Background

Andrew Sproxton was a key figure in the establishment of photography as an independent art form in Great Britain.  In 1972, shortly after leaving Kent University, he and Val Williams set up Impressions Gallery, one of the first specialist photography galleries in Europe.

Impressions established its presence when it moved into The Shambles in an old part of York and quickly became a meeting place for emerging and established photographers alike. While Impressions became best known for its support of contemporary photography, from the outset the two co-directors also shared a keen historical interest in British photography, showing the work of Cecil Beaton, Herbert Ponting and Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, a renowned Victorian photographer who was based in the nearby fishing port of Whitby.

Impressions also hosted the first exhibition of Hill and Adamson’s 19th Century Calotype photographs.  At the same time, the co-directors were deeply committed to supporting and promoting the work of up and coming photographers, both exhibiting their work and providing the facilities for them to produce it.  Impressions became one of the first galleries to show the work of now established photographers such as Daniel Meadows, Nick Hedges and Martin Parr.

Andrew Sproxton and Val Williams, Impressions Gallery, 1972. Photo: Daniel Meadows – “The opening of Impressions Gallery in The Shambles. Two upstairs rooms. Two exhibitions: Butlin’s by the Sea by Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows; Whitby by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Martin and I spend the afternoon helping to paint the gallery walls and hang the pictures. The paint is still wet when the first guests arrive. Afterwards Andrew looks in the donations box to see if there is enough money to buy us a pizza. There is. Just.”

When Andrew Sproxton died in 1977 at the age of 28, Val Williams continued to direct Impressions.  Andrew’s family, Val and supporters of Impressions Gallery continued Andrew’s work by setting up a memorial fund for an annual prize to support young photographers.  For many years the prize was hosted by Impressions Gallery and administrated by Andrew’s father, Vernon, who died in 1996.  Val Williams, by then was an established historian, curator and author and eventually joined London College of Communication as Director of the Photography and the Archive Research Centre.  She and David Sproxton (Andrew’s younger brother) decided that linking it to the college would be a much more effective way of running the award and the current arrangement was put into place.  Since 2003 the Sproxton Award for Photography has been given to the best in show of graduating MA Photography students, as judged by a panel of eminent professionals.

In a 1972 issue of Amateur Photographer, Val Williams provided a fitting epitaph to Andrew Sproxton’s life and work when she said:

“Through his constant and untiring efforts to publicise the gallery, Impressions became well known throughout Britain; the gallery is one of the few to have been regularly featured in all the major photographic magazines, and several times in the national papers and Sunday supplements.  Andrew Sproxton possessed that rare gift for being able to make others believe in what the gallery was trying to achieve, perhaps because his own interest and belief in photography could not be challenged.”

Andrew Sproxton, York, September 1974. Photo: Daniel Meadows – “It’s a Sunday. Andrew and I are riding his tandem. A new experience for me and we wobble a bit. We aim for the site of the new by-pass where big earth movers are parked up. He poses for me like Brunel stood for Robert Howlett in front of the chains of the Great Eastern. Isambard Kingdom Andy.”

Martin Parr remembers the impact of Impressions when it first opened:

“Going over to York, with my fellow student Daniel Meadows to meet Andrew and Val at the newly established Impressions Gallery was a revelation. Although we were both studying photography, the emphasis was more commercial, so going to York we suddenly felt the excitement of meeting fellow enthusiasts for photography. Those early days, shows and meetings were like pioneer days. There has never been anything as stimulating in my entire photographic career.”

Andrew Sproxton and Val Williams, York, 1972. Photo: Martin Parr

Impressions has remained one of the UK’s leading independent venues for photography.  In 2007 it moved from York and reopened in a new purpose-built building in the heart of Bradford’s city centre and close to the National Media Museum.  Impressions has retained its interest in nurturing and supporting the work and career development of new emerging artists, in which it has an impressive track record of success.

In the years since Andrew Sproxton’s death, photography as an independent art form has flourished and expanded beyond recognition, due in no small part to the continuing influence of his co-director Val Williams, as well as that of Impressions Gallery.  It is fitting that his own personal influence should also continue through the auspices of the Sproxton Award for Photography.

London College of Communication and MA Photography would like to thank David Sproxton for his sponsorship of the Sproxton Award for Photography, and Professor Val Williams for her support of photography at LCC.

Anne Williams
Programme Director for Photography
London College of Communication

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