In the olden days, before domestic computers, sharing images shot on neg film was all about physical artefacts. In order to share your work you had to produce something tangible people could see by holding it in their hands. Whether that was your own portfolio of darkroom prints, a stick-them-in photo album, a gallery show, photos in printed publications – if it wasn’t printed in some shape or form, nobody would see your work.
Nowadays we’re really rather spoiled because once we have digitised our negatives, we have the entire digital Internet-based realm in which to share our work. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, portfolio websites (like 500px), magazine websites like this one… and it’s all so easy! The reality though is that computer-based display, sharing and distribution has very little longevity – yes the digital images have longevity, but no longevity in terms of actual time spent cherishing. If you have an Instagram feed for example, when did you or anyone else look at any of your images from say five years ago? Or even a year ago. Or last month. Exactly – people don’t really look at photographs on a computer (or tablet, or phone). Not with any gravitas anyway. Yes they might find, browse and generally research/learn about photographers and their images, but any serious ‘consuming’ (not the right word, but you know what I mean) of photography is done through the medium of, you guessed it, the printed image.
So what do I do with the photographs I take? This is of course a loaded phrase as editing them down into the ones that are worthy of sharing is a whole topic in itself (as is sequencing).
I do several things to get my photos into the physical realm:
- I produce photobooks. These tend to be in editions of one, sadly, but I did go further a few years ago and home-produced a photobook that ostensibly is a run of a 100 (albeit on demand). More on this below.
- I exhibit at home, once a year, as part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks open studio festival
- I have exhibited in the local art society gallery both as a member and as part of a group show
- A couple of times, in the (very) dim and distant past, I was lucky enough to have some work included in magazine articles
- I’ve also had a photobook commercially printed as part of the Community Archive project in the village where I live
In short, I do whatever I can to get my photographs out there.
Given that no one looks at old Instagram feeds, I periodically produce photobooks of mine. Each one is about a years’ worth of photos (from back when my feed was a bit more prolific). OK, they are in editions of one, but it’s at least some sort of legacy of my photographic work. And given the nature of Instagram, these books are great because they are so random in their content. I produce these in InDesign from a dump of my Instagram data. Takes a while to produce the books but the results are amazing.
I’ve also produced photobooks of holiday snaps – the modern equivalent of the old photo album of pasted-in prints from Boots. If you think back to the importance of the photo album in your family’s history and folklore, these modern versions are as much cherished and as important as those books of yore – mainly because they are the same thing. Something to share when sitting on the sofa with your loved ones (or to leave lying around on the coffee table). Much better than saying… “c’mon, let’s all huddle around my tablet”.
When I find myself working on an ad hoc photography project, I’ll often produce a photobook (one off) just to have something tangible. The project may evolve beyond that first book but at least I have something I can share and get feedback on without having to get people crowding round a computer screen. The project below is ongoing and is around what I see while walking the dog… a lot of muddy paths and tractor tracks.
My biggest success in the photobook arena was (and still is) On The Ground – a book that I designed, printed, and bound at home to tie in with one of my Oxfordshire Artweeks open studio/home events. A simple stapled book whos design was lifted from Brian Shuttmaat’s Good Goddamn book. I sold maybe ten copies at the Artweeks event along with a similar number of framed A3 prints from the wall. People like looking at your work in the physical realm – and when they do, they frequently buy something to take home.
And, I produced this one-off (sort of) photobook, Mark Having a Shave, back in 1984 from a set of darkroom prints glued into a reporter’s notebook. Again, exactly the same as producing a photobook from home printed images… or a Blurb (or whatever) professionally printed photobook. It’s a book of images that you can hold in your hand – something that provides context and form to a collection of images.
Oxfordshire Artweeks Open Studio
If you really want the gallery experience but don’t know where to start, find your local open studio event/festival and have a go. They exist all over the country. And no matter how apparently unsuitable and inappropriate you think your home is, you can adapt it and your work to mount a successful ‘show’. People will actually seek you out to come and see your work (not your home/space). And because you are there too – to talk about your work and engage with them – they will often buy something. Remember, your enthusiasm and passion about your work is a powerful sales pitch when combined with work on the wall that can be bought and taken away there and then. They may only buy a card, but it’s all exposure. Photography is often underrepresented in these at-home festivals so anyone interested in photography tends to seek out what’s there (whether that’s a good or bad thing I don’t know).
I’ve done the event twice now and am signed up for next year with a new body of film-based work. Not sure exactly what it will all look like, but there will be prints on the wall and a photobook. And some cards. All from my most recent Flooded Fields project (see my recent post here on 35MMC on this minimalist body of work).
It’s a great feeling to go to a gallery show opening and seeing your work on the wall. Sipping warm white wine (!) and casually chatting to the people looking at your work… “that’s mine!”. It’s one of the few times we’re able to get independent feedback on our work. And again, standing there enthusing and describing the vision that inspired the images helps people remember you and your work.
Whether it’s a members’ show where your work is automatically included, or an open submission show where you have the excitement of having to wait to find out if your work has been accepted, having photos framed on a public gallery wall is something else. And the frisson you get when a red dot appears… incomparable.
OK, the book wasn’t exactlty called Uncommon Bampton, but it should have been. It was styled on Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places and covered everyday scenes and views in the village where I live. It was commercially published as a tie-in to my solo show (sounds grand but wasn’t) put on by the local community archive. Helped by the fact that the village of Bampton is part of the Downton Abbey tourist trail, the book is a slow but steady seller. Which is ironic really given that it’s a complete antidote the the chocolate box image of the village the Downton tourists love and come to see.
I would love to have a (symbiotic) relationship with a pub, restaurant, cafe etc. where I had work for sale on their walls. I’ve seen other artists do it so why not me (OK, maybe if I had some work that was a bit more commercial perhaps). Or maybe a tie-in/relationship with an interior designer who’s vision was aligned to mine. Both doable I’m sure. Just have to do the legwork – it’s one of the reasons I do the Artweeks open studio events as these attract such businesses/people.
And more hand-made self-published books from archival prints. A delight to design, execute and share. And sell of course.
All so that when people ask “what sort of photography do you do?” I can both point at my famed photography on the wall at home, and hand them a photobook of prints. Magical.
Apologies if this comes across as blatant self-promotion – it isn’t designed to be. It’s just sharing how I have gone from someone who thinks they have very little exposure… to having achieved a moderate amount of exposure (and recognition and sales) without really trying, by printing the photographs.
What do you do with all the photographs you take? How to you share your work? What successes and tips do you have?