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Bristol Photo Festival: Get involved in the Growing Spaces project!

A brand new photography festival launches in Bristol in 2021 in collaboration with all major arts venues in Bristol. The Growing Spaces project strand of the festival looks at the maze of citywide allotments, allotment holders, their histories and stories – both visual and oral. Hear from the Festival Director of Engagement and Education, Alejandro Acín, about how you can get involved in the public participatory element to the Growing Spaces project.

One of the first questions that we faced while designing the initial program of the festival was what should be the role of a photography festival in a city like Bristol? The Bristol Photo Festival (BPF) is designed to support an ongoing public programme of photography collaborations, commissions and educational projects throughout the year, but there will also be a celebratory event every two years to showcase an exciting programme of exhibitions in the main art venues of Bristol but also in independent and unconventional spaces, such as Bristol’s growing spaces. We are keen to encourage citizens to participate in the project’s digital archive – read on to find out how to get involved.

The engagement program is divided in three lines of work: Dissemination, Collaboration and Learning in order to expand the ideas around this year’s theme, “A Sense of Place”. The components of our cultural landscape elements play a significant role in defining the sense of place. People, landform, water bodies, climate, economy, social factors and political factors all influence the identity of place. Place can shape our understanding of the world and the qualities that come to define us and it can be about belonging, about appreciation and knowing somewhere so well that it is like no other. Currently Bristol has been at the centre of important global and local discussions about colonial history, food security, urban allotments and housing. Through this festival we want to recognise these relevant and vital conversations and deliver projects and partnerships that invite people and organisations to respond to them in creative ways.

Three inspiring growing stories from Bristol

This is the case of the Growing Spaces project, a project in collaboration with various organisations in the city including Bristol Food Network. There are similarities between making photographs and growing vegetables, both are creative activities and their practices require a certain degree of order and discipline. Most of the interesting art and the tastiest vegetables do not happen by accident, but are products of hard work and trying to understand raw materials. Both also act as a balance to our other routines such as day jobs. And most importantly, both activities rely on our imagination: our ability to create and see things differently.

In recent years, there has been a great volume of studies that explore existing and potential benefits of both urban agriculture and photography: these activities improve peoples’ quality of life, empower people, give individuals self‐esteem, reconnect people with their environment… Historically, photography has been an essential tool to document the evolution of these growing spaces – keeping records of fruits and trees, researching blights or helping us remember that huge leek our grandpas once grew. During this pandemic, the allotment has gained more relevance becoming the only safe space for some people in the city.

With this project BPF wants to pay tribute to this relationship between growing spaces and photography creating a participatory archive to collect historical and contemporary photographs that show how rich and distinctive shared cultural meanings are, its language and aesthetics. 

© The People’s Archive

We are inviting allotment holders, photographers and the general public to participate in our digital archive by submitting images via our Instagram hashtag #bpfallotment or via email at engagement@bristolphotofestival.org. Images can be taken by you, but they can also be from your family albums – we are really interested in collecting photographs of different decades. 

Boys create allotment on bomb site in London’s East End. © Imperial War Museum

We have also commissioned local photographer Chris Hoare, to document the present life of various growing spaces around the city. Hoare is taking photographs of a variety of groups, collecting stories that confirm the importance of these growing spaces – from gorilla allotments to food projects (for example the lead picture of this blog featuring Clay-bottom Allotments © Chris Hoare / Bristol Photo Festival 2020). In collaboration with Bristol Food Network, we are publishing a regular “Growing Story” from this commission on the Bristol Going For Gold blog showcasing the diverse uses and approaches around the city. We would love to work with community growing spaces that regularly participate in the Get Growing Trail and look forward to collaborating during next year’s trail in June 2021. Bristol Food Network’s Get Growing Trail is a wonderful opportunity to explore the city’s community allotments, orchards, smallholdings, mini market gardens, city farms, productive parks and even a unique berry maze.

This commissioned work will be published in the form of a book in collaboration with RRB Publishing, a local publisher. The launch of this book will also coincide with a public exhibition highlighting some of the images selected from our participatory digital archive as part of the Bristol Photo Festival 2021 Spring programme. 

To find out more about how to participate in the Growing Spaces digital archive, please visit www.bristolphotofestival.org/growingspaces

If you would like to share your story about your growing space, please send an email to engagement@bristolphotofestival.org.

Growing your own fruit and veg, no matter the amount, is great for wellbeing, unbeatable for freshness, and puts the food you eat in your own hands. Whatever space you have available, you can grow something. The #BristolFoodKind campaign encourages growing at home as a way to benefit our own wellbeing and the wider community, and contribute to the city’s food response to COVID-19. Watch back to our #BristolFoodKind webinar featuring Sara Venn of Incredible Edible Bristol looking at practical ways to grow food using the things you have around you at home.

Visit the Bristol Food Network website for more information on where to buy seeds, herbs and veg plants locally, and find more tips and help on growing at home.