Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Six things I learnt in my first month on Instagram

Just over a month ago I started posting images on Instagram under the name @paulcliffordartist. Instagram isn't something I ever thought I would do, but it had gotten to the point that so many people were telling me I'd enjoy it and it would be a great fit for my pictures, I thought I'd give it a try.

I usually work with my pictures fairly slowly, carefully
shooting on my DSLR cameras in RAW format and high resolution, then finishing off on screen and filing them at a later date. I take my time to get everything right. In contrast, all my Instagram pictures have been taken on my phone and posted to Instagram with no adjustments at all.

So after a month of taking photos on my phone and posting one a day to Instagram I've learnt a few things, some of them completely unexpected...

Lesson One - it's great to take pictures wherever and whenever I like

Whether I am in the mood to be taking pictures or not, I'm always looking - constantly framing bits of the world in my head. Sometimes I have my camera with me, sometimes I don't. Generally though, I will have my phone. So, some images I've shot in the last month for Instagram have been in unusual places, at unusual times. 

That could be on the way home after a night out, whilst watching my daughter's swimming lesson, on a shopping trip or in the toilets at the park. That's the four pictures above. It's taken me this month to stop thinking 'I wish I had my camera with me' when I see these things, and to get my alternate process equipment out!

Lesson Two - phone images are real photographs

The main reason I haven't previously used my phone to take 'art' pictures is the innate resistance to it I think a lot of photographers have. Having grown up with film, through early digital and now the camera phone, it's easy to see the smartphone as a 'junior' format not to be taken seriously. But, as we all know a great image is down to the photographer, not the kit. So, after a month on Instagram, I'm less scornful of people I see on the street lining up their photos on their phones, because now I've become one of them.

There are lots of DSLR images on Instagram too, that look a lot 'better' than phone photographs in certain ways. As a concession to this, I've made clear on my profile page that all my images are from a fairly old phone, with no filters applied. However, I'm pretty sure only a handful of people are interested - if you like a picture, the source really doesn't matter.

Lesson Three - Instagram pictures need special consideration

One part of my experience of shooting specifically for Instagram has been finding a new way to shoot. That's not just handling the equipment and it's limitations (and there are some of course!), but also the square format and choosing the actual image content.

With my other work, often the viewer needs to invest a bit of time in just looking to get into the groove of the image. I'm under no illusions that each of my Instagram images are anything more than just one in a sea of scrolling others. So, my Instagram work is leaning towards the more pared down, pleasingly simple end of my work. Most people seeing the images will be looking at them on a small phone screen, so the pictures have to have a clarity and directness about them.

At times when I have had my DSLR at hand, I have found myself shooting two versions of the same shot. The phone picture goes public on Instagram, the DSLR image will get filed away, maybe to be seen by no-one but me. A curious situation, and one that demands a bit of thought for the future. 

Lesson Four - no filter and no edit means no hassle

I post my pictures with no filters or fiddling applied. There isn't a particular need for me to
- it's not a pompous or artistic statement. For me, it simply ties into Instagram being a bit of fun relief from the precision of my other work. Once I start into those Instagram menus, I could fiddle all day. 
With no editing, all I have to do is choose a picture each morning, put it on, title it, tag it and it's done. It's a way to ensure I keep up the pace with one image a day, no matter how busy I am.

Lesson Five - one title and seven hashtags can be hard work, but also insightful

Towards the beginning of my first Instagram month, I happened to mention my new output  to a social media type, who said that seven hashtags was thought the ideal for maximum distribution. Elsewhere I read between five and ten, so I stuck with seven. Now, I don't pretend to understand the mechanics of Instagram at all, but I do know people are seeing my pictures - they are getting Likes from around the world, from other photographers and galleries with similar work. So I guess the hashtags are working.

The discipline of thinking of the seven relevant hashtags, as well as a title, has been very useful for me in thinking about why I take pictures - an avenue of thought that remains constantly fascinating to me. I've never attached titles to my work before, only numbers. As with the no filter approach, I try and come up with something fairly quickly so I can get the picture up and move on. One title and seven hashtags has really got me looking carefully about the picture and wracking my brains with regard to what I want to tell people about it with the title and tags.

Lesson Six - it's great to be Liked, better if it's an interesting Like

I'm sure lots of people don't believe me when I say my print exhibitions are not about selling work and making money, but more about getting the work off my hard drives and in front of people. Of course, it's great when someone does buy something, both because they have chosen to take it away with them, and also as a kind of justification for the physical show.

I have run market stalls in the past with hundreds of my images to sell as small framed objects. What's been interesting about those days are which ones totally unexpectedly become the most popular. Same with the Likes on Instagram. I don't think it really influences the direction of my work, but it gives me another clue or two about where the pictures come from when people agree with what I am visually saying.

I've have had some interesting Likes along the way too. A few examples for the images above - 
On the left, @ninjasupply - a ninja supplier of course, and @glued_n_screwed - a DIY blog. 
At the top - @glitterpoledance, a professional pole dancer and fan of poles in general it seems.  
Finally, on the right, CCTV manufacturer @winnie_cctv

It's great my pictures are getting in front of these people, let alone them hitting Like on them. I've also had some other photographers Like and Follow me, whose work I am really enjoying Following on Instagram. Check out my Following list if you want to have a look for yourself.

So that's my lessons so far. I'm going to continue posting one a day for as long as it interests me, and the majority of the pictures won't be seen anywhere else. Now I've found my feet I'll be flexing a few photographic muscles I haven't used in a while - for example, you may have noticed people creeping into a few pictures, and you don't usually see them in my work...

If you're on Instagram, why not join and follow me @paulcliffordartist for my next month, who knows what we might learn together?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Sweco Selection - my new exhibition in Sweden!

3536 - Holy Island, England, 2009

Back in February I was contacted by Sweco Sundsvall Konstförening - a Society funded by and organised by Sweco to promote the appreciation of the visual arts.
They felt my images would work well in their offices in Sweden, based on the company's activities working with engineering and design to create sustainable urban development.

Over the last few weeks I have been working with the Society to remotely co-curate a selection of images from my archive. The exhibition was designed to show a good range of work that would be attractive and appropriate in the office space as well as work conceptually within the context of Sweco's work in the environment.

Led by the Art Society's choices, we created a collection of images everyone was happy with. I visited the offices in Sundsvall, Sweden last week, and we hung the 28 pictures as a series of smaller image selections all around the offices. Again, I worked together with a member of the Society to create the final order and arrangement on site before committing to the final hang.

Robin Wootton from Sweco Sundsvall Konstförening had this to say -

I’m very pleased with the exhibition. Paul has an eye for detail that enables him to highlight aesthetic qualities in everyday situations. This should be important for everyone.'

3588 - Beckenham, England, 2009

This was a really different way of exhibiting for me, it was a very interesting process to essentially hand over the curatorial reins to somebody else, and they found some connections in my work that I would not have made myself. This is also my largest solo exhibition to date, and my first outside of the UK, so it was exciting for a number of reasons!

There was a launch event too, to tour and discuss the exhibition with the Society. These evenings are usually a chance to catch up with art loving friends as well as meet new people and encounter new opinions about the pictures. I love to hear what other people think of my work, and as I knew no-one personally this time there was plenty of time to talk about the work. The discussions that arose often had an environmental, geological or heavily practical theme, and there were certainly some Sweco style questions I hadn't heard before.

I'll run through the sets of images below with some brief thoughts and recollections of the launch night. I've shown them here in the same configurations as they appear on the walls - you can click on each set to enlarge it.

There's also a full online catalogue for the show on my website here, where you can find out where each picture was taken, and also take a much more detailed look at them individually. There's a Facebook catalogue too here, where you can like your favourites and leave comments if you wish.

This first group is mainly greens and grasses. Talk at the launch event centred around that stranded yellow bollard and identifying just what those colourful spots were. With the bollard, I was asked if I staged my pictures at all - I absolutely don't. If you want to know what the spots are, ask me in the comments section below!

This being Sweco - a company that has to know all about what goes on underground - there was also a bit of discussion about the blue panel and how the water supply works in the UK compared to Sweden! 

There was a darker section of corridor in the offices, and remembering how well the Evening in Venice show worked - an entire show of very dark pictures visible only by torchlight - I knew this selection of four dim pictures all about light would work well there. A good example of a lesson learned from having limitations applied to your work, and your exhibitions.

These work really well as rich physical prints - the full effect of the light and colour against the dark can't be matched on a screen. 

This selection has some old favourites. After my comprehensive Doors and Windows shows, I am a bit wary of revisiting those pictures, but having had them selected by the Art Society I was happy to recontextualise some of them in this mini exhibition of six images. This set was sited in the main kitchen area, and the bright, airy colours were important to enhance the relaxed atmosphere. 

This is a curious little set of four that was hung as you see it here in a square formation. I think it's a great example of how we were able to bring different images together in this show to create what felt like small collaborations between the pictures. These four work really well I think, and I'm not sure why. The warning sign was a popular choice - everyone seemed to find it as unsettling as I do.

I also had to do a little explaining about the lido In Broadstairs, and the grand Victorian English tradition of taking time by the sea. Since those heady times nature has reclaimed the lido, making it little more than a square puddle on the rocks instead of the deep bathing pool it once had been. I think this is one of the reasons it was selected, as was the tree root image perhaps, both pertinent to Sweco's operations and thus hopefully of interest to their staff, in however abstract and subconscious a way.

The remaining pictures in the show were all pairs, selected to work off each other as well as individually. These were set at the bottom of a staircase, and from a distance looked almost like the same image twice. Juxtaposing the two kicked off conversations about city life versus the coast, and also how the make up of our cities, the materials themselves, are from nature, the sand not that different to the concrete.

Another pair. These two work so well together - the match was made by a member of the Art Society - a great curatorial spot!
It seems satellite dishes didn't take off in central Sweden as much as they did in the UK in the late 20th Century, as people were surprised to see so many in one place - a fairly common sight in and around UK cities.
A pair that swirl and dance around each other. The amazing brickwork sparked a lyrical chat about the quality of handbuilt Industrial Revolution era factories and industry compared to today's more flat packed, utilitarian architecture.

These last two are of particular interest to the Rail and Road workers, and both use the everyday languages of transit to create mystifying images that exist within that structure and work as graphic images too. In fact, it was pointed out that the final image bears an uncanny resemblance to the Sweco logo, a full 2 years before I had seen it!

And that wraps it up. I am grateful to
Sweco Sundsvall Konstförening for this unique, unusual, interesting and rewarding opportunity. It's strange to think of my pictures all so far away now I'm back in the UK, but I know they are in good hands!

As always, any comments are welcome below. And as always, thank you for reading.