A bit of fun with the Brighton & Hove Camera Club this week taught me a couple of interesting lessons. I’d really recommend this to other camera clubs as it brought a host of hitherto unseen photographs out of the shadows and gave everyone an opportunity to see other people’s work in a collection. The challenge was excellent for participation, because of the format, everyone in the club was dragged in within a couple of days – like a chain letter, the participant list grows exponentially.
The rules of the Black and White Challenge are very simple. The person issuing the challenge posts a photograph every day for five days. On each day, she issues a new challenge to another photographer. There are no prizes and it is much less nerve-wracking for new photographers than entering a competition is. I remember the tension of my first competition only too well – mine was the second to last photograph reviewed by a visiting judge who had already displayed a view of photography that seemed to combine the narrowness of a fanatic with the casual cruelty of a sadist. By the time he reached my photograph my fears had multiplied and expectation diminished to a point where anything other than disqualification seemed like a momentous victory!
The beauty of the format is that it encourages people to take a fresh look at their archives. Landscape photographers suddenly show a penchant for street photography, sports photographers for still lives. Five good photographs in five days is asking a lot of even a full time photographer – I think it was Ansell Adams that remarked that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop” – good is not the same as significant, but still a tall order!
We used the club’s Facebook page as the forum – with the result that an already vibrant page became Turbocharged almost overnight. Such was the popularity of the challenge that someone has already proposed a follow up. In Colour.
So what did I learn from the challenge? I deliberately avoided photographs I’d already exhibited, so I took a look at monochromes I’d shot in the last three years or so. iPhone, Canon, anything was up for selection. The lesson I’ll value most was – spend some time looking again at the archives. Generally I shoot to an idea I have and I view the day’s shots through the prism of this idea. Consequently some perfectly good photographs get overlooked. I’d always liked the IBM Conference shot – taken on an iPhone in Barcelona, I’d seen the extreme contrast created by a half open door and waited patients until the right combination of people arrived in the right place. I had to anticipate the timing of the shot and there were several rejects, but this one came out exactly as I’d anticipated.
The Beachy Head shot was taken using a combination of Graduated and ND filters as it was directly into the sun. I was very close to the cliffs edge on a fairly windy day and for some reason attracted a procession of other photographers who seemed to think this was the only place to take a shot from. Strange and potentially suicidal behaviour…
The Shanghai picture was taken on the day I arrived, I had to buy an umbrella and my original intention was to shoot the cityscape provided by the business district in the background across the river. The rain put that idea on the shelf and I had to think of another approach. I decided to back off and shoot from a distance, using the lines and reflections in the concrete as leading lines. The success of the shot depended on a combination of people being in the right place to provide depth front to back. In this I was often frustrated as many walkers politely stopped and waited for me to finish the shot!
My final submission was taken in Bangalore this Spring. I’d become fascinated by the posters, advertisements displaying an idealised version of the Indian male. Implausibly macho, impeccably poised, a combination of stereotypes resulting in an impossible to live up to ideal. This shot was taken some time after I became hopelessly lost in the back streets behind a market. A perfect combination of reality and fiction, the shot exactly captured the ambivalence I’d felt about these advertisments.
I had a great time trawling through my archives for these pictures and was happy with the way they turned out as a set. More fascinating though was the experience of seeing other people’s work, people whose work I thought I knew quite well, submitting often surprising and occasionally stunning pictures. I’ve grown to expect “stunning” from many of the photographers in this club, but the Black and White Challenge inspired some fantastic exhibits.