PhD in photography …
You may not know this but I am in year two (the start of year two) of a practice-based photography PhD in central London. What's a practice-based PhD I hear you ask? Well it's a doctorate that combines writing a thesis/dissertation with creating a work of art, in my case, a photographic body of work where the words explain what I did and situate it in a theoretical context and framework and the creative artefact, the photographs conveys the research process and the new knowledge that I have contributed to academia. At the end of it, I come out as a Dr in photography. I'm not going to lie, I struggle with doing a PhD, it's not easy and is a hard slog, I also struggle with people (okay, namely men) telling me that you don't need a PhD to be a photographer, well, what can I say other than this is true, but I do need a PhD to become a doctor in photography. I have found doing this PhD both an intellectual and mental health challenge, and a massive financial burden ( especially if you are self-funded like I am and there is no shame being self-funded, fully funded students are not smarter or more deserving of a PhD than self funded students), no one ever talks about how much unpaid labour is involved in undertaking a photography PhD, writing conference abstracts, attending conferences, writing book chapters, writing academic papers, exhibition .... the list of free unpaid stuff you are expected to do is long and seemingly never-ending but BUT it's not all bad, here is what I have learnt having just started my second year of a PhD.
1) It takes over your life, I mean it seriously takes over your life, everything is about working towards yearly annual progress reviews and then hitting the repeat button for four years.
2) Doing a PhD is not about being the smartest person in the room, it's about having a unique idea to contribute new knowledge and then having the stamina to endure almost 4 years of further study.
3) People are surprised that I am still a practicing commercial photographer, there seems to be a misconception or at the very least, it seems to be common practice that once you enter the realms of photography academia you no longer practice as a photographer.
4) A photography PhD (or any PhD for that matter ) is an endurance sport, it's a test to see how much your passion can bear the pressure that comes with completing a doctorate. It's a lot of pressure.
5) It's a lesson in how much rejection you can tolerate and having the ability to handle brutal feedback, whilst the idea behind this that it apparently makes you a better doctor, it can be soul destroying and knock your confidence. It's hard not to take it personally
6) A PhD has an innate ability to rekindle even the most dormant of mental health issues, a PhD is stressful, it has me beset with fears and plagued with self-doubt most of the bloody time. It is more than okay to have a PhD wig out when you need one.
7) Doing a photography PhD has made me a better commercial wedding photographer, it has not dampened my passion for taking photographs and I have an increased more nuanced understanding of my craft. I can say the same about my Master's Degree in photography. Even though my field of photographic study has nothing to do with wedding photography, it has made me a better wedding photographer through developing a new set of creative media arts and artistic skill set.
8) If you say to someone, I'm really struggling, I am finding this PhD really hard (and it's more than okay to find it hard to do) and they respond with "well, it's a PhD, how easy did you think it was going to be?" then you need to find a more empathetic support buddy.
9) It makes me appreciate the serenity and peace I find in editing peoples wedding photographs and crafting albums, this stills my mind and refocuses my creative mindset to shoot weddings and tackle the demands of a PhD.
10) It will be worth it in the end and ultimately make me a better photographer and better photography academic and theorist.