Dean O'Brien's Blog

Perpignan 2011….A first timers verdict

with 2 comments

As a student I had always heard about Perpignan.  Like a Catholic should go the Vatican at some point, I knew that Perpignan was a place that I had to attend as a photographer.  A right of passage into the field of Photojournalism.  Yes, this is where it all happens.

So, to the exhibitions…

Exhibitions here are spread all over the place.  I managed to catch a few, especially those that were relevant to my work..Two projects by Anastasia Taylor-Lind being the most inspirational.  One titled ‘Siberian Supermodels’ and the other being ‘Women of the Cossack Resurgence’.  I did make the patriotic excursion to view the exhibition here by Peter Dench , who I interned for earlier in the year.  Many of the French viewers were commenting on how true this reflects on the ‘real Britain’ that they have witnessed on visits.  Something which I am sure Peter will be happy about.

Although I never had a portfolio with me as such, I did have some images from my current project in the Ukraine on my iPad.  Luckily Peter Dench  of Hungry Eye Magazine was in town!  Two bottle of Rose’ later and a review was agreed for the following evening. I love these ‘old skool’ bartering methods.  I also managed to get my current project looked at by Donald Weber.  Donald has just completed his book ‘Interrogations’ which is the result of  a personal quest to uncover the hidden meaning of the bloody 20th Century.

Bringing the iPad was one of the best moves that I did.  Taking it here gave me the opportunity to show my work (which is in progress) to people who are virtually ‘untouchable’.  Yes, over a glass of wine they will say ‘Show me what you shoot’.  And yes, naturally I had special business cards to hand.  Picture the scene, like a magician pulls out a rabbit from his hat, I whipped my card out from my pocket and it was placed firmly in their hand.  Nobody here wants the hassle or has the time to type your number into a mobile phone, so come prepared.

Is it worth buying the pass?

For me on this occasion, no.  At 60 euros I don’t think it was.  Rumour has it that ‘back in the day’ there was a free bar and you would drink your money back.  In all honesty this was what sold the pass to me.  However, after purchasing the pass I was informed that the ‘free bar’ was now a thing of the past.  The exhibitions which I attended never needed any pass for admittance so for me the pass was not worth purchasing.

So as an observer at the event rather than a participant, would I recommend it?

Yes.  Even to those with nothing to show.  Go there to watch and listen.  See how those a few steps above in the pecking order are selling themselves.  Like a disco where guys seek out the girls they fancy, photographers trawl for the right people from Reuters, Getty or Corbin.  Yes, it’s a real free for all if you come prepared and market yourself properly.

Two doors away from me in the hotel was photographer Rafael Fabres from Getty images.  I managed to show him my work on the bus on the way into the centre each morning.  He gave me great feedback and advice on how he would approach the project.  How often do these opportunities come up?

Although I never came to Perpignan with any completed project to push or promote I did manage to get some reviews of my current work, which is at a very early stage.  The advice which I received from all those at Perpignan was taken on board and it has helped me to move my current project in a more positive direction.

On the final evening I managed to make some great contacts through Russian photographer Vlad Sokhin who was was staying in the same hotel.  He thought my current project in the Ukraine was vey interesting and spent a large part of his evening introducing me to those working in Russia and the Ukraine.  He also managed to introduce me to the editor of Russian Reporter magazine who showed a keen interest in my work and has asked me to contact him when I return to the UK.

What was the highlight?

Watching the multiple media slide show presentations outdoor on the massive screens set up in the square.  Breathtaking projects selected to be shown.  A great way to spend the warm evening with a drink in your hand.

What would I do next time?

Not book a hotel 4km outside the centre.  I may as well have been on the moon.  Ironically called the ‘Best Hotel’.  It never lived up to its name.  You should book a hotel in the centre.  Yes, they are around 100 euros per night but in all honesty the hassle of getting a taxi (at 15 euros at time) or a bus becomes a real drain.  That ’40 euro a night’ hotel on that there ‘tinterweb’ might seem like a bargain, but believe me it’s not. It pays to be in the centre.

Internet connection is a hassle here.  Even places that show ‘free wifi’ have connection issues. I purchased a pre pay data sim card for my iPad to use here.  But that came at a price of 30 euros.  Still, it’s  much cheaper than paying the scandalous ‘roaming’ charges offered by our very own Dick Turpin service providers in the UK.  Staying in touch is vital here.  It is packed.  So pre arranged meetings are a wise move, if this is possible.  Forewarned is forearmed as they say.

The verdict

As a student with no ‘real’ reason to attend it was still worth going and I would greatly encourage other students to do the same.  I watched how Peter Dench and Maciej Dacowicz sought out people to show work to and make contacts.  I also managed to make a few contacts of my own through just mingling and talking to people.  If photojournalism is your choice of photography them Perpignan could be the baptism of fire that you need.  After leaving university, places such as this are where I will come to show my current projects and hopefully gain some exposure.

Next year I plan to return with something more solid to show.

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Written by Dean O'Brien

September 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Sounds like you had a great one. Certainly good to knock shoulders with the likes of those you mentioned. I’m missing it all being back in Thailand but I’m pretty happy.
    Funny, I remember Maciej from old pbase days. He’s done well for himself. Did you ever vist his gallery in Cardiff?
    What is happening with you and your photography at the moment? I cant remember when your course is due to finish.


    September 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    • Not had the chance to get to see his gallery in Cardiff yet, but its on my ‘to do’ list.

      As far as my photography goes my main focus is on my project in the Ukraine documenting marriage agencies and their clients. I will be doing this for my final major project and for a long time after I expect.

      Im going to present the images combined with sound from interviews with the subjects. It should help bring the work ‘to life’.

      Dean O'Brien

      September 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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