Notes to Self: ‘The Photo Course’ (March 2010)

The Photo Course (working title) is a work on progress. I am still grappling with how to conceptualize it. I teach History and Theory of Photography and Practical studies. I suppose, this work was initially about my experience of teaching these subjects and a general interest of the environment that photography is taught in. These began with simple studies of rooms. I had started to photograph aspects of the rooms after my own lectures. Some images reference the ‘topic’ of the class I have just finished. For example, the image ‘After Pictorialism’ references the Pictorialist style, and the image ‘Chairs After Modernism’ references the modernist style. So, in effect, photographing the post-lecture environments in a style after Modernism or Pictorialism, for instance.

(What would represent this space best?) The Photo Course is positioned within a generic institutional building designed for Secondary Level education. It was built in, what looks like, the 1970s. The Course takes over (most of) the top floor of the building. The darkroom was, I hear, the room in which religion and geography were once taught (interesting, photographic theory is about a new understanding of both, I think.) There is a plastic crucifix fashioned into the ‘7’ part of the number 17 which sits, largely unnoticed, over the display panel proclaiming the word ‘Photography’. This was the center of the photographic course in its infancy (before my time) and now one of four rooms which are solely for photography and media courses. It’s a makeshift darkroom, part-time lecture room, common room for students, staff meeting room, etc. As with all rooms assigned for the photography course – it is multi-functional by necessity.

(What am I looking for?) I want to find the energetic ‘imprint’ from teaching and learning photography against the dead wood of the empty institutional environment. I want to focus on the abstract traces and markings (from myself and my students) which help to contextualize, conceptualize and realize the discourse of photographic theory and photographic history. I want to find traces of the interchange of information between my sources (photographic discourse), from myself (as the ‘mediator’ of this information) and my students (the ones who are facilitated by this information) within this building. (Note to self: Is this partly about the flow of information and ideas within an institutional building which was not designed, as such, for photography? Is it an exploration of my place within this flow and within this building?)

The project has started to become more and more self-reflexive (is it about me?) I have started to add notes, scribbles, white board markings, which have moved the history class along – as well as notes which have moved my project of teaching history along. My approach is to document, through the college year, keep records, notes, ephemera, and start to piece it together in the summer. (Note to self: ‘moving’ history along. Could even this note to self become incorporated into the project. Could an aspect of it become a project about doing a project?)

This body of work is prompted by my sense of restrictions. The energy I put into teaching others, does inevitably, restrict and limit the energy I put into my own practice. This is a massive issue for me. But, I have discovered over the last couple of years that I have an unrelenting impulse to work and think my way through large photographic projects. This has become my raison d‘etre. The ‘course’ project means that I can practice while I am at work - I can explore an idea, I can look at an environment in a different way through the medium of photography. And, in effect, explore the nature of photography in all its various manifestations through teaching and through practicing.
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Sidenote: The heavy black curtain in the studio is a focal point for me. It blocks the outside (blue) light from the room where students are learning how to control and understand the principles of how indoor light works. I find an interesting mixture of both in one image. It is reminiscent of some diagram I may have seen in some generic ‘How to’ (or more appropriately ‘How Not To’) photography textbooks. I like the fact that everybody points out that the image is ‘technically’ incorrect (the carpet is yellow, etc) This is my intention.!