bavarian-esque pink turrets and gold spires. Looking down a street at dusk I could’ve been marching headlong into the Magic Kingdom.

But I’m being deliberately disparaging of course. For those of you snorting with derision at my plebeian misunderstanding of this cultural centre I assure you, I did love it. Warts and all – because none of the above is a lie.

It is merely a wonderfully delicious contrast to the whole of the city outside of that square mile; enhancing the stupendous, visceral impact of an architecturally patchwork landscape reflecting centuries of shifting political and economic change in a remarkably extravagant manner. That is to say, the buildings are bloody lovely.

The following photos were taken on a Nikon D5100 with 18-140mm lens and edited using Adobe Photoshop.













(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (4)

After a lengthy period in the proverbial pipeline, Dartford Arts Network’s Dartford Assembly project is finally seeing fruition, springing up over a mad 2 weeks and birthing from its project management cocoon a beautiful mass of visual art for public delectation.

Conceived nearly two years ago, the central aim of the project was initially to kill two very significant birds with one stone: to provide a vehicle through which local artists could publicly display their artworks in the town, and to deliver a project which greatly enhanced the aesthetics of Lowfield Street in Dartford (which has been boarded up with hoardings for over a decade) for the general public.

Dartford Arts Network (the local arts network which I co-founded and of which I am Chair) was still in its early inception stages at that point and learning how to produce such a major project as we went along was a huge hurdle to overcome. Thankfully, we received some financial support from the council to make the project happen, but the logistical planning was immense; the time spent on design, artist liaison, landowner and council consultation, material production and site planning was overwhelming. All this was produced with a small group of local artist volunteers, each of whom was trying to (variously); do their day job, have babies, raise babies, have a life and do their own artwork. To say we are incredibly proud of, and grateful to, everyone who contributed, is an understatement.

13 individual artists contributed, as well as art students at North West Kent College, children at The Bridge Primary Community School, and 10 members of the public who produced collage and monoprint works at the public workshops we held last summer at One Bell Corner.

We have had overwhelmingly positive responses from the public, who are generally delighted to see such a wide variety of local art on public display.

I hold a firm belief in the power of art; as regenerator, motivator, and as inspirer. To lift the spirit of a community and create a sense of belief and communal optimism takes more than just physical rebuilding or looking backwards to what once was. It takes beauty and reflection; it takes recognising how much (sometimes unseen) talent and potential is already present in the area and how those resources can be nurtured and used alongside retail and development to draw interest to our town.

This is the first major public art exhibition in Dartford and I am confident it is only the beginning.

Our next project – Plastic Fantastic – is already underway. After winning a grant from Ellandi, the owners of the Priory Centre, to produce a sculpture for the community addressing the issues of sustainability and plastic waste, we will be holding workshops in September to encourage members of the public to contribute to the construction and design. See our website for more details on the project and how to get involved.

Contact us at @dartfordarts / hello@darfordartsnetwork.com / www.dartfordartsnetwork.com

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (6)(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (5)

(c) Matt Fox Photography (2)

(c) Matt Fox Photography

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography (2)

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (7)

(c) Matt Fox Photography (3)

(c) Matt Fox Photography

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (2)(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (1)

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Matt Fox Photography (1)

(c) Matt Fox Photography

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Something unexpected has happened. I’ve managed to get my own exhibition; yes me! On for a month at the Peter Blake Gallery in Dartford Library.

The show is called Moment because, well, what do you call an exhibition? I took the same tact I take with naming the pieces (and why some of them seem rather random), which is to think of words and phrases which instinctively come to mind in relation to my viewing of them, and go with the one which makes a vague bit of sense in the knockings of my consciousness.

So, Moment. It does encapsulate the process in which I produce photographs, the emphasis being on curious composition and striking detail rather than technical perfection. This set of images were all taken impromptu; no set up or endless test shots, but the capture of a moment in time which struck me as being beautiful in some way.

I get enjoyment from seeing beauty in the mundane. A photo of an unusually shaped water stain will often be far more enduring to me than a traditional landscape scene which may be more obviously pretty. I try to convey my own sense of pleasure at seeing these odd things, through capturing them in a shot.

That’s not to say I don’t use outside influences. Although the shots aren’t set up as such, I do use photoshop to edit them to my particular liking. A crop here, up a level there. These tweaks can turn a drab detail into a captivating one. I consider it a skill in itself to be able to spot the potential in a seemingly discardable image.

This set of images are only linked by my use of this process of immediacy. In every other way they are a varied mix of subject matter, style, colour and tone. But I like it that way. I feel that it reflects both me as a personality and the way in which I view the world around me.

If you would like to visit the exhibition it is showing at the Peter Blake Gallery in Dartford Library until 10th June – Opening hours and directions here. Or join us at the private view Thursday 19th May at 6.30pm where there will be some drinks and nibbles.

Here’s a selection of some of the works on show.

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Human beings produce a lot of useless and often ugly crap. So when you come across something which is both functionally beautiful and aesthetically stimulating, it provides an interesting subject to photograph.

These images are part of a series detailing the working elements of a backstage management system at a theatre in Leicester. I have deliberately lost the clarity of purpose in order to focus on the images as visually abstract works.

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Invert mindful

Close your eyes. Back straight, arms relaxed. Start at the toes. It’s quite difficult to feel your toes without moving them. Are they really there? There’s one; the very tip of my little toe hardly pressing at all on the inside of my boot, but pressing nonetheless. My heel. I feel that. Even as I sit, weight supported on the train seat, I am aware of my heel. The innate pressure of gravity on my leg pushing out through the bottom of my foot. The floor. I am aware of the floor. Pushing upwards to meet my foot. Solid, so as to stop my foot from pushing down through it. The balance in the battle for up and down reaching its terminal velocity; a harmonious point of mutual agreement. Foot stops – floor stops. My leg. How did I not notice before, the cold breeze washing over my jeans, seeping through to my skin. That tingling feeling. Not cold, but almost pin and needley. What is that? It’s in my feet too a little. Is that always there? Knees. I’ve never noticed before how much they stick out when you sit down. My jeans feel tight across them; a second skin. Arms. Resting heavily on my thighs; another stopping point. Gravity pushing down on them like invisible hands. Chest. The constant rise and fall inevitable and expected. Unmanaged and unchecked. It just is. I just am. I am.

Damn. Missed my stop.

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The animals. That’s how they spot me, the locals I mean. Stroking a feral cat which I am fully aware could riddle me with rabies in a blurred second of diseased saliva on teeth tips; they know I’m English and spot me a mile off, how could they not? But their sad, neglected little faces (the animals, I mean). Their mangy forms hobbling along towards an inadequate patch of ground shaded from the burning sun. It is a familiar and enduring sight of the which I will I never get used to seeing in other countries. But despite my very British show of pet empathy, on my first  trip to the Greek ‘Athens Riviera’ in June of this year the fate of these multitudinous weary strays managed to distract me only momentarily from those extraordinary Athenian ruins of classical antiquity which tower over the city, abiding endlessly as lives begin, are lived and end all around them.

The Acropolis remains are overwhelmingly huge, dominating the city skyline in a way that I felt was more powerful than seeing them at close range. In some cases the sculpture is powerfully enigmatic, the guarding Caryatids evoking in me a childhood memory from the Neverending Story of those two stone oracles, their power and character fascinating me then at six as these beautiful, frightening forms do now at thirty. I inherited an interest in history from my mother, although my thirst for knowledge does not extend to the same reaches nor inhabit the same form as her – ie. sitting up late at night head buried in 3000 page epic overviews of Russian revolutions. My own curiosity takes far more of an immediate form; suffice it to say lengthy summaries of fact spattered with anomalous pellets of prose do not engage me for long, but I would still consider myself a history fan, shall we say. I chose my holidays mostly according to whether there are sites to visit nearby. I sketch the ruins and read the leaflets. So why do I always find myself questioning our obsession with preservation?

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I suppose I’m playing devil’s advocate to an extent, but do find it disturbing how we actively remove significant objects and artefacts from the public reach, particularly those which were created with the proletariat in mind. It embodies the modern edict of look, but don’t touch. It’s a relatively new phenomenon (in the scale of the lives of these buildings) and one whose aspects I do understand in principle; vast increases in visitor numbers and so the inevitability of damage, the fact that to save these artifacts we have to stop direct visitor engagement at some point so why not now, the advances in technology meaning we can now see in more clarity the damage being inflicted etc. Ergo, we have to preserve these artefacts for the future. But do we? Is modern society a bit over obsessed with preservation and conservation, to the point at which we have almost become hoarders on a mass ideological scale?

Ironically of course our consumer culture evidences quite the opposite, most of us are hesitantly complicit in the growth of plastic mountains and new landfill land masses. On the whole we generally attribute little value to objects. Not in the case of historical value though, this attribution transforming something from disposable to preservable. Uniqueness is often the main factor, or its rarity, but our desperation to ensure that the originals of these objects are not lost have led us to sometimes devalue them through corrupting their original public purpose and right to be used. Walking around the Acropolis was a perfect example of this; barred at every corner from experiencing the structures as they were meant to be experienced, I admit I felt cheated. Public structures built as open areas for the people, for the masses to participate in community gathering, now reduced to purely an externally aesthetic pursuit for all except a privileged few specialists. This restriction tarnishes it, sullies the beauty and purity of the architecture and essentially just isn’t fair. But far from this behaviour being unique to what is now ancient construction, we regularly apply it to new, modern creations. ‘Do not touch’ goes without saying in virtually every instance. In artistic terms it does in fact now seem to psychologically add value to something. To be told we can touch instinctively means so can everyone else and the thing is reduced to consumable as opposed to preservable.

I freely admit I do not have an opposing solution to the issues of why we do preserve and am here merely provoking consideration of a concept we all take very much for granted. You could indeed say that if we gave free reign access to works of art or historical artefacts they would be smashed and graffiti covered, but consider that many have been standing there for over 2000 years, significantly damaged primarily due to brutal wars and not local hoodlums, with do not touch rules only being implemented in the last 50 or so. Speculate on why we feel we need to preserve them in their perfected original form at all. Does not time decay and weather all things? With modern technology we persist in working against natural evolution, to stultify it and challenge its process of degeneration. In this case, to what end? Our ability to further our knowledge through them is limited and can be recorded with a variety of techniques, so why not allow the structures to become communal, as a vast amount of them were intended to be? Laying them open to potential damage is a worrying prospect, but to leave them as they are, alien and untouchable, may be even worse. Perhaps it’s time to allow the public to experience the key to why these structures are so amazing and despite what the brochures may want you to think, the answer isn’t in the gift shop.

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Why haven’t I been to Bristol!?

Moel Faban Suppers

I visited Bristol once for an interview at the university. This was years ago when I was still an academic researcher, searching for a highly sought after PhD place just before I had kids. Despite seeing little of the city I liked the feel of the place; it had a nice vibe and the people were friendly.  I didn’t get the PhD place so never discovered more and was just left with that brief first impression.

Last year the teen started visiting Bristol. She too fell in love with its hippy vibe, its cool vintage shops, eclectic night life and variety of festival loving people. She fitted right in. I promised myself a return visit to see for myself exactly what it was she had fallen in love with, and as several of my ‘Green Man’ crew friends live there (one of whom just a couple of weeks away from…

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