Royal Photographic Society – Photography in the City

18th June:
A one-day symposium organised by the RPS in conjunction with the University of Westminster. Andy Golding, head of photography at the university gave the first talk, showing how students had progressed during their course, aided by their lecturers. Several images were shown where students in the first weeks took snaps of people without their knowledge, then helped by the tutors they engaged with their models and produced much more interesting shots. Andy’s view is that voyeuristic, stealth shots are dishonest and that more is to be gained by engaging with your subject. I sympathise with this view, since I have found that taking such voyeuristic shots is uncomfortable and feels a bit pervy, but maybe I’m not approaching it in the right frame of mind. I’m hopeful the course section dealing with non-aware subjects provides some enlightenment.

Andy made several points that I noted as being useful.

– “jumping the cultural gap”, for example taking unannounced shots of different cultures such as woman wearing burkas or hijabs- this can be particularly offensive. The ‘exotic’ is attractive to most people Be careful is the message.

– it helps to approach strangers if you can show them an example of why you want their photo, ie give them a reason to be photographed.

– “use photography to solve problems” a great pointer to move beyond taking whatever is in front of you.

A selection of student portfolios were shown, running from their first weeks on the course to their degree work, and it was really interesting to see how this education changed their whole outlook and gave them a familiar style.

Next up was Tom Hunter who lives and works in Hackney, and documents his community. Very down-to-earth with a few photo series that I’d seen in magazines, and it was great to hear him speak. I asked him if he was seeing much competition from weekend warriors, and then had to diplomatically clarify, being surrounded by the great and the good of the RPS who probably hadn’t previously heard anyone refer to them in derogatory terms, but Tom’s response was that almost all his work was commissioned and he’d be flattered with anyone trying to take the same photos.
One of his techniques is pinhole photography using a 4×5 negative that requires up to 30 minutes exposure to leave an imprint or suggestion of people. These reminded me of Eugene Atget’s (and others) photos of Paris in the late 1800’s where the streets sometimes seem deserted. {I recently bought a six-stop ND filter to try and replicate the effect in modern London and will print the results in my paper learning log. I also like the romance of pinhole photography
although I think the poor quality might be more useful in faking an old-fashioned effect.}
A few messages from Tom – “there are no ‘big breaks’, it’s all about consistent results and stepping stones”.

Marco Bohr is a Photographer completing his PdD having just returned from Japan. He gave us a potted run-through of the timeline of photography in Japan, showing how in some respects they followed European trends, and at other times were ahead of the west in their adaptation of new ideas. I was familiar with some of the work shown, ans was interested in how photography in Japan seemed to align with themes and ideas elsewhere at the same time. A collective human consciousness perhaps.

Finally we had Rut Blees Luxembourg, a graduate of the University of Westminster, and well known for her night-time images of artifical light and specific framing of her subjects. She showed us a commission she’d recently carried out for London Underground, where she captured all the tube station names reflected in pools of water. An incredibly creative and effective approach, which remains within her own distinctive and atmospheric style.
I’m looking to forward to seeing some more of her work at Recontres d’Arles next week.

All in all it was a wonderful day, not least because I sat beside a chap in jacket and tie who continually snorted when various photos were shown. In a break I chatted with him and found that he was on an RPS committee, a well-respected camera club judge, and therefore he knew what made a good photograph and that none of this rubbish was good photography. I gather that he thought he’d wasted his £15 entrance money, and he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t impressed when I enquired where he had been trained, and I had previously seen this attitude at another RPS event – an evening with Martin Parr. I think it’s down to the huge gap in understanding between the pictorialists and contemporary photographers. It made me laugh out loud at the time, but with hindsight it’s a shame that the camera club gang believe they have the only valid judgements, based on same sort of personal seniority or hierarchy. I think the RPS membership sometimes fall into that hole too, although they have enough people who do understand the art of photography, and art in general.

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About watlvry

Flaneur for my own ailments; government and corporate hypocrisy; guitar stuff; the music business; home made videos featuring home made tunes played at home; a bit of golf; and of course photography. Specifically "art" photography (doesn't exist) and contemporary photography ( sadly does exist in all its grotesque reality).
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