Square Mile Assignment Feedback and Reflections

The photographer as Artisan or Artist?

I was very pleased with the feedback for this, the first of my OCA assignments. However, it is fair to say that the feedback was challenging, but to me positively challenging. I have thought about my skill and ability as a photographer for some time and my tutor affirmed the accuracy of my own analysis. I am reasonably competent in using a camera as a machine but I have a long journey ahead in becoming a photographer.

I have also reflected for some time on the tension between the Artisan and the Artist. Consider a for a moment the potter, throwing a pot on a wheel requires a high level of skill, knowledge and practice. The skilled potter can make the process look remarkably simple, but anyone who has tried to throw a pot will attest to just how hard the process is. Many potters produce excellent functional vessels, created to time honoured patterns and designs. Stylish in their simplicity and utilitarian function they can have a creative charm. But is this art? No I think this is skilled artisanship, replicating , all be it with skill and competency, designs that are ultimately not creative. The potter who is an artist knows precisely how to break free of the ubiquitous functional orthodoxy and produce something that is inspiring, innovative, thought provoking, in short a work of art.

So what has this all got to do with photography! Well , like many others I have perhaps worked more at becoming artisan, mastering the camera as a device, replicating the work of others, dangerously influenced by the popular photographic press, becoming shackled to mistaken beliefs about the primacy of equipment and hoodwinked by a self serving system intent on shifting boxes and clearing the shelves of the new latest ‘thingumy!’ I suspect to some what I describe will be seen as heresy. Indeed I suspect there are many people making an acceptable living as photographers who are successful artisans, but whether they are artists, genuinely creative, making their own mark is a different question.

I am not going to post the feedback but I am going to share my response to it, sent to my tutor a few days ago

PS, in a previous life I not only made lots of pots and  also taught others to do the same!

Many thanks for your very helpful feedback on my first assignment. I have read it in detail and have already begun to follow up on the recommendations and suggestions you have made.

It hink your analysis and review of my ‘Square Mile’ assignment is just as relevant and applicable to my work in general and your comments have absolutely affirmed my decision to commit studying photography formally.

I do believe I have a reasonable level of technical competency with camera and lens operation and this means I can control the camera as an instrument, your feedback I think confirms this. What I know I am lacking is creativity and a more analytical and critical viewpoint.

In my own head I have interpreted your comments to be far more about what I frame, how I compose and most importantly what I point my camera at in the first instance. I need to think about capturing a series or sequence of moments that are much more connected. In short I need make images that are part of a sequence of connected ideas. This is an interesting challenge for me, reflecting on my work to date I think that I have spent years focusing on making single and unconnected photographs! I also recognise what you say about the ‘pretty and inexpressive’ nature of some of the work. That is a result I suspect of many years of looking at the popular photographic press. I stopped subscribing some time ago to magazines that I came to view as vehicles for advertising, merely fuelling an obsession with equipment and not outcomes. I recognise I retain some remnant of ‘contamination’ from this which still needs exorcising!

I do feel positively fired up now however to commit to a documentary / journalistic approach. But I need to learn more about practice in this genre. There is also some apprehension on my part as the exact nature and detail of more critical, edgy, communicative images, this still remains somewhat elusive to me, but I hope it will emerge through study and practise. 

Having looked at the video lectures you suggested to me I think that I am in search of ‘Punctum’?  This resonates with several on-line lectures I have watched in the past week by Paul Seawright. He often makes reference to the salient elements of the image ‘puncturing’ the photograph and creating greater meaning. I think I am beginning to understand this, but I need to bridge that understanding into my practise. Essentially I think I need to learn to look at scenes differently before I consider releasing the shutter. Lots to learn and lots to think about! I am moving forward with the exercises in the course and already have some thoughts for the next assignment.

I will also continue the Square Mile work as an ongoing development activity. I have also come to grips with the blog and will post my progress as I go, although I am also keeping a paper learning log as well.

Again, many thanks for your really helpful constructive critique, exactly what I need and the reason I signed up here!

Best wishes

John

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