Reflections on a day

I decided at the last minute to take a camera to the Thames Valley Group’s second meeting yesterday, that the bag provided safe anchorage for my sandwiches was certainly part of that decision making process, and whilst I was glad of the sandwiches, I didn’t use the camera. I had hardly used it during the first meeting two months ago, when the Group had met for the first time, eager to show we were real photographers by clicking away – this time however there was no need to prove anything and I think I only saw a solitary camera being used on just two occasions.

There was an eagerness to start the day’s agenda – first section looking and discussing student’s work, second section a working lunch and then lastly, a workshop on Semiotics. There was an eagerness to become engaged with the student work being displayed, there seemed to be very little concern or self-conscious reserve hampering discussion. There was an openness of expression that was fostered by all and encouraged by the Group’s ethos.

The student work on display reflected, for me, their personal position in their respective developments, no matter where in the course structure they were. Each piece of work, all printed, had an intellectual engagement by their author that could be, and was, challenged by both the Group and the Leader in a constructive manner, leaving the artists with questions to resolve and possibilities to explore.

Two aspects of the first part of the days events struck me: Firstly, and this is in relation to my own work which comprised two nascent projects, the ability to expose and discuss the notions/concepts that underpinned what I wanted the work to try and achieve. I had put the work into the public domain via my course blogs and had some feedback, but the cross-fertilized discussion with the physical presence of the work on the table – in the hands of the students commenting – provided invaluable and considered feedback. Secondly, the process of editing. This was exemplified by our Leader who I think, with every student’s work, viewed it with an experienced eye and challenged both the underlying concept as well as the ordering of the images. I’m not sure whether it was just the ‘freshness’ to the work that enabled this process or just the clear level of experience, but the way the work could be used to derive another narrative or a similar more nuanced narrative, was something that I was particularly struck by. For my own part I took away the need for both a critical review of the clarity of my own concepts from the “Identity” and “Gross’” series, and furthermore, with the Gross’, to better define/exemplify the cooperative nature of the subjects involvement in the Thai’ orphan’s domains and needs. I am still at a crossroads in deciding how/if to take these projects further, but I have a feeling that I am engaged with both and that the thirty minutes allotted to me to expose these twin projects have left me a lot further forward. I am sure that the same could be said for the other students as well.

The afternoon session, though slightly hampered by IT issues, was extremely valuable. The Group was led through some basic fundamentals of Semiotics as written by Barthes, Chandler and Clarke, but many students had also brought along texts by other authors on the subject that they had found both personally instructive and enlightening – surely, given the subject, a welcome addition to the resources utilized by the Group! To then discuss the principles with a text and photograph assisted the process of comprehension, before the students were split up into three groups to look at – what else but – some advertisements to then present to each other their ‘reading’ of the their chosen selections of advertisements.

I am fairly certain that most, if not all, of the students at this event will have read the texts that were provided by the Leader prior to the event, These students had probably read them before being asked to prepare for the meeting. It is likely that the work being exposed during the first session had been laid bare on Blogs or “Flicker” sites, and may have received some feedback after having done so. But my overriding impression of these last two events is that the advancement of the comprehension of some of the fundamentals of photography as an art form has been given a significant boost by being able to sit down and have a conversation, firstly with other students, who by their very presence are committed to developing their understanding of the medium, and secondly with a tutor who provided both a commitment that equaled that of the students present and a strong sense of purpose to those students that empowered them to move forward with their studies, to imagine that they might have something to say, rather than just something to display. That this medium is more about how to explore and communicate as it is about pixels and tone, how to search or recognise a narrative and how various techniques might help to contextualize those notions into a cohesive piece of work that represents something that is deeper than ink on paper (or pixels on screen).

My personal battles with the notion of beauty have started to move away from where they were. I cannot imagine that they would have strayed from their long term moribund state without the discursive opportunity provided by a square table populated as it was by fellow travellers. The hope that this would work via an on-line blog, a Flicker disrupted “topic’, or the slow grind of the Student OCA site is, I think fanciful. To be able to see into the eye of the correspondent more than equals the sum of all the words typed into a blog/Flicker entry. This may have a lot to do with how we were led, I am more than happy to suggest that is so, but more than that it is the opportunity to have real discussions, conversations, sharing ideas – no matter how fanciful – in an environment that isn’t populated by a screen and a lonely and frustrated typist, is worth much much more, than the cost of the day.

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on a day

  1. I found the day so helpful as well John. It makes such a difference to see the physical prints and hear people talk about their work.

    Everyone is supportive, without holding-back reactions/comments and in a very comradely spirit. I certainly agree that our tutor/leader provides a wonderful model of the way to take a critical view on photography and images and also how to edit visually.

    I think your concepts and ideas on your current projects are proceeding at quite a pace.

    PS Must remember to do the homework!

    • Doesn’t Barthes write more about his cat? What is a cat? It was a very useful session, sorry you missed it as well as I’m sure you would have added to the conversation.

  2. I think you speak for us all very well in this article John, certainly for me anyway.

    One of the the things I’m struggling with at the moment is imagery beyond what’s required for the course. I don’t seem to be able to find anything motivating me to make anything else at the moment and I’m sure that this can’t be good, it’s just finding a subject that I feel I can look at in a different way to what’s already been done that the difficulty. Perhaps others are going through this but like me don’t say anything, I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

    But one things for sure, the meetings we’ve had certainly make it easier to make the images I want for the course, and like you say, the feedback in person is far superior to what is written to a blog post or image deposit.

  3. Thanks Eddy, I suspect everyone on the course finds that the course itself disturbs what it was that led us to photography and art. I have found that by trying to commit to taking photographs as often as I can it, in itself, can be a catalyst for ideas and direction. Staying engaged and being open minded have helped me a lot as well as reading as widely as possible. Feedback in whatever form is very useful, but particularly when you hold the deliverer in some esteem and therefore trust that are providing honest criticism.

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