Friday, 20 November 2015

Not the blog I was expecting to post this week.

Following the terrible events in Paris on Friday, my annual report from Paris Photo takes a very different tone than expected.

Like many of my photographic colleagues who were gathered in Paris last week, I was excited to spend the week immersed in a celebration of creativity and artistic diversity. At a later date, I shall post another sadly truncated blog about the work I saw.

Following the preview day on Wednesday, two full days at the fair, the Prix Pictet evening on Thursday & back to the fair for meetings on Friday afternoon, my fabulous assistant Sarah and I headed back to our apartment to prepare for a party I was providing the music for. We had a bottle of champagne each. Many good friends would be there. It looked to be a great night ahead....

Just after 10pm, the news began to trickle in. Everyone started looking at their phones and sharing what information they could. I grabbed my mobile just in time to catch it ringing - it was my mother was calling from Australia in a panic. My brother & several others had texted me. I assured my mum that I was safe and that we were not going anywhere. The relief in her voice made the gravity of the ongoing events concrete. Each person was in their own world wondering what was going on & thinking of their loved ones. I must say a huge thank you to everyone who sent me a message, called or posted on Facebook, it was much appreciated & very comforting.

We were safe on the 4th floor of an apartment building and glad to be so. As the number of dead increased throughout the night & more reports came in, the scale of the attack was not revealed until the next day. We were too close to fully comprehend what was happening. Many of us decided to stay put & not risk going out onto the streets.

(screen grab from phone)

At a minute past midnight, Facebook texted many of us. This quite unexpected amazing use of technology was much appreciated to make sure that we were safe. This was welcomed as much by my friends & family as it was by myself.

Sitting on the rooftop terrace we could hear the sirens & only pray for those exposed to the barbaric things happening in Paris below. Makeshift sleeping arrangements were made by our gracious hosts & some people left around 4.30am - with strict instructions to text me when they arrived at their hotel.

The next morning we had to leave the safety of our defiant party and face reality.

As we walked back to our apartment the streets of Paris were all but deserted. Very few pedestrians passed by. 

The stillness was eerie. In the absence of traffic, the city felt bereft of life. The sound of the city was stripped to a forlorn chorus of police & ambulance sirens. 

Once back at our apartment,  we went online to see the full details of the attacks via the BBC & Le Monde. It was shocking and surreal. Flags had been removed from the bank opposite as a mark of respect. 

By Sunday there were two armed security officers posted outside and carrying machine guns. They looked so young it was unnerving.

Like many others in the city, we spent the evening inside. 

By Sunday, we were keen to get some fresh air. The Metro was closed so we walked to the Place de la Republique to pay our respects. 

There were many tributes along the way to those whom had lost their lives & to the city.

Grafitti had appeared overnight. 

It was beautiful and touching to see.

A cross was sprayed over Marianne's lips. Fresh tributes to the victims of the attacks surrounded its base, joining those of the Charlie Hebdo attack from January. A sad reminder of how recent the city suffered at the hands of terrorists.

The sun was shining.  Camera crews were everywhere. 

We walked further to Sacré-Cœur to look out over the city before heading back. 

We stopped for a drink in Montmartre and watched the crowds of people inspect paintings on easels & those who made them trying to sell their wares. 

The events of the night before were momentarily forgotten until another group of soldiers passed by. The mood changed in an instant. A little boy tried to say hello to one of them, it was all very strange.

Heading back via the Louvre, we watched the sun go down over Paris for the last time on our trip. We were glad to have walked its streets before leaving the next day. Cafe owners had been happy to serve us, defiant in carrying on as usual. As night fell the streets returned to silence. The darkness brought with it a guarded expectancy which sent everyone inside. Watching from our apartment the street was again as deserted as the day before.

By morning, the busy energy of the working week was a welcome sight. Cars, bikes, buses, people all going about their business. There was time for one last coffee near Gare Du Nord before boarding the Eurostar. At midday, a one minute silence was announced. We sat quietly in our own thoughts, sad in the knowledge of recent events, emotions close to the surface.

Many years ago, I fell out of love with Paris when a series of mishaps ruined a visit there. Since then, I have resumed my affair year after year with one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

This time I missed many of the exhibits I had planned to see. Instead, I found myself viewing humanity of a different kind. In my case I was lucky to be surrounded by warm & friendly souls, looking out for each other & resistant in their free spirited nature toward those determined to spread their cruelty and disrespect for life.  I was privileged to see the best of the city. A city facing adversity where people were sheltering strangers in their homes.

Upon arrival at Kings Cross International reporters were poised to interview people coming through. Sarah was stopped & asked if she was someone else by a journalist. We moved on quickly. Then the monstrous Disney tree came into sight, piled high with soft toys, reminding us of the shallow nature of shameless Christmas promotions.

It was a far cry from the numerous sites around the world displaying the Tricolore.

I do hope that Paris never has to experience anything like this again. I hope the same for Gaza, for Syria, for everywhere that people have a home. The future is uncertain but the ability to show love is not. The ability to extend compassion, to offer shelter and freedom and fraternity, especially in the face of adversity and violence, is something that terrorism can never by its very nature defeat.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Portfolio reviews prepare & enjoy!

As someone whom has reviewed many portfolios over the years I am often surprised at how little advice there is for photographers on preparing to show them. 

Here is some practical advice to help you get the most out of your sessions:

Who to show your work to? When you are looking which reviewers to book at events such as the upcoming Photo Meet or Rencontres d'Arles for example don't just pick the people that you have heard of. See if your work fits their modus operandi. There is not much point in showing a publisher a body of work about architecture if they have not shown any previous interest in the subject in their previous publications. Do your research on the people you want to see. Read their bios, note their appearance so that if you do not manage to book a review you know what they look like. There is often an opportunity to mingle at these events, you can pass on your card then perhaps...

What to bring with you as well as the work: As well as a fabulous portfolio it is good to be memorable & leave something for reviewers to go back to later if they choose to. 

A business card: It seems old fashioned these days but it can be very useful for quick reference. If you have a key eye-catching image that sums up your current project include it on your card or a postcard. (Don't forget to add your website info & tel number & email on a postcard). There is a reason for this: an image is easier to remember than a name. Contacting someone quickly via the phone can make the difference between an image featured in a paper or magazine when an editor is working to a deadline. 

Press release: If you have an exhibition coming up make sure you have a press release with you containing all the pertinent information about the show & the work, sponsors etcetera to give to the reviewer. 

Book: If you have a book that is due to be released or would like to get onto peoples radar to feature have press copies set aside & a CD of a small selection of high res images including the cover image which is often all that is used in print.  Only hand these on if they are interested. It is always good to set aside press copies to get the word out there for your future readers/reviewers/buyers. 

Take notes: Technology is such a large part of our lives now that it is easy to forget the value of a good notebook. Time is of the essence - it is much quicker for a reviewer to note something down for you, than wait for you type it up or for them to try to & type it up on an iPad/phone they are not familiar with. Spelling something out takes time, it is precious & 20mins goes fast! I've frequently been recorded at a review - just ask permission first & only use it for personal reference. It is so easy to forget an important tip or name as the day goes by. 

Which work?
It may seem obvious to place your best work in your portfolio - whether on paper / website / pdf - but it is easy to forget that a 20 minute session goes in a flash. 20 photographs at an average of a minute each is not very long to discuss each image & discuss the project or series. 

If you have more than one series it is a good idea to do a contact sheet example of each series/project to show a reviewer which one they would prefer to see. This way they can have a quick glimpse & see which would fit best & also a peek of more in case they want to follow up later to see another project.

Introducing the work: 
A short paragraph summing up a series that can be read quickly or read to the reviewer whilst they browse your work. This can also help to keep your information concise, making sure to include all the key elements of a body of work - even if it is incomplete, your intention for the work can be included. 100-300 words max is a good ballpark. (You can always expand on this on your website.)

Questions for reviewers: You may have specific questions to ask which differ from one reviewer to another. There is nothing wrong with have these written down so that you don't forget or miss something. 

Gloves: White cotton gloves can scratch prints when things get caught in the weave of the cotton fibres & the oil from your skin can go through them. Nitrile unpowered gloves are the best for handing prints. Here are the ones I prefer. A box of them goes a long way & you can give a new pair to each person. Handle your work with care - dings look bad on prints & costs you money.

Portfolio boxes are heavy & many people often have their work in a digital format. (I like both - love the physicality of a print though - as a collector it is not surprising) Having one print with you to show the quality of the finished article is always good though. Seeing the work in its intended size is a good way to display how a work would look in an exhibition & the impact it has in its optimum size. Remember, size isn't everything - big is not always best. If you need advice on this ask for advice. If you have 2 sizes bring both. (It may be impractical to go full size - its quality that is the most important thing)

If you would like to publish a book: A book dummy is a good idea - but don't be too rigid - an editor/publisher with photobook experience can advise you on layouts, content etc. Be open to ideas & suggestions. You may need a writer to pen an introduction &/or preface. Ask for suggestions.

Last, but by no means least: All this advice is worthless unless you listen to the reviewers. You may not agree with everything they say, but you might just learn something. I know that I can always learn from others, no one has all the answers but they may lead you towards some that are right for you...