The founding of Arena
When the internationally known group Kontiki was wound up at the end of the seventies, the late Joan Wakelin, who was a very active member, was asked to tour an exhibition of contemporary British photography. Joan collected five prints from eminent photographers in the UK for this exhibition and so XFIVE was born. She took the show to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania and it was a great success. Several exhibitors from this tour began meeting occasionally and, modelling their new group on Kontiki and with Joan very much in the forefront, they founded Arena in 1986.
Joan continued to be very actively involved with the group until ill health forced her to give up her role. She remained devoted to Arena until her death.
The aims of Arena are to promote the highest standards of photography, to encourage print-making, to show and discuss new work and new photographers, to invite speakers who excel in their photographic and artistic fields and to promote constructive debate. At this point it is interesting to quote Joan’s original philosophy in 1986 which was “to applaud those working at the frontier of photo development, to search and discover ourselves and find fulfilment, to communicate, to respect and to carry no passengers”.
Membership of Arena is by invitation only and at present consists of a group of members with a very wide variety of interests and styles. Members meet five times a year and come from many backgrounds, their photographic interests being at professional or experienced amateur level. Many of them are members of The London Salon of Photography and/or hold distinctions of the Royal Photographic Society. Several are known for the technical courses they run, for leading photographic workshops or for their photographic books.
Arena’s weekend seminars are held annually usually in March and are always fully subscribed by a mix of keen regular supporters and new-comers to “the Arena experience”. Many well known names in photography are invited to speak and it is not an event which is easily forgotten.
Previous exhibition venues have included the South Bank, The Barbican, Menier’s Gallery, Whiteley’s Gallery, Cotton’s Atrium and Hayes Galleria in London, The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, and galleries in Basingstoke, Poole, Reading, Guildford, Salisbury, Battle and Colchester