I have wanted to do Context & Narrative since I was on the Foundation course and came across Rob Townsend’s C&N blog. I loved the wide open creative spaces conjured by the assignment briefs. I still think that C&N has far more kinship with FiP than with EYV.
It has been a magical course for me, on the whole. The first assignment felt clunky and out of step with the others. I tried repeatedly to rework it, and hey presto, the phoenix of my A5 arose from my A1 problem child as the net curtains in A1 led to the lace underwear of A5. I think where I have drawn the most benefit is in realising that the “narrative” in the course title does not refer solely to the narrative of an individual image, or even a series, but to the continuing arc of my own development. From A1 to A5 certainly, but now, with three courses under my belt, I can see the stepping stones of my own work leading from FiP to now, and to some extent from now into the future. I can see how my light painted portraits for FiP A2, in a pitch dark derelict dairy, led to my Nick Turpin inspired night time red telephone boxes for EYV A4, which then led to my after dark housework fairies for A2 and most recently to the darkroom for the underwear photograms. I can trace my passion for the everyday but unacknowledged from FiP through to C&N, particularly in regard to the social and sexual aspects of being female – from miscarriage in FiP to pregnancy tests in EYV through to underwear, periods and peri-menopause in C&N. As I write this I can finally concede that my tutor had a point when he commented, on my A5, that the work had a sexual aspect to it.
I have learned more about persistence and patience, about how work evolves over time rather than just popping into existence over a couple of shoots. I’ve learned that I need to spend time scrabbling around in the tiny details to make the big breakthroughs. The essay, for A4, was an example – although the first pass that went to my tutor was perfectly serviceable, it was in following up his pointers on how he would he have done it that I was able to make the links that made it all make so much more sense, and that actually made me think that perhaps Understanding Visual Culture was a feasible choice for my next course. A3 (self portraits) was the only assignment that did not evolve significantly conceptually but did require images to be made every day for an entire menstrual cycle; and taking plenty of them each day has afforded a generous set of images from which I can tweak the edit even now. A3 also saw me picking up pencils, charcoal and markers and sketching an apple every day for a month as the diary exercise – something that took me far more out of my comfort zone than writing would have done. It terrified and intrigued me in equal measure and I am falteringly continuing with occasional sketching because I know that there is something there for me, even though I don’t know what it is yet.
The course did not turn out how I expected in terms of technical skill development. I used my DSLR for A1 only – A2 and A3 used my iPhone, A4 is the essay and A5 is photograms made in the darkroom with no camera involved at all. That said, my Photoshop skills have come on significantly as assignments 1, 2 and 3 all required some post processing. I have definitely done far more in Photoshop than Light Room this year. A huge developmental win for me has been buying my own printer (Canon Pro-10 S) and learning to use it, opening up the worlds of soft proofing, screen calibrating, printer profiles, setting borders within images, resizing and resampling images and working with different paper sizes up to A3+. I was very happy to be able to print all my own photographs for assessment, for the first time. I feel far more in control of how my work is presented. I am very happy with how my darkroom skills are progressing, I enjoy working in the dark.
I have developed in my interactions with other students too. I have always been active on the OCA forum but have extended this to regularly hosting the Forum Live Sunday hangouts. I participate in Emma’s monthly photography reading group but see that I have been lax in transferring my notes to my blog. I take part in the Thames Valley Group and OCA South West regional groups and have also set up a small peer collective which provides mutual support and challenge. I have also benefitted significantly from the support and challenge provided by readers of this blog, and am very grateful for their time and comments. I also have relationships developing with Fotospeed who are fairly local to me, Devizes Darkroom and a local vintage/antique clothing store.
I have attended workshops including darkroom skills, handmade books and alternative darkroom techniques and feel as if I have a broader and more secure technical and creative footing than at the start of C&N. I suspect that I am less a photographer than a wannabe Fine Artist using lens based media as a tool, but as long as I’m making work I’m happy.
After resolving to start exhibiting my work I have shown work in the OCA Showcase exhibition and the OCA SW regional exhibition. I also have work showing in the Thames Valley Group Open Art Collective show next February. Each of these exhibitions has required different preparation and I have learned a good deal. I submitted work for Format 19 and was unsurprisingly unsuccessful, but again it was a worthwhile exercise.
Going forward, I am enrolled on UVC for my next course as I very much want to acquire a bigger context for my work, a broader range of inputs and a wider understanding of work and improved critical thinking skills. I will however be continuing work on the photograms through UVC. My work on archive photographs including pink (my original path for A5) will I think be resumed on Digital Image & Culture as it still has plenty to give. I am very happy to be at the end of C&N and very excited about the as yet unknown future work that will build on my work here.