Perhaps the same is true with tutors, or not. I have simmered this stew for a couple of weeks now as when I initially conceived it I was reeling from all the completely different flavours that had seemingly been dumped into my pot. It seemed everyone had a different view of my work and not always did I get a clear understanding of how it might be made better; only that it wasn’t right. There were exceptions thankfully, like when Cemre took several of my proposed WIP photos and arranged them in a particular sequence in a horizontal grid and then explained why she thought that worked. In other cases, one tutor would like a particular photo while the next thought it was rubbish, and in other cases, I was told what I was trying to communicate wasn’t clear but without much more in the way of explanation of why or what sort of things might make it better, other than try arranging them differently.
To be honest I felt confused and lost, and even at moments a bit angry. It was clear something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how to fix it. With advise sometimes so diametrically opposed, I didn’t know which direction to go. I had to in the end, step back, lose the emotional attachment to my work and reaction to the criticism and figure out how to sort through the various comments to determine if there were any common elements among them, discard the outlying and off the wall remarks (there were some doozies) and integrate what was left to something I felt I could action in curating and editing my portfolio.
The first insight I was able to distill was that what I was showing was too diverse and divergent in theme and aesthetic. It was said in different ways and it took some time to understand that “I can’t read your visual language” was similar in meaning to “the macro work is distracting and disconnected from the larger scale work”, or “photos in this series have a very different feeling.” I had to admit, I didn’t really know what I was trying to “say” with my photos. My project is big, maybe too big, and it contains a number of different aspects at this point. I have so much to say that I ended up saying nothing because the breadth of this story from a final project perspective (and yes, we are a long way from that point) cannot be told in 18 photographs that I have now. At the end of the FMP, it may be possible to tell this story in a relatively small number of carefully curated photographs.
I also had been “hung up” by the fact that I got into this programme as a natural history photographer, even though it has never been the only thing I have done, and it is not the only thing I want to do. It was clouding my judgement in curating my portfolio. It is somewhat ironic, because I have always hated labels and I have spent my life defying norms and expectations. Why should I allow myself to be pigeon-holed now? So once again something else to let go of.
I did finally work it out on my own I think. At least I took a decision, cut away a lot to arrive at a portfolio that is I hope worthy of submission. It is a few paragraphs in a chapter of what might eventually become a novel or perhaps a short poem, but it seems to be coherent and cogent. That I got there is a testament to the progress I have made thus far in the course. I couldn’t have even had this discussion several months ago. When I felt I had the pot on with no recipe, thankfully Cemre slipped me a couple of key ingredients that allowed me to decipher the rest. Photography, like cooking after all is art and the flavor combinations are limited only by one’s imagination. Baking is science and there isn’t much latitude in the recipe. I didn’t want tutors to hand me a recipe after all.
Do too many tutors spoil the broth? At first, I thought so, but each was bringing their favourite spice to the kitchen and in the end it was up to me to understand the implications of using that particular spice and make a decision whether or not it belonged in my stew. There were times when they made it tough to get around the kitchen to be sure, but once I cleared them out, and some of the inappropriate spices in my cupboard, I was able to put together a pretty tasty offering.