I’ve now finished ‘Context and Narrative’ and have sent my work off for assessment in November so I feel that it would be useful to look back over my progress since I started the course at the end of June 2014. I won’t go into specific detail here about each section as I feel that I’ve covered these in my blog already but will discuss my thoughts in more general terms. In addition the course notes ask us to think about which aspects of the course resonated with us the most, providing a framework of reflective questions for us to consider so I’ve looked at these in the final section of this post.
I must admit that there have been times when I have truly hated this course. I found it a completely different ball game from ‘The Art of Photography’ (my first Level One course) and there were occasions during Part One when I nearly sank without trace. As one of the newer OCA courses, the Context and Narrative course notes provide a lot of directed reading and research and whilst this was useful in that it introduced me to artists and photographers that I would not normally have looked at, it did mean that I found that I had no time for my own self-led research, an aspect of ‘The Art of Photography’ that I had particularly enjoyed. I’m aware that as a degree student the coursework, while important, is designed purely as a springboard for further independent study so I revisited my study methods and time management and in time found a better balance. However I did feel that I lost sight of ‘me’ for a while and I’ve realised that keeping up my own interests, either by reading, visiting exhibitions or just going out with my camera, is necessary for my study state of mind.
I also found it difficult on occasions being one of the first people to do this course – often there was no other student work ahead of me to refer to which made me feel a little isolated and left me with the distinct feeling of tumbling headlong into an abyss on occasions. On the other hand being a pathfinder did make me look at the tasks involved with no preconceived ideas which in hindsight could have only have been a good thing.
Notwithstanding the above, this course has really pulled things both photographically and conceptually out of inside of me that I didn’t know were there and for that alone it has been so worth it. Whilst I have been out of my comfort zone for most of the time, my photography and my ideas have changed beyond recognition, becoming far more conceptual and I hope more sophisticated, and I’ve also now finally been able to let go of the belief that I’m not creative. This latter point has given me the confidence to try new things that I wouldn’t have had the courage to consider before and to take giant leaps into the unknown, taking with me each time an increasing understanding of how to conceptualise my practice.
I’ve also enjoyed the more academic style of the course, both for what I’ve learned and also for the realisation that it should make the transition to the Level Two courses much easier. Getting the grey matter working again in an academic matter was hard to start with but got easier as I went along and I’m now finding critical texts much less difficult to read and understand.
I would have liked to have had more time for the assignments. Whilst we are encouraged to explore and experiment, the structure of the course and the tight assignment schedule meant that there is little time for changes of direction or indeed complete u-turns when it comes to assignment planning. So I am looking forward to having more time to work with the assignments in the Level Two courses.
Reflection against the course outcomes:
Create images that demonstrate a practical and conceptual understanding of the appropriate use of techniques
I was pleased to get a reasonably good mark for Technical & Visual Skills in my assessment submission for ‘The Art of Photography’ course as I felt that this meant that I could then spend more time on concentrating on improving my weaker areas of Creativity and Context. Whilst I have tried to do this throughout ‘Context and Narrative’ I hopefully haven’t rested on my technical laurels and have looked to learn new technical skills and encompass these successfully into my work. In particular I’ve tried to increase my knowledge and skill-set of post-processing, both in Lightroom and Photoshop and also learned to use studio lighting as well as how to shoot in the style of Film Noir.
Demonstrate an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into imagery
I think that this has been one of my strongest areas of development during this course. I look back at my work for ‘The Art of Photography’ and feel that I’ve grown exponentially from those days of taking mostly ‘record’ shots to being able now to conceive and execute images that I believe are both conceptual and also convey a metaphorical meaning. Of course there is always room for improvement and I am conscious that this is an area that I will always need to work on. However, having taken at least three giant leaps into the unknown with assignment ideas and images during this course I am beginning to believe that I can achieve what I set out to and in most cases enjoy the ride.
Conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised in this course
I like the more academic style of this course and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the research element. Again, whilst this is an area where one could always do more I have to be realistic in terms of my available study time. I also believe that it is necessary to balance research, development and production in order that one area is not over-worked at the expense of another and I feel that I’ve achieved this in my assignment work, underpinning each assignment with in-depth research whilst also evidencing clearly how each piece of work unfolded. I must admit that I have struggled with the volume of course-directed reading and research and undertaking all of this, whilst introducing me to artists and photographers that I would normally have passed straight by, took most of my study time, leaving little room for additional reading and research. As the coursework is designed purely as a jumping-off point I did adjust my study methods and time management in order to try to better balance the coursework requirements alongside further research although I am not sure this was entirely successful.
Show a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical practice and theory.
This is another area where I feel that I have developed since my last course. At the start of ‘Context and Narrative’ I found reading and understanding some of the more academic texts quite difficult and I realised that I needed to develop my critical thinking skills. I’m now finding that the reading of theoretical texts is getting easier; I still have to read most of them at least twice to gain a full understanding but it’s definitely a case of the more practice the easier it gets. I’m aware though that I still struggle to put together a convincing critical argument and this is something that I will work on in my next Level One course ‘Understanding Visual Culture’.
Reflection against my aims for the course:
I also looked back at my very first post on this blog where I had outlined some general aims that I had for the course:
To improve my understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of contemporary photography
The directed research points provided in the course notes has been a huge help with this area and I feel much more confident with this – when I look back I realise how much I have developed since finishing ‘The Art of Photography’. I’ve also gained valuable knowledge from interaction with Level Two and Level Three students, some from online forums and other from discussions at the OCA Thames Valley group meetings and I have found both these resources invaluable.
Be able to create images with expression and meaning, as opposed to just taking ‘pretty pictures’ (I feel that I achieved this with my last assignment in The Art of Photography but I need to make sure that it wasn’t just a one-off)
A big tick in the box for this one. This I think is partly due to the course requirements but also to a concerted effort on my part to stretch myself by taking risks and experimenting with the unfamiliar.
Improve my editing and processing techniques
I’ve done a little of this, consciously trying new things in both Lightroom and Photoshop. However they are both vast tools and there is so much more that I could learn – it’s just finding the time to do it.
Improve my time management skills as I would like to complete the course within twelve months
I’ve managed to complete the course in thirteen months which I’m pleased about, given that it took me a year and a half to complete ‘The Art of Photography’. Although I’ve had the odd sticky moment, I’m better organised now and manage my time better.
Develop some personal projects – one is already started and another is currently just an idea
This is the one area where I haven’t progressed as much as I would like. I’m still keeping up with my Ipswich Waterfront project and do have a couple of other plans, however these currently remain as plans. As my next OCA course is theory-based, I’m aware that I might lose sight of my photography so I must ensure that I keep shooting outside of the course – maybe those other plans will come to fruition after all.
Where am I now as a photographer?
Similar to when I finished ‘The Art of Photography’ course, I’m not sure really. At this current stage of my studies I don’t see this as a bad thing, although I fear that I am a way off from discovering that elusive ‘personal voice’. I do however notice a calmness, a quietness in the images that I shot for the later assignments as well as in some of my more abstract personal work so maybe this hints at the beginnings of the development of a style.
‘Context and Narrative’ has introduced me to a number of different genres that I had not previously explored and whilst some I enjoyed more than others I have found some new areas of interest. I still have a love of modern architecture but to my amazement I’ve found that I am beginning to enjoy photographing people although this is currently about being artistic, using studio lighting to sculpt and highlight, to demonstrate shape and form rather than to document the people themselves. I’m also edging back towards preferring to work in black and white.
I certainly consider that I’ve managed to make a quantum leap in the conceptualisation of my practice and the challenge for me will be to continue on this path. In his essay Photography and Artistic Photography De Zayas comments about the difference between a photographer and an ‘artistic photographer’ saying that the former ‘aims to represent something that is outside of himself’ (De Zayas, 1913, p.7) i.e. in front of him whilst the latter ‘tries to represent something that is in himself’ (ibid.). This essay as a whole encapsulates I think where I want my photography to go, the path I want it to take.
I’ve just started my third and final Level One course ‘Understanding Visual Culture’. I’d like to continue my studies to Level Two and of the courses currently available I am at present veering towards Landscape and Documentary, starting one of them in September 2016. However a year is a long time to look ahead, both for the courses that will be available and also my photographic preferences. So we shall see.
On a personal level I will continue with my Ipswich Waterfront project and will seek to do others in order to keep up my photography. From my OCA work so far I now have the beginnings of a portfolio so I am planning on setting up my own website in order to showcase some of my images and I am also looking to submit some of my photographs to stock agencies.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post the course notes provide a framework of reflective questions for us to consider.
Out of all the topics covered in this course, which felt the most comfortable to you? why?
The topic that I felt the most comfortable with was learning how to convey a narrative, in particular using text with images to support and provide additional context. I found an affinity with this concept, enjoying my research on this subject and in particular finding an affinity with KayLynn Deveney’s thoughtful and respectful body of work The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings (Deveney, n.d.). I now find myself looking at each piece of work that I do and asking myself whether text would enhance it or whether in fact I can communicate my ideas visually without commentary. I also question whether I need to retain authorship of the image or whether I want to actively encourage the viewer to participate.
Did you discover anything completely new to you? What was it?
A couple of things come to mind here. Firstly that self-portraiture does not need to be truthful (Bright, 2010) and secondly it does not need to include the photographer in a literal sense (Boothroyd, 2014). Both these points I found extremely useful and helped enormously when planning both my third and final assignments.
The second thing, which has surprised me somewhat and also caused me quite a lot of angst trying to understand, is I’m also developing an interest in photographing people. I really enjoyed working on assignment five shooting a studio portrait. As I’ve been anti-people (in a photographical sense) for so long I have done some thinking about this sudden change of heart and I’ve come to realise that it is not the people per se that I am interested in photographing but rather the artistic side.
Which area enabled you to come closest to finding your personal voice?
To be honest I’m not sure that I’m anywhere near to finding my personal voice yet. However both my third and final assignments explored the self (and myself) through self-absented portraiture and this style of self-expression through other objects/people is one that I seem to keep coming back to so maybe this is the area where my personal voice will develop.
Which area seemed furthest away from where you want to be as a photographer? Why?
Without doubt this was the final part of the course ‘Constructed realities and the fabricated image’.
Before starting this part of the course the assignment brief filled me with horror as I had no interest in constructing images, much preferring to be outdoors finding my images in real-life rather than creating a stage set. Whilst this still probably in the main holds true I was able to find a direction for my assignment that interested me and which ended up being one that I found fulfilling, learning that I enjoy using studio lighting and creating artistic portraiture.
The second project of this final part of the course looked at the use of the photographic archive to allow artists to create fictional histories based on photographs already in existence. It is safe to say that creating stories from ‘found’ images does not appeal to me in the slightest and I cannot see myself working in this direction in the immediate future.
What were the main things you learned? Were there any epiphany moments?
The main thing that I have learned through this course is to use my practice as a means of expression rather than of description. I’ve managed to move from taking ‘record’ shots to making more conceptual work. Assignment Three (self-portraiture) was really an epiphany moment for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly was the realisation that I could actually be conceptual and create strong, metaphorical images. Secondly, having made a quantum leap (for me) into this field of equivalence in my previous assignment and thought the result to be a bit of a fluke to be honest, a lucky one-off, Assignment Three resulted in a growth of confidence and the confirmation that I needed that I could indeed produce conceptual, maybe even evocative work.
Whilst I wouldn’t quite call it an epiphany moment, another really useful thing that I’ve learned is seeing how photography fits into the wider culture of the world of the visual arts and how I can take influences from outside the medium of photography in order to inspire and influence my own photographic practice.
Will you return to any of the assignments from the course at a later date? Did you feel as if you were on the cusp of anything?
The jury’s out on this one at the moment. I enjoyed looking at the concept of photography, remembrance and memory and this could be something that I pursue in my Level Two studies, although if I do I will move away from my own family memories.
Boothroyd, S. (2014) Photography 1: Context and Narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts
Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus. The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd
Deveney, K. (n.d.) The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings [online images]. KayLynn Deveney. Available from http://www.kaylynndeveney.com/bertgrid.htm [first accessed 09 October 2014]
De Zayas, M. (1913) Photography and Artistic Photography [online]. Camera Work 42/43, pp.7-8. Available from http://www.journal1913.org/pdfs/1913_issue2.pdf [accessed 11 August 2015]