I recently attended a study visit to the Civic Gallery in Barnsley to see the RPS print exhibition. My own experience of a portfolio day with the RPS left me feeling that it wasn’t for me as there was far too much focus on the technical and less on the creative so I was very interested to see what had been put forward in the final selection.
The exhibition is a result of an open competition run annually by the RPS. The prints were loosely arranged in similar groupings but not always. Some were hung in formal rows and some were offset. I’m not sure of the reason for this. If you look at the images below you will see the difference. If anything I preferred the more random layout (not something that is encouraged at RPS portfolio days!).
There was a wide range of genres reflected by the backgrounds of the RPS selectors, these being; Animal and nature, Contemporary portrait, Contemporary and Landscape. It’s rare to see an exhibition made up of such a wide variety of prints. This did create a slightly disjointed effect and I think more information would have been helpful. Only the medal winners had any information or statement accompanying them. This was a shame as it would have been interesting to know a bit more about the intent of some of the other images. Some images were clearly part of a body of work (Tobias Slater-Hunt’s ‘Closer to God III and VII). There were many debates going on on the extent of Photoshop and also whether an image was staged or not and a bit more information on production would have gone a long way. The printing was of a very high standard throughout and all the prints were in similar frames (style and size).
One of the many pictures debated was The Dolls’ School by Aaron Dempsey. This revolved around the dark and sinister nature of the image. It’s not the girls bedroom, the picture on the wall is of a girl scolding two dolls in the way she would have been scolded herself and there is a dent in the second pillow.
The acid test for me with a print exhibition is asking myself “would I hang this on my wall”. This tends to focus my attention somewhat. There are many pictures where you can understand and appreciate the technical ability, such as many wildlife, nature and sports shots but not necessarily view them as a piece of art. There were, however, quite a few that I would hang on my wall.
At the end of our time in the gallery there was a poll to identify peoples’ favorites. I chose Paul Brooking’s ‘Be Yourself 2’. Why? I’ve long been a fan of the more surreal cinematic type images of Gregory Crewdson. In BJP Feb 2012 there is a portfolio by Nicholas Dhervillers who is also influenced by cinema and produces images that are very specifically lit. ‘Be yourself 2’ has those qualities and was a more compelling shot than ‘Be yourself 1’ (that was also in the exhibition) because of the theme of repetition running through it; the twins (if they were), the two basketball nets and the two tower blocks.
This was, however, a close run thing with J. Ramón Moreno’s ‘A Brasileira’ and Luke Smith’s ‘Isolation #3’ vying for my vote.
After the gallery we retired to a cafe to discuss what we had seen, which is a great opportunity to meet other students and tutors and to share differing views, in a fairly lighthearted atmosphere. It makes a big difference to me to meet other students and I can’t recommend it highly enough as studying on your own can be quite isolated. Even down to the little things like hearing someone else pronounce a photographers name when you’ve only seen it written and have been guessing all these years!
Feng Zhang’s image ‘Recess’ was one of the topics of conversation, in particular was it staged and if so, to what extent. I think it was staged as there are only two children, they happen to be mirroring each other and the shaft of light is lighting them and not the rest of the image. I don’t mean this detrimentally as I like the idea that specific effort has gone in to making the shot. Many shots that look like grab shots are entirely staged and I don’t have a problem with this at all. Whether staged or not, it was very popular.
Overall this was a very enjoyable visit with plenty of discussion and food for thought and I look forward to the next one.