This post is aimed at those students who are still to attend a study event – those of you who already have will already understand the benefits. As tutors we always advocate visiting exhibitions, performances, readings, recitals, any event where there is potential for you to be presented with something new. Only by experiencing the new do we lay down the new neural pathways that become learning.
The internet has infinitely expanded our ability to discover new things but there is no substitute to being there. Think about witnessing The Ambassadors at The National Gallery – internet explanations of Holbein’s visual trickery cannot compare to approaching the painting from a number of angles and seeing the skull shapeshift.
With the experiential foremost in mind, three students, Hazel Bingham, Lynda Wearn and Rod Young, dedicated serious travel time to a Saturday in Hull for the Hull International Photography Festival (HIP) in November. A series of exhibits from across the spectrum of photography were clustered into an early 90s shopping mall. To the start the day I suggested we immerse ourselves into the counter-cultural with a Q and A with Jamie Reid at his first major UK retrospective exhibition after fifty(!) years of working.
Prior to the Q and A we were treated to two poems by Gerry Potter and immediately for all of us we are experiencing ‘new’…
Rod felt he, ‘would have been happy to have missed the early performance’, whereas Hazel felt, ‘his two poems had relevance to my urban regeneration work and would also be relevant to Landscape 2’.
Jamie Reid’s wide ranging discussions on the point of art, community, protests, politics, culture, society gave us a foundation with which to critique not only his work, but also the photo festival itself.
Rather than review the works I want to let the students convey the benefits of the visit. I asked them to email back their reflections, and we started a mini forum to discuss shared experiences, I thank them for their candid views and their willingness to share with you:
Rod’s immediate response to the day –
I do go to exhibitions but today was really good to talk with other people rather than just wander around alone. The discussions were the most important and your prompts and subtle challenges were just what I needed on my first study visit.
Lynda replied to Rod –
I thought you were very knowledgeable for having just started the course. I can assure you I wasn’t like that on my first study visit. Mine was a visit to the V&A and the Science Museum to see a Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition and one by Alec Soth. I came away, much to the disgust of a photographer friend who is a great fan of Cameron, wondering what on earth she was all about. I have just re-visited her in an exercise for I&P called Historic Portrait, where we were to critique an image. I can now say I understand more about her work than I did then.
Rod replied –
I’ve been reading some Barthes and was thinking about linking it to what we saw in Hull. Anyway, it was an interesting first study visit for me and I enjoyed talking to you and Lynda as you are both much further ahead than me and have much more experience and understanding. The main problem for me – which is common to all exhibition visits – is that too much is fitted in.
On this last point Hazel added –
I agree it is a lot to take in in one go. Other visits can be just one exhibition with a break and a chat at the end. Format in Derby in March is a bit like HIP with multiple exhibitions to visit – great and interesting but you can end up brain dead. I tend to take pictures where I can so I can relook at the images in a less frantic way. [For example, see Hazel’s own blog and contributions to the recent Brighton study visit]
She continued –
I cannot remember my first study visit, it was a long time ago and I always wondered how other students managed to talk about the pictures in such a different way. The ability comes slowly and you won’t realise it is happening and then you will remember that you saw something sometime ago that is now relevant to what you are doing. My advice would be to keep coming whenever you can.
Hazel’s summation –
We were a small group and this gave us time to interact and have critical discussions about the different genres of work on show, encouraged and sometimes guided by our tutor, Les. As a surprise we went to the Jamie Reid talk, not a photographic one but one of years of protest.
We need more study days like this in the North and North Midlands.
Lynda commented –
Thank you, for Saturday. It was a very educational day. I like the way you made us think and instigated discussion. It was of course helped by the fact we were a small group. As with all the study days I have attended I came away with more questions about the photographers (and artist in this case) and in my usual way I will be finding out more about them as I write up my blog.
On the holistic benefits of visits, Lynda said –
I also enjoy meeting fellow students. It was good to see Hazel again and to meet Rod. It is good that we were at different stages on the course and that I think, is one of the great things about study days. I have always found fellow students helpful and this carries on after the day into the discussion fora available on FB and the OCA site.
As a tutor there were a number of learning points for me, as well as the students. A highlight was listening to their experiences of bereavement reignited by the Celine Marchbank exhibit. The tutor/student relationship dissolved as we all reacted like humans – and I bowed to greater wisdom. Thank you, Hazel, Lynda, Rod… and Celine.
What is apparent here is the possibilities that each of these study events presents, each of us – Rashomon style – will have a different take on the day but there are common experiences to have, not only with the works, but also with each other. Opinions can be tested, questions asked and answered, but there is also great scope to simply listen and absorb if you feel less confident. They’ll be familiar stuff and surprises. And you don’t know what you don’t know so why not attend a study event to find out?
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