exhibitions and influences

I love talking photography. Discussing and debating what I like and what I don’t care much for. Sharing knowledge and ideas can feed your own interest and also be a potent fertiliser when you feel your artistic life beginning to wither.

I’ll often drop in on any local gallery, and if the exhibiting photographer / artist is present, there’s nothing I like more than having a good old chat. There’s a connection between us as I take in what they’re exhibiting. I try not to critique, that’s not why I’ve walked through the door, but I’ll point out what I like and offer an opinion if pressed. If the exhibitor is proud / happy / confident enough to put their work up for public consumption then they’ve already won my respect, and that goes for any art form, not just photography.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend that initially perplexed me, but I’ve come up with a theory… Talking to local camera club members showing in a local gallery (and this has happened a number of times recently), when the topic of conversation turns to influences and favourite photographers, I’m often surprised when they don’t seem able to name any (apart from David Bailey), and I’m equally often greeted by blank expressions when I mention what I believe to be pretty famous names. A chap showing landscapes a while back, spoke at length about a Bailey exhibition he’d been to, but had never heard of Charlie Waite, Joe Cornish or Michael Kenna (remember, this is a guy exhibiting landscapes..!) and seemed convinced that I was pulling his leg when I spoke about the mammoth projects undertaken by Sebastiao Salgado. Now I don’t expect everyone to have an in-depth knowledge, but I’m surprised when there’s not even a flicker of recognition.

Now… my theory… and I stress, it’s only my theory… purely based on my own observations, with no personal experience of camera club membership… Camera clubs, photographic societies, call them what you will, appear to me, to be largely populated by the recently retired who are looking to fill their time, and have acquired a shiny new DSLR. Along with the new hardware, they’ll devour any number digital photography magazines, which will show the reader how to get the best out of their new machine and all the techniques they’ll need to master in order to take and print a stunning photograph (but not necessarily how to present it, but that’s another subject for another post!),  but will show little in the way of important or influential work by important or influential photographers, both current and historical. The club world seems an insular one in which members will meet and compete and show their work, but without a window to let light in from outside the members are in danger of becoming their own (and only) influence.

My point, if I have one, is…open that window… Go to exhibitions, galleries, museums. Look at books, websites and magazines. Seek out and soak up the very best, and let that be your influence. It might not make you a better photographer, but it should make you want to be…

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