Sunday, 18 December 2016

Ideas of Beauty at Summerhall

2016 has been such an ugly year, it feels like anything beautiful will just slide right off it, give it two fingers, and run away for all its worth, maybe never to return again. But just before it gave 2016 the slip, John Sumpter of the Democratic Camera Club gallantly chased beauty down with his butterfly net, dressed in a dapper yellow tie, suit and hat and placed beauty gently but firmly under his magnifying glass for an exhibition called Ideas of Beauty held at Summerhall in Edinburgh.

In an open submission, he invited enthusiasts, professional photographers and artists alike to puzzle over ideas of beauty. We discovered that, beauty being ever elusive, many of us do not agree on what is beautiful. Beauty then, was traditional, unconventional, mundane, dynamic, whimsical, concrete, uncanny, homely, alive, dead, deceptive, revealing, brash and shy, boring and interesting and even, yes, I am afraid to say, it could be really downright ugly.

Then the public came, and some of us were convinced there was a strong possibility that they would think Flickr sunsets and picture of kittens are beautiful and would be disappointed and not buy anything at all from our exhibition and leave rude comments. Then some of us thought that that this was maybe patronising and not the right way to imagine the public but then we asked ourselves - well who is the public exactly anyway?

In the era of Brexit and Donald Trump, do we have to listen to popular opinion even if we don't agree with it?

Luckily for us, as it wasn't a referendum, or even an election, we didn't. The public came, also trying to get a glimpse of beauty before it evaporated forever, and not one of them asked why there were no kittens or Flickr sunsets in the show. Instead they had so very many different and unpredictable ideas of beauty that surprised us.

And for some of us, some of the pictures became more beautiful over the ten days the exhibition was on, like friends do when you get to know them. I would say some of them became less beautiful but that would not be polite.

If I could pin down beauty just a little bit, it would be to say that the process of assisting John in selecting and arranging so many disparate ideas of beauty on the walls together with Elaine Robson was a truly beautiful process, though by saying that I may be falling into chocolate-box cliche, the cardinal sin of beauty and best to be avoided if we have any hope of getting beauty to stick around in 2017.

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