This brief but tantalising exhibition featuring seven photographers with a connection to the Nottinghamshire area, each take different pathways to explore the themes of light, love and danger - the culmination of their efforts geared towards the chance of being chosen for a solo show at the same venue next year.
First of all is Grey Chen, whose work is taken from Chatsworth House, and works with falling light so hazy you feel it could be scooped and held in glass. Windows, statues and furniture all set the scene for a feeling of emptiness, still and tragic, a house of history and loss with nothing to offer the present, living world.
Next, Emily Macinnes' portraits of three Kurdish refugees in Nottingham, young and old, either engaging with or avoiding the camera's gaze, full length or nearby, the only theme something indefinable, three people separated from their homeland, families and culture, but still living.
The theme is continued in the selection made by Calum James Crowther, in which a reversed aesthetic plays the same role, this time the story is told by the scenery, empty of players who seem to have just left, unused glasses sitting on a table, 60s whiskey bottles (painstakingly re-created by the artist himself) left on their sides, as the people themselves bury their pain offstage.
Continuing in a darker vein, Roshana Rubin-Mayhew takes the subject matter a little further, with a group of pictures bulldog-clipped to the wall like hospitals X-rays, and you know from the doctor's face that it's not good news. The shots are displayed in pairs, giving the narrative two chances to catch the viewer, a hospital blood bag and a patient's face half seen through bed sheets, silhouettes and shadows taking on pace and menace, water streaks and elderly hands moving together towards their destination.
Returning to the soil is David Severn, whose portraits of the people reclaiming the land abandoned by the coal industry in the 80s in North Nottinghamshire show as much social honesty as it does artistic merit. Portraying combination of tattooed rabbit-hunters and teenage goths smoking cigarettes in the fields as well as families walking peacefully amongst the pitheads and slag heaps that sign post the former industrial sites, it captures a bleak image of the modern English countryside.
Finally Felicia Staub, who specialises in lith printing, a process that uses black and white photographic paper with lithographic developer to accentuate the shadows and light and bring a dream-like quality to her subject matter. Each photograph is at a distant, abstract and almost clinical landscape, two sets of steps lead up a hill, one natural, one made man, storage crates repine by the river's edge and a street wall sheds tears of paint. They are as destitute as the Chatsworth photographs and their swollen light.
Every theme taken on by each artist is treated seriously and given expression through careful thought and treatment that belies the youth of many of the participants. The local, personal touch is characteristic of the Nottingham Art scene and the Surface gallery and it's exuberant volunteers. It’ll be too close to call about how should win but they all deserve to be seen and appreciated – remember to put a couple of quid in the donation bowl too.
Photography Open 2012 runs at Surface Gallery until May 12
All images are courtesy of Surface Gallery