You don’t need to meet someone physically for that person to have an impact on your life, but one physical person can introduce you to a variety of virtual people and that role is most often adopted by the teacher or mentor. I was lucky as a schoolboy in that I had two outstanding art teachers, Mr.Vincent and Mr.Crosby. I do not remember introducing me to any artists by name but Gordon Crosby my high school art teacher certainly did. He pointed me in the direction of specific artists, potters and movements all of which have formed my understanding of my personal creative practice for the past forty years. I dedicated my first book to both of them.
Gordon opened my eyes to the painting and sculpture of the St.Ives School, Hepworth, Nicholson and Heron. He introduced me to the graphic aesthetic of Patrick Caulfield’s painting and Hockney’s pen drawings. The ceramics of Lucie Rie and Bernard Leach, the collages of Kurt Schwitters, the mark making of Käthe Kollwitz, and the creative kinetics of Jean Tinguley. The intense colour of Mark Rothko and the collaborative nature Warhol’s Factory. No photographers you will notice, but then I wasn’t studying photography.
The work was presented to me within the context of books and exhibitions, in reality and in print. I still own posters from those exhibitions and books of that work. These creative greats showed me a way, a path to follow through their work, practice and commitment.
Looking at their work was just the beginning. Reading about their lives provided the insight I needed to understand their work. I am therefore eternally grateful to Gordon Crosby. He shared his knowledge and passion with me and in doing so allowed the work to be passed from one generation to another.
The passing of such knowledge cannot be passed without context and it cannot be passed by recommending the average. It cannot be passed through the use of Instagram and Pinterest as primary research resources. The greats are the greats for multiple reasons and their work is reflective of the context within which it was created.
A good teacher, mentor or lecturer expresses and shares their passion for their subjects. Photography is no different from any other creative practice in this, and yet the great’s are rarely being recommended, and neither are those photographers, artists and writers doing important work today. Pupils studying photography are not being introduced to the people who could shape and inform their futures. Instead they are being shown work that they can imitate to achieve a grade. This is not the fault of the teachers or the students but it is an obvious failure of the exam boards and the national curriculum.
This article is therefore a call to those in a position to enact change to employ people who truly understand photography to consult on the exam projects that are being set in the UK for students studying photography at GCSE and ‘A’ Level. To listen to experienced photographers who understand what is important in building a foundation of photographic learning. To ensure that the projects set allow the students to explore the creative potential they have and that the medium offers with a smile on their faces as they create work that is both meaningful and appropriate to them and informed photographic practice. To teach photography without doing so is like teaching French without speaking the language.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
His book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021