With my change in jobs a couple of years back, I found myself in the middle of Leeds trying to find my daily photo. I found it a real challenge at first – there were just so many people around – and I found myself taking photos looking up at buildings.
I had seen this MonoVisions panel – https://monovisionsawards.com/winners-gallery/monovisions-awards-2018/show/1399 – where someone had reflected buildings around, making symmetrical structures. I liked the idea, but didn’t like the fact that the main subject of the composition went off the top and bottom of the frame. I wondered if I could use the same sort of approach by photographing buildings in Leeds, yet create a structure wholly contained within the frame. What I ended up with was a series of images that looked like floating objects, so I decided to give them a background of grey clouds.
The images are taken at an angle, making sure that there is two sides of the frame that have clear sky. This image is then reflected, and then the whole image is reflected again, making a complete object which is surrounded by clouds.
The images that worked tended to be the ones of new buildings. Old ones, such as Kirkgate Market, came out just too knobbly – I liked the clean lines that modern buildings gave.
At some point, I realised that I had quite a few of these, (I eventually ended up with about 100!) and that they might make a panel. I had recently joined the Royal Photographic Society, and I wondered if they would make a good ARPS panel.
I asked for advice from a couple of people – one suggested that it wasn’t suitable, and another wasn’t sure. He came back to me later to say that he thought I should have a go.
I took the panel to an advisory date in March 2019. Mine was the third of three potential ARPS panels shown that day, and when the assessor asked whose panel it was, and I had raised my hand to say “guilty”, a woman on the front row turned around and said: “What drugs are you on!?” I took that as a compliment!
The assessor liked the idea and was impressed by the quality of my printing, but said that it would split the assessors. The biggest problem was the repetition – at the images at that time had identical backgrounds. I agreed and suggested that I could perhaps use one large sky across the whole panel, and he liked that idea suggesting that he hadn’t seen it done before. He also suggested swapping a couple of images around to help balance the panel, and I agreed.
My main reason for taking it to an advisory day was to find out whether it was worth pursuing or not, or whether it was just flat out not suitable. When asked, the assessor told me to go for it.
Rather than take the panel back to another advisory day I opted to book the assessment and see how it went. I was not particularly confident of getting the award – much of my work is marmite, people like it or they don’t – but I thought it worth the go and decided that a day out in Bristol watching ARPS Fine Art panels being assessed would be fun regardless.
The RPS asked me to post the panel to them a couple of weeks before the assessment so I spent a busy few evenings and weekends printing and mounting the images. I asked Sharon to have a look at the prints and comment, and between us we found faults (usually masking errors) on almost all, so I ended up reprinting most of them! I was confident I’d done the best I could now – the prints were good, the masking was good, and I had a symmetrical cloud background over the whole panel. I dutifully posted off my panel and hoped for the best. (For anyone else posting theirs – the Post Office like the print box to be wrapped in clingfilm, not tied up with string!)
The week of the assessment came and we travelled down for a couple of days in Bristol. On the assessment day we took the half hour walk out of town to the RPS and settled in with the other hopefuls to see how everything went.
I had opted to mount on standard club sized black mounts – 500 x 400mm, shown portrait orientation with a square aperture at the top. The example panel that was out when we arrived in the room was square prints on square mounts. Sharon suggested I should have done mine the same way.
Then the first panel of the day came out. Square prints, on square mounts, mono. Then the second: Square prints, on square mounts, mono. “You should have done yours on square” was a common whisper!
Mine was panel six, and there had only been a couple of failures, and a only a couple of colour ones. Mine were put up on the wall and my statement of intent was read out:
Reflections of Leeds: I am fascinated by symmetry and the way the brain perceives it as harmonious. I find it intriguing that a simple photo, once reflected, becomes so much more interesting to the eye. My goal with this panel is to interpret the architecture of my home town of Leeds as floating symmetrical structures.
The assessors looked at the images from their seats and then got up for a closer look and a sniff. They then sat down again and an initial blind vote took place. Two members of the panel were then asked to speak.
The first assessor got up and started with “This isn’t any Leeds I know!”. He praised the idea and the printing quality.
The second assessor suggested that they’d like another 20 minutes to look at the images in more detail. I took this as a good sign – they’re interesting enough to want to look at.
The chairman of the panel then asked if anyone else wanted to speak and the third assessor got up to say that he liked the idea but didn’t like the grey sky background. At this point, the last assessor bounded up from his seat and said “Just to prove we don’t always agree, I like the background – it makes the structures stand out.” This was the first panel of the day that all four judges had something to say about.
A second secret ballot took place and the chairman of the panel, Peter Patterson, announced my name and that I was recommended for the award. He then praised the way the panel had been put together.
There’s a mandatory wait after the panel is judged worthy – it goes through to the distinctions board for ratification, which in my case took three weeks.
I’m proud that I’ve gained the award, and glad that it reflects on the quality of my work. I think on the day Sharon was more nervous than I was! I guess it’s thanks to all my years spent doing Brass Band contests – there you have to perform on the day, here all the work was complete and I had no control over the reaction to my panel.
Another take home from the success of this panel should be that gear doesn’t really matter. All these photos were taken with a 20 megapixel J5 camera that has a one inch sensor.