Monday, 8 August 2011


My first course with the Open University. I knew that I wanted to aim for creative and artistic subjects and chose T189 - Digital Photography, because although I had been involved with photography for some years, my knowledge of digital photography was practically zero.
I'm so glad I started with this particular course. There were no tutors (which threw a lot of people), only feedback from other people on the course. As there were well over a thousand people on the course (I think closer to two thousand plus), it meant that feedback varied a great deal, from the upbeat, positive type to the totally ridiculous superior or sarcastic type - thankfully not too many of those, and the ones that tried quickly got shot down in flames.
It gave me a chance to reunite with photography and also buy my first digital SLR camera. Over time - and with incredible patience concerning the fiddly software of Photoshop - it all started to come together.
Having been trained to work in darkrooms with lots of fiddly accessories, plus the over-riding fear of allowing any chink of light into the photographic film, the whole digital process was somewhat of an eye-opener.
Creatively, it's a bit of a dilemma.
On one hand, there are seemingly endless options on how to edit an individual photograph; in essence there appears to be little that one cannot achieve with a good standard photo-editing software pack.
Which raises point #2; namely, at which particular point in the editing does your image stop being photographic and become art?
As a purist (old fashioned fogey) I found this concept a little difficult to comprehend at first. I thought back to my ancient photography teacher at college in 1980 and wondered what he would make of this new-fangled malarky. Endless essays on the early inventive minds that brought photography into being, like Fox Talbot and innovators such as Ansel Adams. Then I remembered that Adams had been a major creative
force in the early part of the century, producing essentially hi-definition images in the darkroom in the 1920's. If it was good enough for Ansel, it should be fine for me.
The atmosphere on the course was generally positive and encouraging. New friends were quickly forged and I was lucky that our particular group tended to be supportive and fair in criticism.
Two exams were included in the course; firstly a technical multiple choice selection of 20 questions, concerning the physics and chemistry of photography and secondly the main exam, a portfolio of ten photographs with a small written piece about the technical aspects of your work.
As an incentive to study, the course was perfect. In order to get the work done one had to get off their asses and get out clicking. Mental barriers were broken down by encouraging the student to look at objects and opportunities in a free, or unusual fashion, in order to train the eye.
For example, an early task (There were two tasks weekly which weren't compulsory, but helped immensely for those that bothered to do them) was to get out and find shapes in nature/civilisation/anywhere that resembled letters of the alphabet. This trains the eye to start looking at objects outside its usual limitations and stereotypes and allows the creative mind to start seeing pictures and shapes where normally the eye wouldn't even bother to look.
As an introduction to university study I couldn't have chosen a better course. My creative mind creaked back open again; something which had not happened for far too long. The momentum of the learning and study took over and it was genuinely a shame when the course starting wounding to an end.
Good for confidence? You bet. All early fears and doubts subsided inside a short space of time, especially once I adopted my 'I don't give a shit, I'm gonna go for this' attitude, again which I had sorely missed for some time. It's the only way forward, I feel. If something is bothering or blocking your path then grab it by the balls and don't let go. Hardly a quote from Plato or Confucius I know, but at the end of the day, it works.

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