This article is reproduced from the May 1967 issue of Camera Owner magazine Issue number 35 (the precursor of Creative Camera magazine) and was written by Carl Wildeblood. It relates to the articles on this site about the modfot one exhibition published here and here.
modfot: photo-exhibition with a difference
The idea: modfot is ‘unusual’ in this sense. Prints have not been openly invited from any photographer who may be interested. Nor is there a selection panel of judges to decide what will, and will not, be hung. Nor will prints simply be mounted around the gallery walls. The organisers of mod! or have invited 20 British photographers to mount their own private exhibitions in a gallery provided for them. The photographers have full control over their own exhibits-they were given their alloted space and told ‘go ahead; the rest is up to you!’ The exhibitors were encouraged to break away from the traditional concept of photoexhibitions, i.e. sticking same-size prints around the walls at eye level. They were urged to find new, more exciting methods of picture presentation.
The exhibitors: The 20 photographers invited to display their work in such a novel, creative, thought-provoking way, were picked for their wide range of styles and interests, to give the exhibitions a balanced appearance. Some of the work will be pure abstract shapes (such as Sir George Pollock’s ‘vitrographs’). Others will be more closely linked to reality. And this is not an exhibition solely for the ‘young moderns’. Ages of the contributing photographers range from the early 20’s to early 70’s. Many of the the names of modfot photographers will be familiar to regular readers of CAMERA OWNER, as some of their best work has already appeared in this journal. Apart from the two photographers mentioned above, these names include Don McCullin, John Stonex, John Cowan, J. S. Lewinski, Geoffrey Franglen, Alan Richards, Fill Bullock and Peter Keverne. In addition, impressive displays have been mounted by the students of the photography departments of six colleges, including The Polytechnic, London College of Printing and the Derby & District College of Art. It is an interesting fact that the work of amateurs, professionals and students are hanging side by side-the only criterion being one of quality, not status. In this respect at least, Britain is ahead of the rest of the photo-world.
Already modfot has been booked by several of the best provincial art galleries in Britain, after its opening two weeks in Central London. The exhibition galleries at which you can see modfot are:
May 1-14: Royal Watercolour Society Galleries, Conduit St., London, W1.
May 20-June 10: Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne.
June 1-July 8: Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery.
September 9-30: Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.
November 4-25: Victoria Art Gallery, Bath.
December 9-31: Cumberland House Museum, Portsmouth.
January-February 1968 Welsh Committee of the Arts Council, Cardiff and one other venue.
Carl Wildeblood’s review:
Last month I dipped my pen in bromoil and aired my personal opinions on the disgraceful, shameful state of British photo-exhibitions. So often they are more like museums, where stuffed specimens of long extinct mammals litter the walls, than places of inspiration. I made a crie de coeur for some injection of excitement about pictures and could see little hope of any help. I am happy to be proved wrong so quickly. The needed injection has occurred. What has happened on the photo-exhibition scene to change my mind? In a word, modfot. Last month a major complaint was the selection panel which comprised a set of fogeys, almost as ancient as the type of picture they picked for display. Modfot have entirely dispensed with a selection panel. I also criticised the tasteless, traditional presentation of pictures. Modfot have not only given the photographers a free hand, but actually encouraged them to be bold and adventurous in their method of presentation. This has led to some highly original displays: an enormous circular walkaround pillar comprising one abstract colour picture, a ‘sculpture’ created from stacked prints, a walk-in-and-around picture-booth, a what-the-butlersaw machine filled with more modern model shots. Gimmicks? Of course they are. Many of the presentation ideas will fall flat on their face. But at least they were attempted. And the ideas will give a basis for further experimentation in the future. There will only be one sign of failure after modfot: if viewers walk out of the exhibition INDIFFERENT. Most young photographers will be delighted and encouraged by the fact that, at last, photo-exhibitions have leaped out of the rut, created by pictorialists, traditionalists, and RPS-addicts having followed each other round in circles for the last twenty years. I had the opportunity to talk to many of the 20 participating photographers during the planning stages of their exhibits, and here are a few of their comments on the modfot idea: ‘Producing a print is satisfying. But to be able to shoot a series on one theme, to edit the results, to plan and design the display of these pictures down to the last detail-without any interference at all, from anyone-is so much more richly satisfying. Merely making a picture, full stop, will never be the same again.’ ‘I have exhibited my work in many overseas shows, and have always been ashamed of the British contributions. modfot is the first English exhibition that I would recommend everyone to see.’ ‘Frankly, I could never get my work exhibited in this country. Unless the picture was a traditional subject, composed according to the “on-the-thirds, s-curve” pattern, the shots were instantly rejected. modfot has given my self-confidence, and the impact of my pictures, a much needed boost.’ ‘Picking my own pictures for display has made me so much more self-critical. Before I used to bring a batch of shots to the judges and let them select “the best”. Now I realise this is shirking my own responsibility. I am now very much more honest with myself about the quality of my work.’ ‘I always knew the cliche: presentation is important. But until modfot, I never realised just how important.’ One criticism of the modfot experiment. In a few cases it was apparent that the photographer was an atrocious judge of his own work. He could not view his prints objectively, like a complete stranger. This has meant that, in my opinion, a few of the photographers are showing less than their best pictures. But apart from this little niggle, I for one welcome modfot as a breath of fresh air through the cobweb-strewn corridors of British photo-exhibitions. Do I eat my words, published on last month’s Opinion page? Not until modfot is the accepted, general way of running an exhibition-and not the first, tentative probing into the unknown. A plea. If you care at all for the spirit of British modern photography-visit modfot. Give the organisers the encouragement of your presence.