The exhibitions team at The Arc, Winchester, are excited by the potential of The Gallery and City Space exhibition programmes to generate interesting connections together and encourage inventive creativity. The choice of Winchester Photographic Society, one of our annual partners, to include a Special Class responding to the National Gallery Sin exhibition this year has provided some fantastic responses. From the use of light to the placement of objects and inspiration from masterworks, these fun submissions are a great interpretation on the theme by talented local photographers.
We spoke to photographer Ian Porter, winner of Winchester Photographic Society’s first ‘Special Class’ category, with his image, On the Turn of a Card. From bricklayer to construction tutor and now retiree, Ian’s love of photography has remained consistent since he first bought a camera at fifteen years old. Creative portraiture is the current passion of this experienced photographer and the character he created in response to the theme of sin caught the judges eye. Ian talks to us about staging and inspiration and provides tips for new photographers.
Why did you choose to enter the sin-themed Special Class this year?
I chose it because I had a project in mind - I thought of shooting a prospector from the gold rush days and knew I could connect ‘sin’ with that very well if I had him smoking and drinking. Collecting a few props together, including the clay pipe, I got some rubble from the driveway and sprayed it gold. A friend who lives close to me agreed to model, which he has done before. I decided that I was going to set it in the past rather than in the present, in Victorian times, so I borrowed Victorian lighting as well. I pretended the shot was candlelit, giving it the touch of a John Singer Sargent painting. It was fairly timeless lighting, which seemed to suit the sin theme. I did probably 12 different shots with different moods attached, but the one I selected had an enigmatic energy.
On the Turn of a Card is a compellingly dramatic, atmospheric portrait. Could you tell us more about the staging of this piece?
I made the table out of old floorboards nailed together, and I got an old bottle and a partly burned candle. The props for the shot were made or scrounged. I scattered these around the table in order to avoid a look that was too set up. It had to look fairly authentic. I then used a white reflector, which was actually a sheet of white polystyrene positioned on the left-hand side of the model. I used one single light on the right-hand side, moving it up and down until I got the angle I wanted. I settled on a traditional Rembrandt 45 degrees just off the front. With a digital camera, you can see what you have got, and if its working, whereas if I’d used the old roll film, it would have been quite difficult to get right. I didn't have any lighting in the background because Rembrandt never did, he used natural light. The difficult part was making sure that the hat did not blend in completely with the background.
As inaugural winner of the special category, what tips could you give to aspiring photographers?
Get out there and take loads of photographs! There are lots of different ways of enjoying photography. Some people get enjoyment from the mechanics of cameras, but if you’re just starting out, you don't know where you are going yet. Don't go out and spend thousands of pounds on equipment you will never use - that is the first mistake we all make. Start with something simple like a mobile phone. Find out what kind of photographs you want to take. You might completely change. When I first started, I thought I would take up landscapes, but it turns out, I'm totally useless at it! I’m very good at sports, action and motor racing photography, and portraiture has always been an interest. I did a City and Guilds qualification in portraiture back in 1990. So, to anyone starting off, don't set out in any one particular direction. I spent months wasting time trying to take decent photographs and ended up with nothing.
The second thing you need to do is join a club. There is a large spectrum of different members. There are beginner classes where you can ask people, and virtually free classes in studio lighting. Then enter competitions. Don't aim to win just enter to see what others are doing and receive comments from the judges, who are always kind to beginners. You will find out how to improve your photography and gain a good lead. So, don't get too hung up on gear, take loads of photographs, join a club and take part in competitions. But most of all, just enjoy photography.
Winchester Photographic Society’s 2023 Annual Print exhibition is open now at City Space, The Arc, until 14 May 2023. Prints are available for sale and you can vote for your favourite image for the People’s Choice Award, which will be published at the end of the exhibition.
Visit www.winphotosoc.uk to learn more about the society, see examples of members’ work and view their programme of events.