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My "A" journey by Nigel Dutt

Panel layout, Nigel explains the thoughts behind his panel

South West Region Home | Events | News | The Team

The process which took Nigel to this very impressive Associateship panel is described below





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My journey to an ARPS

I had been an RPS member for a while, mainly enjoying the magazine and going to the odd photographer presentation and it was only a couple of years ago that I started going to advisory days at Bovey Tracey to find out first-hand about the distinctions. That in itself was very useful, educational and entertaining although I wasn’t fully convinced that I wanted to put myself back in an ‘examination situation’ after all these years. I did start thinking about a potential LRPS panel though and selecting potential photos for it.

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At the same time, we were building, or rather having built, a very contemporary and highly eco house. When we finally received permission, our local planners at East Devon set a somewhat unusual condition that we should put a record of the actual build process online in the public domain. Being a keen photographer, I was of course always going to do that and, as we lived near the site, I was making daily visits, armed with my camera, to record progress and especially to capture the technical aspects of the construction. Also, as we were aiming for Passivhaus certification, I had to take photos for the certifiers to show that certain things were being done right, such as taping up of all joints. Then for my own benefit I was taking documentary and ‘arty’ photos and ones of the workers where I could do it discreetly. When the project was complete, I was then capturing the finished house both as record and with more creative shots. All this got me thinking about doing a documentary ARPS capturing the building process and featuring men at work, for which I put a panel together and showed Sue Brown. Sue was positive about it, but she had seen some other photos I’d been doing based on light and shadow effects inside the house and said that these would potentially make a good fine art panel. I hadn’t thought of myself as a fine art photographer, but when the Chair of that genre suggested it then I thought I should take the hint! Sue also spotted (correctly) that these particular photos were ones that “floated my boat” as she is very keen on work that reflects your personal passion and emotion. I also found out that I had wrongly made the assumption that I should get my LRPS first.


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So, I decided to complete a potential ARPS panel on the theme of lighting effects in the house, using both natural light and the normal lighting in the house, augmented in a couple of cases by light bouncing off our reflection pool outside. A big attraction to me was that these could be presented in a semi-abstract, monochromatic way so that the photos didn’t immediately look like house interiors. Luckily it was also a theme that I could continue working on during lockdown.


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Sue continued to advise and criticise, especially on the design of the overall panel. When the online 1:1 advisory service was started I immediately jumped on the opportunity and ended up doing a ‘guinea pig’ session with Sue so that I could get my advice at the same time as she could test out the Zoom system. As someone with over 50 years’ experience on computers I was at least able to advise her for once. This worked really well as we could have a two-way conversation about each photo, which removed any chance of misunderstanding that can sometimes result from a written advisory. As a result of Sue’s advice, I replaced a couple of photos with new ones that were a better fit and also brightened up quite a few of them as we found that my Mac’s brightness level was somewhat misleading me. Sue also had an eagle eye for small details that would potentially distract the viewer.  She was subsequently positive about the revised panel, so I booked a print assessment in October, which was the next available date. I had realised that my printer wasn’t good enough to produce the quality of printing I wanted, but that gave me plenty of time to organise a third-party printer, with the intention of going for 20x20cm semi-matt prints after seeing some samples.


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Then the possibility of having a digital assessment appeared because during the lock-down the RPS decided to offer digital assessments, but with an associated print hanging plan. In this case, the individual images are assessed just as in a digital assessment but, unlike a normal digital assessment, the print panel layout would also be assessed rather than the photo sequence. In fact I felt more comfortable about doing this as I wouldn’t have been making my own prints, but I was a bit worried that presenting these fairly minimalist and ‘noir’ photos as large screen images wouldn’t be as effective as the relatively small prints displayed as a panel, and of course they would be subject to more detailed close-up scrutiny as a result. Anyway, I took the risk, which also meant that my assessment was now 4 months earlier than it might have been. One disadvantage (I think!) was that I couldn’t attend the assessment as I had planned, so it was a case of waiting on the day for an email, which duly arrived late in the afternoon with “I am delighted to inform...” showing as it popped up on my iPhone. 

The upshot is that exactly 50 years after I last received letters after my name, a BSc in that case, I can now add ARPS.


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What did I learn?

Firstly, even after more than 60 years of taking photographs, you can still learn!

I’d suggest that before anything else, observing advisory sessions is really useful. You very quickly get an eye for the standard required and you also get to understand how important panelling is.

The statement of intent is very important for an ARPS, and even an excellent photo can fail the assessment because it doesn’t meet one’s stated intent.

Get advice from someone trained in assessment. I was very lucky to have Sue as my advisor. I have seen a few people on the RPS distinctions Facebook page getting upset at failing their assessment even after their friends with distinctions had told them they were dead certainties. I think it’s similar to the difference between asking a friendly lawyer, however experienced, about your case and asking a judge.


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The new online advice method was really useful, so I wonder if the RPS will continue with this method post lockdown.

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If you are doing a digital submission, then you need to look very closely at the magnified image; that Lightroom spot healing that looks perfect at print size can suddenly stick out a mile!

The panel approach isn’t for everyone, although of course it is the RPS distinctions approach. Personally I like it, but it would be perfectly reasonable to decide it’s not for you, and you can still enjoy RPS membership without feeling any obligation to go for distinctions.