Earlier this year I was commissioned to cover the Future Everything Festival in Manchester. Over a period of four days, academics, performers, scientists and environmentalists amongst others descended on Manchester to prod, poke and push boundaries with talks, seminars, music and art. Future Everything is a festival of ideas and the theme this time was titled Less and More, looking at resources. My brief was to capture the essence of the event and to cover as much ground as possible. Armed with a very long list of speakers, artists, venues and events, I set out.
The whole event centred on a three day series of talks at Manchester Town Hall a glorious environment which helped create some great shots. Whilst beautiful, the lighting can be challenging in the cavernous Great Hall. Down lighting is supplied in the form of glaring chandeliers which can obscure the ornate ceiling to human eyes, let alone a camera's sensor. With a gently persistant approach to the man in charge of those lights we managed to create a window of opportunity for me to just use the ambient and side lighting to take some long exposures of the room.
Smoke signals, an installation by Ed Carter and David Cranmer, was one of the first things on my list, a baptism of smoke and sound in a dark room in the back of the International Anthony Burgess Centre. The installation ran in cycles with time between for the smoke to clear, so the sweet spot for photography was a few minutes in when some smoke had appeared but not so much that it obscured everything making focus an issue. With a couple of lights set up to illuminate the artists but not to spill into the rest of the room, I got to work. The other part of this was to capture the installation in action so I worked to bring together the different elements in one simple image further simplified by converting it to black and white.
Conference photography by it’s very nature can be limiting. The key is to make sure the main people are captured and variation is achieved through different angles and backgrounds. Clever use of Angles can convey a busy scene when it isn’t and vice versa. Additional lighting, so long as it isn’t too distracting, can add an extra dimension.
Of course, the flip side to the speakers is the audience. This can be as important as what’s happening on stage and often makes the best shots. Developing a sense of what is going on behind you as a photographer is definitely worthwhile. In some cases the perfomance takes place almost amongst the audience and the opportunity to photograph both can result in some really strong shots. Here, in the main image, Gazelle Twin’s visceral performance involved two people dressed in black, mostly on treadmills in front of a projection of grainy surveillance footage in a big dark open space, rammed with hundreds of viewers watching from every possible angle- not the easiest subject matter. The best spot was directly in front of the stage where I could create some separation for the different elements. Additional lighting wasn’t an option for this one and would have definitely distracted, so for most of it my iso was set really high knowing that the resulting grain would only help to tell the story.
Some people just photograph amazingly well, here the poet Lemn Sissay works his magic to a captivated crowd in the closing ceremony talking movingly about his childhood and also reading one of his poems 'What if?'
The last day of my time with the festival saw me visit Islington Mill in Salford for a creative performance workshop which perhaps sums up the whole ethos of the event best. People experimenting, playing, learning, sharing, making mistakes, imagining and ultimately turning ideas into reality.