Drive-In Gallery

As Bowie never sang, “It’s a crash course for the ravers, it’s a dri-i-i-ive-in photo exhibition.”

So having crammed another Bowie reference into a blog post like pushing a banana through a keyhole, what I’m trying to explain here is that I’m massively thrilled to announce that tomorrow sees the launch of my first solo exhibition in an open-air space. To be precise, it’s a car park, making this the world’s first drive-in photo exhibition.

Now, don’t ruin it for me by googling this and finding one already exists, I did search and the closest I found was an underground car park ramp to some billionaire’s posh residence with walls lined with priceless paintings. That doesn’t count.

This all started a few months ago when I approached Mendip District Council (owners of the Saxonvale site) to see if there was any way I could continue documenting the site since they’d made it secure. The timing of my contact was perfect – someone in the council had seen What Happened Here and decided some of the photos would look great on the site hoardings, so we looked at various possibilities from a few different angles and came up with a plan.

Mendip council officers agreed to go ahead with the project and I re-scanned the chosen images since they were going to go big, and I mean VERY big.

Two days ago I visited the very excellent Compugraphic in Frome to see some of the prints coming off their large-format printer ready to be mounted on aluminium composite board; thirteen images in total, 1.5 x 1 metre in size with two of them 1 metre square format. In other words, really huge prints and certainly larger than I’d ever had anything printed before.

I’d been concerned that I couldn’t supply good enough files for such enlargement, but when I saw the prints I nearly cried! They look fantastic, and where I’d been thinking that viewing distance would make up for any loss in quality, I’ll be happy for visitors to walk right up to these. They’ll be able to dive right into the grain of the images.

The panels will be displayed on hoardings in the Merchants Barton car park in the town centre for at least the next few months, so if you do happen to be in the area I hope you’ll check it out. You can find out even more from Mendip’s press release here.

In the meantime, this may well be my final post of 2019 as Project Bunker is overrunning and I’m on a deadline to transfer my office into it by the end of December.

So I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, my clients, my friends, colleagues and suppliers for making 2019 a pretty good year, with an extra special thank you to Naomi and her colleagues at Mendip District Council for rounding it off so spectacularly for me.

Oh and with regards the continued access to the Saxonvale site, we’ll see. I’m doubtful at this stage, but you never know, it could be what keeps me busy in 2020.

More New Plans!

As if the launch of wasn’t exciting enough, I’m now also preparing for an exhibition!

On June 20th I’ll be launching a small show in the cafe space at Black Swan Arts in Frome. Rather excitingly, the exhibition will run for a month and will span the very busy Frome Festival period (5th – 14th July) and will feature a very select choice of prints from my Saxonvale (What Happened Here) project.

The prints will be certificated one-offs printed on fine art paper and simply framed, matted and ready to hang. I’ve yet to settle on final prices, but I’m hoping to keep them as accessible as possible.

At this stage I’m very keen to hear from local businesses or organisations interested in part-sponsoring the exhibition. It’s worth noting that the Black Swan cafe is extremely busy at any time of year, but come Frome Festival it is almost always full to capacity, so an excellent chance for some valuable exposure.

With or without sponsorship, the exhibition will be a really exciting first public outing for What Happened Here and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes down, especially from people who aren’t from this area or familiar with the Saxonvale story.

If you or anyone you know is looking for some additional publicity in conjunction with what I promise will be a beautiful and thought-provoking photographic exhibition, do drop me a line At the very least, let me know if you’re planning on coming down and perhaps I’ll see you there in June.

Get Some Gander and Pig In Your Ears

That’s probably the skinniest picture I’ve ever posted on my blog, but if you dare to click the play button you’ll get to hear my voice via the miracle of the internet.

Artist David Chandler interviews local artists and creative people for his Seeing Things programme on Frome FM, but he decided to interview me during the Faces of Routes exhibition. Sadly, due to a backlog of interviews, it couldn’t go up before the exhibition closed, but it’s an interesting interview in any event. Especially during the bits where I’m not talking.

Do listen to the end or you’ll miss the interview with printmaker Chris Pig. That’s two farmyard animals for the price of one!

Art for Inspiration

This week I took a trip to Birmingham, partly for pleasure and partly to refresh the ol’ brain cells and for a change of scene.

Yesterday, during a visit to the city centre I decided what I really needed was an injection of inspiration so headed to the IKON gallery to see an exhibition by Žilvinas Kempinas. Sara Barker is also currently showing there, but for time/space constraints I’ll need to concentrate on Žilvinas’ work today. I happen to prefer his work too.

Žilvinas’ art is very much on the Intsallation spectrum, and normally I’m a little sceptical of anything with that tag, but his work is very engaging and thought-provoking. I’m no art critic, so I’m going to struggle with the terms and concepts used to describe this work, but it seemed to me he’s very interested in magnets and magnetic media, physics, frequencies, organic shapes and ways of using these elements either singly or combined to fascinate or disturb us.

I won’t describe the entire exhibition, but highlights would have to include Oasis; imagine a loop of recording tape, diameter approximately 6 foot, levitating, swirling, shape-shifting, rising and falling in mid-air by use of a ceiling fan directly above and an arrangement of metal panels on the floor below which together form some kind of air vortex which keeps the tape from ever flying out of its space or dropping to the floor.

In another room, black walls with circular works laid behind panels, illuminated all-round from inside the wall, resemble a series of moonscapes. From the ceiling are suspended dozens of strands of magnetic recording tape, forcing the viewer to mind how they navigate the room. At the end of the room is a giant screen, a piece titled White Noise, comprising a dizzying display of horizontal strands of video tape, rapidly animated by hidden fans, creating the effect of white noise on a de-tuned TV.

Standing facing this screen and allowing it to fill my vision for a few moments gave me motion sickness, but it was fascinating to allow a piece of art to affect me on such a visceral level and I struggled to peel myself away.

The IKON positively encourages photography, and plenty of visitors were snapping away on cameras and smartphones, and while I wanted to concentrate on just looking at and considering the works I couldn’t resist lining up a couple of shots to capture peoples’ interactions with them.

I don’t get the opportunity to get out and view much art, but often when I do I come away with new thoughts about my own work; even the corporate photography. It’s good fuel for my mind’s eye.

And every time I do go and see an exhibition, I tell myself I must get out and see more. Then time passes by, life intervenes and I seem to be back where I started. The beauty of Žilvinas’ work is I think unlike most modern art, this will stay with me for a long time and I’ll keep thinking back to what it represents and what I learned from it.

For more information on this and future exhibitions at IKON, see this link.

Yes, but is it art?

Last week I was setting up to photograph an industry awards event in Bristol which I knew would include some group photos as well as individual presentations.

During my preparations I took this photo of a row of chairs to check my lights and their outputs so that when it came to doing the group photos, everything would be pre-set without further setting up.

It wasn’t until I got back to base and started editing the images that the photo sort of jumped out at me. It has a quiet, expectant air. It is clean, but imperfect (stains on the seats, the 13 amp socket on the wall). I’m not much good at artistic analysis so I’ll resist too much hyperbole.

I posted it as a bit of a joke on a photographers’ Facebook forum and was pleasantly surprised by how the other photographers saw and participated in the joke. I titled it “Consciousness of Dolphins #5.”

Yet every time I look at it, something about it stirs me. The geometry of the wall behind and the way one edge exactly intersects with the chair back; the simple colour palette (here I go again, cod art terms I really should resist), and even the way the chairs anticipate the use to which they are about to be put. I can’t help feeling I’ve created something which might, had I been born with a triple-barrelled name or tutored in a Zurich art college, have been considered art.

But no. My belief is that art isn’t random. The artist must know what they are trying to achieve before they create a piece and that the art is what happens between the idea forming in the artist’s mind and the finished article coming into existence. You can’t screw up a piece of tin foil, mount it on a mahogany plinth and then decide what the message is. Likewise I can’t take a test shot with the purpose of checking my settings, then decide I’ve created art.

Still, I will say this: without being pretty, it is an engaging photograph. While I could say that’s good enough for me, what’s even better is that when the groups turned up, my settings were correct. Insofar as the photo has a purpose, that was it and that really is good enough for me.

Contextual Portraits

One thing I love about being a photographer is the chance to meet a wide variety of people, all with different backgrounds, interests and personalities.

As a prime example, this week started with a delightful encounter with local ceramicist Jane Gibson who runs a gallery in Bradford on Avon. Jane needed images of her work to send to art galleries and for her website update.

With a simple backdrop and lighting set-up I was able to create lovely fresh images of Jane’s quirky work, but when I’d finished photographing the pieces I also felt a portrait of Jane would be useful for the promotion of her art. Thankfully she didn’t need too much persuading.

Although Jane’s specialism is ceramics, she also offers a selection of her paintings and I wanted to suggest this in the background of the picture without it overwhelming the photo or being too distracting. I think Jane looks beautiful in the soft window light of her studio with subtle hints of her work behind her.

I particularly enjoy taking portraits with context, and this is a good example of what I mean. A contextual portrait is a great way to broadcast not only what you look like, but also what you do or where and how you work. This can really engage the viewer and hold their attention in a way a headshot against a plain background won’t always achieve.

Most of next week I’ll be working exclusively on contextual and action portraits, which I hope to share with you soon. It’s going to be challenging, but huge fun.

My Dried Grape for Existence (Raisin d’être)

People get into photography for all kinds of reasons and I don’t need to list them here, but since the early days of my career my motivation has been that I wanted to take pictures which were of a high enough standard that I would get commissioned (paid) to take pictures which would be published.

This started with newspapers and magazines, but since my business focuses so much more on commercial and corporate photography now, I get the same thrill by being commissioned by business clients to take photos for their websites, brochures and press releases.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s always been the endorsement of being asked to take pictures in exchange for filthy lucre which has been my motivational drug, which leads me neatly to the argument about taking pictures for money as somehow demeaning photography.

Millions of people take pictures for fun, many thousands take pictures for artistic reasons, but amongst true artists there are vanishingly few who pursue their passion with a view to never making money from it. Money, whatever we think of it, is the ultimate endorsement of what we create.

Cover of University of Bath's Donor Report

Making pictures for publication is what motivates me

For me, though I don’t put my work under the heading of art, the opposite of my principle motivation would be to take photos just so people could tell me how great they are, without anyone telling me in cash terms whether or not my work is up to snuff. Likes and shares on Facebook and Instagram are all very well, but it’s too easy for someone to endorse a photo on the web with pretty much zero commitment or investment in that photo. A Like might not even mean they like the photo and you may never know what motivated someone to  give it a click. It’s possible they made a slip of the finger which they couldn’t be bothered to reverse.

No, for me the joy of photography, my reason to strive and improve in it, is to see it used, published and put to work in return for the thing (the ONLY thing) which allows me to carry on doing it; money.

Charging money for photography doesn’t diminish it, doesn’t decrease its value. If you want to decrease the value of your photography, all you have to do is give it away, whereupon it becomes either worthless or impossible to value. If anything, giving photography away diminishes photography as a whole, a consequence which I believe has done much harm to the industry and resulted in a great deal of very poor work being used where it should never have seen light of day.

Taking pictures for money doesn’t weaken my wish to be the best I can be, it enhances my motivation. Nor does it stop me banging the drum for photography worth paying for. My raison d’être may be filthy lucre, but around that sits a joy in my work, a joy in giving my clients what they want and need and ultimately being able to say I’ve stayed true to my principles for 25 years.*

*I haven’t the slightest idea where this article came from. It just sort of wrote itself. Thank you for reading.