Thursday 16th May
As part of the opening weekend of the Look 13 photography festival, I’d had a mad moment and booked onto a few events. While I couldn’t attend the full symposium on the Friday, I did take some time off from work to attend the events on the Thursday, and the talks being held on the Saturday. These are my summaries of the events I went to, I took loads of notes, saw loads of images, heard lots of people talk and I really enjoyed it. I’d almost moved into the Bluecoat over these two days and found the mixture of activities put on by Redeye and Miniclick (as well as all the other people involved in the events) so worthwhile, excellent value and something I’d be very keen to attend again.
I had my first portfolio review outside of my peer group as part of the opening weekend of Look 13. Whereas I’d previously shown my work to fellow OCA students, this was the first time I’d shown anything to a critical stranger. I’d only booked one session as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of it and how critical it would be. While I did have some bodies of work to show, I wasn’t looking for advice on where to take the projects next.
I took three bodies of work that I’d previously taken and submitted for my OCA coursework including the Battle of Nantwich series on people undertaking an activity, my ‘stone’ series and my ‘Forsaken’ project. Of all of these, the one that I will continue to work on as it interests me and I feel is the way that I want my work to go, is the ‘Forsaken’ project. My reviewer was Petra van den Houten from Redeye photographic network.
My supplementary information that I was asked to provide in advance, I found this harder than actually going through the review.
What kind of work you do
My style is quite varied; I do wildlife, architectural and urban images mostly. I’m working on my own personal style and tend to focus a lot on quirky and unusual subjects. My weakest area is portraiture and that’s something I’d like to improve on
We discussed portraiture and how it wasn’t an area I was naturally inclined towards, I wanted to try it but it didn’t come as easily to me as other work. Petra’s advice was to try it if I wanted to but if it wasn’t a strength area for me, to look at what I am good at and enjoy and to pursue these. Good portraiture photography usually requires professional models and lighting, both of which I don’t have.
Of all of the images, the stone series didn’t really get a mention; I guess they are ok but didn’t catch the eye as much as the others. I should focus on my strengths which are the more unusual/urban type of images that I’ve produced so far. While I didn’t think that my personal voice was established enough and I felt that I was still trying to find it, it was clear here
Where you are up to in your career
I’m in a different career at the moment and am currently studying part time for a degree in photography. Ideally I’d like to move into a more creative career path whether its full time or just getting my work published, exhibited and used. I’ve had some images printed in magazines as part of voluntary work, the Urban Design Journal, and the Big Issue in the North.
We discussed ways that I could get more noticed and how to promote my work with a focus on the local area. Other ways of producing work were discussed too- the little 6×4 book was favourably reviewed and a mention of images that could work as postcards if I could find a partner to publish/stock these
What you want from the session.
I’d like some advice on what I should be presenting in a portfolio, can I show that I have variety or do I need a coherent style. I’d also like to discuss how to get my work better known, how to get it seen and discuss finding a ‘personal voice’
I’m not expecting that my work is the finished article, but I am open to advice and criticism as I want to improve and see this session as a step towards this
– Was viewed upon favourably, Petra told me that if she doesn’t like something, then she would say so and she was positive about the content of the images and also the printing of them
– Contact local press and see if I can get a series of images published in there
– Consider a narrative with the images as this worked well in the book
– Research costings- printing/posting/mounting etc. so that I know what to charge for selling my work
– Always get credited even if you don’t get paid
– Have a blog (I have my blog for OCA which also has other photography bits and pieces on)
– Long term- consider images such as the ‘graffiti’ ones which could be made into postcards
– Portfolio sleeves- ok in some situations to present work in, e.g. if they are being passed around a large group in a small timeframe.
I was nervous before the review, having only shown my work to a small number of people, most of them friendly reviewers without a critical eye, I was expecting to be told that my work is awful. I was surprised that the review was very positive and I’ve come away thinking about actions that I can take to progress, I’d certainly look to book onto more of these, and I would book a couple in one day so I can contrast the reviews and thoughts.
The Perfect Portfolio Talk- Paul Herrmann (Redeye)
This was a talk that encompassed putting together a portfolio but also the pitching your work and having the confidence to do this.
While I was looking forwards to a debate on what you should and shouldn’t do in your portfolio and an example of how these should look, this was a much wider scoped session and really worthwhile insight from Paul Herrmann.
– need confidence in your work
– in talking about your work
– no one is 100% confident
– there is good and bad confidence- illusory confidence, being confident in bad work but having the view that its good
– what’s driving you?
– make lots of work
– making lots of work allows you to find your best
– don’t have gaps in your CV, try to a lot of things going
Testing (either testing your work or research & development)
– presenting to small group/individuals
– show to as many people as possible
– Have peer groups (other OCA students?)
– blogs (blog weekly)
– Have portfolio reviews
– Absorb responses- try something new and better
– Try to push the ideas forwards
– Think ‘what can I do to improve this?’
Pitching and Presenting
The ‘artist’ statement
– Should be straightforward and honest
– Adds something to your work
– Use plain language
– Why you are presenting work that interests you
The ‘elevator’ pitch
– What do you say in 30 seconds?
– People are busy, impatient and judge you in 2 seconds- need to make a good impression
– People tend to like something offbeat/cutting edge
– Many people like to be helpful if it’s easy
– What do think is on their mind? Can you ask them instead of talking about yourself- what did they think of a new exhibition or event?
– Work out what’s interesting to someone
Try to have short answers to:-
– What are you working on?
– Are you published?
– Why are you doing that?
– Reward the viewer (work should be enjoyable/fascinating etc.)
– Loose images or bound images?
– Loose if still working on, Bound if its finished or you want it in a certain order
– Make it easy to view, e.g. size, paper, format, name clearly on the portfolio if you leave it
– A matte printed portfolio is easier on the eye (unless it affects tonal range)
– Accept that bits and pieces will get battered and need replacing
– Character/voice needs to emerge-viewers need to see enough of ‘you’ in the work
– Francis Hodgsons rule “Got to have something to say, got to be worth saying, the picture has got to say it”
– Images should relate to each other- be a body of work and in sequence for viewing
– Put your best picture first (what your testing audience have responded to)
– Put the second best image either halfway or at the end
– Only show your very best work
– Consider showing 2 or 3 bodies of work
– Editing- print postcard size, pin on walls and start removing what you don’t like (I do this when working on assignments)
– Printing the images is very good for editing, if in doubt don’t include
– Keep changing and updating your portfolio e.g. last thing in there was taken last week- always keep refreshing
The rest of your marketing toolkit should contain:-
– Website/blog/social media
– Jpegs for press use- have ready to send out
– Business cards or even postcards with your work on and contact info
– Email news-have a mailing list- email once or twice a year
– You talking- slideshows of your work
– Writing about your work and have other people write about you
Symposium Introductory Talk – John Davies & Laura Pannack
John Davies ‘The landscape as self-portrait’
I went into this with an open mind and looking at the ideas around landscape as a potential subject for future study. While the talk was quite interesting, I felt that it was a little stilted and rambling in places and that as Davies was talking, his mind was skipping ahead to other things leaving the audience in the pauses. I didn’t take lots of notes, but I did take a few key lines and quotes
To begin with, we had the thought that “If we’re true to ourselves, our photographs will reflect who we are”. Davies then went on to speak about a friend of his in the 1970’s, a photographer called Angela Kelly. She was a feminist/activist engaged in women’s identity. I have to admit that it was hard at first to link this introduction to the subject, however it wasn’t so much on this is a landscape and this is how I create one. I felt it was very much about the choice to photograph landscapes and the personal journeys and background that can influence, directly and indirectly the path that one takes. At the end of the talk, it was clearer to see where everything was linked in.
Davies spoke on his childhood as an introduction to his preference for landscapes. He experienced conflict between his family as a child, he wanted escapism and sees isolated wilderness is an escape. He finds meaning in conflict and is interested in a sense of movement and change.
Landscape isn’t restricted to the typical countryside landscape; he’s also photographed urban landscapes such as a series in Sheffield. The composition tends to be similar, an isolate pub in a run-down area or an isolated tree within a field. These symbols represent us, such as the solitary tree in a landscape. Photography lies, we see what we want to see, we choose particular images, this shows a selected view that’s important to use and we can identify with, Davies also reiterated that whatever photograph you make is a reflection of yourself with a different take that the photographers soul is captured by the photographs you choose to capture. Leading from this, Davies talked about Martin Parr and the content of his images in ‘Last Resort’, looking at the images within these there are trends on families and also rubbish everywhere. At the time of working on this Parr had litter piling up and collecting in the alley behind his house and he was discussing having a family with his wife. While it’s not for me to make the judgement on the private influences, it’s certainly interesting to hear the point from someone who knew him at the time and can see his thoughts reflected in the subject content.
Park Royal- an underground river- Davies wanted to reflect on what’s hidden and what deny/hide away. This is a metaphor that reflects his culture. You only understand a sense of beauty by comparing it with something else. He’s interested in how people shape the landscape that we live in. Landscapes are not just a backdrop to people; they can be seen in their own right. We influence the environment, the environment influences us
I wasn’t familiar with Laura Pannack, but within a couple of minutes her effortless style just chatting about her work and showing a selection of images really had me grabbed and I felt that I could sit there all night and just listen to her. Her passion and enthusiasm really came across in a very dynamic conversation.
In comparison to Davies’ landscape, Pannack works with people and portraits, exploring trust and vulnerability through images and preferring to work with hidden groups and people who don’t want to be photographed. A lot of the discussion was about connection and building a relationship. Pannack needs to be able to have an emotional impact to an image, through this she can relate to these or engage with this. A lot of the work is about connection with people. Some of the images we saw in the slideshow were a project on photographing photographer as they don’t usually like their photos taken, preferring to be behind a barrier of a lens as they capture other people. Pannack got photographers to stand behind glass with their eyes shut for these portraits. Pannack said she would take the photograph but they didn’t know when, she stripped the controls from them
Vulnerability is a strong theme that runs through with a lot of the subjects being vulnerable such as working with schools and adolescents. Projects are left open; she never closes them so she can always return and favours working on universal themes. You adapt to the person or photographer, one example was when she had to photograph Mike Leigh, she only had a few minutes and he didn’t want to be photographed so she put the camera down and they went for a walk. This disarmed and relaxed him and she got the photograph. With only 10 minutes or less usually to photograph someone, she needs to develop a relationship or adapt to how the situation is to get the image.
A portrait is collaboration between the photographer and the subject. Ask people if you can take their photograph. If they say yes she can spend 40-60 minutes with them getting to know them.
Throughout the talk, as well as learning about Pannack and her work, it was full of really useful tips and ideas. Some of them are common sense such as put lots of research in, spend time getting to know your subjects and that she is always learning, about photography, the situation, the process and about herself. I feel that as a student, I’m always learning and trying to do better, to hear someone working successfully say that they are constantly learning is quite reassuring. A key point that really stuck in my mind is that ‘only the photographer and the subject know what happened just before and just after the photograph has been taken’ The talk ended with a debate between Pannack and Davies, they both have different viewpoints, Pannack likes the unpredictability of people compared to landscape.
Exhibition ‘I exist in some way’
I didn’t get to see all of this exhibition when I visited for the Saturday events, so I will return and add my notes to these. The first part I did see was by Laura El-Tantawy. You walk into the room and it’s all matching tones of browns and earth colours. The walls, framing and colour of the images all complimented each other with the different tones. First to be noticed was the framing, the images were different sizes and all arranged differently into what seemed to be groups. I didn’t know if all the groups were reacting to the same trigger point and that’s why they were together or if I’m looking at the facial expressions and jumping to that conclusion myself. The images have a very close composition on the subjects, the faces are all cropped in some way, sometimes you don’t even see their eyes, they are hidden by hands. I did notice that hands and their position play a key part running through the images, there were biting of nails, covering eyes and even praying. All of the subjects look upset or emotional and it’s left to the viewer to interpret this, I saw hope in some eyes but grief in others.
Saturday 18th May Events
Back in the performance space where the events of Friday were, the house was almost full for the Tom Wood talk. John Davies who spoke on the Thursday was also in the audience for the talk and actually began by giving the audience his thoughts on Wood. Whereas the comments on Thursday were very much that ‘the photographers soul is captured by the photographs you choose to capture’, Davies said of Wood that he is ‘capturing his own soul when he’s photographing’ with a reflection of his culture and where he’s from in the people that he’s photographing.
This was meant to be a joint book launch with his new work ‘Men and Women’ but at the time of the event the book wasn’t quite ready from the publishers. Hopefully he will return at some point and present the book. At the end of the talk a limited few copies of some of his previous books were for sale, while I didn’t hang around, I was halfway in the quite long queue with the majority selling out before I got to the front of the queue. I plan on getting his next book though when it’s available, some of the images were presented here as part of the talk and I’d like to see more of them.
The format of the talk was Wood speaking, a presentation of a number of images of his different work and projects over the years and people jumping in with questions. While Wood said that he got bored talking and preferred to have people ask questions to keep it interesting for himself, I was really gripped by the talk and listening to him, so for me the questions were interesting but the main draw was really to hear Wood speak.
The photographs were of different subjects and groups taken over his career including the Men and Women series, Looking for Love (Chelsea Reach Nightclub) and All zones off peak (bus travel around Merseyside)
Wood used to go through magazines and postcards in charity shops and compile these into collages. He was always interested in other people’s images and how they can be used, so from an early age he was making decisions on pictures and how they go together. Currently he works with fine artist Padraig Timoney, looking at not the images he knows are good but the other ones to see what can be used in the compilation of books.
Wood moved to Merseyside in 1978 and used colour despite it being more expensive than black and white because he liked the colour. He didn’t know at the time that he was meant to use black and white (colour wasn’t seen as fashionable). His technique has been walking around asking people if he can take their photographs, some said yes, others would say come back. It was all about getting to know an area and the people within it, building a relationship of trust. The All zones off peak series grew from him using the bus network as a way to explore the New Brighton area. At this point John Davies contributed that the people in Wood’s images come across as extended family and also that “anything you want can be landscape” Looking at some of the images, the wider street shots where you have people in it, but they’re not the largest or strongest point of interest and you can see the street and the context that this is more than a portrait, and more than street photography. Landscape, as I am learning is a very generic term that can be tied down to be the beautiful rolling countryside but also the gritty urban cityscape. If I progress with landscape I need to focus very clearly on what it means to me, as opposed to the general view of what it means.
All zones off peak
With the bus travel he would keep repeating the bus routes, getting on at the start, then hopping off at the end, crossing over and getting back on. He sensed who didn’t want their pictures taken and who did. At first he tried to avoid the reflections but after years he realised that they added to the magic. He has photographic accidents, where he gets slow shutter speeds, changing light, blur and didn’t know what he was going to get.
For the Chelsea Reach series, he used either flash and took one shot, or he used infrared film and a filter on the flash so that he could prevent the people within the club from seeing the flash and allowing him to take more than one image, but he stopped used this as he felt that it was cheating.
Some of the subject he followed and photographed them a number of times, an example was Rachel, when she was 13, 17 and then 33. He printed copies of the portraits he took and shared them with the people he photographed, as well as building up a relationship, they were assured that he was who he was (there was a fear it could be someone investigating dole claims etc) and were more inclined to either be photographed again, or would pass word around to friends and family that he was ok, and then he’d get more compliance. Wood enjoys taking pictures and selecting them but isn’t keen on the editing, sending and all the other day to day tasks. Using a mixture of film cameras from Rolleicord’s to Leica’s he moved to digital around 18 months ago. Prints are more exacting and compared to digital you are more able to see things that you weren’t expecting so it’s better to print images and review them.
This was one of my highlights of the weekend, while I like Martin Parr, I find his images are too bright and saturated for me, Wood combines the street and people photography with punchy but still natural colours and that really appeals. The subjects are really interesting and the stand out for me is the one of the three women all in a row at the ‘women’s market’, the middle one is staring into a container fascinating, I wonder whether there’s anything in there!
Saturday 19th May- the afternoon
The afternoon session after a short lunchbreak (some of which spent queuing for a Tom Wood book!) was Photopulse hosted by Miniclick. The premise was 10 photographers with 10 minutes each to talk about the theme of the festival ‘Who do you think you are’ and to show their work to us. I was looking forwards to seeing Jim Mortram as part of this but unfortunately he was unable to make it, however this didn’t detract from the event and I went into this now knowing any of the photographers and keeping an open mind.
Tadgh Devlin “The 5th Province”
First up we had Tadgh Devlin, an Irish photographer who was looking at home, and different versions of home, how Ireland had changed and also how Ireland is portrayed in other people’s eyes. Emigration was discussed; Irish exiles memories change when they’ve left, and when you return you’re not the same person. Some of the images shown were of the ferry leaving Ireland and the subjects stood with their backs to the camera looking through bars on the rear of the ship out to sea. You don’t see their faces, and don’t know why they are on the ferry, whether leaving Ireland is a short term or long term change. The project prompted him to look at the depiction of stereotypes, tourist attractions that are Irish but attract a wider range of visitors and then to look at his own family and where he grew up.
Vermandel says she was the ‘reluctant photographer’ who wanted to try and break through the perfect surface and see something different. She showed us some of her influences, a lot of painters have proved inspiring, as have photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Wolfgang Tillmans. The series presented here was called ‘Splinter’.
She likes things that have a barrier and need to break through this to get to the core of the work. She also suggested that a viewer needs to review the whole body of work when you look at it.
Hasar presented a really interesting concept and a twist on self-portraitures. She experimented with hide and seek, using other people’s houses as props. She had lost her creativity after finishing universality and this was the project that got her creativity back. As well as hiding in houses and taking portraits of herself in position, she also videoed herself getting in and out of the poses, one was on top of a stove within a fireplace. This was extended to inviting other people to send in their own images and videos which can be seen on tensecondsproject.co.uk. Throughout the process she started experimenting and covering her face so that no-one know who she is.
The second part of the presentation was a work called ‘Cosmic Surgery’, again this featured photographic portraits taken but then added to. Hasar would take a print of the image and turn this into an origami shape. This shape would be laid out over another print and cover the face of the subject, then being rephotographed as the final version. Whereas the hide and seek images I really loved, even the video showing the people ‘disappearing’, the work within ‘Cosmic Surgery’ made me feel really uncomfortable. You struggle to see the person within the origami; the effect is very alien with a disfigured set of shapes with eyes, noses and mouths all in different positions on the face.
Latham, a new graduate from a documentary photography course, presented a piece of work taken over two visits to the USA where he would retrace the steps of the pioneers along the Oregon Trail. At the time of the presentation he had taken the images over two visits and was planning a final one to complete the series. Using a large wooden camera he looked at areas around motels, looking at pit stops where you would stop and gather yourself before moving on. He wasn’t trying to document or make a statement about the people he met, they were just people he stumbled upon and got talking to, he would talk to the people he met for a while before introducing the photography as he doesn’t want to exploit them.
Chloe Dewe Matthews
The series presented by Dewe Matthews was an older piece of work called Banger Boys of Britain. This was a four year old project that she undertook when she was first getting to grips with photography. As the title suggests she was focusing on the sport of banger racing and the images showed the whole range from the pit area and getting ready through to the final smash up, with Dewe Matthews saying that for her, the action leading up to the race and final smash was more exciting. Photography in her view is about getting there and having a role within the system, everyone is playing a role. I really enjoyed this talk and actually mentioned to a friend that I was visiting with that she reminded me of Tom Wood. All the subjects are respectfully treated and that comes across, she’s gotten to know the subject and area and the repeated exposure shows in the images.
We had a halfway break at this point when I chose to go and nosy at the miniclick stand where I bought a copy of their March journal. Featuring some of the photographers in this event and some new ones, this was a really interesting introduction to some photographers new to me and showing some examples of their work. I was quite pleased as Laura Pannack, who I enjoyed listening to on the Thursday was featured.
After the break, we continued with the remaining 5 photographers, looking at my notes and thinking back, I think that I engaged more with these photographers and their work but I’ll certainly be looking out for all of them in the future.
I’ve put a large asterisk against my notes for Niall McDiarmid, and looking back I remember how engaged I was with his talk and work. I would have liked to have seen more but obviously everyone has their own timeslot. His project ‘Crossing Paths’ started in walks around London, and then he started stopping at commuter towns outside of London. His work is portraits, he looks for people as he’s out and about, taking a couple of shots of each person but not wanting anything that would distract. Looking at their clothing and the surrounding area and framing them in the right place so that the colours complement each other and don’t clash but considering colours, shapes and textures within the subject and the area. From here he extended to group shots looking at the dynamic between the people. The idea behind the work was that he would go for a walk and see who he could meet. Unfortunately due to the time constraint, he said that there were individual stories with each of the people but that he hadn’t time to go into these at this point- but I would love to know the back stories and how he felt as he spotted people that were photogenic. As he said photographing people is always a challenge as the dynamics don’t always work. At the moment he is still travelling about the country, working in different regions, looking at places that seem to have fallen off the photographic radar.
Most of Wicks’ work looks at identity and the impact that environment can have on us. She showed the genetic lottery work, ‘Root Ginger: A study of red hair’ looking at the genes carried out which determine red hair. This project took on a life of its own and while she undertook it with a positive view, showing how stunning redheads can be, it also attracted a lot of press interest and negativity. Wicks felt that you can lose perspective hen working on a long project and feels this lots it integrity and that the press publicity created a negative impact on the actual project. I missed this project and all of the press interest, however I do know that the images in her slideshow were stunning and the little child with blue eyes and porcelain skin is breath taking in its colours and beauty. The second work Wicks showed was a piece on trying to re envision herself from being trapped between parenthood and photography.
Gerrard started off as an environmental scientist but changed roles after she realised she wanted to be the person showing the areas that needed looking after. After she moved back to Scotland, she noticed that her personal voice getting stronger, with work featuring people in their environments and how it affects them. She feels that she has the responsibility got representing these people and showing them as part of a context, her current project is ‘Drawn to the land’ featuring women farmers.
Leeming’s ‘Roma Britain’ project is photographing Romanian and eastern European roma people that have moved over the UK. Her neighbourhood has a lot of Roma and wanted to get access to the community. One of the subjects that she is working with is a young Roma girl who is walking a tightrope between being a traditional Roma woman and the non-traditional more westernised person. What comes across is that Leeming really knows her audience, she’s sympathetic, no agenda and just showing an honest representation of this community and she is trying to challenge stereotypes and showing the tensions between family and community and tradition.
Daniels’ work features two identical twins Monette & Mady who call themselves the ‘diamond sisters’. Based in Paris, they used to be in cabaret together but now have Paris as their stage as they dress identically and adopt the same poses. While this is a positive and alternative attitude to aging, they have also created their own sideshow as they walk around and pose around the city
This was a really good event and more than worth seeing, it actually overran but could stretch to longer than a couple of hours anyway. Seeing snapshots of different work and projects is quite exciting as even if you don’t like some of it, there will be something else. I also found that even if I didn’t like the images, I enjoyed listening to the background and why they had taken these images or looked at a special subject. I don’t expect everyone to like all of my work it’s about knowing what it works and why the photographer has done it that way.