Club Culture

January saw the final meeting of the FOTO-CLUB, previously known as THE CLUB, the little photography club I put together a decade or so ago.

The final meeting of FOTO-CLUB at the 1000 Trades bar in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter.

I’d been in a few “camera clubs” over the years and had promised myself that one day I’d start a club that was nothing like the club’s I’d previously been a member of.

I wanted to avoid dull “circuit” speakers, never-ending competitions, old-blokeyness, equipment snobbery, and narrow-minded rejection of anything vaguely associated with progress.

Yes, we had a few competitions and we had exhibitions – but not like ones I’d taken part in in other clubs. One competition that we ran a couple of times was the “Crap Camera Challenge”, where members were given a disposable 35mm film camera and a vague theme to shoot to – no “equipment snobbery” possible, just a level playing field and the photographer’s imagination.

Over the years, we’ve had LOTS of excellent guest speakers, covering most aspects of photography. Many, if not most, of these speakers had never spoken to an audience about their work before. Some took many months of hinting, cajoling and arm-twisting to persuade to appear but all added to our collective understanding of what this medium is all about.

My sincere thanks to all of the members of FOTO-CLUB, The Club, and F2, and obviously everyone who came along to talk to us (who have included photographers, film-makers, male and female models, software companies, artists and curators).

I’m especially proud that these were often people who would never have been asked to speak on the traditional club circuit.

The End Is Nigh

Shawna Leigh at Strangetown Studio, 2017

I decided a few months ago that after some 14 years of photography training, I was going to hang up my virtual board-rubber and concentrate on other aspects of my business – and perhaps some new business ideas as well. This was a very difficult and emotional decision for me but the more I considered it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do.

I began teaching photography at Birmingham Botanical Gardens as a way of earning a few extra quid while studying for my photography degree. As quite a shy person, I didn’t really relish the idea of standing in front of a group of fee-paying students and finding out I didn’t know as much about photography as I thought I did. But contrary to my expectations, I not only really enjoyed teaching, but I knew more than I thought I did, and I continued to learn with every course I taught.

Over the years, in courses and workshops at the Botanical Gardens, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), Stratford College, Solihull College, via Fotofilia and FOTO-CLUB, and at numerous private venues and institutions, I have had literally thousands of students in front of me. It has been a real pleasure and a privilege to watch absolute beginners develop into competent (and sometimes professional) photographers, some of whom I still consider friends. Our journey has taken us through at least 6 studios, too many courses and workshops to count, overseas trips, exhibitions, two successful photography clubs, numerous “copycat” “competitors”, a fair bit of frustration and a LOT of laughs.

So why would I give up something that I have grown to love? Well, there comes a time when other priorities arise, and you realise that what you’re offering is no longer achieving the level of interest that it used to and is suffering from a very crowded marketplace (so many photographers I know have begun to offer training on a more regular basis where they were previously less interested) and a growth in “peer knowledge” where groups of beginners or near beginners come together to “learn” from each other, often at little or no financial cost. Quality, it seems, can be less important than cost and increasingly, people are happy to glean bits of experience from other eager amateurs for free than have to pay the inevitable overheads/salary of full time, qualified professionals. I can understand this and believe it’s an inevitable consequence of the widespread belief that “anyone can be a photographer”.

Also, when many of your workshops rely on professionally-minded models, it can be frustrating to note a significant decline in the reliability of models, both male and female. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some wonderful models (and non-models) over the years and there is a reason that some are invited back time and again – they can be trusted to show up when a group of paying photographers are expecting them too. Sadly, I have been let down by more and more models at the last minute – arriving up to 90 minutes late or even not at all, calling in sick or suddenly uncontactable shortly before the shoot only to pop up on social media as working elsewhere or out on the tiles. The modelling interface sites like Purpleport and Purestorm are no help in this regard – when I left appropriate feedback on one model’s profile to reflect a last minute no-show, the feedback was removed within 24 hours. It is therefore increasingly difficult to provide a supply of “new” models for workshops without that knotted-stomach feeling of wondering whether they’ll show up.

So, I’ve arranged a few last bits and pieces for FOTO-CLUB early in 2018 and then that’s it. You’ll find these here on the website. I’ll say a proper goodbye to FOTO-CLUB nearer the day but for the moment, thank you.

Two Becomes One

This last week has been rather eventful. Not least because I finally moved out of my Jewellery Quarter studio – Alto Studio – and transferred the whole business to my other studio, Strangetown in Aston.  Alto has been a lovely base for training for the last 18 months or so and I might miss having a base in the Jewellery Quarter but Strangetown has proved to be a much more suitable creative space.

And so it’s onwards and upwards for both FOTO-CLUB (my training business) and my own photography practice. I look forward to this next chapter in my photographic career.

 

FOTO-CLUB: New Year, New Ideas

With two overseas trips planned for the first half of 2017 (the FOTO-CLUB Spain photographic holiday, and a wedding in Crete), I have lots of reasons to be looking forward at the moment.

It’s been a whole year since I left the old “Fotofilia” studio at BOM in the city centre and moved back to the Jewellery Quarter and what I had thought might be a stop-gap studio but has become a long-term base. And a year on, there have been quite a few changes, not only in the way I work but also the marketplace for courses and photography in general.

So after some soul-searching and some great ideas from the membership, I decided to continue the monthly club (formerly THE CLUB and f2) that I’ve been running for a decade or so but with a few changes to the format and membership system that we’ve been using so far. No more attendance fees, just an annual membership subscription, and a wider range of content at the monthly meetings to be partly dictated by the members themselves. Despite what initially looked like limited interest, we now only have 3 spaces left for membership (although I may review this in six months time).

Here’s to the next twelve months of FOTO-CLUB.

Henrietta Street: Fixtures & Fittings

One look at me is enough to realise that I’m not a person who voluntarily spends much time in the gym. However, when a regular client (Fighting Fit City Gym) re-brands as Henrietta Street Gym and moves to a specially-designed new premises and needs photos, I’m there.

Owner Neil Perkins had been keeping me up to date with the re-fit of this former industrial building in Brum’s Jewellery Quarter but I was still hugely impressed when I finally set foot in the gym a week or so after it’s launch. Neil and his architects have cut no corners and have managed to retain the building’s “heritage” feel while making it an inspiring and comfortably modern place to train.

Retaining and re-using some of the building’s character features (like old machinery, exposed brickwork and parts from the goods lift) and augmenting those with well-sourced suitably period furniture (like old theatre/cinema seating and historic pugilist artwork)  gives the gym the feeling of a film set.

Even the changing rooms and showers have been carefully planned and laid out with exposed pipework, reclaimed ceramic sinks but state-of-the-art shower fittings.

Even I, whose motto is “no pain…” (that’s it, just “no pain”) can feel a little inspired in a gym like this. Neil and his team have created what must be the most stylish boxing gym in the Midlands (at least!).

Roseanne Indoors

So once the light dropped to “unacceptably-high-ISO” levels during the “Special Studio Evening” with Roseanne, we headed back indoors for the more usual Studio Evening stuff… namely, studio lighting. In the studio.

So here are a couple of shots from the indoor section of the evening…