Now that I have your attention, no I’ve done nothing naughty… I’ve just had my very first photography exhibition. As most of you will know, I’m studying at Diploma level in Photography at Nepean TAFE. I’m loving this course, although this semester has been a bit of a nightmare with broken ankles, flu, son’s wedding and an overseas trip so I’ve found myself really struggling. I have been trying to get a lot of stuff caught up before the end of the semester which is why I’ve been so quiet on here and why my “write a post every day for the month of November” went down the hole rapidly. Never mind.. there is always next November.
But, now that I’ve got myself nicely sidetracked, I’ll get back to the original reason behind this post. The exhibition. Last semester, while studying Cert IV in photography, we were offered a chance to work on a project called Queen Street Riches and Textures 2013 – The faces of St Marys. Big name for a big project. So the idea behind it was to go out for 10 weeks under the guidance of a professional photographer and get a good cross section of the community of St Marys. These photos would then be compiled into a catalogue (the red link will take you to it) with the stories of some of the faces of St Marys and of course, they would also be shown at an exhibition.
Now, when we got offered this great experience, I was not the best photographer in the world… and that is probably being kind to myself lol. I was still learning how to use a DSLR. I had always taken lots of photos with a point and shoot but had no idea how to use a “serious” camera, so booked in to do Cert IV to learn. There was so much to learn and I was just starting to get my head around it when this opportunity came up. I’m always the sort of person who blindly jumps into new opportunities without thinking about my readiness so I naively put my hand up for it, just for the experience and luckily due to someone else dropping out, I got in.
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve learned enough to know how little you really knew.. and that’s where I found myself. I had no idea how little I actually knew until I went out on the streets trying to take photos. Then I started to get paranoid about how bad my photos actually were. I now have the utmost respect for street photographers. I used to think they were pretty insignificant. I mean, who can’t just walk down the street and take a happy snap? Turns out, ME!! This was so much harder than I expected.
It was hard enough trying to get a good sharp image while you are walking but people also get a bit paranoid when they see someone with a camera and turn the other way. I got so many backs of heads and blurred sides of faces. I got lots of blurry, overexposed, underexposed or completely black photos. The only photos that seemed to turn out okay were the ones where I accidentally shot the footpath while I was walking.. Wow, I got some great footpath shots, nice clear lines of the cracks, lovely texture of the concrete. Pity there was nothing else in them.
The professional photographer and mentor was Chris Peken who was a fantastic help. He spoke to us about just getting the shot and not worrying about how perfect it was. That really made me feel so much more at ease. After a few weeks, I started to become a bit more comfortable with the whole process. I also learned that if you don’t look uncomfortable taking a photo, most people don’t FEEL so uncomfortable being photographed, so subjects were easier to get. All in all, it started to feel a bit more natural. I’ll be honest.. I would never dream of calling myself a street photographer, nor would I actually aspire to be one. It’s not the style of photography I feel comfortable with. But, I finally felt like I was getting an occasional decent photo.
Two of my classmates, Ufuk and Barb who were involved in this project, were a lot more experienced photographers than me and so I felt quite overwhelmed and disheartened at times when I saw the incredible photos they were taking. My other classmate, Kira, and I both struggled a bit I think, with comparing our work to theirs. There were many times when I really wished I had never agreed to do the project, such was my disappointment in my ability. Eventually though, we tried to stop comparing and just accept that our work was different. That is surely one of the hardest things we can learn to do and also the most rewarding.. stop comparing ourselves to others.
As the project neared completion, I was terrified that there wouldn’t be a photo good enough to be used in an exhibition and when photos were chosen, I still felt really disappointed with mine. But there was nothing more I could do.. It was completed and I just had to go with it. After the selection process, I didn’t really look at the photos again, as I didn’t want to feel that level of disappointment all over again. Besides, i was kept busy at the time doing the writing for the catalogue they were producing. Chris had been taking a series of portraits of people in and around St Marys and many of these people were interviewed with the intention of sharing their stories. I was incredibly honored to be the person who took these interviews and turned them into the stories you can now read in the catalogue. (click here to see it).
St Marys is a real mixing pot of cultures. It’s set in Sydney’s western suburbs and has a real charm about it but sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap, as do many of the western suburbs towns….. so to listen to the residents, old and new, sharing their opinions on the town and their vision for it’s future was a real highlight for me. There were the people who had lived there for 50 or 60 years as well as ones who had come here from war torn countries, seeking a place of peace and healing from the horrors they had seen. They all had a story to tell and a dream for the township. To those who shared their story so willingly, thank you. You made my job so rewarding and interesting.
Anyway, after a few months of not thinking about it, on Wednesday night, the exhibition opened. I had no real idea what to expect as I’d never had an exhibition before. I couldn’t even remember what photographs had been chosen and I was really nervous about seeing them again. I was quite scared about walking in and seeing them and realising they were as bad as I remembered them being. I’m so glad now I chose not to look at them again in that time. Seeing them through fresh eyes, I was quite relieved. Yes, I can see mistakes in them. I’ve learned so much in the months since I finished the project, but all in all, I was happy with them.
It was extremely overwhelming to walk in there, see your own photography on the wall and watching people walking around, looking at them and commenting. I wanted to eavesdrop and hear what they had to say but at the same time, I was terrified they might be saying horrible stuff. Oh insecurity does love to torment the human spirit doesn’t it?
We went in and sat down, facing the audience.. gulp.. We were all quite nervous by this time, knowing there were formalities to take place and we had to say a few words too and we had no idea of what to say… then something special happened. We looked out into the people sitting in front of us and there were the smiling faces of our other class mates who had all turned up to support us. Yes, we knew they were coming but to see the familiar smiles helped us all relax. My son Lachlan and his partner Jenna were there too as was Cath, the head of the photo imaging department at TAFE. We also had Adnan from the council who had worked closely with us in the audience and Chris, our photographic mentor sitting beside us.
They say familiarity breeds contempt? Well it also breeds relief. I hope these special people know how much it meant to the 4 of us sitting up at that table to have them there, cheering us on, albeit quietly. Their support gave us so much more confidence. They really made the difference in our enjoyment levels for the night. Never underestimate the power of just “being there”. A friendly smile, a familiar face.. even the surreptitious face pulling to make you laugh. They make a difference.
Anyway, the night concluded and we all went off to our respective homes, relieved that the formalities were out of the way but much happier than we expected to be with how it all turned out. It was a great experience and while my insecurities played havoc with me during the whole project, I am glad I gave it a go. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and take a risk.
My fellow exhibitors (yes that probably does sound better than exhibitionists but not as much fun) have so much to offer the world of photography. They are talented in every photo they take but I think they excel in a specific style each. Barb does beautiful portraits, Ufuk, the most amazing building photography (his background is engineering and this shows through .. and Kira, who has the sweetest soul, specialises in baby and child photography. Please go over and have a look at their work. To Barb, Kira and Ufuk.. .. thank you being part of this experience. You are all so talented and I am in awe of you all.
The exhibition has it’s last day today, from 10-4 and can be seen at St Marys Corner which is on the corner of Mamre Road and the Great Western Highway, St Marys.
Happy Viewing… Livvy 🙂
My exhibition photos.
Photos of the night.. courtesy of Kira Kimberley Photography