Friday 12 September 2008

Access art

Engaging with the public - art on the streets of Norwich

The final line in the previous post asked the question -is it time for photography exhibitions to hit the streets too? The way photography is exhibited has always been something I've tried to understand for years, but I always come back to the fact that galleries lack on one fundamental ingredient - accessibility.

Photography is one of the easiest art forms to do - most people have, at some point in their life, taken a photograph. It is just so easy to do whether you use a pro digital SLR or a throwaway 35mm film camera. Kodak even calculated, a few years ago now, the number of photographs taken on average by a person during their lifetime. For me, this familiarity with photography is not exploited by the galleries. A potential audience, far larger than normal gallery attendance, is waiting out there to engage with and discuss images by all of the master photographers and others. I'm sure Robert Dosineau's, Henri Cartier-Bresson's or Steve McCurry's work would go down a storm with the ordinary viewing public, many of whom probably haven't heard of any of these photographers.

Back in 1996, i had the privilege of working at a photography gallery for two weeks as part of a work experience. The work involved putting together an exhibition for the photographer Clement Cooper who was exhibiting his superb DEEP project. Cooper's work was especially relevant because it focused on issues of race, an important issue then and now. The gallery put together a beautiful display of images, they got good viewing numbers and the images were well received but i always wondered what the reaction would have been if they had been displayed outside of the gallery environment. I did notice a number of people walk towards the gallery door, hesitate and then walk away. The reason was summed up by a friend who waited outside for me one lunchtime. 'Why didn't you come in and have a look?' i asked. 'I didn't like to - i might not understand it' he replied. The perceived intimidating atmosphere of art galleries doesn't help one bit and i think that it actively stops people from looking in. I believe that this 'atmosphere' of art exclusivity is a contributing factor to the closure of many galleries. People want to look but dare not enter in case some fine art 'luvvie' makes them look stupid.

The sad fact is most of the general public have probably never been to see a photography exhibition. Photographic galleries are usually only visited by a certain section of interested individuals who love art or photography. Imagine the cross section of ordinary people that you could reach with an exhibition in a city centre, busy tourist location or shopping mall. Potentially thousands rather than just hundreds could see the images.... and that's what we want... right????


Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

Was this the Viewpoint Gallery Salford Show?


Richard Flint Photography said...

Hi Clement,

It was your exhibition at Ffotogallery in Cardiff for the 'Deep' project. I was on the HND photography course at Stoke on Trent college. Myself and David Dallimore helped hang your exhibition as a work experience. Nice to hear from you. Hope you are well. :o)