I received my results for Identity & Place a couple of days ago and I am hugely disappointed. My result of 56 is significantly below the 66 I achieved for Context and Narrative, and whilst in isolation it may not be a “bad” mark, for me it signifies a step backwards. Noone can explain to me why I have gone backwards – all feedback has been positive (oddly including that of the assessors) and I believed I had taken a huge leap forward in the way I approach my work and the type of work that I am choosing to make. This is why the mark is particularly crushing; I don’t feel it is deserved and it has taken away all of the confidence I was beginning to have in my abilities.
This has made me reflect on why I am undertaking the course and whether there is any point in continuing. I started out with the OCA at a time when my life post-baby was feeling empty; everything was about baby and not about me, I had left my entire life behind when I left work and I had nothing to fill the void. Photography was something I had always wanted to do and I started TAOP to try to learn to take better photographs. In all honestly I didn’t learn a great deal about taking pictures, though that sort of came incrementally along the way. What I did learn, though, was about an entire culture that I had no knowledge of and that I found fascinating. I confess I would have dismissed “media studies” as a joke, an excuse to have a good time at university, but now I realise the significance it has in our lives and the depth at which it can be studied.
So my initial motivations for undertaking the course no longer apply, in part because it isn’t what I expected it to be, and in part because I have now built a life around my children and my local neighbourhood. I no longer need photography to fill a void, if anything the time spent on my studies is beginning to get in the way of other things. That said, a week ago I was full of excitement about my course. I had a clear trajectory for this course which I felt extremely motivated by. I was plotting my new study/studio (we move house in a few weeks). Despite the hard work I was eager to throw myself into my studies. I have tried to work out why, and I think there are three factors: (1) I find the topics that I am studying interesting; (2) I enjoy feeling that I have achieved something and am bettering myself; and (3) I have a tendency towards making myself stressed if I don’t have something to focus on and the course keeps my brain occupied.
Unfortunately point (2) above has been taken away from me. I no longer feel that I am achieving anything or making progress. I feel that I must be completely misunderstanding everything I have been doing. There is no way for me to regain that confidence because I no longer trust tutor feedback (not that I have any gripe against my current tutor) as it seems to bear no relationship to ultimate success. Noone at the OCA seems willing to give me any concrete advice about my work – head office just go on the defensive, the tutors on the forums offer platitudes alongside the increasingly patronising suggestion that I take more photographs. I can take a million pictures but if they’re all rubbish and noone tells me why then what is the point? The only assignment from I&P that was praised was the assignment for which I took about 8 images in total! It has been suggested to me that my work isn’t “wrong” it just isn’t interesting … that in itself tells me that I lack the potential to succeed, because I put everything into that work and in the absence of something that I can rectify, something to improve upon, I can’t move forward.
The problem is that (1) and (3) above remain, and I find myself thinking that I will miss my studies if I stop. Without feeling proud of myself for my progress, however, I worry that (1) in particular will sour given time and my increasing feeling that my studies are a waste of time. The long term solution, I think, is to find some alternative studies that better suit my needs; I will perhaps spend more time on my painting, or throw myself into something new, something at which I believe I have the potential to succeed.
The other problem, and probably the only thing holding me back from closing this blog and selling my text books today, is that I can’t bear to quit something part way through. I always finish a book no matter how dull I find it, I always finish a race no matter how hard, and I know that if I stop my studies now it will always leave a bitter taste. I have to weigh this against the potential that I will complete the course, get another bad mark, and take a further blow to my confidence, but I don’t think that I can feel any lower than I do now: a bad mark would reinforce that, but a good one at least has the possibility of salvaging some self-belief.
So I have made an interim decision to continue with my landscape course until I have completed my second assignment. If at that point I have no motivation to continue I will stop, safe in the knowledge that I took the time to make my decision. I will ask my tutor for brutally honest feedback; I need to find a way to progress and that requires honesty not platitudes.
Whatever happens I am going to cease my studies with the OCA after this landscape course. I no longer have faith in its ability to support and nurture its students and nothing it can do now could restore that faith. If my landscape course is positive I will look into continuing my studies at a local college, as I will by next year have enough time to take on a more traditional part-time degree course. If my results are poor I will accept my limitations and move on to something different. My photography is my passion and I won’t spoil it with unrealistic academic expectations.