Jeffrey WilkinsonApril 13, 2012 by admin • Alumni
I remember going to a lecture by David Hurn in Manchester. When it had finished, I went to talk to him and mentioned that I was interested in his Documentary Photography course. He gave me some leaflets to take home and read.
When reading through them, it said something about a warm coat and good shoes being more important than lots of camera gear. This appealed to me, I’d never been that interested in lots of camera gear anyway. I suppose it appeared slightly unconventional too, perhaps not what youʼd expect from a college prospectus. But it summed up this unique and characterful course, by being immediately direct and relevant: ‘You’ll just need a camera and a 50mm lens to start with’ I was told when I arrived, and when we were all busy on the (in)famous Person at Work assignments, that’s all we used. It made you think about what you were doing, without the equipment getting in the way.
It was only after I’d finished the first year that I realized how cleverly structured this course was. Person at Work, Relationships, Establishing Shots, all leading to the Three Picture Story: we were putting picture-stories together right from the beginning without even realizing it. The importance of these initial practices of incorporating ‘pace’ (which was drummed into us all the time) is something thatʼs remained with me, and still used today in my current work. I even continued to use the Magnum contact sheet cataloguing system we were taught, until the digital workflow took over, and then this system didn’t quite work anymore! I must find out what digital cataloguing system they teach the students these days…
Even though my style of work, or what interests me in photography, hasn’t changed since before I did the course to having finished it, it did give me the opportunity to spend lots of time trying to get things right. All this took place whilst being guided and advised by real photographers who knew what they were talking about. You couldnʼt help but become more focused and efficient in making sure your work stayed relevant and made sense, and what Iʼll never forget is the availability of some of the greatest photography ever produced, in their original magazine publications, on shelves in Davidʼs office.
So, you find yourself part of this widely acknowledged photographic institution, in this relaxed and informal setting, youʼre surrounded by the best imagery and inspired and encouraged by respected working photographers; you really can’t ask for more than that. There was also David, Daniel, Clive and Paul often printing up their own work right next to us in the darkrooms, so we could see and discuss their current work too. They did have the best enlarger though!
Jeffrey G. Wilkinson. Documentary Photography, 1987-89.