National Photography Symposium 2012

This years NPS took place at  Somerset House and the Stand Hotel in London as part of World Photo London. There was a great selection of panelists from an extensive section of the photographic industry, all of whom were experts in their field and throughout the symposium imparted some of their knowledge.

The first session I went to was on Archives with Jem Southam, photographer and professor in the School of Art and Media at Plymouth University, Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Central Library and Brigitte Lardinois, Deputy Director of the Photography and Archive Research Centre at University of the Arts London.

One thing that was great was learning about a lot of online resources I wasn’t aware of, which I’ll post up throughout this blog,  such as the aday.org website, which Bridgette Lardinos will be, I believe, curating. Bridgette is also the co-researcher with Val Williams over at PARC who has worked with Marjolaine Ryley to create the publication for her current show at Street Level ‘Growing Up in the New Age’, which Street Level are showing and which was part of Glasgow International Festival 2012.

On the 15th of May www.aday.org asks you to pick up your camera and photograph daily life which will serve as a historical archive.

Some of the questions raised were how do we manage and preserve archives, what are the best methods as there is no industry standard? Whose archives are chosen and who’s sadly will be thrown away? On top of this we then have to consider how we select who is chosen and what the deciding factor for that should be.

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One thing everyone agrees on was the need for some sort of structure to help archivists answer these questions. It’s such a massive area and it’s one of these discussions that can go on forever, because no one can have all the answers and just the actual physicality of archiving someone’s life’s work is massive and that in it’s self creates problems of space, time, finances and the man power needed to archive our photographic heritage. These are questions that Jem Southam has been researching, I don’t believe there is any of his research for me to share here but there are other great resources such as PARC. Val Williams has curated an exhibition and book with the Daniel Meadows archive. We also heard from Pete James, who is a photo historian  and currently works as the head of  photographs at Birmingham Central Library showed us some of his work on the Sir Benjamin Stone and Paul Hill archive.  It was fantastic to see three people who were so enthused and giddy about the work they were doing even though the light at the end of the tunnel seems very far away. However they all agreed how import projects such as Daniel Meadows were, showing an archive to a public audience in an exhibition helps the public engage and in turn helps with raising the profile of the archives and the importance of preserving them.

A final thing about archives that all panelists urged for  is that we shouldn’t just think of them in the past and it’s not just the job of people like Bridgette or Pete but working photographers who need to ensure they prepare their work in a structured way so that it can be archived. There is a lot of discussion around the way digital has changed how to archive and preserve digital work and the important of starting now!

PARC 

Birmingham Central Library

Directory of Photographic Collections

Source Photographic Review are doing a three month season dedicated to archives. There are interviews with John Blakemore and the London Zoo Photography archive as well as many more. Have a look here.

The second seminar I attended was on the Print Market. The panel consisted of Zelda Cheatle, Gallery Director of Margaret Street Gallery WM Hunt, collector, curator and photographic consultant and was chaired by Jeffrey Boloten, Managing Director, ArtInsight.

Jeffrey Boloten started off the discussion with some graphs and figures, showing that the photographic print market currently is doing better than the general art market. It also showed new trends in photographic print sales veering away from fine art photography towards new areas of photography that are not made directly for sale such as fashion and documentary photography, with an impressive rise in documentary photography at 500%. It also showed a emerging trends; non-Western markets namely Russia, India, China and the Middle East.   One important point was that the photographic print market generates high sales when not referred to as photography but art and doesn’t sell in dedicated photography galleries but art galleries. Part of the problem of course is the perceived difference of photography and art.

ArtInsight

Of course, Street Level is a dedicated photography gallery so then how do we generate sales from photographic prints? This is something that is ever more urgent as a means of generating other incomes with demands being made on the public purse. Should all photographers start moving from ‘photographer’ to ‘artist’ to sell their work?  So we then need to look at the photographers whos work does sell and why. What are the problems that the photographic print market faces? One thing was look at the reproducibility of photography as a de-valuing factor. So what then of limited editions? Zelda Cheatle believes that this is simply a marketing tool and holds no real value but on a more positive note believes that one image printed now will be completely different and unique to one printed ten years from now, which is of course true in many respects. A final and extremely important discussion was the longevity of digital photographic prints, which then looped back around to the reproducibility and value of photographic print. Whose responsibility is it to re-print if such a thing happens. An example was given of the fading Gursky that was on show at the Tate. There seemed to be a consensus that it was too early to know for sure but what happens when we get to that point, will we all be left with blank prints?

The keynote speaker this year was Peter Kennard, whose work Street Level included in its display at Vault Art Fair. See here  and here. Peter Kennard is one of the UK’s most important photo montage artists. http://www.peterkennard.com/

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His talk lead nicely on to the next seminar which was on the subject of Work and the Economy. This covered how as photographers you can support yourself, working in various fields such as art, teaching, commercial. This panel was made up of Esther Teichmann, photographic artist, John Wright, portrait and fashion photographer, and board member of the Young Photographers’ Alliance and Sara T’Rula, documentary photographer.

Esther Teichmann discussed how she worked across different areas, she teaches, works on her own projects and when possible she will assist other photographers. This is one thing I’ve been told by various working photographers is to stay varied. Shutting yourself off in to just one industry can be a big downfall for photographers. She stated she had just recently gotten in to photography but had seen an opportunity last year with the Street Photography Now project which was part of the London Street Photography Festival, and she basically took over the online presences and helped co-ordinate the whole project. So straight away we have a great example of how to get on in photography. This blended in well with a discussion between John Write and Esther regarding opportunities available to photography graduates, with arguments being made about how ill-equipped photography students are when they leave their photography course. John sighted Blackpool and the Fylde College as an example of one photography course that seems to have struck a good balance between technical, critical discourse and preparing students for working in the industry but both agreed that there was some issues with the graduates coming from photography courses, a main one being the high percentage of people doing photography and the amount of jobs out there. Staying on the topic of opportunities for graduate photographers – internships were discussed. John Wright runs an internship programme and made the point when questioned on the ethics of internships and un-paid work experience that if someone takes up an internship they need to really question what they are getting from it and if nothing, then they should leave. There is a lot that can be gained in internships in place of money and it’s up to the people doing it to be savvy and ensure they are getting valuable experience from it.

The final seminar I attended was on Collaboration. The panel consisted of Anna Fox, photographer and Professor of Photography, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham;  Anthony Luvera, artist, writer and educator and was chaired by Anne McNeill, Director, Impressions Gallery, Bradford.

I thought the discussion would focus on ways organisations could collaborate more heavily but was more focused on other collaborations and partnerships in the sense of sponsorship when Anne talked about Ways of Looking Festival for example, they sourced money from different places such as hotels who gave free rooms or local printers who printed up exhibitions for them in place of cash donations.

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The second example of collaboration was with Anna Fox who discussed how her university had set up an exchange programme between UCA, Farnham and IDC, India. They showed how the students worked collaboratively to create work  which resulted in an exhibition and produced a network of photographers who have continued working collaboratively after the end of their formal education.

The most interesting presentation on collaboration came from Anthony Luvera. I’d seen his work while I was studying and so it was really interesting to get more insight in to how the final project came about. If you haven’t seen his work, have a look here: http://www.luvera.com/. He worked with homeless people to create a project titled, ‘Assisted Self-Portraits’. His project and his work are very interesting in the way he approaches working with a vulnerable group of people but he has managed to actively involve participants to create their own images and to create their own stories. On his website it states,

Luvera explores the tension between authorship (and artistic control), and the ethics involved in making photographs about other people’s lives.’

The work he has done is a great example of how to work with people on collaborative projects and create a project that is devoid of stereotypes.

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So I hope I’ve given you some insight in to the weekend. There was a lot of fantastic, insightful and well argued discussion from a broad range of people working within photography. A big thanks to Paul Herrmann of Redeye for keeping discussions focused and on cue. The weekend was wrapped up with Photography Question Time which again raised a lot of questions and we spent a good bit of time going over ethics and morals within photography. There were a few seminars I didn’t get to because they ran parallel but all audio is going online at the NPS blog at some point in the next week I believe.  http://redeye.org.uk

Linda McLaughlin

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