ARPS Advisory Day 28/10/19, Assesment Day 10/03/20 and Resubmission 14/10/20

Receiving feedback during the Advisory Day

Receiving feedback during the Advisory Day

After developing a style I was comfortable with that had some previous success in competitions and exhibitions, the next logical step was to think about gaining an accreditation. The idea buzzed around my head for a while, and then I forgot about it as a result of work commitments and a busy schedule moving house. To be honest, I only started thinking about it again after an 'interesting' experience participating in a local Judging and Interpretation course. I'll spare you the detail, but suffice to say this was the jolt I needed to get me back on track and focus on an ARPS award from The Royal Photography Society.


Although there's a plethora of accreditations that can be gained from a range of bodies, it seemed logical to choose The Royal Photographic Society. They seemed not only the most accessible, but were by far the most prestigious and recognised both inside and out of photography circles. They have three distinctions: the first level is a Licentiate (LRPS) which generally shows a variety in approach and technique, as well as a high level of technical proficiency. The Associate (ARPS) and Fellowship (FRPS) levels both require cohesive bodies of work, a statement of intent and stronger technical ability. I chose to go for the ARPS, as the level of photography for the FRPS seemed too much of a jump for the moment.


It was fairly easy for me to decide on a project as I had a clear vision of what I intended to achieve. I'd previously been to Bilbao and thoroughly enjoyed finding minimalist abstracts in the interior of the Guggenheim. Taking this one step further seemed a logical thing to do. Towards the end of the summer 2019 I travelled to Baku in Azerbaijan, partly out of curiosity, but with the intention of photographing the iconic Heydar Aliyev Centre. This building is the jewel in the crown of the late Dame Zaha Hadid, an absolutely breathtaking modern architectural marvel. I felt spoilt for choice taking hundreds of interior photos over the course of a few days, whilst mentally building up a potential panel of images that could work well together.


When I returned to England, I went through the laborious process of culling hundreds of images to just under 30 that could potentially fit together as a cohesive body. I needed a total of fifteen for the panel, but found it incredibly tricky to decide on the overall orientation and layout. I must have spent a month editing, arranging them, re-editing them, re-arranging to the point of insanity. Luckily my friend Adrian, who is an exceptional photographer and also aiming for his ARPS, stepped in to advise me enough to make some decent headway. It was only after re-visiting the Tate St Ives and seeing Ben Nicholson's inspirational abstracts, that I was able to really focus my panel in a way that allowed fifteen of my photos to balance harmoniously alongside each other. However, the rigours and demands of the ARPS had left me with very little wiggle room if any of the images were deemed not to work together or unsuitable. Thus, I printed, mounted and labelled the images accordingly, and with great trepidation attended an ARPS advisory day in Bristol.


The ARPS advisory days are more or less formalities, and although not compulsory it's prudent to attend in order to gain advice from experts that sit on the panels during assessment days. There were a number of Licentiate candidates in the morning, with the Associate panels in the afternoon. I think there were about ten or so Associate print panels as well as a digitally projected panel. Each candidate looked to gain a valuable insight, not just to whether their photography was up to the required standard, but also advice on how well the content worked and whether everything was inline with the statement of intent. The advisors more or less took a holistic approach to decide suitability, also looking at the whole panel as a final 'sixteenth' image in its own right. Across the candidates, the quality of panels clearly ranged from inappropriate for assessment, to those that were suitable assuming minor alterations were made. Those that were recommended forward tended to receive much more specific and detailed comments, although without doubt the staff provided everyone with fair, measured and insightful feedback. Luckily my panel was received well, particularly the content and image choices praised for having a 'seeing eye'. I was relieved that the advisors hadn't highlighted any images that needed changing, purely as I didn't really have many as backup! Also, I had been worried that my style potentially could have been dismissed, as previous photographer feedback had been somewhat mixed. Minimalism can often be a little 'Marmite' and sometimes difficult to always connect with, unlike say a beautiful landscape scene. In a nutshell, my main point of call had been to increase the contrast slightly on almost every image. It was absolutely invaluable having my prints placed under the studio lights in the gallery, as they looked substantially different to both my backlit computer screen, as well as laid out under my living room lights. Normally I'd be reluctant to make changes, but on this occasion I felt the advice was spot on, especially as the assessment would take place in the same theatre with the same lighting conditions.


Going into my assessment, I reprinted and mounted each image with minor but essential alterations and filled in the necessary paperwork. It was interesting that I needed to include the advice day summary within the application too. I felt more relieved that I had attended the advisory day because of this, if anything a piece of mind that I had done as much as I could before the big day. I was still nervous beforehand, mainly as I had spent close to £600 on all the printing, mounting, course fees, print boxes and handling charges, and really could not afford to do this all over again.


The following pictures are of my assessment hanging plan and statement of intent.

Assessment Statement of Intent

Assessment Statement of Intent

The assessment day arrived, with my panel in the eleventh slot, about three quarters into proceedings. There were a range of fine art panels beforehand, all of a very high standard. I would say about 25% passed, 25% were referred for a resubmission and the rest failed. The failures were for a variety of reasons, mainly for having photos that were too similar and lacking variety, not reaching an appropriate technical level or not being a cohesive enough panel. The quality overall was noticeably higher than Licentiate level, but there was nothing that concerned me to think that my panel wasn't in line with those that had already passed.


For each panel on display there were four judges that sat at the front of the theatre, viewed the panel as a whole, then inspected individual photos for technical, artistic and printing merit. It ran very much as I expected it to. The feedback, like at the advisory day, was fair and balanced overall. It was refressing that there were no unnecessary or pointless comments like you always seem to hear so often in camera club competitions. I was also fairly surprised that there was a mixture of judge preferences, each viewing the panels in their own distinct way. All had the confidence to disagree with each other at times when they felt it necessary. Despite this, each judge appeared to have a strict criteria or list in front of them that they were adhering to, which helped standardise the comments across each panel. After viewing the panels, the judges returned to their seats to vote. Each would show either a red or green card (hidden from the audience behind), with the Panel Chair noting their colours, but not voting herself. Following the first vote, two of the four judges were asked to comment, presumably to either persuade a panel member to change their card colour or alternatively to solidify the choice previously made. There was then a second card vote (again hidden). A majority green was a pass, a majority red was a fail and a split jury was referred to the Panel Chair. The Chair had the authority to cast a final vote herself to either pass or fail a panel, however on the day she definitely erred on the side of caution as I don't remember her directly passing anyone. As she was reluctant to commit to an overall pass, quite a few failed, but some were also referred by her for a resubmission. This meant that the panels were borderline, requiring only minor changes in order to be successful. If this was the case, the judges made notes for the chair, which were emailed back to the photographer to help direct his or her resubmission.


My panel was one of those that was offered a resubmission. Here are the comments that were fed back to me:

Assessment feedback

Assessment feedback

I have mixed feelings, and whilst I'm happy with the comments, as well as having another opportunity to pass, I will have spent almost £800 by the time I have resubmitted. Unfortunately I once again need to reprint, mount and back the whole panel as the photos have slightly warped, presumably through travel, handling and being in a range of different temperature or humidity rooms. I suppose this is a bit of a warning for the potential or implied costs of taking on an RPS accreditation. I suspect that most will be far less costly though, depending on the paper quality used, the amount of printing and backing that is necessary across the whole process. I would advise using cheaper printing paper and to not even worry about backing for the advisory day. In retrospect, only a mounted print was required. If I hadn't backed each photo, then I could have reused all the mounts at least. I took a risk printing and mounting to a final presentation level on expensive photo rag paper, as I wrongly assumed that I wouldn't have to make many changes. In a nutshell, consider cost-cutting wherever possible, obviously until the assessment day when it becomes unavoidable.


It was no surprise that the global Corona Virus pandemic led to the RPS cancelling all June 2020 resubmissions, and indeed any kind of activity at their headquarters. Luckily I was notified in early August that rescheduling had taken place for October, albeit without the possibility of attending in person. Further social distancing measures were also in place, leading to remote assessment from distance. A couple of the distinctions team were on hand to lay the prints out and brief the assessment panel on print quality, while digital images were also provided, presumably for distanced scrutiny. Before mailing my resubmission to RPS House, I made the following alterations based on assessment day feedback:

Revised hanging plan for resubmission

Revised hanging plan for resubmission

I was delighted to receive an email mid October congratulating and informing me that I had been awarded Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. To be honest, I was just mighty relieved after so much effort and expense. Now all I need to do is carefully plan the next project, pending travel and quarantine restrictions, and think about how I'm going to continue improving the quality of my photography. Here is the final ARPS panel:

Untitled photo

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