Are photography degrees the joker in the pack?Written by duckrabbit
I was reading through the comments on Joni’s post about photography apprenticeship v formal education (degree) and these words by Sara jumped out at me
‘I want to be able to experiment with new things and have a solid community where I can throw ideas around; both my own and others.
I don’t see anything in the university literature that really convinces me that I’ll get any of this. What I see is “do this degree and you end up with a piece of paper and a group show that we’ll promote” and also the numerous “student awards” that are run.
That’s all nice enough. But is it worth £9k per year? I really don’t know. It might be, or might not. What I am fairly convinced of, however, is that I wouldn’t go on any course expecting it to be my primary source of education.’
I’m actually writing this on the train on my way to London to spend the day teaching on the Masters in Photojournalism at the London College of Communication.
I’m chooseing my words carefully here and this comment does not relate to the course at LCC which is fantastic at creating a community of photographers who can feed off one another and also draws in some great teachers.
‘Most photography degrees are an absolute piss take’.
Over the years I have a fair amount of students come on duckrabbit training off the back of what is considered to be the best photography degree in the country : On Twerp. I’m sure its true that if you own a tardis and can go back in time it is the best course in the country but the students always say the same thing to me. We learned more in three days with duckrabbit then we did in the entire final year. I’m not saying that to look good because it provokes the same response at duckrabbit every time: anger.
Why are photography degrees often so out of touch? I think there are three major problems.
1: Too many teachers who haven’t hustled to make a living in many, many years.
2: An academic system that doesn’t reward quality teaching, that is weighed towards research that nobody reads.
But that’s not the biggest problem.
The biggest problems is students that don’t give a shit.
That’s the only excuse you can have for getting to the end of your degree and not knowing your f-stop from your elbow and thats the reason why I stopped teaching undergraduates. It’s really soul destroying to try and share your passion for something with a group of people who would rather be watching My Personality Is A Cesspit Get Me Out Of Here.
Students need to learn to do three things.
1: Think for themselves
3: Take good photos
If they can do that they stand half a chance.
So what’s the future? Actually I think its quite bright. Jonathan Worth is doing revolutionary things at Coventry University. Falmouth, where David now teaches, has embraced new technology. A third of the students coming off the LCC course last year produced photofilms: many to a high standard. Newport and Westminster continue to nurture some wonderful photographers.
The degree of the future will be able to give you the best of all of this. Through access to on-line lectures and virtual discussion whilst pushing people to spend more time learning on the shop floor. It needs to do something else. Spit out more students at the end of year one who don’t care. Encourage them to get some life experience and come back when they’ll really benefit. Of course that won’t happen, cause these days its all about bums on seats, it’s about the money.
I think this comment by Ciara Leeming is well worth reading:
I think, like everything in life, it all depends. It all depends on you, your personality and level, it depends on the course, the group dynamic, and it depends on the teachers.
I’ve been on workshops and – this week – I’ve handed in my final project for my MA photojournalism/doc photography at LCC. It’s been a fantastic experience and I feel it’s been very worthwhile indeed – even more so because I’ve done it part-time over two years while balancing a career as a freelance.
My first workshop with Ed Kashi in 2009 was a brilliant experience – a small group (about 6 people), a teacher who was very generous with his time, and I was pretty new to photography so had a huge amount to learn.
Bit different but my workshop the same year with duckrabbit was excellent – again I was very lucky that just two of us signed up and since we were learning new skills and had great teachers, we grew a lot in just 3 days.
In 2010 I went on the Foundry Workshop and was in Rena Effendi’s class. She’s a very nice lady but I didn’t really get anything out of the experience – the group was too big (about 10 I think), the workshop was ginormous (more than 100 photographers) and I didn’t like the atmosphere, which I found very cliquey. I came out with a nice body of work, but I really don’t feel I grew in any way during that week. I decided as a result that I wouldn’t do any more workshops – that from now on I’d invest all my spare money in my work.
In Jan 2010 (before Foundry) I started my MA. It all depends how you look at this but I think £2,000 a year is actually quite reasonable for what we’ve had in return (especially when I compare it to workshop prices….when I looked at politics MAs after graduating in 2003 the prices at Manchester Uni were similar).
I have already undertaken independent photography projects at home and abroad, been commissioned by newspapers and magazines, been published and all of that before my MA started, so in some senses I had some of the skills and experience you are talking about already, but what I’ve gained from this course is being pushed to think in a completely different way about my practice. I really don’t think I would have produced the same kind of work on my own, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the research side of the MA.
I’m not particularly trying to make a living purely from photography but want to balance it with my existing (writing) work. I don’t think any of my classmates are naive enough to think it’s going to get them jobs – we all just wanted to grow as photographers and people, cheesy as that sounds.
I think people find the path that is right for them in the end. Uni courses work for some, workshops for others, and just going out and doing it for others.