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How to build a photography portfolio for an MA

Stills from Lina’s film ‘SIT ON THE FENCE’
  • Written byOliver Jameson
  • Published date22 November 2021
Stills from Lina’s film ‘SIT ON THE FENCE’
Stills from Lina’s film ‘SIT ON THE FENCE’ - the photographer has recently begun exploring moving image, which she describes as “a more extended space that always changes, but at the same time offers a singular point of view that positions me almost as a narrator.”

Lina A.’s work explores a juxtaposition between landscapes, drawing on her surroundings and personal experiences split between two very different environments and cultural identities.

“I work in two languages, Russian and English, and I want them to communicate with each other. I’m aware of the British viewer and the Russian viewer who look at my work, and I need those languages to do something for both.”

The Russian-born, London-based photographer took part in the Photography Professional Practice and Academic Portfolio course, which encompasses analogue and digital photography skills, the history and theory of the medium, as well as the development of an individual style and a portfolio to best demonstrate your ideas and abilities when pursuing professional work or study.

“I started filming landscapes when I lived in Russia and often look back at those spaces,” the photographer explained.  “I want to recreate the feeling of transitional, liminal spaces, exploring something in-between."

Recently I’ve been reading about theories of landscape, how they don’t exist without an observer. A landscape only becomes what it is with someone to look at it; otherwise, it’s just nature existing. It’s about what we choose to frame as landscape.

— Lina A.
Image from Lina's project.
Images from Lina’s ‘Disposable’ series, produced as her final project on the Photography folio course. The project was shot entirely on a disposable camera.

Currently a Masters student at the Royal College of Art, Lina draws not only on her own cultural identity, but a background in art history that gives her work a theoretical foundation.

“Whenever I approach a project, either self-initiated or commercial, I always look to theory in my research. Not necessarily always theory related to photography, but something foundational in the history of art.”

Naturally, there were challenges involved in moving from an academic field into a more creative discipline; Lina looked to UAL’s Photography folio course to help her develop her approach to making, as well as to better prepare herself for applying for further study.

“I came to the folio course lacking my own body of creative work, what with my academic background,” Lina explained. “The folio course gave me enough time and space to actually develop an approach to making work. With a portfolio, I was able to establish what my practice and where I’m taking it, be it for fashion photography or fine art.”

Stills from Lina’s film ‘SIT ON THE FENCE’
Stills from Lina’s film ‘SIT ON THE FENCE’ - the photographer has recently begun exploring moving image, which she describes as “a more extended space that always changes, but at the same time offers a singular point of view that positions me almost as a narrator.”

Over twenty weeks, the course blends lectures, workshops, exercises and visits to offer a well-rounded foundation for professional photography practice, as well as tailored tutor feedback to help create a strong body of work. Lina highlights that a balance between learning physical skills, alongside new ways of thinking about photography, provided a strong basis for approaching the medium going forward.

“Each week we had practical introductions. I got to work with film development and processing, which I hadn’t done before the course. But there was theoretical guidance too,” she explained.

“We had to present our work and consider themes each week. It taught me a more focused way of practice, how to take one thing and turn it into a project. It was very helpful in terms of learning how to find paths to explore.”

“The tutors and visiting lecturers offered interesting perspectives. One of the guest lecturers was an alumni of the folio course so it was encouraging to see someone making progress and success after doing the same course you were in.”

Lina’s final project on the course, titled ‘Disposable’, served to be a major source of inspiration for her practice going forward, whilst highlighting some of the ways in which the folio course has helped her begin to understand the kind of photographer she wants to be.

“My final project was fully shot on disposable cameras and I embraced the disposable idea by focusing on capturing trash and abandoned spaces in our everyday environments.”

Image from Lina's project.
Images from Lina’s ‘Disposable’ series, produced as her final project on the Photography folio course. The project was shot entirely on a disposable camera.

“It was nice to get a sense that great equipment doesn’t necessarily make great work. I’d always used my digital Canon for fashion shoots. A disposable camera presented a challenge; you know the quality isn’t going to be the best, so you think differently about producing work that’s interesting to look at.”

“The folio course was a starting point for my current practice. Now I’m researching related ideas such as nostalgia, looking into the phenomena we’re living through of vintage things.”

“That one project really helped with this realisation of what I want to explore through photography.”

Selections from the project ‘Grass is Greener on the Other Side’
Selections from the project ‘Grass is Greener on the Other Side’, which explores post-Communist nostalgia in Russia.

Students like Lina have used the course to develop their own style and produce portfolios suitable for applying to BA and MA courses at UAL colleges and beyond. Whether you’re searching for a new and original direction for your photography practice, or looking to enter a new creative world and start building your portfolio, the Photography Professional Practice and Academic Portfolio course offers a strong foundation for a future in photography.

Explore more of Lina A.’s work on her website or by following her on Instagram.

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