Welcome! The Caravan Gallery is a collaboration between artists and photographers Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale to document the reality and surreality of the way we live today. It is also a mobile exhibition space that engages with people and places ‘normal’ galleries might not easily reach. We use colour photography to create accessible but thought-provoking images which frequently celebrate overlooked and occasionally bizarre aspects of everyday life.
Since setting up in 2000 we have travelled thousands of miles and exhibited in hundreds of locations in the UK and abroad, sharing images from our ever expanding photographic archive with the most diverse audience imaginable. Equally at home exhibiting in a shopping centre car park or prestigious arts venue, we welcome visitors to respond to our observations of their locality. People’s enthusiasm to share their own impressions inspired us to devise participatory Pride of Place Projects in partnership with local arts organisations. Part evolving exhibition, part alternative visitor information centre, these projects give local people an opportunity to explore their surroundings in a creative way by contributing to our display.
Simultaneously seduced by and suspicious of the rose-tinted tones of tourist information brochures, and frustrated by their yawning omissions, we like to look beyond brown signs and interpretation boards to discover our own undesignated ‘attractions’ and ‘unattractions’.
Favourite themes include: Local distinctiveness and regional identity; pyschogeography and people’s connection to place; clichés and cultural trends; leisure, landscape and lifestyle; the language of marketing – dream versus reality; absurd anomalies and curious juxtapositions typical of places in transition; chance encounters and serendipitous discoveries; incidental art and everyday creativity; maverick enterprise and small scale human interventions. Many of our images tell stories and raise questions. They might be tawdry, topographic, touching, tragicomic, typical and sometimes irreverent but are always real. We advocate looking with a big L. This essay by Alistair Robinson, Programme Director at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art sums up our approach.
Our travels have inspired a growing range of merchandise including publications such as 'Welcome to Britain – a celebration of real life', three volumes of 'Is Britain Great?' , subversive city Visitor Guides, postcards, greetings cards and gift wrap-cum-posters that show the world from The Caravan Gallery perspective. We produce limited edition prints and also work in other media such as drawing and collage.
The nature of our work, both subject matter and presentation, makes it uniquely accessible to an extremely diverse audience. The Caravan Gallery as a venue has an undeniable novelty factor that attracts curious passers by as well as appealing to the art cognoscenti. Sometimes it feels like a mini social club on wheels bringing together people who would never normally connect. The scope for interaction with individuals from all walks of life is enormous and their feedback makes an valuable contribution to the project.
We work in partnership with galleries and arts organisations, festivals, social enterprises, community groups and professional associations, schools, colleges and universities and are accustomed to exhibiting in a wide variety of settings. Venues include empty shops, village halls and mainstream gallery spaces where we can show work on a larger scale than the caravan allows. Sometimes the caravan itself becomes the centrepiece of an exhibition e.g. during 'Is Britain Great?', a Caravan Gallery retrospective at Aspex gallery, Portsmouth. Afterwards the exhibition toured to fashion designer Paul Smith’s SPACE in Tokyo then to Fukuoka and Kyoto.
Other projects include a collaboration with Pilgrim Films and pop group St Etienne on 'The Other South Bank', a comparison between areas and communities of London and Middlesborough. ARC, the Architecture Centre in Hull commissioned us to produce a photo essay on 'Hullness', a psychogeographical quest for genius loci. Our 2011 participation in 'Kunst&Zwalm', a contemporary art festival in rural Belgium, led to an increase in international activity and an enduring love affair with Belgium. Local people are always fascinated to see how we perceive their locality as we frequently unearth overlooked details.
Much of 2013 was devoted to Merseyside. Our exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool 'Merseystyle: Photographs by The Caravan Gallery', was a key part of LOOK/ 13 Liverpool International Photography Festival and was complemented by Pride of Place Projects in Liverpool and New Brighton, Wirral.
Arts organisations see the value of employing us as 'art missionaries' to engage with new audiences and encourage people to visit their galleries. Wolverhampton Art Gallery, for example, commissioned us to produce an off site exhibition while their building was closed for refurbishment. Other organisations have been interested in our research methods and public interaction.
As a result we have reached a far more diverse audience than many galleries and have become a catalyst for interaction with people in a large information gathering and sharing exercise using a variety of media. Our approach is based around the concept of psychogeography which explores the relationship of place to its social and cultural history, past, present and future.
Education and experience
We give talks and exhibition tours to gallery audiences, students and special interest groups and devise tailor-made workshops for all ages and abilities. Great importance is placed on personal development and confidence building, especially when working with people who are unfamiliar with art and creativity. We devise special projects for schools exploring 'sense of place' through art and creativity to help young people appreciate the community in which they live. A great example of such a project took place at Fulbridge School, Peterborough thanks to a Creative Partnerships commission inspired by The Caravan Gallery. We accompanied the children on a trip to the seaside resort of Hunstanton and helped them produce an exhibition based on their observations. The results were displayed in a caravan - now a permanent fixture - in the school playground.
We tend to do most things ourselves but enjoy collaborating with like minded souls. We have the most fantastic designers in IDprojects aka Natalie Dowse and Phil Illingworth, both talented artists in their own right, who work with us on publicity material and publications. An Arts Council England Strategic Touring Grant for our national Pride of Place Project Tour 2015 - 2016 has enabled us the luxury of a part time project coordinator, currently the magnificent Michael Davidson. This role was admirably filled by Helen Statham before she secured a permanent position elsewhere. We are also supported by local coordinators, gallery staff and volunteers in each tour location. The Caravan Gallery itself is the handiwork of Lynne and Richard Stark at The English Caravan Company. This wonderful pair reincarnated our original 1969 Bluebird Europe, incorporating original body parts and features, to create a rather more sturdy and glamorous version of the original.
How to commission us
The Caravan Gallery exhibits at an eclectic range of locations, rural, urban and suburban, from small-scale community events to major festivals and arts venues. Typically we are commissioned to make a photographic study of an area during a research visit. We totally immerse ourselves in the location in question, walking for hours and miles, driving through and around places with the aim of distilling the essence of a place through our photographs. Sometimes we chat to people we encounter en route and follow the leads they give us, but usually it's a case of following our noses and seeing where we end up. Some of our photos might reflect characteristics unique to the area in question whilst others are symptomatic of 'the way we live today'.
We feel we've done a good job when - as outsiders - we discover things that local people have overlooked or never really considered. When we were commissioned to produce a photo essay on Wetteren in Belgium, for example, we were accused of making their town look unusually interesting! We aim to create exhibitions that are visually stimulating and thought provoking on many levels and, most importantly, to get people talking and looking for themselves.
Please get in touch if you are interested in working with us. Each project is unique so costs and fees (where appropriate) will vary according to circumstances.
- A level pitch for the Caravan measuring 3m(L) x 3m(H) x 2m(W)
- Space for gazebo/s : min. 5m x 8m if applicable
- Access to power (13 amp mains socket) where possible
- Secure overnight storage/security for the Caravan where applicable
- Tables, chairs & display equipment may be required for projects in temporary spaces
- Volunteers to get involved in participatory projects
Public Liability Insurance and Employers' Liability Insurance (Hencilla Canworth)Download certificates
Frequently asked questions
We travel with the caravan all year round, but our permanent base is in sunny Portsmouth, on the south coast.