Allan Parker

Westminster Uni Degree Show Catalogue

Westminster Uni Degree Show Catalogue Introduction 2015

In May 2015 The Regent Street Cinema, a part of the University of Westminster, opened its doors to the paying public after a £6 million refit. Apart from it’s historical and architectural interest (The Lumiere Brothers premiered the motion picture in the UK here), the cinema will be presenting 35mm, 16mm and Super-8 films as well as the current mainstream digital staple, 4K – making it one of few cinemas in the UK to support such a wide variety of formats. The Photography Department at the University of Westminster also offers one of the most comprehensive collections of historic and contemporary photographic technologies available to students at any similar institution in the country.

Universities seem appropriate guardians of these technologies at a time when commercial organizations routinely jettison their equipment under the pressure of operational imperatives. While many may see an interest in nominally outmoded technologies as the province of the nerd – it should be remembered that they are also the tools of artists, both past and present.

The subtle effects and shades of meaning delivered by a variety of materials coupled with a range of modes of reproduction and origination creates a bewildering range of possibilities with which to realize the abstract potential of photography and all its attendant fictions. It also provides the means of referencing and talking about the past – a subject hard to separate from investigations into the photographic process. 

Hegel famously described painting and music as genres dedicated to “the sensuous presentation of ideas,” suggesting that important truths could be transmitted using emotive, sensory materials. Although an emphasis on sensory materials is not a requirement for photography, or for contemporary art, this exhibition provides the evidence that for many it is still an important issue, and the appropriate linkage of ideas with materials is an ever present concern. 

To successfully realize an artwork through this marriage of ideas, materials and methods requires dedication and commitment towards a programme of making successful and original choices. Making distinctions between small differences in texture and tone and developing control over them is also analogous to the task of writers, whose efforts are similarly directed towards refinements in tone and meaning through the choice and positioning of words on a page or screen. 

These courses on display here (BA Photography and BA Photographic Arts) are perhaps unusual amongst other photographic programmes for their emphasis on a combination of theory and practice. The pursuit of a nuanced understanding of the theory and operation of photography provides a unique skill set, a sharpened focus for making conceptual and practical distinctions, predicated on photography’s problematic project of representation. In this catalogue we can easily recognise that this work is the result of thoughtful deliberations, bourne out by the depth and variety of these very individual explorations in such a wide range of fields. Over the past few months these practitioners have been sustained by intuitions, accidents, chance encounters, re-shoots and rigorous attention to detail to reveal the particular truths and insights that it is the unique privilege of photography to provide. 

They join Westminster Photography alumni around the world engaged in a huge range of occupations that combine theory with practice such as contemporary art, documentary photography, curation, fashion photography, publishing, writing, teaching, lecturing and research. We wish them every success.

Allan Parker
Senior lecturer

Westminster Uni Degree Show Catalogue Introduction 2011

In 1887 the Lumiere Brothers demonstrated cinematography for the first time in Japan. In a gesture which was to delight structural film-makers nearly eighty years later, the chairs were said to have been arranged to face the middle of the room, so the audience could witness the beam of light as it travelled from its source to its flickering destination on the screen. 

Two years earlier, the brothers had begun showing moving pictures for the first time in the UK before a fee paying audience, at the then Regent Street Polytechnic, (now University of Westminster). By this time, photography courses at the Polytechnic had already been running for more than forty years, focussing primarily on the chemical processes associated with the medium.  

Since those early days, Westminster has been the site of on-going struggles and debates to understand not just the operations and applications of each new development in image making, but also its role in the presentation of facts and the creation of fictions. 

Degree courses in photography, introduced in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, combined a mix of theory and practice, much as they do now,  approaching the subject critically and examining ideas of history, representation, rhetoric and persuasion.

Research and development by multi-nationals in imaging technology and computing has changed the nature of skills required by photographers.  Although digital technologies have put more tools and possibilities within the reach of students, such as the production of books and professional low budget video, they have also appropriated parts of the production process from photographers and film makers. Perhaps unsuprisingly, this has had the effect of creating renewed interest in analogue image-making amongst many students for whom the root of its magic still lies with film and in the darkroom, with all its associations of self-expression and authenticity. 

In spite of this resurgence, in an age of near infallible cameras some will ask whether there is really any point in studying photography.

The proliferation of images, originating from both professional and domestic sources, highlights the importance of editing and ordering material to express ideas – with these assemblages of text and images we create histories, memories and fictions and only critical examination will really unpick these slippery soulmates. To create and to study images and their manifestations – whether in fashion, art or documentary – is to create an image of the world and to communicate its pleasures and its insights, – and what could be more worthwhile than that?

In this exhibition we see some compelling marriages of form and content – archives and universes, earthquakes and cities all condensed into installations, books, texts, prints, arguments and narratives – a testament to the way we come to understand the world and the stories we tell about ourselves.

Allan F. Parker

Senior Lecturer in Photography