Reportage Final Assessments Autumn 2015


The Reportage Photography Autumn exhibition session entitled Documents was a huge success. Congratulations to all the short-course students for their energetic commitment to the pursuit of the personal project in addition to the weekly lessons and micro-assignments. A solid understanding of subject was evidenced in the individual essays through not only a personal understanding, point of view and ethnographic observation,  but the inclusion of both a historical and stylistic integrity which permeated through and seen in the collective aesthetic and narrative.

Equally important was the show of confidence in presentation before an audience.  Comments from the guests and invited crits were positive as they felt completely immersed in the individual conversations and stories developed and exhibited.

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Each semester the Documents show is especially important to me because it highlights an area of the visual learning process I feel strongly about. It too often is overlooked when students of photography choose an autodidactic approach, learning as they piece together quick tips off Youtube videos, apps, magazines and trust their learning process to social media ‘likes’ and ’emoticon-nents’. While all of this is indeed important information mining one should not overlook nor avoid the experience that comes with live presentation. Having completed my Masters examining social media and mobile image sites like Instagram and Flickr where an identity is built through visual capital, popularity  and immediate trends, I see the live moments between aspiring photographers and audience as fine, fiberous tentacles extending deep into the pedagogical soil –  setting in place a root which anchors a trust in the artist’s self.  The process often will tease out a depth of analysis and reflexive qualities that only q+a and exhibition can. Practicing professionals have this available to them through peers, editors, art directors, critics, and lectures. But the student – especially of the short-course taxonomy-does not face the same valuable critical analysis. My practice-based research of over fifteen years has shown the obvious – the more a student engages in the practice of presentation the more they evolve in terms of developing the finer points behind the understanding of their own work and process. Performance and dialogue aid in creating critical feedback which later in the image making process they can reference and capitalise on in the development of their projects.

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All photos © Julia Massey Stewart 2015

Documents is a unique course event because, while we have intelligent discourse and the occassional polemic from class to class through our group crits or guest professionals, it is during these final shows the relationship between audience and presenter flesh out a level of confidence and honest reflection in the pursuit of the project for the student.  As they step up to the podium, their work lies naked on the walls, the audience eagerly waiting to hear the story of the story.

The move to hard copy print, even if only an inexpensive inkjet collection,  also facilitates this exposure. There is no hiding. No gloss through Powerpoint tricks or jazzy digital speak. No dissolves or fades between images. Traditional print placed on a white wall allows for a pure and honest study of the work. The work is viewed in its entirety and remains on the wall for the entire evening so the curation of the images must lay there cohesive and balanced, like a smooth paragraph of words.  If this does not happen the audience can feel the bumps in the visuals, and once it is pointed out it remains an obvious glitch. Despite this vulnerability before audience I often witness in the students a complete understanding and confidence in sharing their subject. This takes a combination of courage, a leap of faith and trust in one’s abilities not only in the story – but the holding out for that ever so fragile approval in terms of the ‘look’ as is the case in photography. From their first evening onto the course to Documents presentation day, the students’ personal transformation is considerable. They move from shyly talking about about their own work to solidly ‘communicating’ it. This is especially true of the ESL (English as a Second Language) students who face the additional challenge of not only learning the English language but communicating both the visual and conceptual language to a foreign audience in their newly acquired vernacular.

Congratulations to all the graduating students – you should be very proud and I, as always, feel privileged to witness this.