Tag Archives: Lecturing

Words are the enemy

First posted 19 August 2011

In my opinion, there has been far too much written about photography throughout it’s history. The intensity is increasing and unfortunately I’m going to add another few hundred words here;
As a practicing photographer I am concerned with staying as ‘visual’ as I can be, for as much of the day as is possible. Modern life dictates that we deal with many distractions, and much of this involves paperwork or computers.
In my job as head of analogue photography at a University in the UK, I have quite a lot of this stuff to deal with and let me tell you -it totally scrambles my brain.
Whenever I have to write a report, read an essay on this or that, I am a million miles away from being visual.

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Now I believe that to be fully visual you must empty your head of words. Words are the enemy, and they will distract you and smother your creativity. Reading/writing uses a totally different area of the brain from seeing photographically and you must switch off the voices to be able to make full use of your eyes.
For many years I was able to indulge myself in a world dominated by the visual, but as life has got faster and busier the visual has got pushed further and further back.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.39.00

Because I can’t think that way every hour of the day, I set myself a little task to think about everything around me as a possible picture ten times a day. So whenever the little reminder pops into my head I switch off from what I’m thinking about and look for a composition. Often, it is not possible to actually take the picture, because I may be driving or in the bath, but it is still a useful exercise to keep the visual part of my mind alive to picture opportunities.



  1. Posted 19/08/2011 at 10:05 am

    I couldn’t agree more Andrew. The world is full of distractions and it is so easy to get caught up in daily life and forget to look around you. One of my new resolutions is to look up towards the sky more.

  2. Jen
    Posted 19/08/2011 at 4:09 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Andrew. That was my problem in 2nd year, too much reading/writing about photography and not doing the kind of work i enjoy. All change in 3rd year though!

  3. Gary Liggett
    Posted 28/09/2011 at 12:04 pm

    Bang on! For me, the rot started when Art Colleges – which were entirely focussed on the creative, were subsumed into effing universities. Whoever learned how to be creative by writing about it? Did the success of Van Gough or Monet depend on a 2000 word essay? I bet some of the greatest artists in history couldn’t even write, but they could paint a 1000 words, and then some.

    When I was at art college, I was fortunate to be taught by a master, who taught me how to visualise a scene… to think in pictures…think about the way I should compose image to the best creative effect. The camera was only brought in at the last moment to record what I saw and wanted to portray. None this ‘looking through the viewfinder and shooting away’ like an American tourist in the hope that one of the frames ‘turned out right’. In that respect, on of my heroes is Thomas Joshua Cooper. He travels to the farthest corners of the planet and makes just on photograph. All of this stood me in good stead when I was making films – I had to think is moving images, which fell continuously one after the other 1/25th of a second at a time.

    Likewise, I spend weeks planning and thinking visually about a photograph: when the light will do its thing for me; when the landscape will look how I want it. On the right day, at the right time, I make sure I am there with my trusty old Thornton Pickard half-plate or my Houghton Ensign 6×9 to allow the beautiful light to fall onto the emulsion.


First posted 11 January 2010

I’ve been thinking recently about how I see myself as a photographer/artist and how my students see themselves. They generally downgrade themselves with comments like; ‘I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be shooting this kind of stuff’ ‘Is this ok?’ and ‘I feel like I’ll never be as good as you’. The trouble with this kind of thought is that it keeps the student in a state of indecision and negativity. How can this progress into ‘I am a photographer and I feel confident in my ability and vision, -look out world, here I come’.

At what point do we morph from indecisive blundering to confident artist? The technical stuff can be learned, but when do you consider you have got to a point where you can hold your poise in a room full of good or great photographers?? For myself, I often thought I was not good enough, and I used to think that was normal.

I assumed that all other photographers felt that their work wasn’t up to standard.

I tried hard, kept learning and trying new techniques, always pushing myself to be better. I mastered various techniques and then moved on to others like I was passing exams. I did nothing with the finished pictures, they just sat in boxes at home. I would occasionally show them to friends, but never thought they were good enough for anything else.

Then I was pushed into taking my work around various galleries and publishers in London by my (then) first wife.

She booked a coach and arranged for us to stay somewhere, so I looked up a few galleries and publishers and we traveled down for a few days. From that visit I got a few prints in a group show in a small gallery.

chimneys, rotcher

The boost that show gave me created a greater urge to improve and learn, so I applied myself to a greater degree, but I didn’t try to be a commercial photographer or earn money from it, because I never saw myself as ‘qualified’ yet.

I was eventually persuaded by a good friend to enter the world of commercial photography and so I began to tout my folio around advertising and design agencies. By this time I had been doing photography seriously for eight years.

I found work pretty quickly, but after a few years of this kind of photography I realised it wasn’t for me. I eventually pulled out and made money by doing non photographic work.

I can say with all honesty, that each day I worked in these various trades I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t meant to do this, I should be doing photography. I knew I was in the wrong place and I knew I was wasting valuable photography time. This convinced me that photography was my calling, I had to take it more seriously and to see myself in a different way, which I did. Once I stopped seeing myself as an amatuer who happened to have a few strong shots, and to re-brand myself as someone who had a mission to be part of the real world of photography (at least the part of it that my style of photography fitted into), things really started to take off. I wasn’t snapping away, waiting to see if it came out, I was really thinking about how I saw things.

2527 collander, eggs

Some of the strongest images in my portfolio were taken in those years. My life was busier than it had ever been, with three small children to look after and a gallery to run, but I was on fire! That simple change in my perception of myself and my work improved my output in a really profound way.

1756 dads lily

Nowadays, when my students have achieved a certain level of ability I tell them to see themselves as photographers, not students, even if they are still in the education system. I believe that self belief is crucial to your personal development. Not a deluded kind of self belief which shouts from the rooftops, but a sense that you are on a mission to produce something of value to the world.


  1. Posted 11/01/2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I have always found the hardest part has been to take myself seriously! This maybe because I am not a professional but a true amateur. My eyes were opened last year when someone I paid very good money for an image at a Paris Foto Show. I must admit to feeling that I do not want my images to sell for lots of money and that I’d love for lots of people to pay a little and the thought that I have somehow made someone happy with that which I have produced. When do we become photographers is an interesting discussion – for me it is seeing images all around when I am not really looking – more often than not it is someone I have seen and I immediately think I’d love to make a portrait with you…

  2. Posted 12/01/2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know, I guess I just love thinking about photography and making pictures.
    I can’t sell myself, I don’t usually say I’m a photographer, I just say I like taking pictures.
    Maybe until I’m actually making money from it then I will always consider it a hobby.
    So at the moment saying “i’m a photographer” feels that I’d be misleading people.
    It’s a confidence thing for sure.

  3. Posted 12/01/2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    It is fear!

    I am a photographer – how good I am is for other people to assess based on their perceptions, biases and interests.

    Vicky – I would call you a photographer and feel that the title entirely appropriate.

  4. Posted 13/01/2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes indeed, so difficult. For me it has been taking some time out of other work to devote my energy to a 2 year MA in photographic Studies. This level of commitment to my photography set something up that has been so rewarding – a community of fellow students and a structure. I needed that level of interaction with other artists to see myself and my own work more clearly. And I miss it now its over; I’m hitting the ‘what’s next’ and trying to hold on to the energy of the past two years. I’m in danger of not fully taking in that I am a photographer, perhaps that is why I am looking here…

    Good wishes to you, and thank you for sharing your experiences here.

  5. lmend
    Posted 03/02/2010 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    thank you for this post! this is a constant struggle for me; i especially appreciate your enlightenment.


Talk given to photo educators (UK)

First posted 21 Feb 2009

Today I gave a talk and an all day practical darkroom lesson to around 10 Photo Educators from Colleges and Universities across the north of England.

The event was staged by Ilford/Harman and is part of their strategy to keep darkrooms as a viable part of photographic education. Here in the UK, the college budgets are determined by student numbers and if they can get more ‘bums on seats’ per room, then they think they are doing good. The consequence is that in theory, each student is allocated one square metre of space!

Darkrooms and studios take up a lot of space which is not occupied all day, so the logic is that they should be ripped out and replaced with a lot of computers (after all, digital is the future).

The tutors I have met over the last five years are passionate about darkroom because most of them came into photography that way. Some of them have had big battles with heads of department, or people in finance and not all have been successful. The main College in the town nearest to me lost all of its darkrooms four years ago.

Coupled with this; the amount of administration, register upkeep, meetings and paper shuffling that the average tutor has to do, means that they get very little time to actually teach the practical aspects of the course.

Tutors become so distant from the very thing that got them interested in the first place, that they get really ‘rusty’. my job today was to get them back in the darkroom and give them some simple methods for creating high quality prints.

Without sounding boastful, the response was very enthusiastic and the impression I got was that everyone had a really inspiring day.