Sketchbooks. Context. Presentation of work. Articulation of ideas. Peer-group feedback. What do these topics have in common? They all come high on the list of absolute nail-biters for students of the creative arts – and they were all addressed in some way at the most recent meeting of the OCASA Thames Valley (Photography) Group.
Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of joining the OCASA Thames Valley group, as guest tutor, at three of their regular meetings. The group’s high levels of organisation, resourcefulness and drive immediately impressed me. Now, having spent time with the group, I’m even more impressed by the enthusiasm and creativity of the student-members and by the supportive atmosphere at the meetings.
September’s meeting was a busy affair with 13 students (including 1 alumni) in attendance – and a full agenda, covering: sketchbooks; a set discussion on Adam Curtis’ Century Of The Self (the first episode of which I had asked students to view at home, as preparation); and work reviews. The conversation around ‘sketchbooks’ (aka ‘journals’/’notebooks’/’scrapbooks’/…) seemed to settle around the importance, simple as it might sound, of finding a format that works best for the individual. Some students had found their sketchbooks had really taken off once they’d begun to regard them as personal journals, worrying less over presentation; others had found that small, regular learning log entries were their way forward. While most had been reluctant to keep any form of journal at all, at first, those who’d found the format that worked for them were clearly benefiting from keeping their ideas, notes, experiments etc. all in one place – and enjoying the process, to boot. (Some, clutching notebooks to chests, said they couldn’t bear the thought of being parted from them!)
The discussion on Century Of The Self was lively and interesting, with a broad range of views from around the room. Students discussed the (striking) formal qualities of the piece itself as well as the rhetorical perspective(s) of the material, the context and the narrative. Why had I proposed this as a discussion topic? Well, while Century of The Self may not be about photography per se, it pulls together several major strands of contextual study, such as psychoanalysis, semiotics, Western visual culture – and more. A good reminder to keep the cultural antenna up and tuned to a broad range of material…
Finally, the work reviews were as diverse and fascinating as ever. Unsurprisingly, work reviews (or group ‘crits’) are the mainstay of these meetings. I can’t emphasise strongly enough the benefit to students of work reviews, whether formal or informal, whether ideas are in their infancy or almost fully resolved. It can be a daunting prospect to present your work to others – naturally – but the experience is as rewarding and creatively nourishing as it is challenging. The fruitfulness of these sessions is very much dependent on participants’ interest in each other’s work and willingness to reciprocate feedback on their own work – factors always in evidence within this particular OCASA group dynamic.
Credit and congratulations to the organisers of the Thames Valley Group for their commitment to making these events happen, and to all of the students involved for contributing to the energy and positive atmosphere of the meetings.
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Featured Image: OCA student John Costello.