The struggles of completing a photography degree during the pandemic are explored in new group exhibition Adapt and Adjust.
16th September 2021
by Sheena Campbell
Adapt and Adjust by Difficult Darkroom Womxn (DDW) is on now at The Regency Town House, Brighton.
The show is a presentation of mixed techniques and projects developed by the four-artist collective during their Photography MA at Brighton University.
Work by Ola Teper, Es Follas-Shell, Abigail Evans and Sofia Smith is on display until Sunday, September 19.
Adapt and Adjust was born out of necessity.
In place of a final show, the collective has prepared examples of their analogue photography projects.
“We met while studying the Photography MA at Brighton University in October 2019,” says Smith.
“During the lockdowns of 2020 the structure of the course and access to facilities changed beyond recognition.
“We turned to each other for comfort and support as we struggled to come to terms with the effects of the pandemic.”
Adapt and Adjust
The title – Adapt and Adjust – is a direct response to the pandemic’s affect on the collective’s education.
“It was a phrase that was used repeatedly by our tutors and eventually became an unwelcome anthem during the course of our studies,” says Smith.
“We re-appropriated it here in order to reclaim and highlight how unusual the completion of the course has been.”
The title reflects the notions of literal and figurative compromise and transformation that form the base line of all the works.
It also specifically focuses on their supportive development and research methods.
“One of the main challenges we faced was staying focused and grounded,” says Smith.
“When we first started meeting in the virtual ‘room of our own’ it was a lifeline to me.
“I think that these projects reflect the influence we’ve had on each other.
Members of the DDW have faced almost two years of consistently reshaping their practice.
They have reconciled with the fact that their work carries strong visual representations of physical and emotional acts of contortion, balance and reformation.
“We helped each other solve problems that arose from the rapid transformations of our photographic practice,” says Smith.
“Giving each other as much time as was needed beyond the mere 20 online minute slots we were allowed by the university.
“I feel like this show, and our work reflects those many hours of time spent in each other’s company.
“These projects truly are the product of us all, our pooled knowledge and ideas.”
Difficult Darkroom Womxn
The name DDW came about because of conversations the group had about the lack of women’s voices in photography education.
“There was a day when we listened to talks given by the tutors about their artistic practice and I remember feeling in my bones how important it was to hear a voice like mine,” says Smith.
“I said something along the lines of not wanting to be perceived by the university as a ‘difficult woman’ if I spoke up about this disparity.
“It was hard for me, as I felt so passionately that our cohort, which was 80% women, was somehow languishing, but I was too afraid to rock the boat.
“I suppose in naming the collective I wanted to highlight the fact that many women struggle with internalised misogyny and the fear that it produces, especially in professional settings.
“Ultimately I wanted to reclaim the notion that women who speak up for themselves are somehow being difficult.
“I wanted to turn that fear into something positive.
“I wanted to show that we can speak up for each other and support one another, especially in the arts, and when we do, the impact of our collective voices can be nourishing and energising for other people.”
Smith also thought the name would make the other collective members smile.
“The longer we stuck with Difficult Darkroom Womxn the longer it felt right, and the smiles are infectious I think, so I’m happy about that,” she said.
Work shaped by common themes
Adjust and Adapt represents the culmination of the hours the DDW have spent together.
It is the collective’s first public showing. For some of the artists, it is their first exhibition.
The exhibition is ‘loosely curated’ having developed organically through the collective’s research projects.
However, it highlights the DDW’s shared emotional understanding and compassion – something they believe comes from an inherently feminist place.
The collective’s work also shares many common themes – memory, grief, family and trauma.
“What this meant was that not only could we share technical knowledge but also research sources,” says Smith.
“There is immense value in receiving a message that says ‘I read this and thought of you’.
“It infers friendship and understanding, not only of each other, but also of each others work.
“It is reassuring and builds confidence, so that in the next meeting, the members were able to express their ideas in a safe space.”
Meet the artists
Ola Teper has a background in fine art photography.
They work mainly with analogue and darkroom technologies, often experimenting with the boundaries of representation within the limits of what we understand as photography.
Previous work has focused on the intersection of post traumatic memory and the materiality of darkroom processes and image making.
Es Follas-Shell has an artistic practice rooted inherently in darkroom photographic practices.
In the past, her work has explored historic family trauma and the female experience as a photographic subject.
In her current work she explores themes of grief, mental health, masculinity and family.
She is instinctively drawn to fine art black-and-white portraiture, printing everything by hand.
Abigail Evans has a degree in graphic design.
Her work focuses on how photographic processes and printmaking can be used and combined with sensitivity to convey intricate human interactions.
The approach is both playful and serious.
It explores themes of family, intimacy, and belonging, often combining mixed media to create detail oriented fragmentary bodies of work, which are both deeply personal and engaging.
Sofia Smith has a background in English literature, creative writing and critical theory.
She came to photography as a mode of storytelling through the organisation Miniclick, of which she is a curatorial member.
Her previous work shows an interest in collaborative process, compulsive photographic practices, the act of collection and archival interactions.
In the making of images, she is concerned with acts of transformation, exploring the camera with the world, rather than exploring the world with a camera.
What’s next for DDW?
Members of the DDW are now beginning to plan what is next for the collective.
They are working towards new, more integrated ways of showing their work together as well as running workshops and portfolio reviews.
“As a collective, we aim to embody the maxim that we want to be the kind of women who would say your name in a room full of opportunities,” says Smith.
“The idea of women supporting women is important, and so, we hope slowly to expand our membership.”