With the aim of keeping traditional photography and its process alive, the Photo Parlour on Queensbridge Road had firmly established itself as the central hub for Notts photographers looking to shoot stills the old-fashioned way. With their doors currently closed for obvious corona-reasons, we chatted to Dan Wheeler about Parlour Games, the weekly lockdown photo challenges he’s started...
For years, the Photo Parlour has been the heart of the Notts photography scene. Home to a processing lab, darkroom, gallery and photo book library, the community hub would usually have a selection of picture-making workshops lined up – but lockdown has forced manager Dan Wheeler to come up with a solution to keep creatives busy.
Dan is still popping into the Photo Parlour on Queensbridge Road twice a week to process people’s pictures by post, and has also been running online seminars in his other role as a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. But while hosting a live video on the Parlour’s Instagram page, he suggested another idea to keep Notts folks snapping great photos.
“I wanted to do something to encourage people to make work during these bizarre circumstances, and for people to know that you don’t actually have to leave the house to make interesting and valuable work as a photographer,” Dan told us. “And if you’ve never picked up a camera before, maybe it’s something exciting and new to try.”
It was LeftLion’s own Tom Quigley – one half of our photo editorial team and darkroom regular – that suggested calling it the ‘Parlour Games’. Dan’s idea was a livestream every Saturday at 11am where a loose task is set for participants to work on a photo centred around a theme or concept that’s broad enough to inspire a multitude of different creative responses.
“There’s this overwhelming amount of YouTube blogs that are incredibly popular, but they just focus on gear all the time – this camera versus that camera, what does this lens do,” Dan said. “I just think it’s important that people feel creatively excited enough to make pictures, and I don’t think there should be any barriers in the way.”
One example of the weekly Parlour Games sessions that got people thinking was to take a self-portrait; not snapping a selfie, but representing yourself creatively through a photo. Dan suggested photographing your favourite chair, with a set of creases that are unique to you and surrounded by your belongings. Apparently all it takes is a phone camera and a good idea – and people have taken to it really well.
That's kind of the idea really; not as a distraction, but as a tonic to the craziness that's going on
David Severn, who also leads photography lessons at NTU, has been taking part in the Parlour Games and sending his photos to other creatives, including musicians and writers, as a source of inspiration for their own work. The Games have even seen some global participation, with a Photo Parlour customer from Italy called Melissa Canu tuning in and sharing her pictures.
Sometimes contributors to the Parlour Games, including Mick Rhodes and Natasha Edgington, have selected work from a catalogue of previously taken photos, finding something that suits the category that week. Dan says this is fine: “I'm not bothered about people making new work if it encourages people to look through their old work and discover it in a different way. If it makes photographs they previously overlooked important, that's brilliant.”
“People need to keep their brains ticking over at this time. For those who are worried and out of work and all that kind of stuff, to have even five minutes where you're not worrying is important, isn't it? That's kind of the idea really; not as a distraction, but as a tonic to the craziness that's going on.”
According to Dan, taking photos regularly can encourage a mindset that heightens our senses by having us pay attention to the hidden beauty in our surroundings as we become more aware of things like lighting and composition. “There’s a beauty in everything,” he told us. “It’s learning to see that, and once you start to look for it it’s a very mindful process.”
Dan has also spoken to Nottingham’s Creative Quarter to discuss the possibility of a future exhibition of photos from the Parlour Games and other art produced during lockdown: “For things just to start up again and for people to move on from it would be really sad. I think it needs to be celebrated, this defiant creativity in difficult times.”
“Anyone can be a photographer,” Dan adds. “You've got a phone in your pocket; don't be scared to take it out and make a picture, because it costs you nothing. If you don't like it, you don't have to share it with anyone. But if you do, maybe put it onto the Parlour Games! We live in a time where everyone's a photographer and I actually think that's a really good thing. I think it's great that everybody has access to it, not just because photography's great, but it's good for your mental health as well.”
The Parlour Games take place on Instagram every Saturday at 11am