The Exhibition Experience

It is just over a week since I stood in a room whilst complete strangers scrutinised several of my images, as well as work by 62 other photographers.  Whilst it’s not quite true to say that this was the first time I had exhibited my photographs – we have had a couple of group exhibitions at Morley College, where I am a City & Guilds student – it nevertheless felt like a new experience.

The London Photo Festival takes place each year, with the images displayed in the Crypt, St. George the Martyr Church, almost directly opposite Borough underground station.  It was founded in 2011, with the intention of giving new and emerging photographers an affordable way to show their work.  Emma and Kit, who organise it, do the vast majority of the work: they collect the images from those who wish to exhibit and are responsible for printing many of them; they advertise and promote the event, whilst encouraging participants to do likewise; they hang the exhibition and take it down at the end; they keep in touch with those who are exhibiting; and they spend the three days of the Festival in the venue, where they welcome members of the public and participants alike.  It’s a huge commitment!

The theme for the Festival this year was the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire, and those who wished to participate were asked to ensure that their work included at least one of these.  It’s always fascinating to see the way in which the same brief can be so widely interpreted, and the work on display certainly demonstrated this, including images from photographers living here in the UK and also much further afield.  My own images – perhaps more literal in their interpretation of the theme than some of the others – reflected my enthusiasm for landscape photography and for my home county of Kent.

As those who know me will attest, I am not always the most confident of people and I am often surprised when I put myself – or something that matters to me – into the public domain.  Of course I have been blogging for a while now, but you, my audience – though certainly appreciated – are largely invisible, and in the classroom, where images are often shared and discussed, I can be reasonably sure that my peers are not going to be too brutal in their critique.  This was a different thing and, as the exhibition drew closer, I started to worry that I was going to make a fool of myself.

In the end, the experience was significantly less intimidating than I expected.  Whilst it’s true that I stayed just far enough away from my images to not be able to overhear the comments people were making, and nervously examined facial expressions from afar, I also found it quite exciting to see my work in the exhibition and to know that people outside of my immediate circle – approximately 1500 of them in the end – were going to see what I had created.  It was encouraging to see my small pile of business cards slowly diminish, and to become aware that people were stopping and engaging with my work, rather than just passing it by.

After my last visit to the exhibition, I wrote a short post for Facebook.  One of my friends, an artist, wisely encouraged me to listen to the feedback; to be encouraged by the positive comments and to learn from the critical, allowing them, where valid, to help me develop the way I work.  I know she’s right.  I know also that I need to be a little braver next time, to perhaps believe in my work a bit more, maybe even (shock, horror!) speak to people!

You can learn more about the London Photo Festival, and about their collaborations, talks and competitions, on their website.