‘Art in Action’ is a celebration of craftsmanship: a one stop show case for demonstrable artistic endeavour. It provides a rare opportunity to observe painters, woodcarvers, weavers, potters, glass-blowers, jewellers, sculptors and a host of other artists, normally tucked away in studios, openly displaying their creative skill in the grounds and gardens of an appealing English country house. They are more than happy too to talk about their craft, ideas and inspiration which altogether make this event so unique and rewarding.
I have heard grumblings that the art on show is too conventional, prosaic even. There is indeed nothing controversial or outlandishly ‘modern’ to see within the tented exhibitions, but this is not the point of the event. It is about the artistic process of creating. How things are moulded, carved, painted or shaped into fine, classic, traditional pieces of work. The enduring moment of watching an artist in complete control of his medium crystallises the essence of what ‘Art in Action’ is about. He is relaxed, calmly focused his touch is confident, gently deliberate and seemingly effortless. There is a hint of flamboyance, an air of mastery about him, and it is wonderfully inspiring.
The sight of an artist at work is of course absorbing and rather uplifting but does a photographer have a place in this paradigm? The decisions and choices that the photographer makes right up to the moment the shutter button is pressed are very much a personal and internal process and are difficult to convey in real time to a live audience. To overcome this I did the next best thing, I gave an illustrated talk each afternoon explaining how I constructed and composed some of my own photos.
I used the analogy of a painter who works the canvas by filling it with interest and includes only those elements that make the picture work and not necessarily what he sees in front of him. So a photographer, once he has decided what he wants to say and how he wants to say it, can work in exactly the same way. By taking the time to allow elements to move in and out of the frame and by recording them in a selective and conscious way he can with patience, persistence and luck create more meaningful and memorable images.
The second session of the afternoon was a more practically based class where participants were encouraged to go into the showground with their cameras and work on some of the ideas that had been discussed. First, I gave a brief talk on the ways of avoiding the practical dificulties of taking pictures at Art in Action. There are a large number of people in confined spaces at this event some of whom will wander into your carefully composed composition just as you press the shutter. The crowds also hamper a clear view of the artists at work and tend to clutter up the background and foreground to your image. To reduce the recurrence of this I recomended using a longer focal length lens to condense the field of view. This will tend to blur your background negating any distracting elements and will also discipline you to focus on what you consider to be the essential detail of your image. Most of the artists work in marquees and the light is quite subdued. To get around this problem I suggested upping the ISO so that faster, more usable shutter speeds could be chosen. With so much distracting activity going on I stressed the importance of being in control of the camera, encouraging the use of manual focus and suggesting applying the aperture or shutter priority mode.