MY STORY: A sharper image

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Photography, until fairly recently considered merely a mechanical and chemical technique of image-making, 
is now accepted as an art form, and fine art at that. Falmouth University has launched a new online-led MA Photography devised by Dr Paul Cabuts, director of Falmouth’s Institute of Photography, in partnership with CEG Digital, part of Cambridge Education Group

 

 If photography is now accepted as an art form, why is this course necessary?

Photography has taken a central position within contemporary art but photography also has far wider applications. Indeed, photographs have become central to contemporary life and surround us at every turn. This new MA, which is a flexible and part-time course aimed at working photographers, is delivered online but with opportunities to attend bi-annual residential workshops around the world linked to major photography events. It is designed to help photographers to maximise their personal potential in this image-rich world.

How will students qualify for the course – will they have to have a photography first degree – and how will it be taught?

To join the course the student must have a photography-related practice. Whilst this may be at a very early stage it should already have a sense of purpose. A first degree is desirable but not essential – students can be considered for entry to the course via what we call Approval Prior Learning or Approved Prior Experience. Our ambition is to raise a student’s practice to the next level by focusing on three key areas: how best to place the work in front of audiences and markets – publishing work can take the form of digital portfolio, hard copy, exhibition or a combination of these – and the best options are explored relative to the student’s specific practice; how to manage the business of being a practitioner – to have a financially sustainable practice is essential for success; finally, students are guided in the development of a sophisticated understanding of the critical contexts for what they produce.

Why is it so hard for photographers to realise their commercial potential, and is it harder than for, say, painters?

There are many commercially successful photographers and there will always be a demand for photographic practitioners in the future. Whether working as an artist on self-directed projects, or a commercial photographer working to a client brief, it is essential to be equipped to manage the ever- changing contexts to successfully deliver professional outcomes. The course helps to develop professional resilience in providing the knowledge and skills to enable practitioners to manage change. The basic challenge is the same whether you are a painter, filmmaker, designer or photographer. Each will have to shape their work within their own particular field, in their own particular way.

Your course is distancing itself from teaching photographic skills. How?

The big difference between our new MA and typical professional development programmes is we do not teach new creative photography skills as such. Students come equipped with a level of practice and they should have a grounding in the fundamental skills they need to successfully undertake their studies when they join. The course allows these to be built on, with new perspectives and insights emerging throughout the studies. Technologies are constantly evolving – good practitioners keep themselves up to date with whatever is appropriate to their work. Equally, we encourage students to try new things that may appear counterintuitive – sometimes innovation comes from unexpected directions.

You are a successful practising photographer yourself. Do you have a speciality?
Early in my career I was a photographer’s assistant undertaking social photography (portraits and weddings) and advertising photography (sofas and industrial components). After a couple of years of doing this I started formal studies in photography resulting in my entry into new fields of work and undertaking culturally-related photographic projects. It’s hard to know whether or not a course like the MA Photography would have taken me down a different path. However it is likely that I would have reached my destination sooner.

The role of photography has gone a long way beyond illustration. How do you hope this course might develop it further?

One of the course’s core strands enables the understanding of the critical contexts in which photographic work is made. The best practitioners move beyond illustration to take up a questioning or challenging stance in relation to the world around them. Whether a cultural or commercial practitioner, you need to be familiar with the latest ideas around what you are exploring in your work.

Advances in photographic technology and the development of digital cameras and phone lenses has meant the use of photographic images is much wider then
even, say, five years ago. Is there anything in this course for non- photographers?
This is an important point. The more that society engages with photographs in their multifarious forms, the more visual literacy becomes important. During the last century Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, professor at the renowned Bauhaus Design School, stated that the illiterate of the future will be a person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen. Therefore, the photographic practitioner, if they are informed about the use of the camera, may also be a curator, a writer or a critic – the MA course is very much open to this form of practice.

With the advances and potential for the art form, is it time – and will it ever be – to create a University of Photography?

By its very nature and application photography is itself interdisciplinary. There needs to be an extensive engagement beyond photography itself if anyone is to succeed as a photographic practitioner. A University of Photography would need to be
one engaging with the cultural and commercial challenges of the world – you have to be in that world to do so. An enclave of photography, remote from other disciplines, sounds appealing, but might ultimately prove self-defeating in terms of what photography actually contributes to our world.

For more information about the MA Photography, and to apply directly, please go to http://flexible.falmouth.ac.uk/

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