Miniclick - Jim Stephenson
Photography organisation Miniclick curates free talks and discussions, hosts participatory events, workshops and exhibitions and publishes affordable photography books and ‘zines with the remit of being open and accessible to all. Miniclick experiments with different ways of looking at images and focuses on stories and ideas instead of kit and cameras. Curated by Jim Stephenson, Lou Miller, Bryony Good, Roz Doherty, Lauren Holder, Marta Benavides, Livia Smith, Kristina Salgvik and Joe Conway, there are bases in Brighton, London and Leeds. A series of Miniclick talks at RPS HQ, Bristol began in July, curated by Jack Latham and Sadie Catt.
When you started Miniclick who was it you wanted to reach out to and why?
We formally started Miniclick in Sept 2010, but a few months earlier I’d arranged a phototalk with an organisation called Design Brighton, who I was working with at the time. What interested me was the broad audience we got for the talk. As it was part of a series of talks on art and design, we didn’t just get photographers and because the talk was informal and not kit based, everyone was able to take something away from it. This was really exciting. I didn’t have a formal photography education, so I suppose I’d been slightly intimated by the more academic photography lectures I’d paid to see up to that point, and the ones that focused on technique and cameras didn’t interest me that much.
So, off the back of that test run, I thought there was a space for these more informal talks that focused on stories and I hoped they’d appeal to a really broad audience, not exclusively photographers. They’re also free, so anyone can come along. The idea was to create a series of events with as few barriers to attendance as possible.
Why did you make a distinction between stories and ideas, and cameras and kit?
Photography can be a really expensive profession and hobby. I’m sure almost all photographers have been excited by a new lens, camera or gadget at some point, but when you focus on that there’s a risk you’re encouraging people to think “Oh, if I buy that lens I’ll be able to take better photos”, which we all know isn’t true. When we talk about kit, inevitability it excludes people. Either the technical aspects exclude them, or the price of the kit excludes them. I really wanted to create an environment where everyone felt they could be a part of it.
Did you intend Miniclick to be exclusively for people interested in photography?
No! Absolutely not. I wanted photographers to come along, but I also wanted anyone interested in images, stories and ideas to be welcome as well. It’s nice to have non-photographers there as we can present our work to a new audience, but also having voices from outside of the photography industry is really beneficial to those inside it. We’ve extended this to the speakers as well. In addition to the hundreds of photographers we’ve put on, we’ve also had illustrators, criminologists, sculptors, psychologists, ghost hunters, historians and even a funeral director, all talking about photography in one way or another.
We put on events that anyone can drop into and, hopefully, get something from. We also have a social side to our events, where everyone can stay on afterwards, have a drink and continue the conversation.
How do you select the photographers and other contributors for the various events that are organised? Is there some kind of agenda or theme for a given period of time?
For a long time we used to simply pick photographers whose work we liked, or who had produced a new body of work we wanted to hear about. We’d then email them - some of them we already knew, some knew people who had done talks with us before, and some were totally new to us. We’d explain what Miniclick was all about and tell them why we had approached them and take it from there. The vast majority of people we contact say yes and then we can start planning. For the last few years, largely driven by Lou and Bryony, we’ve picked a theme each month and look for photographers, and other people, we think would fit that theme. If we can, it’s always good to have two people on. Personally, I like it when we have one photographer and one person from a different discipline who fits with the theme. We always make events public through social media in the hope that we can encourage people to come along. We have a good crowd of regular visitors, as well, who help spread the word.
We’re on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@miniclicktalks) and you can sign up to an email newsletter on our website. At our events we usually announce what’s coming up next. If anyone wants any more indepth info, they’re welcome to email me.
The impression given of events set up by Miniclick is one of informality. Is this the Miniclick style and is it intended to avoid more serious academic / lecturing input?
Yes, we try to keep them as informal as possible. In Brighton and Leeds, for instance, most of our talks are in bars and coffee shops. We’ve had some of the biggest photographers in the world discussing their work in pub back rooms! The idea is that we want to remove that feeling that the photographer is up on a pedestal. Everyone is on the same level, it’s just her or him or them with the microphone speaking this month. Hopefully that makes them seem a bit more approachable afterwards when we turn the music on and put the chairs away and have a catch up.
The website refers to you producing affordable photobooks and ‘zines - Is Miniclick also a publisher?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re a publisher in any formal sense, but we have put out six magazines and ‘zines in the past. They all sold out, which is great, and I’d love for us to do more but since we all do Miniclick in our spare time, it can be tricky to dedicate the time to it.
People often send us their work and it’s always good to see. We try to respond to everything, and we often do free portfolio reviews over the phone as well.
The publications we do are usually ‘zines and magazines which are light in production. This makes them a little simpler to produce and therefore more affordable to buy. Sometimes we focus on a specific theme and feature a series of photographers and sometimes we just feature one photographer. They’re entirely self-published and we pay for the production of them ourselves.
You have three bases, Brighton, Bristol and Leeds. Are these coordinated in any way and are you hoping to establish more bases?
We all chat regularly, and we have an active WhatsApp group. Ideally, we want each base to feel they can put on the events that excite them, so long as they fit under the criteria of being free and they focus on ideas and stories (not kit). Roz and Bryony work on our Leeds events, Jack and Sadie are in Bristol and Lauren, Marta, Liv and I are in Brighton. We also have Joe, Kristina and Lou in London who tend to work on the larger festival events we do. We were all friends before we joined the team, so we see each other a lot and Miniclick is rarely far from the conversation!
We’ve also put on events in Edinburgh alongside Simon Crofts and Sylwia Kowalczyk and we’d like to continue doing them.
We called Jack Latham and asked him to tell us about the series of Miniclick events he has curated in conjunction with the RPS in Bristol.
Ultimately Miniclick is a visiting lecture series at university level but for the public. I think presenting people with opportunities they don’t usually have is such a human thing to do and it’s a pleasure to be able to bring that to Bristol. The Martin Parr Foundation is doing incredible things. I teach at the University of the West of England now, which has its own visiting lecture series, but there was something missing at grass-roots level. The RPS has very kindly given us the space to do the talks and has covered travel expenses, which is why we were able to get people coming from further afield. Its lovely to be a part of a community that I haven’t been part of before.
I really credit Miniclick and the stories I’ve heard and the talks that I’ve been to for continuing the development of my own practice because you hear how other people process things. Speaking from personal experience, when I graduated from university in 2012, there was a deficit of photographic discourse and Miniclick filled that gap. Every month I was able to listen to some of the most amazing photographers who came to Brighton to talk about their careers and their stories. At that stage, just listening to other people, gave me the foundation of knowledge that I built my career on.
These opportunities are great and there should be more of them. The only way that we can continue to develop as a photographic community is for people to create these kinds of events, even if it is just a few people in a room talking about their photos. A lot of people who come to our talks aren't necessarily photographers. They are just people who are interested in stories and, because photography is obviously an amazing vessel for telling stories, it’s gone from strength to strength. It gives more people the opportunity to engage with our medium. I think the real reason we do photography is that we want to communicate with people and through these events more people come into contact with what we are doing.
I’d started to engage with the Society on a few different topics and got a tour of the new space before it opened. The first place we went to was the cinema room and I thought it would be lovely for doing talks. As I was driving home, I thought, why don’t I do Miniclick for 6 months and if it goes well I’ll pass it on to someone else to do for another six months. So I’ve been working with Sadie Catt who is taking over from me in December to run the programme from January to June and so on. It’s nice to set something up and for it to have its own life.