Thursday, 4 July 2013
Starting this blog
Starting this blog is part of the learning curve I am on at the moment, trying to focus my energy, prioritise projects, and improve my means of communication. I have lost touch with so many valuable friends and acquaintances over the years, and even family members, while busy with this or that project. Reconnecting and at least starting to catch up, albeit in a small way, is an exciting and rewarding aspect of the internet, as is making new contacts and friends.
As a teacher and editor I tended to be a kind of back-seat driver, keeping quiet about my own activities as a photographer to concentrate on helping others, except in an emergency. And, because good work deserves an intelligent and informed audience, and should speak for itself, I have encouraged many students, friends and colleagues to promote their own work more than they had - because it seemed significant. I enjoy stepping up for a cause like improving photo education, and sharing the excitement of engaging in detective work on aspects of the history of photography. Or encouraging personal growth through self-revelation via art and social commitment.
What I did not like about academia was how commercially obsessed with its own image it had become, and how little it really cared for the traditional ideals of a university, like encouraging truly independent thought and challenging the status quo. The ideal of academic freedom, of teachers and students becoming the critics and conscience of society (intellectual whistleblowers), has been grossly undermined. Public discussion of the failings or potential failings of one's university, is taken as a threat, rather than an opportunity for all points of view to be considered before it is too late.
Artists and art academics who vie for the positions of power are expected to become amateur bean counters, and the art of bean counting, as exemplified by the PRBF (Performance Based Research Funding), tightens the noose around academic freedom. Planning (not "forward planning" - is there such a thing as "backward planning") for improved PRBF results has become more important than encouraging self-revelation through making art, testing it with different audiences, and honing one's craft. Little time is scheduled for reflection or trying again to extract the essence of what one is trying to say, through critical analysis of the first stumbling steps, that when, and if, understood, lead to work of greater depth and elegance.
That's enough about art politics, at least for the moment. It is what our students make of their talents that really matters. Though, occasionally I wonder about how far we have come without progressing when it comes to photographic education.
The point I want to make is that in "retirement", ironically, my usual aversion to blowing my own trumpet is being tested. Instead of grazing my life away, I decided on a radical change requiring not a little reorientaton and reinvention. I've got 50 years of my own involvement in photography to investigate and some interesting stuff to share. They include experiences and memories not yet committed to the public record, and, not least, thousands of my own photographs made, largely, for posterity, or just for myself to ''scratch an itch", as David Vestal put it.
Although now living in Beijing, I'm still involved in PhotoForum Inc, New Zealand, as PhotoForum's co-editor with Haru Sameshima. Among other things, we are working on my book of Te Atatu Peninsua photographs, and on 'PhotoForum at 40' (working title), a book and exhibition due out in 2014. More about this later.
I have just started my own web site, www.jbt.photoshelter.com designed to function as a kind of train station, with a gallery and museum attached, on this wwwonderful public transport system. I had to blow my trumpet to get it started, but it is not running properly yet.
To paraphrase an early Shanghai photo studio's motto I have just seen: Tell your friends if you find my blog and web site worthwhile. Tell me if you have any complaints or suggestions for improvement.
Beijing, 3 July 2013