Student stories: Andy Be, Photography. | The Open College of the Arts
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Student stories: Andy Be, Photography.

But here’s the thing I believe: creativity isn’t always a choice; for so many of us, it’s a need. And when you don’t satisfy the things you feel compelled to do, life doesn’t work so well.”

Drew is a forty-something from Brighton in the final stage of the Photography degree. Diagnosed with ADHD in his 30s his journey with OCA represents his first academic success despite numerous set backs and the demands of juggling a working life whilst maintaining personal creativity. 

‘Lesser Than’ © Andy Be, 2020.
Tell us a bit about yourself and previous educational background.

I’ve always been the arty type. At school, that was drawing/painting but, as I continued to study, I developed an interest in creative writing and spent a number of years working/studying with the author Tom Spanbauer. While I believed that I was always meant to do something creative for a living, as our business grew, it became more and more difficult to justify time spent pursuing creative passions; I had no choice but to focus on ‘real life’ stuff instead. But here’s the thing I believe: creativity isn’t always a choice; for so many of us, it’s a need. And when you don’t satisfy the things you feel compelled to do, life doesn’t work so well. Even though I was completely smothered by business, for my own mental health, I had to find a way to satisfy myself creatively. The OCA—particularly the flexibility of study/enrolment—allowed me to be creative while also dealing with the ‘real life’ stuff that I couldn’t escape. 

Can you describe the journey you’ve been on at OCA? 

Study has always been difficult for me. I’ve attempted multiple times (college, OU, bricks and mortar) but each attempt has gone the same way: I do well until things get complicated, and then I don’t. For the longest time, I assumed this was because my brain wasn’t suited to academic study. However, after being diagnosed with ADHD in my early 30s, my past educational experiences made sense. There’s so much to ADHD that I could say but, since I’m word-count limited, all I’ll say is this: unless something grabs me so completely that I don’t want to do anything else, I have absolutely no ability to focus. I’m now medicated; however, drugs are not a perfect fix. I still have huge problems when reading academic texts, and, if I encounter a situation that pushes my comfort zones (for someone diagnosed with ADHD, familiarity is *everything*), I find it extremely difficult to progress. That said, with the support and understanding of my tutors together with the flexibility of OCA study, I have reached the final level of my undergraduate study. Put another way, my OCA journey is almost my very first academic success.

Was there a particular moment when it clicked (pardon the pun)?

With each new module, there’s always an ‘ah-ha’ moment. The most recent happened while studying Photography 2: The Self and The Other, when I realised just how much power photography has. When I started this degree, all I wanted was to learn how to make a ‘pretty’ picture of something ‘real’. But the more I studied, the more I realised that photography has absolutely nothing to do with what I see and everything to do with how I feel. My photography draws on past experiences–ugly things that usually stay locked away inside my head. The ability to turn those ugly, abstract things into something tangible—something I can see—is the power of photography for me. 

Can you say a bit about the tutor and peer support you received whilst on the course?

It’s difficult to identify one specific tutor because I’ve taken so much from each one. That said, my first study meltdown happened while working through Digital Image and Culture with Rachel Smith as my tutor; the critical essay almost derailed my studies completely. Rachel’s perfect understanding of my brain-situation was exactly what I needed. What I remember the most is how Rachel said it would be such a shame for me to end my studies since I had so much potential. Artists, we’re so consumed by self-doubt that sometimes knowing you’re quite not as bad as you think is all the support you need.

What does getting a degree in photography mean to you?

It’s so easy for me to discount a BA as a worthless piece of paper, especially when I’m having a meltdown and doubting the value of study. However, even though that piece of paper is certainly not my end-goal, it will still be a huge accomplishment for constantly-failing-ADHD-me. That said, the most important thing about study for me is that I get to do photography while surrounded by people who I trust enough to tell me when I do something well and, you know, when I don’t. 

What’s next?

This may seem a weird end-goal for someone who has attempted and failed so many times at formal study, but my *absolute* dream is post-grad study. With a cherry on top, that would be post-grad study at RCA. All I want is to keep pushing what I do until what I do becomes something different to what I imagined it would be. Nothing is ever enough (another ADHD thing). 

‘Untitled’ ©Andy Be, 2020.
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Posted by author: Gina Lundy
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12 thoughts on “Student stories: Andy Be, Photography.

    • Thank you so much, Catherine. Even though I have always been determined to complete this degree, now I’ve reached the final level, it feels so much more real to me. That makes me very happy.

  • Great article, it’s good to see this kind of piece on here. Andy, I’d love to see you continue with post grad study. Please don’t forget the huge amount of support and encouragement (and great book recommendations!) that you give to us too.

    • Thank you so much, Sarah. So good to read… especially since I’m wrestling with theory at the moment 🙂 Inspires me to continue wrestling.

  • Am sure the ‘being consumed with self-doubt’ will resonate with many. It certainly does with me. Thank you for opening up and good luck with your ongoing studies and the development of your practice.

  • “All I want is to keep pushing what I do until what I do becomes something different to what I imagined it would be” That’s a really pertinent observation of the creative process Andy. So often students try to design the perfect assignment before starting and don’t start because none of their ideas are good enough. Prevarication, self-doubt, loss of confidence recur in a downward spiral. Getting started on something (just about anything) is better than the terror of a blank piece of paper! Make a start, review, evaluate, decide what does/doesn’t work, try again, improve, try again. Bit by bit it becomes something better than we’d imagined, as if by magic …except it’s not magic, we’ve done it ourselves, tapping resources we didn’t imagine we had, just by trying, thinking, trying (with ideas and support from the forum and tutors of course). With that mind-set and level of self-awareness you will constantly surprise yourself as to what you can achieve. Best of luck with what remains of this degree, and whatever comes next.

    • Thank you. I agree with everything you said. I lose myself so completely in my assignments that I’m never quite sure where I am when I finish or even how I got there. The process is always so… blurry. But that’s what makes everything so interesting, I suppose 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Lorna. I ended up returning to Instagram. However, everyone knows how temperamental I am when it comes to that flipping platform 🙂 For now, my username is @andykaybe and if anyone OCA follows me, be sure to DM so I know to follow back. My feed frequently attracts questionable followers and I don’t always return the follow. But I am more than happy to follow fellow students; seeing everyone else’s work is always great.

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