My education in photographic medium started right after primary school in 2012 when I choose to enrol in Secondary School for Design and Photography (Ljubljana, Slovenia), programme Photographic Technician. At that point I knew few things about photography for example that photographs are taken with the camera (I was aware of the difference between analog and digital cameras) and that this days basically anyone can take them. Based on the name and introduction of the programme, I expected we will directly go to the photographic studio and start photographing.
But than I got the schedule.
Elderly man, just before retirement (literally, he retired after a year and a half), always in white laboratory coat and with a big pile of books – Photographic Techniques, Technology of Processes, Composition of Photography, etc.
After about half a year I realised he was most of the time simultaneously translating directly from German literature. The first sentence in my notebook made me realize the programme will be a bit different than what I expected.
Photography is combined with photo-optical and photo-chemical part; they first developed separately and when they got combined we start to talk about the invention of photography.
Precise history of photography development, theory of photographic technics, all type of shutter mechanisms and apertures, what is a synchronization time, image sensors, light meters and different options of how to measure the light…
A lot of calculations.
There were 14 of us in a class and for practical lessons we were divided in two groups with two different professors. One of them looked very strict and “professional”, the other a little more confused and “artistic” (yes, these were the expressions we used at that time). I ended up in a group with the second one. It was an older lady, also always wearing a white laboratory coat, a pair of print tongs in a pocket and glasses hanging on a chain around her neck. Not much of a knowledge about digital cameras or computers in general, photoshop was rarely a theme of debate even though we had really well equipped digital section.
However, our first assignment at practical course was to build our own camera, suggested to use shoe box, black spray and aluminum foil with a very small hole and take a picture with it…? That was not what I have signed up for but okay let’s give it a try. It actually worked!
I would dare to guarantee that was the moment when I got hooked with working in the darkroom.
Not many in my group were happy with the teacher which benefited me. Because of my interest she devoted more time to me, thought me different techniques, tricks and encourage me to explore the different possibilities of the analogue photographic medium. The darkroom at school was equipped amazingly – 14 working spaces, each with it’s own enlarger, two developing stations, RC paper dryer and flatbed dryer for FB paper. Easy to stay and work for hours.
This teacher also played a big role that I further applied for Academy for Fine Arts and Design Ljubljana (ALUO). For a short time I doubt if I was good enough for it and was thinking to study math… Until my math teacher said that’s not a good idea.
When the first semester at Academy started I realized that the way of teaching and working will be completely different. Photography was a part of Visual Communication Design programme – beside photographic medium there were illustration and graphic design. But don’t let that the word “design” in the name of the programme miss-lead you because our studies were more focused in fine art.
The theoretical subjects were my main gain of new knowledge, especially Art Theory (“Fotologija” or the science of fundamental artistic elements) – professor of this course was amazing, definitely one of those who receive all my respect. Besides, mandatory painting and later sculpturing brought new thinking and different approaches.
Unlearn everything you learned.
In general the most important outcome I got from those three years is to work with what I got, how to improvise and be creative and innovative with minimum. Why? Well our academy in Ljubljana is unfortunately limited in resources and equipment… Small black and white darkroom with two enlargers (if I’m not mistaken, maybe there was actually only one that worked), not so big photographic studio with few lights, black and white paper background (you had to be careful since there wasn’t much of it left and it was pretty torn at the end) and a lot of different props build and left from other students. And the only way to digitally print our images was to go to the photo studio store. At the end of every semester we set up the exhibition with all the works we did and open it for the public ‒ we build additional walls using big cardboards which we cut and use them next semester for painting course.
I’m glad that my older brother also finished same academy so my parents weren’t that surprised or bothered when I turned one of the rooms in our house into a painting atelier.
It may sound like a critique of our Academy, but all of this made me falling in love with it more. It gave us space to do whatever we wanted, you almost didn’t have to worry about something going wrong and at the same time you weren’t too surprised if something went wrong. The professors were easy going and encourage us to have fun. And as mentioned before, I got the knowledge how to work with what you got and not be too dependent on what the facilities offers – at some point this won’t be available anymore.
After BA I chose to continue my education at HDK-Valand Academy in Gothenburg (Sweden), programme Master of Fine Arts in Photography. I did an Erasmus+ exchange here and I especially fell in love with the color darkroom, something that I’ve never before had the opportunity to work with.
I chose this institution because I felt it will be the right one to expand my knowledge in a different way. Being in an international class, mixed with students from diverse backgrounds. As I seen the structure of study during the exchange I knew it will be a lot of space to develop projects and artistic practice by myself with a help from good mentors. No precisely technical assignments, no theoretical exams where you almost have to geek literature to pass and no grades …
Yes, we had grades. That was something I never understood – how do you grade someone’s artwork (if not grading the actual technical accuracy)? And how can someone fail the course with their artwork (unless they really don’t do what the course demand)?
The first comment on my previous work I got from the professor at Valand was “I’ll be honest, I’m not impressed”. Thank you! I think that was something I really needed. I was/am happy with what I have done in the past but it always felt like I just wanted or needed to reach that demanded criteria to pass. And since I always did pass I rather stayed in that comfort zone of doing things correctly. But in a way I wasn’t really sure I’m doing what I want. I could be caught in scrolling through other artists works for hours, often being a bit jealous. I wished I would be working with something I wouldn’t mind to brag with.
Even though that comment was a perfect kick in the ass I for a second didn’t know what I’m doing here. I soon got the invitation to participate at group exhibition which I couldn’t refuse, it was just too good of the opportunity. But due to the gallery where the exhibition was taking place I for sure didn’t want to show any of my work from the past.
I knew I needed a new project to work on but I didn’t know how to start. Usually I got some kind of instructions – either technical (what kind of equipment to use, how to set up the lights, amount of demanded photographs,…), the genre or a theme. But this time it was just on me.
Learn everything you unlearned.
I opened my notes from secondary school, I went through old projects (not only photographic), I looked through the old material and memories from that time and do a short subconscious reflection to get an input and a new kick.
Not sure if this really helped but it was a start. I experimented and had fun with what I had around me at that specific moment and while doing this I was making a technical sketch in my head how to apply this to photographic medium. I can’t really remember the moment when I did my first negative, I wish I would. But after I made my first prints it was a really unexpected result, way better than I even visualized it could it be. Finally!
It’s an amazing feeling when you know you’re doing it right. I reached two goals I had at that specific time – to be proud of what I exhibited and to at least a bit impress that professor at next critique class.
The master studies is coming to the end and I guess this is the time when we supposed to really be ready to work with what we want and at least I want to be a full time working artist (based on chosen education we in general all wish for that). Easy to say, a bit harder to do. But if you are really into what you’re doing you’ll find a way. Despite my doubt if I’m ready for master study I believe that I did justified my place here.
So looking back at my education (when starting with this text I realized it’s been already 10 years) and reflect on the development of my practice I think it couldn’t be better. Learn all the needed basics (and more…) to set the ground point, learn that you can do so much with so little and finally realising that I can actually do everything on my own. And with this in mind I am more than satisfied and proud to finish my student chapter and start a new path.
To be continued….