Another year and another Photography Show at the National Exhibition Centre is over. Whilst it’s always nice to walk around looking at all the shiny gadgets that are on display this year, more than ever, I feel I have benefited from listening to what some of the working pros have had to say about their approach to photography and where they see the profession going.
I visited the show on the Sunday and Monday this year. The first day, as ever, was spent familiarising myself with the layout. Nikon and Canon inevitably had two of the biggest and brashest stands placed strategically at either end of the hall; appearing to ‘glower’ at each other along the interconnecting walkway. The rest (Olympus, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic et al) also had fairly decent sized stands where they were showing their wares by attracting the punters with photo ops as well as talks from well known, and not so well known, photographers. There were also the different stages and theatres where speakers gave talks, presented their images and ran demos. Finally of course the main UK retailers were all there, Wex (who now own Calumet), London Camera Exchange, Camera World and, my favourite, The Flash Centre. This year also had a fantastic exhibition by the Magnum photographer David Hurn called ‘Swaps’ which showed by David’s own images as well as those he had swapped with fellow photographers like Henry Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold and Harry Gruyaert.
I think one of the strengths of The Photography Show is the good balance it seems to strike between talks and speakers, the manufactures showing off their ‘stuff’ and the retailers trying to sell the gear. You can see the virtuous circle they are trying to create here: go to a talk or demo and get interested in a bit of kit; wonder over to the manufacturers stand to have a play; go to the retailer to buy it. Job done. I guess the challenge that the conference organisers have is to ensure the punters don’t spend too much time doing any one of these activities at the expense of the other two.
On the second day I spent most of my time attending talks, both of people whose work I knew (Mary McCartney and Peter Dench) and those I did not (Jason Lanier and Holly Wren). Naturally all of these photographers have very different styles and approaches to their photography but all of them brought some particular insights into the contemporary photography scene I thought it would be informative to share here.
Holly Wren was speaking on the Nikon stand about how she moved from hobbyist to pro in five years and shared her five tips for how she did just that. Holly is a lifestyle and portrait photographer, is self taught and gave up a well paid job to become a full-time photographer at the grand old age of 28. The top tip for me from Holly was on the importance of investing in your own projects to learn something new and to give yourself a safe environment in which to make mistakes without the risk of upsetting a client. Photography, like anything else, is a learning game and if you don’t continually invest in your own practical learning based projects you won’t succeed in this very competitive profession. Holly’s advice was also to specialise by spending as much time as you can on your chosen photographic genre and to be known as a specialist rather than generalist.
Jason Lanier is a new name to me in the photographic world which says more about my lack of connectedness with the YouTube generation of photographers than his own fame. Judging by the size of his audience (the theatre literally had people standing in the aisles) I was in a minority in terms of people who knew him. Jason is from the US and has that typical American brash style of self-promotion and in-built assuredness of everyone being a salesman. Jason was talking about the importance of social media to promote yourself and your work. His advice was to get yourself a YouTube channel and start to ruthlessly market yourself by producing videos. Link these to a good and regularly updated blog which Google searches will easily find (hint: use of appropriate hashtags and names for blog posts will help here) and you can sit back and watch the work (and cash) flow in. Interestingly Jason’s advice was the opposite to Holly’s in that he recommended you don’t specialise but shoot as many different subjects as possible. In his view its just important you get out there shooting never mind what it is you shoot.
And then there was Peter Dench. Peter is the polar opposite of Jason Lanier, a quiet unassuming man who started his talk by apologising for the small size of his audience (don’t worry Peter, it was nice to hear an intimate talk from such a dedicated and professional photographer). Peter’s talk was about how to take advantage of your photographic heroes (without taking advantage of them). For the purpose of this talk he discussed the books of three of his heroes Martin Parr’s, The Last Resort, Paul Graham’s A1: The Great North Road and Tom Wood’s, Looking for Love. As it says in the talk description these ‘heroes’ for Peter were all practitioners who “inspired him to pick up a camera as a young man and continue to pick up a camera as an older man.” Peter showed his own images alongside some of the originals from the three books which were a homage to his heroes. In particular was his own tribute to Paul Graham’s book, the A1: Britain on the Verge, his own personal analysis of a changing Britain during Brexit. This was a wonderful talk and I really do recommend you take a look at some of his great work.
The final photographer of the four is Mary McCartney. Mary, I guess, would be the most famous of these four, not just because of her family name but also because of the commissions she gets and the people she photographs. This talk was on the Super Stage (i.e. a paid for by the punters gig) and was done in the style of a chat show where Mary was interviewed. Mary is very much a people person and places a big emphasis on the importance of trust (which she says comes from the closeness of her family growing up in an extreme media spotlight). Trust, she says, is vital if you want to get inside the person you are photographing and gain a deeper insight into their personality. To be honest this interview style of presentation is not my favourite. Previous Super Stage events I have seen have just had the photographer stand up and discuss their work whilst showing their images or videos. There were a very limited number of images in McCartney’s talk and they were on a loop so the same ones were shown over and over. Whilst they were great images it would have been nice to see a few more.
Oh yes, and one more thing. The Canon stand had a presentation from Clive Booth, the director of a short video about Sir Don McCullin’s photography assignment in Kolkata which you can watch here. It’s truly amazing to watch the 82 year old Sir Don, ducking and diving around the streets of Kolkata like a 22 years old. A great inspiration for all of us to keep on photographing for ever and a great end to the show.