The first survey show of work by Leeds-based photographer Peter Mitchell will take place at Impressions Gallery in Bradford this autumn, co-curated by me and the gallery’s Director Anne McNeill. Peter Mitchell: Planet Yorkshire will run from 16 September to 3 December.
Although born in Salford, Peter has become synonymous with Leeds, the city where he has lived and worked for the last 44 years. Peter’s inestimable contribution to contemporary photographic practice in the UK came in the form of the pioneering colour documentary work that he made in the 1970s and 80s. Having arrived in Leeds in 1972, and whilst working as a truck driver for Sunco, Peter toured the city and documented its people and decaying, post-industrial landscape, during his rounds. He spent years visiting the site of the great social housing experiment, the flats at Quarry Hill, during their demolition: the results formed and exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery, and the highly sought-after book ‘Memento Mori’. Out of print until earlier this year, a facsimile edition from RRB Publishing is now available through the Impressions Gallery bookshop, although I still treasure my copy of the original, a happy ebay find.
Peter’s solo exhibition at Impressions Gallery in 1979 (then located in York) was titled A New Refutation of the Viking 4 Space Mission, and it had an enormous influence on his contemporaries, among them Martin Parr. This seminal exhibition has been recreated in its entirety, from the original negatives and for the first time in 37 years, for the prestigious Arles 2016 photo festival in the south of France, which runs until 25 September. It’s wonderful to see that Peter is finally being recognized as a major figure of British photography, and to follow the adventures of this distinctly analogue photographer at Arles via Twitter and Instagram.
Martin Parr included Peter’s work in the exhibition Colour Before Color (the clever title proposes that European photographers came to colour documentary work before their counterparts in the US) which he curated at Hasted Hunt in New York in 2007. I first met him in late 2007 when planning the exhibition Strangely Familiar, a two-person show with work by Peter and Swiss photographer Eric Jaquier, which I curated at Project Space Leeds in 2008. But although his work has been included in several such group shows, including exhibitions at The Photographer’s Gallery, the Barbican, and Tate Britain, until now there has not been a major survey demonstrating the breadth of his photographic practice.
The show at Impressions will finally rectify this. It will include work never shown before, or not seen in decades, and will reach out beyond the boundaries of Peter’s adopted home to cover work made between the 1970s and now across Yorkshire – in Sheffield, Scarborough, Harrogate, Harewood, and the Derwent Valley, among other locations. And although best know for his cityscapes, Planet Yorkshire will demonstrate that Peter has frequently trained his ever-curious eye on the rural landscape as well, including his now-famous series of thinly-disguised self-portraits in the form of the scarecrows he has found and lovingly documented, scattered across Yorkshire’s farmlands. The scarecrows were the subject of an excellent review by Geoff Dyer published recently in the New York Times magazine – further proof that the wider world has finally come knocking at Peter’s door (friends in the north have long recognized his greatness of course). A lightly spiritual tone runs through Peter’s work on the city and countryside both.
Selected images (some made this year) from Annals of a Life-threatening Postcode, Peter’s ongoing documentation of the street in Leeds where he lives, capturing the houses and gardens of its characters, as well as its graffiti, decay and detritus, bring his practice refreshingly into the 21st Century. Far from being stuck in the 70s, Peter has continued to photograph consistently through the intervening decades and his work has ongoing relevance for younger generations of creatives who seem to periodically ‘rediscover’ him, as I did in 2007.
I’m very pleased to be working with Peter and Anne on this long-overdue celebratory exhibition and will post more news as the project and related events as they develop. Further info and images are on the Impressions website.
Pic, top: Frances Gavan’s Ghost Train, Leeds, 1988 © Peter Mitchell