08/07/15A while back I became a "Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society, LRPS ". Not too much applause please, it's only the first of three levels. Through the process I made some steps forward in my understanding of myself as a photographer but not in the way I'd imagined.
First, let me explain the process. To gain the award you need to gather together ten good shots that "show a high standard of photographic execution". These shots are printed and mounted in the traditional manner (white card, no place for experimentation here) and then displayed in a panel arranged, pretty much, in a prescribed manner. These are then hung in a darkened room in Bath, with a small audience, mostly candidates and friends; whilst three judges examine the panels in very close detail to check for blur, blown highlights etc. All very nerve racking. Then, if all three agree your images are good enough; you pass.
So where did that leave me? I'd learned to be pickier about what I took, how I took it, how I edited it and I gained in confidence as a photographer. Three blokes at the Royal Photographic Society had agreed my images showed "a high standard of photographic execution" so I must be at least an OK photographer. All of which are just the sort of changes you would hope the process would bring about; so those clearly aren't the unimagined ones. They came about much more slowly.
Over the following year I became haunted by the next level award, the ARPS. At this stage you need to achieve the above standard and show your creativity and personal style as well.
Every time I showed a photographer friend an image they would, without fail, want to know if it was part of something I was working on for my ARPS. I got drawn in and found myself approaching every shot wondering whether it would be the start of a panel. In the end it was clear that this was getting in the way. So I announced to myself and anyone else who was listening that I had no intention of submitting a panel for an ARPS award. I was the only person who took this statement seriously and I am to this day still being asked if I am planning another panel!
What was unimagined was that through this process I came to understand that for me my photographs are ephemeral. They aren't taken for gallery walls but to be shared online. I don't want to spend the time to seek out one perfect image, think it through, set it up, light it to perfection and then add extra punch through hours of editing. The vast majority of my images will never be printed, never be tangible objects. They will live in the cloud, be viewed on mobile phones, tablets and lap tops. The viewers, if I am lucky will pause to look at them for a few seconds, they might occasionally tick a "like" box before moving on. No one will print them off and hold them up to the light for close examination. They will sit amongst a mountain of other images posted within seconds of them in places like Facebook, Flickr, or Instagram and I love that. I want my output to be fresh, fast and constant, part of everyday whether its taking or looking. They will live or die in that brief moment when they pass in front of someone out there, online. Succeed, if viewers stop to view, like or comment or fail if they pass by unnoticed.