This weekend just passed I was fortunate to exhibit three of my photos at Galerie LueLue in Krakow. This was my first exhibition like many of the other photographers there (in fact I’d guess all of them) and it was a great experience that still feels a bit unreal. I made sure to journal after the event to try and capture my thoughts and feelings but they’re such a mess due to the adrenaline pumping at the time. Still, One thing has stayed with me. Talking about my photos.
I was asked by the owner to talk about my photos as no one else wanted to (in the end several people did after me. It’s always more difficult for the first person). I agreed because I never want to let fear make me miss out on something and so despite not preparing and feeling very awkward, I stood up and spoke.
Here’s a summary of the things I said.
- I thanked people for coming and said it was fantastic (always good to compliment people)
- I explained I had been asked about 5 minutes before to talk
- I gave a little bit of my background (moving to Krakow three years ago)
- I described how Krakow had made me take up photography
- I talked (waffled) about the mixture of tradition and modernity in Krakow and said that was something I sought to bring in my photos.
- I thanked people and left
People clapped but I don’t know why as it was a real mess. The people who followed me were all much more eloquent (and mostly not speaking in their native tongue.) I don’t think I’m alone in finding it hard to talk about my photos though and I have a few reflections afterwards as well.
Why I found it difficult
The photos that had been chosen were three images of a smaller series from a larger body of photos that reflect a very different topic. In doing so, it’s harder to talk about these three images and find a common tie. I could talk for longer about different themes I’ve been looking for in different images, but these three were more standalone images.
In addition, it’s hard not to sound like a pretentious idiot or a simpleton at the other extreme. If you talk about all the ideas that you want to explore in your images, you can come across as up your backside, if you go the other extreme then it sounds like there’s no intention behind what you do.
Finally, the major factor was the stress. Public speaking isn’t easy (many people say it’s their biggest fear…above death) and preparation can help a lot. I should have prepared more for what I was going to say. It was an obvious question to come up, and I had no easy answer. Many great photographers have a simple explanation for their projects as well as a longer more detailed one.
My photos don’t need explaning
One of the photographers stood up after me and said “my photos don’t need explaining” and quoted Ansel Adams in doing so. While I admired this sentiment, it was a load of rubbish. Not least because I had heard her not five minutes earlier explaining her photos to someone else and I started to see them more clearly. But in addition, this sounds like simple “art pointing” to me. A sort of move to make you sound better and make people feel like they can’t criticise you. It’s like when a christian says “God told me to…” no one can argue with God, and likewise, a photographer can’t really argue with Ansel Adams or a photographer who says their photos they don’t need explaining (even when they REALLY do).
In street photography, It can be really great to both provide background information about an image, but it can equally be great to remove that information from the image. Many of my favourite photos have no comments, but if you asked the photographer about them, they’d still talk about them in great length.
Prepare to talk about your photos
I’m not going to make that mistake again, I’ve been reflecting more on why I take photos and what I want my photos to express so that I can more eloquently explain myself in the future…and if in doubt then I’ll pull out the “Ansel Adams card” so that people have to politely nod at my “wise words” while I smile smugly at deflecting their question.
Also published on Medium.