I reached the end of Gesture & Meaning at the end of December 2016, and spent January on rework and assessment preparation culminating in my final submission at the end of January. I then took February off studying completely (I used the time to set up a photography business and so will no longer be studying full-time but blending study with work, hopefully). I started my studies again this week and decided that after a suitable period of reflection, it would be useful to capture my overall feelings on the course.
The course content was rather eclectic
I’ve made this point a few times at various junctures, usually as a criticism, but my final view on this is that the diverse nature of the course isn’t wholly negative by any means. It has its pros and cons. Sometimes it felt like the first four (genre) sections were written by four different authors, so different are they – not only content-wise (this is to be expected) but also in terms of depth, breadth and the mix of exercises and research.
However, from the standpoint of the end of the course I can now find the positives: the diversity of genres and coursework stretched me out of my comfort zone several times and in the end had permanently expanded my photographic world, which can only be a good thing.
The course title feels somewhat arbitrary
I was particularly attracted to G&M because I am interested in the G and the M :-)
The course introduction includes phrases such as:
“You’ll look at photography that focuses on the human body as a subject”; and
“This course will therefore develop your practice through a greater understanding and comprehension of the messages given through gesture by the human body.”
Following on from Context & Narrative (still my most fulfilling course) I was looking forward to a deeper dive into the specifics of signification through human subject matter. But this didn’t really came through strongly in the course content – it was something I had to consciously hold in my mind whilst I worked through the course rather than an identifiable thread.
My opinion is that the first four sections didn’t uniformly adhere or even align to this stated body-centric focus, and instead were more like standalone potted genre mini-courses. An identifiable line of argument, or shared foundation of knowledge, throughout the overall course were lacking. In comparison, Documentary feels much more consistent and directed towards a coherent destination.
The ‘shape’ of the course is quite odd
By this I mean:
- the first four sections are very coursework-heavy and finish with a photographic assignment
- the last two sections have zero coursework, only an academic assignment each
The shift between these two is quite abrupt! I shouldn’t complain, as there was ultimately less work overall in these last two sections. However, having been studying Documentary in parallel I prefer the structure of that: coursework throughout all five (not six) sections and a mix of photographic assignments (1, 2, 3 and 5) broken up with an academic one (4).
Having said that…
I found the academic assignments more fulfilling than I expected
The oral presentation and critical review essay initially looked to me like they might be perfunctory afterthoughts following the photographic assignments, but the truth was surprisingly more positive. I really enjoyed both researching and pulling together both of these two assignments. I think the ability to choose your own areas of research is the key to how satisfying I found these assignments – it related to my following point about honing in on an area of interest. My experience on these assignments makes me less trepidatious about the academic side of Level 3.
The fragmentary content helped me to hone my personal voice
The main positive I identified in the eclectic content approach was that it helped me to identify one significant aspect of my developing personal voice, namely the kind of subject matter I’m drawn to. I talked about this in an earlier blog post, but in summary I realised around Assignment 4 that I was steering the brief on whatever genre assignment I was working on to be fundamentally about some kind of social documentary subject. Finding this thread in my own work was a real lightbulb moment.
I appreciated the value of a good tutor
My tutor Helen was excellent. She provided a really good balance of encouragement and challenge. She articulated the difference in expectations between Levels 1 and 2 very well, and made me step up my game in some key areas that I needed to develop in, from technical matters such as printing and presentation, through to the quality and depth of my visual analysis and my documentation of my working processes.
Working with Helen made me realise that the point of the tutor isn’t to tell you whether your work is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but to help you refine and develop your ways of working. Her focus on the process as much as the outcome is one of the key differences I saw from Level 1.
To conclude – whilst I found the course to be a bit of a curate’s egg for most of its duration, my instinct for optimism (or revisionism) leads me to focus on the positives. I’m still glad I did it – the alternatives I had at the time still don’t appeal, even with hindsight – but equally I can see why it has subsequently been discontinued and replaced with Self & the Other.
Now just to wait for the results…