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“Every kind of cultural and creative history is here” // A chat with Elefest founder Rob Wray

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Elephant & Castle festival Elefest is just days away, celebrating the artistic life of the area for the 12th year running with a packed and eclectic programme of events from Thursday 2 – Sunday 5 October 2014.

We caught up with Elefest director and founder – and LCC alumnus – Rob Wray shortly before this year’s preparations went into overdrive to hear about psychogeography, challenging preconceptions, and saying “Let’s just do something!”

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LCC alumnus Rob Wray established Elefest 12 years ago

Can you tell us a bit about why and how Elefest was launched?

“The origin of it was way back before the turn of the millennium. There was a lot of talk about regeneration and arts and culture within the Elephant & Castle area, and a voluntary organisation called Neon was trying to influence the regeneration process and make art and culture part of that.

“I first got in touch with Neon while I was studying here [at LCC] in 2000. And because of my background – I was studying Enterprise & Management in the Creative Arts here, doing a diploma course – and because I was running events and festivals, mainly film-based, when I got involved in Neon there was all this talk about creativity and regeneration.

“But I come from the school of thought that says, “Let’s just do something”, create something, otherwise the regeneration process could take 15 years, 20 years, 30 years, and in the meantime your life is over, and nothing’s happened!

“Elefest was established primarily as a film and video festival to showcase local filmmakers, and to show films that were relevant to the local community. But the idea always was to go further than film.

“It was probably my naivety that took me to setting the festival up. And I’m from the area – I’m originally from Walworth, just round the back of East Street. I live in Bermondsey now, so I’ve moved about a mile in 41 years!

“Also, the events and festivals stuff I was doing up until then I was having to do over in east London – in Brick Lane and Shoreditch and Hoxton back in ’98, ’99, because there was no real infrastructure round here to do it.

“So it was a combination of wanting to do something to get involved locally, but also some element of frustration that I was able to do creative work outside of The Elephant, but I couldn’t do anything here where I grew up.”

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Artist David Bratby is leading a farewell tour of his subway murals on Thursday 2 October

What do you like about working in the area?

“I don’t think there’s anything I like or dislike, it is what it is. I think there was always an issue with people being negative about Walworth and Elephant & Castle. Most people, if I said I was from Walworth, thought I either said Woolwich or I was making a joke about the department store.

“So then you’d say Elephant & Castle to try and give them something to link onto, but obviously back then all they would have heard about was the Ministry of Sound, or the Shopping Centre, or the two roundabouts.

“Elephant & Castle is what it is, but I think it’s probably special because it is on the ancient road down to Kent – The Old Kent Road – so there’s probably been this psychogeography in this area where people have been going somewhere else, to and from this place, for a long while. Which I find fascinating.”

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The venues for this year’s Elefest

What have been the particular challenges involved with organising Elefest over 12 years?

“The challenges would have been getting people to take it seriously that we were having a festival in Elephant & Castle during the first few years, because it was film- and cinema-related and we didn’t have a functioning cinema in the area. Still don’t. So you said, “We’re having an Elephant & Castle film festival” and most people would laugh.

“So then you could turn that to your advantage and get some publicity out of it because you were challenging people’s perceptions. It is effectively my home so I’ve never felt negative about it. So in that sense you go, “Well, why shouldn’t we?”

“The hardy perennial is usually money, because you’re always trying to do more than you can with the money you have. You can’t create something without having the resources to do it, so you either have to become self-financing  and self-sufficient, or you need to find sponsorship – but as with any money, there are certain associations with that.

“You’re constantly trying to square that circle; how do you keep it reasonably cheap, and how do you get the resources to do it?”

And what’s been the answer to that this year?

“I think the answer’s always the same, we need to become self-financing and self-sufficient, in order to give it longevity, because the developers aren’t going to be here forever.

“Currently we get some money from them, we get some money from the council, some money from Film London this year, but the developers and the council aren’t going to be funding it forever, and I think strategically you have to go “Right, where do we go with this?”

“There’s also sometimes a bizarre psychology with things that are free, in that people think because it’s free it must be crap. To some sections of the community it’s a free festival, so it should always be that way, but for other people they think if it’s free it’s not worth anything.

“And there’s politics involved in trying to coordinate 10 or 12 different venues that all have different artistic or creative bents. A lot of people think there’s a lot more money in it than there is, and a lot of people think there’s a bigger team than there is.

“There isn’t really a full-time team all year. We have myself and three or four people, but most of the time that’s condensed within the last month/six weeks, because we don’t have the resources to have people sitting around, and we all have to go and do other work that makes a living.

“Anyway, we’re still going, older and wiser!”

Can you tell us which events you’re most excited about in the festival line-up this year?

“We’ve got the Maccabees playing a DJ set for the launch night at the Coronet, which is good. It’s quite exciting because they’re making an album in a studio locally, and a filmmaker’s making a film to accompany it about the Elephant & Castle. So because of that kind of connection, it was quite useful to get them to open it.

“So they’re playing and we’ve got a few bands playing that night; we’ve got a Cuban band Friday night, we’ve got a load of stuff at the Cinema Museum, we’ve got the StockMKT – the opening night’s probably the most exciting thing.”

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Latin ensemble WARA play at Hotel Elephant on Friday 3 October

And finally, is there anything that Elefest hasn’t yet achieved that you would like it to in the future?

“I don’t want it to become any longer – I think four days is perfect. At one stage it was running for two weeks and that was crazy – on even less money than we have now. But that was before I got a bit older and had a mortgage and kids! So I don’t think I would want it to get any bigger in that sense.

“I do honestly think it can become or should become self-financing, self-reliant. And it should become the festival that is associated with Elephant & Castle in the truest sense of the word. So that when people think of Elephant & Castle, they think of Elefest.

“It’s got a long, rich history of theatre, music hall, circus; every kind of cultural and creative history is here. Then the Second World War came and the redevelopment came after the war, and all that infrastructure was gone.

“So it’s not like it isn’t possible for that to be reimagined or recreated.”

Absolutely! Many thanks for your time, Rob, and here’s to another fantastic Elefest weekend.

Visit the Elefest website

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LCC Alumna wins Best Short Documentary at London Independent Film Festival

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‘Portrait of Billie’ Image by Jane Mingay.

Jane Mingay, a multi-award winning photojournalist and a recent LCC MA Documentary Film graduate, has just won the Best Short Documentary award for her film ‘Portrait of Billie’at the London Independent Film Festival.

Jane’s iconic photographs range from portraits of Naomi Campbell and British Royalty to images of poverty in rural Africa and the aftermath of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks.

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Image by Jane Mingay.

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Image by Jane Mingay.

Her latest project ‘Portrait of Billie’ follows Billie Bickley, someone famous for being ‘a homeless heroin addict since the age of 14′. Her chaotic and harrowing life story has been followed by the media since she was 18 when she caught the eye of Princess Diana as she visited Centrepoint.

Jane explains that “Since then, Billie’s life story has been played out in front of her. With this role to play as well as the role she inhabits to survive life on the streets, who is the real Billie and where do the lines between fact and fiction blur? With an unsentimental approach, this film allows Billie to act out her creations and shocking revelations on centre stage.”

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Image by Jane Mingay.

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Image by Jane Mingay.

Read more about MA Documentary Film.

Read more about Jane.

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LCC alumni stage events for London Design Festival 2014

London Design Festival 2014

London College of Communication may have its own ’160′ trio of design exhibitions as part of London Design Festival 2014, but our alumni have been busy too.

We’ve rounded up some of the most exciting alumni work designed for this year’s festival – have you caught any of these shows?

Susanna Foppoli

‘The Formal Beauty of Type’ runs until 16 November

Designer and PGDip Design for Visual Communication graduate Susanna Foppoli presents ‘The Formal Beauty of Type’ at The Book Club, Shoreditch, open now until Sunday 16 November.

This solo exhibition comprises a series of abstract typographic compositions which uses a restricted colour palette of black, white and red.

The work was originally designed as part of an academic study of the formal qualities and personalities of selected typefaces across typographic history, and the show celebrates both the aesthetic power and structural detail of these letterforms.

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‘The Rooftop Line’ recorded life on Camden High Street in real time

BA (Hons) Design for Interaction and Moving Image alumni Romain Meunier and Tsvetelina Tomova looked to the skies with their installation ‘The Rooftop Line’ as part of Camden Collective.

One of five projects selected from over 100 proposals, ‘The Rooftop Line’ took inspiration from New York’s High Line and Camden Town station and saw Romain and Tsvetelina setting a model train fitted with a webcam in motion around a Camden rooftop.

The webcam ran throughout the day with footage streamed online and to an exhibition space at 26 Camden High Street. The project was designed to inject creativity and playfulness into some of London’s more unloved or neglected urban spaces.

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Designers Eley Kishimoto created ‘Flash’ outside Brixton tube station

Elsewhere, MA Design Management graduate Natasha Montgomery was coordinating multiple events during LDF as the co-founder and curator of Brixton Design Week.

Highlights included a Change Brixton by Design workshop, bringing together designers, public organisations and individuals to share ideas and good practice around design, the Brixi Army group exhibition and the Brixton Pound New Independents party.

The pavement outside Brixton tube station was also transformed with graffiti installation ‘Flash’ by Brixton-based fashion and design company Eley Kishimoto.

Congratulations to everyone on their fantastic LDF creations, and here’s to 2015!

Read more about our ’160′ exhibitions for London Design Festival

Read about alumnus Daniel Chehade’s curation of ‘Alan Kitching and Monotype’ at LCC

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LCC Postgraduate Diploma Photography Portfolio Development graduate wins Joan Wakelin Bursary

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El Plan: On Thin Air, Manuela Henao, 2014.

Manuela Henao, a recent LCC Postgraduate Diploma Photography Portfolio Development graduate, has just been awarded the Joan Wakelin Bursary in association with the Royal Photographic Society and the Guardian.

Manuela, a documentary photographer born in Colombia and based in London, won the £2000 bursary on the strength of her proposal to produce a photographic essay on beauty ideals in Colombia. She will use the money to fund the project, which will take three months to complete, and which will be published in the Guardian and the Royal Photographic Society Journal.

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El Plan: On Thin Air, Manuela Henao, 2014.

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El Plan: On Thin Air, Manuela Henao, 2014.

Talking on her time at LCC Manuela explains “studying at LCC was a great experience for me. I did the Postgraduate Diploma Photography Portfolio Development, a very practice based course, which helped me gain the confidence with lighting and the camera that I needed. My tutors were always very keen to help me develop my photographic style and the conceptual side of my work, and even though I am no longer an LCC student they still offer me advice and guidance.”

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Boxing In The Pedros, Manuela Henao, 2014.

Manuela’s previous projects include a photo series documenting the new generation’s modernisation of a rural Colombian mountain settlement, and a series of boxing portraits set in The Pedro Club in East London.

Read more about Postgraduate Diploma in Photography.

See more of Manuela’s work.

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160 at LCC: Round-Up

LCC’s London Design Festival 2014 exhibitions are currently open under the banner ’160′: ’50 Years of Illustration’, ‘Alan Kitching and Monotype: Celebrating the Centenary of Five Pioneers of the Poster’ and ‘Stereohype 2004-2014′.

All three exhibitions opened on Saturday 13 September and run until Friday 31 October (‘Alan Kitching and Monotype’ finishes earlier on Thursday 16 October).

Launched officially on Thursday 18 September, the shows drew a huge crowd of design enthusiasts and experts to the shared Private View, and were recommended by everyone from the Guardian to Creative Review and House & Garden.

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’50 Years of Illustration’, image © Lewis Bush

’50 Years of Illustration’ accompanies a new book of the same name by Professor Lawrence Zeegen, Dean of the School of Design, and looks back at contemporary illustration’s impact on design across the past five decades.

‘Alan Kitching and Monotype: Celebrating the Centenary of Five Pioneers of the Poster’ marks 100 years since the birth of five graphic design giants: Tom Eckersley, Abram Games, FHK Henrion, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Paul Rand.

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‘Alan Kitching and Monotype’, image © Lewis Bush

All were known for their iconic poster designs, and this exhibition juxtaposes their work with original pieces created in the same spirit by Alan Kitching and Monotype.

The show was accompanied by ‘Five Lives in Posters’, a fascinating panel discussion between key figures in contemporary graphic design in which the five subjects of the exhibition were remembered.

The College welcomed panelists Alan Kitching, Tony Brook, Naomi Games, Jessica Helfand, Dan Mather and, via the miracle of Skype, Lars Muller, in a packed event chaired by John L Walters.

Finally, ‘Stereohype 2004-2014′ celebrates ten years of the London-based graphic art label and online boutique Stereohype, sister company of design studio Fl@33, and their button badge collection.

Just a tiny part of Stereohype's stunning button badge exhibition, part of #lcc160 - opening soon. #badge #design #lcc #exhibition #stereohype #ldf

This exhibition also marks the fact that the collection reaches its 1,000th button badge this month.

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‘Stereohype 2004-2014′, image © Lewis Bush

Visit the Upper Street, Lower Street and Well Galleries soon to see these amazing shows for yourself if you haven’t managed to catch them already!

Read more about ’160′ at LCC

Read our Storify of the shows

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