Photo School with Pete Ashton

Photo School is the educational side of what I do. I’m an artist based in Birmingham who works with cameras and photography. This requires me to have a solid and in-depth knowledge of photography, both technically and aesthetically.

I have found that explaining photography to people brings great clarity to my understanding of cameras and hugely benefits my art. In turn, through exploring the fundamentals of the medium in my art I am able to bring multiple and fresh approaches to my teaching, so if one explanation doesn’t work for you I’m able to try another.

About Pete Ashton

I’m a Birmingham-based artist and you can see some of my work on my art website. I also co-run the Birmingham Camera Obscura project with Jenny Duffin where we’re building and exploring 1000-year old cameras from before the invention of photography.

It’s safe to say I’m pretty obsessed with cameras and the images they make. I think about them a lot, often in some quite strange ways. There’s something wonderful about how a photo tells both truth and lies, illuminating the soul while eliminating the context. A little box that stores reflected light changed our world, and I don’t think we’ve really figured out what that means, especially as cameras become ubiquitous.

How does this affect Photo School? Mostly in that it continues to fuel my curiosity and fascination with how people figure out how to create with their camera – and my desire to help my students get there.

One of our first classes in early 2012.

How it all started

Photo School was started by myself and my friend Matt Murtagh in January 2012. We’d noticed that many of our friends were buying DLSR cameras with lots of functions but had no idea how to use them. The manuals were off-putting and they generally just left them on auto.

So we ran a class, using Cartier-Bresson’s approach to street photography as our framework, the upstairs of city centre pub as our classroom and the streets of central Birmingham as our workshop. Feedback was pretty good so we tweaked it, and ran it again, and again, forming the basis of today’s Beginners class.

After a couple of years Matt got a teaching job at a real school, so I took on the bulk of Photo School, merging its development with my artistic practice. Photo School is now an extension of me, but would be nothing without Matt’s hard work in those first years. His influence runs through everything I do like letters in rock-candy.

From the outset Photo School was designed to keep costs to a minimum and to pay us a decent wage. Where possible we traded favours and services for venue space and haven’t spent anything on marketing or advertising, relying on word-of-mouth and Internet searches. Photo School is a slow-build enterprise, intended to be sustainable by growing within its means.

A Beginners class in 2018.

The future

Updates on Photo School and the pandemic are here.

The Covid pandemic forced Photo School into hibernation and as we emerge I’m not sure what the future holds for Photo School. I do know I’ll be working with cameras and images and explaining to people how they work; I’m just not sure exactly how.

For now I’m offering personal tuition, but please do get in touch if you have a job or project you think might be of interest!