Leeds Artsmarket – Retail Therapy

Last Saturday was my first Leeds Artsmix Market of the year, and the first I’ve done without my photography side kick Anthony Shaughnessy. In the past Anthony has done all of the leg work and made my life incredibly easy.

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The stall, before Polly arrived, re-arranged and improved it. I didn’t realise how crumpled the hessian looked!

At my first market, less than a year ago, I just rocked up with two plastic carrier bags full of prints. This time, as I headed into Leeds, I had a car full of browsers, prints, stands, crates, boxes, easels; everything I needed to be self-sufficient, however what was really playing on my mind was the idea of manning the stall on my own.

Which brings me onto the main reason for doing the Artsmix Market. It isn’t just to sell photographs (this is a secondary purpose). The real aim is to force me to face up to an inherent shyness, commonly labelled social anxiety, that I’ve struggled with all my adult life. For me it’s a condition I can handle easily when with friends and family. They give me a confidence (sometimes bordering on arrogance) that outweighs the shyness, and provide something to hide behind, to the point that people who’ve known me for years wouldn’t guess there’s a problem. On my own, with my protection gone, alone in the spotlight, it’s a different matter and a real fear, something akin to stage fright. And it seems random in nature; so that it’s hard to know who’s going to turn up, the shy me, or the confident me. It’s probably one of the reasons I took up photography,

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Polly arrives to save the day!

to hide behind the lens instead of being out in front. So as well as a car full of stuff you can imagine I also had a head full of stuff to deal with until Polly was due to arrive at 2pm.

But the Artsmix Market is wonderful therapy. There’s really no time for the fear to settle in as I set up the stall;  talk to fellow stallholders; and people start to browse though the  pictures, asking questions about the place, and the cameras, and the techniques.

And the variety of people who rock up is amazing: from down and outs, to punks, to transvestites, to students, to new couples, to old couples, to professional go-getters, to fellow photographers. Writing this brings to mind  Bowie’s Five Years – “all the fat skinny people, and all the tall short people, and all the somebody people, and all the nobody people, I never knew there were so many people” –  and I wonder how someone can have such insight at the age he wrote that song.

And as I see these people I realise that many of them are just like me, a little shy, a little too nervous to open a conversion, a little less confident when they’re on their own, and that as the stall holder it’s up to me to help them, and to start to engage, and as I do any anxiety drifts away so that when Polly arrives I’m chatting to strangers without a care in the world.

This truly is retail therapy in its best sense!

But back to the secondary business of selling photographs,

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Hamnoy, Lofoten

I was so pleased that a couple bought a picture of Hamnoy, Lofoten (they took an age to decide), as I had grave doubts that any Lofoten pictures would sell in West Yorkshire … and that an older couple bought a picture of a doorway in Andalusia

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Open Door, Andalusia

that I love but thought no one would buy … and that a lady recognised Lofoten and told me of her trip up the Norwegian coast … and that someone took an old favourite of Aysgarth falls, Perfect Wave, that’s more abstract and artistic than the stuff that usually sells … and that a guy, who looked down and out, spent a good 15 minutes studying every one of the 6 x 4 photographs I give away free as business cards, and took 3 of his favourites … and of course the East Coast shots of Whitby and Staithes proved as popular as ever!

Artsmix truly is art for all the people! So I’ll be back on the Saturday, 7th May, and I’m looking forward to it already!

Richard