Rhubarb Reviewfest

The centre of Rhubarb Rhubarb (R-R for short) for photographers is undoubtedly the reviews, although for reviewers it is perhaps the hotel bar! We kept the bar at the Burlington Hotel busy until late, a comfortable place, although the choice of beers was abysmal and the prices high. (The Burlington is one of if not the best hotels that Birmingham has to offer, rebuilt at the turn of the 20th century and refurbished for the millennium, although with much of its character retained, including the slightly quirky 1902 bathroom fittings in my room.)

(C) Peter Marshall
It was good to meet some friends from other events, including Karol Hordsiej from the Foundation for Visual Arts in Poland and Jim Caspar of Lens Culture, one of my favourite photography web sites (see links at right), along with a number of people I’d corresponded with but never met in the flesh. Mainly the reviewers were curators from galleries and institutions, editors from magazines and book publishers along with a few representatives of agencies. The galleries and publications included some of the major institutions in photography, such as Aperture, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sothebys, the Photographers’ Gallery, George Eastman House and more. Most of the reviewers came from Britain, Europe, Canada and the USA, but there were a few from elsewhere – including Yuting Duan from China.

(C) 2007, Peter Marshall
Reviewers and photographers at Rhubarb Rhubarb

When I’d registered as a reviewer I had been working for About.com, Inc as Photography Guide for almost 8 years, creating a large on-line resource on the medium, but by the time I got to Birmingham I had shifted my territory. Luminous Lint is a web site created by Alan Griffiths, and describes itself as “the ultimate online resource for collectors and connoisseurs of fine photography – authoritative reference materials, online exhibitions, expert analysis, commentaries and reviews, press releases, calendars of important events such as auctions, exhibitions and shows, a specialist online bookstore and much more.” By the time I arrived at R-R I’d contributed just two pieces to the site in what I hope will be a long and productive relationship.

Also of course I’m writing for this site, “Re>PHOTO“, which I hope will give a more personal slant on photography than would be appropriate either for ‘About Photography’ or ‘Luminous Lint‘. At About.com, the editorial policy – quite rightly – prevented me from promoting my own photography or that of my friends, although there were several hundred of my pictures scattered around the site, largely as illustrations.

Essentially I think I was at R-R as a photography critic. Someone who likes to look at photographs and write about the experience – or in this case try and talk about it. Of course, the various gallery curators and editors present are also critics. What surprised me a little was that there were no reviewers listed as simply as photographers (though some of those present were also photographers) or as independent critics, and perhaps only one representing an academic institution (although rather more actually taught.)

Most of those I’ve shown my own work to and had useful comments from have been photographers – including (in no particular order) Raymond Moore, Paul Hill, John Blakemore, Ralph Gibson, Martin Parr, Lewis Balz, Paul Trevor, Fay Godwin, Charlie Harbutt, Leonard Freed and many other less well-known names.

Of course some of those reviewing in other capacities are also photographers, but I think fairly small minority. I believe strongly that photographers are the most important sector of the photographic community, and that the medium in a very real way belongs to us. The other guys are parasites, feeding on us for their living, although I don’t intend that term in a pejorative sense. They are necessary and at times useful, and the relationship can be one that benefits photographers as well. But there is something wrong when these people, rather than the practitioners drive the medium.

Peter Marshall 

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