The walls have been cleared. The final accounts have been done. The next exhibitor has moved in to the gallery. It’s over. My exhibition.
Wow! What an experience. It nearly didn’t happen. On Christmas Day, the gallery got seriously flooded in the deluge that affected much of Kent, and which saw the River Medway rise to probably unprecedented levels. The last few weeks before the show were a chaos of indecision about what to include. I was even still putting price tickets up when the first visitors walked in to the show. People now tell me that’s pretty normal, whether it’s your first show or your hundredth. Wish they’d told me before, though.
It was a total delight working with Chris and Elaine from Frame & Print. They were in every sense exhausted by the experience of having their wonderful little gallery flooded out and then virtually rebuilt in the month leading up to my show. Yet they never once voiced a doubt (in my earshot at least!) that on 1 February we’d still be ready to go. True professionals. All the printing I needed doing for the show still got done on time; any doubts were all mine. My heart was in my mouth for several weeks. Would it happen? Would it hang together as a piece? Would stuff sell? How much was it worth? Would it satisfy my number one critic? Me.
The show opened on a Saturday. Thursday evening was “hanging night”. I’d delivered all my big canvases and gone home to pick up another case of prints. I returned an hour or so later to find that Elaine had already hung the canvasses. I confess I nearly burst into tears as I walked in and saw them. All I could think to say was “Oh God, it looks like a real exhibition!”
We hung all the prints, and pretty much got the layout right first go. There were the best part of 50 pieces on the walls and fifty more in racks – what I ended up calling “the other exhibition that never made it to the walls”. What was strange was how I felt next. The Friday after hanging night was a whirl of fine-tuning and pricing stuff. We opened on the Saturday at 9.30am. And for an hour…. nothing happened. Basically, I sat there in the middle of the gallery, letting it very slowly dawn on me that I wasn’t just surrounded by the best pieces of photography and artwork I’d got to show, but that I was surrounded by a significant statement about me, my life, my friends, my past. A few days later, a very good and amusing friend visited, and, tongue in cheek, called it my “pre-retrospective”. Yeah, joke or not, maybe that’s what it felt like.
I’d called the show “The Bigger Picture”. That wasn’t just because some of the canvases were big, but because I’d tried to include glimpses of many of the areas of photography I’m involved with. Even then, I didn’t get them all in. Thus, to many visitors, and quite intentionally on my part, it was a chance to see “the bigger picture” of what I do, and what I particularly love doing. Many knew my mountain and landscape work, but if they did, they probably didn’t realise how long I’d been shooting, say, the Rochester Sweeps Festival. And those that knew that stuff probably had no idea how much I love Venice. So it went on. Everyone was surprised by some of what they found on the walls. Even me.
It was a great lark for all of about three hours. Then I sold my first piece, and it got serious. I’d got it right – for one visitor at least. I sold several more on the first day. Being my own toughest critic, I really did give my head a bad time all the way home that day, about why I’d waited so long to do this thing.
I had a regular stream of visitors through the whole month the show was on. Friends were simply brilliant. I’d invited many, and made sure they covered all the aspects of the material on show. I’d built in a few visual jokes for the pleasure of friends. These were sometimes in the choice of title, or in the juxtaposition of some of the works. Friends, and occasionally other visitors got these with little or no prompting, and there was a lot of laughter through the life of the show. I spent every Saturday playing “host”, and popped in to the gallery at other times.
I was unprepared for the huge number of coincidences the show triggered. Strangers who knew people in some of the photos on display, or who could make connections I’d never have believed beforehand, between different images on the walls. I had long conversations with many visitors and openly admit that their comments taught me a huge amount about my own work and about those parts of it that had come together to form this show.
And now it’s over. In case you’re interested, I more than covered my costs in setting it up, which was satisfying. I have a visitors book full of lovely comments. I’m sad there were several friends and former colleagues who never got to see it, either because of distance to travel, busy diaries, or because they’re no longer with us. Two of the latter, particularly.
It was great to see life at Frame & Print returning to something close to normality after the floods, during the life of the show, and to have played a part in putting the excellent “Below 65” Gallery back on the map. Packing it all away didn’t take long, mercifully, because it was a very sad thing to do.
Would I do it again? Well, what do you think? Too right I would!
(And yes, the title of this blog is musically connected as usual. I had Mussorgsky’s masterpiece of the same name on CD at the show)
Big thanks to my friend Shirley Ayres for two of the photos of me I’ve used in this blog.