Why I Love OFFSET and You Should Too

I first experienced OFFSET in 2010, when I was in my final year of Fine Art Printmaking in Limerick School of Art and Design. A group of graphic design students were taking the train to Dublin, and I went along for the ride. A ridiculous notion to some at the time – Wasn’t I studying Fine Art? Why would I be interested in OFFSET?

I went, knowing that worst-case scenario I would have to listen to speakers drone on about grids and kerning and orphans and whatever else gets graphic designers going. But I had nothing to lose, so I decided to tag along in the hope of getting inspired.

Nearing the end of college at the time, I was just beginning to think of life outside the comforting bubble of art school. I had just received paper work to apply for art teaching, because this seemed to be a sensible choice. I didn’t want to be a starving artist… I was about to leave college during the biggest recession we’ve ever seen… I had to think practically… etc. All this changed at OFFSET. Sitting in an auditorium listening to creatives at the top of their game speak about how they got to where they are, was incredibly exciting for me. Life could be like this? Pursuing your passion? Working hard and being nice to people?

I can pinpoint the moment art teaching no longer seemed like a viable option for me. Watching Linda Brownlee speak at OFFSET 2010 turned everything on it’s head. This is what I wanted to do. Her photographs spoke to me in a way that only an Irish photographer’s could, and her down to earth nature made it seem possible. I have no doubt not everyone in the room was affected as I was – but that’s the thing about OFFSET – there is a talk for everyone. This was mine.

lindabrownlee - headstuff.org
Linda Brownlee, Source

I went back to college and threw out the art teaching paperwork. I put everything I had into my degree show, and graduated with First Class Honours. Following a year of travel and further soul searching, I went on to study an MA in Photography in Central Saint Martins in London. The idea of life as a photographer still scares the hell out of me, but I only have to go into OFFSET’s archive of videos throughout the years and I’m suddenly calm. I can do this. I’ve just moved back to Ireland, and I’m slowly but surely carving a career for myself here. There are no job applications or interview stages for a freelance photographer, and sometimes I feel like I’m running around blindfolded – but I’m comforted knowing that photography and art are what I should be doing.

There’s an atmosphere at OFFSET that I’ve not experienced anywhere else. At 10am on Friday morning, the place was already buzzing with trendy greying beards, multicoloured rimmed glasses, eagerly carried sketchbooks, luminous green wristbands, OFFSET totebags about 800 coffees in to-go cups. Whether you’re in design or fine art, whether you’re just starting out or director of your company, you have an opportunity to listen to creatives you respect, tell you of their highs and lows, their failures and their advice. As a bonus, you can meet them in the pub after to gush to them about how AMAZING they are, or try to play it cool and buy them a drink. (Mine has always been the former – not so cool.)

4creative - headstuff.org
4creative, Source

This year, one of my Friday favourites was 4creative, with their rebrand Born Risky for Channel 4. Some of their pearls of wisdom which I hastily wrote in my sketch book included “Always be naïve”, “Everything is an opportunity”, “Professionally wing it”, “Enjoy the Making”, and “Make it wrong”. Bite-sized pieces of advice to take home. Mr. Bingo’s talk was as entertaining as it was inspiring, giving us a well needed jolt at 7pm in the evening after a long day of talks. What I took from his talk was that “if you think you can do better than what’s out there, it’s worth a go”.

Saturday was filled with talks from great speakers such as Jonathan Barnbrook, Tado and Assemble, but it was the last talk of the day from GMUNK that had everyone sitting up. His advice to “make personal work and the jobs will come”, and the obviously simple “put your work out there” is a reminder to keep working hard and you will be recognized.

gmunk - headstuff.org
GMUNK, Source

Sunday morning for me was spent at the 2nd stage, where panel talks take place, with my favourite being Captured: Vision in Photography, featuring some of my favourite photographers Matthew Thompson and Johnny Savage, speaking about how they see photography in Ireland today. Finally, last but certainly not least a major shout out to Seb Lester – who blew us all away at the end of the conference, leaving more than just a few of us in tears. Having researched his work online before OFFSET, I wasn’t a huge fan of his aesthetic and not sure if it was for me, but in typical OFFSET fashion, it doesn’t matter if you love the work, the talk can still move you to becoming a blubbering mess. Lester left us with a beautiful sentiment which was “Believe in Yourself”, and his standing ovation showed that in this case, this was a talk for everyone.

seb lester - headstuff.org
Seb Lester, Source

I’ve heard it said that some people don’t go to OFFSET because it’s too depressing seeing how others have succeeded where they have failed. I take a different approach, using OFFSET as a sort of New Years Eve style reevaluation, to reflect and see where I’m at in my career. This time 5 years ago I was flirting with the possibility of photography. One year later I had gotten into my MA, now almost 2 years later after I graduated, I’m new to the Dublin scene trying to find my way here. Hopefully this time next year I’ll have achieved a few of the goals I have set for myself, but either way, I’ll be back next year, sketchbook in hand, ready for a fresh dose of inspiration.