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Alumni Spotlight: Joe Duggan

BA Photography graduate Joe talks about his career as a professional artist, and how studying at Birmingham City University gave him confidence in his own ability. We caught up with Joe to see what he has been up to since graduating, and what his plans are for the future.

Photograph of man walking with son on a trail

Why did you choose to study Photography at BCU?

I had moved to Birmingham from Ireland to expand my horizons. A chance encounter put me in touch with the Head of Photography and Rob Gibb and after chatting with them about the course and having a look around at the facilities I was sold on studying at BCU. Birmingham was then and is now a great place to live and study. So BCU was my only choice, I put all my eggs in one basket.

What was your course highlight?

I really enjoyed being a student at BCU. I spent most of my time printing in the colour dark rooms or in the library devouring art books, theory, and magazines. I was a bit of a nerd, I couldn’t get enough of University life. I was in early and always last to leave. Having access to all the facilities was fantastic. Being able to spend so much time working on my projects was for me the best. Graduation day was also very special.

How has studying Photography at BCU prepared you for your career?

Studying at BCU gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability and work. I got pushed by the tutors and inspired by fellow students to take creative chances which really encouraged me to develop both technically and conceptually. It was a time of experimentation for me. All of this has stayed with me and still informs the way I work today.

What have you been up to since graduating?

I moved to London to do an MFA in Photography at the RCA which I received in 2002. Since graduating my practice has evolved to incorporate photography, sculpture and video . I have had the opportunity to exhibit my work internationally working with several museums and galleries. My work has been published in periodicals such as Artreview, DAZED, ID, Source photographic and the Royal Academy Magazine.

What is your photography style?

My style is a mixture of classical and modern, theatrical and poetic. Philosophical. My worlds are always recognisable, a mixture of real and staged. Reality and artifice. My cameras are nearly always on sticks.

What has been your favourite exhibition?

A very memorable experience I had was when I chanced upon a Louise Bourgeois exhibition in Berlin nearly twenty years ago. I was in town for an exhibition of my own and was visiting galleries and museums. I didn't know anything about her before I went. I couldn’t believe how good the work was. It was so fresh and vital and felt very experimental. She was in her 80’s when she made the work, it blew my socks off.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m preparing for an exhibition in London at the Swiss Cottage Gallery. This new exhibition, entitled Material, will present a new body that focuses on my sculpture practice. After this I will be working on a newly commissioned video piece.

What’s your top tip/advice for aspiring photographers?

Keep this great quote from Samuel Beckett in mind. “Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The thing is you never stop learning. Even the best people learn on every job. So take chances, most of the best work comes from this place. Say yes more than no and always be doing something.

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