Saturday 9 May, Annual Exhibition and 150th Anniversary Lecture
Today was another triumph for the Club in its sesquicentennial year. In fact it was more than that, it was a triple triumph with the combining of the Annual Exhibition, the publication of a second book, A Year and a Day and a lecture by a leading photographic celebrity, all together in an ideal setting. Those members unavoidably absent missed a treat that others will talk about for ages. Make a note now of our future 150 Events. It was good to see David Lillywhite had come 145 miles specially to attend. It was David who set the ball rolling for the 150th anniversary when he told the committee back in 2005 that in ten years we would be celebrating 150 years. They thanked him and went on to the next item! Fortunately, undeterred David set about researching the history of the club, reading old newspapers in the library, and produced what was to be the groundwork for our Capturing the Moment book. Although he had soon to move away for personal reasons, he has maintained his interest in the club and was delighted with the success we are enjoying.
Members should congratulate themselves on having elected a committee that has allowed small groups to manage different aspects and to progress each without interference. With new nominations due for the committee let us hope this progressive thinking continues well beyond this special year.
The first leg of today’s ‘tripod’ is the exhibition, the first to be seen at The Parabola Arts Centre after a seven year spell in All Saints’ church. While the latter was spacious, the illumination was very variable depending on the day and whether your prints were on the lit or shadow side of the boards. Manhandling the latter, borrowed from the university, while feasible, was quite a task and then they had to be repainted annually. The main problem with the church was its location, rather hidden away from the centre of town.
The Parabola has a purpose built gallery and it is much nearer to the town, but will it achieve more visitors? It will need plenty of ongoing publicity to achieve this, hopefully produced by the combination of events taking place on the opening day.
Although fitted out as a gallery, the rooms at the Parabola would not accommodate the full exhibition so further thought was called for to add supplementary hanging space. This was provided by means of portable display stands that are reasonably light weight, fairly quick to erect, not too large to store and easy to attach the prints on; a solution sourced by the ever ingenious Richard McCleery.
The exhibition itself shows a broad spectrum of members’ work and the introduction of an ‘Altered Image’ section is a good idea, enabling those still keen to produce images largely in camera, not to feel at a disadvantage. It is good to see natural history becoming very much stronger; for many years it was weak in this club. Once again we see excellent images in the Intermediate section leading to promotion to the Advanced section for their authors.
The Gloucestershire Young Photographer of the Year competition again produced many imaginative photographs: many of the senior school pupils added excellent Photoshop skills while the junior school pupils simply have joie de vivre and no inhibitions brought about through too much technical knowledge. Presentation of awards can be a rather tedious procedure but having the appropriate photograph displayed on the big screen makes it more interesting, indeed enjoyable! Projection in the Parabola is first class, much more satisfactory than in the daylight lit church, and with just brief speeches, it ticked along briskly.
The second leg was the launch of our second book, A year and a Day, by its designer John White. The very first copy was presented to The Mayor and will reside within the Mayor’s Parlour, hopefully to be seen by many visitors. A second copy went to the Chair of Cheltenham Arts Council, Karen Jones who was one of the judges for the GYPY competition, of which she was a judge, recognition of the Council’s continued annual grant towards the prizes for this competition. Members were now able to purchase their own copy, and there was no shortage of customers for this publication containing images from forty-nine members.
Leg three of the tripod was our special 150th Anniversary Lecture presented by one of the UK’s best known landscape photographers, Charlie Waite. A must for all photographers who photograph landscapes, there was much here too for specialists in other genres to appreciate. Reflecting his original theatrical training Charlie’s presentation was clear and unhesitant. Being a landscape photographer he mentioned Ansel Adams as an influence several times, but perhaps surprisingly told how he had also been inspired by the master of ‘capturing the moment’, Henri Cartier-Bresson; a lesson indeed for those who think that you only learn from those working in the same discipline as yourself.
For the first few minutes he spoke without showing a picture, during which he reminded us that great photographs are made in the mind. A camera is only a tool to record the image. He admitted to using good cameras and lenses, but insisted the type is immaterial. From his pocket he took his own personal accessory — a piece of black card with a rectangular aperture which he uses to look at a scene in order to isolate a section of it from the rest. This enables him to determine the optimum piece of the landscape to select for his composition.
He then moved on to show his photographs and we could see what he meant. The majority were just a segment of landscape: a lone tree lit by the sun against mountains in shade, trees full of blossom on a hillside, a hay bale in a field. Others were just a bit of a staircase, an archway with an open gate, a red curtain beside a window frame. Minimalism is clearly his signature style. Venice presented him with a problem. It is too busy, too colourful, too distracting. The photograph he chose to depict Venice showed the prow of a gondola against the arch of a bridge, almost monochromatic – Venice reduced to the minimum possible.
He is fascinated by the long avenues of trees you frequently traverse along in France. He had several examples of these, all completely symmetrical, something he’s a stickler for in such subjects, and indeed others. (He made frequent reference to the excellence of our exhibits, picking out Graham Wakefield’s superb Salisbury Cathedral interior for special mention on account of its symmetry). Although he claims to view his subjects critically before taking the photograph, he admitted he had failed to observe that the leaves on the trees at the far end of one avenue were such as to provide an appropriate second image — “Damn fine bottle of Beaujolais” a member of the audience at a previous showing had shouted out.
While some images had dramatic skies, others had plain ones. He knows he could replace the latter easily in Photoshop, but this is not for him. He will wait for ‘the right moment’, the movement of clouds above a hay bale, the passing of a sailing boat with the right coloured sail, the gap in the clouds lighting up just a section of the landscape, but if he does not get what he has visualised, he will frequently abandon the photograph rather than take second best.
Having originally worked with film he is still disciplined in the idea of getting it right in the camera. Unlike many in this digital age who will fire off a quantity of frames from slightly differing viewpoints, at alternative zoom settings and at different apertures with the intention of selecting ‘the best‘ on the computer, Charlie takes his time, selects his viewpoint and produces the finished image first time, rather like Dave Butcher whom we saw a few weeks back.
Selecting the viewpoint is the critical element. He does not want a significant, albeit very small, part of the subject conflicting with another area so will often make use of a small pair of steps he carries with him. Already a tall man, an extra foot in height can make a difference, providing harmony rather than conflict between two components of the picture.
One of his key design constituents is the echoing of shapes in different parts of the image, e.g. the upturned boats in the foreground, lit with side lighting echoing the snow clad slopes of Mount Fuji in the background.
The overall impression of his photographs is simplicity and serenity, the latter no doubt welcomed by the corporate bodies who buy them to decorate their frenetic offices. He has also produced over thirty books of photographs. We cannot all be Charlies, indeed we may not wish to be, but one message we can all take is slow down, look around more, be more selective and dare I say it, rely a little less on software!
The final comment came from a member of the audience after a few questions had been answered. “After two hours talking to us, I am delighted you never once mentioned the rule of thirds!” It is indeed good to sometimes step outside the narrow world that is club photography.