Sunday, 29 January 2012

In the Arena

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was booked to speak to the Arena Photographers group at 2:00 pm today, primarily to turn them on to (or off of) the joys and benefits of blogging for photographers. The Arena Group has been going for 25 years, and clearly has an active and distinguished membership. I must admit that, when first invited, I made the error of muddling the links on the Group's website to "photographers' websites" with the links to "members' websites", and very nearly refused the invitation, having seen what I took to be the celestial general standard of the Arena Group's work. Only when I began to wonder why Joel Meyerowitz or Lewis Baltz would be crossing the Atlantic to a village hall in Berkshire did the penny drop. Phew. Not quite that distinguished, then.

The day began with a phone call from the Chair, Graham, explaining that there had been a double-booking on the hall: could I make it for 12:00, instead? Now, the venue is an hour's drive away, it was already 10:00, and I had intended to spend the morning putting my presentation notes together, so it took a minute or two to agree, not least because I was still undressed, and at least one cup of tea short of full consciousness. But it's not every day you get to pretend to be famous, so why not?

When I arrived, I discovered it was clearly not being Graham's day. It was taking rather a long while to connect to the internet (rural West Berkshire is clearly off the grid -- my phone was struggling, too), but he stayed wonderfully calm and systematically swapped cables and dongles and eventually laptops until we had a combination that worked, everybody gathered in chairs in front of the screen -- about 25 people or so -- and I gave my piece. They seemed to enjoy it; at least, no-one fell asleep, walked out, or heckled.

Graham has an interesting line in faceted landscapes

Although I am not by nature a "joiner", I think such groups are important, and perform a vital function for artists and enthusiasts working in isolation. A large part of their session is spent showing and viewing each other's work, and there is nothing more likely to encourage and stimulate one's "growth"and persistence as an artist than sharing work with like-minded people. It's empowering, it's fun, and it's good to know you're not alone.

Although, speaking purely personally, I myself appreciate a level of ruthless honesty in a critique of my work that most people mistake for an unforgivably aggressive lack of manners, and instinctively back away from. This kind of "tough love" critique you can generally only get from a professional, puritanical curmudgeon who holds him or herself to the highest, most unforgiving standards, and cannot understand why you wouldn't want to, either. These are in short supply. I'm thinking Thomas Joshua Cooper. I don't think Tom is much of a joiner, either.

But it's a great thing, to see people taking each other seriously as photographers, and producing good work, and I enjoyed myself. Thanks to Arena for inviting me.

[N.B. For the person who asked: this post took me 90 mins to produce, with a break for a beer halfway through!]


Trevor said...

Hi Mike, really enjoyed your presentation yesterday and sorry it became such a rush having to arrive early. What should have been such a leisurely meeting of the group turned into something of a 'hot pursuit'.

I was taking notes during your presentation, not so much in setting up my own personal blog, but why we do what we do, often with real passion almost to the point of being fanatical, I know I do. One point that struck a chord was when you said about "seeking a Personal Truth", this is so important and I know the American photographer, Robert Adams is also passionate about. And as photographers why do we 'really' take photographs?

Thanks again for your time and effort in putting on such a good 'show'. But my word I do look stern in your opening photograph :-)

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Trevor, I'm glad you found my ramblings useful.

The "personal truths" thing was the mantra of what I think of as the "Workshop Era" -- there's an interesting (if slightly tendentious) little book by William Bishop "Realising Personal Truths in Photography", which describes the photography of that time.

There are a lot of people out there whose lives have been tansformed by an encounter with the likes of John Blakemore, Fay Godwin or T.J. Cooper on a residential workshop. My take can be seen here:

I get the feeling the time might be right for it all to happen again -- any entrepreneurs out there please note!

As for looking stern, well, it's a a serious business!


Graham Dew said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for coming up yesterday, it was really good to meet you in person. I've said all my thanks in the email sent last night, but felt it only appropriate to post a comment too with my thanks.

To other readers of The Idiotic Hat: let me assure you that Mike, in person, is every bit as entertaining, informative, opinionated and generous with his time and thoughts as he is on the web. Viva le Chapeau Idiotique!

graham said...

Sorry Mike - last comment from me. I need to read up on Blogger identities!


Mike C. said...

Thanks, Graham -- it's good to know my virtual and real personae have a degree of congruence...


Kent Wiley said...

Sounds like fun. Looks like a great group.

FYI - the second & third photos once again show they are linked to something, but do not bring up a larger version.

Mike C. said...


Yes, I spotted that -- I think there's a new bug in the Blogger post editor that can cause an image to lose its link to the "full size" version when you drag and drop it within the text.

I would mention it to Google Blogger support if I thought there was any point... I'm still using the "old" interface, maybe I should try using the new one.


Gavin McL said...

Glad to here it went well - I have to say it looks like a very nice village hall - I wish ours was in such good condition