The agony of feedback

I tend to judge my success in an assignment by how the feedback makes me feel.  Always read with one eye open and one eye closed as if I can’t wait to find out but I don’t want to know.  If I’ve done a bad job then I have to deal with the bad feelings associated with the criticism albeit constructive and essential to my growth as a photographer.  If I’ve done a good job then my confidence will grow.

I get lots of praise for my portrait photography but it’s not difficult as the photographs look pretty and the children are cute and their parents are in love with them.  What makes me sit up and listen is feedback from someone who has all the knowledge I crave and can give me assured knowledgeable advice.

So tutor feedback, as painful as it is for me, is the valuable part of distance learning as its a base for making improvements to my knowledge and skills and ultimately my work.


Peter Mitchell

I came across Peter Mitchell whilst researching photo essays and it struck a huge chord with me.  I have talked about how I wasn’t photographed as a small child and how in later life this has led me to question my identity so finding Mitchell’s photo essay, from Leeds to London took me on an emotional journey.

Peter Mitchell was a long distance lorry driver travelling from Leeds to London throughout the 70’s.  Along the way he photographed the places he stopped at and the people attached to them.

My dad was also a long distance lorry driver travelling from our home town of Walsall to London working through the night.  Night time work is a completely different world to day time work, with it’s solitude and darkness so dad often took either me or one of my brothers on his journeys.  Imagine doing that now given the nanny state we live, taking a small child on the road in an articulated lorry heading for London!  There’s no insurance to cover that these days whereas back then you wouldn’t need any.

These ‘journeys with my dad’ started during the late 70’s when I was 7 years old and I remember feeling so special and privileged to be involved.  I wish I had photographs of those times but sadly all that remains are faded memories.  When I looked at Mitchell’s  From Leeds to London, the memories came flooding back and also the feelings of excitement and pride for my dad having such an adventurous job.  In truth I probably slept through most of it but what I do remember most vividly is the places we stopped along the way.  The shops with their shopkeepers, the cafes with their cooks and the workers at our final destination, the meat wholesalers.

Its beginning to dawn on me what an influence those times had on shaping my future.  What valuable social lessons they taught me.  I’ve always had the ability to speak to anyone about anything.  I went on to work in a job that saw me travel just as dad did.  As for the meat wholesalers, I’ve haven’t eaten meat since those days as dad was transporting slaughtered animals.  Maybe those feelings are best left where they are!

From Leeds to London is a photo essay of my time on the road with dad.  If only I had the foresight to take a camera with me I would have an identical story in pictures to tell.

Mitchell went on to very successfully produce other works which can be viewed on his website strangely familiar:


Before Context and Narrative

After much debating with myself I have decided to start afresh with a new blog.  This coincides with a new module in my photography studies entitled, Context and Narrative.

Unlike previous courses, I’ve taken the time to work through a pre course study guide which I can thoroughly recommend. Generally with these things my initial reaction is, what can that teach me that I don’t already know?  Well, quite a lot actually and in particular what is expected of you should you wish to be successful during assessment stage.

This is my third course with the Open College of the Arts, the previous two being incredibly informative but I struggled with the distance learning issue and felt quite detached.  That in turn put me in my own little bubble and of course the knock on effect of that is struggling to comprehend what I needed to do.

So, at first the study guide seems like a daunting 5 – 10 hour egg sucking exercise but it’s far from it.  What has it taught me that I didn’t know or do in previous courses?  It helped me plan and organise and open up my distance learning world like never before.  For instance:

  1. I know the date I need to complete the course by
  2. I created a weekly study schedule to ensure I’m on track for the completion date
  3. I’m in contact with other students through the OCA forums who can help me when I’m unsure and visa versa
  4. I’ve subscribed to feeds I’m interested in and get email updates so it’s easy to keep up to date
  5. I’ve started a new blog to physically represent the new energy I have for my studies with the OCA
  6. I’ve met my tutor (via skype) and we have set out our expectations right from the start (I’ve never spoken to a tutor before let alone seen them)
  7. I’m more aware of extra skills required during my studies e.g. essay writing, referencing other peoples work and how, researching and the various ways of doing so, various ways of searching the internet, the importance of study visits etc

This list may seem like an obvious place to start but the advice given is far the comprehensive than you would think.  As I progress through the course I will put much more of this guidance to use.

So I’m now ready to begin my Context and Narrative studies with; as my tutor said during our meeting; A New Head!