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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Fish Photography v My Kind of Photography

So Photobook Bristol is coming up and it costs £85 for the weekend, and it will be a sell out. There were some cheaper options but still, once you throw in transport, food, drinks and accomodation, it's not cheap.

We were wondering how you could do it cheaper. We have minimal sponsorship (nothing in four figures) and so 90% of the funding comes from ticket sales. We figured that if we did have major sponsorship, then we could reduce ticket costs. It doesn't always work that way; Photo London or Paris Photo get major funding, but they still charge an arm and a leg for people to get in to see a commercial sales room of people hoping to sell you stuff.

But if we did get funding, what exactly would be the point of reducing ticket costs. I don't think Photobook Bristol would get much of a bigger audience. We'd get some more photography students for sure, but not too many because even if the tickets were free, there is still transport, accomodation and food to factor in. But we could pay the speakers at least - that would be good.

There is the idea that pricing is a barrier to participation, but I'm not too sure about that. The Photobook world is a pretty niche world, and the pricing of events is not going to change that. It's fanciful to think otherwise. And possibly a little bit arrogant.

This is because it is such an expensive hobby. Forget the price of Photobook Bristol or Photo London, look at how much cameras cost, at how much imaging software costs, at the ranks of Macbooks on display. It is an incredibly expensive thing to get involved with - expensive in a way that it wasn't some years ago. And actually the photography world, in the sense that it is written about on this blog or in publications like Foam, the BJP, Aperture is a pretty niche place as well. Niche and vastly expensive.

I don't think any amount of proselytising is going to change that. Photography is hugely important in the world at large, and it's social, functional and, to borrow a phrase, useful. I can't see any reason why that should change. In fact, perhaps we could learn something from the direct, representational pleasures of evidential photography.

A case in point is the neighbour of mine who is a carp fisherman. He drives across the country at night to fish for giant carp. And when he catches them he takes pictures of them. He's got an album full of pictures of him at night holding giant carp. He showed it to me. It was great. You flick from one page to the next in a fish-smitten awe (I do like fish - I dream about them a lot), making insightful observations like "Look at the size of that one" and "How did you pull that one in?"

The day after I saw this album, I was in the local supermarket looking at the magazine shelves. There was not one publication (not even one of the imaging or kit-based publications) on photography. But there were three magazines on carp fishing. They all had pictures on the cover of blokes in waders holding massive pictures of carp. One of they even had a guy holding his giant carp underwater; I was seriously bowled over by that one.

So the upshot of that is on one level, fish photography is way more important that all the nonsense that I drone on about on this blog. And if it's not far more important, it's far bigger. More people make it, more people look at it, more people enjoy it. That last one matters.

I don't really believe that for a second. But I wonder why we think are meta-photographic world is more important. Imagine if it was applied to my poor neighbour and his album of carp pictures. He'd end up with archive images of people holding carp, algorithmic representations of carp, carp rendered as graphs, carp blanked out, they'd be pretend species of carp, stories about fictional explorers who died trying to catch mythical carp, they'd be stream of consciousness carp that would be all blurry and mad, carp folded into daft shapes, carp lit with streams of pink and blue, origami carp, accidental carp, photobook carp with fold-out maps and a poster to stick on the wall, or large format carp put into grids, each with a horrifying story to tell.

But if this happened I wonder if it wouldn't actually be exactly the same effect as the original man-holding-bloody-big-carp album. Except instead of wondering at the size of the carp, we'd be cooing at the coolness of the colours, the smartness of the folds, the ingenuity of the white out. It's exactly the same.

We value our kind of photography more because that's the hierarchy of taste we like to uphold and we like to think it is on a more ethereal level, but really, a carp is a carp is a carp is a carp. And a photograph of a carp is a photograph of a carp, no matter how much you bend it, blank it, or blend it.

Carpe Diem!

NB The joy of this blog is I can write things without thinking about them too much and I don't don't necessarily have to agree with what I've written. This might be one of those times. 


Ken Schles said...

Given the infinite vastness of the universe it becomes blatantly absurd to say, in a truly objective way, that one thing or action is more important than another. Or to concentrate one's time and attention one way is more meaningful or important than to spend that focus on something else. But that is the job our pitiful species has evolved to embody, engage and set before itself.

We set a hierarchy of attention and focus. We wage war, raise families, destroy ecosystems, pray to imaginary gods and create "beauty" as we try to describe with eloquence and passion what is meaningful to us and to convince each other on the subject and context of what is meaningful and worthy of our focus, attention, engagement and action.

One can argue that our passions have served us well until this point as our species has thrived upon this planet, or, that our delusional obsessions have wrought havoc, pain and destruction on a monumental scale, with more to come.

Perhaps the struggle for meaning is a fool's errand, but it is one I will happily struggle to wrestle with, if only to steal the stage from those who attempt to fan our fears, exploit our wealth and resources and to sap our time and energy.

Let the others hunt carp. I, for one, will spend my time looking to seek out something else. And I will forcefully argue that a carp might not a carp just as Magritte so eloquently argued that a pipe is not a pipe.

colin pantall said...

I think the carp can take us into really interesting places, Ken.

Ken Schles said...

hmm... ok, you're right!

Ken Schles said...


colin pantall said...

And you are right too, Ken. Though I could continue the carp theme for quite a while... :-)