OCA Residential Study Weekend 1st and 2nd September


Well it’s a little bit late in coming but I’ve finally got around to putting some of my reflections from the residential weekend onto paper (or screen) While it’s a couple of weeks since we were all there (it seems like a lifetime away now) there are many more blogs detailing the speakers and the subjects so in order not to replicate these, I’ve gone for what’s stood out for me.

Arriving in Leeds and First Night

I arrived a little later than planned travelling from work but wasn’t disappointed by the hotel, I had reservations about my room being on the ground floor near the lift but it was lovely and quiet and so plush. Although it was so large I felt a little lost in there. After dropping my stuff I went exploring in Leeds but was disappointed by the drizzle coming down that stopped my plans of an evening stroll with the camera. However I did take the free time to do some valuable work on assignment 5 of DPP and to rid my head of all things work related prior to the two days. I’d initially planned to travel up on the Saturday morning but changed it to the night before and I’m glad I did as I think this certainly cleared my head and put me in the right frame of mind for the weekend.

The hotel

I’d located the hotel a week before when I’d been in Leeds so I knew where it was, while the Friday night in the bar was crazily busy early on, for the rest of the weekend it was quiet and the opportunity to spread out and have the free space at break times and during the portfolio session was really helpful. It felt like a good place to study and certainly had plenty of charm. While we didn’t have drinks provided with the lunches (some juice might have been nice) the food we had was more than adequate with chocolate brownies at break and bowls of chips to fuel us at lunch. I did also learn never to dip a hard biscuit too after it decided to break and there was no elegant way of retrieving it! I certainly felt we were well looked after which we might not have had if we’d been in a chain hotel. I’d definitely return!

The conference facilities

The room was a little small and cramped at first, especially with the cameras and lighting set up for the filming. After a shuffle about where we moved the chairs into a more relaxed configuration we did have more space. Things were a little tight for space (and time) with the book review session, the patio door brought some welcome fresh air into the room and some unwanted air noise from the flights overhead! Only on the Sunday when we’d all checked out did the size of the room become a problem, people plus luggage and cameras made it more of a squeeze so a room to safely store the luggage would have been helpful, even if it was just extending the lease of a hotel room to share.

Day 1 (Saturday)

The first part of the day began with an introduction from all of us and what we wanted to get out of the day and then we progressed to a session on moving between the levels as we seemed quite a mixed group with people at all different stages of completing level one, two and three courses. While this was quite an interesting session, I did feel that coming to the final course within level one that I would have liked more of what I need to do to improve and I found that I was still wanting to know more about how I can improve and specifically more on the academic writing to accompany my work as opposed to presentation for assessment. However on the positive side we did get some tips from Peter during the portfolio session that I can use.

Guest Speaker- Mishka Henner

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mishka Henner, I’d looked at some of his stuff online such as the Less Américains work and I have to say that it just didn’t grab me so I went into this session with no expectations and I have to say that I totally changed my mind after hearing him speak.  Henner essentially uses the images available to him through sources such as Google street view and forms these into coherent series such as the Dutch Landscapes and also No Man’s Land. A lot of the discussion was about the appropriation of images and whether there had been any communication or agreement between Henner and Google for the use of these.  The ideas he has and the output through websites and books were quite refreshing and he does seem to have a number of ideas bubbling on the surface. We got a very real world talk on the pitfalls of his work, the high cost and low turnover of his book sales and how he can be subject to vitriolic criticism through the internet for some of his work. I appreciated his honesty and openness and certainly came away from the session impressed. After all the email debate on speaker to choose and different options where I very much had my view from what I like and what I want to hear about, I have to say that Henner was absolutely the right choice and thanks to Eileen for her hard work in sorting this out.


We ended the day on a photobook workshop, splitting into groups and reviewing a number of photobooks against a criteria list we were given and for the final book we were given saying a few words about our findings. While this was interesting to get my hands on some books that I hadn’t seen before and to think about them as a whole, so considering the text, the layout, the size, the material of the book etc. as well as the images in how it projects the work as a single product. There were some downsides with this, we managed to break out as small groups so weren’t restrained to being in the room, however I found that we didn’t have enough time to look at the book effectively and to read the introductory text within, also as we were in groups of 5, we didn’t all get enough time to look through the book before we had to form our ideas and then move on. In the end it was Gilly from our group who spoke most on this with some contribution from me. I liked being introduced to some different books and would happily have spent more time looking through them, I can see ways of improving this session if we were to do it again and I think that the biggest issue was time and number of students per book.

Day 2 (Sunday)

Peter Haveland “Semiotics, symbolism, and metaphor”

Our Sunday began earlier than the Saturday had and at just after 8 I managed to make it down for breakfast, we all seemed a little quieter than we had on the Saturday and I felt this continued into the first session but I think we all needed a bit more time to come round and some more coffee. After all 9am on a Sunday morning for a lecture on semiotics didn’t sound like the best of plans. I was worried about whether I’d stay awake, not because I wasn’t interested but I’d done the student thing of going out the night before, making the most of a night in Leeds, I went celebrating my best friend’s birthday at a rock club, which unfortunately was much better than expected so I stayed later than planned. Despite only having around 4.5 hours sleep, I survived and the session from Peter was quite interesting.

It wasn’t what I expected and at some points did seem to be stilted and rambling but I enjoy listening to tutors and I could see where the subject of semiotics could be useful. We got some recommendations of some books to look at and I’ve since sourced a couple of my own from the library to give me some more background. I think I would have liked there to be more emphasis on reading our own images and how to convey this when we write about them though, but hopefully I’ll be able to do more once I’ve got some background reading out of the way.

As an update on this since my original draft, I actually picked up an introduction to media studies book that gave me some pointers too and was very much an overview of some of the topics we touched on in this session.

Jesse Alexander “Genesis and evolution of a major project”

I hadn’t previously met Jesse before this event nor had experience of him as a tutor so I was coming to his work quite open and without any previous knowledge. He spoke to us on his MA project ‘Threshold Zone’ which he had started and evolved and changed through to presentation of this on light boxes and inside caverns. The overall subject area of underground really fascinated me, while Jesse spoke of how he found these spaces uncomfortable and challenging to be in, it sparked thoughts of exploring urban areas and urban decay, themes that were running in my head for the project that I was working on at the time.  We also saw ‘Turnstile’ an artwork comprised of a series of photographs from an abandoned nuclear bunker (again an interest topic for me) that he’d put to Patrick Allen’s narration of the Protect & Survive public information videos from the 1970s. Not really being old enough to remember the cold war fear, I found that the juxtaposition of the abandoned bunker combined with the advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion and what I can see now as useless and naïve advice on keeping safe quite chilling and showed that while photography has an impact on its own, this can be enhanced and added to by the appropriate narration or soundtrack.

I came away from Jesse’s presentation wanting to know more and it’s certainly something I’ll be looking into when I have some more free time.

Guest Speaker- Peter Rudge from Duckrabbit

I went into this session without much of an interest in film; I have to admit that for me I like still photography and have never really had the inclination to extend this. Peter came across as a really interesting guy and I could have listened to him for longer. It was hard hitting at times as he showed us some example videos such as the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) one with a pregnant young woman who has to be driven over severely uneven ground to the hospital, so much so when the 4×4 hits a large hole and vehicle bounces we are left wondering on the impact on her and if she and the baby will make it to the end of their journey. It certainly opened my eyes to a different use of photography, the mix of stills with text and a soundtrack overlaid but interspersed with video really helped to hit the point and I could see where this would work. At the moment time and resources don’t allow me to pursue this but I won’t rule it out for the future and it could be an interesting extension of my work.

Portfolio Session with Peter Haveland

This was the one session where I felt I was prepared and then at the start of the session seriously out of my depth. I knew that for assessment my images needed to have a white border and not to be presented in sleeves. However as mine were printed to the edge, I’d put them in portfolio sleeves in order to be able to transport and handle them. Suddenly seeing everyone’s work out of sleeves and with borders certainly made me feel less than prepared, even more so when I realised that I was the only person who had brought a selection of images that weren’t in a cohesive series. As a result I felt that I didn’t get great feedback, in fact by this point most of the obvious comments on presentation had been made a few times to the other students so there wasn’t really much left to say anyway. I was really impressed by the other students work; some of the images were stunning and so imaginative. Just being able to see these in person and close up was so beneficial. We were in the atrium so had a nice amount of light coming down, I’m not sure the other students had the same conditions and it might have been useful to have seen their work too. The comments from Peter were once again more than useful and very insightful on what happens at the assessment events and having only been through one so far, tips on how best to present and improve are always welcome. Since the weekend I’ve printed some different images for portfolio review and feel I know better on how to present my work which I wouldn’t have been aware of previously.

Wrap Up and Journey Home

At the end of the sessions we all squeezed back into the main room to just recap and to thank everyone and then it was all over and time to head home!

Despite getting to the station in plenty of time, the train was delayed so I spent about 40 minutes waiting on the platform, head crammed full of photography ideas and thoughts. Once I was on the train I managed to get some draft notes written up on my thoughts so that I could share them with the rest of the group and to try and make sense of everything that I’d seen and heard.

Final Thoughts

Taking a weekend out to spend with a lot of people I didn’t know and a few I’d only met either online or at study visits was quite daunting and when I walked down to breakfast on the Saturday morning I felt a little bit nervous. Once we’d all started chatting this soon went out of the way and we all got on surprisingly well in both the short space of time and the smallish meeting room. I feel that I didn’t quite get around to speaking to everyone but I think I made some new friends out there.  It was more than worth it, and while it was a long weekend the schedule was certainly manageable but that’s possibly a benefit from the fact we had all committed ourselves in both time and money and were all open to getting the most out of the weekend.

So famous last words on the weekend? I can’t wait for next years!


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