Exhibition evening

Yesterday’s private view of the exhibition went very well, I think. Twenty or so people came along, and thankfully seemed to like it.

I hadn’t had much feedback on how it looked in the room, so I was pretty nervous. I spent half an hour pretty much alone in there beforehand, convincing myself that the walls looked crowded…or that actually no, there was too much blank space. I also noticed every slightly off-angle, and tried unsuccessfully not to actively look for typos (none as yet, amazingly). One of the first people to arrive was one of my subjects, and he pointed out that I’d called him a ‘Countryside Arranger’ instead of ‘Countryside Ranger’. Thankfully he thought this rather-extreme promotion was great. Strangely, it’s much easier to relax once the mistake duck is broken, so that turned out to be a good start.

It was lovely to see people walking around, reading captions and chatting to each other. I particularly liked that everyone spent a while doing so – there was enough content that people could take as much or little time as they wanted. It felt like a solid thing, which hasn’t been the case with other projects I’ve put together – sometimes you just look at the photos for a few minutes, and that’s it. So I was very pleased the show worked in that respect (I’d no idea whether it would).

In fact, watching people walk around was the most satisfying moment of the project, I think. I was already pleased with how it had worked out, but at that moment it was all obviously worth it. Sorry to get a bit artsy, but that’s why I like doing this kind of thing – it’s not for its own sake, it’s to provide some interest and, hopefully, brief entertainment. I’m not bothered whether my name’s attached, although I won’t pretend that isn’t nice, it’s just knowing that at least somebody (who isn’t a direct friend or relative) finds it time well spent. That’s properly fulfilling.

Anyway, here’s how it looks:

Happy Humanists Exhibition #01 Happy Humanists Exhibition #02

There are about 60 photos+captions in total, and right in the middle is a single black/white photo. This caused something of a commotion over the course of the project – I had an exciting argument with my teachers about it, in front of the whole class, and it was mentioned a fair bit last night. It’s one of my favourite shots, so I put it front and centre, and quite a few people singled it out as one they liked. But one lady was clearly baffled, and possibly thought I shouldn’t be allowed near a camera again. Did I not realise that photo was different from all the others? I assured her I did, and I didn’t think it mattered. It’s entertaining how differently people approach these things.

The mix of people was pretty odd for me, as there were humanists, uni classmates, and my parents too. These three worlds have never crossed over before, and I’d occasionally look up to see people chatting who really don’t exist at the same place and time. Very strange. Everyone was united in a passion for jelly babies, though, and we got through two large boxes over the evening. After about an hour we stopped to say a few words about the show, at which point the BHA unexpectedly said some very complimentary things about me, which was very nice of them. I also got to do the many important thank-yous in public, which was great.

I tried to talk to everyone in the room, and was a bit dazed afterwards. It’s all a bit of a blur now, but a very pleasant one. I’m really grateful to everyone who came along, and am very happy with how the show turned out. It should be up until at least the end of April. There are a few more photos from the evening here.

Can’t think about it any more, though – the next month has to be solid uni work. But I go into it content.

Happy Humanists Exhibition

Happy Humanists Logo1

I’ve been referring to a secret project for a while now, and I can finally talk about it: my Happy Humanists project is being exhibited at a hall in London. It was actually hung a couple of weeks ago, but we’ve been arranging a viewing for everybody who took part, and I didn’t want to mention it until they knew. But that’s all done now, so I can squee publicly. SQUEEEE. Ahem. Sorry, I should probably be all dignified, shouldn’t I? SQUUEEEEEEEEE. Damn it. Here’s the description we sent out:

Humanists have a reputation for grumpiness. If you believe the media, we’re all curmudgeonly Dementors who feed on the disillusionment of passing toddlers. This is baffling to anybody in the community, as we know that humanists are regular folk, with regular passions. Some are irascible, others perpetually joyful. And of course we only harvest misery in emergencies, or on Thursdays. So, to help redress the balance, we’ve put together an exhibition: Happy Humanists.

We spent last year photographing cheerful, smiley freethinkers from all walks of life, and asking them one question: what are you happy about? The answers are as varied and contrary as the humanists themselves, and demonstrate the wellspring of optimism and enchantment that humanism can inspire. We’re not saying humanism and happiness are bedfellows, but they flirt, and we hope our show reflects that. Do come by – it’d be lovely to see you.

It’s up at Conway Hall in Holborn, and will be for at least another three weeks. It’s in their Brockway Room, which is regularly hired out for meetings etc. – but when it’s not in use people are generally fine to wander around, which is nice. It’s all in conjunction with South Place Ethical Society, who own the hall. They’ve been amazingly helpful and friendly, and had the ideal attitude throughout: I didn’t want it to be too precious and all about art, or me – I just wanted a happy, fun little show. I hope that’s what we’ve ended up with.

I can’t post the project online, unfortunately. People were willing to be photographed for a university project, and don’t mind being up in a public exhibition, but posting their portraits on the internet is another matter, and I don’t have everyone’s explicit permission. I’ve taken some photos of the exhibition itself, though, and I think that should be ok – the individual portraits will be very small. I’ll put them up after the viewing.

I’m still expecting to blink all this away. It’s the first time I’ve had any photos displayed in public, and is a pretty big deal in terms of my CV. Planning the design, and figuring out how to print, mount and hang ~60 photos + quotes, was great experience too2. I’m SQUEEE ahem very pleased about it all.

  1. Thanks to the awesome Graham Nunn for the logo design, and for letting me mess around with it for different uses []
  2. this was going to be worryingly expensive, until I realised I could hand-mount them at home, with dry-mount tissue and an iron []

Happy Humanists response

So I showed Happy Humanists at the BHA‘s AGM last Saturday. I had a table at the back of the room with three copies of the book and a monitor looping through the photos. I was pretty nervous, as I hadn’t shown it to anybody disinterested, and by the time it was all set up I really had no idea what the reaction would be. Thankfully, people seemed to like it. A couple of people actively tried to buy a copy – just some random people, not in the book or anything! – which pretty much made my day. Plenty also expressed interest in getting a copy, and one person came along specially to see me and the project, which was lovely. I was most chuffed, actually.

I’m still not sure what happens next. I was worried about model agreements, but a bit of research – tipped off by a helpful tweet from Damian – suggests that’s not too big a problem. Much more difficult is cost – the individual Blurb-printed books cost £18.95, which is obviously way too much. Bulk deals of over 200 – if there were that kind of interest, which is unlikely – would bring the price down by 10%, but that’s still not good enough; I reckon a tenner is about right. So I’m not sure how to get around that, other than looking for other printers.

I’m really pleased it went down so well! If I can just get over this final hurdle and produce something to sell, I’ll be happy indeed.

Happy Humanists

I’ve been mentioning my ‘Happy Humanists’ project for about six months, but I’m not sure whether I’ve ever properly explained it. It’s coming to a conclusion this weekend, so I figure a proper writeup can’t hurt.

It started as an idea for my uni documentary module. The idea was to take portraits of as many humanists as I could, and ask them all the same question: ‘What are you happy about?’. Nothing deep or profound – just a feel-good little book; something to maybe help counter the idea of humanists / atheists as grumpy and reactionary. My teachers hated it from the outset, but I wanted to do something I’d enjoy, that would push me, and that might possibly be useful for causes I think are important. I hoped to win my teachers around, and though this didn’t happen in the slightest, it was totally worth it.

I emailed as many humanist groups as I could, cheerily inviting myself to their meetings. I also contacted the British Humanist Association, who were incredibly helpful, and kind enough to help with contacting their Distinguished Supporters. So I spent a few months heading around the country1, meeting people in offices, parks, pubs and cafes. The BHA asked if I’d photograph some of their events, which was great fun and gave me the chance to meet otherwise busy and hard-to-contact humanists, and a few big names.

As a general rule, I found anyone actively involved in humanism/atheism was happy to be included. The group leaders, the writers, the philosophers2, the people who attended the EHF/IHEU conferences last month – all very willing. But not so much the general members, which I suppose makes sense. A few were happy to take part in a university project but didn’t want their photo being used beyond that, which was fine, and a couple went out of their way to say how much they didn’t like the idea. I’ll contact them next year for Grumpy Humanists.

It’s been quite the experience. I’ve met many lovely people, including various of my intellectual heroes, visited many new places, had photos published in humanist newsletters/magazines, spoken in front of large groups for the first time since school, and worn a suit3. I’ve also made countless mistakes, some small and some not-so-small, but improved my portrait skills as a result. I’m still far from smooth, but I’m much better than six months ago.

Final printed books arrived early. Yay!I’ve also really enjoyed reading the answers to ‘What are you happy about?’. Some went with profound statements about the world and our place in it, others were happy about birds in their garden, making curry, or their boss being on holiday. It’s a nice mix, I think.

The project is responsible for my blogging tailing off for a while, both because I was busy and I suddenly got nervous: I was meeting lots of interesting people, and what if they looked me up, found this blog, and decided I was an idiot? This was obviously a muppetry (let’s face it – if they’re going to think I’m an idiot, it’ll probably be in person). I’m over it now.

By May I had nearly 40 people+quotes, which I printed up and and handed in to uni. I used that as a first draft, and since then I’ve added a proper foreword by Brendan Larvor, a lovely cover design by Graham Nunn, and almost thirty more humanists. The final printed books turned up yesterday, and I’m pretty happy with them. It’s a much better size, and feels more professional. But I’m obviously a touch biased.

Tomorrow I’ll be displaying the book at the BHA’s AGM. I’ve no idea how people will react – hopefully they’ll like it. I’m not sure what, if anything, happens next, but I’ll see how it goes down.

  1. well, Wales and the south of England – I tried and failed to get in touch with the Edinburgh humanist group, and sadly couldn’t afford to get over to Ireland, despite an offer []
  2. incidentally, all the philosophers I’ve met rank amongst the nicest people I know – it’s a remarkable correlation. []
  3. without a tie, obviously []

Cutting it fine

The success or epic fail of today was entirely reliant upon the vagaries of UPS and the Royal Mail – I really needed them to deliver my projects in time for me to get to London before 17:00. This was a dumb situation to get myself into, but into it I nevertheless got, and my inability to do anything other than wait made for a spectacularly annoying morning.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and was up pretty early, glancing out of the window every few seconds for any sight of a UPS van. My secondary project turned up in the standard post, which was a relief, but the big project – the one I’ve been working on for 4 months – was more important. I really wanted to get it in on time.

As the morning wore on I figured out ways to stay longer at home. If I caught the train at Leamington I’d have an extra half hour…and if I got the later train, then a taxi to uni, I could get another 15mins…or what about driving to London? But the latest reasonable time was 14:15 – anything over that and I’d really be pushing my luck.

I spent most of the morning pacing up and down, trying and failing to distract myself. A Parcelforce van gave me false hope by stopping directly outside – maybe UPS had farmed it out to another company? No.

Midday came and went, and I decided it was time to email my teacher. Should I submit low-quality inkjet prints of the book’s pages today, or submit a high-quality book tomorrow and lose 10% of the marks? Then I realised that if I went to London they’d have to re-deliver tomorrow, and I’d be in the same situation. So should I lose 10% of the marks for my secondary project too?

My answer to this was to repeatedly mutter ‘fuckmonsters’1 and generally bemoan my existence while staring grumpily out of the window. At which point there was the brown flash of a UPS van. It slowed down, as if looking for my flat…then buggered off.

Then came back. Thank the FSM. It was 12:45.

For obvious reasons I’d already written the evaluation of the finished book, and I was rather hoping it would match up to my expectations. After a brief and spectacularly explicit hunt for some scissors I discovered it did, so I emailed my teacher a ‘belay that message’, ran for the next train, got to London, got to uni, handed everything in, and the relief was ridiculous.

Now, obviously this was all a massive overreaction. These things are not that important, and I got myself far more stressed than was necessary. But I did anyway, and I am certainly not making that mistake again. That was not fun. I’m also aware I caught a huge break – UPS could have delivered any time up till 20:00 and, hell, the book was in Eindhoven thirteen hours before it arrived at my flat. Still, it turned out ok. Exhausted now. One more project to go.

  1. I love Twitter []