Reading Week Checkpoint


Last Friday marked the end of my 5th week in the Programme.  The workload is significant, and even though I have just 9 hours of lectures per week, I am working full days, every day.  But, I am keeping up; treading water and maintaining my position, in a fast-moving stream.  Next week is Reading Week; I intend to prepare for some of my major projects that will be due in the period between late November and early December.  

I am taking three course this term:

  • Documentary Studies (on the History of the Documentary 1890 – 1980)
    The course started slowly — I was a bit disoriented, unsure of the focus and purpose — but it has bloomed into something quite interesting.  It is essentially a history course, so now after 5 weeks with some content behind us,  it is starting to connect and to build a picture that is beginning to make sense.
  • Fundamentals of Media (on preparing and publishing a book)
    In this course we are learning about the methods of structuring, and pacing content in a photography book.  It all sounds pretty straight forward, especially as I have published many personal volumes, but there’s a lot of theory related to structuring (which for the technical people in the audience, are similar to design patterns and frameworks) which offers to me a great deal of insight; a rational foundation.
  • Socially Engaged Art (on combining social work and photograph / cinema)
    This is an inter-disciplinary course bringing together graduate students from the Documentary Media and Social Work Programmes.  The foundational proposal is about resolving communications issues through photography and / or cinema, and in this case, towards making a [social] difference.

I have been very impressed by the quality of the curriculum: the content; logical sequencing; the pace; the co-ordination of lecture and assignment. As well, the topics align as best as I could expect to my personal objectives.  I firmly believe that establishing a historical context is essential to understanding “where are things going”; what’s the “[leading] edge” and the Documentary Studies does that very well; setting artistic practices in an historical context and showing the evolution; progression over time.

I have read many photography books, but I always felt I was missing something; I wasn’t getting the full picture, if you like.  I was looking for the photography equivalent of  How to Read a Book. While there are several, and I have a few, most I found focus on looking at the individual image and making sense of it.  The course book for the Fundamentals of Media, Structure of the Visual Book, looks at the book as a whole and how the photography within can be structured to build upon each other to develop a narrative that communicates deeper and more nuanced meaning. This is revelation for me. 

Finally, while I’m reasonably happy with the technical qualities of my photography, it lacks purpose and meaning.  In part that may be the genre (doing a lot of travel).  The Socially Engaged Art course provides an avenue for developing art (photography) in support of some cause.  While I’m not sure that I’m prepared to become an activist, the skills of applying art to purpose, are extremely useful and exactly what I’m looking for.  

I am spending as much time now on this as I did on “work.”  But this is different: it’s for me; the stress is low (which may change if I fall behind); and I wake up every morning looking forward to the day.


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