Monday, September 8, 2008

First move: get the rubbish bin

What was it about the teaching style of the Ilam art school faculty in the 60s and 70s? Something transmitted by osmosis from the neo-brutalist architecture of the new university campus, perhaps? They certainly believed in breeding 'em tough back then: if you were a painting student, you had lecturer Rudi Gopas famously advising you to make your works smaller (so they would fit in the bin) or to add more turps (so they would burn better). If you were doing sculpture, you developed a second sense for ducking the large lumps of clay thrown by lecturer Tom Taylor which came cannoning across the studios towards you.

Now it seems the photography students weren't exempt from the school-of-hard knocks style of art education, either: in an outstanding biographical essay included in his new monograph, Peter Peryer recounts his experience with Larence Shustak, a New Yorker who'd worked for Time and Life magazines, whom Peryer encountered as a lecturer on a summer workshop:
"After glancing at [my prints] briefly his first move was to walk over to the other side of the room and pick up a rubbish bin.

Methodically, he examined each photo in turn. 'This is boring, let's get rid of it,' he would say as he tore a print in half and placed it in the bin. Or, 'this has been done before', as he gave it the same treatment. In the end there were just a couple of prints left, still there because in each one he had pointed out small portions in which he thought something interesting was happening. 'Go back and have another look, but this time move in closer,' he instructed.

It was teaching of the highest order and exactly what I needed, although not of a style that would be permitted today."

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