Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A story about a story.






The brief was to take photos that told a story, a narrative. The thought of taking any photos that didn't tell a story was ridiculous to me but I played along anyway, there were plenty of people at art school who thought narrative was over.

The visiting lecturer was young and female which instantly lent her opinions more value to me than those of the old men who held our captive audience each week, imparting their Great World View under the guise of teaching.

She showed us a range of work by established artists exploring storytelling, both traditional and experimental. One set of slides that jumped across the projector was work by a Japanese photographer, black and white photos taken from a bus window as she traveled home from the city to see her family. I don't remember the specifics of her situation but it was moving, emotional, artist's statementy. I do remember the pictures though; deep blacks and murky greys, reflections on the dirty windows of public transport, fragments of other passengers creeping into the frame, flocks of jet black crows scattering over fields. Crows were a recurring theme, she saw them a lot as she traveled home and they seemed to symbolise something ominous, heavy. (When have crows ever symbolised anything else?)

The tutor went round the class asking us what our thoughts on the project were, where our ideas were going. The Japanese photographer has inspired me, photos through car windows having stirred something in me ever since the opening scene of Lost in Translation. The layers and the distractions, your eye flirting between subject, glass, reflections, questioning which layer exactly is he subject.

When the tutor reached me I mentioned that I was interested in the Japanese piece, that I frequently traveled between Edinburgh and Glasgow and was inspired to tell the story of that journey in black and white, through moving windows. 

'Well' she snorted without even taking a pause, 'that was a very emotional journey, very meaningful' as if that fact might have escaped my notice. 'I don't think your journey would quite have the same impact. Ok, who's next.'

Embarrassed, I turned back to my sketchbook, crossed out 'bus journey' and started scanning the other notes I had made for new ideas. I don't remember what I handed in for that project but I do remember the feeling of being dismissed out of hand, as a silly little girl who imagined herself more interesting than she really was. I also don't remember when my embarrassment turned into anger, when I started bristling at the power that that woman had held to encourage me, to listen to my ideas and help me tell my story. She didn't know why I was travelling between the two cities, she didn't know because she didn't even bloody ask. I could have had a dying parent, a secret child, a desperate unrealised love that had turned my heart to an over filled balloon of quivering liquid and my every move through this world a hallucination of watery sun straining though threatening clouds out of which menaces of crows burst . . . theoretically speaking. Ahem.


I don't feel ashamed that I let myself be dismissed and I don't berate myself for not thinking 'well fuck you' and doing that project anyway, I was 18, and I was a student in the cult of the mythical Artist Tutor, and it was that woman's job to teach and encourage me and she totally, utterly failed. Sometimes the lesson people need to hear isn't 'stand up for yourself, take no shit, ignore the haters', it's 'don't be a dick'. Listening to people's stories isn't hard, it just takes a little bit of time. Almost everyone is more interesting than they first seem (some people are less interesting than they first seem, you can usually find those people at art school.)


These photos are not the art project I never made, that can't be recreated and these weren't taken under the influence of any great well of emotion (they were taken under the influence of boredom and a couple of those tiny bottles of supermarket wine), but every time I take a photo through a moving window I remember this story and today I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for listening. 


36 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. It was a spectacularly beautiful journey!

      Delete
  2. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. They're beautiful images all the same. It's rare to find a great artist who is also a great teacher. A teacher who encourages you and helps you find your way without stifling your will to create. Who dishes criticism in a truly constructive way. I sometimes wonder whether the harness one needs to persevere in art doesn't obstruct the compassion you need to be an inspiring teacher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Elke, and yes, I think that is true in all but the very rarest artists/teachers. I hadn't thought of it like that before.

      Delete
  4. I love these. Keep taking photographs, even under the influence of boredom and cheap wine.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are a million ways to go home, and to leave home. I love this.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fuck that teacher. I mourn those lost images for you, Lost in Indoctrination. Thank you for sharing, I'll try to remember to pass this lesson on to my sons and to hold onto it for myself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Emma, fuck her indeed. And I love Lost in Indoctrination!

      Delete
    2. It sounds like the blog of an art school survivor.

      Delete
  7. I remember that feeling of being utterly crushed and dismissed by a tutor. It is a terrible thing and happened more often than I care to remember. I really enjoy your photographs, with or without an artist's statement. The best teachers are the ones who understand that kindness is always possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a really shitty feeling. I'm sorry it happened to you so much and I hope that at the very least it fired some steel in your soul. x

      Delete
  8. Beautiful photos & a beautifully told story.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hey Cara,
    You post really resonated with me today. When I was sixteen, my headteacher (female) asked what I was thinking of doing as a career. I mentioned shyly that I'd quite like to be a writer "Oh no," she said "Shall I put down police woman?" And she did. She put that next to my name. I left her rather oppressive room, thinking that I definitely didn't want to become a police woman, but I obviously couldn't consider writing either.
    But the funny thing is I do write, and have written every day. Diaries, journals, poems, uni newsletters, my blog, stories for my kids, stories for me. I have just never considered myself a writer until recently. It's not about the quality or depth, or even the idea. It's about the desire. I may never be published. I may never be any 'good' But I am a writer.
    I love your photography; here and on Instagram. They tell me wordless stories. And when you add your words, it's magic.
    Leanne xx

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm sorry that this happened to you, I can relate. I used to really be into theater until I had a theater teacher who used to go out of her way to humiliate me. Once after I delivered a monologue she immediately turned to the rest of the class and said "now raise your hand if you could tell that Lauren isn't wearing a bra" and half the room raised their hand. Another time I was told that when I was absent from class she had the other students improvise a romance scene between me and another unpopular student, and it included our discussions about our underwear, and other inappropriate topics. She finally cornered me one day and told me that she felt bad because she thought she was mean to me sometimes, but it was just that she had a "crush" on some students and I wasn't one of those students. She was a very talented teacher and director, and most students from my school worshiped her, but fuck it still makes me so angry. I never had anything to do with theater again. I switched to photography and took solace in the darkroom. I just started taking night classes at ECA. So glad I'm older now. No one is going to fuck with me, and if they give me any shit I will spit it right back in their faces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my god Lauren, that story is horrific. I'm so sorry that happened to you. I think that theatre teachers are a whole 'nother breed of sadists that visual arts tutors can't begin to touch.

      I'd love to hear how you get on at night classes. you know that's how Nye got into photography, at ECA Night classes? I'd be really interested to hear how it feeds into your already amazing talent.

      Delete
    2. Well I'm taking a graphic design course in the hopes of one day down the road switching career tracks, so I'm totally feeling like a duck out of water at the moment. My teacher is 25(!) but lovely and also dyslexic so she puts up with me being slow. We will see how it goes.

      Delete
    3. Ah! That makes more sense than you doing a photography course (I forgot that they do other subjects there too). Well done for investing in your future, that's really great to hear.

      Delete
  11. This was great. Since leaving art school and having two kids, I often worry that I'm letting my mentor down. It was heavily imparted on me (not by my mentor but the art world in general) that it was the ultimate No No to be a woman and make art about motherhood/children. But I've decided to stop giving a fuck and I've been making some little art pieces about my children. I don't care if its seen as obvious or low hanging fruit, and I'm sure if a male artist did work revolving his current life status or being a parent, it would be more readily accepted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh god, you keep on making work inspired by your kids and motherhood and don't ever be ashamed of it. Making and keeping children alive has got to be one of the most awe-inspiring things that human beings can do and therefore ripe for inspiration. I reckon men have tried to keep it frowned upon throughout art history because they know it's a source of inspiration that they can never touch.

      Delete
    2. Yes yes yes. My God, that's so true, just realised how fucked up that is. Thank you, from now on I'll make a point to rejoice in being inspired by my little people, rather then plain common! Ugh now I hate myself for even allowing that!

      Delete
    3. Don't hate yourself, hate the patriarchy! x

      Delete
  12. You're the best. And can you imagine how many great potential artists were crushed by art school? Ergghh x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So many, it's so depressing.

      Delete
  13. Sorry to hear that this was an abiding memory for you from your time in Art College. Nurturing creativity is a delicate business and I think many young art students are scarred at some point by an arrogant or ignorant 'lecturer'. I think creative students are particularly vulnerable to this as they so often put their heart on the line or soul on the block.
    So many times I look back and think if I could go back with the confidence I have (finally) found now...
    On a slightly different slant - This was an interesting article -
    https://medium.com/@dustintimbrook/want-your-children-to-survive-the-future-send-them-to-art-school-c88600146606#.2picspwey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think about going back with confidence now, I think art school is a brutal place for any but the most confident kids.

      That was an interesting piece and I agree about creativity being the way forward. I'm not sure I agree that art school is the place to foster creativity though!

      Delete
  14. Your photos are STUNNING! <3 I am so happy I have found you.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm thinking of buying these to distribute as and when required. Join me?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES, a thousand times yes.

      Delete
  16. introv.butterfly5/2/16 2:42 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. Indeed, sometimes, the very people that should be nurturing our abilities (artistic or otherwise) turn out to be completely inept at doing so. Being a teacher should be first and foremost about not crushing dreams and souls (obviously there are some who do no such thing, but the bad ones can do so much damage that it's hard to remember the ones who did support you). It's awful to be let down by someone you admire, and even worse when they just brush your ideas aside because you're just a "silly little girl". I'm so frustrated and angry on your behalf. And on my own. (when you said "she snorted", I could have slapped her right through the screen, and I'm not even a slapping person)

    Also, your stories do tell a story, every single time. So you did come through (*in your face, horrible snortsy visiting lecturer*). However that particular project may have turned out, this one, your life, is bigger and more important. And it does tell a story.

    Raluca

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am so sorry that tutor was so terrible at her job. But I'm so glad you kept taking photos anyway. The trees in the second shot, C. If that photo isn't emotionally stirring, I don't know what is.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am back teaching photography this year and I am amazed at how much I am learning from my students. This is a great reminder for me to stay open minded and encourage everyone to explore their story. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete

play nice.