Focus groups: Projects and Sets by Noelle Bennett

Thinking back to those heady days before our lives were turned upside-down – you know, the days before the word COVID had become part of our everyday vocabulary – I remember the excitement I felt when I heard about the inception of the Projects and Sets Special Interest Group and its plan to use Zoom for the meetings. How awesome was that! Well, it was pretty awesome for somebody like me, who is a rather far flung member of the DPS (we relocated to Picton in 2018). Zoom meetings will seem really old hat now, but back when the group started, they certainly weren’t the norm.


Beginning with something of a blank page, and having been told that basically we had free reign to do anything (that was possibly a rather dangerous statement!), there was always going to be an element of thinking outside the box – hence the decision to use Zoom. As David Steer so succinctly put it (and as we now probably all appreciate) using Zoom would give us the flexibility to meet when we wanted to because there would be no need to go up to Mornington – or in my case, not join in at all. Because of Zoom, we could even have guest appraisers or advisers.


The idea was for everybody in the group to produce a ‘set’ which could be displayed in an exhibition of some sort and which could also be part of a larger collaboration set. We would work towards this by producing sets with an increasing number of images in them. And each month we would decide on different subject matter to use. All of this would be liberally interspersed with photo walks and photo weekends (which, sadly, didn’t convert to Zoom).


I’m sure that for David it has, at times, felt like trying to herd a group of somewhat recalcitrant teenagers, coaxing and cajoling us into producing our monthly images of subject matter that possibly wouldn’t have been our first choice to photograph. Our first subject of food springs instantly to my mind – love eating it, not a fan of photographing it! But what a phenomenal journey it’s been and what a long way we’ve come. As I mentioned, our first sets were of food (six images). We then moved on to an open theme but the images had to have a connection and/or tell a story. Again, we stayed with six images. Next were black and white sets (again six images), followed by phone images (only three images this time, much to my relief – had another bout of recalcitrant teenager with this subject). In all cases, we needed to try and make the images work as sets – in other words, there needed to be a flow between the images; they needed to ‘work’ together. And believe me, that is much harder than it sounds!


Right from the outset, just about all the members of the group had said they were interested in working towards producing Honours sets. The most recent sets were put together as a starting point for whichever Honours the individuals are working towards and which therefore required either ten or twelve images. We were very fortunate in having an appraisal of each of the sets done via Zoom by Graham Dainty, who was a member of the PSNZ Honours Board for ten years. That feedback has been invaluable to us all and it was actually really helpful being able to hear the feedback on each others work, along with what did and didn’t work and why. Having the opportunity to ask questions of Graham and thereby tap into his amazing knowledge was simply awesome.


So thank you David for your patience and foresight. And thank you to all the members of the Projects and Sets Special Interest Group for making these meetings such a positive and fun learning environment.


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