Sunday, 17 January 2016

Giving my prints the 'thirds' degree...........

I have had some positive responses to my last blog about camera clubs. It seems to have resonated with many, who like me, love photography, enjoy communicating our ideas and skills to a wider audience but despair at the sad antics of most clubs and the folks who belong to them, who seem to have little real interest in photography. The comments I have received prompted other memories and I have recalled, with a shudder, some more past experiences.
'Wilwood' exhibition at the Fotomuseum, Antwerp

One of my touring exhibitions was being shown at a gallery and I had travelled there to attend the opening the previous evening. I was at the gallery again the next morning giving interviews to the media, press, radio, tv. etc. A dapper, immaculately suited gentleman came in as I was in one corner of the gallery talking to the journalists. He had a row of pens in his top pocket and wearing a tie with what looked like a royal crest on it. He certainly didn't look like an ex-soldier so not a regimental tie I guessed, maybe an accountant by royal appointment?


He approached a framed print on the walls, then carefully selected one of the pens from the assortment in his top pocket and began to use it as a kind of measuring rod, placing it on the glass against parts of the image. He then shook his head and gave out an audible, sad, sigh. I was fascinated, watching him from out of the corner of my eye as I spoke to the assembled journalists and media folks. 
'Sardinia' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Wales
There were over fifty framed prints in that particular exhibition and he worked his way steadily around the gallery, print by print. Measuring, shaking his head, sighing, moving to the next. As he drew closer to our little group around a table in the corner I was able to get a clearer view of the crest on his immaculately knotted and ironed tie. Of course, I should have guessed, it was the Royal Photographic Society coat of arms! (What on earth is a camera club doing with a coat of arms anyway? Of what possible use is this towards advancing photography?) It all became clear now. What he was doing was measuring off thirds and as my images didn't correspond to this nonsensical, mythical, so-called 'rule', which is only followed by camera clubs, he was getting more and more depressed and disillusioned with every print. After 'measuring' every image, he didn't really look at the photographs, only 'measured' them; he took one last glance around the gallery from the centre of the room, shook his head sadly one last time, dropped his shoulders, gave a final, despairing sigh and left. He was probably the chairman of the local camera club so at least that's one less that will ever invite me to speak and one less that I have to refuse. 
My work at the Feick Arts Center, Poultney, Vermont, USA

On one of the rare occasions when I have agreed to speak to a camera club (and later bitterly regretted it of course), they asked me to bring original prints.  They appeared keen to see these and as I have had many good portfolio sessions in my studio with photographers who attended the 'View Camera Workshops' I ran jointly here with John Nesbitt and on numerous other occasions when teaching here and outside the UK, I agreed. Looking at original prints in a group session around a table is a useful and agreeable way to discuss work.

I arrived laden with portfolio boxes full of mounted and matted selenium toned archival prints, plus a limited edition portfolio of platinum prints . I didn't count them or exactly tot up the value but at a guess there was in the region of £50,000's worth of my prints on the table. I was very trusting. As the members assembled, one came in and said "ah, I'll bring out my print viewer for you". "Oh", I said, curiously,"what's that?" "I have designed and built it myself", he said proudly and disappeared into a side room. A few moments later he reappeared, struggling to carry the weirdest contraption I had ever seen outside of my book of Heath Robinson illustrations or a Wallace and Gromit film. This is going to take some describing, so please bear with me.

'Cader Idris', limited edition portfolio  of platinum prints
It consisted of a large, white painted plywood box, atop a tall, three legged tripod-like base made from long lengths of thin timber batten. From the floor to the top of the box was over 7 feet. "it's tall so people at the back can see over the heads of the others", he explained helpfully.  Lengths of twine threaded through the lower part of each of the spindly legs kept them - just, from splaying out and collapsing, but they still bowed under the weight of the box. 
Portfolio boxes
By some means, I don't know how, I dared not look too closely, the large, overweight for the legs, open sided box, was fastened to the top of this unsteady, top heavy and swaying tripod contraption so that the open, large side faced outwards. It was oversize so that a 20" x 16" mounted print could be placed either horizontally or upright at the back, with room all around the front edges of the box. This room was taken up around the rim by an array of light bulbs to illuminate any print placed against the back, all connected with the most alarming lash-up of amateur electrics and exposed wiring. Leading from the contraption was a long cable with a plug on the end. I watched all this happening, speechless. As he connected this to a power point and switched on, I braced myself for the bang. It didn't explode but I stared in amazement as this now, way too brightly illuminated wooden box, perilously perched atop the spindly legs, was swaying like a metronome. "It'll stop swinging in a minute" he said confidently. "Then you can pop your prints inside one by one so we can all see". The wattage of the bulbs seemed to be greater than the heating in the hall. If the whole thing didn't collapse or the fuses blow, my prints would have been fried. "Um, I don't think so" I said, "it might be better for you all to gather around the table and we can get a closer look at the prints". He was clearly hurt and offended and went off to unplug his still swaying device, huffing his displeasure at having his wonderful invention sidelined. 
Part of the 'Wildwood' exhibition

As laughable as these true experiences of mine are, it's a very sad reflection of the state of camera clubs in the UK. I say UK because my experience of photographic societies in other parts of Europe and the USA where I have lectured, taught and given master classes is very different. I blame the R.P.S., getting rid of the posh ties and the rule book would be a good start.