Generally speaking I am an ambitious kind of person. I get fixed on a goal and rarely do I fail. Undertaking the journey to gain my ARPS started by gaining my LRPS. So many of the lessons from that process formed the foundation for my ARPS.
In June 2014, I took a trip to Uganda to photograph the work of my sister-in-law’s charity, Soft Power Education. It was the most challenging photographic project I had undertaken for a variety of reasons; location, weather conditions and time constraints but a few.
When planning the trip I had already decided that if the images I captured were good enough I’d put together a panel for an ARPS. I would be submitting an applied panel as the trip was to document the work and people of the charity.
After the trip and with my photos backed up and the book created, planning on my panel began. At this point I was already really familiar with the material I had to work with. My first task was to decide the content of my panel. I’d had a fruitful trip capturing many facets of the charity’s work. Should I create a narrative showing the problems the charity faces? The work they are doing to solve those problems? Or maybe their work in rural communities? I decided that I wanted a panel that represented everything the charity does. The answer was simple. The people. The human element is what connects every aspect the charity.
My next task was to pull together a selection of images that represented the diverse group of people involved with and support the charity. Then I discarded those that, although may have been good images, might let down the panel on technical merit, blow highlights, soft focus etc.
Over the next few months (yes months), I experimented with different arrangements and tried different crops of the images to see what did and didn’t work.
With a selection of images I felt worked, I proofed them at the size I wanted to present to make sure they were up to the required standard. This is a really important step. I don’t believe you can really judge how an image will print only looking at it digitally. Onscreen you are looking at tiny dots of projected light. A good quality print is physical, at your chosen size and on the substrate of your choosing. Adding a character to the image that you don’t get onscreen.
With my images proofed, I was confident to go and start getting second opinions. I started by talking through my work with a fellow member of the RPS Documentary group.
The RPS online advisory service was my next step. This provided me with some really valuable feedback that lead me to change 30-40% of my panel. With hindsight, I felt some of this feedback was very subjective, so I became wary of relying too heavily on it. An Associateship review panel is made up of 5 people, so a single point of view would not cut it.
Now I’m not a (good) gambler. If I do place a bet it rarely comes in. I like sure things, further feedback was defiantly necessary! So I contacted a Fellow of the RPS that had helped me on my LRPS. He kindly looked through my work, the online feedback and then gave me some very helpful pointers. Nothing too drastic, this time I only changed 3 images in the main panel, and found a couple of new spares. I was now ready to attend an Advisory day.
Firstly, I needed to print and mount my images. I chose to commercially print them, using a company I’d used in the past, The Print Space, located in Shoreditch, London. I chose C-Type prints, real photographic prints as opposed to giclee (inkjet) prints, on semi gloss paper. I had already had a couple of test prints done, so I was sure of the quality and consistency, a really important point, because I was likely to need a few reprints after the advisory day. Commercial printing is not the cheapest option, but quality is paramount, and I wasn’t willing to compromise. Mounts from Cotswold Mounts combined with excellent prints, I was confident I had at least a couple of the required boxes ticked!
There is much debate over the size of prints to present for an ARPS. I chose to print 10″x15″. Reasonably large. My final decision to present at this size was all the images were sharp and the required quality. End of discussion.
Applied is a popular category as it covers so many genres of photography and I was struggling to secure a date to attend an advisory day. By the good graces of the Southern Regions organiser, I managed to get a place on their Applied advisory day in January 2016.
On the day I was rather nervous. Having spent many hours labouring over this panel, I was finally presenting prints to a group of people that would share their opinions on my work. Including the Applied panel Chairperson, Vanessa Slawson FRPS.
As it turned out my hard work had paid off. My images we well received. We tried swapping out some images with my spares or changing position to see if the panel layout could be improved. A couple of minor technical error were highlighted and a change of crop on one image was suggested. I was over the moon. The most significant piece of feedback suggested for my Associate submission was not to my images. It was to my statement of intent. Although only a short 150 word statement, it’s a powerful and important part of the submission. It defines the context of the images being presented. The proposed adjustment to my statement lead me to rewrite it 6 times prior to my final assessment, but getting it right made all the difference.
The advisory day also allowed me to meet with other members of the RPS and discuss all manner of things photographic, making my long journey really worth it.
My assessment was a little over two months away, so I could take my time to make the suggested changes and re-write my statement of intent. After reprinting and mounting I checked all my images very closely against the Distinctions handbook and that was that. I was ready to present.
Assessment day arrived and I had a 3 hour drive to RPS HQ, Fenton House in Bath. I set out with plenty of time to spare, hating to be late. However, the M25 and M4 put a spanner in the works, and thanks to various traffic problems and weather conditions I arrived well over an hour late.
Sitting nervously waiting for my panel to be presented, I watched as two panels were presented and neither being recommended. The gentleman to my right informed me no one had be recommended so far. This didn’t inspire confidence!
Then it happened, I saw my images going up one by one. Each placed on the rails as per my hanging plan. So far so good! Then the deputy chair read out my statement of intent, but it didn’t sound like my words, they were all wrong! ‘Sorry’ he announced, ‘wrong one’! Oh thank goodness! I thought I’d put the wrong printouts in my folio box but all was fine. As my correct statement was read out, five eagle eye’d panel members intently scrutinised my work from their seats, then one by one they rose up and moved in. Each picking up my images and closely inspecting them. From the back of the room I watched, rigid in my seat, unknowing of the thoughts running through their minds. One by one, having inspected each and every image, they took their seats.
Vanessa Slawson, the panel chair, then asked for an initial vote then for one of the panellists to share his comments. Instant delight filled me as he highlighted the images he liked and some very positive comments on the overall panel. The thought ran through my mind “I’ve done it”. Then Vanessa asked a second person to speak, and again more positive comments. I though again, “Seriously. I have done it”! Then came the counter opinions from the third panellist who wasn’t so enthusiastic. Questioning why I had or had not done certain apparently obvious adjustments when taking my photos. “He should have moved that out of shot”, and “if he’d moved this girls head or changed the position of her are…”. Doubt now filled my mind.
A fourth opinion joined the debate and this is when I believe my statement of intent made all the difference. The panel member pointed out that my panel was a documentary, photographing real people as life happened. “Thank you” I thought. He pointed out that interfering with the people and the elements in frame wasn’t always possible or right to do so. I had been working in schools and you can’t direct children during their lessons! The key words in my statement were ‘document’ and ‘their environment’.
It was at this point Vanessa asked to continue the discussion out of the room. Nothing unusual, it had already happen a couple of times today. After the door was shut behind them, people started to talk quietly talk about my images, I was still rigid in my seat. The wait seemed endless. After about 10 minutes they returned. A final vote was taken and then Vanessa announced “I’m please to say this panel has been recommended…”
The hard work, constantly questioning my images, all the advice, checking, checking and rechecking every detail had paid off.
I work in advertising and the agency I work for has number of different mantras. My personal favourite is “Difficult is worth doing”.
It certainly is!
Below are my images and the hanging plan.