Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – Photography Comes Of Age

I was overjoyed to see that photography has been given pride of place in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition by being positioned boldly in the Wohl Central Hall – the main hall as you enter the Exhibition. This is a daring statement on the part of Christopher Le Brun the main co-ordinator of this year’s show and is the first time in the unbroken 243-year history of this event that the ever-growing power of photography has been recognised by the Royal Academy in this way. I readily admit to an ‘interest’ here as I am a photographer of many years but ‘hats off’ to the RA in giving such an illustrious positioning to those who use a camera artistically. It’s as if photography, after a long time in the doldrums of the artistic world, has now been elevated to be on an equal footing as other forms of creative endeavour.Photographers on show are: Edward Burtynsky, Michael Vogt, Garry Fabian Miller, Simon Terrill, Petros Chrisotomou, Paul Coughlin, Julio Brujis, Chris Frazer Smith, Cindy Sherman Hon RA, Anita Anderson, Rebecca Heysett, Guy Sargent, Darren Almond, Angus Fraser, Scott Mead, Adam Sillito, Azadeh Fatehrad, Nadav Kander, Sarah Jones, Guler Ates, Laura Carew, ScanLAB Projects, Cornelia Parker RA, Suzanne Moxhay and Nicholas Mackey.On Tuesday 31st May, I was thrilled to be at ‘Varnishing Day’ for a second time in a row, a ceremony of celebration for all the artists showing at the Summer Exhibition. It is a special day which is an exciting melange of the old and the new: where it begins with the stately setting of the Palladian Courtyard of the Royal Academy containing a quartet playing calypso music to entertain the RA luminaries and assorted artists – many of them first-timers – as they gather a little self-consciously before the service of thanksgiving in St. James Church just across the road in Piccadilly. The traffic is momentarily halted in one of the West End’s main thoroughfares to permit the throng of arty types beat a path to St. James and then to enjoy the upbeat religious service itself liberally spiced with some powerful choral works and a thought-provoking sermon with an artistic slant naturally. The quick dash back to the RA to see one’s own work of art on display, to share the moment with fellow artists and to learn from them, to take in the magic of the whole experience and, very important, to partake in the ‘light buffet lunch’ made available for all – I can vouch for the champagne, the strawberries and the passion fruit, delicious!As for the art at this year’s Summer Exhibition – perhaps I’ll elaborate in a future post.I was impressed with the address of Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, President of the RA at the prize awards ceremony on Varnishing Day in which he stressed that the Academy’s selection process for choosing the works to be shown in the Summer Exhibition is a very thorough one and he made a point of underlining that it was anything but cavalier where even a ‘longstop’ mechanism is used to ensure nothing of artistic merit is missed out. Sir Nicholas went on to say that 60% of the works on display this year were from public submissions and therefore outnumbered RA members’ entries. I felt that ‘first-timers’ exhibiting at this event were made feel much more welcome on this occasion. Do you know, I think this year’s show is much, much better as a result of this enlightened and open approach? It also flows better and has a much less-cluttered feel to it.Then, sadly, like last year, the enchantment of Varnishing Day was coming to an end and I savoured it to the end knowing that for a very brief moment I had been privileged to participate in this world-class artistic event. It may never happen again but now that the lotus flower of the Summer Exhibition has been tasted (again) …..

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