The University of Cumbria is currently holding its Under-graduate Photography Degree Exhibition called Synergy. I thought I'd pop up, as I'd meant to last year but missed it, so this year I wanted to make sure I got to it.
It certainly took me back revisiting a campus. Passing huddles of lads smoking rollies, in their own conforming uniform of plimsoles, skinnies and grungy t-shirts. One with a guitar, others with dreadlocks...it reminded me how womb-like a campus is and how life finds its own rhythm here. I remember that cocooned feeling well and how, for those few short years you live as a family of friends...a bubble, intoxicated and frivolous, playing at life for the first time...although being a student these days, with the prospect of huge debts, may mean it's taken a little more seriously now.
I also felt reminiscent of the person I was then, the greedy goals and dreams of far-reaching futures that lay ahead, yet feeling that you and your mates wouldn't ever have to grow up...and mourning the loss of that youthful arrogance we all had that has long since gone to wherever the cheap pints of watered down lager went.
So, twenty years on and I did feel a little conspicuous to be on a campus...I don't think these 'young folk' were necessarily looking at me thinking 'she's old enough to be my Mum', but I imagined they were, or theoretically they could have been! But I was impressed by the facilities, the rows of Macs, the huge photocopier and various other pieces of equipment in the faculty department that I could see would make students lives so much easier....hmmm, I missed that in distance learning. And I missed being a part of something. I know we try to emulate something similar online, but I pictured us all in the student bar, discussing the artistic merits of something or other over a g&t, yes it wouldn't be the 50p a pint these days!!
I imagined how I would have approached my final year photography project when I was 21...would it have been world peace, environmental issues, the inequality of the sexes, the end of thatcherism, the single currency? More honestly, the things that dominated our immediate lives were lusting after men, crisp sandwiches and watered down lager. I know which way the 'me of today' would want the 'me of 21' to go, not sure I would have though.
In some ways, with 20 years of life happening since then, there is much more to talk about now and I imagine there is much more conviction in my voice too...less fence perching...and certainly less booze, crisps and men. Although where the buoyancy of youth once lay, perhaps there are more self-doubts that have invisibly crept in to sober the creative delivery.
Back to today and the work I saw and the artist statements I read, the work did come across as fresh, it was varied, each unique and on the whole, very professional and sincere...although one or two statements did come across as forced or disingenuous. Most were personal themes based on childhood places, memories or their hobbies, peers or their surroundings. Although there were a few exceptions to this such as Eve Ashforth's unusual project entitled 'unknown origins' who photographed bacteria to great effect. I will mention Melanie Wilson's project 'Hello Darkness' too as it was similarly motivated to my own Domestic Sublime series...she took the twilight hours to address this over-photographed landscape.
It is just my observation, but I was surprised how 'safe' or 'understated' a lot of the work was. Perhaps that's what post, post modernism is all about. I did expect, given my own narrowing horizons due to living in the relatively safe environs of rural Cumbria, to have been 'shocked'. Where were the contorted, naked bodies or glimpses of wild hedonism? Or the morbidity, cynicism or morosity? I was prepared to at least feel uncomfortable or old, or conservative or something. But not so...it appeared to reflect mature and serious work...but it wasn't necessarily 'shocking' or 'out there'...but I suppose it doesn't have to be. There was no 'fad' photography, such as hdr, to be seen anywhere, phew! Clearly huge amounts of work had gone in to this exhibition and I thoroughly enjoyed viewing the diverse work from all eighteen students that exhibited...thank you.
In terms of presentation, it was also extremely useful to see how students presented their work as it will help me decide what to do for future assessments. The Silverprint boxes were very popular, images on high quality gloss paper with white borders in transparent sleeves, white gloves dotted about the tables. A few, but not many had produced books and one looked handwoven. There was one portfolio book. Business-, post- and moo- cards aplenty. It was interesting to see the variety of framing techniques and choices. Most images were produced to at least A4 and larger in size. The size seemed less important than how it was framed to me, and as always, a thin, plain black frame with a largish white mount worked the best. I don't go for the foam mounted presentations.
With regards the quality of the work and how I could benchmark myself against it, it is difficult to judge your own work objectively, but I feel confident that my current level two work in terms of concept, image content and quality was at least on a par with some of the work I saw. This is reassuring and makes the end goal feel more achievable somehow.
I've been doing a little bit of reflecting on my own reasons for studying recently. A degree has a different value now to that aged twenty-one. Today has given me the confidence to continue furrowing my own awkward, flawed and verbose nest, degree or no degree...I don't desire the piece of paper in itself, I'm just hungry to learn. So if the two diverge, not all is lost...and that feels quite liberating.