Photography Lecturer Timm Sonnenschein’s Historical Self-Portrait Exhibition comes to Parkside

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 17 NOVEMBER 2017
Bournville Self Portrait Project 2017

Photography Lecturer Timm Sonnenschein received national and regional recognition for his work with Dr Kieran Connell, lecturer in contemporary British History at Queen’s University, Belfast and photographer Brian Homer, who originally developed the ‘Self-Portrait Project’ in Birmingham, in 1979.

BA (Hons) Photography

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Developing on from this work, Timm enlisted the help of two Birmingham City University photography students to work on the self-portrait project, in collaboration with the Bournville Village Trust. The project is now on display at the University’s Parkside Building, allowing visitors an insight into the unique community of Bournville, Britain’s first garden village.


The project aimed to capture a visual representation of Bournville’s residents, showcasing the diverse range of characters who populate the village - where the values of its founder, George Cadbury, continue to thrive.
Timm commented that ‘it is very good to bring the show on home turf, so to speak, after having done a smaller version at Selly Manor in early September. It shows colleagues as well as our students that we are involved and linked into the local as well as other communities, like Belfast, with our own projects and are often in a position to engage our hardest working students within these projects.’ The pictures, commissioned by The Bournville Village Trust, were taken by the residents themselves as part of the Getting to Know You Campaign; a movement to improve the communication between residents of Bournville and the Village Trust Estate.


Cameras were set up in five different locations by Timm and his team and residents were invited to come and capture their portrait. Timm felt this way of working was a ‘good collaboration in house as well as externally.’
When the Self Portrait Project started in Handsworth back in 1979 the photos were shot on film, meaning participants had to wait a week for the photos to be developed and printed before they were able to have their own print. The Self Portrait Project has evolved over the past 10 years with Timm and Brian opting to use digital equipment with a camera hooked up to a computer and a portable dye-sub printer. This means that participants are able to get a print within a few minutes.


Even though the photographic and printing methods have become more instantaneous and accessible, Timm has maintained the essence of the original project, allowing people to choose the moment of taking their picture. The residents stepped into a pop-up studio space, consisting of a white backdrop, two studio lights and a tripod mounted camera. The camera is triggered through a cable release giving the sitter the power to capture the photo. By working with a blank studio canvas, the viewer is able to see the people in the pictures free from stereotypes that may otherwise be created by background location or environment offering a level of neutrality.


The project has been taken to a number of different communities in and outside of Birmingham. There is a permanent exhibition installed in the New Birmingham Library with 1000 portraits of the people of Birmingham, displayed on the main screens. Additionally, there is an exhibition at the Ulster Museum in Belfast showing the people of Belfast.


The Bournville Village Trust Self-Portrait Exhibition will be on display until the 25th November on the first floor viewing gallery in the Parkside Gallery.

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