The Photography Show 2015 was held at the NEC Arena in Birmingham from the 21st-24th of March for the event's second year. The show hosts an array of manufacturer and retail stands, stage demos, seminar spaces and the large "Super Stage" which held talks by highly-regarded photographers. I attended the show on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd and decided to prioritise the Super Stage speakers and soak up what I could from the rest of the show. Tickets on the door cost £18 per day, but if you ordered advanced tickets they worked out at £15, and each Super Stage talk came to £10. I applied for a press entry so I had free entry to the show but not Super Stage talks.
I started off by picking out a few stands from the show guide that I wanted to visit and along the way I would just see what caught my attention. As I walked around I could certainly see that an increased popularity in products like photo books, drones and custom USB sticks were reflected in the number of stands showcasing each of these items at the show.
Wandering around and having a bit of a play with gear was fun and it was enjoyable to speak with friendly people who were enthusiastic about photography and their products. The internet is great for reading or watching reviews but being able to see how products feel and work in the flesh gives you a different understanding of them. I was able to pick up a few samples from companies that produce paper, prints and photo books. Something else I got to take away with me was a great quality book I won, titled Zero Footprint, by photography duo Leeming & Paterson. I spotted the giveaway on Canon's Twitter feed on their screen and all I had to do was repeat the word "climber" at the Canon helpdesk. I was really chuffed with it.
I probably got more out of looking at products that I can actually afford but it was hard not to be impressed by briefly having a play with something like a Canon 1DX camera mounted to the latest Canon EF 600mm L lens (approx combined value £12-13,000!). Expensive camera equipment is not something I aspire to owning but you can certainly feel the advanced level in build quality and performance.
Ultimately what will stick with me the most are the Super Stage talks. I attended a total of four over two days and the speakers in those were Mary Ellen Mark, Tim Flach, Michael Kenna and Martin Parr. If I had stayed for the other remaining days of the show then I certainly would have gone to more. Each speaker discussed their work and career in various ways; some spoke in more detail about each image and their ideas, some spoke more about their lives and how that has influenced their work.
Mary Ellen Mark, a documentary-style photographer, spoke a bit about her career as a LIFE magazine and Magnum photographer (world renowned photography group), briefly speaking about a selection of photos she had taken from spending time with a circus, on film sets to working on personal projects in asylums. She then showed us the layout to her latest book, a new edition of the book Streetwise, which covers around thirty years of revisiting and photographing a woman known as "Tiny", who she first met whilst on an assignment for LIFE. We were then showed a photographic series, titled Prom, of couples going to the American tradition together. Accompanying this was an entertaining video of some of the same couples being asked various questions about each other, plans for the future etc which was pretty funny at times.
Tim Flach is known for photographing animals using studio lighting either in studios or on location. His photographs bring out character in animals and sometimes hone in on certain details of that animal. I enjoyed the detail he went into when talking about the images he showed us and he also showed short clips that gave behind-the-scenes glimpses into some shoots. These clips gave interesting insights because it's quite a mystery how he gets some of the photos given the unpredictable nature of animals.
Michael Kenna is predominately a landscape photographer who shoots in black and white film. I found his talk and photographs to be inspiring as he went from speaking about how his early life affected the rest of his life and career. He struck me as quite a zen and spiritual person, and combining this personality with the places he has travelled to around the world (from England, Asia to the US), this has resulted in striking and meditative imagery that are awe-inspiring.
Martin Parr gave the last talk I attended. He is known for his photographs of quirky and unique English life and culture, which are captured by moments of keen observation. He discussed his career as a photographer, curator and commercial work such as fashion and editorial, and went into detail on various books and projects. I was only familiar with his beach holiday photographs until I recently saw the exhibition 'Only in England'; that exhibition and this talk has certainly given me a greater understanding of the variety of his work.
Parr's talk rounded off an enjoyable weekend for me at The Photography Show. I would have liked to have seen more of the live stage talks and demos but it is an event where you have to pick and choose what you want to see as there is so much to see. I would like to go again and I would focus on attending more seminars and some of the other stage talks as I imagine not a lot will change between now and next year in terms of gear, technology and trends. Additionally I would think about going for the second half of the four days as the talks on these days are aimed more towards advanced/professional photographers.
If you are enthusiastic about photography then I would highly recommend going. There is plenty to see at the show and learn from for a wide range of photographers, from beginners to professionals. You will have a great time!
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