Dean O'Brien's Blog

First year at Coventry University BA (Hons) Photography: I feel I have turned a corner..

with 15 comments

Well that really flew.   My first year at Coventry University.  I learnt as much about myself as I have about photography.  Photography is a discipline which requires your total commitment and attention.  If the desire to become a photographer is not burning inside you then I don’t think that it can be achieved through academic studying alone. It requires passion, commitment and a desire to succeed.

I have started to look at myself and my practice in a totally different way.  One big change that was needed was my website. It needed to take on a more mature appearance.  Small changes to it have made all the difference.  I added links which bring traffic from my website direct to my blog and twitter feed.  This has opened me up to a wider audience.  Some days I am shocked at the amount of people who have been reading my blog.  The stats figures let me know what people have been looking at and which images have had the most views. This then obviously feeds information to me informing me which images or articles people are finding most interesting.

No longer am I found pondering over the latest lens or camera.  I am now more likely to be found pondering over how I can make the shot more creative.  This is where pre-visualisation comes in.  Pre-visualising how the image you intend to create will appear in print.  What the finished piece will look like.  Shooting digital had made me lazy in some areas.  I now pre-visualise all my shots with much deeper thought.

I can’t remember how Jonathan Worth put this now during a lecture, but he hit the nail on the head when he was describing the work of David LaChapelle.  We were shown an array of LaChapelles images on a powerpoint display as asked to point out what makes these images unique to him (LaChapelle).  I couldn’t put my finger in it until it was pointed out by JW.  He stated that even if we were put in a room with all of the objects that we see in the image, we could not create the same image.  I never understood what he meant at first but the answer was simple.  Its because we all ‘see things differently’.  Including LaChapelle.  He has a very unique vision as we all do.  After this talk I honestly felt like I had turned a corner and learnt something.  My own vision is as unique as that of David LaChapelle and anybody else for that matter.

JW also taught us about ‘record and reflection’.  He explained that it is simply not good enough to just simply record what we have seen.  We need to reflect upon it.  Its obvious when you think about it, because we need to compare these things with the work of other artists so that we fully understand what we are trying to say.

Paul Smith was on hand to give me some great lessons in Photoshop this term whilst completing my 151MC module. I was familiar with Photoshop before, but being shown how to use proper techniques has been a real godsend.  Its a skill that no forward thinking photographer these days can be without.  I managed to produce some great images influenced by the minimalist art movement.  For the final images I was encouraged to use the Print Bureau at the University.  Instead of having the images printed onto photo paper and them mounting them into an aperture cut into mount board (which I would normally do) Paul encouraged me to try a different method.  He recommended that I have them mounted directly onto high density board by the Print Bureau.  I was a bit reluctant at first.  I’m not too sure why.  I’m a bit OCD.  I don’t like change.  However, the final pieces were amazing when David at the Print Bureau produced them.  David was also on hand to give me advice on what finish was recommended for the type of print etc..  This project taught me that I need to embrace change more.  I need to be more open with my thinking and not ‘play safe’ with what has worked and been ‘good enough’ in the past.  Only by breaking free of these old habits can I take myself further.

For my final project at University I decided to return to a children’s home where I spent a large part of my childhood. Because this body of work was very personal to me I strongly believe that this is why I managed to create my best work yet.  I took a series of colour polaroid images, each of which told a narrative.   As these images are unique and original as they stand it was suggested by Jonathan Shaw that I create a book to present them in. This way then the originals could be preserved.  Typically of me, I was reluctant at first.  However, I managed to produce a basic book.  Nothing breathtaking but I could see the potential.  I think this is what Jonathan wanted me to see.  He wanted me to see the potential and what was achievable with these Polaroids.  Yet again, only by trying something new and different did I achieve something special and a final piece to be proud of.

This has led me to want to self publish my own book before I complete my degree.  I have just missed the ‘Self Publish Be Happy’ event at The Photographer’s Gallery but hopefully there should be another event not too far away in the distant future.  In the meantime, I have been drawing huge inspiration from the three youtube videos that are doing the rounds.  Self publishing a book would be a great way to get myself some proper exposure and out there to the masses.

I went in to University a couple of weeks ago to have a final feedback session and discuss my last year with Jonathan Shaw.  It was great to get some proper down to earth advice. It was also nice to hear the Jonathan thought that he had made the right decision accepting me on the course.  I understand that it must be a tough decision deciding who to accept and who not to accept onto the course.  Photography is becoming an increasingly popular subject for people so the standards for acceptance onto such courses will no doubt be getting higher.

I realise that my own future in photography will be decided by myself.  I have a few projects in hand which need further developing.  I do feel that I am moving in the right direction and making positive steps towards entering the world of professional photography.  I intend to travel more.  This will help me to engage with people and places and be more creative with my thinking.  More importantly, I need to try new things and embrace change more.  My last two assignments proved that to me.


Written by Dean O'Brien

June 26, 2010 at 9:44 am

15 Responses

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  1. Hi Dean

    As always an interesting post full of enthusiasm for photography. Careful you don’t fall into the trap of being like everybody else, remember it has all been done before and it is all changing thank god. This is an intresting artical to explain without me ranting on what I mean.

    I have self published two small photographic books and although I didn’t make a huge profit it didn’t cost me. In other words it paid me back with a small profit. If interested more than happy to give you some pointers.


    Rick Medlock

    June 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm

  2. Thanks for the link Rick and as usual some great advice all taken on board. My views on photography and where it is going are constantly changing.

    Would be great to hook up at some point, see your books and have a chat about them. I’m not too concerned with making money on the book at the moment its more the experience of producing one.

    Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    Dean O'Brien

    June 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    • Hi Dean

      Any time, just give me a call. I was not interested in the money aspect but I didn’t want it to cost me a fortune. The first book sold out rapidly and returned me a small profit, the second book did not sell that well but made me in a round about way £6,000 and a place at uni. It is how it is used in terms of return that is important. The second book cost me £2,000 to print but I raised the money by selling advertising space on the back cover. This gave me £1,500 and that amount was raised in 48hrs.

      Is the book good? Probably not looking at the work I am doing now but it fulfilled a purpose and allowed me to move on.

      Hope that helps

      Rick Medlock

      June 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      • Definitely need to speak to you more about this Rick. Where did you sell the book? How many did you decide to print? I fully understand what you mean about the financial side of it. Would like to see both books if I could at some point and you talk me through the good and bad points, any errors or what you would do different.

        I will give you a bell in the next couple of days and arrange to meet up.

        Dean O'Brien

        June 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

  3. A pleasure having you on the course Dean, all credit goes to you.

    Certainly looking forward to seeing what you make you next two years into.



    June 27, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  4. Dean

    just give me a call when ready.

    Rick Medlock

    June 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm

  5. Dean, as Jonathan W says it is to your credit and the course benefits from the progress you are making within your work.

    Hope things work out this summer and look forward to seeing the results very soon.


    Jonathan Shaw

    June 28, 2010 at 7:19 am

  6. Hello, Dean do you work part or full-time while studying at Coventry University. If so, how do you find managing your time?

    I am also worried about applying again as I think I’ve only got 200 UCAS points and my images of studio photographs are not my strong points. I think I will wait until I have a DSLR again, build up my portfolio and apply in 2011. I am going to the open day at Cov Uni on 23rd october to ask for advice from the lecturers.

    Are the Lecturers good at explaining techinical problems such as different lighting set up and how to use different equipment?
    Have you worked much with other students?

    I am very passionate about photography. I spend 80% of my monthly wages on photography as although I earn very little i don’t have much outgoings.

    I like Jonathon Worth’s blog because he is good at explaining things by breaking things down and good at proving an argument such as explaining how he made profit from nothing with the cory doctorow photo. Very good at explaining the business side of photography.

    If you like minimalist art have you looked at Russian Constructivism?

    Chris Alford

    September 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  7. I study full time at Coventry. I manage my time very well as I am quite an organised person. This is am important part of your course as there is lots to sort out and do. I rent a studio in Coventry so complete some projects there. It gives me a chance to practice more with lights etc..

    Give me a reminder nearer the time when you are going to the open day and I will try and have a chat with you. I may well be in Uni that day.

    The lecturers are very good and before you go for the interview you need to check out their work on their own websites etc..So that you know who you are dealing with. They all teach in different ways but are very good. Never be afraid to ask them to explain things again if you don’t understand something. I agree, Jonathan Worth’s blog is interesting and he has a very respectable following in the industry. You will be taught how to use lights and a light meter etc.. try not to worry too much but learn as much as you can yourself before going to uni. It will give you a head start.

    If you cant afford a digital slr yet grab yourself a film camera. They would accept images shot on film but you need to be able to speak about the narrative behind them. The lecturers know that not everyone can blow 2 grand on a camera. What they are looking for is someone with a good eye and passion.

    I do work with other students. At the moment I am working with a 3rd year and we both feed off each other with our skills. I am working on a project with the homeless and he is going to film me videoing subjects for the project to go on my blog. Working with other students is vital.

    Funnily enough I did a keynote slideshow display last year for a uni project and it contained plenty about Russian Constructivism.

    Dean O'Brien

    September 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

  8. Hello, Dean I’ve done an ruthless editing of my portfolio as I don’t want strong images tainted by weaker ones. I have found a second hand nikon for £55.00 to go with my existing lenses. However as i write this I couldn’t afford it even if it was £5.00 as my money situation is unlikely to improve until november, if I am lucky.
    Problems at home with money.

    I am not giving up and would still appreciate a chat with you in october.

    Chris Alford

    September 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm

  9. No problem Chris. Speak to you in October

    Dean O'Brien

    September 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

  10. Hello, Dean this will be the last comment I will write until
    2011. Why? I think looking at the blogs of photography
    students at coventry university is just making me feel frustrated that I am unable to have a creative outlet because of money and I really want to get into Uni.

    Thanks for NOT deleting my comments and for replying back.
    I don’t want to point fingers but some comments not once but continually are being deleted by others which makes me feel as if I’m being ignored because I am not a student or professional I am committed. In summary, thanks for acknowledging my existence where others ignore. I will write in 2011.

    Chris Alford

    October 21, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    • No problem Chris. You can still have a creative outlet without having to spend money. In fact one of the lecturers at University actively encourages it. Check Phonar out. This is a free and open undergraduate photography class run by Jonathan Worth at Coventry University in the UK. Heres the link

      Dean O'Brien

      October 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm

  11. Hello Dean I have not been idle since I last spoke to you.
    I have read 3 software books on Aperture 2 ilife09, and
    iwork09. I will now practice with them using the DVD
    that came with them that give step by step lessons.

    I shall be applying again at coventry university this autumn.
    I’m going to be looking at your blogs properly this weekend
    and see what you’ve been up to. Best wishes Chris.

    Chris Alford

    January 6, 2011 at 10:03 pm

  12. Hello Dean I will not be applying at Coventry University again as looking at the entry requirements I have only 200 points. The uni want at least 260 so there is no point trying. Shame as it looks like such a good course. Still enjoying your blogs will look at some more of yours later in the year. Best wishes Chris.

    Chris Alford

    February 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm

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