Review: Natalie Myra reflects on the options presented for emerging art photographers

The National Photography Symposium 2014 began with a collection of talks from a variety of speakers. The panel included Richard West (co-editor of Source magazine), David Drake (director of Ffoto Gallery), John Levy (curator of Foto8) and Nathan Tromans (Birmingham City University). These were of particular interest to me due to the subject that the speakers focused on; routes into photography. As an MFA student currently studying photography at Falmouth University, I was keen to hear what the speakers suggested in terms of possibilities for new artists.

Richard West began by suggesting a variety of galleries that exhibit photography and demonstrated which galleries were most likely to consider emerging artists’ works. Portfolio review opportunities were mentioned in conjunction with cost and possible rewards, which raised the question of finance and ethics. Photographers creating art face a continual challenge of financing their creative practice; working part-time jobs, applying for funding, taking out a loan; the list goes on. This is not a new situation for artist photographers, however the changes in the medium are new. The rise of digital photography and technical advances that have allowed mobile phones to become cameras has allowed everyone to be a photographer. This has changed the photography industry in part by transforming photography in to an accessible medium for all. Therefore the number of photographers now grappling for the same number of exhibited and published positions has grown exponentially.

David Drake raised the notion of self-publishing and suggested  that although this can be a successful route in to the business of photography it can be a very expensive unsuccessful route as well.

John Levy questioned the motivations and aspirations of the emerging photographers and suggested that questioning and reflecting was a massively import aspect of success in the business. Believe in the work and be persistent were key terms. What all the speakers agreed upon was that there is no substitute for quality. Quality work is an elastic term which could be defined in several ways; technique, subject matter, artistic style, etc. The debate raised the notion of who is deciding what is quality work and what is not.

The men on the panel (the entire panel) were referred to as ‘gate keepers’. This term got discussed at some length suggesting that the photography industry was in fact a business and that the people in power (curators and directors alike), much like politics, decide who and what will be held up as quality photography. Crowd funding, self-funding, internships, self-publishing and even working for free were suggested as possible ways to broach the world of art for photographers, all of which work for some.

Confidence was a key idea that was mentioned; having confidence in your work, and yourself. Without belief in the work, the work will remain hidden. Without people seeing your portfolio, it won’t be exhibited or published. I found the discussion beneficial as it pertains to my current situation; my work has not been given much exposure in terms of my pushing it to be seen and if I take anything away from the debate it will be that in order for my work to have a chance of being discovered; it needs to be visible.

Natalie Myra is a photographer and MFA student at Falmouth University. She attended NPS6 on one of the bursary places offered to photography students.