Gray's School of Art. BA Photography Graduate Paul Nicol with his portfolio
Image by: Paul Nicol Photography

A journey of self-discovery at Gray’s School of Art Digital Degree Show, 'Onwards'

By Jenny Frost - 17 June 2021

A journey of self-discovery is at the heart of one final year Photography student’s exhibition, that will accompany an inspiring mix of work from over 150 graduating artists and designers at this year’s Gray’s School of Art, Digital Degree Show, 'Onwards', which launches on 9 July.

This is the second year the Gray’s School of Art degree show will be held online due to the pandemic and this year’s show promises to be even more user-friendly and accessible for visitors.

One of the students exhibiting, is final year Photography student, Paul Nicol from Peterculter.  Paul experienced a major health scare that took him on a journey of self-discovery as he reassessed his life choices.  This change in direction, unearthed a love of nature and photography for Paul and inspired him to pursue a BA in Photography at Gray’s School of Art.

47-year-old Paul Nicol from Peterculter, previously ran a local business selling office furniture. In 2005 however, he  developed lymphoma which resulted in time off work.    Spending more time in nature, marked a turning point for Paul, as he discovered a passion for photography and an ambition to make this his career.      With positive feedback from friends and family, Paul received offers for photography work however lacked the confidence and experience in the technical side so decided to return to higher education to develop these skills.

Final year Photography student, Paul said: “I initially enrolled to do a HND photography course at NESCOL which offered me a route into 3rd year on the BA photography course at Gray’s.   This gave me an excellent foundation in the technical side of photography, and I found the transition to Gray’s very smooth. I relished the challenge to investigate the contextual side of photography and how this relates to my work.

“All the tutors at Gray’s have been supportive from the first day of the course and along with a highly creative group of peers, the journey has been incredible.”

For his final year degree show, father of three, Paul, who recently became a grandfather during lockdown to a baby granddaughter, initially focused his work on social documentary portraiture. With the onset of Covid-19, however, Paul investigated areas closer to home and examined the effect Covid was having on the environment around him.    

Paul has produced a personal project called ‘Under the sun and Beneath the Moon’.   His photography features two bodies of work that take a contemplative look at the natural environment.  'Under the Sun', is shot on medium format film with a vintage TLR camera whilst 'Beneath the Moon' is more experimental digital photography shot in the woods at night using light painting and long exposures to create more surreal imagery.

Speaking about his work, Paul said; “Once again, I spent time in nature with my camera and found how I could harness this to help my mental health during the challenging restrictions of the pandemic.”

With an end of this year in sight and the achievement of gaining the degree, Paul says his aspirations are to invest more time on his journey of discovery.

“I honestly feel the final project of the degree course is not an end but a starting point to develop my creative work further. I intend to return to Gray's next semester to do an honours year, moving across to join the students on the Contemporary Art Practice course and look forward to the prospect of a return to campus and facilities such as the darkroom.  Longer term I would like to work within the creative industry as a photographer.”

“My advice to others thinking about doing the BA course in photography is to apply now as it is personally one of the best decisions I have ever made. The course is interesting, challenging and will take your photography to the next level.”

Gray’s School of Art annual degree show, ‘Onwards’, officially launches online to the public on Friday 9 July and runs for ten days with an exciting line up of talks, interactive workshops, fashion shows and music.  


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