Of Bats and Monsters - Visual Art Group Spring Weekend

08 April 2019

SIG: Visual Art

Picture yourself eating a full English breakfast at the end of a very successful VAG meeting. Content and replete, you’re suddenly asked if you would write a blog about the weekend’s activities - yes, Andreas knows the perfect time to get some co-operation out of someone. It would have been very churlish of me to refuse, after all the hard work he and Mrs K had done to make the weekend run so smoothly. So here we go…

We arrived in Old Windsor for the 2019 residential spring weekend on Friday, unpacked in our very nice room, having succeeded in negotiating the maze to get there! Then down to the bar to meet and catch up on old friends and meet new. A glass of wine later and it felt like old times as we chatted about the weekend ahead. Then off to meet our first speaker, Paul Colley ARPS, renowned wildlife photographer, who held us spellbound with his amazing underwater images and his innovative bat and fish shots. The ingenuity and lengths he went to, his determination to get the best images and his total dedication in supporting relevant conservation groups made for a brilliant talk. Then it was time to relax and get ready for supper and the Group’s AGM. Well that’s enough about the AGM! For some, an early night followed, whilst others departed for the bar and a little nightcap.

On Saturday the mad landscapers got up at the crack of dawn, packed lunches in prospect, to go off on their early morning expedition into the green fields of Windsor with Nathan Barry’s Landscapes workshop. Then it was the turn of Rhiannon Adam’s Street Portrait group to leave for Windsor town to confront shoppers with requests for their portraits. Not an easy task, as I found out later. We had a lovely walk along the river from Dorney to Eton, lunch and then back again. Returning to the meeting room, Nathan Barry gave us a talk on his approach to landscape photography, using examples and showing how the use of Lightroom could enhance even the dullest of images. He gave a complete overview of equipment, clothing and how to read the light. The only thing he missed, was how to get up early enough to put into action all his great tips. 

Following Nathan, Rhiannon Adam gave a presentation that had the audience transfixed. Her photography and projects covered both art and social documentary. She spent some time giving us an insight into her colourful history and in particular her project working on the Pitcairn Islands, documenting the isolated community where much of life has been led in the shadow of convicted child rapists. Full of anecdotes and some striking images, both polaroid and medium format film, she wove a dark tale of loneliness, the passing of time and the strange history of the island. It was thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking. Supper was calling and we left to return later to share and discuss some of the group’s projected images. There followed another early night for some, whilst the bar stalwarts discussed the days events over a drink or three.

Sunday morning followed Saturday’s programme, with the Landscape and Street Portrait groups setting off to greet the day’s challenges. We chose to have a go at some street portrait work. Heading into Windsor and Eton, we followed the Changing of the Guard at the castle and dared to approach people with requests for portraits. It was great fun, if a little unsettling at first. The afternoon seemed to fly by and it was soon time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the evening talks. First up was Derek Reay, whose vast experience covered such diverse subjects and viewpoints. He showed some of his pinhole images resulting from both a simple pinhole camera to more elaborate setups, using rooms to create large camera obscura images. He also described some of his major projects, including taking portraits of some of the country’s leading craftspeople. All this was supported by a selection of his beautiful handmade books and publications. All in all an insight into a photographer who is always looking for something new and meaningful to capture.

In total contrast, our next speaker, Janet Haines ARPS, took us on a journey through her dreams and imagination. Using textures, layers and blending, she expertly showed us her constructed images of beautiful models, some nude, exquisitely rendered in contrasting colours, some pastel, others in strikingly rich hues. She shared some of her successful and not so successful panels, each one realising the myriad thoughts in her head. A really great set of images to finish our weekend talks.

The evening ended up with images from the Chairman’s challenge, which proved to be a diverse collection from a good cross-section of the group. This left just enough time for some prints to be shown of a few members' work. Thanks were given to all those who had made the weekend such a success. Our sights are now focussed on the next meeting, in Liverpool….can’t wait.

Ray Higginbottom BA(Hons) ARPS