Did we like it?
It’s a shame that amateur photography has to be clumsily shoehorned into the rudimentary, misshapen format of a talent contest as, from what we could gather, the process is quite interesting. It would have been more interesting if the contestants weren’t such hopeless amateurs – evidently so we could share their ‘journey’ – and the experts/judges didn’t settle on proceedings like a fog of pretentious pompousness.
What was good about it?
• The best of the six contestants, at least in this first episode, was Lizz a recovering alcoholic who started off a seeming novice but who became accustomed to the complexities – though not the deluded pretensions – of photography at exactly the same pace as our interest was stoked. She also clearly explained her thinking behind her portrait of fellow contestant Ed, before confessing her admiration in his confidence as he blithely asked passers-by to assist him as he in turn took her photograph.
• Following the novices as they tackled the simplest forms of photography with as little experience as the viewer in some cases helped lower you into the world gently. Whether they were taking portraits in the park, soothing the genial cantankerousness of Germaine Greer or navigating some apathetic Brighton residents on to the sodden beach for a shot to encapsulate the seaside, it was all quite engaging.
• Of the contestants, Lucinda’s juvenile giggling and art school fervour are by contrast irritating and admirable; Ed is the Javier Mascherano of the programme, dutiful, functional and efficient but he will never provoke people to throw rip their hearts from their chest and toss them into the air in rapturous, impetuous celebration; Aron approaches each challenge like he was a novelist whose books are hamstrung by delusions of being the next Dostoyevsky; Carolyn was eliminated after she was punished for committing the photographers’ cardinal sin of using Photoshop to sharpen up her work; and Jay, also eliminated, was seen to be too inexperienced to keep pace with the remainder of the challenges.
What was bad about it?
• Instances where instead of illuminating the viewer by shining a torchlight into the murkier nuances of photography there was a redoubtable determination to alienate the viewer with an esoteric cipher common to the fashion industry that reeks of an insecurity that this proud pursuit will be exposed as a superficial dalliance rather than a journey to the depths of the soul.
• It probably falls between the two stools, as none of the images really struck us as heart-piercingly beautiful or original – Lizz’s shot of Germaine Greer made up as if she were cryogenically frozen was perhaps the best – but on the other hand, the keen endeavour of each of the contestants to instil some imagination lifted it away from the shark-infested bitchy indulgence of fashion, celebrity and pop/classical music crossbreeds.
• The three judges didn’t really help. Martin Parr is “one of the world’s most influential photographers”. It wasn’t made apparent whether he was “influential” in the inspirational sense or in the Genesis (the band) sense of “this is rubbish, I can do better.” But judging from his photos of Brighton the contestants aspire to emulate – unremarkable garish monstrosities – it was probably the latter, although we won’t slander him by claiming his craft and technique rubs buboes-ridden shoulders with Phil Collins.
• But while we weren’t that impressed by Parr’s photographs, we don’t think he is a bad photographer, we put our lack of appreciation down to our ignorance of photography. And it’s this which makes us, oddly, adhere more closely to the opinions of the judges than our own instincts – in turn annihilating any joy we may get from our perceptions as the first thought on seeing a photo by one of the contestants was never “this is brilliant/terrible” but instead “what will Martin/ Brett Ragers/ Alex Proud think of it?”
• And thus any pleasure derived from the photos of the contestants won’t be from impressions of the photos themselves, but more if we managed to second-guess the opinion of the judges, and so simultaneously become more educated as to established criticism of photography while eradicating every last atom of individual perception from our minds.