Documentary v conceptual art photography. What’s with the aggro?Written by duckrabbit
If you have time I recommend you go and check out the end of year show for the Masters in doc photography and photojournalism at London College of Communication.
Go with an open mind about what is photography. There is, if you’re open to look some beautiful, thoughtful work, both journalistic and conceptual.
I tweeted about the show a couple of days back suggesting that two worlds, conceptual photography and traditional documentary, were fighting it out in the same space. After a few minutes I started to think what a narrow way of looking at the show that is.
Why is one way of looking at things always to be measured against another? Isn’t that just a form of photo tribalism that traps people? Isn’t my obsession with traditional narrative storytelling just, well, a very limited way of looking at the world?
We sometimes complain at duckrabbit that photographers would produce deeper work if they could just get over themselves, but it took me a challenging conversation with Jenny Pollard (a very interesting lecturer at LCC) to realize the same goes for viewers. If I’m to be open to the work, I need to get over myself too.
I’m told many of the highest marks this year went to the more conceptual work. Afterwards in the bar a few of the students expressed their unhappiness about this. I understand where they are coming from, they are shooters and its a documentary course so the ‘best’ photos should get the best marks right? Paul Lowe (course director) made the very good point that a masters is not just about taking pictures, but inquiry into the medium. It’s an important point.
Far fewer students attempted photofilms this year. I don’t see this as a bad thing, more perhaps as an acceptance of the complexity of attempting this kind of work. Personally I would love to engage more with the students on the course but my understanding is that the hours of outside lectures are being cut, the numbers of students have been raised and the fees have increased.
I left the BBC partly because I felt it was becoming more and more difficult to deliver programs in the quality I demanded of myself. Is there a danger that a course that has built a solid reputation over the years will be torpedoed by University administrators with no real respect for that legacy and whom see the course as some kind of cashcow that can help cross-fund other less successful departments?
Personally I think there is. And this is not just a issue for LCC but right across graduate and post graduate education in this country.
Despite the note of warning I’m confident that next year will produce a crop of outstanding photographers and I do know the tutors at LCC, Paul, John, Jenny and Patrick, work very hard to promote the photographers they think have the talent and professional aptitude to thrive. I’m not sure they get as much respect as they deserve for that.
Let’s end on a postive note because if you take the time, there are many positive things to say about the show. Do go.
I spent many happy years washing dishes at a cafe/gallery/restaurant called the Egg in Liverpool. One of the interesting people that would spend an hour or two daydreaming on the Egg’s famous sofa was a young man called Christian Peterson (his website does not do his work justice).
Christian, like me, was a bit of a dreamer.
I used to tell him about my dreams of doing something with radio and he used to tell me about his dreams around photography.
Imagine my surprise, and his, when I turned up to teach at LCC and in shuffled Christian.
His show at LCC centres on a small English rural community centered around a nuclear power station.
At the private view Christian did me the great honor of talking me through the work in his customary humble way.
It is possessed with quiet beauty. None of that showy lyricism that so many of the young photogs are at today with their medium format cameras. No this was a photographer working lyricaly inside the circles of a very insular community. Since I spent many years documenting communities like these I can’t tell you how sweet this work was to me. In total harmony with my own experience but at the same time teaching me something new. Exisiting at a level that perhaps in fifteen years my own radio documentaries only achieved once or twice.
The best complement I can pay Christian is to say that I was as thrilled to experience his work as I was to discover that other great chronicler of rural communities Seamus Heaney. Both Seamus and Christian are poets of the highest order, both worthy of mention in the same breath.
One final thing. I wish more photographers had a bio like this. I read it and I thought hell yeah, you sound like a bloke I would like to meet, and now I’m thinking my own bio is just a bit crap.
I’m Christian, I’m 33 and I’m a photographer living in London.
I like to tell stories with photographs, and I’m influenced by the normal things, the everyday things and the everyday people I meet.
I also enjoy photographs as objects in themselves and collect old and found photographs some of which can be viewed here on the site and at my blog also.
I’ve worked for sometime in a supporting role with people on the margins of society and I’m also interested in using creative practice at a community level to explore ways of new and inspiring educational and creative practice. Examples of my community work can be seen on this site too.