On the Maes

Today we held another Summer Fun Day at the community centre in Blaen-y-Maes here in Swansea. This time we had queues of children wanting to photograph their community. Our youngest photographer was only five but she wanted to be a part of recording what the streets of Blaen-y-Maes have to offer.

It’s a privilege to be working with this part of Swansea and a real joy to work with the talent that these young people have. Some were picking up a camera for the very first time which means they weren’t limited by rules about what they felt photography should be. Throwing away the rule book and having fun is something some of our adult participants often have a problem with. Here on the Maes experimentation, fun, and inventiveness were the order of the day.

This is street photography as it should be: unmeasured, unrestrained, and genuine. This isn’t an outsiders view on a community they have just visited. This is a view of Blaen-y-Maes by the people of Blaen-y-Maes. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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Being…

We’re born, then there’s that complicated bit in the middle, and then we die. Making sense of all the complicated stuff is something that everyone has loads of advice about but no-one has the answers to. I’ve always thought that the best we can do, is be the best that we can be as individuals. We’re all different. No one size fits all of us. We can share ideas on what we think is best but what we choose to do with that is up to us. Giving ourselves space to grow is just as important as doing the growing. Realistic goals, achievable ambitions, and getting our own mental infrastructure in order is an ever changing landscape that only really ends at the very end. Hang on… this is a bit deep for a Thursday isn’t it? How does this relate to photography workshops and those pictures below?

Well today in Neath we were considering how to be and what this means for our interaction with other beings. More specifically, our Camera Confidence course has been looking at body language skills you need to interact in interview situations. We chatted about how to come across as honest (but not too honest), genuine (but not overwhelmingly so), confident (but not cocky), strong (but not intimidating). The fears you have are probably shared with a dozen other people out on the street at any one time but you can’t always spot when these people are shaking inside. So how do you fit in with all this? How can you possibly put one foot in the door when you’re body is telling you to run a thousand miles in the opposite direction? We’ve been talking about eye contact, mental baggage, physical awareness, and all that stuff that you need in order to be the best that you can be. And if you’re really quaking in your shoes, how to fake it all so that you have a chance of being where you feel you want to be.

Our Camera Confidence participants made sure that the photographs they took showed themselves in the best possible way. These portraits illustrate ideas on personality, strength, experience, trust, and independence. Our team used their interpersonal skills to stage each photograph so that the body language was 100% spot on for what each participant wanted to convey. They demonstrated ingenuity and imagination this morning in creating scenarios to develop their own sense of confidence and well-being. I reckon they’ve nailed it. What do you think?

Madison, Secrets, St. Pancras, Serbia, and so on & so forth…

There’s been a bit of a gap between blog entries here but that doesn’t mean I’m sat around this summer doing nothing. In between photography workshops I’m working towards showing my work over in Madison, Wisconsin [this Winter hopefully].

Meanwhile I’m still showing my art over at the conference centre at St Pancras Hospital as part of the Art of Caring exhibition [runs until end of October]. I’ll be visiting the exhibition later this month with my fellow collaborator Graham Parker.

Then there’s my contribution to the Secret Art Sale 2017 with the Environment Trust over in Richmond on Thames near London [end of September]. Last year my work was shown next to renowned illustrator Quentin Blake so I’m really excited to see where the curators feel I belong this year.

I have some long-standing connections with some wonderful curators over in Croatia and Serbia and hopefully will be in a few things over in Eastern Europe later this year.

New work is coming along in the shape of my New Forms collection [I really need to update this section to include some ceramic heads I made earlier in the year]. Progress here is painfully slow because I’m working closely with Ben Honebone in making photographs and videos for Stone Letter Media. We’ve been working with Caerphilly based band Mudlark [new video out soon] as well as photographing Cardiff’s Malum Sky who broke out of Wales for the first time last weekend as part of the legendary Bloodstock festival.

I’m also prepping for changing over my current artworks hanging over at Workers Gallery in Ynyshir [by the end of this month, possibly even this weekend]. Thinking of which, this 12″ x 12″ hand-cut layered picture will be departing the gallery soon and heading off to new owners.

I think that’s all. For now at least!

Stare Down

Katrina

Positives and Negatives

Is Neath exotic? I asked this question this morning at today’s Camera Confidence workshop and was laughed at. It’s funny how we can’t always see the beautiful things that exist on our own doorstep. Tourists flock to the Neath area for it’s mountains, beaches, parks, and castles. It’s an area steeped in history and legend. There’s a Norman castle right in the centre of town, the remains of a Cistercian Monastery close by at Neath Abbey, and even the town park at Victoria Gardens is 120 years old and still laid out in traditional Victorian style. So why do locals think it’s a bit rubbish? Why can’t they see what the tourists see?

It’s too easy to look on the downside of things. If you’re used to an area you start to notice the negatives more than the positives. It ‘s the reason why we go on holiday, it’s a short term fix to make us feel good. We run away from the ordinary and banal to find new and exotic things to look at and stimulate us. We can’t normally do this at home because day-to-day problems get in our way and we get stuck in a rut. It’s possible to get out of the negative and see what’s positive on our doorstep. It’s just a matter of looking at things the right way.

To make sense of this all, our participants were challenged to find the most rubbish things about Neath and photograph them. If you can make something awesome from a rubbish situation then you’re bound to feel more confident about your home situation. Later we asked participants to be tourists and find the historic, beautiful, and wonderful things that Neath town has to offer. Feeling good about yourself in the long term is all about planting the seeds of positivity. Here’s some wonderful pictures of the positives and the negatives that we found around Neath today.


The Blaen-y-Maes Boys

Today we’ve been running a drop-in photography workshop in Blaen-y-Maes Community Centre. Workshops in the school holidays are always exciting because you never know who is going to show up or what they’re going to create. It can vary from minute to minute and from attention span to attention span. Working with children can be the most challenging but also the most rewarding.

The first challenge was our young participants getting over their disbelief that I was readily handing them a camera. Yes, I haven’t met you before. Yes, I’m trusting you with some expensive equipment. Yes, I believe you’ll come back with them in one piece. Thankfully our young people rose to the challenge of their new-found responsibility in looking after an expensive piece of kit. In fact they rose so high they almost flew.

None of our participants had used a camera before but they really delivered some awesome pictures. I can’t wait to go back and do more with this talented bunch. We’ll be at Blaen-y-Maes Community Centre on the last two Tuesdays of this month if you want to come in and join in the fun.

Reassessing the Dream

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can make the art I’ve created work better for me. I’m not even sure what that means any more. I’ve been working at this since 2010 and will never make a profit and don’t feel I’ll ever get to the stage where I can give up the other jobs I have to be a full-time artist.

I’m no good at playing the game because I’m not entirely sure what the rules of the game are in the art world. I don’t think inside the box and am happy to tear down the walls which somehow frightens funding bodies and confuses galleries. I always thought art was about thinking outside of the box but apparently that’s not the case. I’m not the kind of person that can schmooze. I’m more of a recluse really. It’s for this reason that I made the decision a few years ago to only exhibit with people who didn’t want me to pay a fee up front. I mean, why should I? Galleries should be paying artists a lending fee for borrowing their artwork to put on their walls, not the other way around! If they can’t pay they should be reassessing their business model. A business isn’t a business if it is charging its supplier to supply it, making little in sales, and is reliant on grants to fund it. Galleries need to diversify and be more sustainable in their approach. We’re long past the time where galleries were philanthropic vanity projects for rich industrialists. But I digress…

I made the decision not to keep throwing time and resources at ‘opportunities’ which essentially go nowhere. I’ve been writing fewer blogs about my art because I’m not entirely sure anyone reads it, and if they do it hasn’t exactly furthered my art career has it? If you’re a regular reader of this blog have you noticed how sometimes I’m only writing one or two entries a week instead of daily like I used to? Instead I’ve been dedicating this space to the excellent photographs taken by participants of my photography workshops. People who are building themselves up in the face of what life has thrown at them deserve this space and I will continue to give it to them freely.

There’s only so many open exhibitions you can enter* and to stand a chance at other exhibitions you need to have the ‘right kind’ of CV. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this but I know that something isn’t right with the art world. I see articles in respected art magazines championing the rights of artists to be paid for any work they do, whilst in the classifieds they’re running adverts charging artists a fee for the right to be part of a prestigious exhibition or opportunity which could enhance their CV. Meanwhile manufacturers run competitions for artists to get their art seen in unexpected places. Again, the prize is exposure rather than hard cash.

So how do I make my art work for me? Well, I keep making art but I’m selective about where it goes. I still make art but I don’t expect to sell it or make enough to live on. I’m not being defeatist, I’m being a pragmatist and realist. I still make art because it’s good for my soul. I am answerable only to myself and am happier to be working free from the burdens of structure. I am comfortable in being different. I am brave enough to say yes to what I feel are worthwhile opportunities and no to those which are likely to be a dead end. I am not being prudish or elitist though. I’ll continue to create art to give specifically to charity auctions. I am not a mentor, or social worker, or carer, for other artists or curators who don’t know what they want and can’t organise themselves. Giving people assistance to help them out and further their career is one thing. To be carrying others who should be more than capable given their skill set doesn’t help me and it just facilitates their dependence on others. Leeching off other people’s good will just because your CV is better is an awful thing to do. I lose count of the number of times I’ve been framing, installing, labelling, and hanging for my fellow artists just because they were unable to designate enough time to do it themselves. No. Sorry. Not any more. Just because I’m organised with my stuff doesn’t mean I have the mental or physical reserves to deal with yours.

Success is what I make it and it not determined by the contents of my CV. I set my own goals to achieve. Success is when I achieve those goals. I respond to creative thought influenced by my world but not dictated by it. The dream is mine to take, change, alter, and command as I see fit. Success is not more press, more prestigious shows, more schmoozing, more more! Success is internal goal setting and internal gratification. I am answerable only to myself. I will seek new directions that further my being rather than my social or professional standing.

I will work in the practical parameters that facilitate my basic existence. For the last few years this has meant working mornings and evenings as a freelance educator. This has been a problem for my interaction with the art world. I have existed outside of the social structure of the art world but my ability to be sociable shouldn’t have a bearing on whether or not my art is any good. The fact that others might frown on my absence from key arts events, or might lack understanding of my work commitments is their problem not mine.

So there we go. In summary, I’m still making art but I’m being more selective where to show it. I’m not bothered about whether anyone thinks I’m any good or not. I don’t really have a social life that involves the art world and I really don’t miss it at all. I’ve reassessed my dream and I know I’m headed where I need to be.

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A little something I’ve been asked to create for an exhibition in Richmond on Thames later in the year.

 

*and they always charge a fee. This effectively makes open exhibitions fundraisers for the gallery. Charge the artist to pay for the chance to be in an open exhibition, then charge artists another fee to have a solo show there. Why does the artist have to pay for everything? A manufacturer sells (or loans) what it makes to a retail team. The retail team never charges the manufacturer for the right to put its stuff in the store. That makes no sense! Yet that’s how it works in the art world.
Also, if there’s no market for artists’ art other than the artists themselves then how is the general public ever to engage with art properly? Is it any surprise that the public think art is overpriced and would rather spend £100 on a night out rather than a painting. If the public are not part of the market or the process is it any wonder they continue to have outdated and stereotypical views of what an artist is. Without transparency then there is no accountability and no clear physical market matching buyers to artist sellers.

Confidence in Neath

Today has seen a new Camera Confidence workshop begin over in Neath. It’s always fun starting something new but it can also be a time of uncertainty. Just walking through the door of a new place and meeting new people can be a mental hurdle, let alone being asked to work with someone new.

We all work within our comfort zones. It makes us feel safe and sure about where we are in the world but it can also limit us. If we don’t take chances then how can we find what else is out there? Some places and situations might be a bad choice (and we’ll learn not to do that again) but others will lead to new opportunities and friendships which can be positive and long lasting. It all starts with that first step.

Today’s first step saw our participants working in pairs to discover Neath town centre. We looked at themes of buildings, the natural world, transport, and also what makes us happy. Can you guess which photographs belong to which theme?