An Open Letter to the University Of South Wales

I was lucky enough to obtain a place on the Foundation Art, Media and Design course run at Caerleon Campus back in 2010 after being made redundant from my full-time job.  Getting onto this course changed my life and gave me hope that the career I wanted could be achieved.  What I hadn’t bargained for over the year that the course ran, was to make so many good friends, learn new skills that I never even thought about and have the help and support of the fantastic lecturers who really listened to me and made me feel that I mattered as an individual and part of a team.

The course offered me the chance to try out so many new techniques, from creating a stop motion video, 3d art, sculpture and using song lyrics to inspire fashion.  The course taught me that inspiration can be sought from so many different, unlikely sources, experimentation in your thought processes can take your project from one dimension to another.  It has affected how I approach life in general, from how I work on a day-to-day basis, to how I plan my own projects.  I am a lot more creative than I used to be, and that is not because I wasn’t a creative person before the course, it’s because it gave me the confidence to take my ideas from my head and to actually create from the ideas.  The course has taught me that mistakes are often the beginning of new creations and should be embraced, I’m not so scared of making mistakes now, and often learn from them and create from them.

The reason I chose to study Foundation Art in Caerleon Campus was because I like the setting, the university has a lot of history, pretty architectural detailing, the facilities that were offered (hello Darkroom and film processing and printing!),and the studios were bright and sunny, well-lit and the perfect place to experiment with art.  The lecturers were not worried about us making a mess, and actively encouraged us to make the space our own, pinning things to the walls, hanging things from the tables and ceilings, anything that could help our creative flow.

The other reason that I chose Caerleon as my place of study was down to its location from my home.  I live in Pontypool and at the time I couldn’t drive, I was having driving lessons, and had to catch the bus everywhere.  To get to Caerleon on the bus took about an hour, getting 2 busses and cost me around £30 a week to get back and for.  The only other place I could have studied the course would have been Treforrest, and according to Google maps, would take me nearly 2 hours in travel, on public transport to get to.  That kind of travel time would have impacted on my study time and would have had an effect on my attendance too, as missing one transport link would have made me miss lectures.  it would have also caused me to be hugely stressed out, limit me to what I could physically create and cause problems with transporting any materials that I might have needed.

Shutting the course will impact on people like myself, who want to learn and be able to stay in our own homes.  I wouldn’t consider going for a job that meant I needed to be uprooted from my home unless I wanted to, so why should going to university be any different.  It will put off a lot of people who don’t have easy access to transport, might have families and jobs that need their time.  I was lucky that I had a job to support myself through the course and had the time to travel between my home, uni and work easily.  if the course was based anywhere else then I would have had to consider moving, giving up work or not even attending the course.

The Foundation course feeds into other courses held in the University, I got accepted onto the Photographic Art degree this way.  If I had not have had the opportunity to be part of the Foundation course then I would not have filled a place on my degree, there would be one less person on that course and one less student’s funding coming through the doors.  I can’t remember the numbers of students on my degree course exactly, but I believe there were around 45 of us, out of that number, around 12 of us had come from the Foundation Art course, that is a huge percentage of students that the degree course would lose and have to find from other sources.

There are far-reaching consequences too, where shutting the course is concerned.  The local area, which is not particularly affluent, nor is it at the bottom of poverty, would suffer.  Students will not be coming to the area, going out in the area, shopping in the area or renting homes in the area.  The pubs, local shops, community will suffer.  Even the university itself will suffer from not having a wide-ranging mix of students coming through the doors and interacting , helping and inspiring  each other.

Going back to personal experiences, I would not be where I am today if I had not studied Foundation Art, Media and Design through Caerleon Campus.  I have been able to complete a degree and am now looking at furthering my career in art, combining it with helping people and applying my knowledge to day to day tasks.

Art is such an important subjects, it’s not just about creating “pretty pictures”, there is a depth to any art, whether its conscious, subconscious, easy to understand or has complex meaning behind it.  There is an emotion attached to all art, from the emotion of the creator to how looking at a work of art can make a person feel.  I do not believe, for one second, that shutting this course will have any benefits to anyone, whether it is a lecturer, a student, the local area, the finance side of things, or other courses.


Please, if you value art and creativity as much as I do, click the link below, and sign the petition…your signature counts.


Read more about the course from the news links below…

Visiting Lecture – Joan Fontcuberta

One of the first things that Joan said in his lecture to us was “I will never finish a project, like Picasso ‘I will never finish a painting – I just abandon it!’.”  This struck me as both a mad and inspiring thing to say, it made me think of how our lecturers would react if we were to say this to them! But it was inspiring and made me think of my own projects, I began to realise that my projects were like that, I start things and get them to a certain standard that I’m happy with and then move on, I could always do more to them and continue with them if I wished, it’s not to say that at that time I don’t consider them to be complete but in retrospect things an always be added to or improved in some way and that, I think is the fun side of art and projects, I don’t think that any project is ever complete and an always be added to.  I think that the real meaning of this is that creativity never stops, neither does inspiration, so if you see a project as being complete you are shutting the door on the creative process for that line of thinking and you make it, more or less, impossible to return and add to it.

Joan was born in Barcelona, Spain 57 years ago, he lived under dictatorship and much of his work is a reaction to the environment that he grew up in.

Each project of his is very different to each other one but are all coherent in their goal.

Joan spent 3 years in advertising and journalism where photos are literal translations of fats.  He saw that this was naive, something that can be exploited by an intellectual construction.

Through The Looking Glass is one of Joan’s projects (   He uses collected images to create his art, and displays the images as they are.  The mirror and the daguerreotype are similar, the daguerreotype being the mirror with memory.  Lee Friedlander took images with mirrors and their reflections included, often the reflections were of Lee himself.

Including mirrors in photos creates another dimension and shows images within images.  It adds interest.  It is a way of taking portraits of yourself using your reflection, everyone can take pictures of themselves using mirrors.  It is interesting as you can tell a lot from someone by the items in the background of the photo and where it was taken.

These images, photos taken in mirrors, can be used as messages not meant to be kept (self-portraits – eg “what do you think of this outfit?” et, sent from one person to another).  The images can be used to show/portray individuality, travel (where they have been etc), to document moments (such as parties, pregnancy etc.)

People have started to use different methods to take mirror photos, for instance, using the flash to obscure the face, to make it an anonymous photo whilst showing off the body.

Visiting Lectures – Paul Cabuts

The University course that I am on offers students lots of different learning experiences from workshops, tutorials, seminars and lectures.  We are lucky enough, also, to have access  to lectures that are given by practitioners in photography whether they be artists, documentary photographers, gallery owners etc.  These lecturers visit our university and speak to us about their practices, hence these being called “Visiting Lectures”.

The first of these lectures, an introduction to this years series, was Paul Cabuts ( , one of the lecturers of Photography at the university.

The talk Paul gave was about photography, photographic courses and the history of the university among other things.  Some notes that I took from the lecture that I found of interest were;

In the 1960’s and 70’s there were 2 types of photographers, commercial (such as David Bailey), and amateur.  Commercial photography took 2 separate paths, magazine (documentary, fashion etc) and front covers (advertising etc)

Today photography is spoken about as being a creative practice which didn’t happen before, photography was snubbed by many galleries as not being a “proper” art practice like painting and sculpture were.

Many photographers, (Paul Hill, Keith Arnatt, Jo Spener, John Blakemore to name a few) bridged the gap between photography and art.

Advocating Agencies for photography as art were;

Arts Council, V&A, Photographers Gallery, Side Gallery, Open Eye, Impressionist Gallery, Ffotogallery, Half Moon Gallery, Camerawork and Creative Camera.

Places teaching photography at the time were RCA, Derby Trent Polytechnic, Polytechnic of Central London, Manchester Polytechnic and Newport School of Art and Design.

1973 Documentary Photography, and 1980’s (Late) Photo Art started being taught in Newport University.

“Art for art’s sake – unacceptable (1982)”, an interesting quote that got me thinking about how art is created and how “thoughtless” art doesn’t seem to have as much hold over people as art that is created out of a motive or reaction to something that is going on in the world.  I’m not sure that creating art for art’s sake can be seen as unacceptable though, and I don’t really think art is created without a purpose behind it, such as art created for therapy, as a calming medium or for enjoyment purposes.

“The pen and the photograph are alike.” Another quote that got me thinking, the pen creates work to be read and conveys a meaning in the same way that a photograph can but we need to be “Photoliterate” in order to obtain the meaning within the image just as we need to be literate in reading and writing to understand what written work conveys.  There is a greater need today to be photoliterate as we are surrounded day-to-day by thousands of images that are all asking something of us, whether it be to purchase something, believe in something, see something, we need to decipher the code so we can understand what these images convey to us.

Paul spoke about the digital era, and how digital cameras are now under threat from mobile phone cameras.  This has been on my mind recently, with most of my friends using Instagram and taking and editing images on the go, uploading them to social networking sites and sharing instantly with others.  Everyone today carries a camera in their pocket and can use them, it wasn’t the case in previous years when the cost of a camera was so high that only families with  money behind them could afford a camera or a photographer to take photos for them, photography was for the privileged, not like today when a decent camera can be bought for small sums of money or other technology comes with a camera attached.  It is interesting to note that with this shift in technology, photo albums and sharing have changed due to the rise of the internet and social media sites (eg Facebook), we share more of our personal ‘snapshots’ now than previously.  This got me thinking about the photograph as an object, this too seems to have become a rarity, with many of our images now occupying ‘digital’ space and being viewed over screens instead of being objects to hold, touch and pass around.

“Photography can be a very difficult and humbling medium, but the study and practice of it must always be enjoyed.”  I think that this quote is one of the best I have heard and makes so much sense to me, and I think that this is one of those that will stay with me for a long time.

Newport University is celebrating 100 years of Photography at the end of this month, with photography being taught since 1912!  heck the website out for further info and events!