Here and Now

Article published in Offline Journal No.1, Autumn 2018

“Perhaps it's time I got out more". This is the last line from Elvis Died in my Bedroom, my short film made for the BBC Capture Wales project under the tutelage of the wonderful Daniel Meadows – the line seems more appropriate now than ever. The film was a lament of growing up in front of a screen.

There has never been a time like now for photography, particularly here in Wales. I see photography and photographs everywhere – most often my viewing is on computers and mobile devices rather than in places with people. Yet it seems that our galleries are showing more photography than ever – a national institution has a new dedicated photography gallery; the national agency for contemporary photography is establishing a new facility in the centre of the capital. Photographs can often be seen at the many galleries around Wales including in Wrexham, Llanrwst, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Newtown, Machynlleth, Aberystwyth, Carmarthen, Swansea, Abertillery, Pontypool, Newport, Rhondda plus many more. Each gallery will have its own particular emphasis regarding the photography it shows - diversity is, of course, a good thing. There are also a number of very good photo-collectives rooted in Wales, often using online platforms to present and promote their work. I wonder how many photography exhibitions you have looked at lately? Did you visit a gallery or was it online?

Photographic education thrives – in Wales you can learn from your mates, study short courses, advanced courses, undertake degrees and even complete a PhD. Educators are often drawn from cultural and commercial industries where they thrive as photographers, writers, artists, etc. – many are genuinely world-leading in what they do. Each of our education institutions will have its own particular emphasis regarding the photography it teaches – some institutions even specialise in more than one area. Again, diversity is a good thing. I wonder if you have studied photography in some shape or form, in Wales or elsewhere? Was it good to be amongst like-minded people?

There is also a significant level of commercial photography at work in Wales servicing individuals, communities, businesses and other agencies. And let’s not forget the hundred or so camera clubs in Wales where enthusiasts meet, discuss, learn and exhibit photography. It is not lost on me that my own odyssey (or journey of discovery as I often think of it), led me across most of those areas outlined above. Starting as a camera enthusiast, then a professional photographer’s assistant, then a jobbing social and industrial photographer, then formal study in photography. Then working as a photographer undertaking creative/community-based commissions, then teaching night classes, then teaching in colleges and universities, then a researcher and the many bits in-between. You have probably undertaken some or all of a similar journey yourself – perhaps you met some of the very same people I did?

My point is this, throughout that journey I came to realise that whilst important, it is not institutions or organisations that matter so much. Rather, it is the people, often incredible individuals, who can inspire you with an insight, a suggestion, and their raw passion for what they do. Having made Elvis Died in my Bedroom I started to work in communities with ordinary folk, just like you and me, who wanted to make short films and narrate their own stories whilst incorporating photographs. Most had not ‘worked digitally’ before, some hadn’t even used a computer. Yet people of different ages and ability would learn photo-scanning, sound recording and film editing within a couple of days – certainly enough to make a good quality film. I was amazed by their storytelling – one of the straplines for the project was ‘everyone has a story to tell’ – how true that was! These makers would present the most moving, passionate and articulate stories you can find. The confidence to achieve this often came from the ‘story circle’, the gathering where those making films got together to share their experiences and, importantly, learn from each other.

So, for all the wonderful activity we now have going on in Wales, in galleries, education, industry and elsewhere, we must not forget that it is us, as individuals, that matters most. My experience has been that there are many talented, generous people who are keen to share their insights. Most often discussion, debate and healthy criticism takes place in a positive way. Being honest is good for everyone – in truth, it is actually essential.

Gatherings are therefore important, not just to meet and chat with others at the varying stages of their journeys, but to also share experiences, gain insights and question the many diverse approaches to photography that exist. The joy is that we are all different with something to offer and something to gain – diversity is essential if photography is to flourish. We are blessed with an increasing sense of shared purpose in terms of Photography and Wales. The new printed adventure Offline is intended to get individuals to interact, discuss and debate photography away from online platforms - although online continues to gain importance and offers a variety of uses. Offline is a call for new forms of engagement in the ongoing development of photography in Wales.

There has never been a better time to get out more!

© Paul Cabuts 2018
Cover/image courtesy Offline/Dan Wood