April 28, 2022

24 Hours In Bethnal Green: In Conversation with Gretchen Viehmann from Falmouth University

24 Hours In Bethnal Green: In Conversation with Gretchen Viehmann from Falmouth University

24 Hours in Bethnal Green is a free exhibition of photography at Oxford House led by photography students from Falmouth University. Students from the BA Press and Editorial Photography course spent the week in Oxford House. They photographed our local neighbourhood over several days. We spoke to course leader Gretchen Viehmann to learn more about the project. 


Can you briefly tell us what led to the creation of this project?
The BA (Hons) Press and Editorial Photography course has done a week at Oxford House every year since 2015 with visiting lecturers and the students typically curating an exhibition of work created in Cornwall. With Covid derailing our plans the last two years, we thought it would be a fantastic way to restart the tradition by having the students create all of the work over a tight 24 hour period in an area most of them were unfamiliar with as a way of re- engaging with the world.

What made you choose Bethnal Green as a neighborhood to capture?
Oxford House has been our annual base since 2015 and because so many positive changes have happened at the place itself through all of the renovations and rejuvenation (we can remember having lectures and exhibitions when it was a construction site!), it seemed like a great idea to focus our photographic work on the immediate locale as a way of celebrating Oxford House’s place as an anchor of the neighbourhood.


What surprised you about spending time in Bethnal Green? 
Bethnal Green, to the course, embodies the best of London, from its cultural diversity to its history and architecture. Not to mention the food! I think what surprised so many of the students was how receptive people were to having their photographs taken as part of the exhibition and how many people came to the opening night because their images were included.


How did you use Oxford House as an exhibition space? Can you tell us a bit about the curatorial decisions that were made?
We used the gallery space at Oxford House as the base for the show. Essentially, 35 students each submitted 5 images to the show, 4 of which were printed on A4 paper and 1 on A3. Using the larger A3 images as the base, the academic team hung these images and then the students were left to curate and create the hanging. The emphasis was not on the individual students’ work but on how all of the images came together to create a mosaic of a single day. During the week we also set up a mobile photo studio in the Café, where families and pretty much anyone could sit for a portrait and receive a print on the spot. This was very popular with some young schoolchildren and their teachers who had a great time in front of the camera.


Can you briefly describe the BA Press and Editorial Photography course?
Our course celebrates the power of photographic storytelling. We are unique in that we are all about using photography as a communication tool to tell stories of every kind. Students on our course pursue everything from portraiture to documentary photography to photojournalism, sports, fashion, music, food…there are no limits. The key for us, and what we emphasise most to our students, is understanding audience and knowing how to create powerful visual stories.


What highlights from the exhibition should visitors look out for? Any personal favourites?
There are so many beautifully observed portraits and playful looks at some of the neighbourhood’s residents. The whole show, shot by 35 different people, brings together a sense of place. I must have gone through the exhibition dozens of times and each time I walked through I saw something new that I hadn’t noticed before… just like Bethnal Green itself.


24 Hours In Bethnal Green will be on display until Friday 13 May. Admission is free.