Reflections after a short break

I took a three-month break from Documentary which ended yesterday.

As per my last post, I realised towards the end of 2016 that I could only really complete one of my Level 2 courses in time for January submission, so I prioritised Gesture & Meaning. December was taken up with completing G&M Assignment 6, January with reworking and preparing the whole set of G&M assignments for assessment and February I took off studying completely, my first study break since starting the degree just under four years ago.

[ I took the month off to set myself up as a commercial photographer for hire and so will be combining study and work (hopefully on a roughly 50:50 basis) until I complete the degree. Taking 2016 to study full-time was an excellent decision and I’m very glad I did it, but going forward I want to blend studying with re-engaging with the world at large and earning a few pennies… ]

Taking a few months off this course has given me time to reflect on my Level 2 experience so far – what I’ve learned, how doing G&M in parallel has helped, what I might do differently on this last stretch. I’ll summarise the general points here and will also go into a little detail on my current thinking on Assignment 5.

Two Level 2 courses in a year is a stretch

In terms of total study time, a calendar year should really give enough time to complete both courses at the estimated number of hours per unit – I was averaging something like 25 hours of study per week, which isn’t quite full-time but still pretty solid. But it’s not so much the total time as the elapsed time – including the thinking time in between sections, the space to reflect, to apply what one is learning going along and stretch one’s academic and creative muscles. It feels now like sticking to my original plan of submitting both L2 courses by this January would have been to the detriment of both.

Expect rework

The amount of rework I decided to do for G&M was an eye-opener. It made me realise how much both my abilities and my standards have increased over Level 2. I came to realise that I’ll almost certainly want to put a similar amount of diligence and pride into reworking the Documentary assignments. For this reason I stand by my decision to delay completing Documentary to give my attention to G&M for assessment.

Presentation matters

I’m glad I had the chance to pull together the assessment pack for one L2 course before the other, as I learned a lot through trial and error about the many different ways in which one can present the material for assessment. I feel better prepared to do it a second time having been through it once.

Studying other genres has complemented my interest in documentary

Gesture & Meaning is a very eclectic course, with a section each on four genres: documentary, fine art, portraiture and advertising. Whilst the first section inevitably covered some of the same ground as this course, the other three really broadened my horizons in a lasting way. I realised by the time I’d done four G&M assignments that I had found a way to bend all of the briefs towards some form of documentary subject matter, even if a genre-led visual or conceptual approach was taken.

For example, my ‘fine art’ assignment for G&M tackled food poverty using a surrealist approach, while my ‘advertising’ assignment employed a similar kind of photographic ‘magic realism’ as a response to the terror attack in Nice.

Realising how I’d steered the G&M assignments in this way made me think that I’m possibly beginning to find that elusive Personal Voice…

In addition, the two academic assignments on G&M allowed me to choose my own subjects, so I steered them towards my interest in documentary photography and more specifically how it interacts into other genres – my oral presentation was on the subject of portraiture as a device in documentary photography and my critical review was on overcoming the limitations of the still image for depicting a narrative, mainly using documentary photographs as examples.

This cross-genre research led me to the realisation that…

There are many ways of approaching ‘documentary photography’

Yes, the course itself is at pains to point this out, but it’s taken a while for the significance of this to really sink in. I confess that earlier in this course I was somewhat dismissive of the notion of ‘constructed documentary’ as lacking a sufficiently strong core of actuality. After a few months of not working on – but continuing to think about – documentary photography, I am becoming more comfortable with an expanded definition of documentary and less hung up on established genre parameters.

This has, in turn, deepened my interest in…

Interrogating documentary photography as a genre

I’m increasingly interested in the form as well as the content – the nature and character of documentary photography, if you will. How it ‘works’, what it’s good at, what is potentially problematic about it, etc. I’m particularly interested in the theory and practice of authorship in documentary work. This is something I would like to look at more deeply at Level 3.

My approach to Assignment 5 is evolving

I’ve touched on this already, in one of my last posts before my recent break, but in my head I’m increasingly separating the subject matter from my underlying message intent:

  • It started off being ‘about’ the EU Referendum result
  • It evolved into digging deeper and being a statement on social inequality
    • that may have led to the above result
  • For me now it’s increasingly become about oversimplification of complex issues
    • and the parallels between politics and documentary photography
    • both use simplification as a technique, consciously or otherwise

I’ll pick up on this last point in my next Assignment 5 specific post.

That’s it for now!

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