Why study photography? A simple question but not surprisingly one that has a complex series of responses. In many ways the answer you get and the satisfaction you have with that answer is based on your expectation of both photography and the academic process.
Do you want to be a professional photographer who earns their living purely from photography? Do you want to further explore photography as part of a personal interest or hobby? Do you want to gain a qualification that will aid you in teaching photography? Do you want to progress your work an develop your practice under the tutelage of those you respect? All are realistic and common reasons to invest both time and money to join some form of educational establishment offering photography as an academic option. However, how many of those looking to study photography see it as an opportunity to learn a new language or expand their visual vocabulary? And how many of those with specific requirements from a course based on a pre-conceived expectation have those expectations fulfilled or surpassed?
More questions than answers, I know but please stay with me on this. Let’s be honest unless you are going to enter the world of teaching any qualification you receive will be of little or no relevance to your career as a photographer. The reason for your learning sits firmly with the opportunity of spending an extended period of time exploring, experimenting, and learning about photography with and from others who are on a similar journey as yourself and those experienced and engaged with the world you wish to enter. When you enter the wold of professional photography as a photographer it is your work and how you present it that will have to speak for you not your certificates and grades.
But what if you don’t want to be a photographer but still want to study photography? The too often used academic term ‘transferable skills’ is actually hugely relevant to the study of photography. Decision making, digital understanding, communication, self-confidence, presentation, collaboration, self-analysis, research and marketing skills are all essential elements of a professional photographers working practice and should therefore be the foundation of any good photographic teaching. These are also essential skills for a working life outside of photography in 2015.
My experience is that very few undergraduate (or post graduate for that matter) potential students of photography have this depth of understanding of what being a photographer involves. Once you do, the answer to why you should study photography is both simple and exciting.
Photography today provides the alphabet for an international language that informs all forms of global interaction. By understanding that alphabet you can create your own journey within the new media environment. That may be as a photographer but it may not. Studying photography is no longer about training to be a photographer it is about learning to speak a new language with confidence and understanding.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015).
© Grant Scott 2015