I’ve recently been reviewing the photos I took during my final Newlyn School of Art Defining Practice weekend. I didn’t have a laptop with me so I was only able to view my pictures on the back of the camera before sharing them with the rest of the group and I wasn’t happy with the selection I made. I also found the brief we were given quite confusing and I felt I might get more out of it if I gave the matter some extra thought. It’s been useful and has made me reflect on the part photography plays in my creative practice. I’ve now put together a short statement:

I take photos mainly for their own sake rather than as source material for future work. I use photography to record the world around me and as a way of developing my powers of observation. I’m motivated by curiosity and the desire to tell a story, and by a love of shape, texture and colour. I generally aim to celebrate what I find rather than creating a deliberate set-up. I’m interested in cameraless photography and would like to learn to use a scanner and to be able to modify images during processing.

I expect I’ll want to amend this as time goes on but I’m happy with it as a starting point.

On the Newlyn School of Art website, the Defining Practice course is described as a one-year, part-time course which combines ‘practical sessions on each of the weekends alongside one-to-one tuition and group tutorials’ and offers participants ‘the opportunity to cover multi-media practice including painting, printmaking, collage and photography among other media’. This sounded exactly what I was looking for and when I heard in October 2016 that I’d been accepted for a place I was thrilled. I won’t go into detail regarding the glitches and disappointments that have occurred since then, but the end result is that I’ve decided not to continue. I found the first weekend enjoyable and productive but the second one, which was dedicated to printmaking, was a frustrating experience for me even though (or possibly because) the process of making prints is something I’ve always enjoyed. The discovery afterwards that the sessions were never intended to be ‘about’ printmaking but were designed to provide us with material to work up into paintings later in the course helped to explain this. Painting doesn’t play a central role in my creative practice and when I do paint I work mainly from direct observation.

Unfortunately the photography weekend employed the same approach and the pictures I came home with are in almost direct opposition to the brief we were given. As I understood it the aim was to avoid taking straightforward photos of the place we were in and to concentrate instead on using props and found objects to set up outdoor still lifes and ‘interventions’. The location was a stretch of shoreline adjacent to Newlyn Harbour known as Bowjey/ Breakwater beach. An online guide describes Bowjey as a mix of ‘grey sand, stone and shingle’ and ‘not the most attractive’, which sounded off-putting, and our trips were planned to take place during late morning when the tide was high and the light was unlikely to be interesting. 

Bowjey was inaccessible during our initial visit due to a gig racing event, but on the second day it was empty and I explored the whole of it without seeing anything I wanted to photograph. Breakwater Beach had more to offer, with a small area of wet woodland tucked under a low cliff on the landward side and tumbled rocks and rusting metal above the beach, but the greenery soon petered out and gave way to a concrete bunker and a long retaining wall, both of which were covered with graffiti. I did my best to find pictures amongst all this but I wasn’t happy with the results and eventually I decided that sitting quietly and watching the waves would be a better way to occupy the remaining time. The pictures posted here were all taken after I’d declared myself done for the day and were prompted by boredom and a certain degree of indifference to results.

Boredom has proved productive for me on previous occasions, but it’s easy to forget this and helpful to be reminded of it. In addition, the weekend made me aware of how much I love taking photos and how important photography is to me as a creative medium. These are important things to recognise and despite my decision to quit the course I’m confident that I’ve made the most of what was on offer and have gained a deeper understanding of what my practice is about and the directions in which I would like to take it.

Text and images © Angela Williams 2017

Thinking about photography
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