Wednesday, November 24, 2004

'Examination' seminar

'Examination' is a photographer-in-residence programme at the brand new Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Last Friday, a publication resulting from the residency was launched: a booklet featuring the work of photographer Tom Wichelow and his students. Tom worked with a group of student volunteers to document and explore, using disposable cameras, both the medical school as a physical site and what it is like to be a new medical student in a new medical school. It's tricky asking students to put time and effort into a voluntary, unassessed course: it's wonderful (and admirable) that this proved so successful. Tom explained how the students gradually became more reflexive (initially the photos resembled Bacardi Breezer 'wild side' ads, but more metaphorical photos followed when students realised that there's more to being a student than pardee pardee pardee). Tom's own work, drawing parallels between the pipework of the building and the soon-to-be-exposed body's plumbing, was very revealing. There was also a provacative series of large-scale portraits of medical students, challenging our perceptions of what medical students look like and how we characterise them.

Also talking at the seminar was Sian Ede of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Sian gave a fascinating talk on art/science collaborations. She started off her talk by pointing out the value of the 'episodic' (snapshot-type recollections as a means of organising the way we think) alongside a narrative interpretation. It struck me that this way of thinking chimes with those of us in favour of 'experiential learning' -- people retain impressions of what is seen and heard which need not necessarily fit in to an overall narrative to have value or make sense.

Finally, Karen Ingham gave a fascinating insight into her work on anatomy theatres. She has published a book Anatomy Lessons based on her photographic work. Karen's project has been groundbreaking: access to dissection laboratories has been difficult in the past, if not impossible. Not only has Karen been allowed to create works of art based on these sites, she has also been permitted to exhibit her work in situ, with special permission for periods of public access. It was good to see such a strong public-engagement element associated with a topic that is usually surrounded in mystique and taboo.

Photoworks organised the seminar and supported Tom Wichelow's work. Thanks to organiser Helen James for an interesting and thought-provoking event.

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