Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Photography Workshop – Leeds

This is a tricky one – there is so much I could say!  Two days spent with 19 other OCA Photography students; 2 OCA tutors; and 2 external speakers – how could it be anything other than a positive and uplifting experience?  It was – a great weekend.  And we’re eternally grateful to Penny & Eileen for organising it.  I don’t, in this post, intend to try and summarise the whole event but, as befits a Learning Log, attempt to reflect on the things that I take away from it.

Three days spent with fellow students is invaluable to a distance learner.  Forums are fine; but to look peers in the face and exchange views & ideas in a manner where there is a genuine chance to read the body language, hear the inferences, respond to the signals – that is what we all miss out on, most of the time.  This was a diverse group in many senses – experience, age, gender, background, and so on – which makes for a rich experience; but the common purpose and the mutual understanding & support were plain to see and greatly to be valued.  Two days of face-to-face contact with tutors was of immense value too – and the interaction between them and the group developed positively as the weekend progressed, I thought.  Yet, all these are generic gains from such an event.  I’m keen to step beyond that and look for personal development points.

There were two external speakers - Mishka Henner and Peter Rudge from duckrabbit .  Full marks to Peter for a highly professional and enthusiastically presented session on the concept and creation of the photofilm, which was, I know, inspirational for many of my fellow students.  But it was Mishka, the artist, the ‘photographer without a camera’, who captivated me, personally. Why?

There is a conviction about him, a solidity that inspires, almost through understatement.  He seemed to give of himself, without actually giving anything away.  He was (I think) open, honest, uncompromising, yet engaged, listening, and responsive.  He is (I’d say) dedicated, thorough, determined and highly focused, yet personable, amusing and communicative.  Sounds like I’m giving him a character reference!!!  His work is fascinating, original and, yes, inspiring – but I find myself reflecting on him, as a person.

I suppose I’ve reacted in a similar when listening to other artists - Dinu Li at the Cornerhouse Manchester, J H Engstrom at the NMM.  I find myself wanting to understand them as people; wanting to analyse them and get under the skin of their creativity.  And, fundamentally of course, understand how I might develop my own creativity.  That has to come from within me, I know, but I’m interested, very interested, in how other people have got there.

Which brings me to Jesse Alexander’s  presentation of his MA project, Threshold Zone . I’m into tricky territory again!!  Jesse is my tutor and will read this – but I’m reflecting on his experience of creativity and how it might inform my own!  Well, anticipating that one of my conclusions is likely to be that you step boldly on towards your goal – here I go.

I took something in particular from this session, something about being prepared to take the uncomfortable and uncertain step.  Jesse’s work involved photographing underground spaces; and the Threshold Zone refers specifically (if I’ve understood) to the space between the entrance and the point at which there is perpetual darkness.  In one context, he described his own reticence to move further until he, effectively, stepped into the darkness and created the image of the space from which he had stepped ... or at least that’s how I interpreted it.

What a metaphor – presumably intentional – for the creative process.  Have the confidence and conviction (back to Mishka, there) to move forward, into the space that feels uncertain; be prepared to explore what feels uncomfortable; and something new, some better appreciation of who you are and where you’ve been emerges.

That even takes me back to Roger Ballen , the geologist/artist who compares his creativity to mining – making deeper and deeper visits to the depths of his own mind and coming back with new finds.

I can’t resolve these thoughts; and doing so is, by nature, a very personal thing ... not something I’m ready for at the moment.  But I never expected that two days in Leeds would take me off searching the dark corners of my own mind!!  And I only had one glass of wine throughout the whole weekend.  It must have been the water!  (Or the chips!)


  1. Interesting thoughts Stan. I think there were quite a few of us that reflected about ourselves and our work, clever use of speakers and tutors I think. My initial note with Jesse's work was "crossing the Rubicon/breaking through the barrier" and so I agree that it is about moving forward, having faith with the work as long as we believe in it. Unlike you I prefer to express my thoughts in a public forum (of like minded people) which is one of the reasons the weekend worked so well for me.."wash my dirty linen in public" as my mother was want to say, as I feel it commits me much more.
    So, we're all off to appropriate then, no I don't think so, at least not me just yet; but I have got a digital recorder and am training myself on Premiere Pro (oh dear what have I done!).

  2. Hi, John, it's not so much a question of expressing thoughts in the public forum, more an issue of understanding what thoughts are there and whether they're significant! That's the unresolved bit, for me; and it's only likely to be of interest to me - hence the hint of privacy in my post. Let's face it, most of us spend most of our lives operating amongst the upper, near-the-surface levels of our thoughts (well, I know I do!). I have a feeling that unlocking some of the creative forces might involve allowing oneself access to those lower levels. (No significance in the 'lower' wording - the 'model' might be reversed and refer to accessing the 'higher' levels of thought, but the notion of things that are buried probably works better than thinking of something that can't be reached). However, as you can tell from this tangled comment, I'm very well aware that it's easy to become over-obsessed with this type of thinking & analysis. Sometimes it's best to just go out and do it! That's what remains unresolved for me and I think it's why I'm interested in the 'process' of those who are successful as creative artists.