When I joined BPC a few years ago, my photography was my own. The images I took, be they film or digital, were my own. There was no constraint. I explored ideas, I tried new equipment and methods, and importantly, I was having fun. Not all of it worked, but that’s the nature of experimentation. Those images that worked were very pleasing to me – and sometimes for those around me.
However, with the endless rounds of competition and workshop at the club, I found my level of photographic satisfaction dropping. I often left the club feeling frustrated and had little rants to those around me regarding the judging. At the same time, I also felt that my images were lacking something – and it was getting worse. Sure, they were sharp, colourful, and composed well, but were they my images? What was the cause of this frustration and questioning?
It took a while, but I realized that I had started to shoot for the judges and not for me. What a revelation! It dawned on me that the system we were using stifled creativity, and was making me conform to an imposed standard.
That standard, due to the judges we tended to use, was a 30 year old relic of camera clubs. It wasn’t Ansel Adams or Manray or Cartier Bresson or David Bailey or Cindy Sherman that I was trying to please, but someone rooted in the 1980s vision of photography – which was fixed on the technical, but had forgotten about the art of those that had gone before or were emerging today.
How could I overcome this? To begin with I started talking to those around me and trying to go out to places I could experiment. Its amazing how after a couple of hours of wandering around with others looking for new ideas you start to appreciate the detail around you. At about this time, we started the 31 day challenge (the holiday shoot) on Flickr. I chose to photograph windows (not the computer kind) and shared my images with the images of others in the club on Flickr. The feedback and the variety of images began to change how I was capturing my images again. I missed that challenge this year, but I spent a lot of time looking at images on Flickr and elsewhere. Importantly, I did play around with some techniques that I showed off last year (like image stacking). Once again, not a success with the judges, but I was happier.
The other thing was a long discussion between a few of us on how we could break the SAPF dinosaur judge culture. Fortunately, at this time, a new SAPF President – Alberto Guierelli – emerged who had a vision to change things. More importantly, he was impressed by our clubs attitude to judging and started a dialogue with us whilst bringing in new judges. This would take time, but we had an ally.
At the same time, the germ of an idea to have more discussion of our images, and less competition was born in discussions with others like Matt & Ashley in the club. That idea was developed further then put to the club members at the AGM and arose as the Peer Review nights we have begun this year.
Now I was starting to feel better. The artist in me felt he could share images, experiment, go back to having fun, and not agonise over how someone else saw my images. Time will tell if the treatment has worked, but I certainly feel like my photography is alive again. Watch this space!