I got my uni marks today, and I’m 99% sure it rounds out to a 2.1. Hooray!

I’m perfectly happy with that, but I will admit to being slightly miffed about the mark for my major final project: the Uganda exhibition got 61. They didn’t like it because I didn’t spend much time talking about its academic and conceptual significance. I don’t think that was unreasonable – it was, after all, a charity exhibition designed to raise money and awareness – though perhaps I should have remembered that uni is uni, and conceptual stuff has always ruled. Here are my tutor’s comments:

My own view is that the body of work is probably more effective and successful than the mark here suggests. However, whilst you made a very good job of promoting the work of the trust you made a very poor job of promoting and explaining your work in the academic context. You needed to make an assessment of how your work would be viewed conceptually and practically, and by whom, and then promote and package it so its strong points would be visible and fully understood. Crucially you needed to articulate its academic significance within the medium you are studying…Nevertheless this is clearly good work directed towards useful and rational ends.

This is odd. The academic significance of any no interest or relevance beyond a small, niche group of people – and the exhibition was absolutely not aimed at them. Still, I’m pleased my tutor seemed to like it himself. He had my back when other teachers wanted to outright fail me back in March, and the above reads like he was outvoted this time, mark-wise. Which is cool – he’s been on my wavelength since day one, and if he likes it, I’m happy.

Directly after reading the above results I received some exciting proof layouts containing my Uganda pictures, for a national publication. Took the edge off 🙂 More info on that coming soon.

I was gearing up for a fight over these results – genuinely thought they might try to fail me at the final hurdle – so it’s quite a relief not to have to worry any more. Looking up the results was, frankly, terrifying.

My science-y dissertation got 69, but I haven’t seen any feedback for that yet. It exists in the world, but only on a piece of paper that I have to travel to uni to pick up. Ho hum.

Uganda Humanist Schools exhibition launch

Big day today – my Uganda schools exhibition opens at Conway Hall this evening. This post should go up just as it starts. I’m currently pretty nervous and excited – nobody’s really seen the room before today, so I’m really hoping it goes down well. Hopefully there’ll be 30 or so people coming, and I’m breaking out the jelly babies. Here’s one of the walls:

UHST Exhibition

More shots of the room are on the official exhibition site. My last exhibition was frustratingly difficult to put online due to release form issues, and I’m really happy there’s a proper permanent presence for this one. New Humanist tweeted about it this afternoon, which was lovely of them.

I’ve been planning this for almost a year. It’s the culmination of my final university project – I just need to hand in some example images and shots of the exhibition room in May, and that’s my degree done. But the main aim was to help raise money and awareness for the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, which supports the three schools. Here’s how it’s described at the exhibition:

The Uganda Humanist Schools Trust supports three Ugandan schools, each of which offers liberal, humanist education to needy children. The schools are in impoverished rural areas, where few families can pay for education, and where many children, orphaned by disease, are cared for by extended family members. This exhibition aims to show a snapshot of the day-to-day life of the children at the schools.

The three schools are first and foremost a humanitarian response to the desperate need to provide educational opportunities for such children. However, they are also part of a pioneering experiment to create schools in Africa with a liberal, humanist ethos. As one school principal explains:

Every person in this school is treated as a human being. If one person is hungry it is a problem for us all. We take care of each other. We apply reason and science to solve our problems and do not rely on superstition and prejudice.

The schools were started on a shoestring by Ugandan humanists. Facilities are poor but improving, thanks to support from members of humanist organisations like: The Rationalist AssociationNew Humanist, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the British Humanist Association, and the work of the UHST. The schools desperately need support. You can find out more information, including how you can help, via the website, at www.ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org.

I just yesterday read the March 2011 report on the Mustard Seed School, which has very recently been able to sink a borehole and water pump, so they finally have clean on-site water. Before, they had to queue for hours at the local pump in the grounds of a local church. This will make a huge difference, and they’ll also use the pump to provide water for the local community. Fantastic.

I’ve really had a brilliant time from the moment I set foot in Uganda to today’s launch, and I’m very grateful to the UHST for trusting me enough to essentially give me free reign to take / use photos. Can’t believe my luck, to be honest.

Dissertation: done

Dissertation: completeI can’t really be all cool and nonchalant about this: my dissertation is done! Hooray! I gave a presentation on my proposed topic at about this time last year, so it’s satisfying to finally finish. Also it’s basically the only thing I’ve done in the last month, so the relief is impressively deep.

It’s essentially a plea to take science more seriously in theories of visual art1, which was actually quite good fun to write. The main topic is neurophysiology, which I touched on in a post in November, and how the structure of the eye and its cells has more impact on what we see than might be expected – if you’re into culture as an explanation for everything, anyway. Weirdly, it’s barely about photography, as most of the relevant research has centred on reactions to paintings. I’ve shown how this has been effective, and suggested various possible avenues for photography, but there are only a couple of photographs in the thing.

It doesn’t mention Cindy Sherman, either. This might be a dealbreaker. You have to mention Cindy Sherman whenever possible, because…well…it’s not entirely clear. You just do.

I honestly have no idea what they’ll think. My tutor was cautiously optimistic, but who knows. Obviously I’d like a good mark, but I know I worked hard, and am happy with that.

That leaves one project before uni’s all finished, and that’ll be based around my Uganda photos. I proposed an exhibition to a London hall last year, and just today heard they want to go ahead, which is brilliant. Thing is, they want it for March. Which is fine, but means I’ll have a very busy month. I have yet to design the thing, for example. Still though: exciting! Uni need a proper research workbook and plan for two weeks’ time (which is a bizarre timetable, given the dissertation deadline), then after that it’s only a matter of delivering the final practical exhibition. Which means that, rather unexpectedly, this time in a month I should be pretty much done with uni. How odd.

If anyone says ‘what then?’ I will scream.

  1. meaning: paintings, photos etc., rather than sculpture, but there’s no uncomplicated group noun []

Visiting humanist schools in Uganda

I’m going on an adventure next week. Somewhat unexpectedly, I’ll be travelling to Uganda to photograph three humanist schools.

The education system is Uganda is very much a work in progress. The government implemented free primary education a decade ago, and so created a follow-on demand for fee-paying secondary schools – a demand often met by religious organisations, who promptly take the opportunity to indoctrinate (because kids in a country where 35% live below the poverty line really need to be loaded up with some sin). But for plenty even this kind of education is a dream – many parents can’t afford school fees at all, or are forced to skip years while they save up.

To help with these problems, three humanist schools opened in the past few years. They offer scholarships to poorer children, while providing a balanced education. They’re called humanist to differentiate themselves from the religious schools, but are what we’d call secular – they’re neutral on the subject of religion, and teach open-minded critical thinking. Ugandan law requires they teach Christianity, but it’s presented as one of many philosophies, including humanist ideas. And of course the students study for GCSE equivalent maths, English, science, etc..

Isaac Newton High SchoolThe schools have very little money, and are mainly supported by the Ugandan Humanist Schools Trust, who manage donations and fundraising from Humanist organisations worldwide. The schools are improving, but none have running water, and only one mains electricity (another has a petrol generator). New Humanist magazine has brilliantly taken a particular interest in the Mustard Seed school – portions of the proceeds from Robin Ince’s Godless Concerts are donated – and as such it now has an intake of 160 students. But all the schools are very much in need of funds.

I’m hoping I can take some photos to help with this, and I leave next Tuesday. I emailed the Trust 10 days ago, asking if I could come along on a November trip, and was very kindly invited to come along to International Friendship Week. This was great, and more than I was hoping for, but gave me two weeks to get ready. It’s been a bit manic, but I’m almost there.

I’m pretty nervous – I’ve never been outside of the first world before – but excited too. We’ll be travelling to the three schools, and I’ll be staying at Isaac Newton High for a week. I may help teach, if I can be of use, but otherwise I’ll be hovering and learning how it all works.

This will also be my Major Project for my final year of uni. I wanted to do something useful, and this seemed entirely appropriate – I just hope I can produce something helpful. It will explicitly not an art project, though – any pictures will be used solely to help raise money and awareness for the schools.

Photography Quiz

I helped run an end-of-year photo festival at uni last week, and we wanted to include a photography-based quiz. I couldn’t find much online so I put one together from various bits and pieces, and I figured it was worth posting for passing Googlers looking for something similar. We had seven rounds of ten questions, which took about 90mins:

  1. Photography trivia – 1
  2. Name the photographer from the photo – 1
  3. General knowledge
  4. Name the brand / Spot the Photoshopping
  5. Current affairs
  6. Name the photographer from the photo – 2
  7. Photography trivia – 2

All the relevant sheets / presentations are below. It’s a little UK/London-centric, and I haven’t included current affairs or general knowledge. I’ve also highlighted a couple of questions that relate to the University of Westminster, so probably won’t be much use.

  • PDF (including answers) is here. Word version here.
  • Powerpoint of all the photo rounds is here.
  • Separate powerpoint for the Photoshop-round answers is here.

and the questions are below the ‘continue reading’ link (I only mention this because it’s my blog and I didn’t spot it for a few minutes).

Continue reading Photography Quiz

Year 3: done

Done! 3 down, 1 to go.

My calendar arrived at midday (the parcel company website tracked the ETA down to the hour, which took most of the stress out of my day) and I headed down to London in plenty of time to get it all handed in.


Right: summer. I need to start my dissertation reading before too long, but I think I’m allowed a couple of weeks off.

Déjà vu

I spent Saturday running around Bourton-on-the-Water as part of a treasure hunt. We had to decipher codes, tear around a maze, run pieces of string around a model village, fish things out of a river, and badger some Morris Dancers. It was great.

On Monday I went to a Strobist seminar. I think I learnt more about photographic lighting in that one day than I have in 3yrs of university. It was great.

This morning I got up early to watch the LOST finale. It was…I don’t know what I think yet. But it was thought-provoking.

All of these things I would like to write about, but I am trying desperately to finish my workbook in time for handing-in tomorrow, and barely have time to eat. I will hopefully write about them before I start to forget. Also I have one major worry that is clouding out everything else.

On deadline day last year I was sitting at home, desperately hoping UPS would arrive with my project, so I could rush into uni and hand it in. It arrived in time, but the experience was awful, and I swore blind, backwards and to the gods of Cobol that this would never happen to me again.

It is going to happen to me again.

Last year was my fault – I pushed the deadine as far as it would go. This time it’s a bit bloody unlucky. My project is a calendar, created on lulu.com. The first draft was ordered on a Sunday night, then printed on the Monday, and it arrived on the Tuesday. The second draft was ordered on a Thursday, posted on Monday, and arrived on Tuesday. The final draft was ordered last Tuesday, and was only posted today, a week later. This is admittedly the upper bound of their possible delivery dates, but all my experiences before had suggested it would be faster than that. It’s not so all-or-nothing catastrophic as last time, as if all else fails I can hand in the pretty-much-done second draft. Nevertheless, I cannot believe this has happened again.

Photos can mean things: discuss in words of more than three syllables

I’m meant to be writing an essay about allegory in photography, and I’m having to bite my fingers. The title is ‘How can the theory of allegory help us understand a photograph?’, and there’s plenty of existing writing on this topic. Unfortunately, when you’ve gone through all the epistemological hand-wringing, dubious metaphors – allegory requires words/an image, therefore is ‘parasitic’1 – and ontological angst, you basically end up with Google Dictionary’s definition: an allegory is a text, painting or photo that means something else, usually a broad concept or theme.

And it’s really hard not to be accidentally sarcastic. I’ve explained what allegory is, coming to the above conclusion. I now need to link this explanation to something practical. And all I keep ending up with is:

So, armed with the knowledge that a photograph can mean something other than its literal representation…

Which sounds like I’m making fun. It’s hard to get around, though.

  1. only in the same way that music is ‘parasitic’ on the speakers. Honestly, I never know what to think about these metaphors. Another popular one is that portrait photography is just like hypochondria, because both are obsessed with the body. I can almost vaguely see that there is kind of a parallel of sorts, but I don’t know what else to say – that’s one of a thousand properties of the two concepts, and the rest are pretty different. I just think ‘so?’. People somehow do PhDs on these topics, though. []

Dissertation approved

I pitched my dissertation idea this morning. I’d been worried about doing so as I’m planning to research empirical aesthetics – the scientific study of responses to art – and swinging this by my notoriously artsy tutors was risky. Thankfully I got a friendly guy who was fine with the concept, only making sure I wasn’t planning to write something dull and technical. So that’s quite the relief. The other tutor in the room wasn’t impressed when I said criticisms of my topic as ‘reductionist’ weren’t compelling, but otherwise I got through. Hoorah! I’ve been wanting to research this subject since the first year, and it would have been such a waste to instead write 10k words comparing conveniently unfalsifiable art theories.