For me, becoming a student was more about having a life experience than getting a degree in my chosen subject. Perhaps that’s why I chose the course that I felt I’d find easiest; Photographic Art at the University of Wales in Newport. You see, although I was lucky enough to retire at the age of 25 after having success in the computer industry, by the time I was 29 I considered myself a photographer, something I’d been practising in my newly acquired free time. However, nothing could prepare me for the experience of committing my life to studying a full-time degree and little did I realise how much the studying of photography as an academic subject would affect me.
At first it was a surreal experience. During my first year of university I was still lecturing at camera clubs up and down the country, including Wigan 10, Chichester, Lytham st Anne’s and Winchester. Commercially I was already on my feet, however there was a deep nagging inside me that I had some how cheated photography by not learning the fundamentals. University changed all that. Within a year I became highly proficient in the darkroom and began a transition away from digital, modernist photography to more experimental analogue techniques. On reflection this was mostly due to the nature of the course I chose to study, which gave students freedom to work with a vast array of mediums.
My practise developed quickly and I soon discovered my artist voice. Heavily influenced by Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh series and Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' I found myself using primitive methods of photography to search for extra meanings within the pigmented dyes on film. This developed (pun very much intended) into an addiction to extreme photography, which has at current culminated in a collection of over 500 cameras, two home darkrooms and a fully functional wet plate collodion practise.
As an online brand I have been somewhat successful in my years as a student, garnering 60,000 followers on a daily Youtube account, reaching the highly coveted #1 position in Flickr’s Explore page, Source Magazine and appearing on the front page of Reddit amongst other things. However, maintaining my blog and Twitter accounts are of most importance now.
As far as paid work goes, I am now a writer for the second biggest photography blog in the world, PetaPixel. A position I took up after striking up a friendship with the owner and contributing some tips early on. This is a position I wish to pursue to develop my skills as a speed-blogger. This combined with sales in microstock and other online markets such as Fiverr.com have proved a financially rewarding monthly income prior to finishing my degree.
Despite a heavy interest in social media, I am not concerned with having my own website as I would consider it pretentious on my part. I have however bought samcornwell.co.uk and linked it to my blog which generally features trivial and interesting updates regarding my photography. To find photographic work and art works that I have created in the last four years a simple Google search will guide you. This for all intensive purposes is how I consider myself to be discovered online.
After taking a year out working as Community Manager for the uber successful small marketplace Fiverr.com I decided to return to university at Portsmouth to complete my degree. A decision I am immensely glad to have made. In a few weeks our year will be hosting the first of two shows featuring our work this Summer in which I’ll be exhibiting some huge photographs. I’ve been lucky enough to have success elsewhere, exhibiting as part of an Arts’ Council funded project in Doncaster called 'Collections'.
The future of my photography career will almost certainly involve my wife, Beverley who is also a photographer. I am working on several projects at the moment, including turning old vinyl records into photographs and continuing to advocate 35mm film. I have considered teaching as a career, however at the moment I’m content at spending as much time as home as I can to be with my 10 month old son.
Going to university was the best decision of my life. I’m glad I took the risk in 2009, and I’m glad I chose to complete the degree in 2012. Right now though, I think I’ll hold off on doing a Master’s. At least for the next year.