I was not sure how many visitors would come specifically for the exhibition. Despite various methods of distributing the publicity and inviting people to contact me directly or to register for the open evening and the Artist’s talk on Eventbrite, I did not have a clear number of confirmed attendees. The location of The Clay Factory is slightly outside the nearest small town of Ivybridge, well set back from the main road and transport would be required to get there. I understand that some events have been very well supported but there have been occasions with fewer numbers attending than expected.
Starting slowly with only half a dozen on the first day the numbers built through the week. The last three days saw returns of people who had been previously bringing with them partners, children or friends. What was special to witness were these returners explaining my project and what the images were to their companions and inviting me into the conversations to explain further and answer questions. It did feel as if a momentum had been created and that it could have run for longer especially as more people arrived as I was starting to take the exhibition down.
I had suggested to a colleague (A) some time before that I could do a virtual tour with my phone or laptop as he was not able to attend in person. This would also present an opportunity for a recording, something that could be added to our course assignments. We trialled Zoom with a third colleague (L) before the exhibition. Belatedly we found out that you can only record if using a computer but not a phone when using the free version. On the day of A’s tour we ran it with my phone, his computer and he kindly recorded it using Camtasia. A then rendered the film and forwarded it to me for my use. Following this experience I gave a guided tour of the exhibition to six others (three were relatives) using my phone with WhatsApp and my laptop for appear.in. Unfortunately I missed a further request as it came too late when the exhibition had been taken down.
This experience was something I had not foreseen but was a welcome discovery. With each tour I was able to develop and improve my verbal accompaniment as well as feeling more confident in answering questions. Although none of these were recorded, there is the potential to do so at future events. I felt this was good use of technology to open up events to people who could not attend them. I plan to visit A’s exhibition this way.
Another welcome development were visits by groups of school children some of whom were studying GCSE Photography and Undergraduate Photography and Film students. I found that I could talk spontaneously about the problem of plastics, the five gyres in the oceans and the challenges faced in finding solutions as well as explain the project and exhibition tailoring my language and content to the needs of the different age groups attending. It was good to hear that some had been involved in running a fashion show where garments were made from recycled materials. I was thanked by a teacher on a repeated visit with another group of pupils as those who had been before were apparently inspired by my images and my methods. They had returned to school and tried out scanning. Had the exhibition run for longer I would have taken up their invitation to see what they had made and advise on methodology.
Among the adult visitors there were several photographers and resident artists as well as people who used The Clay Factory for classes, events and a lunch venue. Learning about their responses to what they saw in my images was instructive. For example several people noticed a theme or motif appearing in the form of open fish mouths across several beach debris images. Perhaps the shape was something I engineered subconsciously when scanning. Having the small wooden crate of finds was praised as being helpful in understanding the message behind the images. I also had suggestions for the future of the project. I had some time ago thought about exhibiting on a beach, perhaps during a beach clean and this was suggested. In addition, continuing with the theme of a container, one person suggested a travelling exhibition in a long wheel based vehicle that could visit beach car parks in the holiday season and open up to visitors.
I have since been invited to take images on a Plymouth beach clean by the organiser. Depending on the location I will have to go prepared for all sorts of surfaces to display the images on as well as fixings to secure and protect them with inclement weather. As a backstop the nearest car park and my car boot may have to suffice as I do not possess a lorry.
Across the two collections, beach debris and recycling facilities repeated comments were made about the images seeming to be depictions of strange objects floating in space and of other worlds. Interestingly this was my original feeling about them and despite a little persuasion to move away from an connection with looking beyond planet earth, I feel that my project is justified in continuing in this vein. In this way the two strands of the work have a strengthened shared narrative when exhibited together.