Tim Hughes delves into a world of Soho sleaze for a new exhibition by Oxford photographer Marc West
Immaculately-turned out, the transvestite pulls on a cigarette, while prostitutes ply their trade, insomniacs sip coffee in an all night cafe, and hipsters make their way home through the dark streets of Soho.
It’s a twilight world of sex workers, eccentrics and bright young things, and it is their story which has inspired an exhibition of pictures by Oxford photographer Marc West.
“I wanted to capture the world these characters inhabit, through the eyes of a boozy, bleary-eyed night out in Soho,” says the artist, who took the pictures over the course of a single night, last month.
Marc, a freelance news photographer and writer, whose work regularly appears in the Oxford Mail, is showing his work at the Jam Factory, in Hollybush Row, alongside pictures taken by seven other local photographers.
The show, which launches tomorrow, is one of a series of three exhibitions being held in the city as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks, which eschew digital photography in favour of 35mm film.
The exhibitions, which come under the heading Lo-Fi, aim to celebrate the art of analogue photography. Other exhibitions are being held at the Old Fire Station and O3 Gallery.
The Jam factory show has been dubbed Rough Around the Edges – a reference to the imprecise, warm, fuzzy textures and sense of movement displayed in the work, which stands in stark contrast to the predictably razor-sharp and clinically-precise results enjoyed by digital photographers.
The show also includes pictures taken by commercial photographer Catherine Lang; Iffley Road fish & chip shop owner and acclaimed amateur photographer Kazem Hakim; Polaroid enthusiast Ashley Good; Ruskin student and artist in residence at Exeter College Mirren Kessling; award-winning photography student Anna Bruce; and amateur snapper and barman at Cowley Road’s Big Society, Youssef Sida.
Also included is John Hamand, whose own photos of London in the 1960s and 70s act as a fascinating counterpoint to Marc’s contemporary images.
“Each exhibition has its own theme, says Marc, who has curated the Jam Factory show. “Ours is deliberately grainy, dirty, and rough around the edges – hence the name.
“It’s a back-to-basics approach which has taken a lot of us back to our college days in the dark room, but with the advantage of the knowledge and experience which comes from being a professional photographer.”
Marc, who has been a professional snapper for 10 years and has also worked as a BBC presenter, called his own collection of pictures French Lessons Given.
“It’s a reference to an old Soho euphemism for good times with a lady of the night,” he smiless. “It’s a world I’ve always been drawn to. It’s also a world which has barely changed over the past 50 years. Many of my pictures could have been taken in any decade since then.
“It started as a personal project but I was pleased with the results. I surprised myself.”
And he hoped viewers would warm to the photographers’ traditional methods. “The digital age has brought about a nonchalance, where the photographer can just flick onto auto and go into rapid fire,” he says. “It’s all a bit too easy.
“When you are using film, though, you know you only have 24 frames and have to look for the best shot rather than just machine-gunning.
“It’s the same difference that exists between CDs and vinyl. There’s a warmth and fuzziness that people treasure.”
He added: “It has been fun to stage this collaborative show with seven of my favourite creative types. And although I have seen some of the work, such as Youssef’s glorious technicolour prints and John’s fantastic retrospective pictures of a London that no longer exists, much of it is a surprise.
“I can’t wait to see these gritty pictures hanging on the gleaming white walls of the gallery, and I hope people will enjoy our efforts.”
Rough Around the Edges launch party takes place at the Jam factory from 8-10pm, tomorrow, with music from Julia Meijer and Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley. The exhibition continues until May 26.
Entrance is free. For more details, go to artweeks.org
Listen to Julia and Huck at oxfordmail.co.uk/music