Jim Smith is a student on People and Place, here is an extract from his learning log on exhibitions:
‘Looking in books or online at the work of other photographers, by ourselves and without discussion with others is learning that is initiated in the visual mode rather than audio or kinaesthetic. To make an impact on our cognition that extends beyond simple visual impressions, so we need to engage in evaluation through careful reflection. For example, there is the immediacy of response in thoughts “I like that” or “That’s bad” or “Interesting!”. Unless we unpick that initial response and think about why we have that reaction, then learning is likely to be very limited. So, in other words to begin to optimise learning we evaluate both the picture and the reaction that it produces within us. We ask ourselves why and then perhaps ask ourselves how the photographer achieves that reaction.
It seems to me that looking at an exhibition of photography is fundamentally different in at least two ways.
Firstly, there is a different sense of scale and impact. There is the sheer quantity of work which can be impressive; there is the size of individual pieces which can be substantially bigger than a book or screen; and there is the setting and flow of work through the exhibition, with piece relating to piece and leading the senses through harmony and contrast. The exhibition at its best is an experience to be lived, not just a set of photos.
Secondly, the exhibition is almost always an experience that is shared with others. This may be passive, in the sense of silently sharing the space with others, or it may be more active. In terms of optimising learning, an active engagement with the subject matter is required. A knowledgeable guide to the exhibition is very helpful, providing that they enhance the viewer’s thoughtful evaluation. A friend or two to discuss with, expert or not, is also going to help us to evaluate both the photographs and the varied reactions they produces within us. The friend will have a different view of the same photograph, and a discussion of these differences helps us to tease out the detailed analysis.’
There can be few photographers for whom the difference between viewing images on web and seeing them printed in a gallery is so dramatic as Thomas Struth, whose work to date is surveyed at the latest exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.
The OCA has organised a study visit for the morning of Saturday 3 September. As previously, the Gallery will provide a tour of the exhibition and this will then be followed by the opportunity to discuss the work with fellow students over a cup of tea or coffee. The visit is free for OCA students and will start at 11am and last for about two hours. The last Whitechapel tour attracted very positive feedback from students. The study visits are intended as informal opportunities to meet other students and learn more about a particular photographer. We know some students find the idea of attending intimidating but there is really no reason not to attend, you are almost certain to enjoy the experience and learn from it.
To book a place please email firstname.lastname@example.org (Please do not try to book places by commenting below)
In the meantime, there is a very good article on Struth by Geoff Dyer on the Guardian website