Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The return of the curse of the camera club

'The return of the curse of the camera club' sounds like the title to a bad horror movie. However, a horror movie is usually bad fiction while the typical British camera club is, unfortunately, all too much bad fact.  This post is the sequel to a horror story I related here in an earlier blog post. (see 14/11/2015).

That post resulted in a large number of views and many messages agreeing with my assessment of the British camera club world. Please note that I say British, my many experiences of speaking to and conducting workshops for, photographic groups in other parts of Europe and the USA are very different. 
Mechelen, Belgium, 2016

I have been involved in a number of exhibitions in north Wales over the last year which resulted in several organisations asking me to speak at their meetings. In addition, the spin off from my retrospective exhibition also resulted in a number of speaking engagements to groups who wanted to hear the big talk I gave at the National Library of Wales as part of that. None of these were camera clubs, just organisations that have an interest in art, culture and history generally. The talks were all well received. Over thirty years as a university lecturer has given me the skills to deliver quite a decent talk. 
Helsinki, Finland, 2016

I have ended up giving the same talk, one about the history of 19th. century photography in north Wales three times in a fairly short period, including twice in a month in the same town. So, when the local camera club contacted me and asked me to give the same talk to them I had to think about it. After all, they had the opportunity, twice in one month to attend the talk at other societies meetings as they are open to all and did I really want to give the same talk, in the same small town, all over again? So, despite my long-standing aversion to and refusal to talk to camera clubs, I relented but offered instead to give my 'big talk' about six decades of my work and if they agreed to that, I would give the history talk to them at a later date. An offer you couldn't refuse one would have thought, two talks for the price of one. (Actually, probably no price at all as I tend to speak for free to societies that I think are genuinely interested and worthy and just charge my usual fees to larger institutions). 
Rievaulx Abbey, north Yorkshire, 2016

In my e mail to them offering to talk I also suggested they might want to visit an exhibition in a gallery only twenty minutes from their town by a prominent, long standing, (Welsh) member of Magnum. The gallery is run by one of my ex-students and she had pulled off a coup for north Wales in getting the work there. I only mentioned it because this was the camera club who have told me in the past that they don't bother to go to see exhibitions unless they are very local. As they hadn't seen this then, even twenty minutes away is obviously too far for them. Knowing that British camera clubs are also blinkered as to what goes on in the real photography world I suggested visits to the National Library of Wales to see their fine and important photography collection and a visit to Cardiff to see David Hurn's 'Swaps' exhibition where they can see the prints he has collected from some of the worlds greatest documentary photographers. My suggestions were obviously a bit too radical for them and they suspected that my talk might be about photography, not cameras or technique. They were not having any of that, oh dear me no and they refused my offer. 
Betws y coed, Conwy, north Wales, 2015
Rather like the woman in the photograph opposite, they sit in their meeting rooms with their heads buried in the club rule book and their eyes blinkered to all the real, great photography that surrounds them. All very sad and yet predictable I'm afraid and another example of the strange attitudes that seem to pervade British camera clubs. As I have said here before, I do try, I do offer to encourage, enthuse and educate but when they are clearly not really interested in photography, only playing with cameras and gimmicky effects, such as producing grotesque, over-photoshopped sunsets etc., there's little I can do. Just don't say I didn't offer.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Past work given a new life

Having to review a lifetime's work for my major retrospective exhibition, gave an opportunity to re-look at bodies of work made many years ago. This gives a chance to re-appraise this in the light of my own changing opinions and sufficient time having passed from making it to be detached and possibly more critical.
One view of Pete's major retrospective exhibition at the
 National Library of Wales, 2017
The beauty of contact sheets is that you can look over almost everything at a glance almost as if they are new work and sometimes discover little gems that have been missed previously. The downside of reviewing old work of course, can be that you re-appraise some of it and wonder why you printed 'that one', or 'those', in the first place. 
Another view of the exhibition

There are upsides to this process though. Re-looking at older work with fresh eyes can reveal themes and juxtapositions of images that may have been missed on first looking, editing or printing are revealed. Also, from a distance of many years, the new, historical context of work  alters the way in which you view it and suggests a new way to present it.

In my case the bodies of work in question were first seen as exhibitions and apart from very slim catalogues, no permanent printed collection of the work existed apart from the exhibition prints. While interest in some of this work has been maintained over the years, there has never, until now, been an opportunity to sit down and look hard at them and put together permanent collections in book form.

Editing and sequencing work for a book is very different from laying out an exhibition. You need to bear in mind scale, viewing distance, size of images and the differences between the space of a gallery and the relative intimacy of the book. It's a challenge and many hours are spent moving images about, re-ordering sequences and groups and playing with size, themes and juxtapositions. Stimulating and frustrating but ultimately, rewarding.
'City Stories - Photographs of Cardiff 1969-1977'
I chose to review two bodies of work from the past, 'Photographs of Cardiff 1969-1977' and the 'Great Little Tin Sheds of Wales' and publish them in book form. The necessity of looking closely at these revealed themes and individual images that were passed over for the original exhibitions. In so doing they have a very different 'feel' to the original exhibitions and the opportunity to now see these works newly sequenced, with images never printed before has given the work a new life in a more permanent form than the exhibition.
'Great Little Tin Sheds of Wales'
They were both published to coincide with the opening of the retrospective exhibition and are well-produced hard-back books that do justice to the photographs and have re-invigorated older bodies of work and given them a new life. 

Both books are available from the National Library of Wales shop and from the Pen'rallt gallery bookshop: