A Personal View : Inaugural Meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group on 23rd February 2013
I’ve done a write-up on this for OCASA, our student association website which will be appearing in due course, so I don’t want to just repeat it here.
In brief, Eddy had the idea for this group towards the end of last year and he gathered members together through the setting up of a new Flickr group http://www.flickr.com/groups/2084851@N24/. As usually happens, it took a while for everyone to agree on a date but, in between, we did have an informal meet-up at the Cartier-Bresson/Colour Exhibition at Somerset House at the beginning of January. Through this we met Barry who was over from Japan (and is now an honorary member of the group).
Eight OCA students and an OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd, gathered together on a cold, wintery Saturday for the inaugural meeting. The comfortable venue and sandwich lunch were organised by Eddy who also made an application to OCASA for funding towards some tutor input – something which all of us had agreed was very important. I was very pleased that Sharon agreed to be involved. I read her blog and also her posts on WeAreOCA which are always thought-provoking and have changed my mind as well about conceptual photography.
Cameras were at the ready as one of the stipulations of the funding was that there had to be a write-up and photographs. There was also the promise of an ‘official’ group photograph, taken with large format camera by Keith and an experimental video by Siegfried.
The morning was spent looking at work in progress – half an hour each person (very hard to stick to !). I was impressed by the feedback everyone gave – careful and deliberate; critical without ‘criticising’ in that sense of making off-hand, harsh comments which can only put people down rather than encouraging them to develop and extend their thinking. I know there have been various comments thrown in by ‘old-hands’ on the forums who state that that was how it used to be; it’s a cruel world out there in the profession of photography etc and you just had to get on with. My view is that, just because it was done that way in the past it doesn’t mean it has to be done that way now.
We were fortunate in having students from level 1 to Advanced and so it was very interesting to see and hear how approaches and concepts deepened and evolved with increasing experience, experimentation and study. Prints were spread out on tables; closely examined, and discussed. There were the technical queries/comments, such as degrees of contrast, borders on prints and types of paper but it was the conscious deliberate inquiry into each image that was important. What was the underlying concept; what choices were made; how and why? What strategies were used to engage the subject or disarm the pose (in portraits for instance). All of this gently steered by Sharon.
We had a short break for lunch and then composed ourselves for the large format camera portrait by Keith. I’ve been following his explorations into portraiture closely. I have to confess that I hate having my photograph taken, especially when I have to stand or sit their for ages whilst the photographer works out all the settings and keeps telling me to turn this or that way. Keith’s enthusiasm for and engagement with portraiture shines through and I was so busy watching how he was setting-up this rather cumbersome camera that I completely forgot about ‘posing’.
The work review finished with Sharon sharing the work she is developing on her Project, Edelweiss through a Residency with UCA Farnham. The outcome will be an exhibition at the end of the year, so something to look forward to. We talked about issues around photographing children; the ethics involved and how someone who is both a mother and a photographer handles these boundaries and attempts to keep them clear. Another aspect that came into this was also about coherence and consistency between images – colour balance; tones; size ; orientation and presentation. There was only a short time on this but I’m sure those aspects will be extended as our group develops.
We then had two sessions on ‘Transitions through the Levels” with personal views from John (Level 2) and Keith (Level 3) and ended with a discussion on “Where do we go from here?” All of us want to continue to meet, preferably on a two-monthly basis. It was a very full and enjoyable day. Thank you Eddy for the inspiration; Sharon for agreeing to join us and OCASA for contributing some funds.
What did I learn?
There was a lot of other learning but this is something that’s stayed with me over the last few days. Projects can evolve over a number of years. There’s a good discussion going on at the moment on WeAreOCA entitled Put A Frame On It regarding the importance of contextualising your work and what a difficult task it can be to develop one’s thinking around the meaning of a project. I know it isn’t the case but I can’t get myself out of the habit of thinking that I must have a fully formed idea of what I want to do and why before I even start to take photographs.
Sometimes we take photographs and just don’t know why so it can be important to tease out from our own subconscious what’s going on. I was the only one who didn’t take any ‘work in progress’ with me (I gave myself the penance of doing the write-up of the meeting). I have been feeling ‘stuck’ for a while (whilst still continuing to take photographs for the projects/exercises) and doing a lot of reading. I had decided to take some photographs taken in the Peak District a while ago – not the ones I took when I went to the Leeds Students’ residential, but some others which were a response to reading a crime thriller set in the Peak District. I worked on these images over a couple of days but then decided that they didn’t fit what I was trying to achieve. I’d been attempting to illustrate the novel. If I continued with this I would have to go back to the Peak District and it really isn’t feasible for me to keep travelling up and down from South to North.
However, the photographs I took really are linking in with something I’ve been thinking and reading about ever since which is Cultural Geography – how we shape our landscape and the landscape shapes us over time. When I went back to the Peak district I’d been returning to the landscape which helped to shape me. In fact, my personal projects on the Muslim Burial Ground, Pylons and People Traces on the Common are all linked by that, as are the two churches I wrote about for Assignment 3. This is my real area of interest and so I’ll be doing more work on this, whether or not it fits with People & Place.
28th February 2013