a Vision Thing

I’d never lived way from home. but I liked Portsmouth (and especially Southsea) right away. like an extended seaside home away from home.

“nothing that I was used to, but it all seemed to make sense.

the back alleys were full of second-hand shops. it all felt so different to the home county blandness I’d been so used to.
plus the sounds on the street sounded different. the mix of accents.
the Hampshire and ex-London voices so different than the flat accents of Hertfordshire.

then there were the types. the sailors from different nations on leave in the town centre, the stall-holders working in the shadow of the hulking concrete Tricorn centre. and the almost genteel landladies and landmen of Southsea.
and of course, for anyone who knew Southsea in the 80’s, the slightly seedy shopowners with exotic or pervy goods in backrooms.

“I was thinking on my feet, living in a different way to the way I had before.”

I still had to navigate my way around the art school environment though, and the politics and expectations of the staff there but it was a good place to start afresh. and start thinking and seeing again.

“a fresh breath of seaside air”

my tutor on the foundation course wanted me to enroll at Central Saint Martins in   London. maybe he had friends there? he was well meaning but I didn’t want to live in London. I had other ideas.

“I wanted to study somewhere less obvious, untrod, and with a lower profile.”

at the time Portsmouth Polytechnic had a good reputation and I needed plenty of options in case, things didn’t work out. I’d also spotted film and darkroom facilities on the 1st floor, during an earlier visit so I was hedging my bets but also prepared for change.  

in general, the 1980’s weren’t a good time to be studying and practising expressive photography in the UK. the practise of p
hotography in art schools, and especially within fine art, had become highly politicized and views were polarised.

anyone wanting to make photographs with a  personal motivation, especially if they used a documentary style, needed to create theoretical ‘cover’ for the work and/or find out how to lie well when it came time to provide ‘justification’ for the work to the teaching staff.

“otherwise you were fucked”

generally speaking, the dominant ‘conversation’ (it wasn’t actually a conversation, compliance & acceptance was assumed) centered around the writing and practise of what we learned to call the 2 B’s - Victor Burgin and John Berger.

as a student, if you weren’t willing to follow their lead, have esoteric theories and write all over your pictures (or someone elses you’d ‘appropriated’) you’d probably have a tougher time getting your work accepted by the gatekeepers.

it was depressing to work in this environment if you cared about or needed  approval. 
I tried to keep my head down.

portsmouth was a perfect place to discover my voice in photography.