At the end of November 2022, I attended an RPS Distinctions Assessment Day via a Zoom link where I was very pleased to learn that my submission of 15 mounted prints had been successful in achieving the award of Associate of the RPS. The Associate distinction differs from Licentiate in that all the images must be on a theme and be accompanied by a Statement of Intent outlining the aims and objectives of the project. This blog post takes you through all the twists and turns of my Associate “Journey”.
My ARPS project started life as a series of in-camera double exposures of features in the natural world such as trees, branches, grasses, fungi and flowers and fell squarely within the Visual Art genre (“Photography which communicates a creative vision”). As is usual with the distinctions process, I put together a collection of 15 hopefuls plus five spare images and took them to a Distinctions Advisory Day in January 2020 to see if I was on the right track. Unfortunately things did not go well. Less than half the images were felt to be of the desired standard. The overall conclusion on the Summary of Advice document was “Not ready. Suitable basis for submission with a lot more work.” The main objection was that the natural textures used in the double exposures were too coarse and overpowered the main subject of the image. I returned home somewhat chastened to regroup and consider where to go next with the project. After some thought, I decided to narrow down the subject matter to trees alone and to take on board the criticism from the Advisory Day and select the textures more carefully so that they complemented the subject matter and did not overwhelm it. This is not as easy as it sounds as the two images are combined in-camera and so have to be taken at the same location and within a few minutes of each other. In the end, only four of the original fifteen images taken to the Advisory day made it into the final panel.
Meanwhile the Covid pandemic intervened and I decided I was in no particular rush to complete the project. One day in July 2020, I came across a quotation from Hermann Hesse on my Twitter feed which encapsulated better than I could what I was trying to portray with my images. This helped me focus the project better and I incorporated it into in my Statement of Intent (see below). Eventually when I decided I had enough images to work with, I booked a One-to-One Advice session in April 2022 with Chris Palmer FRPS, vice chairman of the Visual Art Panel. This consisted of an hour long Zoom call during which Chris gave a detailed critique of the project with suggestions for final edits to each of the images and the Statement of Intent. He also suggested a revised presentation layout all of which was extremely helpful. Boosted by his complimentary comments, I took on board Chris’ suggestions and made a few final changes of my own to the panel before booking an Assessment date in July 2022 for the end of November 2022. This would allow plenty of time to make the final edits, print the images and mount them ready for despatch to RPS House in Bristol.
Presentation of the images is one of the important criteria that are assessed as part of the process. One of Chris’ suggestions was to have all the mounts in portrait format regardless of whether the image itself was portrait or landscape. This would give additional cohesion to the images when viewed as a panel on the wall in RPS House. In addition, the centre of the image was offset vertically from the centre of the mount 1 cm towards the top.
Doing this meant I would have to cut all the mount apertures myself as such a layout is not available off the shelf and custom cut mounts from commercial suppliers are prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, I found a mount board supplier who sold mount board and backing board pre-cut to my desired external dimensions (50x40cm). They also sent swatches of the various colours of mount board available to facilitate making a choice. I used Snow White, which despite the name is actually a very light creamy colour. Now I only had to cut the apertures in the right place. For this I bought a Logan Graphics Team System consisting of an aluminium ruler on which you can mount a cutting tool for making the apertures. With a bit of practice, I managed to get 15 well cut mounts out of the 20 boards I ordered. The key was to change the blade frequently in order to ensure a clean cut. To make sure the print remained flat, I added a backing board attached to the mount with a full width hinge of mounting tape at the top and double-sided tape along the other three sides. The prints themselves were attached to the mounts with a couple of T-hinges fashioned from mounting tape. Details of how to do this can be found on YouTube.
The last problem was how to get the set of mounted prints safely to RPS House in Bristol and for this I bought a Nomad case, which seems to be standard issue amongst RPS members. This consisted of their 3″ deep 21×17″ Photobox which together with two foam inserts and a little extra padding was the perfect size and depth for my set of 15 mounted prints. Evri did a good job of delivering the package on time and at a reasonable cost.
Meanwhile, I planned to have the images printed by Loxley Colour in Glasgow as they had done a good job with the images in my Licentiate panel. They supply photographic prints in a variety of finishes (gloss, lustre, metallic and velvet) at reasonable prices. I had previously gone for the lustre finish, but was attracted by the sound of the new velvet finish as it offered a less reflective matt surface which I felt would suit the subject matter. Loxley offer the ability to download ICC print profiles for use in soft proofing prints. This should ensure that the print you receive matches what you see on your computer monitor. Unfortunately for some reason when I downloaded and installed the profile for the velvet finish photographic paper, it did not appear in Lightroom as expected. As an alternative, I decided to send off one of the images (image #9) without the benefit of soft proofing as a test. The result looked OK so I decided to take the plunge and print the rest of the images using the velvet paper. This proved to be a mistake as when the prints came back they were lacking in contrast and had no really black tones. I phoned Customer Service at Loxley to express my disappointment with the results. Apparently, this was a characteristic of the velvet finish paper, though this was not apparent from the description on the website. Very generously, Loxley offered to reprint the order using the lustre finish paper at no extra charge. This did the trick and the results were much better. Now that’s what I call customer service.
The final images were printed A4 size with a half inch white border on Fujicolor Professional DP II Lustre photographic paper.
The Final Submission
Here are the Statement of Intent, Presentation Layout and individual images from the successful panel:
The Nature of Trees
Many photographers love trees and I am no exception. Trees are resilient and occupy many niches in the landscape from lowland forests to mountain crags. They survive, sometimes against the odds, all that the weather can throw at them. In doing so, they take on a variety of forms and it is this that I set out to capture.
Hermann Hesse said of trees:
“They struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.”
The images are all in-camera double exposures. My intent was to use composite images to convey an impressionistic view of the character of the tree and a sense of the tree within it’s environment.
I hope I have captured the spirit of Hesse’s vision.
Finally, the Assessment Day arrived. As part of the process I was sent a link by email so I could watch via Zoom. Candidates who wish can also attend in person at RPS House in Bristol. There were 5 assessors and 2 observers who I think were in training to become assessors. Observers as the name suggests do not participate in the voting as to whether a panel meets the assessment criteria or not. At my Assessment, the Panel consisted of:
- Paul Mitchell FRPS (Chairman)
- Chris Palmer FRPS (Vice Chair)
- Polina Plotnikova FRPS
- Inaki Hernandez-Lasa FRPS
- Ray Spence FRPS
- Lorna Brown FRPS (Observer)
- Linda Weevil FRPS (Observer)
The Assessment Criteria against which panels are assessed for Associate are as follows; the images must be of a high standard:
- A Statement of Intent that defines the purpose of the work, identifying its aims and objectives.
- A cohesive body of work that depicts and communicates the aims and objectives set out in the Statement of Intent.
- A body of work that communicates an individual’s vision and understanding.
- A high level of technical ability using techniques and photographic practices appropriate to the subject.
- An appropriate and high level of understanding of craft and artistic presentation.
There were 7 print panels up for assessment that day and another 7 digital panels. My offering was number 6 in the running order so it was slightly nerve wracking to see the fate of my 5 predecessors before my turn came up. The first 2 panels were successful. Number 3 failed to meet the criteria. Number 4 passed and number 5 failed. Then it was my turn. Except the Chairman announced there would be a 15 minute break before proceeding. Argh the suspense! Eventually normal service was resumed and I could see my images being arranged on the wall according to the Presentation Layout.
The Panel of Assessors first view the overall layout of the images from their seats. They then stand up and view the prints close up to assess image and print quality in detail. It is now a requirement to send digital copies of all the images before the assessment. The Assessors therefore will have had sight of the images and Statement of Intent beforehand, though no decisions are made until the prints are seen in the flesh on Assessment day. The Assessors return to their seats and a first vote is taken. Only the Chairman can see the votes and the Assessors cannot see how each of their colleagues has voted. The voting is also not visible to the live audience or those watching on Zoom. One of the Assessors then speaks to the Panel outlining it’s strengths and any weaknesses. Other Assessors can also add any comments they may have in favour or against. The Chairman summarises the overall views of the Panel and a second and final vote is then taken in the same way as the first. If the submission has been judged successful in meeting the assessment criteria, the applicants name is announced and they are congratulated. For unsuccessful panels, the applicant remains anonymous. If a panel is unsuccessful but shows good potential or only minor faults, the Chairman may allow a resubmission once the faults have been rectified. I was extremely relieved to hear my name announced followed by the congratulations of the Chairman. Applicant number 7 following me was unsuccessful, making a total of 4 successful applicants out of the 7 print panels assessed that morning. I received a confirmation email later that same day followed by the paper certificate and badge a couple of weeks later.
So what makes for a good outcome in an Associate project?
- Choose a project or theme you are passionate about.
- Ideally something you can revisit over and over as you may need to repeat or acquire more images in different/ better conditions.
- Keep the Statement of Intent short and succinct and make sure all the images clearly relate to it.
- Take your images to an Advisory Day.
- Don’t be afraid to let the project evolve and adjust the Statement of Intent accordingly.
- Pay scrupulous attention to detail in image quality, print quality and mounting/ presentation.
- Try to meet all the Assessment Criteria to the best of your ability.
- Remember, the Presentation Layout is a vital part of the overall assessment.
- When you think you are ready, book a One to One Advice session before finally submitting.