I’m going to be writing about how we’re going to be offering workshops to arts and culture organisations in the West Midlands soon, based on the success of working with the Ikon gallery over the last few months, but in the meanwhile here’s a snapshot of something I did with Ikon for the Ironbridge Museums, specifically at the fantastically named Museum of Iron at Coalbrookdale.

I was there with Ikon head of learning Simon Taylor as part of a day where the museum staff explored ways of working with artists to develop their educational offerings. Simon and I did what’s become our standard day-long workshop in an hour. Which was a bit of a challenge.

Before the workshop we spent an hour in the museum where I looked for inspiration for my frame of reference. I latched onto a couple of things – the fine detail in a lot of the work (inspired by a curated exhibition of engravings) and the many representations of plants and flowers in the iron. I wasn’t looking for anything revolutionary, just a couple of broad strokes to focus me.

I then went outside. Apparently most of the museum staff don’t explore the surrounding area that much, just darting from one building to another, which makes sense, so we were asked to force them out whatever the weather, because the Ironbridge Gorge is as much an exhibit in itself. At the bottom of the site is the Old Blast Furnace surrounded by a fantastic array of old bricks butting against a viaduct.

I like bricks.

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While exploring the bricks I noticed remnants of (presumably) iron were scattered across the walls. These felt apt, given the museum, so I started hunting them down. I particularly liked this one which looks like a heart embedded in the brickwork.

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As I moved around I must have moved into an area that caught the sun as the plant life, from lichen to, um, bigger plants, started to become dominant. This became my theme and I started making photos that combined brick, iron and plant. Here’s a few of my favourites.

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Finally cobwebs took me right back to the idea of fine detail on metal.

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I arranged the photos into a quick slideshow on the iPad (which I’d also used to take them, not wanting to go all “pro” with the Nikon in this context) and talked our group through my process. There were some key things I really wanted to get across.

  • That the act of going through a curated experience – be it a concert, a gallery, a film – can change our perception of the world. Working with that change in perception through a creative act like photography can deepen the experience.
  • The notion of photography as a means of engaging with the world, not just recording it.
  • You don’t need a clever or unique idea. Start with something broad and vague and see where it takes you.
  • A photo isn’t just a record of something (most photography in museums is for cataloguing). It can be something more subtle, more personal.
  • It’s a cliche but always needs repeating – most visitors will have some kind of camera on their person. This has to be interesting and full of potential.
  • Bricks are cool.

Our group then went out with cameras and spent 15 minutes exploring a theme from their bit of the museums in a small area of the site. The results were neat but that’d take a whole ‘nother post (and I didn’t keep copies).

Like I said, I’ll be turning this into a proper thing later in the year. I just wanted to record it while it was fresh.