Alex Burgess: on managing time

I haven’t really had a plan since I finished my Photography degree I took at Camberwell College of Art last July, to be honest. And I suspect a lot of my classmates didn’t either.

I did know a few things though; I had to stay in London to continue creating my work, I needed a new space and facilities to do that work in, and I also needed an income. I feel extremely lucky and privileged that these things seemed to fall into place for me fairly rapidly; my friend and flatmate found a new place for us to live on the day I graduated (on an aptly named street in Peckham) and I would soon found out I would be one of the four graduates to share the studio for the LIFEBOAT programme. I was pleased to receive the Camberwell technical achievement award, which gave me access to the darkrooms and other facilities at the college. We even got a cat to keep us company. The only thing missing was an income, a hugely necessary yet also supremely detrimental, sharp edged and jagged piece to the puzzle.

I was finding it a difficult challenge to find employment which gives enough income to live, whilst also requiring as little time input as possible (a common dream amongst humankind, and also an unrealistic goal). After 6 weeks on the JSA, I eventually got a job as a Art, Photography and Media technician at a Secondary and Sixth Form College. This, to me, is one of the better compromises I could find, as it has long holidays, whilst also being secure and reliable.
The job primarily involves running workshops and teaching students photography skills, managing and maintaining a darkroom, replacing the occasional ‘light cyan’ ink cartridge, photoshop demonstrations, and also making sure the acrylic paint has been filled up in the classrooms. An ever increasingly apparent wedge of the job involves receiving an email every morning from Mrs Davson, with the motivational quote of the day (an essential and integral part of the office politics). Consequently, I now sit on a bank of amazing quotes and private jokes written in a bewildering variety of terrible fonts, colours, drop shadows, reflections, transparencies and sizes (it must be in her job description to do them like this, there is surely no other reasonable explanation). I wanted to use them for something, to give them a purpose other than falling onto tired eyes, so they will act as slightly ill fitting subtitles for my experience and tips for juggling work and studio time. I hope they are interesting or even useful to someone. So, here we go with the first one:
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The first thing I tried to ensure is flexibility. When I accepted the job, I specifically asked to work 4 days a week, full time, so that I could have at least 1 weekday which I could organise around. This has proven to be extremely useful so far, as it has given me the opportunity to give digital intervention workshops to first year Photography students at Camberwell, along with a couple of lecturers, and it has also enabled me to be able to arrange for prints to made, films to be processed etc, something which isn’t always possible at weekends. What this means for me is working longer hours at during the four days:
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This means that I arrive in Hoxton late, at around 8pm. This hasn’t been too much of a problem, other than being tired and hungry, but the kettle along with the occasional indian takeaway sort this out.
With significantly less time during the week to be producing work, it seemed obvious that I have to manage my time differently. Unlike the studio space at Camberwell, where I was comfortable with faffing, wasting time, and pottering around, it feels very important to be super productive all of a sudden, all the time. Work limits the number of hours I can spend in the studio, so I needed to change how I work in a studio to make the most out of it. I use the studio as a space I can go to generate ideas, plan, prototype, socialise, discuss, critique and make. Essentially, I wanted to keep any admin such as updating websites and applying for shows at home. Obviously, it doesn’t always work out that way, but it feels good to be more organised with my time in the studio.
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I’ve been surprising myself about how much it is possible to get done during journeys and commutes. It takes over an hour and a half to get to work from home, and nearly 2 hours going to the studio. I created a whole new edition, Gulf, just through using this journey time. I presetup manual tasks I could do on my laptop, and then mindlessly did them whilst sat on the train. I suppose it is all about using every free moment wisely. Even if its something as simple as updating my website, it feels great to be productive in these moments of down time.
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Lastly, its all about making the most of it. It is a pain that I have to work, but necessary. But could it also be beneficial to my practice in some ways too? Whether it is using the school’s photocopiers to produce large scale test prints, or by borrowing equipment, every little helps.
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