Camera Clubs - originally posted on PhotographyMatters.com, January 2010
OK, I’m going to make another coffee then get rolling. I invite and expect some strong comments and ongoing debate on this one.
I should say that while I have occasionally judged/selected at and presented talks to camera clubs, I have never been a member of one.
This issue has been prompted by receiving the Wellington Photographic Society’s 2010 programme. I have a few copies at Photospace available to collect, or go to www.wps.org.nz
Ahhh, that’s better. Now, how about a For/Against format? (But I’m a reasonable person so everything will be pretty well hedged.)
A stereotype that is the (usually male) camera club member who has recently upgraded to a [insert desirable camera/lens here] and really wants you to know about it. He measures your seriousness and committment to photography by what you own. This can be offputting to beginners and the less materialistic.
In fairness, photography is no longer an male-dominated hobby and profession, in fact the reverse is happening. Using the example of the Wellington Photographic Society, their current president is Jenny O’Connor, and of the twelve names listed as Office Holders, six are women. Perhaps that stereotype is in decline.
2. Titles of photos.
This is a hobby horse of mine, admittedly. The opportunity to regale camera club audiences about their practise of using terrible titles is always taken, and is met by a range of responses from quiet nods and discreet expressions of agreement afterwards right through to purple-faced apoplexy.
Generally, I think that photo titles that try to be poetic, witty, or speak of some universal truth are a bad thing, usually. A title that in any way interprets the photograph imposes that reading on the viewer. It is better if the viewer can bring their on reading and personal response to the work without having it interpreted for them by its author, via the title. Also, sometimes witty or punning titles undermine the worth of very good photographs, cheapening them.
‘Very good’ ? That brings me on to…
Judging anything is subjective. All you can do, when confronted by a single photograph requiring evaluation, is (a) comment on its technical strengths and weaknesses. Is it sharp enough in the right places, was the best depth of field employed, is the composition harmonious? And (b) decide whether you like the photo or not. Does it push your buttons?
There are two main problems with judging photographs. (a) The photographers try to second-guess the judge, submitting photos which they think he’ll reward. This is a circular problem that is the main reason why camera clubs remain locked into the Pictorial era (see 19th century and early 20th Century photography, and also most modern professional awards and competitions.)
The word Ouroborus springs to mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouroboros
And (b) the photo is almost always taken out of its context. It is true that when you go for higher honours in a photographic society, the requirement is to submit a body of work which should somehow (hopefully) relate to itself, have some internal logic or theme. However, from what I’ve seen of that, formal considerations tend to prevail.
An individual photo should, like a poem or a song, be about something. A poem isn’t just a collection of word sounds and structures that reads well and sounds nice; the words convey meaning, obviously. However it doesn’t seem that obvious in photography. Quite often a photograph that is technically and aesthetically pleasing is praised even though it may talk about nothing.
Real photographers, like any artists, have chosen their medium because it is the best tool for them to deal with the world, talk about the issues that burn in their brains, and hopefully communicate some part of their world view and concerns to others. For those people, camera clubs and the judging of photographs are anathema, or are just irrelevant.
Photography can be a solitary pursuit, as opposed to, say, shooting a movie or playing in a band, where you are compelled to work as a team. And being solitary, too many photographers literally or metaphorically have a shoebox of unseen photos under their bed (or a hard drive or whatever). Obviously the interweb-thing is one solution, but is still somewhat anonymous. There is no substitute for real people in the same real space at the same real time. Get out more, in other words.
As above, and the schedule of events should spur most people on to try something new and different. It used to be that some photographers would enter their best photos in competetions repeatedly, racking up medals and ribbons like a prize bull. Hopefully that doesn’t happen so much these days. Shoot new stuff!
3. Exposure to new ideas.
The WPS has a good record of calling in speakers and presenters from all corners of the photographic world. I’m not sure how some of the smaller clubs and societies fare in this regard.
Anyway, in conclusion (for now), I would say that even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘joiner’, give your local photographic society or camera club a try. Most are welcoming to guests, and you can ‘try before you buy’.
I know several genuinely creative photographers who are able to work well in the photographic society environment, but for others, it would be their idea of purgatory or even hell. (My personal photographic hell would be professional child and baby photography.)
Also, the current Photocourse 3 advanced workshop that is running at Photospace comprises mostly WPS members. We’re working towards a group exhibition at Photospace opening 26th March this year. The idea is to develop a project and produce a body of photographic work that really talks about something of personal concern to the photographer. As the tutor, I think everyone has really extended themselves and is producing terrific work. Come to the show and see for youself.
by james | 15 January, 2010
1 Comment »
Laughed out loud in recognition about the titles! This isn’t confined to camera clubs either, titles really can ruin an other wise really engaging photo. ‘Innocence’. ‘A golden turn’. Good to know someone is bringing this up.
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