Friday, 29 April 2011

Rounding Up and Reflecting

Course completed this is the chance to sit back and reflect on what I have achieved and learnt since October last year. A few days ago I scanned through my learning log from the very beginning to check that all websites and books were noted down in my bibliography. When finished I looked at the long list and thought "Did I really look at all those websites?" Yes I had...though I must admit to not remembering all the details from some but at least I now have a compilation of the research and a great point of reference when I want to refresh my memory or think "now who was that photographer, what was that great website that had tutorials and hints?"

I think that I have learnt some invaluable lessons, not all related to the technical side of photography. Some of it is philosophical, some is related to my own personal interaction with photographs, not only my own but also when viewing others and in learning how to critique my own work a little more objectively, being able to take on board advice and recommendations for improvement.

Having completed other photography courses I had already been introduced to many of the aspects of the course requirements but enjoyed the increase in the level of knowledge and experimentation needed to completed the exercises throughout DPP. I had never really thought about the dynamic range of my camera or how that knowledge could be applied to improve the exposure of my images, likewise I knew how to read a histogram at a very basic level but when taking images to produce either high or low contrast was surprised to find that some scenes didn't give the results I had expected.

On a personal level knowing I tend to put off doing exercises that I think I will struggle with or don't fancy the idea of doing made me figuratively kick myself to carry on and have discovered that they never are as bad or as difficult as I assume. This gave me a little more confidence in what I was trying to achieve.

Before starting DPP I had always been told and read that the more in touch you are with the subject the easier it is to photograph it and the better the results. I used to scoff slightly at this premise but decided to try it out and made several of my projects revolve around me, objects with great sentimental value or important moments to me. Due to this choice of themes I wanted to do the subjects justice not produce images just "because" and in doing so not only found it easier to photograph the familiar but also discovered that my audience empathised with the images. Even if they did not read into them my own emotional attachment they put their own experiences onto them, thus proving the theory correct. Also the other idea that once you release your image into the wild (so to speak) you no longer have the control over the intentions or meanings that will be derived by the viewers.

I have also learnt to be a magpie with research and ideas. Read everything, look at everything and take on board as much as you can. Use what is relevant and put aside what will come in useful at a later date. The weekender bulletins for me are brilliant. They showcase other students work and it is very useful to see how others approach projects and study, and not only the photography students. The articles and debates are interesting as well as educational and relevant to some of the coursework we undertake. I recognised that for quite an out-going person, when it came to showing my work or having an opinion I tended to hide but after receiving positive feedback from my tutor and meeting some fellow students at the recent study day have felt more confident about raising my hand and saying "Hello. Am here." Therefore an area to work on for personal progression is get involved in the debates; rather than sitting there shouting at the author or silently agreeing I shall dare to dip my toe into the arena.

Feedback is a fantastic opportunity to take stock of where I have been and where I could go with my photography. The majority of the time I can see that the alterations do improve the final images and make me think more about composition, for example using the rule of three/rule of odds. Occasionally I don't quite agree, however I try the amendments, wanting to remain open to new ideas and interpretations, again can see the benefit of changing the photographs. Hopefully, on the rare occasion where the original shot remains I have adequately justified why I did so.

An avid reader I have been dipping into some theory books; On Photography, Susan Sontag, Camera Lucida Roland Barthes and Liz Well The Photography Reader....dipping being the operative word because some of it is hard going with new academic and philosophical vocabulary. Some parts I have to re-read to make sure I fully comprehend it, gradually I have been grasping the points being made but think I need to investigate further before deciding to agree/disagree with some of the ideas being put forward. Another path to continue down.

Taking in many exhibitions and looking at various photography books/photographers has influenced how I plan and compose my images, hopefully changing them from "nice snapshots" to photographs that stimulate interest and provoke an emotional response even if not the anticipated one.

In particular I enjoyed learning and applying different techniques for black and white conversion and thinking about the ethics of manipulation. The main hurdles I have come across are my own demons about reading the meanings of iconic images, trying to grasp the punctum (to borrow from Barthes) or making sense of the blurb written about them. Worrying about how my own would be perceived, was I working along the right lines.This tied me in knots for a while but am gradually coming around to the fact that I won't always necessarily see their point; attending the Deusche Borse exhibition brought home that you can break rules and still produce a valid and interesting, even if controversial (to my eyes) body of work. Hopefully this is an ethic I can carry forward as I progress through the other courses and will free me to experiment even more.

To sum up I ask have I learnt things that I can now apply to my own work? Have my images improved? Have I a better understanding of how to produce the final image from the initial idea? In conclusion looking at my journey from the first set of images to the last, the answer has to be yes, however I can see that I still have a path to travel and am looking forward to continuing the journey.

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