Friday, November 23, 2012

PH 612 - The Nature of Photography

There is so much content covered in the introductory photography courses at the Academy of Art University, that it comes as no surprise that they ended up splitting all the content between two courses: The Language and Nature of Photography. This course helps build strong foundations on visual literacy and expression. Students are better equipped to both verbally and visually communicate through photographs, understand the work of past and contemporary artists from a meaningful perspective. 

The description of the course from the Academy's website - "This course is dedicated to the investigation and understanding of photography as a visual language. The elemental relationship of form and narrative is explored as a means for individual artistic expression. Emphasis is placed on application of these principles through practical assignments and verbal discussion."

Books, Equipment and Supplies
The required book for this course is uninspiring named 'The Nature of Photographs' by Stephen Shore, and sells for about $14 on Amazon. This book apparently grew out of a college course that Stephen Shore taught for many years. It concerns itself with the subject of 'how' to look at photographs and serves as a tool for critical analysis and understanding photography in general. The book contains images from all era's of photography covering various genre's. Together with his clear, intelligent and accessible text, Shore uses these works to demonstrate how the world in front of the camera is transformed into a photograph. If you start going through the works presented in the book, read the supplied text, contemplate a little on each one and move on, then you probably could cover the book in a little less than an hour. It is easy to dismiss the book that consumes so insignificant a slice of your time, but it would be a mistake to do so. It is one of those books which has less content, but you end up deriving more meaning out of it the more holistic, more rich more diverse and more experienced in the photographic medium you are. So finish it once of twice when you can, keep it on the side for a while and come back to it again. It is very likely that you will learn something new or see something in a different perspective. Each morsel of critical information that allows you to grow and generate work of better quality is worth holding on to.

The other recommended books for the course include Design Basics by David A. Lauer and The Primer for Visual Literacy by Donis A. Dondis. Both these books are available in the University Library and are not a must have for the course. Going through them once, at least on the superficial level would definitely benefit your visual communication skills levels.

Equipment wise you are pretty much on the same boat as PH 603 The Language of photography. A camera is a must, preferably an SLR with a a decent variety of lens to shoot varied subjects. A tripod and off camera flash help, but its use depend on the subject choice and kind f work you prefer. Art supplies wise, all you need is a pack of 50 sheets of A4 size Epson photographic print paper and you are set for the semester.

Mode of delivery
One class a week for 3 hrs, plus an expected 10 hrs of reading and assignment work until the next week class starts. The class is logically divided up into two parts. One part involves a lecture by the instructor, and the second is the photo critique section for the assignment submission. You will have an assignment given to you each class, which is due for submission in the next. The assignment involves submitting an A4 size photographic print in response to the assignment, which is critiqued for technical, aesthetic and artistic qualities. Feedback will be given to you on what is good(or bad) about it in a constructive manner and how you can improve. Assignments focus on one aspect of photography at a time, and get progressively challenging. There is no mid terms for this course, but it has finals at the end of the semester. Around the time you usually give a mid term is when you get to choose the theme for your finals, you get to decide on the subject for a consistent body of work that you will submit for the finals. A series of 10 photographs which display technical and narrative skill incorporating most of what you have digested throughout he semester. Though elements like class participation, individual assignment quality and attendance count toward your grade, for most part it is determined based on the work you have submitted for your finals.

A personal take on the course
The course tackles photographic concepts on a broader perspective like unity, plasticity, rhythm, passage of time, pattern and texture, scale, form and so on. Depending on where your skill level is and where you want to be, the course could get as easy or as challenging as you want it to be. One of the most interesting part of the course is to see how every student in the class comes up with his/her take on the solution to the assignment. Plus the critique one receives in invaluable. Only trouble is, if you are not paying attention you could end up not incorporating the feedback into your future work. To let critique permeate completely into every aspect of your photographic skill, you need your eyes, mind and heart open. Easier said than done.

If you have any specific question, post them in the comments below and i'll try and answer them as best as I can.

Related Posts
First Semester @ AAU
PH   612 - The Nature of Photography - Assignments
PH   612 - The Nature of Photography - Finals
PH   603 - The Language of Photography
GLA 625 - The History of Photography

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