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How Study Ruined My Passion For Photography

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Callum sets off on a journey to fall in love with the art of photography after studying it.

I went into A Level Photography full of optimism and passion.

It’s mid-July 2015, I had just begun to fall in love with photography: having the ability to take the mundane everyday experiences and turn them into a still image that managed to make life look more vibrant was really appealing to me. I had spent the whole summer of 2015 getting used to my new Canon DSLR camera, figuring out what settings appealed to me the most whilst also trying to formulate that physical connection with the camera, as if it were an extension of my eye, was my aim. I went into A Level Photography full of optimism and passion. However, I left feeling annoyed at the fact that, even something as subjective as art, could manage to be graded via a marking scheme that left very little room for personality. Often finding myself feeling annoyed and most definitely frustrated at the fact that my teacher tended to have the final say in how my images should look, was problematic at best. Our idea of what makes a good photograph, along with our personal aesthetics, did not match (at all).

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I saw a documentary on Netflix, about a photographer called Bill Cunningham. He had a weekly column in the New York Times on street fashion. He would just ride around the streets of New York on his push bike with his point and shoot film camera, taking pictures of people in the outfits he adored. The rawness of the black and white film along with his laxed attitude and approach to taking images was what I fell in love with, but it didn’t take me long to realise that an A level exam board certainly didn’t share the same opinion as I. The marking criteria made it very clear that this form of photography was ‘not up to scratch’ and in their eyes, was certainly not ‘great photography’. Now, how these people came to earn the right to determine what makes an image good or not, in a subject as subjective as photography, I will never know.

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Now, how these people came to earn the right to determine what makes an image good or not, in a subject as subjective as photography, I will never know.

As the topics went by, so did my passion for capturing images. There would be the odd topic here and there like street Photography, that would allow me to somewhat create something I felt a connection to, but even then, there was a level of compromise that I didn’t want to have to make. As a creative, you don’t want to be constantly told about the barriers being put in place by your own teacher, all it does is just take away the joy of being able to capture whatever you feel like capturing and over time, takes away the joy for photography all together. Like with anything, the course had its highlights; like being able to partake in a photography exhibition, or being able to develop my own personal technical skills, but that’s as far as it goes. The course didn’t in any way add to my level of enthusiasm for the subject as a whole.

So, two years on, I had now completed the course, achieved a C grade and was finally getting back that passion and joy I had once so strongly felt. The idea behind this article was to help share how I managed to get to this point. So to those who are looking to study photography at any academic course, I hope my previous words were helpful or at the very least, eye opening. I guess all I can now say on that is ‘expect the worse, prepare for the best’.  Now, to those who are in a similar position to me, or to those who believe they may well be at some point, here is how I re-fell in love with photography.

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Firstly, I just took a break from it all together. I knew that giving my brain a chance to refresh would increase the likelihood of me rekindling that passion, if in fact I really wanted to.

I’d never really shot in film before but I had always wanted to…

Secondly, I spent some time on the internet looking at the types of images that made me fall in love with photography in the first place. It seems kind of obvious but believe me, after being ‘forced’ to research photographers you care very little for for the last two years, you tend to forget about the photographers that you do in fact enjoy researching.

Thirdly, I went and bought an £8 Boots disposable camera. I’d never really shot in film before but I had always wanted to and now that I was no longer in college, I thought it would be the perfect time. Any film photographer will vouch for me here when I tell you that, there is no better feeling than the one you feel when you get your first set of images developed. It was a springboard in me getting ‘my groove back on’.

And so, we have reached today, 13th of September 2017, and I can definitely say that my passion for photography is back and better than ever. I’m taking more images than usual, experimenting with film, looking at the different tones within images, ironically, I’m doing all of the things that probably would have gotten me a higher A level result, had I been motivated to. In hindsight, I guess ‘passion is key’ after all.

Check out these photographers, Tyler MitchellWilliam Eggleston and Niamh Leonard-Bedwell  

Into photography? Think that school stamps on creativity? Talk to us in the comments below.