Meeting Point, a photographic conference by the University of Salford in collaboration with Redeye, the Photography Network with a focus on collaboration and networking, was held on the 18th and 19th of January. As the name of the event infers, this was an assembly of a diverse group of people including experienced practitioners from the industry, students, graduates and those which photography is at the forefront of their creative practice.
To begin with, the state of flux concerning photo-journalism was brought to the floor with Roger Tooth, former head of photography at The Guardian, as he presented how the rise of digital technology has affected photography in this context. From the Gulf War, where it took 7 minutes for the photographer to send a single image, the notes of which would be written on the border of the image itself, and the photo-editing team had roughly 200 images, per day, from which to make a selection. To the present day where collective associations, such as Getty, enable lightning fast response times from photographers located all around the globe to present the team with an overwhelming 25,000 images per day. A custom designed programme allows for them to scour their huge database for a diverse range of imagery, with innumerable subject matter; yet the use of imagery is the same, to portray a strong narrative and allow an emotional connection with the subject. The evolution of the availability of imagery over the past 30 years, represents the growing world-wide connection that allows a deeper relationship with different cultures and communities.
Observation of an obvious, yet painfully overlooked, aspect of university cohorts came next as Steve Macleod, director of Metro Imaging, asked certain individuals (including myself) to stand at the beginning of his talk. Steve had carried out portfolio reviews with these students on the previous day and highlighted to the group that we needed help in our practice and asked people to lend us a hand. This demonstrated that a university cohort was a network, whether students realised it or not, and there will always be someone who can help progress your practice. Steve went on to give an anecdote about the importance of, not only establishing a network, but also maintaining it. An insight into his own practice presented an argument against the belief that photographers have to be in charge of the whole creative process, from concept to gallery wall. Offering the truth that people specialise in certain areas for a reason and, as practitioners, we should all be collaborating to execute the best final presentation of a concept.
As a champion for the use of art to help people and communities, Liz Wewiora, Creative Producer at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, offered an insight into her personal development in the art industry. This talk was enlightening as the realisation that studying a photography degree does not directly translate into being a photographer. Liz’ personal journey from her graduation, in 2008, to the present is a great example of the importance of being open to opportunities, even if they seem to lack relevance to your primary interest as a practitioner. Working in schools to enable children to interact with art may not have seemed relevant to a recent graduate of fine art photography, yet it has undoubtedly informed her practice to this day. Liz presented case studies on Socially Engaged Practice in photography, of which she is a strong advocate. Collaboration where you may least expect, working with communities to produce photography with coauthorship allows for an engagement that has been overlooked in the past. Liz used the work of Tadhg Devlin as an example of a practitioner whose work would not be possible without collaboration with SURF Dementia Group, their stories combined with his photographic practice created the series Life Beyond Diagnosis.
A display of passion for photography that raises awareness of the less fortunate in the UK, Les Monaghan gave an inspiring talk which presented the power of having emotion drive your photographic practice. Uncertainty is a common theme found in the early years of establishing a photographic practice, and Les’ own early experience supports this, yet there was a particular focus on determination in his talk which advocated perseverance, especially in times of uncertainty. An early project by Les went on to inform his practice and support his ability to work with people, helping to receive funding from the Arts Council for Aspirations (2015). Les is concerned with social issues and uses photography to represent communities; believing it is important to give back to the community and listen to people, to give people a voice which can be presented to a wider audience in the form of an exhibition.
The power of collaboration is represented in the creative practice of Megan Powell, who integrates teamwork into her entire practice, whether it is through the subject she works with or the people of varying professions who help to execute the projects. By working with a diverse range of creatives and scientists alike, Megan facilitates a development in her work that would not be possible without the help of others; being open to methods that she may not always fully understand, to the benefit of the final outcome of the project. To open yourself up to unusual methods, with the help of someone from a different profession, can aid in increasing the strength of representation within a body of work.
Stagnation after finishing a degree is something that students hear a lot about, understandably so as it is unlikely for you to immediately find your feet within the industry. Harriet Broom and Chloe Ogden, of Village Green, offered some great advice for recent graduates, or anyone with an uncertainty about where to take their photographic career. Village Green is a collective of graduates from Manchester School of Art, their aim is to be a creative platform for photography students and graduates, especially through the use of Instagram. Forming a collective post-university can be a great way to stay creative with the influence and motivation of a peer group, similar to that found in an academic setting; providing feedback to each other on specific projects, whilst having more power as a group to exhibit work and develop professional practice. A group of people most often has more influence than an individual, allowing you to attain tougher goals.
The importance of events such as Meeting Point is paramount in times where personal connectivity can seem more difficult, ironically as social media has caused a decline in meeting people face to face. Yet the rise of the internet should be celebrated as it enables a new kind of global connectivity and sharing of content. The use of Instagram allows artists and audiences to connect, share, and celebrate contemporary and emerging photographers. More accessibility in the organisation of exhibitions and zines allows other audiences to participate. Networking and collaboration has never been easier.
Photo: © Joshua Turner, 2018