Studying Photography at the University of Westminster
There is a rich history of photographic education at the University of Westminster. The first courses in Photography were offered at what was then the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1850. The Institution educated many of London’s earliest photographers, including a remarkable number of women, some of whom went on to open their own studios. The first BA degrees in Photography were offered in 1976, by which time the name had changed to the Polytechnic of Central London. Under the influential conceptual artist and writer Victor Burgin, PCL trained many prominent photographers and educators including Olivier Richon, Karen Knorr, and David Bate. University status came in 1992 along with the Westminster name. The photography and media departments moved to their current Harrow campus in 1995.
Students study different photographic contexts at different levels, including BA Photography, MA Documentary and Photojournalism, MA Photography Arts, Creative Practice MRes (which may involve a photographic specialism) and PhD study (both practice-based and theoretical) through CREAM, the University’s Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media. The courses each draw on the University’s extraordinary facilities, which span historic and cutting-edge technologies. The University has colour and black and white darkrooms and supports alternative processes, as well as pursuing state of the art new equipment including digital cameras and scanners, post-production facilities, and 3D printing.
The courses each have their own distinctive character, and it is possible to pursue documentary subject matter and methodologies on each of them in different ways. As well as sharing technical facilities and some members of staff, the courses come together for the Wednesday lunchtime Photography Forum series (open to the public), which features talks by prominent photographers, theorists, and industry professionals. Recent speakers have included Vanessa Winship, Mark Neville, Mark Sealy, Lua Ribeira, Gideon Mendel, Nigel Shafran, Michelle Henning, Mishka Henner and Dafna Talmor.
BA (Hons) Photography
The BA Photography is the most recent manifestation of a long established Honours course with an excellent reputation in this country and abroad for its academic and practical teaching, reflected in high application rates, a distinguished record of graduate employment in the industries it serves, and the publication, production and teaching profile of its staff and graduates. The course has a distinctive philosophy which aims to provide a holistic photographic education. It combines high levels of technical and visual photographic skills with excellent visual literacy and a critical awareness of visual culture alongside solid professional practice.
Project based modules equip students with the techniques and skills of a variety of digital and analogue photographic media including moving images. Alongside this, modules with written outcomes reflect on the history and criticism of photography, drawing on related fields including art history, media and cultural theory, and sociology. There is a continual emphasis on personal and professional development throughout the course.
The photography BA enables students to develop their creative production skills across a range of photographic and lens-based media, to establish a critically engaged and self-reflective creative practice. It equips each student with the skills to adapt to creative opportunities, participate in contemporary cultural debates, and increase their awareness of the political, ethical and aesthetic implications of their work. Students learn to form independent, informed opinions of their own work, and that of others.
Many of our graduates go on to work as photographers and photographic artists, but equally they pursue a range of careers within the broader photographic and creative sectors, as designers, archivists, historians, magazine editors, museum and gallery curators, picture editors and researchers, teachers, and writers. Many also go on to postgraduate study.
MA Photography Arts
The MA Photography Arts, led by artist and writer Lucy Soutter, offers a dynamic mix of practice and research to support students’ development as photographic artists. Each student develops two independent bodies of work to exhibition and publication standard. The course has a particularly strong reputation for developing research, with each student choosing three research modules that allow them to develop their conceptual skills and understanding of the field through written assignments that are tailored to their own interests. The MA culminates in a public degree show in Central London (presented jointly with the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism MA) and a public portfolio review event. The students are diverse in terms of nationality, race and age, and they produce work in a broad range of genres and modes. Some projects engage with elements of appropriation, performance, sculpture, installation or moving image. The students who work with documentary themes often explore the boundaries between fact and fiction, spontaneous and staged.
MA Documentary Photography and Photojournalism
The Documentary Photography and Photojournalism MA allows students to explore society through photography and related practice and within criticallyinformed ways through a combination of practice-based teaching and discussion of up to date critical contexts. The photographer David Moore has been running the course since 2016. David’s own activities as a documentary practitioner include photography, moving image, collaboration and performance. Since arriving, David has redesigned the course to see documentary photography and photojournalism as exciting and contemporary mediums, situated within their own histories but with the extra potential of taking expanded forms in the 21st Century.
The Course’s external assessor, Shoair Mavlin, ex curator at Tate Modern and now Director of Photoworks Brighton has seen the course grow. She observes that: ‘The course is commendable because of its desire to evolve and take into consideration the changing nature of photography and how Documentary and Photojournalism students are taught to think about the creative process’. One of the components is student focused teaching and development of student’s own visual practice, leading towards a consolidation of learning into a high-profile exhibition in Ambika, the Universities vast Central London exhibiting space. Staff, both regular and visiting, are all practitioners; photographers, writers, publishers and artists. As class sizes are relatively small (around 20) bespoke tuition time is plentiful.
David Moore says ‘we are looking for students who can really be open about their practice and as well as thinking on their feet, think intelligently about the particular approach a given set of social circumstances or idea needs’. The course may be taken in full or part time mode with some interchangeable modules with MA Photography Arts run by Lucy Soutter.