Student Life

I'm fast reaching the conclusion that I'm just not cut out for student life. Not from an academic point of view - I'm fine with that. It's the time away from lectures and seminars that I find tricky. It's odd, because in some ways I'm a stereotypical student - affinity for cheap stuff, listener to the Smiths, play the guitar, odd dietary habits, and so on. Yet in other ways, I'm massively different. I don't drink or do drugs, my dietary habits put me in the minority, my musical tastes are eclectic, and so on.

It all comes down to having a very hazy sense of identity. Most people's friends are people who have similar qualities to themselves - similar tastes, similar interests, similar views, and so on. Most of my friends aren't like that. Of course I don't want to be surrounded by clones of myself, but I would like to know more people whose idea of a good night out is not getting wrecked and making it home with all the limbs they set out with. Yes, there's nothing stopping me sitting in a pub and not drinking, but it becomes very boring very quickly.

Returning to the point of identity, it's all a case of relativity. Your sense of self is related to that of others. You can only be good if others are bad; you can only be generous if others are niggardly. When explaining why you like your friends, you'll probably list ways in which they're similar to you, or to the person you want to be. Let me be explicit: I think all of my friends are wonderful. That's why I'm friends with them. But I think they'd agree that they are very different from myself.

Some people make this similarity thing very easy for themselves by identifying with a subculture. Most of these offer obvious visual clues that someone is just like you, or you are just like them: Goths, Emos, Punks, and so on. All have a distinct visual style that results in an instant comaraderie. Other subcultures are less visual (geeks, artists, writers) but all offer a similar pool of people who you know are going to be pretty similar to yourself.

Here's the kicker: I don't class myself in any of these categories. I'm vaguely hippyish in general, but wait - there's the no drugs thing. I'm getting increasingly cynical, but I like life too much to be goth. I'm into IT but find a lot of the geeky thing irritating. So finding people who "get" me is hard, and that's what it all boils down to - lonliness and isolation.

Returning to the topic of student life, what is there to do for a student like myself? Pubbing and clubbing holds little attraction. London, with its wealth of galleries, exhibitions, live music, and bookstores is too far away to visit regularly on a student budget. Sitting on IRC, coding, or other computer-related stuff just isn't enjoyable when you're either learning about the damn things all year or working in front of a monitor for 8 hours daily. Books are good but antisocial. Canterbury doesn't even have any late-night coffee houses, which might offer a way out.

A lot of this sense of isolation and lonliness would be mitigated if I had some eventual goal, some purpose to strive towards. "It's OK, I'm here as a step towards achieving X." would be a great way to avoid these nagging feelings, but of course I have yet to find an eventual goal or a purpose to my life. I've shied away from the "The purpose in life is to be happy" school of thought because it's pathetically vague. Happiness is a byproduct of doing something; it's finding the something that's the tricky bit.

The point of this article isn't to bitch and moan, or to serve as a self-indulgent rant. I'm trying to get this stuff clear in my own head, as a way of finding a solution. I talk a lot about friends, and having a few more friends like me would probably help, but it's not a solution in itself. Really I need to find some direction, some goal. Recently I've been thinking about forgetting the whole computer gig, and focus on living a rock and roll lifestyle. Drink, drugs, guitar, sex, everything. I would live it up and be a bad example to others. The ultimate goal would be to die in a pool of my own vomit surrounded by unconcious groupies. Attractive as this gloriously hedonistic plan is, I don't think I can bring myself to travel down a road so self-destructive.

As I mentioned before, I don't have a solution to the problem of this fuzzy feeling of discontent. Finding the key to a satisfied mind is tricky, and I have no idea where to look. For now I'm going to keep trying to stay happy in my own company, and spending time with my friends, as a lot of this blends into the background when I'm with them. It would be nice, though, if it were not such a temporary fix.

Working with Models

There's hundreds of articles like this one out there on the net. So one more won't hurt. Here's some tips and hints that might, or might not, help the amateur photographer work with models.

Before we get started, we need to define who a model is. This article is pitched at the amateur who's talked a friend into modelling for them, or has been put in touch with a friend-of-a-friend, or approached by an aquaintance who wants some photos. If you're working with professional models, you probably know all this stuff already.

  1. Be professional

    So you might be using small desk lamps as lighting, your studio is your bedroom with sheets hung from the curtain rails, and your camera is older than you are. This doesn't mean that you don't have to be professional. Make sure you get model releases, and proof of age (take a snapshot of your model holding up her passport, although a photocopy of it's better). You don't have to be super-organised but keep them safe. You might be lucky, and never have to refer to them again. But if you do have to, you'll be glad you've got them.
    Be professional when dealing with your model, too. Turn up on time, and be polite and respectful.

  2. Be amateur

    Don't try and present yourself as someone you're not. You're letting your model down if you're pretending to be David Bailey but are really David Bellamy. It's all a learning process. If it's the first time you've worked with a model, let them know that, and ask them to be tolerant of any equipment failiures, things you haven't considered, and so on. Things will go wrong the first few times, and if your model is not expecting that it won't go down well.

  3. Bring a book

    Have a book on you at all times. Have one for your model, too. Chances are there will be delays: you'll be waiting for the sun to come up, or for people to wander off, or whatever. Even if you're shooting inside there's times when you'll be changing film or fiddling with your lights and so on. The cunning thing to do is to have a few well-illustrated photo books to hand. Often these will give your models good ideas, and can help produce more varied results.

  4. Bring more kit than you need

    Film is cheap. Time isn't. Make sure that you cart along all the film you need, lenses you might use, your light metre, your tripod, and so on. Better to have it with you and not use it than have a great idea and not be able to execute it because you're missing your red filter or the light's a little too low.

  5. Respect your model

    Just because they're showing their exhibitionist side it doesn't mean they're up for everything you can think of. If your model seems uncomfortable, don't pressure them. If you want to touch them to help them pose, ask their permission first, and if you can demonstrate it without contact then do so. Finally, don't hit on your model. Even if she seems up for it. If you want to see her outside of the model/photographer relationship, then arrange to meet up for coffee or something and make it clear that it's a personal (and not a professional) meeting. Things will get messy, otherwise, and if you're mis-reading the signals or just imagining things you could end up in nasty legal waters. Your model is in a vulnerable situation - even more so if you're doing nude shots - and it would be wrong to take advantage of that.

  6. Talk to your model

    Talking to your model will lead massive benefits. At the most basic level, you need to be able to explain what poses you want her to adopt. If you're trying to achieve a natural, unposed look, explain that, too. If you take the time to explain what you're up to then your model will probably seem more "alive" (as you haven't bored her) and you'll keep her attention longer.
    Talking to your models offers you another practical advantage. You'll find that people tend to reflect your moods in themselves - if you're looking for a light, friendly pose then you try some light banter with your model. Likewise, if you're after an impression of gravitas you should be interacting in a much more serious fashion. Finally, talking to your model gives you the opportunity to put them at their ease. If your model is tense, it will show up in the final photo.

  7. Talk with your model

    It's not enough to talk to your model; you've got to listen, too. Models often have good ideas that you haven't thought of, and can often suggest poses and settings that work well. Plus, taking an interest in people can only work to your advantage - if they feel like they're being treated as a human being, and not just a mannikin, they're more likely to end up with a positive view of modelling for you and so are more likely to recommend you to friends. A bad reputation is a hard thing to shake off.

If you think I've missed something, I probably have. Get in touch and let me know what I could add to make this page better.