MATTHEW MERLE BULA: "There is such a wealth of knowledge"
Mathew Merle Bula currently lives in South Korea, where he is developing a new body of work.
“Some scenes, portraits, constructions. I don't really know where it's going, but that's not the point,” Bula explains. "One of the principal enablers for me is exposing myself to new experiences and situations," he continues. "I find this much easier to do in a foreign setting than at home in Canada."
Now in South Korea for the second time, Bula has long since understood that taking pictures in a foreign country poses it's share of logistical problems: "Overcoming these challenges has been a valuable experience for me in terms of project management skills—acquiring the materials for the shoot, getting access, model releases, cultural differences, working in a different language, the list goes on."
Bula developed a keen appreciation for the rigor of the art-making process while at SPAO, learning how commitment to that the process usually takes precedence over the results. Here are some of the other things he learned and vividly recalls.
Personal accountability: “The thing that I remember most about my time at SPAO was the emphasis on personal accountability. Every decision that I made in my images was something that I had to be able to speak for. Every time I made a mess, I was accountable for cleaning it up. The school lives and dies on the integrity of it's students and teachers.”
Opportunity for mentorship: "I definitely learned the most technical stuff in the darkroom classes initially, but after that it's really up to the individual student to pursue what they are interested in themselves. I found a few mentors at SPAO while trying to find the answers to what I needed—especially in second year. There is such a wealth of knowledge in the instructors that is untapped unless you start asking questions.”
Failure is encouraged: "The teaching staff has to react to the students' needs while nurturing and challenging them to do better. Failure is encouraged and celebrated. That part took me a long time to be ok with, but it has informed my practice greatly since having left."
Different angles and perspectives: “My teachers at SPAO encouraged me to come at problems from different angles, with different perspectives. To work, and work, and work and if at the very end you find that your concept was flawed—to go back and do it again.”
A rare opportunity: “You should consider the SPAO program if you want to be challenged, and if you want to work incredibly hard. SPAO is a very special place to the people that have spent time there. Not many places exist like it.”