The last few days have been a continuous up and down. There is always at least something going on with my health, so I guess I should just get used to it and get on with my life. I’m sick of going to doctors and never getting any answers. I’m sick of not being able to do the things I want to do. Well, I’m sick of being sick! Nothing I can do about it apart from doing something to distract myself. And that’s what I did the last few days.
On a whim I started researching the options to study photography in Berlin. Although there are some good schools out there, it seems to be not only very competitive to get in, but also very expensive. The private photography schools I looked at cost about 300 EUR a month. And those are the cheaper ones! I was entirely baffled. Let’s be outspoken here, photography is not exactly a money machine. On the contrary, good gear is really expensive, quality printing as well and it’s incredibly hard to find jobs, because there is tons of good competition out there. And even if you get contracts, it’s probably even harder to get paid for them appropriately. And living off just the art? That’s utopian thinking! The question is why people would pay 4000 EUR a year to have meagre job prospects and even less income?
Asking about salaries and job prospects is the entirely wrong question though when it comes to photography. I believe that in art you don’t really have a choice. If you create, you probably not only want to do it, but there is something in you that needs to get out (yes, just like alien). If you don’t need to do it in the same way as breathing or eating, then quite likely you’re not going to go to art school, because everyone in the whole wide world already told you that you’re probably going to fail, starve and be miserable. Well, I myself can’t live without creating for extended periods of time. For a while it’s fine, but if I don’t do something like photography or writing, then after a while I get really frustrated and depressed. I personally even think that I would be a happier person if I didn’t have this need in me to create. Then I could just get a nice little day job and punch numbers/code all day long, go home after work and have a carefree rest of the day. Well, a life like that makes me miserable, I tried. I really need to do something creative, even if it’s science and not art!
That said, although I would love to study photography at one of these private schools, I just can’t afford it. So, instead I decided to look at the website of the local state art school, the Universität der Künste. State run universities don’t take fees in Berlin, it basically costs 400 EUR a year which includes a public transport ticket – it’s merely an administrative fee. The problem with it is that they don’t have a specific photography programme, but just the relatively open course of fine arts. That could mean anything from graphics, painting, sculpture, new media and obviously photography, which means that probably it will focus on the artistic aspects rather than techniques like developing, printing, lighting and so on. Well, and the other problem is that everyone seems to want to study there!
Apparently the UdK is the biggest art school in Germany, maybe even Europe, and I remember being absolutely fascinated by their buildings when I walked past them last year. They have some really big beautiful historical buildings. The chances of getting into this school are close to nil in the best of scenarios. There are 900 applicants and about 30 places every year. So, even if you have painted since you could hold a brush, it’s still highly unlikely to get in, because there is just so much competition that it becomes more of a lottery rather than something that is based on merit. That holds even if you’re really good, because it might just be that your portfolio ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, first they have to actually appreciate your portfolio – means they hopefully should be still (or already) awake and haven’t just seen 200 other portfolios of too high or too low quality. And well, the portfolio is not everything either. Even if you manage to get lucky enough to get picked in the portfolio lottery, then you still have to pass a horrific exam, where they dissect your drawing and painting skills, even if you’re mainly applying to study sculpture or photography. And if you fail? Well, they actually send you a letter saying that you have no artistic talent whatsoever. I’ve seen people quoting from it online and It seems to be a template that they use for everyone full of really harsh stuff! No real feedback, no diplomacy, heck, no mercy, and yes, resistance is futile.
Well, after looking at the website of the UdK for the nth time – I did that a lot already when I was 18 – I’ve now decided that I’ll apply for the fine art programme. Crazy, right? I mean, let’s face it, my drawing skills are not really that good and I can’t paint at all! What the heck am I thinking to even try? Well, the thing is that I already know I won’t get in. It’s more like a game to see how far I can get with what I got. And then at least I can say that I tried. Yes, I’m just doing my part to calm down the alien inside me. And hey, every now and then I manage to take a decent picture, that’s got to count for something too, right?
I’m realising now that this silly idea of mine already gave me lots of inspiration. I spent the last few days picking pictures for the portfolio and wow, it’s really been amazing! I found lots of gems, realised that there is at least some coherence in what I do and rediscovered some pictures that I had totally forgotten. Seeing your work critically and trying to find the thread that is holding it all together, well, that’s really worth a lot! If you’ve never done anything like that, I definitely recommend it to you. It’s bound to be an eye opener! I had to pick between 20 and 30 pictures and decided to stick with the minimum amount, although I certainly could have found more. Snappy, coherent and no fillers, that’s what I wanted. And I guess the poor people having to sift through 900 portfolios are going to be grateful for a portfolio that doesn’t go with the maximum number.
And since I’m really happy with the experience and the selection itself, I thought I’d share it with you guys as well. The next few days I’ll be busy with printing and gluing the pictures on cardboard. Never done anything like it, so it’s going to be an adventure! By the way, I think having taken so many pictures over the last years has really paid off. There are people who specifically have to create stuff for their application, while for me this just involved figuring out how it all fits together. This is definitely more of a natural way of working rather than having to make an effort to be coherent. Funny that I always thought my pictures were all a sort of jumbled random mess. There is order in the chaos after all! I mean, I actually made an effort to be more coherent and follow themes, but what’s really interesting is that none of these themes actually made it into the final selection! How is that for irony? Turns out that if I work towards fitting something in a series, it’s just going to end up boring and obvious. I realised that the best stuff is found in the kind of things that naturally catch your eye, usually connected with some random chance that makes the picture into something you didn’t quite expect. Some of this you can plan, some of it you can’t and I think my selection reflects that as well. In fact it goes more like this: None of the pictures I selected were planned entirely, but in some cases the visual style was planned to some degree (there is always random stuff in Photoshop happening as well if you accidentally select the wrong thing or click the wrong button).
Well, enough talk, now the pictures! To see the pictures big you can click on them to be taken to the gallery view.
the delightful weirdness of being