Cowley Road Carnival Photography Exhibition
"I focused on groups such as the West Papua musicians who looked as though they were swept up in the moment on the World Stage and Horns of Plenty as they passed."
For one fabulous Sunday, traditionally the first in July, the traffic on the Cowley Road is halted, everyday life is put aside, and all is replaced as the colour, rhythm and aromas of Carnival fill your senses.
The exhibition, which is at the Old Fire Station, Gloucester Green, Oxford, until 24th September, shows three personal photographic perspectives of the characters and community, highlights and history of this quirky, multi-cultural and diverse celebration which has become Oxford’s big day out and the region’s largest community festival. The photographs taken by three photographers: Jim Robinson, Chris Stonehouse and Irmgard Hüppe, capture moments from the last 15 years.
Irmgard grew up in Germany, has lived in England since 1993, and off the Cowley Road since 1999. She is a Senior Fellow at Oxford Brookes University and has taken photographs since childhood. She presents images taken from seven different years of Carnival and says: “Cowley Road Carnival provides me with a fantastic opportunity to take pictures of people in a truly multi-cultural surrounding at its very best.
“In my Cowley Road Carnival pictures, I try to capture as many of the manifold aspects of the carnival, including the atmosphere and interaction which takes place at every moment [...] capturing whatever caught my eye […] All I hope is that a little bit of the enjoyment I felt when taking the pictures rubs off on the viewers of this little exhibition.”
Jim Robinson is an artist who was inspired in photography by a tutor at the Old Fire Station. He is particularly interested in images of people in locations. He says: “My main aim was to capture the behind the scenes moments before the start of the carnival as well as the excitement and movement of the procession and the crowds.
“I started early in the day photographing Cowley Road and its residents like Andy from the HiLo Jamaican restaurant and the empty street chalked up with the procession line up which emphasised for me the careful planning and organisation that goes into the carnival and the team of volunteers who make it all happen.
“As the day progressed and stages and venues started to get busier I focused on groups such as the West Papua musicians who looked as though they were swept up in the moment on the World Stage and Horns of Plenty as they passed.”
For Chris Stonehouse, an Aussie who has been living in England for 15 years, it was his first Cowley Road Carnival. Chris’s background is as a freelance journalist and writer, and as someone new to Oxford he comments: “My street photography has been a wonderful way for me to explore the city and get to know the wonderfully diverse people who live here better.
“Taking photos of this great carnival didn’t get in the way of my fun, it enhanced it. I rarely take candid photos, so it meant I got to meet so many more people, from so many different walks of life than I would’ve done otherwise. Being a part of the Old Fire Station’s wonderful exhibition has been an amazing opportunity.”
Visitors to the exhibition can glimpse the origins of Carnival back in 1986 and the Carnival as it is today. Despite challenges over the years, mainly financial, the event has gone from strength to strength. In 2016 it was the biggest and best in its history, with 37 community groups and 841 people participating in the procession, with 29 venues and stages along the length and breadth of the Cowley Road and adjacent areas, and with a wider diversity of culture and performance than ever before.
Finance, however remains a concern and in addition to core funding from Oxford City Council, the organisers, Cowley Road Works, need sponsors for the 2017 event which will be on 2nd July. If you would like to make a donation or get involved in fundraising, please see the website for details or email email@example.com.
Related Articles: Access to art: Cowley Road Carnival