Before the exhibition I felt that obtaining feedback was going to be an important aspect of the event but couldn’t decide how best to approach it. My favourite option was to have a large cork board or similar with a large supply of brightly coloured Post-Its and pens to enable comment to be left in this way. In theory this would have worked well and I did set it up at the beginning but I realised before the exhibition a slight flaw with this plan. The Arts Centre is next door to a college whose students use the bar area for coffee breaks or for after-college drinks. Whilst a number of the comments left were appreciative, many of the students did exactly what I’d have done as a student meaning that the board wasn’t going to be of much use!
In addition, most of the respectable comments were along the lines of “Beautiful images” or “Lovely work”. Whilst very much appreciated and flattering these comments weren’t going to be of much help in planning future exhibits.
Of more use were the comments that were left on the website exhibition comment area whose URL was on the information board. When I was around and talking to visitors I took to pointing them in the direction of this contact form and asked if they would leave a comment if they had the time and inclination. The comments solicited in this way were far more constructive, nearly all were complementary but many had suggestions on things that would have worked better. Some of which I agreed with and some that I didn’t but all had merits.
Generally, the venue was well-received but there were one or two suggestions regarding the positioning of the images and of the information board. The latter was placed near the door that led to some of the other areas so that most of the people passing through could read it and, hopefully, be encouraged to stop. Some of the comments wanted a start point and a sequence to the images so felt that the board should have been at the beginning – even though I had deliberately not created a recommended path or beginning. I’d felt that this was contrary to the idea of exploring, if I created a path through the images then it was no different to creating a boundary to the exploration of the area.
Another suggestion that cropped up was to have more information with the images, the location and the time/date of the image. Again, this was something that I’d deliberately avoided for the same reason. If I’d told people where the location was then they would go there, much as they would find the location when photographed and uploaded to Social Media. When I explained the reasoning most people came round to my way of thinking but, of course, not everybody felt that it was the correct decision.
On some days there were more tables and chairs in the main room than I would have liked. This was largely due to the fact that some groups such as a language class might use part of the room for their chats and the chairs were placed accordingly. That was the negative aspect, the positive aspect being that the presence of these groups introduced more people. I even heard one of these groups discussing my images in Italian as part of their practice!
I’ve included one of the more extensive comments below as an example of the type of feedback obtained when solicited.
Venue The choice of what is in effect a licensed coffee bar was a particularly good choice for capturing the attention of a broad range of visitors. The converted old fire engine station has a welcoming ambience which encourages chance visits from people of all ages. Being distinctly not a pub meant that it was also attended by families some even with small children. Its position on St Leonards Road was great for passing footfall.
Presentation The display of the photographs around the walls encouraged you to walk around the different areas which served to provoke discussion with others also viewing the pictures. However, sometimes the presence of occupied chairs and tables proved an obstruction and occasionally prevented as close an examination of the photographs as might have been ideal.
Concept of photographic content The idea of going to a well known geographic location but then seeking out pockets of otherwise unexplored territory was quite thought provoking and it has inspired me to do the same since. When visiting paths and woods I know well I have deliberately chosen to follow unfamiliar paths to unfamiliar places.
Images I really liked the different natural light that was captured by the photographs. Without the inclusion of classic dramatic landscapes to make each picture interesting, the scenes caught your attention through the way that the natural light illuminated the various images.
This type of feedback was extremely encouraging and the above was far from an isolated case.
Another item of feedback that I found extremely heartening was from the Director of the Centre
“Hosting Gaz’s exhibition at The Old Court was a real pleasure and working with him was a delight. The photographs were beautiful, and enhanced greatly by the clear and helpful description and explanation of his work. The result was well-received by the general public, and much comment and interest was made and taken in the works which helped provoke thought around these less obvious aspects of Windsor Great Park. I would welcome Gaz back to The Old Court most happily.”
In summary I couldn’t have been happier with the feedback and to get an endorsement from the Centre was unexpected.
However, there was one anecdotal piece of feedback that hit home far harder then any of the complementary or critical elements referred to above. I wasn’t present at the time but some of the staff at the Centre mentioned an elderly gentleman who had seen the exhibition advertised in the local paper. Now in a wheelchair he was unable to visit the Park as he had done in the past, just wandering and exploring the lesser used areas, much as I was encouraging people to do. He’d asked his daughter to bring him to the Centre so that he could see the images of the places that he so missed. According to the staff who helped him get closer to the images the memories came flooding back to him, he couldn’t stop talking about the area and his memories of it until all of those present could feel the same emotions. He, and many of the others, ended up with tears in their eyes, in a good way, from the memories that my images brought back.
If that wasn’t a worthwhile reason to have created the exhibition then I don’t know what would be!