Thursday, 15 December 2016

In Pursuit of Luxury conference 2017

The In Pursuit of Luxury conference 2017 revolves around luxury, sustainability and waste. We will ask: Is sustainable luxury attainable or is it an oxymoron?

We welcome debate on what Luxury means on individual, social and cultural levels. Can this be enhanced through consumption?, and if so how do we deal with materials in a way that aspires to zero environmental impact. The implications of circular economies, supply chains and a reassessment of the actual value of materials, are considered in the context of Luxury. Why for example, are diamonds more valuable than recycled plastic? Rarity is one answer, but perhaps there are others.

The 2017 conference provides a platform to examine and expand our understanding of luxury within the sustainable context. By inviting contributions from various disciplines, we aim at generating a lively debate on the past, present, and future of luxury. For the first time, we welcome submissions of Fashion Films that explore luxury through visual storytelling and look forward to including this engaging media as part of the conference.

Learn more about the themes and strands of the conference here:

The process for abstract submission is outlined at our website:

This event is a collaboration between The School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire, and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

When and where
The conference is being held on 30 November and 1 December 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Our conference programme will be available to download from our website soon:

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Jon Myers: People, Places and Empty Spaces

John Myers' current exhibition of portraits and suburban landscapes, taken in the West Midlands in the 1970s, represents Myers' personal, and yet depersonalized, relationship with his surroundings, his friends and acquaintances. The exhibition collects black and white images of the people and places that he encountered as part of his everyday activities. Myers' stresses that he "never went out to hunt for subjects", rather, they were all known to him, entwined in his everyday routine, and part of his personal story. Nonetheless, his subjects are defamiliarized by the stiff, formal poses and impersonal tone of the images. They are photographed as if they are strange and unfamiliar, with little if any sentiment.


Although the exhibition collects images of the mundane Stourbridge landscape as well as its inhabitants, never the twain shall meet. Myers' people and places have been kept apart, not only in his photographs but also in the gallery space. His portraits occupy the upper part of the gallery, separated by a ramp from the main gallery, where walls are lined with images of depopulated landscapes. 

A few of the images depict domestic interiors, but these too are depopulated and unhomely. Some are not genuine domestic interiors, but furniture store displays, where furniture is new and unused. In this pristine condition, furniture is devoid of any homely connection to individual users. It has no story, and no memories attached. These images are illustrative of Myers peculiar relationship with suburban domestic spaces, as places that should be depersonalized and distanced from human experience. 

A series of 10 portraits of televisions, photographed in their domestic environment, lines the back wall of the gallery. Myers is fascinated by the television as an alien technology that "has just landed from space and [is] about to take over". He reflects that this is exactly what has happened in the decades since, as the screen has taken over and now rules public and domestic spaces. 

Surrounding each television is evidence of family life: books, nick-nacks, houseplants, stacked paperwork, and in one image, an Action Man. It is evident that these televisions exist within a populated environment, but they are unused, lying dormant until the family returns. All are switched off, and along with the living rooms that they occupy, they have entered a kind of stasis. Myers' presence is not enough to break the silence. He is the listener in the proverbial forest, hearing no sound when the tree falls. Until the family re-enters, these homes are non-places, and the televisions are full of unfulfilled potential, useless without someone to watch them. 

Even in Myers' human portraits, where his subjects are located within their own homes, they rarely interact with their surroundings. Their hands are often clamped to the sides of their bodies, isolating them from the objects around them. 

The stiffness of his portraits may arise in part from Myers' approach, the length of the exposure (up to half a second in some cases), and what he describes as an awkward inability to relate. He views portraits as a collaboration between photographer and subject, whose shared goal is to solve the "problem" of how to pose within the scene, combined with, when there are two subjects, the "problem of how to relate to each other". He describes how subjects are startled by the noise of the camera, and capturing the stiffness or movement that occurs as a result. 


Myers typically only takes 1 or 2 photographs of his subjects. On the occasions when he takes more, he finds that he always uses the first or second frame. In these first images, the subjects have not yet had time to acclimatize to their role as model, or to settle into a pose. This unfamiliarity with being photographed, and the visible unease that results, seems to be what Myers is trying to preserve in his images. Myers stresses that his aim is not to capture something "sinister", rather he seems to want to celebrate the innocence of their unease, in contrast to the comfort that is feigned by more experienced models.

Monday, 5 December 2016

John Myers: This is Boring

The Art & Design Gallery on College Lane is currently host to the photography of John Myers. Myers’ exhibition, The World is Not Beautiful, collects photographs of his West Midlands home town, Stourbridge , along with portraits of its inhabitants, mostly covering a period from 1972-1979. Visitors to the exhibition find the images both “comforting” and “unsettling”, torn between nostalgia and the sense of strangeness that is evoked by the sterility of some of Myers’ suburban landscapes.

Many of the images have not been displayed since the decade in which they were produced, and indeed, some have never been exhibited at all, and so the inevitable nostalgia that arises from their being shown in 2016 may not have been present on previous viewings. Indeed, Myers opened the Private View by stressing that these were never intended as documents of a particular time or place.

The title of the exhibition, The World is not Beautiful, suggests that Myers has sought to offer an antidote to the beautification of urban landscapes that has been attempted by so many other photographers before him. He attempts to capture suburbia as it is, unfiltered and unromanticized, neither beautiful nor ugly, just “there”. Moreover, he invites us to view the wider world beyond Stourbridge through the same unfiltered lens.

Among the photographs on display are a series of images of Myer’s local environment, including suburban streets, roads, garages, substations, factories and houses. Myer’s own website collects these images under the title “Boring”. They capture the clean lines and repetitiveness of post-war suburban architecture, sometimes punctuated with the curves of a rural landscape that stood there before.

In Dual Carriageway (1974) a road slices through the countryside, telling of the flattening of the natural landscape that has taken place to make way for the suburban infrastructure. Myers captures the linear and featureless character of the road, a space that has been said to “signify contemporary alienation through a kind of serial non-space” (Endsor, 2003). Roads, particularly motorways and dual carriageways such as this one, have been seen as “unstimulating and desocialized non-places”, and are even more so when emptied of cars and people. While roads and streets have the potential to be transformed into spaces of social interaction, Myers scenes are almost wholly unpopulated. In this image, there is one lone car, and in others, there are no people at all.

Without people, the urban landscape is unsettlingly desocialized. Comparisons could be made to the uncanniness of ghost towns, abandoned disaster zones, or even post-apocalyptic imagery, but these landscapes are so clean that many look as though they have never been occupied; more akin to “unborn cities” such as Ordos in China.

It is in their emptiness, and their sterility, that these landscapes are defamiliarized. While they are mundane, they are not everyday. Their everydayness has been stripped, along with the inhabitants. The streets, gardens and houses feel as though they have been subject to a systematic decontamination. The ordinary has been rendered extraordinary by emptiness.

This is what Myers himself describes as “a landscape without incident”. He observes that many photographers seek to capture a moment that is part of a greater narrative, but in contrast, Myers aims to “take the story out of the world”. There are few shadows (shadow, he suggests, is “too dramatic”), and no movement. He has sought to eliminate any sign of impending events.

Myers has photographed only local, familiar settings, with the goal of “coming to terms with the world around [him], and deciding where [he is] in relation to it”. In this respect, Myers’ photographs can be compared to the poetry of the mundane, and the ways in which poetic examinations of familiar surroundings can enrich everyday experience. Rich Fruman (2007) writes that “the poet who becomes aware of the sublime nature of the ordinary becomes transformed in the same way that the student of Zen finds enlightenment: the simple becomes the profound”. The poet’s “dedication to seemingly forgettable objects renders them unforgettable”, and in that way demonstrates that an object can be “simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary”.

Endsor, Tim (2003), “Defamiliarizing the Mundane Roadscape”, Space & Culture 6(2): 151-168.
Furman, Rich (2007), “The mundane, the existential, and the poetic”, Journal of Poetry Therapy 20(3): 163-180.

The next blog post will examine Myers’ portraits of friends and acquaintances, and the domestic spaces that they inhabit.
Myers’ exhibition continues until 21st January.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Adventures in the Classroom - Responding to the UH Strategic Plan 2015-20: Global Perspectives in the Curriculum

Dr Ivan Phillips and Kim Walden - School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire

There has been much debate this year about what kind of relationship Great Britain wants to have with Europe, and indeed with the rest of the world: from the lofty aspirations of the Higher Education Academy’s framework aim to ‘internationalise higher education’ to the stark realities of the Brexit referendum result in June.

At a more local level when the University of Hertfordshire published its own strategic plan with a focus on global perspectives in the curriculum, teaching staff in the School of Creative Arts Critical and Cultural Studies (C&CS) Network set out to explore what it means in the classroom.

Each Network member was invited to choose one picture which articulated how they addressed the objective in their day-to-day teaching practice. The results were thought-provoking and so was the discussion that ensued.

Read more about it in a thought piece written for LINK journal here:,-issue-2/global-perspectives-in-the-curriculum