Julian Germain - Ashington District Star editorial team
Considering the present under a historical lens and forming an interpretation of the present that goes beyond the incidental, “urgent” reconstruction of the current moment, require pauses and necessitate time, consistency and an understanding of the historicity of artistic processes: who is named an artist and who is the one naming them? How is art formed as a social, collective, working process?
1934: miners working in Ashington, Great Britain, attend, in their free time, an educational program that includes evening classes on “art appreciation”. Their art tutor Robert Lyon soon realises that the miners are indifferent to art history and decides to organise painting lessons instead. This is the story of the origins of the amateur painter’s society known as the Pitmen Painters or the Ashington Group -although some of them were not originally from the town. The themes of their paintings revolved around the daily lives of working-class people living in their area. The group remained active until the 1980s, when the Ashington mines were eventually shut down.
2014: Photographer Julian Germain creates a photo series that directly refers to the paintings created by the Pitmen Painters. He produces diptychs, where similarly staged photos depict everyday moments from the lives of people living close to Ashington. The correlation of the diptychs reveals how life has been changing in this mining town, spanning a period that covers most of the 20th and moves on all the way to the 21stcentury: Ashington’s history, seen through those paintings and photographs, becomes an illustration of the modern history of the UK.
Meanwhile, Julian Germain develops an additional response to the Ashington Group’s approach by forming a collective of amateur photographers that reside in the Ashington area. Members of the group also serve as the editorial team that runs the Ashington District Star newspaper. The paper is distributed for free and features full-page photos created by members of the group, which capture the daily lives of people, harsh scenes of economic crisis and poverty, but also pleasant moments of the community and its members; in this way, the history of the Pitmen Painters is rewritten in contemporary terms. So far, there have been eight editions of the newspaper.
Photographs of the diptychs created by Julian Germain, photos from the Ashington District Star group, as well as issues of the newspapers and videos from the group’s activities are exhibited at the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography.
MOMus-Museum of Contemporary Art-Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art and State Museum of Contemporary Art Collections