Interview with Professor David Bate
Course Leader of MA Photographic Studies
Department of Media, Arts and Design
University of Westminster
The MA in Photographic Studies programme at the University of Westminster offers a dynamic and exciting environment for studying independent practice and the critical theory of photography at a masters level. The course explores the different relationships between photographic practice and photographic theory in a flexible scheme. You will develop your practice in the context of thinking about photography as a broad social and historical phenomena in art, popular culture and global mass media.
ART.ZIP: What makes you most proud of this programme and what is unique about it?
DB: The MA Photographic Studies course already has quite a long history, and has been running since the mid 1990s. What is unique about the programme is the combination of practical work and taught photographic critical theory and history. Most MA Photography courses in the UK are by ‘project’, that is, a student agrees a topic and they pursue this through the programme as a photography project. Our students do this too, but they also develop skills in photography theory alongside their photographic work. The programme is ‘heuristic’ so that students are able to understand photography in a broader sense as a form of communication, with social and cultural implications. We explore these implications as series of issues for both the practice of, and how we think about, photography. Being able to talk and understand photography as a social form empowers students to decide for themselves about what sort of work they wish to do, rather than being trained in one or another vocational practice. This is especially important today when the very form of photographic practice and the industries that support them are undergoing so many changes.
DB: 威斯敏斯特大學的攝影學碩士課程自上世紀90年代中期開設以來，到今天已經有相當長的歷史了。這門課程最獨特的地方在于它將攝影實踐與攝影史及攝影理論的教學緊密地結合在了一起。在英國，大多數的攝影碩士課程都是由一個個“攝影項目”所組成的；也就是說，學生們在課程規定的範圍內確定一個拍攝項目並付諸實踐。當然，我們的學生也會按照這個方式去完成一個個攝影項目，但他們是在學習攝影理論的過程中去展開的。因而，我們的課程是“啟發式”的 ，這就使得學生可以從更廣意上去理解攝影,領悟這個賦含了社會和文化性的媒介。為了去實踐並懂得如何思考攝影，我們對一系列問題的含義進行了探索。學會將攝影作為一種社會形態去討論並會意，學生則被賦予了自主選擇工作方向的能力，而不是被訓練成某一種職業人。而在今天，尤其是攝影實踐及其產業不斷發生變化的情況下，這樣的“啟發式”教學則尤其重要。
ART.ZIP: I have to admit that the concept of studying photography in China still limits it to its techniques and commercial functions. Can you tell us what are the key concepts of photographic studies and what is the importance of understanding photography history and theory?
DB: Photographs are a crucial component in the way a society sees itself. The complex technological origins of photography in chemistry, optics (mathematics) and image composition has meant that teaching photography has inherited a rather technical orientation. Yet today it is possible to be a photographer with very little technical knowledge, or even none at all!
Automated cameras replace many of the skills that were taught before. Certainly, teaching the electronic components of photography are important as ‘how’ photographs are made, but the other important questions are ‘what’ pictures you make and ‘why’? What are they for, what is their purpose? This is not a purely technical question.
Most amateur photography is still governed by nineteenth century ideas of ‘good composition’. These ideas in photography, were first developed through reference to theories of European ‘pictorial’ painting, and worked out in Pictorialism, the first global movement of art photography. These ideas spread across the world from Europe and the USA in the late nineteenth century, along with the technology of photography. From this brief excursion into history, you can see that the history of photography as a history of ideas about photography is surely important.
These questions about what the photographs are being made for (and why) relate to this wider historical and cultural environment of photography, the history of ideas about photography, notably realism (journalism and documentary), of persuasion (advertising and propaganda) and all of these along with ‘personal expression’ in art. If education is to mean anything it is to develop a knowledge and understanding of the forms of practice that a student may encounter in day-to-day life. These practices form a general context for students to consider their work. By understanding the context, they can understand better how to act in it or even against it. Photographs appear within specific contexts, the family, the state, the media, the street, via different cultural institutions or even across all of these. These ‘contexts’ have an important relation, both in terms of the types of meaning given to photographs by them, but also in the image-language relations. Surely, to understand how photography is enmeshed in these different uses and functions, along with their histories, is a crucial part of photography education.
Theory is distinct from criticism. Theory attempts to identify structural features, whereas criticism is primarily evaluative, often personal and emotive rather than analytical. In this sense the general aim of theory is to establish how ‘meaning’ is communicated (or not) with photography and in particular how specific types of meaning are circulated by photography.
ART.ZIP: How is the Photographic Studies course connected to the fast changing world of photography, culture and history? And what has changed during the last five years in terms of course content, core modules, and needs of the students?
DB: In the 1960s the Canadian theorist, Marshall McLuhan argued we were living in a ‘global village’. Perhaps today this has more truth in it than it did then! The Internet clearly offers great potential for international dialogue and exchange. There are some clear consequences of the Internet and the other innovations across electronic media. Cameras today are complex computers, so as instruments they have changed the way that people think about photography and their use of it. In this sense the idea of photography is very different, it is possible to move images from screen to screen extremely fast. People can take photographs without thinking at all about the process of making them. This mobility of the image and automation of the processes of making pictures opens up lots of different possibilities, new ways to think of photography-language relations, still and moving images, ways of dissemination. The course aims to address these new questions, but also tries to situate them in a historical and critical context. Increasingly important to this field has been the role of photography in art, which has been changing the way that art sees itself, and the theory of art in the twenty first century.
DB: 在20世紀60年代，加拿大理論家馬歇爾·麥克盧漢（Marshal McLuhan）指出，我們正生活在一個“地球村”中。也許這個說法在今天比當時更加真實，互聯網為國際間的對話和交流帶來了巨大潛力，於此同時，它的應用及其它電子媒體的創新對攝影帶來了明顯的影響。今天我們所使用的相機便是一臺復雜的電腦，因而它作為一種工具而改變了人們對攝影以及如何拍照的想法。
ART.ZIP: What kind of students are you looking for? What should they do to prepare before entering the programme?
DB: We want students who are highly motivated – inspired – to develop their photographic practice and who have ideas, but are also interested in reading and the concepts of photography too. We, like most photography courses in the UK, expect applicants to have a portfolio of their own photographic work that shows not only their visual skills, but also coherent aim and a set of values in the use of photography. A portfolio of different types of photography (e.g. fashion, documentary, editorial work) is of less use to us than a singular project (or several small projects) that show an attempt to communicate something in depth. International applicants are competing with UK based students who have probably already completed a BA (Bachelor of Arts) course, where they have been reading photography theory and history.
Students engage primarily in ‘personal work’ although the theme of the work is not necessarily personal or private to them and usually relates to others as a social issue, question or idea about the modern world. Some of these projects may be called ‘documentary’, others may create images of things that do not exist, or use performances to generate pictures. Many of these methods were developed during the art avant-gardes in the 1920s and 1930s, but are now interpreted in many different ways, and related to new, modern contexts.
ART.ZIP: The University of Westminster has a long history in delivering high standards in photography education, what kind of support can your students expect during the one year course – in terms of photography facilities, research, tutoring and so on?
DB: Students have access to tutors, technical workshops, studios, analogue darkrooms, electronic darkrooms, printing facilities and exhibition spaces. We are proud of the history of innovation in photography education that the university has, as you say, long been associated with. Most of the tutors teaching on the course are involved in their own practice, whether this is photography or writing (or in my case both). Research is important to the university; many of our graduates go on to do further research on photography, whether as PhD students, in art gallery work and curating, etc.
ART.ZIP: What are the teaching methods and approaches specially designed for this programme?
DB: The course uses different learning and teaching strategies, from formal lectures to seminars, individual and group tutorials, workshops, symposia and exhibition work. We are also increasingly using interactive tools on the Internet. Understanding how to use information and evaluate it as knowledge for research on the Internet is a key modern issue.
ART.ZIP: Can you tell us something about the major project? How it will be presented as a final body of work? And what are the grading criteria for a masters level student?
DB: The Major Project is the culmination of the masters degree, with an exhibition in a public gallery. The students share a gallery space, like a group art show, but each has their own separate area for their photographic work. Each person exhibits their body of photographic work in whatever form is appropriate (wall display, screen, book, etc.). The students usually organise additional events around the exhibition too, and the whole event works to show what work the students have been doing, which has been developed by them throughout the course.
ART.ZIP: What do you expect your students to learn and gain from this programme when they graduate from the course? Can you give some suggestions for students who want to learn Photography in UK as a whole?
DB: Students from the MA Photographic Studies go on to a number of careers: as artists and photographers, as well as related career paths in photo editing, media experts and industry specialists, curators, researchers, writers, critics and teachers. British education system thrives on a system where students are in dialogue with tutors, rather than simply being told what to do. The old academy system where masters inducted students into their way of thinking can still be found, but a more modern approach is much more common, which asks students to think what they are doing, to talk about what they are doing and why, and what they are trying to achieve. This approach has helped to create an autonomous environment, where students engage in conversation and debate about ideas and practices, ideas and interests.
ART.ZIP: 您能同我們分享一下畢業創作的大致內容嗎？ 學生們將如何呈現他們的畢業作品？ 對於碩士畢業生的評價標準又是什麽？
About David Bate:
David Bate is a photographic artist and writer. He studied at Portsmouth College of Art before going on to do the famous BA Honours Film and Photographic Arts course at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL). After working as a photographer and tutor in London, he took the MA in Social History of Art at the University of Leeds, also completing a PhD there with Griselda Pollock during the 1990s.
David was one of the first UK photographic artists to experiment with digital photography. His work has travelled widely. Most recently he was artist-in-residence in Melbourne, Australia where he shot his new work, about globalisation called Australian Picnic. His writings include the books Photography and Surrealism and Photography: Key Concepts. A founder member of the artist-run gallery Accident, later re-named as Five Years, he also co-curated several shows there. As an influential teacher, he has taught and was the course leader of the famous British Social Documentary Photography programme at Surrey Institute of Art (now University of the Creative Arts) at Farnham. He later moved to the University of Westminster, where he currently leads photography research including doctoral candidates and the MA Photographic Studies programme.
大衛是一位攝影藝術家和作家。他早先就讀於樸茨茅斯藝術學院（Portsmouth College of Art），隨後在倫敦中心理工學院（Polytechnic of Central London）獲得電影和攝影藝術課程的榮譽學士學位。在倫敦作為攝影師和導師之後，大衛又獲得利茲大學（University of Leeds）藝術社會史的碩士學位。他在上世紀九十年代同知名藝術史學者格瑞瑟達·波洛克（Griselda Pollock）一同完成了博士階段的學習。
大衛是英國攝影史上最先嘗試數碼攝影的藝術家之一，他的作品曾在全世界各地展出。他最近完成了澳大利亞墨爾本的藝術家駐場計劃，並完成了一套有關“全球化”的新作——《澳大利亞野餐（Australian Picnic）》。大衛·貝特的著作有《攝影與超現實主義（Photography and Surrealism）》及《攝影：核心概念（Photography: Key Concepts）》。是“意外（Accident）”畫廊合夥人和創立者之一，大衛在這裡參與了很多策展活動。而作為一名相當有影響力的老師，大衛曾在著名的薩裡藝術學院（Surrey Institute of Art，現為英國創意藝術大學University of the Creative Arts）教授社會紀實攝影的課程。隨後大衛返回倫敦，在威斯敏斯特大學負責攝影學碩士課程並擔任博士生導師。