I had a meeting with Katy Barron, an independent art curator. Following my blog post that detailed my meeting with Michael Hoppen, I thought I would also write up my meeting with Katy, and with her kind permission publish to this blog…
The meeting with Katy was again arranged through Juan Curto at Camara Oscura. We met in the café of the Camden Arts Centre (above). I came with a portfolio of prints and my laptop.
The meeting was very in-depth, with Katy spending time to first read my CV and then look over my portfolio and feed back on each image. Her first remark upon looking at my CV was that I did not have a photography/art degree, which she found unusual (in her experience) but refreshing.
She had initially thought, before meeting me, that my self-portraits were ‘of an alter ego’, but was more interested to see that they were actually of ‘me’, ie. more personal. I am a bit unclear myself, on whether my images are of ‘me’ or of an alter ego. I’d agree with her that my work is different from the self-portraits of, for example, Cindy Sherman, whose use of ‘characters’ was explicit in her imitation of film stills and use of costume and make-up.
I made references to my meeting with Michael Hoppen, and she was interested to know what his opinion was on my work. She agreed that my work was ‘commercial’ looking, but she wasn’t so much inclined to suggest how to change it, necessarily. She suggested early on in the meeting that I might be good in advertising, on supplementing my career with doing advertising work. Not being in that field, she didn’t want to specifically advise on a direction, but she did say that many esteemed photographers go into advertising as a side portfolio kept separate from their fine art.
As in my meeting with Hoppen, I wanted to express how my work has evolved and tastes changed, more to the favour of the subtle, natural and less commercial. Learning from my last meeting however, I wanted to make it clearer which of my work was ‘earlier’ work and which was later: so that the person’s comments would not be unnecessary or outdated, and more in tune with what I might be thinking myself already. She agreed, therefore, that my Growing Pains images were different from my earlier stuff, but still had an air of weirdness in having a woman half naked in a derelict room.
Growing (view on Flickr)
She commented that my portfolio seemed very disparate, but I made sure she was aware that I had intentionally put together a wide span of work to show forays into different ‘series’ and what could be seen as different styles. She was positive, however, about what I’ve achieved so far for my age, especially not having a degree. She said she thinks that it’s just the beginning for me and that I’m ‘not quite there yet’ – not quite got my own style where one can recognise an image as mine (I don’t necessary expect to have that, so that comment is ok by me!)
She approved Hoppen’s advice to put myself into an intellectual context by looking at the work of the earliest ‘Photoshopping’ in the work of Henry Peach-Robinson and Lady Clementina Haywarden.
We turned to my image The smothering. She remarked on the similarity to Julia Fullerton-Batten’s images, which was one of my actual inspirations for the piece, I replied. However, I had other inspirations for the piece too, part of which was the symptoms of anxiety. I told her that the image had been selected by curator Natasha Egan for the Art of Photography Show 2010 in San Diego. Regardless, Katy’s opinion was that the use of levitation was somewhat clichéd and too commercial and didn’t find it very interesting. To her, it was just a ‘copy’ of Fullerton-Batten.
The smothering (view on Flickr)
I did remark to her that although I created The smothering with my own artistic intention, the main thing that people are curious about is the technical method to its production, and that question has become quite tedious. It almost makes me feel like I am a magician rather than an artist, and once the question is answered, it is not that my ‘secret’ has been given away (that is not the problem), but the discourse between artist and viewer is then abruptly closed.
Katy is used to doing lots of portfolio reviews in the manner in which she was critiquing my work. She recommended getting out as much as possible to further portfolio reviews: such as the ones in Arles, Houston, and Paris (ParisPhoto). When I got home I looked into how to get into portfolio reviews. It seems that artists pay hundreds of pounds/dollars to go to events where curators/dealers/people in the know spend as little as 15 minutes looking at your work and advising on it.
In all honesty, I really don’t like the sound of that. Just what can someone make of one’s work in that short a time? My meeting with Katy, which was about an hour and a half, was very useful and I feel that the duration of time we spent together was the minimum time to get real and meaningful feedback on one’s work. The person surely needs time to first immerse themselves into your work, look over it properly, read your CV, and crucially, appreciate that the hypothetical person in front of them may well be a successful or at least functioning artist already. Although the artist is putting themselves into the hotseat for critique, and indeed – the whole purpose is to give critique (no real consequence is made of ‘I like your work’), a meeting as short as 15 minutes would surely only draw attention to the contrived and forced nature of trying to say something of use within minutes of seeing someone’s work for the first time. I think for true meaningful commentary, the artist needs to talk back – to engage in a discussion with the portfolio reviewer rather than hear a one-sided commentary. Anyone had experience with portfolio reviews you’d like to share?
I was definitely surprised that The smothering made it through into the AOP Show, especially as I had submitted several other images that I guessed might fit the judge’s taste, and the ‘house style’ more (looking at entries/winners of previous years) and this was one of the most composited and ‘Photoshopped’. I felt that my work would not necessarily fit into the ‘look’ of contemporary art photography especially that of the more photojournalistic ilk. Considering that this image has been accepted, I’m starting to doubt whether I was actually doing anything wrong – whether indeed, it’s possible to do anything wrong in your work. To some extent, I don’t think it is. This is what I think it boils down to:
- what you do with your work (getting it out there)
- chance and circumstance (whether a certain judge or gallery etc likes your work, and decides to select it)
- luck (other factors that determine whether someone picks your work: being in the right place at the right time).
In this sense, contrary to what Michael Hoppen said, there isn’t so much you can do wrong in the world of photographic art. It’s just convincing people, or having people already convinced, that your work is ‘fine art’ and is worth paying for. Discussing the intricacies of whether one’s lighting is a tad too ‘commercial’ in certain spots of an image seems completely off the point in this context.
In my meeting with Katy Barron I gained a curatorial perspective on my work whereas Michael Hoppen’s was one of an art dealer. Barron was more interested in the concepts behind images whereas Hoppen was more concerned with how the images look. Barron’s advice was to keep doing what I’m doing. Her comments were focused on what I could do with my existing work, how I can strength and tighten the conceptual framework. In a simplistic nutshell, Michael was suggesting ways to change how my images look, whereas Katy was advising on how to clarify what they mean. Both very interesting viewpoints. Of course, whether any artist has to do either is up for debate…
A few days after my meeting I was informed that I’d been chosen to solo-exhibit at Photo-Space in London…
The launch is on Thurs 5th August and it runs throughout the month. Check out my blog post here and RSVP on Facebook here. I’m also looking for people to help out through the month so please email if you would like to know more.
I welcome your thoughts on this blog post…
Credits: Image of Camden Arts Centre at the top of this post is from this web source