I've been running workshops about how to use your camera. It's a simple sort of gig with a local council, it started because their librarians wanted to know how to take good pictures of their grandchildren. I said okay because I like librarians, I wanted to be one for a while, and we're all somebody's grandchild.
The workshops would run for two Saturdays, the group would turn up for the first Saturday and I would say this is what an aperture is this is how your shutter speed works, this is the rule of thirds, and on the second Saturday they would come back and show their pictures of their grandchildren and we would all say how lovely they are. I didn't really know what to expect so I just turned up with a lot of cameras and a lot of photographs and a big bowl of scones and said, okay, today we're going to talk about photography, and hoped they wouldn't notice that I hadn't prepared a PowerPoint presentation.
They weren't librarians in the end, just people who wanted to know more about photography for various reasons. A few were painters who used photographs as references, a few had an interest in photography as a medium in its own right, and one person wanted to know how to take a photo that would win The Moran Prize.
We spent the morning sitting around a big table with tea and coffee, eating scones, and looking through hundreds of prints and leafing through dozens of books. I didn't show them my own photographs, just ones by other people. I'd show them Robert Frank's The Americans, bits of Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project, Gustav Le Gray's seascapes, work by Ricky Maynard, portraits by Richard Renaldi, mixed in with snapshots by friends in Germany, old family photos, half-torn picture postcards, and hand-made prints by other artists.
I would say, look, look at this one, this one's got guts, it's just like punk rock, and they'd get it. Even the old lady who just wanted to take photos of other old people in order to paint old people. The photographs were all handled and consumed in the same way, piles of prints passed around the table, a small stack of books moving from person to person, the odd question of "how did they do that?", but mostly people looked and filled up their eyes.
One woman had brought a postcard with her and asked how they had gotten the sky to be so blue. A polarising filter, maybe, I said. She kept the postcard in an album with her own family photos, with pictures of her grandchildren.
Alex Bishop-Thorpe, August 2012