Never Seeing Nothing

It’s this time of the year when creative graduates from all across the country are presenting the fruits of their labor for the eyes of the general public. Last night, LCC MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course graduates opened degree show with an intriguing title Never Seeing Nothing at Nursery Gallery next doors to their alma mater.

Led by the UAL reputation for high-standards of education, I always expect a lot from their graduate shows and inevitably leave disappointed and puzzled about the state of the industry.

The works vary from mediocre to reasonable with few exceptions towards both ends of the scale. There is a lot of ideas, interesting findings and concepts worth exploring, but the quality often doesn’t match the intention. Nondescript visuals often rely on wordy texts to explain their meaning, and when after three paragraphs of reflections on the meaning of life I still can’t work out what the project is about, it makes me wonder – what all this has to do with photojournalism?

Nonetheless, there were few pleasant surprises: I very much enjoyed the work of my compatriot Gunta Podina, documenting Swedes at leisure time:

Gunta Podina: Njut Lagom!

Gunta Podina: Njut Lagom!

Also, congratulations to Max Colson (and his secret alter ego) on developing a really interesting body of work since the last time I heard the idea in its early days:

Max Colson: Hide and Seek

Max Colson: Hide and Seek

The exhibition is on display until tomorrow, so do have a look and let me know if you have a different opinion about the show.

And once you are on the South side of the river, check out Pablo Allison’s exhibition at Southwark Council Atrium until the end of the week.

Advertisements

About Tina Remiz

I am a documentary storyteller and visual artist of Latvian origin, currently based in the UK's capital.

8 comments

  1. Interesting review, a couple of thoughts in response:

    – It’s a degree show not a curated exhibition so of course the quality is going to vary.

    – It’s quite a theory orientated course hence the ‘wordy text’, was there much of this anyway? Not that I saw.

    – Some of the projects were clearly not intended as gallery pieces, and existed in other very different forms, books for example, that better expressed what they were about.

    – The remit of the course is documentary photography, not just photojournalism (and both are silly categories anyway in my opinion)

    • Thank you for your comments, Lewis – I much appreciate the response.

      – the quality of work can vary in any show, but looking at the work of people, who just received a master’s degree, I would expect a certain level of professionalism. Unfortunately, this is not the case with way too many degree shows, which tells something about the quality of education in general, not just this particular course.

      – I appreciate that the work was produced in an academic environment, but why not to leave wordy explanations for self-assessments, module evaluations and other essays?… The exhibition was open to public, so should focus on communicating the stories you, as journalists/documentarians/storytellers, want to share with the audience. The thought process behind it is important, but should (in most cases) be left back-stage and translate into visuals, since this is the language you chose to use.

      – True, and some pieces would probably benefit from a different format of presentation. However, I generally believe that you can spot a good photograph no matter where it appears. I actually didn’t have much problem with the presentation – it was fairly diverse (for a gallery space) and well thought-through, but a good (or the right one) package has little relevance, when the content doesn’t hold up to its standard.

      – Agree, those are just labels, so I appreciate some people may venture into different fields of practice. Still, even documentary photography is usually associated with journalism more than art, so there are certain norms it needs to confirm to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up for breaking the rules, but there has to be a good reason for doing so, and a simple inability to keep up is not good enough.

      Look forward to hearing further comments!

  2. I guess we just disagree on lots of issues, which is fine, and it’s an interesting discussion to have.

    – I’m not sure what you mean by professionalism, but I think it’s a mistake to make a judgement about a course (and photography higher education in general) based on a single degree show.

    – The students haven’t been forced to write just for the degree, for some text and image hold equal importance in communicating an idea, one can’t be extracted from the other (e.g Franziska Rieder’s work)

    – A ‘good’ photograph is often the package for a boring idea, the world already has enough of both of these.

    – Who defines these norms and orders that we conform to them? And who are we meant to be keeping up with? I think all implies a very rigid view of photography and journalism.

    thoughts?

    • Sure, it’s only a matter of opinion, so I’m glad you opened up the discussion.

      – Oh, believe me, I have seen quite a few degree shows from this and other courses, and the fact that you can recognise ‘student work’ straight away says something about the education system. If graduates are at the threshold of the industry, the quality gap should be less explicit.

      – Of course, this would be an awful geralisation to say that all artistic statements were inappropriate, as some, indeed, benefit from pairing with a conceptual piece of writing. However, if students are graduating from a visual course, images they produce should stand of their own. Text can add an extra layer of meaning, no explain what photographs failed communicate.

      – True, you can make an remarkable image of the most mundane subject, using composition, lighting and other photographic techniques. However, a badly-exposed blurry picture, be it even a portrait of the queen, will not get any better if hung up side down next to a five-page essay explaining the photographer’s intentions.

      – I personally think you have to know the rules before you break them. Unfortunately, too many artists turn ‘radical’ because they simply can’t perform to a standard. This reminds me of a quote by Picasso, who was accused that a ten-year-old kid can paint like he does, to which he reasoned that he could draw like Rembrandt at that age.

      Over to you!

  3. – The entire industry has never been more mixed, there are ‘proffessionals’ producing work that is very sub what you would find on even quite a poor degree course. In photography as in everything there is a quality spectrum, good work will rise to the top, the rest isn’t worth worrying about.

    – I’m not talking about artistic statements which implies something seperate and additional, but work in which photography and text co-exist with equal importance, and it needn’t be conceptual writing. I absolutely disagree with the idea an image should stand on it’s own, please show me a photograph which can exist entirely on it’s own without explanation.

    – I guess from this you feel photography’s role is just to illustrate then? Here we disagree again, I’m only really interested in photography as a vessel for an abstract idea, not as an illustration of the literal world.

    – I think this implies a tyranny of skill, that one has to start at the bottom and work one’s way up, which again I disagree with. Also I think Picasso is being a little too kind to himself with that quote, I’ve seen some of his early work, they’re good, but they’re not Rembrandt good ;)

  4. – true, in the era when everyone is a photographer and publisher should they choose to, there is enough poor imagery out there, still, I don’t think accepting this as a fact is a healthy solution. I think it’s important to point it out, explain how it can be improved and so on… At least, this is how I like my work to be treated.

    – well, there are certainly plenty of examples of images working without text. Roger Ballen famously said that he likes to see photographs with no text and draw his own conclusions… Of course, I’m not talking about project, which incorporate text as part of the work (like Max Colson’s work for instance). However, a blurb with artist’s bio and description of the story is usually treated as a supporting material, not part of the artwork. National Geographic uses 1-2 sentences to introduce documentary stories on their website, so why do some students need an A3 page of wordy writing to get to the point?

    – Not at all (and I don’t see how you drew this conclusion)! Even though a documentary images is usually expected to tell a story, there are plenty of exceptions to any rule. I’m all up for abstract and conceptual photography, but the reason for producing those kind of images can’t be the lack of understanding of your equipment of craft. I had a friend, who tried to take a portrait of someone against a bright light and, predictably, came up with a silhouette. He decided to call it ‘shadow of someone I knew’ and wrote a long piece on the meaning of their relations, but he would be better off figuring out how to use a flash.

    – :) Then we simply disagree on this point. I do believe that you have to understand your craft and always work to improve you technical skills – only when they become a second nature, you can become really free in your creative practice. Until then, you are simple relying on chance.

  5. I’ll skip the first and last points since we seem more or less agree that we disagree on these (also want to keep my answer short and to the point). The second point we seem to be talking about two different things, you about artists statements and me about photography which, to repeat incorporates text as an intrinisic part of the work.

    Regarding the third sorry if I misunderstood what you meant. In terms of your friend it’s hard to comment on a picture I haven’t seen, but if the end result was an interesting idea whether transmitted by photograph or text or a mixture of the two then I couldn’t care less how it was achieved. Equally I don’t care if a photographer is technically proficient and plans and executes everything as they intended if the result is boring, which it often will be if someone works on territory they know is safe and takes no risks.

  6. OK, we agreed to disagree on most points then, which, of course, is fine, as long as it makes for an interesting discussion.

    – True, there are some ‘happy accidents’, but I still believe that you have to know what you are doing to be able to produce a consistent body of work of a high standard. I’m all up for experiments, but those should be conscious choices, decisions to take a risk, which can later be analised and learned from in order to create something better. What is the role of artist/photographer/journalist in production of work, he simply relies on chance and good luck?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: