John Peter Askew is a British artist who has been absorbed with photography ever since being given a camera, a Pentax MX, by his father for his 21st birthday. “Sometimes presents can be things that you don’t really like or want but I remember treasuring this. I remember taking some photos of the steep steps in Newcastle leading down to the quayside. At home, I made a picture of a floral patterned waste bin in a flowerbed. There was also one of my mum and dad in bed on Christmas morning. It didn’t come out quite right as the light got into the back of the camera and distorted the colours. That fascinated me. My father was drinking a cup of tea while my mother read from a book by Alison Uttley. My dad was half in and half out of the light” (John Peter Askew 1999). Askew’s work has remained ‘local’ and ‘personal’ and throughout his career his work has retained this intimacy.
Recent solo exhibitions include Washington Arts Centre, Washington (2021); Pushkin House, London (2020); Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2019). He has exhibited at UK venues including the Royal Academy, London (2021); The Photographers’ Gallery, London (1999, 1996) ; Ikon, Birmingham (1997) ; the National Museum of Photography, Bradford (1998); Dilston Grove, London (2001), and at major international exhibitions including Contemporary British Photography, Rosphoto Museum, St Petersburg (2022); the Prague Biennale (2005); British Photography Today, Recontres de la Photographie d’Arles (1998).
Works include Luxcrete, 2022 (1999-2021); We, 2019 (1996- 2017); Presence, 2012 (1996); Four Square Photographs, 2002 (1997); Flower, 2001 (1997-2000); Ten Years, 1999 (1981-1991); the film Lyubov’s Eye, 2012 (1997); Interior Fictions,1996 (1992-1995); Ashleigh, 1994 (1989 -1993).
Askew’s practice is notable for three reasons. Firstly there is a time delay, often of many years, between the photograph and its inclusion into a body of his work. Secondly his photographs are characterised by gentleness - “In a world that is full of images revealing the ugliness and brutality of humanity, it is almost more shocking to encounter a body of work that does nothing of the sort and is filled with kindness. It occurred to me in the light of this, that to be gentle is an extreme artistic stance” (Lee Maelzer 2022). Finally Askew’s work deals with subject matter “we either overlook or take for granted as part of the background.[...] He achieves a remarkable stillness even monumentality in many of his pictures” (Ian Jeffrey 2006)
In 2019 a 280 page book of Askew’s work We was launched at the Photographer’s Gallery, London. Charlotte Cotton described it as “A wonderful book.. a beautiful close, incredibly touching and vast photographic story...” The book includes texts by the leading historian of photography Ian Jeffrey and respected curator and writer Fatos Ustek, amongst others. We II will be published this autumn. The two volumes, documenting over 300 photographs, are seen by the artist as a single body of work which has taken a third of a lifetime to bring to fruition. “While these books are an epic portrait across generations of a single family from Perm, the easternmost point in Europe, the photographs transcend their particular circumstances. Askew asks us to imagine the possibility of a better, more playful world, and points towards who we might yet become. The work We, stretching back over a quarter of a century, is a timely and idiosyncratic chronicle, embracing friendship, communality and kindness”