When Muzi Quawson graduated with a BA in Photography in 2001 she immediately began to forge a successful career for herself as a commercial photographer. One of the highlights of this time was travelling to America to cover the US Presidential elections for The Guardian newspaper.
But as interesting as her freelance work was, the young photographer’s ultimate plan was always to return to her studies and further explore her practice within, she says, 'a fine art discipline'.
The excellent reputation of the College’s Photography Department meant that the RCA was always where Quawson had hoped to be able to pursue her postgraduate education, but even so, the return to her studies came as something of a shock. 'The first year was one of the most gruelling experiences of my life,' she says with a grin.
Disillusioned with the commercial world, Quawson had left the UK for America in 2004, before her college application had been accepted, 'to begin making the work that I wanted to make,' but the experience was, by her own admission, somewhat of a struggle.
Quawson 'kind of knew vaguely' what she wanted to pursue in her own practice – she knew she wanted to document US communities that live on the fringes of American society, and she knew that she was fascinated by the cinematic scope of a landscape that, through the work of some of the country’s most influential directors, such as Martin Scorcese, made her feel like she was 'revisiting a place I’ve been to before' – but she was having trouble turning her ideas and influences into a single, clear vision.
Which, as luck would have it, was where that ‘gruelling’ first year at the College came in: 'You’re really made to think about and question and examine what it is you’re doing,' she recalls of her experience two years ago. She was, she says, 'extremely productive' but, 'I didn’t necessarily know where I was going because I was experimenting and pushing and changing; I was defining my practice.'
Crucially, she was ‘both challenged and supported,’ by the people she came into contact with at the College throughout this time, and it was this vigorously nurturing environment that Quawson now credits with her transition from being what she calls 'just a photographer' when she first arrived at the College to the considerably more rounded photographic artist she is now. Her current work centres on slide installation and, Quawson says, her 'whole involvement with the slide process, the installation process, working that way, all developed through the Photography Department and my interaction with the tutors and my personal tutor.'
During her first year, Quawson was encouraged by a tutor to enter her work into a competition to win a place in the influential New Contemporaries exhibition, which led to her being invited to exhibit in the Tate Triennial 2006 at Tate Britain. Another highlight was winning a three-month residency to New York’s School of Visual Arts, supported by a £3,000 bursary to enable her to 'make work' while she was away, just one of the many similar schemes open to RCA students across every department.
'I’ve really, sincerely had the best two years of my life,' she says, reflecting on her time at the RCA. 'I came here lost and I know it would sound silly to say that now I’m found, but I really feel positive about everything… I really feel I’ve managed to shape my practice.'
"I’ve really, sincerely had the best two years of my life. I came here lost and I know it would sound silly to say that now I’m found, but I really feel positive about everything… I really feel I’ve managed to shape my practice."Muzi Quawson
MA Photography 2004-6