Tomorrow my old UK camera club starts their 2016/2017 season and I have made the decision to rejoin and take part in all of the activities, events and competitions I can manage. It has been two years since I was an active participant in the UK club photography "scene" and although there has been the very occasional sour experience in the past with the wider regional photography side of things, at club events it was almost universally fun & good for my photography. I'm never volunteering for treasurer ever again mind ;)
So if it was fun and there is much I am looking forward to, why was I so slow to make the decision to go back? Why does it need a blog post? It was my thought process that I wanted to share, partly because it's a common question I get ("why should I join/what's in it for me") and to be totally frank I've been wondering if returning to the scene of the crime (as it were) would still be a productive use of my time and make me a better photographer. I am hoping to give a running commentary on how things go over the season.
At this point it's worth my being clear on what I mean by UK Club Photography. I am basically using it as a catch-all term for everything ranging from my local camera club/photo society through to regional, national & international events & exhibitions.
Probably the simplest reason for going back is the chance to get out of the house, meet other photographers face to face and dedicate solid time to my hobby. The latter is particularly appealing these days, what with so many other demands in my time! Online groups are good but meeting the friends I made again and giving myself the chance to spend a couple of hours a week talking pictures is something I value.
My local club runs a range of talks/lectures, member events and of course the ubiquitous competitions. The first two are usually enjoyable but for the comeptitions I was wondering whether or not I would take part. Again, being totally open and honest, I wondered if I had "moved on" from them - would the benefit they give be outweighed by the time & expense of taking part. In other words, did I think my photography would benefit or was I now better than that...
Sounds a bit elitist, maybe even arrogant right? Just let me explain my thinking :)
For a number of years the club competitions were my only forum for getting feedback on my own images and seeing how other, better photographers would fare. It was great and has made a definite mark on how I approach the art. That said, even before I left, the types of image, feedback & judging were becoming almost a cliche. I'm sure everyone has rolled their eyes when hearing the critique and feedback from a club judge! Yes, yes I know they are volunteers and it's a thankless task - I genuinely do appreciate their efforts - but in the last season before I left for Singapore I found myself tailoring my images for each individual judge in order to win; cherry picking photos I knew would appeal to the judge based on my past experience with them or from their own published interests. Club photography does stick to extremely ingrained tropes as to what a "good" image looks like and it's easy to just shoot images that will please a judge. I think I did it because after many seasons never really "getting it", once I did I wanted to win :)
That doesn't help my photography and now it's not something I'm interested in! Exposure to a much wider range of photographers, online and in person, has proven to me just how important it is to be open to feedback, almost regardless of source. Even for images I'm pretty happy with already, absorbing feedback from others is always going to make me a better photographer.
Another really simple reason is that club competitions are an incentive to print my work. I love the effort that goes into producing a well-crafted print and aside for the depressingly small number I do for sale, I don't get much of an opportunity!
Finally, I'm also mooting around some ideas as to how to get more involved in the wider UK scene. There are many ways I feel I can contribute - too many to go into here - but the best way to try and help make a difference is to be part of it.
Hopefully this gives an inkling into why I'm going back and what I hope to achieve! I feel much more confident in my own photography and now that I'm not trying to prove something to myself by going out to win I am expecting to enjoy things much more and maybe, just maybe, make my own contribution to help out others :)