It’s hard to put a finger on why as photographers, artists and creators we look for admiration from others. Saying ‘others’ can exclude the camera point & shoot person as we attempt to climb the slippery pole of achievement, but there are no ‘others’. Each and every person who looks at art in its many forms can offer valuable feedback, but it does come in two forms. Formal feedback from art organisations, organised art competitions and paying clients, sets boundaries without the inclusion of value judgments, but informal feedback has the greatest value. With the removal of formal rules and with no set criteria to be meet, we enter the world of informal feedback such as “I like that” or “I don’t like that”. Gut feeling, pleasure to the eye and “I’d put that on my wall” becomes the true value of what others think of your offerings. In essence, gaining formal recognition for one’s work should be seen as a ‘helping hand’ towards raising one’s self esteem and in some cases, helping to improve one’s mental health and not just adding letters to the end of your name. That truly was the reason for my undertaking the long journey towards gaining recognition from an organisation that has historical status. Now in my 7th decade and always having a camera around, I figured my photography needed a ‘pat on the back’. With the option of a Fine Arts degree long gone I arrived at the RPS distinctions. “That too high a level for me” and “I don’t know where to start” loomed long in my thoughts until “just go for it” took over. This blog describes the ups and downs of my journey.
2: My first attempt, an unsuccessful panel. (November 2020)
I paid the fee, took no advice from anyone (only my wife) convinced that ‘I had it cracked’ and plunged into posting a submission for the Associate of the RPS. Little did I know how much the rejection letter would hurt; “I regret to inform you that your submission is not being recommended to the Board of Trustees for the distinction”. “Oh dear (maybe not dear) me what have I done” was the first thing travelling around my head. Then, my ‘no gateway’ mechanism of speech control continued with statements such “so what” and “its their loss” much to mine and others displeasure; time I thought for a synopsis of the problem. I’d used reflections in architecture as the subject and monochrome for prints. Choosing 12x10 inch backgrounds I’d placed 10x8 images with a black boarders thinking it was different. Next came the Statement of Intent (SOI); a 150-word summary giving guidance to the assessment team as to what you are setting out to achieve. Overall it was a mammoth problem to address all the suggested improvements so, I informed the RPS that I did not wish the prints to be returned. That was it for the next 18 months. happy in the thought that I was fine but secretly feeling lost with my photography.
3: 18 months + later and what changed?
Not being one to give up, the time had come to ‘rekindle the flame’ and try again. I chose to take a new approach. Out with the old panel, to be replaced with a new idea; I felt the juices flowing again. I found myself becoming attracted again to reflections only this time in colour. I decided once again on the ‘visual art photography’ category but this time using colour. I found inspiration from photographing reflections in water but mainly in city canals. I started to see the making of abstract images and after many trips to London and Bristol I had collected a large number of images. However, on one single very sunny day, I struck lucky. Spending a full day in Bristol and working with the light in morning and early evening, I captured probably the bulk of the panel. Knowing the options I had with editing during post processing I was firmly back in the driving seat; I felt I was in with a chance. For those new to the process the RPS has three levels of distinction, the Licentiate, the Associate and the Fellowship and each level recognises an increased level of complexity and achievement. Subjects available for submission to Associate and Fellowship levels are:
1) Applied & Portraiture Photography.
2) Contemporary Photography.
3) Documentary Photography.
5) Landscape Photography.
6) Natural History Photography.
7) Travel Photography.
8) Visual Arts Photography.
Most on this list requires a panel of (15 or 21) and a written Statement of Intent. (SOI). Having been here before I felt sure that Visual Art was the target to go for, so the stage was set for a revisit.
4: Call in the RPS for advice!
You can use friends, members of a camera club and or social media by all means but if you are not looking for flattery the RPS offers 1-2-1 sessions on zoom and this time I decided to book a session with FRPS member. By sending a sample of my proposed panel and the SOI, I got 45 minutes of excellent advice from an RPS panel member who obviously ‘has the t-shirt’. What at first seems hard to take as someone throws darts at your work, on reflection all made sense. I was loosing millage from my prints in that many images contained more than one cropped section. Great advice was the most attractive format to present the prints. I, probably like many others applicants, thought that the prints had to large in order to demonstrate your skills. However, if you look at successfully panels it becomes obvious that this is not the case. Again quality over quantity comes rules. 8-inch square images on 16x12 inch white mounts came from our discussions. Due to cost and difficulty of finding a printer to include window mounts, I held back on this suggestion. Instead I simply placed the images 2 inches from the top and sides and left the empty bottoms of 6 inches. My SOI was too wide of the mark and full of unnecessary content. Being advised to include more more mention of the use of shapes, form and colour and to say what your aims are gave me the last piece of the puzzle I was looking for. In all, I gained so much that I believe without it my journey could have stumbled again.
5: The First Step towards a second panel (2021).
Armed with all this valuable advice it was time to try and make sense of it all. I still had to go with some gut feelings of my own. Now with more time gone than is left in my life, I decided on the direct route to the Associate thereby bypassing the first RPS level (Licentiate) feeling that if I didn’t know the difference between an exposure triangle and a tambourine then I’ve wasting my time.
Do I try and work out what the RPS has a penchant for, or instead do I go with what I feel most confident with? I had heard that flower panels are very common as submissions however; I did remember that panels is not judged against another panel instead it’s the criteria for the level that counts. Time to make changes. I realised that my SOI was too wide and not sufficiently focused. I needed to ‘drill down’ more into the subject area so forgetting the mention of which citys and canals I had visited, I concentrated on describing the use of colour and how it was enhance by shape and form. Thinking now on reflection I would say that the SOI has to be the pivotal element of a submission. With only 150 words to play with one needs to be very clear in stating what you want the assessors to see in the final as outcome. I lost count of how many times the SOI was rewritten. Looking at successful examples on the RPS web site helped a little and searching goggle made me wonder if anyone else has had the same problem of looking for inspiration. I was aware that using as fewer words as possible to describe your aims and objectives would pay dividends and that the wording should provide a ‘road map’ for the panel assessors showing the connection between the images and your description. It pays very much not to try and finish this part in one session, so be happy with many drafts and ‘hey presto’ it will arrive.
6: Sending my Presentation Panel
When it comes to choosing a presentation layout for your prints, the RPS web site has a range of downloadable templates. These pdf documents allow you to ‘drop-drag your reduced pixel counted images onto the template; it’s possible to design your own if you feel the need; however, again remember the RPS guidelines. I chose to outsource the printing and mounting because I don’t have access to personal equipment but remember the quality is still down to the applicant.
I was told ‘through the grape vine’ that glossy prints can suffer from unwanted reflections due to the harsh lighting around the display boards in Bristol HQ, instead go for matt or lustre finish. Spend time on the layout and the position of each print; play with the layout many times before making a final choice. It could prove beneficial to have one or two different images ready as spares just in case. Make sure you follow the RPS guidelines (very important) and double-check all areas before sending of your work. (You can hand deliver if preferred). PS. Digital presentations can be used as submissions but again follow the RPS guidelines on their website to the letter.
7: The Assessment Day (9th March 2022)
Again I chose not attend the assessment day but I was given access codes to watch over zoom. I don’t know what stopped me from taking up the offer. Strangely I wanted to know but at the same time I didn’t. I think I must have been one the first to be presented because I received an emailed around 10.30 am on the same day saying “I’m delighted to inform you….” On reflection I wished I had watched the presentation panel via zoom because there is no written feedback given to successful applications. The end of a long journey, full of financial expense, a constant source of stress and the nagging thought of “that’s it for me if it doesn’t get through”. Would I have continued if I had failed again? was I confident of success this time? and did I really want all that work again?….. I’ll leave you to decide. On 9th March 2022 my photo panel submission was accepted as being of sufficient standard to be granted Associate membership of the RPS; I was and still am, over the moon.
8: The application process in a ‘Nut Shell’.
- Decide what level to go for and stick with it, you can ask for advice on this from RPS.
- Remember, you don’t have to complete all levels; you can straight to one level.
- Choose a subject for your panel that your passion drives you to.
- Plan as many of the various stage of your journey before starting.
- Maybe use a ‘story board’ or ‘mood board’.
- Be prepared to change course during your journey if difficulty keep arising.
- Research a subject well if it’s new to you.
- Take zillions of images; unless using film.
- Be prepared to reject a 'best loved' image or two if it unsets your panel.
- Book an assessment date well in advance to give yourself a target.
- Don’t mix formats i.e. hdr with high key and low key or what ever.
- Work to a decided presentation layout; use the RPS layout templates.
- Only print and mount yourself if you are fully confident of the results.
- Pay for an advice session.
- Make sure all prints follow the same theme.
- Have your prints ready well in advance of your assessment date.
- Be prepared to change the presentation layout after advice.
- Make reduced jpg versions and upload them to the RPS server.
- Reread the RPS guidelines to check for things you may have left out.
- Package print well and send via DPD in the UK, (not the PO service).
- Book your attendance in Bristol if required.
- Make sure your package is there before the cut off date.
- Remember, you can change your assessment date (free) if you are not ready.
- Give yourself a break and try to ‘chill out’.
- Enjoy your success or learn from an unsuccessful presentation.
I hope all this is useful….good luck if you make an application.
Click here to view my panel & SOI
Terence Jones ARPS
A photography enthusiast with a long and varied interest in taking pictures.
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