Something of a melodramatic title, but these are melodramatic times. In the age of austerity, when local council budgets have been slashed and slashed again, funding for the arts has practically dried up. Like murder victims in some sort of Agatha Christie drama, centres for the local arts have recently been knocked off one by one by some shadowy executioner. We lost the wonderful city centre exhibition space of Abacus a few weeks ago. Very shortly the historic Cardiff University Settlement building in Splott, a beating heart for the district's community, will cease to exist as it is knocked down to make way for flats. Most of the libraries in the city have been converted into 'Hubs', with the amount of stock available drastically slashed. The main concert venue in Cardiff, St. David's Hall, sees its future in doubt as cuts begin to find their way deep to the marrow. But hey, so long as we can brag about Tom Jones and rugby and Charlotte Church (though she does actually have a charged kind of awesome herself - see new footnote*) and make believe that there's some sort of Cool Cymru thing going on in a capital that's becoming increasingly void of culture, I guess everything's cool - right?
Shot with the X-E2 and 35mm f/1.4r
Well, to paraphrase the famous Howard Beale, some in Cardiff are as mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more. Yesterday saw a march through Cardiff in support of the arts, hash-tagged under the title #cardiffwithoutculture. Both artists and those in the community who feel passionately about the issue formed a funeral procession for art in Cardiff, complete with a jaunty New Orleans style funeral jazz band and dancers. Hundreds turned out, most of them likely pondering the question as to how Cardiff can consider itself a capital city, when it is in danger of becoming culturally bankrupt?
With yet more cuts to the council budget planned over the next few years, things are looking quite bleak for arts and community funding in Cardiff. One can only hope that people wake up to the fact that it is dangerously easy to destroy something, and very difficult to create. It's reassuring that so many braved the deluge of rain to march, but by far the biggest threat to art in the community is indifference. After a hard day's work with the wind and rain howling outside it's tempting to just relax on the sofa, curl up with a book or watch TV - man I know it, oh so tempting! But we owe it to ourselves to get out there and find something to be a part of. To work to make something special grow. From the angle of photography, there's countless articles on the internet about gear and a million YouTube tutorials on the rudiments of post-processing. But neither of those are going to make you any better at photographing people. In all probability even a photography club isn't going to make you much better at photographing people. What is going to help drive you towards making more compelling images is involvement in community projects, societies and events. When I talked with David Hurn he stressed the importance of such, recommending I scour the listings for local events and societies that I could photograph between major projects. He said that exploring what you could find at home to photograph was just as valid and potentially more rewarding in photography than a trip overseas. And I think he has a point.
I'm a firm believer in cross-pollination. By exposing yourself to other mediums of art, you find yourself examining what you can achieve with your own process. As a result, you can find yourself pushed in exciting directions that never even occurred to you. But for that you need a healthy arts scene. After all, what's the point in photography if there's nothing left to photograph?
One last thing, I've joined Instagram recently. It finally penetrated my thick skull that there was some really amazing work being done on there - especially when it came to documenting ongoing projects. I think it was the wonderful Stacy Kranitz who lured me in with her Appalachia series, after I made a portrait of her for her feed when she visited Cardiff for the Diffusion festival. As such, you should now find a little Instagram link for myself in the title bar, if you fancy taking a look.
Thanks for reading and fight the good fight!
A worthy comment to an earlier clumsier draft made me poke about a bit more, in which I discovered the latest bit of activism by Charlotte Church: Wales Online article. Consequently I have slightly amended the article, I've nowt againt Church and Jones, just the way others use name recognition such as theirs to paper over the cracks and make believe that there's no crisis.