Dire images and confusion in show with no art

Brian Harris, 'Independent' photographer, assesses the RCA's degree exhibits

Brian Harris
Wednesday 05 June 1996 23:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Can photography be art? Judging by this year's entrants to the Royal College of Art's annual degree show, I think not.

If photography is to be taught at a school of art such as the RCA then art is what should be produced. Referring only to the degree-show catalogue, I am quite frankly appalled at the quality of the final exhibits. If this is the best that can be done after a two-year course might I suggest some of the students (and their lecturers) think about another form of employment.

Traffic Jam (nice pun) failed, and I am not surprised. The pun is humorous but the image is dire. Perhaps a turn at the Comedy Store.

Lisbon 1995. Also failed. I quite like this picture - again a level of humour (sadly lacking in a lot of contemporary photography) but it is not art, whether you use an upper or lower case "A". If this photograph had been part of a set on a photo-journalism course, such as at Cardiff or the London College of Printing, it would have passed.

Here we have the problem. The RCA photography degree course is assessed by a formernewspaper picture editor and not someone from an arts background; so, maybe he is looking for "Art" while the students are trying for journalistic images. Confusion for all.

The image of leaves, I presume, for there is no title, passed. I am broad-minded, but please, give me a break - pretentious or what? It looks like a wind-on - or should that be a wind-up? - when the camera was loaded with film.

Brothers, by Jacqueline Pearson, passed and I am pleased for her. A sensitive, dare I say beautiful image which I am sure is sharp in the original though it is not in the catalogue, or perhaps the softness makes it artistic. In any event, the most charming photographic image in the book.

I feel sad when I see work such as these images exhibited. What a waste of two years. I am an editorial news photographer and have been a visiting lecturer at the RCA. I regard my work as a craft. But having seen this year's RCA winners and losers I may have to reassess my own work and start wearing a smock and beret.

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