Student stories: Michael Colvin, Photography.
Michael is 55, lives in the south East of England and was a Senior I.T. Engineer for the NHS before taking early retirement. He always had an interest in all forms of art and particularly photography. He has just completed the assessment the final level 3 course, for a BA (Hons) in Photography, achieving a First Class Honours degree. We caught up about his experience of studying for a degree at a distance with OCA and what it means to him personally.
Tell us a bit about yourself and previous educational background.
I come from a socially deprived background and in 1980 I left school at 16 with no formal qualifications. Education was not considered particularly relevant by my parents and when I was 12 years old my father died. This was a traumatic time in my life and survival skills to get me through seemed much more important at the time. I subsequently picked myself up and after a few years of employment obtained a couple of A levels. By this time I was working for the Civil Service in a science based occupation before eventually moving into Information Technology. Knowing that I wanted to continue my academic education, and being interested in the arts, I found the OCA an attractive prospect for studying part-time at degree level as a mature student.
Can you describe the journey you’ve been on at OCA?
I think by engaging with and reading the OCA photography forums early on I quickly sensed what was required of a degree student with the college. I read the discussions between students further along in their studies and gained an understanding of the assessment process, study visits and how to reflect on art in my blog.
In particular the tutors Clive White and Peter Haveland, who are active contributors to the online forums, have provided many ‘lightbulb moments’ during the discussions, providing an informed opinion on making and analysing art that was not apparent to me before. My engagement with the college student body progressed to taking part in a number of student collaborations over the years and that has helped me to forge connections with students that has proved vital to my staying on track.
Was there a particular moment when it clicked (pardon the pun)?
One of the most important lessons I learned while studying with the OCA is not to give up. That when an assignment does not work out first time it is not a failure but a work in progress. Once I experienced this I realised that I could work through problems and my confidence in my own abilities grew. For a number of years I have been part of the Thames Valley study group. The group has a resident OCA tutor, Jayne Taylor, to oversee our critique sessions and it is very rewarding to grow alongside other students and watch our creative projects take shape and develop. I am also a member of a Zoom/Hangout group of online Level 3 photography students. We are an active group, meeting fortnightly, and are very supportive of all members. I would encourage all students to join online and physical student groups wherever they can.
Can you say a bit about the tutor and peer support you received whilst on the course?
For a number of modules at different levels my personal tutor has been Keith Roberts. I have always found his feedback very insightful and he has often pointed me in the direction of relevant source material opening up creative pathways and artists that I was unaware of. At the same time the academic requirements of studying for a BA Hons really clicked during Keith’s feedback and made me want to strive for a high level of achievement.
What does getting a degree in photography mean to you?
A First class BA Hons is a massive achievement for me personally and I feel very proud. It is proof to me that I am not the person that I was expected to be growing up and I never will be. I am thankful for the support of my husband, Gerry Bond, through all the tough times and sleepless nights when I didn’t think I’d ever finish my dissertation and my projects hit creative blocks along the way. The reward for all my hard work feels great!
Now that my degree is completed I am going to take a year to investigate painting, drawing and printing. I would like incorporate this into my photography in some way. I have always been intrigued by the work of artists that use other media to manipulate and change photographs. There is also the possibility of the MA but I think I need some time off before I contemplate any further study.