Maggy Milner on Tanya Ahmed

Assessor and tutor Maggy Milner talks about Tanya’s level 3 work. There are still places available for the study visit led by Maggy to the exhibition of Tanya’s work in Sheffield. This is highly recommended – definitely worth the day off work.


  1. RobTM 24 May 2012 at 10:29 am

    I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibition – lots to ponder especially as I’m approaching the end of YOP…

  2. Dewald 24 May 2012 at 11:10 am

    No pressure on us that are to follow, is there now?
    Tanya, this is a great body of work. It seems very personal, and it came across as intimate.
    Thanks for the video.

  3. Catherine 24 May 2012 at 12:22 pm

    A fascinating body of work and the video leaves me wanting to see more. What a creative idea about the photographs as well. I also read elsewhere that Tanya is sending photographs to the OCA creative writing forum as well.

  4. JDNS 24 May 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I enjoyed the video and the images, but I’m not sure precisely what the assessors valued in it – was it the same things that I valued? I know there was attention to detail, and research, but these on their own are not enough. There is something intangible here. I guess we have to divine this for ourselves, if we can, and look to produce work of a similarly approved quality. Ah well, back to the fog of my own work…

    1. Dewald 25 May 2012 at 3:47 am

      “.. and look to produce work of a similarly approved quality ..” I surely hope you don’t really believe that.

      There is constant discussions going on everywhere, OCA, Flickr and on here, where students are told NOT to produce material specifically for the approval of the assessors.

      This work of Tanya seems to be a combination of an immense amount of research into a photographer and work that has a connection to where she herself is right at this time, not only as a person, but as an artist. The fact that she then went out and got involved with people who live around her, and built that kinds of relationships with them, is admirable.
      In an age where I think very few people bother to even acknowledge other people living in the same building.

      From the work shown here, it seems as if Tanya’s work in photography has totally blurred the line that many people draw between their ‘hobby’ as photography, and their everyday life. She has blended these two, and only when this is done, can something really intimate and personal come from a body of work.

      Granted, this is not everyone’s cup of tea, and not everyone is into people photography, nor is everyone into black and white work.

      I now realize my reply can come across as very strong, please understand it isn’t intended. I just feel a little sad that someone can’t associate, or appreciate, how complex a body of work like this can be, especially when you invest personal relationships (which has become a very expensive commodity) in a piece of work.

      1. JDNS 13 June 2012 at 8:07 am

        It would be useful to know, Dewald, your status in writing these comments. Are you a tutor?

        Of course students will try to produce work to try to meet the assessors approval – that’s the whole point of assessment. In fact, most students will care more about the assessment than I, as a leisure learner, do.

        I’ve had a conversation with Tanya, recorded below, in which she has outlined more clearly the qualities that may have been valued by the assessors, and some of the background materials which we will not get to see in the study visit. Under these new conditions I do feel more able to appreciate this complex body of work. The partial view that I saw before then was not as helpful as it might have been, and should in my view have been supplemented by a wider perspective from OCA.

        I feel a little sad that this didn’t happen.

        1. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 12:43 pm

          Dewald is a student who has his photographs featured in OCA course material; he works as a teacher in China as I understand.

          His comments on the assessors sounds paradoxical but is actually worth understanding. As I see it, one needs to make a body of work that is meaningful to oneself; if it is being done just to please others then it is likely to be second hand and lacking in authenticity. This is not to say one should ignore one’s potential audience!

          My own reservations over assessment centre around covering subjects that are not of interest since they are from another country and culture. The apparently exotic can work against one; pertinent images of poverty etc tend to be favoured.

        2. Stephanie 14 June 2012 at 2:19 pm

          Could someone remind which exhibition/book by Bruce Davidson inspired Tanya?

        3. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 2:26 pm

          The book is “East 100’th Street” originally published by Harvard University Press

        4. Dewald 15 June 2012 at 12:38 am

          Pardon the late reply, I missed your question JDNS … Amano is right (not sure if his post will be below above mine), I’m nearly done with HE5, living and teaching English in China.

          Interesting what Amano says about the exotic, which I don’t really think is a problem at assessment.
          Yes, I do think being separated to some degree from the place you live, gives a different angle (note, I didn’t say better), but I would believe that at assessment, the level of communication and the understanding of the context of this difference of location, that comes from a student’s work would speak much louder than an attempt to just be different for the sake of it.

          I’m not sure I agree with Amano that images of poverty tends to be favoured (at assessment), but I fully understand that poverty and some negative aspects of life are more often documented than just the nice bits… of course there are wonderful exceptions 🙂
          It is a fine line, isn’t it, to photograph something that you’re interested in, want to explore and document, but something different, but not just different to you (in an almost touristy way). To be objective as person about your own work, but to be subjective in your work as photographer.

        5. AMANO 15 June 2012 at 9:33 am

          Dewald, I am also not sure about what I said over assessment – it was a comment to invoke comment really. Tutors, rightly in my view, do not encourage “holiday photos” as these are so often a reaction to the moment rather than a response. I have actually done a lot of photography at the Taj Mahal; looking at the many photos available of this place I realised I had succeeded in creating something different because I just hung around there for days at a time in an attempt to “create” rather than record. It is not easy to step out of an accepted norm, one in which Christian values are evident for instance, to reveal something of another country that it is more than the reflected glory of colonialism. Photography may be American but I think there is a lot of good photography beginning to come out of both India and China. Will these photographers be forced to pander to Western values or be able to convey something more indigenous?

  5. Lerpy 24 May 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Fabulous, lots of luck with the future Tanya

  6. Stephanie 24 May 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I find this inspiring and it’s good to know there are such students amongst us. Some of these images are unusually powerful. I can’t find the best right words to say whart I mean.

  7. Yiann 24 May 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Fantastic work, Tanya! I was wanting to see more of it. Not so sure I’ll be able to make the study day.
    It has left me wanting to see more postcards, as in the olden days when one was expecting one! Even more, because the story might not have finish.

    Thnaks for the video!

  8. Scottie 24 May 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Strong sense of place, character & narrative. These images pull you in & leave you wanting more.
    Really inspiring. I’ll have to check out trains from London!

  9. Eileen 24 May 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Wonderful work Tanya. I like the collaborative aspect of your process very much – and the postcards, which are such a creative and clever idea.

  10. Sam 25 May 2012 at 12:57 am

    I’ve always thought you were just fabulous!

  11. Tanya 25 May 2012 at 4:03 am

    Thank you Maggie for your kind words, my neighbors are also thrilled 🙂 and Mark, great filming, thanks. I’m looking forward to your report Rob! Dewald, don’t worry – you’ll do great, but how am I going to top this in Advanced?! Catherine, will you be able to make the exhibition? Yes I have a little collaboration going with anyone that wants to look at a few of my images. I’m taking a step away from exposing my life and considering how others interpret individual, contextless images. (over on the creative writing forum- come join me!) I’m glad you enjoyed them JDNS, On the ‘intangible’ – this work was made by us, for our families, to cement our lives to the street and each other. I am hoping that what you call the intangible is the feeling that you have been welcomed in amongst us. Thank you Lerpy. Stephanie that is a wonderful compliment, thank you. Yiann and Eileen re the postcards, although the photos are intimate I wanted to add just a little something extra so I combined photography with text and tried to introduce a person to person connection. On some of the cards I referenced how I felt about what I was photographing by using quotes. For others I put specific details from life, such as T’s annual Christmas Tree trimming/Hannukah/Ramadan/Divali Holiday party (very popular!) and my clambering over the roof. Details that I think are solid 100th St experiences that bind the neighbors together and offer up insider knowledge to the viewer. Thanks again everyone.

  12. Warren 25 May 2012 at 8:32 am

    What I liked about this selection of work was how involved I felt, as if I was part of the group of people living in the apartment block. I was waiting to find a picture of myself grouped with some of the other people. This really worked in black and white and gave a gritty but supportive feel to the people living together and as part of the urban surroundings.

    I looked at this in 2 ways 1) how good this work was because if the feeling it generated inside of me, epecially once I knew the story behind it 2)it shows me I have a long journey to undertake to get to the level expected 🙂

    Well done!

    1. Tanya 13 June 2012 at 1:57 am

      Warren, that is an amazing compliment that you feel you are here with us. Thanks.

  13. anned 25 May 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Just wanted to add to the well done Tanya comments! Its such good and interesting work I’m going to go back to my studies inspired to work harder.

  14. Stephanie 25 May 2012 at 11:43 pm

    I think I’ve just had a lightbulb moment….

    This is a response to Warren and others who have made comments about how Tanya’s photographs seem to draw the viewer in…

    This special quality that is so hard to describe I think has something to do with the quality of the relationship between the photographer and the subject/s.

  15. Stan Dickinson 6 June 2012 at 9:12 am

    I attended the opening preview of Tanya’s exhibition last evening. Apart from the fact that it was obviously lovely to meet her and discuss the work with her, I also want to say that there is much in this body of work to reward careful study – the research and background that Dewald refers to above; the links with Davidson’s much earlier images; the process and presentation (including those innovative postcards); but maybe above all the people, the lives, the stories, that Tanya has brought to us through her engagement and commitment. Well done, Tanya; and I’m sure those attending the study day will get much out of it.

    Well done OCA, too; there has been a lot of work put in to make this happen so successfully.

  16. JDNS 12 June 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I will be attending the study day and have some questions for OCA about what they value in this work – mostly to see if I’m valuing the same things. I’m having real trouble in understanding what is valued by the assessors, but hopefully I’m beginning to care less about them and more about what I want to do with my photography. That’s easier said than done though!

    1. Tanya 13 June 2012 at 1:51 am

      I hope that you enjoy the study visit and have some of your questions answered, I hope that you’ll post here so I can learn too! I don’t want to speak for the assessors, but IMHO I think it is more than just the final collection of images that they considered. Obviously they had much more information than just the images about the concept and the way I progressed through the project. The basic premise of which was that I wanted to see if being an insider made a difference to the images produced. I used Davidson’s book as a stepping stone and considered his images against mine to see if what I was doing was different and why. On the face of things we were doing the same thing but in reality we were not. Each time I found something different I looked into it- One example I analyzed how people were looking at his camera, how they looked at mine, with some book suggestions from my tutor I looked back through history at portraits and justified the approach I used. Obviously you and any other audience will only have the final images to judge. The question is will you see the behind the scenes work in the images? Will you see a thread or an approach tying them together? Will you notice a different mood or different focus than in Davidson’s work and is there a difference in the work of an insider compared to an outsider? I hope this little bit of explanation is helpful.

      I think you are on the right track to care less about the assessors and more about what you want to do. I suggest listening carefully to feedback from your tutor but other than that if you are totally invested in your project and come at it every which way you can I am sure it will be well received (IMHO). It sounds ludicrous now but I didn’t send this project off easily. i wondered too whether the assessors would like it, but when it came down to it i knew I had invested heavily in all aspects of it and that it was ready. I think that may be what the assessors recognized.

      1. JDNS 13 June 2012 at 7:52 am

        You are so kind Tanya to give such a detailed and helpful reply – thank you. I’m really looking forward to the study visit. It is very helpful to understand better now the background to your work. As a result, I would like to use this conversation in my learning log, if that is OK with you.

        1. Tanya 13 June 2012 at 11:37 am

          Hi JDNS,
          I’m glad my rather long post has been helpful. Of course you can use it in your learning log. I’m looking forward to hearing about the study day.

  17. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Tanya emphasises the collaboration that took place between her and her subjects.

    Interestingly, a MOMA press release made at the time of Davidson’s exhibition, states …
    “The antithesis of candid photography, these pictures are the product of a conscious collaboration between photographer and subject”.

    John Szarowski who was at that time the Director of MOMA photography said, “he (Davidson) has shown us true and specific people, photographed in those private moments of suspended action in which the complexity and ambiguity of individual lives triumphs over abstraction.”

    For me, the parallels between the two photographers approach is striking.

  18. Stephanie 14 June 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Could someone please tell me which Davidson exhibition is being discussed?

    1. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 2:28 pm

      “EAst 100’th Street” published by Harvard University

      1. Stephanie 14 June 2012 at 2:33 pm

        thanks 🙂

        1. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 9:13 pm

          The only copy in print seems to be part of Steidl’s 5 volume series of Bruce Davidson’s photos; saw a copy this evening. Beautifully printed. So if you have about £200 for the boxed set … !!?

        2. AMANO 14 June 2012 at 10:00 pm

          One can pick up a second hand paperback copy of East 100’th Street for about £100. The point is that the book has become an art object. Wonder how much one would have to pay for a first edition. Lots of money involved and it is not going to the photographer it seems … !?? … well maybe some!

        3. Stephanie 15 June 2012 at 8:30 pm

          Amano do you mean 3 volume Outside Inside. If not what is title of 5 volume set?

    1. Stephanie 15 June 2012 at 6:58 pm

      Very helpful link, thank you Tanya. I’m thinking of saving up for Outside Inside – do you know if all pictures from East 100th St are in it?

      1. Tanya 16 June 2012 at 5:41 pm

        Stephanie, I don’t know what is in Black and White, I invested in Outside Inside after wearing out all the books in the library! It weighs a ton though! Can you ask the bookshop to get both in and take a flick through then pick the one you like the best? (And ask all your family and friends to chip in for your birthday!)

        1. Stephanie 16 June 2012 at 6:08 pm

          Thanks for the suggestions Tanya.

        2. Stephanie 16 June 2012 at 6:11 pm

          Thanks for the suggestions Tanya 🙂

      2. Tanya 16 June 2012 at 8:20 pm

        just compared my original 100st book (2nd printing 1971 Harvard University Press ) with Outside inside. There are I think 90 images of e100st in Outside Inside and maybe 20 more in the original, One thing I will say is that some of the images on the Magnum website are not in the original book and the quality in the new book is waaaaay better than the original.

        1. Stephanie 17 June 2012 at 2:23 am

          That’s very helpful, thank you. I think I will try to track them both down in a library.

  19. JDNS 15 June 2012 at 8:42 pm

    First thoughts on the study visit are that it was very successful. This was due in part to the venue, and in part to the discussions about Tanya’s work. The venue was small, and hence the number of images was limited to thirteen. This meant that all attendees could be sure they had seen all of the work, and could discuss it as a group in the same room as the exhibition.

    Unfortunately not much of the work is available on line to share with the reader. The use of a wide angle lens was frequent, and provided a deliberately more inclusive picture. It included more content, and drew the viewer into the frame. Whilst the people in the images arranged themselves how they wished, Tanya clearly was able to select what else was in the frame, and made full use of that opportunity to provide a wider context for the varying lives of the people depicted.

    The presence of OCA tutors to the visit enabled us to understand more about the totality of the work that Tanya submitted, which was very helpful in getting a feel for the richness and quality of the work. It was also helpful to discuss and perceive the differences between this material and Bruce Davidson’s, arising largely from the varying social perspectives and motives of the photographers.

    A grand day out int Yorkshire – thank you!

    1. Tanya 16 June 2012 at 3:37 am

      Glad you had a good day. I have posted a small slideshow of the images hung in the gallery for those you couldn’t make the study day.

      1. Tanya 16 June 2012 at 3:42 am

        It is definitely worth the money, I think there might even be more 100 St images than in the original and also some later images of East Harlem too.

        1. Tanya 16 June 2012 at 3:43 am

          Oops this was a reply to Stephanie above.

        2. Stephanie 16 June 2012 at 2:20 pm

          Thank you Tanya – I’m now weighing up Outside Inside versus Black and White – any thoughts?

          I wasn’t aware of his work till now.

        3. AMANO 16 June 2012 at 3:27 pm


          Not the answer to your question but Black and White contains five separate bodies of work although I guess they may overlap a little.

        4. Stephanie 16 June 2012 at 3:54 pm

          Thanks Amano. I can see now from Amazon that it is in 5 parts. My local, wonderful, independent bookshop, Mr B’s, has Outside Inside (in their especially good photog section) and I’m thinking of asking if I can buy it in installments, so it might be more do-able for me than Black & White.

        5. AMANO 16 June 2012 at 7:41 pm

          Stephanie If you read the Amazon review of Outside Inside
          (also published by Steidl which means excellent reproduction) you’ll see it is actually an entirely different kind of book since it involves Davidson looking back into his archive and doing some rephotographing of former projects. It seems unlikely that this would contain all the East 100’th Street work but probably some and maybe even new ones, negatives he had not printed before.

        6. Stephanie 17 June 2012 at 2:15 am

          Thanks Amano, I obviously need to do some more research and will try to see them both.

    2. Trauti Hard 16 June 2012 at 6:02 pm

      A very interesting study visit. I am not a photography student but feel I have learnt a lot about how to look at photos, what to look for etc. I have come away thinking that, in the end, looking at photos is like looking at paintings (which makes me feel more confortable about it!): why has the artist done it this way, what is she/he trying to say, how are they saying it? A good day. Thanks


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