The Eye Photo Festival pt.1

The photographers, editors and curators gather.
The photographers, editors and curators gather.

This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to spend it surrounded by some amazing photographers and picture editors.  This was the inaugural Eye Festival at the Aberystwyth University.  The chief speaker was the legend David Hurn (pictured centre).  He opened the festival with an hour long discussion on his style of photography and triggered the two main debates of the weekend: what is the future of photography? and black & white or colour?  Thankfully he didn’t provide the answers and this sparked a great deal of discussion in the bar afterwards.

Whilst the festival opened on Friday night the majority of visitors did not arrive until Saturday morning.  This was definitely their loss as all the pro photographers were in the bar on Friday.  It was incredible to have such access to some of the most brilliant photographers currently working.  I was surprised at how humble and approachable they all were – they seemed genuinely surprised at their celebrity status.

Meeting with these stars made me realise just how far I still have to go on my photographic journey and that getting into university is going to be very difficult.  Everyone seemed to be working on projects and it was great to learn that some of the best ideas had come from discovering stories only a few miles from home.  I managed to use the discussions to trigger my own brainstorming and went to bed with a notebook half full of ideas.  It was also good to meet like-minded amateurs and even some mature students currently studying photography.  It allayed some of my fears about the actual course (if I get past the interview phase).

Saturday morning was a little fuzzy, perhaps there had been something wrong with the final pint of cider 🙂  Thankfully the speakers were in a better state.  There was a unique opportunity to have portfolios reviewed by David Hurn and Sophie Battersbury (picture editor).  I was too nervous to take this option, but I still managed to listen to some of the advice being given: less is more so don’t show more than 20 images, think about what a reader would want to see, shoot close to home and find a project that means something to you.

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Eammon McCabe dances under Martin Parr

The first speaker was Eammon McCabe and he gave a good insight into photojournalism from the ‘golden’ era with large numbers of staff photographers on the newspapers’ payrolls.  It seems that these days most papers will use stock images from providers like Getty Images and will only pay around £25 per image used.  The rise of the iPhone generation and social media networking means that the future of the photojournalist in its current form is uncertain.  Much like David Hurn’s talk he was unable to predict what the future will reveal, but change is inevitable.

The next talk was from the celebrity portrait photographer Cambridge Jones.  His talk was in the style of an interview and was a fascinating insight into another world.   I’m always interested to hear what the educational background of a photographer is and what was the break that got them above the level of ‘ordinary’.  Cambridge admitted that his first attempts as a portrait photographer went poorly but it was shooting some stills on a friend’s small budget movie set that got him his lucky break.  His portraits were stunning and I’ve added several of his books to my Amazon wishlist 🙂

P Diddy looks down over Cambridge Jones
P Diddy looks down over Cambridge Jones

After lunch there were two more talks from photographers Roger Tiley and Andy Rouse.  Both were very enthusiastic about their subjects (documentary and nature respectively).  Roger shoots mainly in Wales and was trained at Newport University so I was really interested to learn about his projects.  As with the majority of the weekend’s other photographers, it was projects with an emotional commitment that really stood out in his work.

Andy was a brilliant speaker and his dry sense of humour really lifted the audience.  His images were remarkable (I think he has won 10 awards in the last 8 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions).  His stories about shooting images of polar bears were great, and I think is was a revelation to the majority of the audience just how many dozens of hours can go into capturing just one image.  He finished his talk by discussing revenue streams  – he makes the majority of his money from selling prints and by taking amateurs on photography cruises.  If I had £3500 I be straight off to Svalbard to photograph polar bears…

Andy Rouse talks through his income streams
Andy Rouse talks through his income streams

After another quick break we had a lecture from Will Troughton from the National Library of Wales.  I think he may have misjudged his audience a little and tended to go into the history of people in the photographs he displayed from the archive rather than what the archive can do for a photographer.  Like many of the speakers he had to cut his talk short because he over ran the time schedule – a sudden realisation as to why they’re so harsh at work about time-keeping in presentations!

After Will we had a talk from documentary photographer James Morris.  His style of photography is very different from anything I had previously encountered.  Most of the images I like are immediate and obvious and require no explanation.  James’ shots on the other hand are the opposite – they look like ‘nothing’ but have a massive back story.  His current project is finding towns and villages that have vanished as part of the ongoing conflict in Israel.  What looks like a picture of an a picnic site with some grass covered stones is actual a site where massacres occurred in the past. His talk inspired me to think of a few projects that would require research.

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Colin Jacobson

The final talk of the day was a conversation between Colin Jacobson and Sophie Batterbury.  They discussed the future of paid photojournalism.  The future is going to be different but David’s enthusiasm for photography in general kept a flicker of hope in my heart.  It was a reality check to hear how ruthless the news industry is regarding photography and how deadlines drive the business and photos/photographers chosen.

After this discussion it was back to the bar for a well earned drink and another chance to get some face time with the pros, even if we were a little subdued after a long, but productive day.

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