When I was travelling in Europe in October I saw the author of a book being interviewed on television. He had accumulated a list of 1000 events or situations that would give you an emotional uplift or generally happy feeling, just to remind ourselves that within all the bad news we see there are also positive occasions, even though they can often be quite small and therefore pass unappreciated. The man is certainly an optimist!
Last week I was reminded of that book when experiencing two personal happy moments. Firstly, after a long struggle my son finally managed to ride a bicycle without any help or aids. There he was, wobbly but riding all on his own. A superb moment. Secondly, it was time for the annual JRP group photo show and I decided to go into my archives an edited a series of 12 photographs on the theme of “night” together, taken over a period of 5-6 years on film and digital. After struggling with editing, sequencing and printing (my first all-inkjet show) I was like the years before very happy to see the results hanging on the wall and being looked at by visitors.
The two moments are not as unrelated as one may think. I often think of my photos as almost child-like. When good work is strong enough, I feel that it can stand on its own and no longer needs me to explain or otherwise attend or foster it. The images take on a life and meaning on their own, independent from me, their creator. It’s almost as if they’re not made by me at all.
I was also reminded once more of how important the process of showing your work in public is. The thoughts that one needs to put into editing, sequencing and printing alone, which I mentioned above, will force you to reflect on your work in a way you normally wouldn’t. When putting your work in a finished, presentable format in front of people and perhaps being asked to comment on it is really a test for yourself whether you feel that you have done all you could to produce work to the best of your abilities. And before you think, “well, I regularly put galleries on my photo blog and Flickr sets to receive feedback”, it just isn’t the same, not even remote. I would not even count putting photos on the web as “publishing” nowadays, because it requires so little effort and, what’s more and that’s the key here, you will not be held accountable for what you have produced by anyone. It’s so easy to just say “well, that was just a small thing, I could do much better if I really wanted to”. Really? With electronic publishing, there will be no face to face discussions with your viewers, no “I wish had done this differently” thoughts when you cannot change anymore what’s hanging on the wall. This is where the true learning process lies, in feeling the excitement and also pains of creation. That’s not to say that electronic publishing has no merits, but there are certain ways to sneak out of your need to take responsibility for what you have done.
I used to be skeptical about the prevalent mode of operation of Tokyo’s photo galleries, where you essentially pay to rent the space for a week. There is no major hurdle to enter the game except the budget to pull it off. The same goes for photo book publishing. I have changed my mind. If anything, you do the exhibition for yourself, to progress and learn. You don’t need a workshop, just spend the money on the gallery space. During the preparations you will be running around seeking advice, and learn. Who wants to deliver something not their best when spending over $/€1000?
Put simply, everyone should be doing a gallery show or exhibition at least once a year. The venue almost does not matter, remember, this is mostly for yourself. Only a fraction of people interested in photography will ever do so. Those who do, I see as photographers, the rest are camera enthusiasts and people ‘interested in photography’, frequenting photo web sites and giving advice to others on how to “impove” their photography. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware of your own ambitions and where you stand right now.