by Jim Maginn
What is wrong with the things I learn at the Camera club or from books and magazines? Why the big emphasis on education? Questions which strike right at the heart of the matter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the things learnt from books, magazines, camera clubs or anywhere else. In fact the greater involvement in photography beyond a class or course the better.
The reason I think photographic education is so important is simple. It provides the opportunity for intense immersion in the subject and even if it is only for three hours a week, you get to concentrate the mind in a structured way and you get a chance to debate everything, from the advantages of working with full frame prints to the work of Gary Winnogrand or Eve Arnold, with like-minded people. It also allows you to show your work and to exchange ideas. At the end of the process if you go ahead and sign up for the exams you stand a chance of gaining a recognised qualification.
Photography at GCSE is for most, their first introduction to photography education. It is quite different from the City and Guilds structure described on the facing page. It does not have the same modular system and you are required to sit an exam.
The GCSE and GCE A Level are designed to compliment each other. They follow a natural progression. Basic skills are learnt and demonstrated at GCSE and their proper/creative application developed at A Level. Unless you have a pass at GCSE there is little point attempting the A level.
The GCSE is structured to lead people from the most basic level to a high degree of competence and understanding. It is designed to cater for a range of abilities. So even an experienced snapper will benefit from going back to basics.
There are two common misconceptions about these sorts of courses. Some potential students believe its going to be too academic and beyond their abilities and some with a very basic knowledge are inclined to resist because they feel they know all there is to know. My position on this is quite simple if you can read, write, see and have full use of one hand then you are perfectly capable of successfully completing the GCSE and if you have passed the GCSE then you are capable of passing A level.
Unless you have studied photography at third level there is still a lot to learn. And for those who know all there is to know about f stops and hyper focal distances then use the discipline of the class as an opportunity to develop your photography. There are hundreds of people out there who know lots about photography but operate in isolation. With the structure of a course each student gets to show their own work and benefit from seeing the work of their classmates.
Don't feel that you are going to be forced to do homework or given lines. In my experience the structure is quite informal. Like all recreational courses no one will be standing over you demanding work. The bottom line is to get a decent grade you are expected to perform certain tasks among them is a written exam and the production of sets of pictures and or slides.
If you want to get the most out of doing the GCSE or GCE there is a basic requirement, be prepared to take lots of pictures. Even in the depths of winter you will be expected to produce photographs. If you don't get stuck in be prepared for a disappointment.
Photography Courses are available at all the colleges of Further Education in Northern Ireland for further information contact your local college. Enrolment usually starts in late August for classes starting in early September.