100 Years Of Photography At Newport

Paul Bullivant

April 16, 2012  by admin  •  Alumni

Paul Bullivant studied the MA in Documentary Photography 2002 – 2004

My first memory of the MA course was receiving a note from Paul Seawright, later Professor, saying: “Matriculation ok”. I wasn’t too sure what this meant but it sounded positive and I later realised that I was accepted!

The first few days all seemed rather confusing with the usual challenges of remembering who was who and, as important, who was a student and who was on the staff. As a very mature student, and probably the oldest person around by a few years, I was often mistaken for a staff member, which could be difficult due to the level of my ignorance and innocence at the time! I also remember however being perhaps more confidant than some at both answering and asking questions too enthusiastically in lectures which was no doubt very tedious for many of the lecturers [sorry Ian!]

The layout of the new buildings at Caerleon were also confusing and the tortuous subterranean corridors were in stark contrast to the open views from the upper levels across rolling hills north towards the Brecons. I didn’t have time to explore the local town [who did?] though I did check out the Roman amphitheatre in the final weeks and was reminded that Caerleon has been a seat of serious learning for nearly 2000 years!

There were for me many positive aspects to the MA course and the tutors and lecturers were a major part of that. Course Leader Ian Walker was always an inspiration and, by common agreement, is one of the most engaging lecturers and writers on a range of subjects including photography. As a photographer, Ken Grant has that remarkable skill to capture the moment but also has an incredible ability to summarise and to condense a subject and hence was a great help with editing and with the always challenging task of deciding layouts and image sequences. Paul Seawright worked closely with us for a time but then moved into his ‘chair’ and seemed to be lost to us as a source of inspiration and experience. On one occasion, while looking at my latest output, he turned to me and said in that unmistakeable accent: “You’re too seduced by the formal!”. In my naivety I was again left wondering quite what he had in mind but I think I have at last got it! I still have to fight the seduction though!

A member of staff with whom we had occasional contact was the late Keith Arnatt with whom I also shared the occasional smoke out on the terrace. [I have now given up!] His wise and perceptive and often very witty observations, even in formal lectures and often about his own work and life, brought photography alive for me in a way that few could. Though I never knew him well, I still often look at his work in books with great affection and a wry smile.

People occasionally ask me what I got out of studying for the MA and my reply is consistent. I explain that the course opened both my inner and my outer eye. Like my first visit to India many years ago, life has never been quite the same since and that influence continues daily and affects the way I view the world and the way I make photographs.

The company and the insight of the staff and of my fellow students was also a stimulating and energising experience for those two very fulfilling years.

Thank you for making it what it was and continues to be for me, in many ways.

Paul Bullivant