Monday, 11 October 2010

At the beginning

Predictably, since this is a new course and I am new to blogging, the biggest question on my mind is 'How do I get started?'.  This post is essentially about 'setting pen to paper', if I can use an outmoded but seemingly appropriate expression; in other words, the best way to get started is 'to get started'.
This is my fourth OCA course, so I am reasonably experienced in the distance learning process.  I have completed 'The Art of Photography' and 'Introduction to Digital Photography' at Level 1, and 'Landscape' at Level 2.  The first two have been assessed formally and achieved 'B' grade.  The latter has just been submitted for formal assessment as I am starting out on this course in October 2010.  The decision to enrol on 'People & Place' has probably caused me more thought than any of the previous three.  I need another Level 1 course if I am to complete the 120 CATS points towards a degree, so that aspect wasn't hard.  But, until a few weeks ago, I had more or less discounted this particular option in favour either of a more 'theory-based' course, such as Visual Studies, or something wholly different, such as Starting to Write.  So, what changed my mind?

Firstly, I attended the Steve McCurry Retrospective exhibition in Birmingham a few weeks ago.  In all honesty, I went with a sceptical mind, having (wrongly and on limited information) associated him with travel photography and National Geographical magazine.  The famous 'Afghan Girl' portrait was used heavily in the advertising, and probably contributed to my attitude.  I came away less than impressed by the curation, signage, layout etc, but very drawn to McCurry's portraits - not just 'Afghan Girl' but several others captured in a similar manner (head & torso, looking directly into the lens, strong eye contact and definition, strong colours, often high contrast, printed large and 'sharp').  It wasn't just that they impressed me, though they certainly did, but that they set me thinking about the 'portrait-making' process. I found I wanted to know, for example, what form of communication with the subject enables McCurry to get that highly defined and distinctive look in the eyes, because I felt sure it was more than just a technical issue.

Then, I have been reading Michael Fried's 'Why Photography Matter as Art as Never Before' (Yale University Press) and happened to have reached Chapter 7, which looks at portraits by Thomas Struth, Rineke Dijkstra, amongst others.  I won't claim that I can fully understand everything in this book, but the concepts of absorption, theatricality/anti-theatricality, combined with Fried's highly detailed, insightful and challenging analysis of these portraits, and how they were made, further stimulated my thoughts about the process of portrait making.

And finally, finding myself with no focused photographic challenge/direction, having completed the 'Landscape' course, made me realise that I did actually want to continue with something that provided focus & direction; and also, stimulated by the exposure to portraiture just described, that to move outside of the comfort zone of landscape, still life etc, was exactly the challenge that I needed.

So, I have made a start.  I also have the course material now, and anumber of books 'on order'.

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