Graduates 2023: Kevin Hayes: Visual Culture

“On placement my main job was to edit a film of home movies of the seaside that was shown as part of an exhibition at Worthing Museum. Seeing people at the museum watching the film I’d helped make, I felt a real sense of achievement.”Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences

I’m a mature student, and before coming to Brighton to study for a degree in Visual Culture, I was a Picture Editor for the Sunday Times newspaper. I have long been interested in how photographs are used by the media to create specific narratives and how the context news photos are placed in can alter how they are understood by a viewer. My dissertation used the work of theorists like Roland Barthes and Stuart Hall to explore these ideas. It also examines what happens to the meaning of news images when they are placed in an art context, either by being exhibited in galleries or when artists exploit the “visual language” of photojournalism in their work.

I focused on the work of Canadian artist Stan Douglas and his large-scale photorealistic images of the 2011 London riots. I compared the questions raised by his works with how the British press covered the riots. Douglas’ aim is to complicate our understanding of the riots, whereas newspapers presented a very specific interpretation of events. The pictures they used conformed to some of the easily recognised tropes associated with riots (fire, property damage, masked youths, etc.) and were accompanied by loaded, unambiguous language which spoke to their target audiences.

By exploring how news images impart meaning, my dissertation aimed to make readers question how they understand news pictures.

How have you found your course and what made you choose it?

My course has been great, though not entirely what I expected, which I think is a good thing.  I had known a few people who studied Visual Culture at Brighton in the past. It had always sounded like an exciting degree, covering my professional and personal interests: history of art mixed with photography, material design, cinema, advertising etc. When I had an opportunity to study, Brighton’s Visual Culture course was my first choice. Even though I was offered places on more traditional History of Art courses closer to home, I thought Brighton would be a better fit for my interests.

Being taught alongside the History of Design and Fashion Dress History students has meant that I’ve been able to study topics I hadn’t imagined engaging with- my first essay on the course was about the semiotics of Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue.

Was the location of Brighton more important than you thought it would be?

As a student who commutes from London, Brighton has been a blessing and a curse.  I love Brighton, and there’s nothing like getting off the train and staring down the hill towards the sea. The “act” of commuting has also given me a “mental” space to catch up on reading or processing the ideas discussed in seminars. However, when I have to get to Brighton for a 9 am lecture on a wet Thursday morning, I do sometimes question my life choices.

Did you do a placement? If so could you tell us a bit about it.

My placement was brilliant. As a mature student, I wasn’t sure how valuable it would be, especially as, anywhere I’d ever worked, people doing work experience always seemed to be stuck with really menial tasks. I didn’t fancy spending six weeks doing “busy work.” But my placement tutor did a fantastic job and placed me with the South East Screen Archive, which, as its name suggests, is a moving footage archive based at the University. My placement was during lockdown, but I got to spend time at their facility in Chichester, which houses all their original physical film and video footage and gained experience of their digital preservation processes. My main job, however, was to edit a film of home movies of the seaside that was shown as part of an exhibition at Worthing Museum. Seeing people at the museum watching the film I’d helped make, I felt a real sense of achievement.

What are your plans after graduation?

At the moment, I am hoping to carry on with my studies and do a Masters.  Much as I would have loved to continue my studies at Brighton, the commute means that I would miss out on many of the extra-curricular opportunities offered by Brighton courses, so I am looking at programmes offered by London Universities. I have applied for the Art & Politics MA at Goldsmiths, which I hope will allow me to continue my current research interests while incorporating a fresh perspective.

If you could give you 16 year old self any advice about going to University what would it be?

Just do it! Although I have had a successful career so far without the benefits of a degree, with hindsight, I can really see how much more confident I would have been in many professional situations if I’d had the three years of exploring ideas that I got from my work at the University.

Main image: Front pages of The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. 9 August 2011. Original photographs by Kerim Oketen (l) and

Peter MacDiarmid (r). © Associated Newspapers Ltd/Telegraph Media Group

Read Kevin’s profile

Find out more about BA(Hons) Art History and Visual Culture

Watch out for news about the Graduate Summer Show

Follow the Brighton Summer Shows on Instagram

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Published by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *