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Masterclass, Facebook and the Fear of Death…

Just had a great week up in Groningen for the first session of a three-part Masterclass spread out over the coming academic year.

Under the direction of Lars Boering and Marc Prust and guest lecturers in the prodigious form of Francis Hodgson and Adriaan Monshouwer, who was the secretary for the World Press Photo jury for 12 years for this instalment the course has set itself up to be very helpful and constructive in the long run.

As expected, the first session we spent a lot of time dissecting each other’s work and being brought down a peg or two about our own.  Above all what I saw as the most useful aspect of the course was the idea of seeing other’s work and bouncing ideas in an honest and open environment with your peers… Photography can be an isolating pursuit and feedback of any kind is always welcome in my book…

On a professional level – I see the course as the start to try and transform my work into something more long-term and take it away from its new-sy focus that is of interest one minute and ends up at the bottom of the family hamster cage as newspaper lining the next…

A special note must be made about Francis Hodgson – photography critic for the FT (among other things) – I have as yet to come across someone who simply has so much knowledge accompanied by a truly deep passion for photography.  Great listening to him talk and the general feedback from him. 1 point he made which stuck with me was that even though it is one of the most defining and important mediums of the last 150 years – photography doesn’t have a common set of standards by which people in general can judge it.  While many of us say can formulate an opinion about a certain film for example without necessarily being experts, we lack the common visual language by which we can criticise and judge a pic in its proper context – even on the most basic of levels.  Especially now in the digital era – photography risks being lost in a common generic culture and not standing up on its own as the powerful art form it can be and deserves to be treated as such… all depressing but so true.. look forward to his book on photography some time in the next couple of years…

On a smaller note – one outcome of the first session of the course was that I’ve decided I need a god-damn Facebook page… I came off Facebook a couple of years ago and have never looked back.  Amongst other things, I felt uncomfortable with the mix of personal and professional contacts on my page.  And – to be very honest – I see it as serving absolutely no purpose apart from promoting vanity and self-delusion.  What really annoys me about Facebook though is that even after so long I still receive automated emails coaxing me to re-join.  The fact that with one click I can resume my Facebook page where I left off two and a half years ago is just so creepy – it’s almost as if the cyber monster that is Facebook imagines that being a part of its machine is inevitable and resistance is futile… If it were just for personal use – I’d (continue) to say bugger it.  But a good argument was made on the course about using social networking to further your career.. so – kicking and screaming – I guess will be re-joining in some form or another soon..

I’m in Zambia at the mo watching election results trickle in on what has to be one of the most boring election newsnight programs I’ve ever seen (it’s not as if they are ever interesting!) – I got back from Groningen late last night and haven’t slept as I spent most of the time getting my camera gear ready to catch the flight this morn to Lusaka.  I was torn as to whether to go or not… I had one of those – ‘what and why the hell am I doing this?’ moments. Elections past off relatively peacefully yesterday albeit some sporadic outbreaks of violence but generally the situation has been relatively calm…

In my opinion it all depends on the final results polled.  If the incumbent President (Banda) is perceived as attempting to rig the close elections then – it is widely held – all hell will break loose esp amongst the opposition supporters of PF (Patriotic Front) and their leader – Sata.  I have come on a whim and with only the weakest of interest at the mo from international pubs and agencies and if nothing happens then the trip will have been all in vain.

I hope though this in no way sounds like I want the violence to occur.  I always worried in the past that I’d turn out like that after a while – almost subconsciously willing on the violence in some small and extremely self-centred way – so I’d come back with strong material.  Thankfully it hasn’t turned out like that… In fact I find the more death and destruction I witness – the more I don’t want to see any more of it… Following the petrol pipeline disaster last week in Kenya for example I found myself reacting in two ways – I get more angry and petulant at the smallest things even though I am quite mild-mannered and tolerant (as you have to be in Africa) these days – and secondly – I become mentally and physically more scared of my own death.

I am naturally scared of flying but on the way to Holland last week I found this fear almost unbearable – hoping that my connecting flight would be delayed to give me time to recover my composure as I was physically shaking on lift off and landing. It doesn’t last for too long, but it’s still an unpleasant experience and I don’t think it’s too healthy in the long run… in this way I think slowly changing the type of work I do at the mo is not only a professional decision but also a deeply personal one as well.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bruce Kravetz #

    I love he honesty of your words and it make me like you even more. You know how to dig deep and have the ability to selfexamine you inner thoughts. Keep it up and let me hear from you. Your friend Bruce


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