This week’s work, the final week with any prepared sessions for us to participate in, focused on an extended interview with the photographer Felicity McCabe.
She discussed how her practice had developed since her days as an assistant to Nadav Kander to now, where she has a thriving independent practice and has developed a distinctive photographic voice. What stood out for me in her interview was the constant willingness to experiment and challenge her practice – shooting different subjects, testing things and being willing to fail in the process. She was able to demonstrate how this continuously creative process ultimately resulted in evolution and progression in her work and placed her in a position to accept new professional opportunities.
McCabe also takes a really refreshing attitude to the connection between the experimental aspects of her practice, her personal projects and her commissioned work. Setting aside the idea that there are different expectations or requirements in these different areas, she is explicit that everything is connected based on the fact that everything originates from a single source, herself. As such, by definition, the work is always connected in some way. I found this to be a really interesting idea, because it seems to take the pressure off the idea that one has to consciously strive to maintain a clear sense of authorship and personal ‘style’ in work that is commissioned (by implication, this being harder than when making personal work). McCabe convincingly argued that over time, it will be possible to see a consistent vision in all your work, as long as you remain true to the impulses that stimulate you to create work, even if at first the work produced might seem unconnected.
For me, this links into another idea that we’ve heard during this module (and which was also put forward in Grant Scott’s book ‘Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained’) which is that there should not be a hard distinction between the ‘personal project’ and ‘commissioned work’. Listening to McCabe, and to various other practitioners discussing their work recently, there’s a common theme of people either finding a way to leverage a personal project into paid work or a book/publication, or alternatively finding that work that originally started as a commission ends up either being extended into a long form project or sparking an idea that subsequently becomes a significant project that then pushes their practice and profile forward.
At the risk of reiterating another idea that I’ve mentioned earlier in this module, the overriding advice then surely has to be to strive to make good work, regardless of the context in which the work was initiated – because you never know what opportunities may arise as a result, or what direction the work might take you in next.
This all feels particularly relevant to me at the moment because having really examined my motivations and the inspirations underpinning my project during this last 12 weeks I feel more inspired than ever. At the end of the previous two modules I’ve felt a sense of mental exhaustion and disconnection, oppressed almost by the demands of the course and just totally detached from the photographic passion that brought me here in the first place. I think there’s also a tendency to judge yourself by the standards of your peers, many of whom already have a professional photographic practice and so by those standards I have felt something of a failure.
Now however I’m so energised by the prospect of what’s ahead of me. I’ve been able to place my creativity and the ideas I have swirling around in my head all the time into a framework that seems robust enough to support them and allow them to grow and develop. I’ve been able to reconnect with that love of shooting that I had previously, something I was genuinely worried I might have lost for good. I also have a much clearer idea of where I might realistically be able to take my practice in real, tangible terms. In a way, I wish this module was longer, because the fruits of this new sense of purpose haven’t quite yet borne fruit and I’d love to have more ‘solid’ things to show for it right now, but they are coming in just a little while.
As things stand I’m positive about the future of my project and practice as a whole, and have a much clearer picture of how I’m going to get to where I intend to go.
One of the few things I’m clear about is that I would like my future photographic career to have a number of strands, aside from creating photographic images. One of my main reasons for doing the MA was that it would provide possible openings into some of these potential career strands such as teaching.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, although having chosen a scientific career, there is little scope for the sort of writing I enjoy in my day to day work. Of course, writing this CRJ as we are obliged to do, hones the skill of writing for a photographic/critical theory audience and in this module I’ve taken another opportunity to write in this genre by agreeing to write two book reviews for Shutter Hub.
I’ve written for Shutter Hub in the past and it’s always an enjoyable opportunity, made only slightly less so on this occasion as their submission deadline coincided uncomfortably with that for the MA work this December. The stress is worth it though, for the opportunity to write about something I’m really interested in – I love books and I love photography – and to continue developing my written communication skills.
I’ve thought about how I might develop this strand of my practice further, and consider submitting work for a journal (e.g. Source) as possibly being the next step. I’m not sure I yet have the credentials to be a credible author in a photography journal but this is a forum I would hope to be able to contribute to in future.
I still see text as playing a role in my final project output also, and having planned to do a creative writing course at the time of my original project proposal I’ll be looking to do this as we move into the second year of the MA. I have a very important medical exam coming up in late February, so once that’s out of the way the creative writing course will possibly be the next thing on the agenda to do alongside the MA work.
“The digital world is full of noise, and that cacophony of noise makes it hard to be heard. It makes it hard to stand out and make your point, express your opinions, build a client base, and tell your personal stories. Adding to that cacophony without a distinctive voice is therefore pointless. It is better to be quiet while you define what you have to say and how you want to say it. Listen to those who are speaking clearly and observe how they disseminate what they have to say so that it can inform your own language.”
Professional Photography, Grant Scott, p16.
“"I am a photographer, I take photographs,” that is and has always been the spine of any photographer’s professional practice. But is that enough today? You may, of course, perceive that as being a rhetorical question based on what I have written so far in this book. But it is not. It’s a challenge to any professional photographer to take up and address, no more or less than that. Only you will know if your answer to this question is convincing and honest.”
Professional Photography, Grant Scott, p176.
I have just finished reading the book ‘Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained’ by Grant Scott (2015).
This book perfectly amplifies the work we’ve been covering in the Sustainable Prospects module and has given me much food for thought, as well as a number of avenues to pursue in my own practice moving forward.
Scott makes a very compelling argument for the existence of what he describes as a new and ever-changing landscape of professional photographic practice. He states repeatedly that the practitioners who will be best-placed to exploit this changing landscape to create opportunities and survive the economic squeeze that has affected the entire photographic industry are those who accept that the old norms are no longer given and who are open to adopting new skills and developing familiarity with new media. This will allow them to create and disseminate their work as well as engage with a potential audience who are no longer to be found in the traditional places.
These messages are of course very similar to those we have been presented with throughout the MA and more particularly during this module, where the focus has been squarely on positioning oneself and defining our own space in the professional landscape. The questions that must be answered by all of us are similar to those which are alluded to in the quotes above – what are you trying to say, how are you going to say it, and how are you going to define your practice?
As Scott also argues, without a clear appreciation of and willingness to tailor one’s efforts towards the needs of the client, it is not possible to consider oneself to be a professional practitioner. As such, as the client’s demands change thus must the photographer adapt their offering in order to remain relevant, and economically viable.
As I have written elsewhere, I’ve had a continuous internal discussion going on during this module in particular, trying to articulate to myself and subsequently to potential clients and collaborators, what sort of photographer I am and how I plan to engage with the professional world. This book has really helped to make certain elements of this challenge very clear and has also helpfully provided some clear and practical advice as to how to proceed, that I can take forward.
This also comes at a time when I have been trying to reconsider my project in light of advice given to me by tutor Krishna Sheth about the direction my project should take. This has left everything somewhat open to question and I am unable to progress without heeding the very pertinent advice that I have been given and which is echoed in Scott’s excellent book.
As such I am planning the following over the next few weeks, including the module break over Christmas/New Year:
1. Explore how to gain some basic skills shooting video
2. Get some basic audio recording equipment
3. Shoot a trailer for my project using these skills gained (I already have a broad outline)
4. Promote the trailer via current social media channels
5. Commence research for a new personal project
SCOTT, Grant. 2015. Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained. New York & London: Focal Press.
“Apply yourself to the process of making good work”
Steve Macloed, Metro Imaging, 2017
Week 5 focused on the importance of building networks to support and progress our practice, while week 6 was a slightly slower week aimed at allowing presentation of provisional presentations that are due at the end of the module.
This period has coincided with a busier period at work and, along with that, I seem to have found myself deviating somewhat from the topic for various reasons. The overarching challenge for me remains the task of setting out and putting into place a method of working that will allow me to move my practice forward in the immediate future and hopefully also in the early stages after the MA is finished.
I know that might seem a bit premature, but the first year has already almost flown by and I feel there’s so much more progress to be made, there’s no time for messing around!
Steve Macloed and Kate O’Neill dispensed pearls of wisdom this week, about the importance of making local connections with other practitioners and of approaching these connections in the spirit of openness and mutual benefit. It’s not just about trying to milk people for all they’re worth, but rather about trying to foster genuine and nurturing connections that may also provide some kind of boost to your practice, almost as a happy bonus. For me, this all boils down to simply being nice! Maybe I’m being too naïve about this, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a lot easier to enjoy your work and develop lasting connections with like-minded people who you don’t feel are somehow trying to shaft you.
So…be genuine, don’t shaft anyone, try and help people if you can, support those whose work you appreciate or are inspired by…just share a bit of love around!
I feel really strongly about this, mainly because artists are always struggling and yet often are able to connect with people that they may never even meet in ways that may be truly transformative for the person(s) in receipt of the work. I believe that if someone’s work touches you in that way you should support it, promote it, buy it…whatever!
Anyway, one of the key messages that again popped up this week was the idea that alongside all the glad-handing you should never lose sight of the actual making of good work (hmmm, I may have said this before…). Increasingly, I’m understanding that this requires a commitment, and almost stubbornness, that is not subject to external validation or circumstances but has to be fired by an internal desire to create, to adhere to a personal imperative to produce, to be productive. I suppose if I learn nothing else during this MA, that would be a useful lesson in itself. The need to develop a process that sustains practice beyond the MA, when there isn’t an assignment deadline or a tutor chasing you down. There needs to be a plan, a strategy of some kind.
Recently I was fortunate to meet a group of creative and inspiring graduates who had created a magazine in reaction to limited job prospects post-graduation. They collaborated to create a platform to promote their own work and that of other creatives and thus gave birth to Bricoleur.