Pixels of a dotty nation

Prior to coming to Bradford, the caravan went on tour in Sunderland and is pictured here outside the National Glass Centre.
Prior to coming to Bradford, the caravan went on tour in Sunderland and is pictured here outside the National Glass Centre.
  • A new exhibition capturing what it really means to be British is about to open in Bradford. Sarah Freeman reports.
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Jan Williams doesn’t like the word quirky. It sounds, she says, a bit trivial. Instead she prefers to describe her photographs as idiosyncratic. Whatever word you use, Jan’s images, along with those of her partner, Chris Teasdale, capture a peculiar British eccentricity.

There’s one, for example, of an elderly couple taking time out to read the newspaper in between two parked cars. Another is of an Essex road sign where all ways lead to the Lakeside shopping centre and a third shows a Liverpudlian fruit and veg stall where on top of a box of fennel some bright spark has written “Don’t know what you do with it, but it’s 89p”.

Taking time out to read the paper in Padstow, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain collection.

Taking time out to read the paper in Padstow, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain collection.

A selection of those photographs form the basis of a new exhibition Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain, which will pull into Bradford next week. Some will go on display in the city’s Impressions Gallery, others will go on a mini-tour in the couple’s 1969 mustard caravan and the hope is that it will inspire people to contribute their own images to the three-month long exhibition.

“The Caravan Gallery was born out of a project we did in Portsmouth in 2000,” says Jan, who has recently taken the Extra(ordinary) exhibition to Sunderland. “We wanted to set up a venue on the seafront which would be accessible and attract people that wouldn’t normally step into a traditional gallery. A caravan seemed perfect.”

Having stripped out the fixtures and fittings, painted the walls white and fitted laminate flooring, Jan and Chris had created their own mobile gallery, which could go to the kind of places the art world doesn’t normally reach.

“We thought we would retire the caravan after one exhibition, but it was so well received that we decided to keep it. It’s been pretty good to us over the last 15 years, although we took it in for a bit of a facelift recently only to be told that the bodywork was coming away from the chassis.

W Bruce Ship Painters, Fraserbrugh, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain Collection.

W Bruce Ship Painters, Fraserbrugh, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain Collection.

“It was basically condemned, but thankfully, we got in contact with some very clever people at the English Caravan Company who have basically rebuilt it from scratch, so we will arrive in Bradford with a brand new, but still very much vintage exhibition space.”

Jan and Chris’s images are just one part of the Bradford Pride of Place project which will also encourage members of the public to submit photographs, artwork and stories about their city in a special hub which will open at Fuse Art Space next weekend.

“This is as much the people of Bradford’s exhibition as it is ours,” says Jan. “By taking the caravan to places like supermarket car parks and housing estates we hope to prick people’s interest, not only to come and see the rest of the exhibition at Impressions Gallery, but also to tell us what Bradford means to them.

“The very first Pride of Place project was born out of necessity. We were asked to stage an exhibition at short notice and with very little money and in order to fill the space we decided to ask the public for contributions. From the outside, there are lots of misconceptions about places like Portsmouth and Bradford and lots of stereotypes about poverty and deprivation. However, when you ask the people who live there what they think of the place you often get a very different perspective.

All roads lead to Lakeside, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain collection.

All roads lead to Lakeside, part of the Extra(ordinary) Photographs of Britain collection.

“The hub starts off with a map and on it we want people to plot the places which are significant to them. That might be a particular landmark, it might be the street where they grew up or it might be their favourite view. We want it to become a really social space. When we ran the project in Sunderland it became a real celebration of the city, we had local musicians play and people bringing in local delicacies like pease pudding.

“Most art exhibitions remain exactly the same from the opening night to the day they close, but this is different. It evolves and grows over the three months and hopefully it gives people a reason to keep coming back. The work Chris and I do is really just the springboard, we want the people of Bradford to feel they own the exhibition. One of the people who took part in Sunderland still texts me with a thought for the day and always signs off ‘God Bless...’ That’s not the kind of response you get from most art projects, but I love it. We just want to try to do things a little differently and I hope we are succeeding.”

• Bradford: Pride of Place Project runs from May 29 to August 29. 01274 737843, www.impressions-gallery.com