Penny Watson writes about a recent photography event she helped to organise, with helpful tips for students who might want to organise a similar event.
The term ‘breakdown or breakthrough’, coined by Helen Rosmier early on in the proceedings, was, I sensed, what more than a few of us were hoping to achieve from our very first photography study weekend… a kind of magic panacea to all our niggling photographic ailments, miraculously cured in one weekend… I too had made that kind of ultimatum to myself… ‘I’ll start divorce proceedings with you camera, unless you quit with this apathy’.
No high expectations then!!
I live on the ‘rear’ side of the Lake District and if I were to be critical, it is a tad remote… so it is often from afar I find myself observing the frivolity exuding from the OCA Study Visit caravan as it sashays tantalisingly hither and thither over yonder somewhere… and I know there are others even more far flung than I, who must feel the same.
I have ventured over yonder on a couple of occasions and get a sense that the study visits, and online communication too, go a long way in combatting those feelings of isolation or ‘stuck-ness’ you sometimes get… which lets be honest, happens to us all at times. And for any of you who have not dipped your toe in yet… do… the water is welcoming, warm and you’ll want to jump in up to your neck!!
And that’s kind of what happened with the photography residential… when twenty photography students from as far flung as Munich, Dublin and Aberdeen, took the plunge, pulling in with us two tutors (I don’t think they minded too much).
…it all started after a cyber-chat when we came to reminiscing fondly about the student bar, the grungy carpet and cheap, watered down beer… and how we missed having that fertile milieu for creativity, discussion and indeed banter… and it got us to thinking.
Let’s recreate it… but without the beer-stained carpet and doc martins… and it kind of worked. A small boutique Hotel in Leeds provided the milieu, which we pretty much took over. And this is how eossnapper became Rob, mistygoth was Sarah, and Shaun-in-Munich swapped to Shaun-from-Munich for a weekend… and we could finally address the other Rob without TM infringement! We all became real people… and in a strange irony, it was like we already knew each other…
So our weekend was made up of seminars and workshops as well as a student portfolio review. Two OCA tutors Jesse Alexander and Peter Haveland provided the adhesion to the weekend providing a wide range of sessions from photobooks to semiotics.
The photographer Mishka Henner provided an excellent presentation showing his work and challenging us to think about the boundaries of acceptability in appropriation of imagery. Peter Rudge of Duckrabbit has surely found new training recruits after his inspiring, and in parts very moving, talk about photo-films… and I have no doubt there will be a spike in sales of audio recorders.
And the weekend culminated by turning the gaze on ourselves with a tutor-led peer portfolio review, probably the bit we were all most anxious about before. But somehow after such an informative weekend, it felt right to conclude by honing down on our own work. It was fascinating and allowed us a glimpse of what assessment time must be like. It was a collaborative process and I’m sure we all feel greater attachment to our fellow colleagues work and will observe with interest as the seeds of projects germinate.
But putting the formal learning aside for a second… it is all about the people. Feeling a sense of belonging and that you’re all in it together… the informal chats in break-times and late in to the night… all in the knowledge that you are all as insanely mind-numbingly obsessed about the medium as each other… yes it feels good and we’re all buzzing!!
And the feedback suggests this weekend was a resounding success, here are a few quotes:
my wife commented as I was debating whether to sign up for it or not that she was sure none of you would bite… none of you did and were in fact very supportive to someone who felt a bit out of his depth at times
David Green (Nottingham Dave)
it was invaluable to me – and it certainly helped to get my mojo back? Came back with (possibly) good ideas forÿfuture projects. And strangely enough I can understand a bit more about my own work.
Yiann Cegarra (Macaquitalinda)
It was good to get away from all but passing reference to technical aspects of kit as that was one of my personal drivers for starting with OCA, and the discussions around the meaning and message of images was exactly what I was looking for… Overall, a memorable weekend and it certainly helped me to feel far more connected with what I?m doing and where I’m hoping to go.
By far the most valuable part of it was to meet everyone and to get a real chance to talk. Study visits are good but short, and to know that if you didn’t get to speak to someone today then there would be another chance tomorrow, made for a more relaxed feel.
I found the discussions really valuable, the exchanges between the students as well as the more formal aspects; very reminiscent of another student era… oh so long ago!
John Umney (JSU)
Of course there are things that can be done better next time, areas to improve. But from a standing start… we can all pat ourselves on the back for entering in to the spirit of it and getting stuck in. Eileen and I can breathe a sigh of relief…
When the idea was first floated (JSU has much to answer for!!), I thought ‘yep, that shouldn’t be too onerous’. But I naively underestimated the amount of work that I, and others (notably Eileen), would need to invest to pull this off. Not that I wouldn’t do it again…
So to impart some of our own experience, there are four fundamental aspects to consider… the venue, the agenda, the people and the money…
- Central with good rail, road and air links.
- Accommodation and meeting rooms ideally under one roof.
- A pleasant environment in which to spend considerable amounts of time.
- Pack a lot in… keep the format varied… mix the lectures up with practical workshops.
- Interesting speakers… it isn’t easy securing external speakers, particularly at a weekend. Ideally approach speakers you know are good/challenging/inspiring etc.
- Think about how you’re pitching the course… what level, discipline etc.
- There has to be a core of enthusiasm from the student body – you need at least twice as many to express an interest in the first instance.
- Two or three of you need to be willing to do the leg work and coordinate it.
- Think about total number of delegates… we had twenty… that is probably the maximum before it loses its intimacy, but any less and the pot of money to spend on speakers reduces.
- You need a long lead in time (preferably 12 months).
- Do your maths… and allow a healthy contingency.
- Duration… feedback suggests two to three days is the maximum in terms of people’s availability, finances and indeed compiling a programme of activity
- Payment… you need the money upfront from delegates, and I mean months ahead of time… because sadly, if you don’t, it is too easy to pull-out for all manner of legitimate reasons. This caused quite a few sleepless nights worrying about potential shortfalls for me. Fortunately, on each occasion (four or five times) the places were refilled.
- Try to focus on keeping the cost per delegate down.
- Apply to OCASA for funding.
We were lucky… there were enough of us who believed this could work. But, we were not left entirely alone to organise this. OCA has been able to offer all sorts of practical help. For example, concerns about how to practically manage the financial side of things were solved by OCA providing a conduit for all monies coming in and going out. Mark Lomas of OCA filmed large parts of the weekend, which will enable OCA students who couldn’t attend, to benefit. And OCASA provided a sum of money to pay for an external speaker.
There is a feeling of trying to harness this enthusiasm now. There was almost unanimous interest in doing this again… more breakthroughs than breakdowns… so there will be a second residential for sure, probably a year from now…
So I think if we can do it for photography… why not others too…
(Images courtesy of Amano Samarpan)