Inaugural Meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group on 23rd February 2013
Eight OCA students and an OCA tutor gathered together on a cold, wintery Saturday for the inaugural meeting of the OCA Thames Valley group. The idea for the group had been inspired by Eddy who gathered members through a new Flickr group he set up. He also obtained a very comfortable and spacious venue and organised refreshments and a sandwich lunch.
As it happened we were all photography students but we could just as well have been from other disciplines. It’s the idea that’s important – to enable students to escape some of the isolation of distance learning by meeting together with like-minded colleagues, and to foster this by providing some partial funding, via OCASA, towards expenses. The initiative has to come from the students though and I’ve seen from my previous experience last year, with the Photography students’ residential weekend in Leeds, that it requires determination, dedication and stamina to actually get something going and keep planning moving.
Some structure/focus is important and so our one-day meeting had an agreed agenda, structured by three of us and based on members’ ideas. We were all clear that we wanted tutor input to help us develop our thinking and were fortunate to have the involvement of Sharon Boothroyd, Photographer and OCA tutor. We all knew each already from Study Visits etc and so there was no need for ‘Introductions’. Cameras were at the ready as one of the stipulations of the funding was that there had to be a write-up and photographs. There was also the promise of an ‘official’ group photograph, taken with large format camera by Keith and an experimental video by Siegfried.
The morning was spent looking at work in progress – half an hour each person (very hard to stick to !). We were fortunate in having students from level 1 to Advanced and so it was very interesting to see and hear how approaches and concepts deepened and evolved with increasing experience, experimentation and study. Prints were spread out on tables; closely examined, and discussed. There were the technical queries, such as degrees of contrast, borders on prints and types of paper but most important was ‘critical thinking’ in the true sense of the word – a conscious deliberate inquiry into each image. What was the underlying concept; what choices were made; how and why? What strategies were used to engage the subject or disarm the pose (in portraits for instance). All of this gently steered by Sharon.
We had a short break for lunch and then composed ourselves for the large format camera portrait by Keith which was a slow and thoughtful experience. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do the next part of the process – a conceptual image involving self-portraits but this will be on the agenda for next time.
The work review finished with Sharon sharing the work she is developing on her Project, Edelweiss through a Residency with UCA Farnham. The outcome will be an exhibition at the end of the year, so something to look forward to.
We then had two sessions on ‘Transitions through the Levels”. John is now on Level 2. He had had two short, early experiences as an OCA student that he had abandoned but returned for a third attempt and is now on Level 2. He described how his view of photography has changed from wanting to produce beautiful images to beginning to understand what it is he wants to deliver and communicate. In terms of development, his view was that it’s a move from the ‘instructional’ and now being encouraged to produce concepts rather than following a brief.
Keith has almost completed the Advanced Module at Level 3. He explained he began in 2006 at a time when the OCA experience was very different and more isolated with no blogs, forums or Study Visits. He thought that although the improvements have, in a sense, slightly blurred the difference between levels, there is still the move from the prescriptive at Level 1 towards analysis of other photographers’ work, composing in the style of and placing your work within a context of visual culture theories at Level 2. By Level 3 you are at the stage of designing your own course of study and choosing an approach that binds the projects together, with extensive reading of critical theory including beyond Photography.
Our final session was thinking ahead. We all agreed we wanted to continue, preferably on a two-monthly basis, and with an agreed agenda which will always include a review of work in progress.
A very full and enjoyable day. Thank you Eddy for the inspiration; Sharon for agreeing to join us and OCASA for contributing some funds. Some photographs have now been placed on the OCA Thames Valley group Flickr site and each of us will be providing our own impressions of the day through blog posts.
25th February 2013