National Photography Symposium 2016

The National Photography Symposium is the UK’s leading gathering place for ideas and discussion around photography. Now in its seventh edition, NPS 2016 explores two main themes: new online photographic communities that are revolutionising learning and showing of work; and the challenges of making – and forgetting – visual history in an age when everything is recorded. It also explores the recently announced transfer of the National Photography Collection from the National Media Museum in Bradford to London’s V&A Museum.

New Communities

The symposium begins on the evening of Wednesday 20th April with a keynote address, followed by a day of talks and panel discussions on Thursday 21st of April. It begins by exploring the intersection between photography and digital culture, the photographic communities that are springing up, and the tools for learning and developing as a photographer that are emerging in consequence. How flexible and dynamic are the best online communities; does this also mean they are less permanent and does that matter? How effective are the new learning and development approaches? What is the role of traditional institutions and associations – can their knowledge be transferred or does it date too quickly?

Making and forgetting history

Now that nothing need be deleted and everything is stored, how will our era be remembered visually – Will it have a “defining” narrative, and if so what part do individuals have in shaping that narrative? This has a resonance for photographers, many of whom set out to record for history. There is an ethical dimension to this; does the perceived need for narrative affect the truth or fact of what is being remembered? Has “forgetting” become a conscious act of deletion, disposal or even hiding?

The National Photographic Collection

On Friday 22nd April, the symposium will continue alongside the FORMAT Portfolio Review, with drop-in discussion sessions led by industry and sector professionals exploring some of the latest issues in photography, among other things, the debate around the transfer of the National Photography Collection from the National Media Museum in Bradford to London’s V&A Museum.


Confirmed speakers include:

Camilla Brown, curator and LensCulture reviewer
Jonathan Shaw, Disruptive Media Learning Lab
Karen Harvey, Shutter Hub
Scarlett Crawford, independent practioner/educator
Joy Gregory, artist and photographer
Alan Ward, designer and artist
Kelley Wilder, photographic historian, De Montfort University
Sarah Fisher, Director of Open Eye Gallery
Roger Tooth, picture editor of The Guardian

More speakers being confirmed weekly.

Who should come?

This event is strongly recommended for anyone interested in photography and the future of the medium, whether photographers, curators, academics, students, writers, collectors or organisation staff.


Weds 20 April 2016: 18:00 to 19:30
Thurs 21 April 2016: 10:00 to 17:30
Friday 22 April 2016: 10:00 to 17:00


simeon-lr-ajwPhoto credit: from the Gearing Archive: Self-portrait and Dog, Simeon J Gearing c. 1914; from Alan Ward’s presentation on the discovery and re-imagining of a family history

The Gearing Archive Re-imagined

“In 2013 whilst artist-in-residence at Manchester Central Library, I purchased a collection of 1920s glass negatives on a whim, from a seller on ebay in Brighton, they had no provenance. There are about 180 in total, dating from 1914 – c.1936. Through a few clues offered up in the images and the original boxes they came in, I have been able to piece together the beginnings of a substantial family history around the images. The photographer, Simeon J Gearing was not a professional photographer but was a manager for the Mersey-based tug boat company Rhos, and lived in Wallasey. It is also clear that at a point within the collection his son Sydney J Gearing inherited the camera; they both appeared to be using it. Simeon was born in London, worked in the East Ham docks as a lightnage operative (barge-man), married a girl from Wortwell, Norfolk, and moved to the Wirral to be a manager at a shipping company. Sydney was also born in London but grew up on the Wirral.

“I was also born in London, moved to the North-West, and my father is a Norfolk boy. I spent many of my early childhood summer holidays on the family farm in Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth. Acquiring this collection appears to have been pre-destined, the parallels are uncanny. My photographic practice is based around ‘place’ – a sense of place. Often exploring fragments and hints of relationships with a location, I am interested in evidence of human interaction with the geography of a place and the contemporary re-imagining of those landscapes, both urban and rural. The collection reveals some rather interesting and often lost subjects, locations, moments and journeys. They raise questions about Gearing’s relationship with his family and also the landscape around him, an obsession with water being one  of the subjects being explored, along with: Family and friends / Ships and boats – in particular the largest sailing ship in the World at the time (1927) / Wallasey Rifle Club / Freemasonry (Sydney became an important local Freemason) / Cricket / Water and the sea / the documenting and photographing of objects.

“Through a forensic research process and an almost voyeuristic obsesssion with this collection, I am currently making new photographic work in response to the locations and subjects in the collection. I’m fascinated by the moment these pictures were taken. However I’m intrigued by the odd, and easily overlooked elements and repeating motifs of the collection. My photographic work will explore the forgotten, the lost, the ordinary, extraordinary, the figures on the periphery, the distant voices and still lives of both Gearings’ surroundings and geography. I am developing narratives and fictions between the two sets of work in the form of a gallery-based installation, a dérive on my part, with text, notes, archive material, audio and ‘rediscovered’ artefacts from the Gearing family archive, supporting the photographic work.” – Alan Ward