For the past five years Metro Imaging has partnered with the Life Framer Photography Award, producing their globe-touring exhibitions and collaborating on various portfolio events. As they plan for their 5th edition Exhibition and gear up for 2020 we catch-up with co-founder Ralph Wilson to hear about the journey so far…

Life Framer was established in 2013, what inspired you to set up this platform?

Back then I was already passionate about photography but on a personal rather than professional level, and looking for a new creative project to sink my teeth into outside of my day job. My co-founder was working in various aspects of photography and had a perception that for good or bad, awards are an important part of professional development, but that for emerging photographers there was this empty void between the prestigious but inaccessible big awards, and the accessible but insignificant small online competitions. The aim was to fill this gap with something that was artistically credible but also accessible, that could give a leg up to less experienced photographers, particularly through offering them a chance to exhibit their work in a gallery setting.

Of course neither of us had any credibility ourselves, and so the key thing was to find some good partners, and to enlist a strong panel of judges. As luck would have it, earlier that year my co-founder had found a wallet in the street belonging to a fairly well-known London photographer. He’d returned it, and as a thank you that photographer offered to take his portrait, but they hadn’t got around to arranging it. So instead we asked him to be our first judge. It was a nice bit of coincidental karma!

Since then we’ve been growing slowly but surely, trying to respond to feedback from the community of photographers who’ve got involved. We’ve been building more prestigious juries, running exhibitions in further-flung places, adding portfolio review services, adding an annual Series Award and so on.

Where does this inspiration for the themes come from?

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the classic photographic categories of “landscape”, “portraiture” etc. They seem limiting, and to me the best work always straddles multiple “genres”. We liked the idea of themes that were a little more open ended, and that could be responded to imaginatively. Really, we’re interested in storytelling, and that might be through reportage, or portraiture or street photography or studio work… We want themes that are open to interpretation and a bit of boundary pushing. Every so often (like this month) we do still run a fully Open Call without a theme, just to provide an access point to photographers who feel their work doesn’t fit our other themes, or don’t want to wait months to submit.

What can we expect from Life Framer’s 5th Edition exhibitions?

Each Edition showcases the work of our 24 winners (2 winners per 12 monthly themes) and our 5th Edition exhibitions will start on 23rd September in London at Bermondsey Project Space, before moving on to Milan on 16th October at Officine Fotografiche. This year we’re trying to bring a digital element into the exhibitions, and to programme a few events so you can expect some talks and portfolio review sessions at the galleries (watch our Instagram feed for info on those).

What’s in store for LF in 2020?

Our 6th Edition will be up and running, and we’re currently arranging exhibition spaces for that – this time in some pretty cool art hubs we haven’t been to before. We’re really proud of the jury we’ve managed to assemble, and will also be launching a few new ventures as part of the Life Framer brand, although I need to stay pretty tight lipped for now.

Dates for your diary:

Life Framer 5th Edition Exhibition, from Sept 23rd at Bermondsey Project Space

Exhibiting Your Work: Relevance, Reality + Sustainability – panel discussion 6pm, Sept 25t, Bermondsey Project Space

IMG 1 © Open Call, Willem Kuijpers
IMG 2 © Face of the Earth, Michael Meissner
IMG 3 © Face of the Earth, Sage Szkabarnicki Stuart
IMG 4 © The Human Body, Jo Bayliss

Metro Imaging is delighted to announce our fourteenth Royal College of Art Mentorship winner. There were 44 graduates exhibiting, with the standard being extremely high, as expected. Metro’s Creative Director Steve Macleod, Artist Sarah Jones, and Hayward Gallery’s Gilly Fox finally selected MA Photography student Victoria Doyle for her outstanding work.

“Victoria’s work is very print orientated, however, doesn’t start nor end with photography –her work is poetic and emotionally driven and her work is very fluid and uses repetitive use of image to convey an emotional response to experience.” – Steve Macleod

Firstly, congratulations on winning the RCA x Metro Mentorship Award 2019! Could you tell us about The Fugitive (After Levi), your award-winning project exhibited at the RCA Degree Show this year?

Thank you! It was such a lovely surprise. The opportunity to discuss my work with Steve and Gillian was wonderful and I’m very honoured to have been awarded the mentorship.

The Fugitive (After Levi) is part of an ongoing investigation into the ontology of the photograph. The work derives its title from a short story by Primo Levi, in which an office worker is overcome with a flash of inspiration and writes a poem. Once written, he attempts to preserve the poem but is thwarted with each attempt as the poem escapes once more. In the frantic and somewhat desperate effort he pastes the poem to a piece of wood, only to wake up and find the poem has ripped itself apart trying to escape.

Taking my departure from this the body of work, comprising of two parts: a series of 29-montaged hand-printed C-types contained within a single frame and a site-specific mixed-media installation piece consisting of a hand-blown amber glass plate, a clear gloss vinyl text piece and a painted handrail, explores authorship, readership and the creative process.

What are you looking forward to learning or expecting to gain from the team at Metro during your Mentorship? And how does this align with your photography/career goals?

I feel this happened at exactly the right time for me. The support Metro offers will enable me to develop my practice both professionally and personally during this transitional time when guidance is most needed. The shift from student to working practitioner is rather daunting, however, I feel ready to embrace what is to come!

Over the next year, I hope to gain a greater understanding of the industry and my place within it. I have much to learn and intend to utilize my time by focusing on how to sustain my practice within this context. I’m confident the team at Metro will be able to assist me with this alongside my long-term aspiration of a solo show.

My work has begun to stretch across mediums and experimenting with printing is a vital part of my practice. As such, I’d like to take this opportunity to work with the team at Metro and explore the range of alternative printing processes available.

Ultimately I’m looking forward to the unexpected things that I’ll learn through the mentorship process and I’m very excited to begin working with the Metro team.

How would you describe your photographic style and process?

My practice is research-based and everything is potential material. I’m driven by a desire to understand and to be understood; as such I frequently draw upon my own experiences when making work.

Painting definitely informs my work but it is literature in which I find a constant and unwavering source of inspiration. Initially, I turned to reading as a means of finding the words to express myself and to a certain extent I still do, although now I find literature to be more of a space in which my thoughts are expanded and cultivated. Literature often provides a cornerstone to the theory I’m developing. In conjunction with this writing provides a space in which I can negotiate my thoughts, exploring and organizing them. I oscillate between the two in the preliminary stages of making.

Whilst part of my working methodology is controlled I do also rely on my intuition to guide me. I photograph as I go, accumulating material until I reach an impasse, it’s only then that I move into the darkroom. Printing is an essential part of the process; it’s an alternative way of engaging with my thoughts. Physically working with the material enables me to connect and come closer to the subject I’m investigating.

As for style, I’m obsessed with the light. Everything revolves around it. Much like a moth, I use light to orientate myself both when taking photographs and printing them. However, in the end, it’s the concept that informs my style. Shifting from project to project, whilst the photographs I produce all share in my desire to materialize light, they are (at least to me) distinct from one and other. I consider my work a series of interlocking pieces that rely on the synthesis of content and presentation to function.

Have you got one eye on your next project? If so, would you like to share about it?

Yes, I do! I tend to begin a new project with a snag in the previous one and so have started researching around motion. During some initial research, I came across Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Op. 32 and have been listening to the suite on a loop ever since. I also recently reread Agamben’s short essay, What is the Contemporary? And have been thinking about navigation, in relation to this, looking at instruments that utilize light in order to determine position. In addition to this I’m currently reading Jena Osman’s Motion Studies, somewhere between an essay and poetry, the book explores technologies of motion and what they reveal about the world we’re in. I picked up the book in Paris whilst on the way to see Daguerre’s last surviving diorama, a recurring source of fascination for me, and a key piece in developing my new theory of photography.

1. Installation View of The Fugitive (After Levi) by Victoria Doyle. Royal College of Art, 2019.
2. Light Will Tell (2019), Ⓒ Victoria Doyle.
3. Near To The Wild Heart (2019), Ⓒ Victoria Doyle.
4. Installation shot of The Oil of The Night (2019), Victoria Doyle. Royal College of Art, 2019.