I’ve now completed the first main section of the course, entitled Writing about Photography (though it does also include a section called Reading About Photography). As I’ve indicated elsewhere in these notes, I already do a fair amount of both reading and writing about photography & photographers. For that reason, the study in this section has been more about providing some structure and embellishment to what I’m already doing rather than sending me off in a new direction.
The notes ask that we reflect on how our studying in this section might impact on our photographic practice. I do feel that it has helped to hone the skills. It’s always useful to go through a structured process such as this, and I also enjoyed reading the ‘Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images’ book by Terry Barrett, published by McGraw Hill. This is the Fifth Edition of this American book (which says something in itself) and was published earlier this year. I have read it through once and referred back to one or two sections again; and I think that it is a helpful read in relation to all aspects of the background study for the OCA Photography courses. To read a structured study of how those criticising photographs approach what they do is definitely helpful when subsequently reading those critique – as well as helping us to structure our own.
Writing about one’s photography, in the broadest sense, is part of the development of a practice in many practical ways. Whether writing captions, artists statements, proposals, or whatever, the skills of communicating ideas and concepts clearly, understanding the reader so as to write for one’s audience, appreciating how one’s work relates to others, all are important. I’ve also benefited from some very simple practical tips, too. Summarising each paragraph of a complex article in a single sentence, for example; it is obvious, but it isn’t something I’ve tended to do with academic writing in the past, but it worked well in pulling together the argument in the Berger essay – I shall use it again.
Speaking of the Berger essay, ‘Understanding a Photograph’, I think I got quite a lot out of that exercise, but partly because it linked into something else I’d read recently. It makes me reflect on the joys and frustrations of reading about photography. The ‘story’ went something like this – I read the Berger article & did the various exercises; it led me to go back to an article I’d read in Hotshoe magazine, A. D. Coleman’s ‘Letter from New York’ column, which in the March/April edition was entitled ‘John Berger goes to the dogs’; reading Cloeman’s comments about Berger’s writing and comparing them to my own led me to reflect on differences of approach – those like Berger, and perhaps Sontag & Barthes, with what I might refer to as philosophical discourse, on the one hand, and Fried, Coleman etc, with a more analytical approach; unsure whether my thinking was valid, I remembered some reference to the prevalence if literary-based writers (Barthes being one of those referred to) on photography theory over the more practice-based; that came, I think, from a book entitled ‘Photography Theory’, edited by James Elkins, and off I go to try and find the reference; etc etc.
At one level, it’s a delight to recognise that there is so much to read and learn. At another, there is never enough time to follow everything through. Patience is the answer, I guess, keep reading, keep reflecting, wait patiently for the occasional penny to drop!