Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Into the light

A few days to go before the exhibition opens, most of the preparations are complete, we will shortly only be in need of people, the baying public.

It is a curious thing to exhibit one's work, the mix of feelings that come, I suspect, to all practitioners notionally in the visual arts; the need for recognition, the fear of failure, will anyone come and if they do will they buy anything?

I suppose school was the likely conditioning that has allowed me to expose myself; the photo of me, on stage at the age of - I'm guessing - 7 or 8 in a (now non-pc) variety Christmas show is the first record I have  of being in front of an audience, I sang and danced solo and enjoyed every minute. My first exhibition of photographs was suggested to me by the proprietor of the camera shop in Banbury where I bought my film and paper from Blinkhorns ."Thomas Blinkhorn established Blinkhorns in 1883. He was a renowned portrait photographer with a busy studio at our current premises. The business has passed from father to son through 4 generations and has become the leading independent retailer of audio visual home entertainment in North Oxfordshire..." Martin Blinkhorn, now deceased, was, apart from being the then proprietor a photographer with the RAF during the war and subsequently a lecturer in art and photography at Banbury college, the same college that Michael Kenna studied at, I wonder... Their premises are quite long and have space in the rear of the shop to listen to hi-fi and I was encouraged to hang my prints there and through the body of the shop. I sold about seven prints, I was amazed, up until then I would have given them to anyone who might have hung them. The shop is now run by Tom, the son of Martin and I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who might want good advice about audio visual. Plug over.

I have been selected for several "Salons" where my prints have been exhibited and have been published in several books and the B&W magazine selected some prints a few years ago, but other people are involved in the management of these events or publications so it wasn't until I had to work out how to "put a show on" that I realised the effort, cost and exposure that is involved. It is, though, exposure that is key here and this comes down to selection, what to expose myself with? What and who do I think my audience will be? What do I want the people who come to the exhibition to take away (apart from the stock that is!). I am now a regular participant in Oxford Artweeks which is a completely different project to the upcoming event and I am sharing the space with three other artists, a watercolourist, a textile worker and a jewellery designer in a hotel that has advertised the event in it's blog. Dealing with the hotel has been an altogether different experience in that they expect me/us to contribute to the "marketing" of the event. A banner out side the hotel, media that they can use in their mail-shots and blog entries. Internal signage to point the public the right way. Most of these have been relatively stress free, but dealing with printers for my own work - I decided to get some calendars and cards of my work produced has been more unsettling. I have no recommendations there I'm afraid, but this may be down to naivety.

Which leaves print selection. We have two spaces in the hotel and I have decided to split my work into local "The Dorn Valley" and "other". I published a photo book via Blurb called The Dorn Valley, which is selling (albeit slowly). The downselect process, there is a current weareoca blog about editing that is in the back of my mind, but I don't think for this event I need concern myself too much on that score. It is commercial success that this is about, I'm down nearly £400 so I need to sell! For the course I have been focussing on imagery in the area where I live, Middle Barton is in the Dorn Valley, so I have some new photographs to show as well as "firm favourites"
This (left) is definitely in the latter section, I've sold this a few times at A2 and hope to again (it'll make a nice dent into the debt - I now know how the Greek finance minister feels). It is of Dovedale, for those that know it, directly to the side of the "stepping stones" for those that don't, never mind.
The image (right) is from the core of our village and again it has been sold quite a few times and it resides on the walls of a few people in and out of the village - I've only ever printed this at A3+, but it is an image of part of the village that hasn't changed in a century or more. The twin "letter box" images below, have come from recent forays into the village surrounds - both are on the Fleming estate to east of the village, highly stylised, but then most of the work I have done in and around the village suffers from that accusation, they being monochrome works.
There isn't space or need to show all the images that will be on display, there is a set on "snow in the Barton's" taken over a few winters and boosted by last years "dump" and quite a few others.
The interaction with printers has been a revelation. The banner couldn't have been easier, I generated a pdf, sent it off they printed it and at 4 mtrs X 1 mtr it seems to do the job. It's been situated outside the 

hotel at a busy junction for people who are coming to or going from the villages in the area, so hopefully it will attract, we put it up two weeks before the event. The calendar was another matter; they two asked for pdf's, which a duly supplied, they very quickly sent me proofs - which a rejected, due to a magenta cast across the all the images and a very unflattering cast to the cover shot. they reproofed and after some time and a few phone calls resent the proofs, still no good. I then sent a set of tiff files, which they rejected and asked for CMYK files. More proofing and finally the calendars were printed and delivered - not as good as I had hoped for. The cards - a sub-set of the "snow in the Bartons" set were really quite badly printed, but as they explained their printer can't do any better - only lighter or darker, they will clearly not be printing anymore of my stuff in the future. I need to seriously reconfigure how I work with professional printers. I suspect they consider me Joe public and as such give me that level of service, but I need better printing.

The whole process has been very different to the previous experience. For Oxford Artweeks the promotion and management is largely done by the organisation. As artists we need to find a venue and then pay the entrance fee to Artweeks and that's about it. Organising and promoting my own event has been a different matter. I do like exposing myself - yes I am aware of the connotations - but I feel this is the process of exhibiting. The thought of parading your work for scrutiny can be an excoriating experience, but the act has been a much more rewarding experience. People are generally pleasant, so it unlikely that there will be any blatantly obnoxious remarks, but the validation will come about with sales - people will need to want these photographs on their walls at home - or donated to other homes and that is the judge of success at an event like this. Another really difficult test is when someone starts to ask you about the work, this exposes the artist - certainly it has done to me - in a way that demands that you try and communicate what the reasons behind the photograph, why monochrome, why there, why then. All difficult questions, but it is the most beneficial part of the process, the part that I look forward to most, to allow the photographs to expose me, my motivations and face my demons.


  1. Such hard work and I hope it bears fruit. Wishing you every success.


  2. Thanks Catherine - just hoping people turn up!