A education in Photography?

I’ve just been given a ‘head’s up’ about a photography talk.

In this talk, among other things, the speaker will attack teaching photography in schools, colleges and universities, advocating instead the use of youtube and, of course, expensive workshops.

My first reaction to this can be summed up in one word – rage!

I simply cannot see that workshops are equivalent to actual education. Monkey see, monkey do, monkey shell out a lot of cash to someone whose only motivation is profit.

I rage because I see it as another example of the devaluing of education, and the practise of teaching. I seethe because many of these ‘university of life’ photographers actually consider themselves to be ‘professional’ without any understanding of what real professionals have to go through to achieve that status.

But on the other hand I have students who come to me and say that they are not actually learning photography in their schools and colleges at all. They’re learning art, but with a ‘camera’. The speech marks are there because not even having a camera is acceptable. as long as you have a ‘phone.

GCSE and A level specifications are, in fact Art and Design specifications. But this is a ‘painting by numbers’ type of art where understanding of the medium runs a very poor second to getting a pleasing image. And it has to be this way, because their art (sorry, photography) teachers aren’t photographers, haven’t ever shot a commercial job, and would be very hard pushed to even know there was a difference between depth of field and depth of focus, let alone explain it.

Now, of course, this is a generalisation and over-simplification. There are some very knowledgeable teachers of photography who understand the technology and the maths involved in making images.

My point, however, is that photography as a subject (at least to A level) has been stripped of technical content to the point that is no longer worthy of the name. Teachers do not have to be photographers to get students to pass, and many students that do pass, have no skills that would be useful as working photographers.

These things play into the hands of the ‘workshop’ operators. There is only so much that you can learn in a day (or even three). Yes, they’re fun and you can come away with a memory card of lovely images, but they lead to inevitable conclusions.

Firstly, you do not have to study – you just attend a workshop. Secondly, and following – photographic education is a waste of time. Thirdly, photographic teachers are useless.

I can’t blame any school which wishes to raise its exam pass rate. I can’t blame any teacher who is made to teach a subject that they know little (or nothing) about. I do have serious doubts about creating specifications that are so dumb-down that make these scenarios possible, however.

My real rage, however, is directed to anyone and everyone who does not immediately recognise the significance of √2.

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5 comments

  1. Totally agree – I studies A level Photography and was sorely disappointed that there was no technique taught at al. It wasn’t until I opened the exam paper and saw the title of the course “Art and Design (photography)” that I understood why the photography was very secondary to the art!

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