Tony gained his ARPS at his second attempt in November 2017. This is his story and what he learned along the way. As it is an ARPS panel a statement of intent is included.
Statement of Intent
I photographed my first dance performance over thirty-five years ago and was immediately intrigued by how a 2-dimensional medium could adequately represent this extraordinary 3-dimensional, spatially dynamic art form.
The conditions of a performance can be challenging, requiring high ISO, long lenses, wide apertures and relatively slow shutter speeds. I also need to show sensitivity to the performers and occasionally an audience. Nevertheless, these challenges can be addressed.
There is however a ‘Holy Grail’ that is the defining image that addresses all of these phenomena, whilst conveying the emotion and dynamics of performance. These photographs can be as elusive as shadows.
My re-submission is diverse, illustrating a range of subjects and conditions, and I hope conveying an extraordinary beauty that can be achieved when one medium is interpreted via another. They all, in differing ways, reflect my personal technical, aesthetic and emotional demands.
I enrolled at Goldsmiths College in 1980, as a mature student of 30yrs. My degree was in Communications and Education. I was already taking photographs by then, and had even had some professional jobs, but did not have the confidence to take a photography degree. However, I did take a ‘unit’ in photography and was really fortunate to have an old-school tutor who was a great mentor. By the end of my first year I found myself photographing in both the drama department, and also in the adjacent dance conservatoire, The Laban Centre (now Trinity Laban). By my third year I was working with major dance companies in and around London. On graduation I immediately started teaching at Goldsmiths, and then moved to what is now the University of West London, where ran the photography department for twenty years. For the whole of that period I carried on working as a freelance, as I believe that to teach one should also practice.
I left teaching ten years ago and went straight back into freelancing, across a range of performing arts but still focussing primarily on dance.
The first question I suppose is why bother, if I have had such success following my dream? I said previously that I never had the nerve to apply for a photography degree, and after almost 40 years of working professionally I still have no photography qualifications.
Just a few years ago, when I had moved to Deal in Kent, I was invited to give a talk at the local camera club. That experience changed my whole perspective of both clubs and the RPS. They demonstrated a huge enthusiasm for their subject and were hugely curious and anxious to learn. Whilst there appeared to be more men than women, at least at my presentation, it appeared that the women were the technical driving force!
Giving that presentation and talking to the members persuaded be that whilst I did not need a qualification it would be good to achieve some sort of professional recognition. The RPS seemed to be the logical place to go.
The Development Process
I re-joined the RPS, after many years of absence, and found both the Journal and information online to be essential resources. From these I determined what I wanted to say and how. I then faced an enormous challenge: I have a huge film and digital archive, so where to start? I knew I would have to work digitally, both to facilitate easier edition and printing. My early negs and transparencies could rarely match the quality that is possible with new technologies and processes, particularly given the abuse I gave films to make them work in extremes.
I also felt that my landscape work, at that point, still had to remain personal. I also decided that mixing the genres of dance, music, theatre would simply confuse the issues. There are of course may crossovers with these areas, but dance has for years been my driving passion.
Having narrowed that down I started to trawl through my archive
(tonynandi.photoshelter.com), which was a daunting endeavour. I really do not envy those (slightly) older photographers who have had to do this with negatives. This began a long and hugely beneficial process of reflection, which rather prematurely served to booster my confidence considerably.
As photographers we understand that images can be read from multiple directions. As I was working with dance images any number of factors can determine this ‘read’: the position of key subjects, their body or eye-line, the design of both the set and of the lighting, and for that matter our culture! We tend to refer to these rather complex process as simply as ‘composition’. Placing images in conjunction with each other produces a whole new set of movements, and the placing images adjacent to each other on a screen can help enormously but moving physical artefacts at the planned exhibited stage is more beneficial.
I produced a series of proof prints on my home (rather good) printer, and as I did not have a large enough space, I went to a local gallery to ask if I could use their floor as an editing space! The owners and were extremely helpful in facilitating this and with their comments. So once again my confidence was boosted, not least when they offered me a one-person show the following year! At this point I applied to the RPS for some online feedback. I seriously recommend that applicants do this, as many comments were very helpful. Perhaps I should have attended more carefully, but at this point my self-believe carried me forward and my application submitted. I confidently put in for an ‘A’, as I reasoned that as a professional I should capable of that. A lesson here: being a ‘professional’ simply means that one gets paid for work. It does not necessarily that one has met requirements.
Assessment Day (1) May 2017
I travelled to Bath, with a set of mounted A3 prints of which I was extremely proud and confident. I sat through a fair number of viewings, some of which I felt were excellent but were not awarded, and I became less assured. The judges spent generous time looking at and discussing the images. Some received more attention than others, but it was impossible at the time to read the reasons why that might be the case.
The votes were cast, and I was devastated when told that I had failed. I stayed for a couple more assessments and then left. I was followed out by an observer judge who wanted a few words. She said that both her and the Chair felt that although they agreed with the outcome, they really wanted me to resubmit as I had got so close to the requirements.
The feedback was:
‘The Panel members were very impressed with this panel, which showed an excellent range of skill and techniques.
However, it failed to progress for a number of reasons. The size of the images was mentioned and perhaps the applicant may consider making the images smaller in size and at the same time consider the use of black mount’s.
They also were specifically critical of specific image, mainly regarding technical issues..
Once returned home, with head lifted slightly higher, I reflected on this feedback. I felt that some aspects were part of the genre: I don’t control either lighting design or levels and blown-out highlights and noise are often inevitable. However, as the majority of images end up on newsprint, they are rarely an issue. But this wasn’t a press submission, and herein a lesson was learnt that I should not have needed to learn. As an academic of many years standing I should have acknowledged that the assessors set the criteria which the students need to follow.
I revisited all the images, made adjustments, and where I could not address the criticism, I replaced them. I also realised that my prints could be proofed at home but needed to be printed by a commercial printer. This left me entirely responsible for the technical production of the file: colour and setting of gamma points etc. Searching through the Journal I identified what I hope would be a good printer (have used Point101 ever since). I also reduced the image size to A4+. The latter left me feeling a little inadequate but happier when I window-mounted them. I booked another assessment and travelled back to Bath.
Assessment Day (2) November 2017
I travelled back to the RPS, carrying a somewhat lighter portfolio. I was somewhat concerned to recognise one of the judges from my previous assessment sitting in front of me. The number of assessments proceeding mine was considerably longer. With a slightly better perspective I agreed with many of the outcomes, but there were quite a few failings, and I started to get more concerned. When my panel was put up, I felt pleased and proud. But the judges seemed to be inspecting the work even more closely, especially the one who had been at my last assessment. I was then surprised to be told that I had passed the assessment. I leaned thanked the judge about whom I had had such concerns, and she simply said that it was well deserved. She continued by saying that it was good that I had reapplied having listened, reflected and addressed the issues.
The lesson for me was that it was not for me to determine criteria, and to learn from very positive feedback, even if it does not feel like that at the time.
I have been surprised as to how pleased and proud I was to receive my ‘A’. No longer a cynic! It gave me much more confidence to move forward to the first exhibition of my performance images (70 of them!) in that local Deal gallery. That was a wonderful experience which was also very affirming. I have since had another solo show in Margate this year, and have planned another large exhibition in Whitstable which will also feature some of my landscape Rollei images.
Tony Nandi ARPS