Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Personal Direction

At this stage in the course I am starting to actively consider how I should steer my path towards the planned for degree qualification at the end of my studies.  In the last few months 2 distinct threads have driven my engagement with the course, firstly a rapidly growing interest in photographing the urban environment and the people who dwell there, and secondly an attempt to understand critical theory and its impact upon photographic form.

On the latter topic I now have a bookshelf replete with works such as (in no specific order):

  • On Photography by Susan Sontag
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger
  • Photography a Concise History by Ian Jeffrey
  • How to Read Photographs by Ian Jeffrey
  • Basic Critical Theory for Photographers by Ashley la Grange
  • Photography after Frank by Philip Gefter
  • Between the Eyes by David Levi Strauss

Luckily I have a few long journeys to make in the next few months and so hopefully time to make a dent in this list.  I have just finished reading Crisis of the Real by Andy grundberg and The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton and am currently reading/blogging,  a chapter at a time, Photography: A Critical Introduction edited by Liz Wells.

The question I need to answer for myself is whether to supplement this reading list with a formal course to help me to structure and better understand the historical and theoretical aspects of Photography.  I have read in several places that an Arts Graduate needs a grounding in the history and critical theory of the subject, and coming from a Theoretical Sciences background I can agree with this viewpoint, the question is really how to obtain it, by unguided self study or through following a structured course of learning.

If I was to opt for one of the theoretical courses offered by the OCA it would necessarily slow down my photographic development, although by how much I cannot judge.  My current leaning is towards continuing with my reading program and see to what extent I can development my own thoughts, in parallel to starting to take a greater interest in the broader world of visual arts.  Here in Munich there are superb public and private art collections in accessible and inexpensive locations - the policy of charging 1 Euro to all city museums on Sunday is a gift I should not ignore.

The question is then one of where next for my photography, following through with the level 1 courses would lead to DPP, but I am starting to wonder if this makes sense, the current level 1 courses are fascinating to work on but not terribly challenging, perhaps it would make more sense to complete all three level 2 courses, replacing DPP with PWDP.  I have looked at DPP and some of the blogs of other students and conceptually I know most of what is there and indeed practice much of it already, however, I need better skills in preparing images for high quality display.  I am not at interested in the use of Photoshop to create surreal Digital Art from photographs, but will need a good grounding in image preparation prior to the level 3 courses.

This then leaves the thorny subject of the Landscape course, I have no passion whatsoever about conventional landscape photography, the prevalence of which seems to be the raison d'etre of most amateur photography magazines.  I have Collection 2 and 3 of Landscape Photographer of the Year, it is nice, but it is not me.  I also have a superb book of Ansel Adams' photographs, which I greatly admire, but again have no interest to emulate in any way.  I have access to some pretty impressive landscape, the Alps are a 40 minute (at German speeds) drive away.  However, the thought of using a car to access the landscape seems counter to what the very photography often wants to preserve.

On the other hand what I have seen of Fay Godwin's work is very inspirational, she mixes urban images with the impact of humans on the natural environment.  I am also in awe of Andreas Gursky's work, which has many of the wide angle aspect of landscape images, but it very distinctly urban.  I also admire Alfred Stieglitz's  work in New York and the photography of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.  All three, in their different way set out to capture landscapes amongst their images, even if they were city skylines or suburban dwellings, they are still landscapes.  If I sign up for landscape it will be the work of these 5 photographers that would guide me, not the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, inspirational though that may be.

The 6 million dollar question, is, can I get away with it? I think so and the feedback so far to a couple of questions on the forums has been positive, I guess it might depend upon the tutor I am paired with for the course.

The other level 2 course Social Documentary is a given, my immense enjoyment of People and Place, far greater than with TAoP makes this a shoe in.

I appreciate that it early to speak of personal style, but a concentration on the city and the people that inhabit it seems to be my direction.  I am surprised by this, as I came to the course from the very controlled and detailed world of underwater photography, however, self discovery is a key part of studying.

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