Gallery Oldham hosts unique Big Big exhibition

A UNIQUE industrial relic has captured the sights of Oldham in a ‘big big’ way for a special exhibition at Gallery Oldham.

Taking the camera out on the road
Taking the camera out on the road

The extraordinary Big Big Camera has been in the collections of Gallery Oldham for many years.

Over the last two years artist and photographer Ian Beesley has been working to reuse this industrial relic and photograph the borough area in a whole new way.

The camera was originally housed at Rome Mill in Springhead, where it was used by a company manufacturing wallpaper.

Rome Mill was built as a cotton spinning mill but was converted to become a wallpaper factory by Lees Paper Staining Co in the early 1930s.

It was at this point that the process camera manufactured by the London firm of Hunter Penrose was first installed.

The mill continued to produce wallpaper until 1990 and when it was closed Gallery Oldham acquired the process camera for the collections.

Ian Beesley has worked with Gallery Oldham to get it working again, including specialist restoration of the lens as well as cleaning.

Most importantly he had to meet the challenge of using a camera designed for huge negatives 24 inches square – solved by creating a grid which could take a series of smaller negatives resulting in images made up of 20 separate prints.

Hartford mill taken with the Big Big Camera
Hartford Mill taken with the Big Big Camera

Thanks to funding from Arts Council England the gallery was able to take the camera out on the road using a transit van, modified to double as a darkroom.

It is a laborious process and a maximum of three photographs can be taken in a day.

Ian used the camera to take images across the borough as well as a series of portraits and still lifes.

Poet Ian MacMillan has also produced a series of poems in response to the photographs, and both the images and poems will be on display in this new exhibition.

Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Co-operatives, said: “This is a fascinating project to reuse a historic piece of industrial equipment in a new way.

“These large scale photographs will make you think again about the whole process of taking a picture.”

Ian Beesley said: “This exhibition explores some of the aspects of photography that are now being lost in the digital age.

“From the sheer physicality of the equipment, to the delicate relationship with light and the uncertainty of success, this is photography in its purest but most demanding form.”

The exhibition opens on January 21 until April 22. Visitors can also join Ian Beesley for a demonstration of the camera on 15 February at 2pm.


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