The photography site for sore eyes. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.
Imagine bringing photography to a wider audience.
Imagine bringing photography to a live audience.
Imagine bringing photography to an audience sat in a theatre, with lights and music and everything.
Photography, particularly the documentary photography you may or may not like to see in exhibitions, is a niche area. People who love it can’t get enough. People who don’t make up the other 99.9per cent of the world’s population.
Being successful, gaining funding, reaching new audiences, reaching any audiences, making projects pay and having a sustainable career are just a few of the impossible targets we are all aiming for. Most of us are failing, financially speaking, and have either diversified or been forced to look to other careers for the hard cash we need to survive.
The majority of my income comes from writing, including journalism, editing, PR and website design. The levels of income I have earned from photography has varied over the years, largely depending on the global financial situation or if I have a newborn child to look after.
It’s the love of photography, of taking photos and presenting projects, which drives most of us. This devotion has led to some amazing documentary projects – plus the odd breakthrough success story for a precious few.
But with the traditional business model for book publishing, editorial publishing, exhibitions and print sales (negligible in documentary work) taking a hammering over recent years (it’s much too complicated to go into all that new) even showcasing new work to audiences is a tough ask.
Galleries, often relatively financially secure thanks to funding, display over-complicated exhibitions from international photographers which curators hope will increase their own standing in curational circles. There’s too little attention paid to either local talent or unknown talent.
Local council-run museums import the big touring exhibitions which bring predictable guarantees of visitor numbers. There’s too little attention paid to either local talent or unknown talent.
And it’s not that I think that local or unknown talent should be chosen with bias over anything else. It’s because anything else is chosen with bias over local or unknown talent precisely because this talent is local or unknown. In the photography world, as in art, reputation too often wins over raw brilliance.
Which brings me to performance photography – a new way of displaying photography created out of desperation to show images to the unconverted (the unconverted being those who do not yet realise that they love documentary photography).
As I have explained previously about performance photography, I am using audio, video, spoken work, poetry and elements of performance in a theatre space while showing documentary photography projects. Performance photography explained.
Starting with a short live-art performance alongside a pre-recorded video, I presented my Outsiders project (a series of interviews with unique, unusual and misunderstood people) with a video of me showing the photographs to music, while I stand on stage revealing large white cards with sentences spoken by those featured in the images. This piece is choreographed (I learned when to show the 75 cards by listening to the music so don’t have to look at the screen).
I first performed this piece at Liverpool International Photography Festival (Look15) with some trepidation. I consider it to be a huge success in the impact that it had there and in subsequent performances in several contemporary art festivals. That this performance piece has been performed more times than the images have been exhibited (due to persistent refusal of venues to display images due to their controversial subject matter) suggests there is more freedom of expression in performance art than there is in photography curation.
Photographing Fags, Freaks and Fighting is an extended 20minute presentation which incorporated Outsiders plus a set of images about smoking (delivered to a specially commissioned soundtrack and poem read live) and another project about Palestine (which included verbatim quotes from some of those featured in the images). Shown in between these three projects were sequences of hard-hitting war images mixed with images of beauty and consumerism. The show is unique and something I am very proud of.
I was commissioned to produce a historical documentary photography slideshow/video in response to Andy Smith/Fuel Theatre/They Eat Culture’s production of The Preston Bill. Here, we used the cross-platform idea of photography in a theatre and worked hard to produce a ten-minute sequence of drama through images of world events contrasted with photography from northern England. Northern World is a lovely sequence where I get to be a documentary maker as well as a history curator. It was performed live before performances of The Preston Bill.
Then I had an idea of karaoke singing my way through famous hit songs, with the lyrics rewritten to reference poster-size images I show to a rowdy pub audience. This will be performed for the first time at Drunken Chorus’ Drunken Nights IV at the Devonshire cat pub in Sheffield on November 11, 2015. Blog post here.
Huge in ambition – at time I feel it’s huge in over-ambition – this project will address human addiction of smoking, drinking and fast food, plus the misogyny of women through the sexualisation of breasts. The kind of subject matter that will go down brilliantly to a pub audience. At this point, I don’t want to give too much away but the projects will be delivered using a 1970s disco classic and a 1980s power ballad. And I will be assisted by quite brilliant feminist artist called Claire Doyle for one of the songs. Hopefully they do irony in the Devonshire Cat. I can’t wait to see all their blank faces.
Also, I should state that I do not like karaoke. I am driven to do it for the love of photography.
The next phase in this developing project is to take these pieces on the photography festival circuit, who I am hoping will be open to showing this new form of photography exhibition.