Emma Ridgway of Modern Art Oxford introduces a new book by the city’s younger photographers...

OXFORD has a place in the imagination of vast numbers of people around the world. Several million tourists visit the city every year, each snapping photos as evidence of their visit to this site of scholarly learning, capturing the splendour of Oxford’s architectural heritage, ornate gardens and meadows.

Our resident population is, of course, more grounded in the lived reality of the city, and one of the youngest and most ethnically diverse in south east England.

At Modern Art Oxford, we have worked with over 50 young people to create a new publication City as Studio: Photographs of Oxford by Young Artists. This art photography book presents 50 local perspectives on Oxford, offering an insider’s viewof this world-famous city.

The book’s foreword is written by BBC Arts Editor, and Oxfordshire resident, Will Gompertz, who comments: “Each image is as different as the people who took them, highlighting once again the wonder of the human condition: we all see the world slightly differently. They are not snaps, but works of art: thoughtful, beautiful, questioning.”

The book is a culmination of a Modern Art Oxford Studio project, which took place in 2017/18 with students aged between 16-18 years, and their teachers, from Cheney School, City of Oxford College and Oxford Spires Academy.

The studio project centres on intriguing questions posed by our image-dominated era: what can we learn from visual culture today? What do we gain by paying closer attention to other people’s perspectives? Can art enable us to understand the wider world, and our place within it?

In response, the young local people involved in this project used the public space of the city as a site of study, exploring it like a studio, learning through creative exploration, and enabling us, as readers, to learn about Oxford through their eyes.

Each made their own way to the iconic Sheldonian Theatre. Some planned their route, venturing alone to the city centre for the first time; some discovered spaces they had not seen before, becoming lost in the city in which they were born.

The young photographers’ overarching concern is that there is much that goes unappreciated in daily life. They speculate on the feelings of fellow members of the public and show interest in how people move through the city. Some record the expressive arts passed by on the streets, from music and poetry to graffiti. Their observations reveal a concern with class division, architecture that inhibits public access, and doorways and passages that entice the imagination – distinctive aspects of city life.

p Available from Modern Art Oxford