CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

TWO PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITIONS  –  TWO RESPONSES

I had an excellent opportunity to compare two styles of photographs last Tuesday and to be aware of my interesting responses to them.  I have recently joined a U3A photography group in order to feel some connection with fellow local photographers and to open myself to the learning opportunities that would follow.  At Tuesday’s meeting, held indoors at the Fishguard Library because of bad weather, one of the long standing members, Richard, gave a slideshow presentation of a selection of his archive photographs taken over many years divided into various categories such as wildlife, landscapes, events, people, etc.  He is not a professional photographer using his skills which have been honed over many years for his own pleasure and the production of a few image related presents for friends and family.  

The presentation entitled ‘Painting in Light’ incorporated a fine collection of good quality, predominantly colour, photographs in a traditional-style and the time taken, distance travelled and dedication shown in building up the collection must have been formidable.  The presentation which lasted nearly 2 hours was well received by the audience with many oohs and aaaah and other favourable comments meeting many of the images. I would have been pleased to have taken many of them myself – indeed, if I hadn’t known they were his I could easily have thought that some of them were mine!  Richard’s tastes in style and subjects coincide quite closely with my own and so I felt comfortable with the work shown although I was also aware of under-currents of other feelings and emotions that I would explore later (see below).

On the way in to the talk I noticed that there was an exhibition of photographs in a side room so, after the meeting had ended, I and a couple of others went to have a look.   It was a collaborative joint exhibition entitled ‘The Shadow Self’  by Pembrokeshire photographers Philip Clarke and Heather Bennett whose aim, according to the press release aimed to “re-establish the magic of the photograph as a means of finding emotional equivalence of evoking emotion and carrying on a dialogue with the viewer.  It is an on-going work in progress that the artists intend to pursue over a number of years as a considered and in-depth exploration of the human psyche.  An additional goal was to explore the different perspectives resulting from Philip Clarke’s decision to work in analogue and Heather Bennett’s use of digital technology.  

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Both artists chose to work in black and white, but it was noticeable that Bennett’s digitally produced images had a soft purplish cast to them which was particularly obvious in contrast with Clarke’s more contrasty accompanying images.  It must be assumed that this was intentional but the purpose was not clear and was slightly disconcerting.  Each artist exhibited one image to depict their interpretations of a range of subjects including Loneliness, Isolation, Shadows, Ambiguity, Death, Grief, ‘Lords of Misrule’, ‘Into the Light’, Masks, Madness, Fear, Shadow Self and Reflection and the exhibition also included written poetic texts related to each subject which were interesting accompaniments to the images.  The choice of these subjects and the conceptual basis of the exhibition as a whole were not clear to me despite the presence of explanatory statements by the artists.  It was also not clear to me how some of the images related to the subjects that they represented or what was in the artist’s mind when they approached their work, but all images were clearly the result of considerable thought, preparation and the application of much learned skill and experience.  They all held interest and required and rewarded significant time to study them to explore their meanings.  Personally I found that Philip Clarke’s images, which were more traditional in style, constituted a more cohesive and accessible collection, the use by Heather Bennett of a diverse and more contemporary range of styles and the inclusion of texts within some of the images gave a more dissonant and confusing feel to her series.

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AN EXAMPLE OF PHILIP CLARKE’S WORK                       Copyright  Philip Clarke

It is not my purpose to give a detailed critique of the works in the exhibition. Instead I want to reflect on my response to the two photographic exhibitions that I had experienced in such a short space of time.  I suggested above that I had felt a few under-currents of feeling and emotion during the slideshow presentation.  I was uncomfortably aware that I felt an element of competition towards Richard and his work and was constantly looking to see how I might better his shots with my own.  On top of that I was also uncomfortably aware that that was a rather pointless exercise as this style of photography has so many practitioners all vying with each other to get more Likes and more adoring comments, each pushing their craft to get more clarity and more colour into their work with no greater purpose.  Although this has some short term appeal and it is always good to get some support for ones efforts this is not ultimately what I want to do.  I even noticed with interest that my concentration and focus kept slipping away from the presentation and whereas some of his descriptions of the techniques he employed or the circumstances under which some of the images were taken rekindled my attention, there was a certain two-dimensional quality to the experience.

The two man exhibition held me for a similar length of time but engaged me more deeply and led to interesting discussion with my fellow U3A-ers that was not generated by the earlier presentation.  A comparison of the amount that I have written above about  the two experiences gives an interesting insight into what went on for me and the level of my engagement.  I can remember few of the images in the presentation (there were a great many of them in quick succession after all) but a number of the relatively few images in the joint exhibition have stayed with me.  An image that particularly impressed me is Philip Clarke’s double self portrait shown above which is especially pertinent for me as I consider the up-coming Assignment.

It is clear to me that I am not content with my current photographic practice and that I am on a journey towards a more complicated and difficult path and form of representation in my images.  I don’t know what that will look like yet but I do know that it will have a purpose and that it will be very different to what it is now.  But I will probably still take old style images for recreation when I want to relax and just enjoy it!

———-     o0o     ———-

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