By Bettina John studying on the MA Theatre Design
course at Wimbledon College of Arts

Your role is Arts Student Union’s Postgraduate Officer, tell me a little bit about the role and why you applied for it?

When I started my MA in Fashion Photography at London College of Fashion I was wanting to focus on Fashion Photography along with the university; getting involved in the students union and all the things that come with that, I have enjoyed it and dipping my toe in the water I am interested in expanding on my role. I find myself doing more and more in my roles and various other aspects of the university. To get this position we were required to write a manifesto for the student’s union elections. I was very serious about this and instead of the three required points I put seven. So I was also elected to the mature and part-time student officer in this election. I’m also the London College of Fashion Student Representative on the Academic Board’s Learning & Teaching Enhancement Committee.

What do you want to achieve in this role?

I want to make the experience at UAL even better and long-lasting by helping to strengthen students’ times here and their continuing ties after graduation. Through speaking to MA students I have found out that they want more real world experience & more in terms of assistance into employment in their fields while at UAL and afterwards; So, I want to develop ways in which UAL can give more support. Currently I’m looking into a business model that has one foot in UAL and one foot in the professional world and can function as a gateway and a stepping stone. I’m attending a lot of Virgin Start-Up events for it that UAL have offered to me along with events of their own and with help from the Student Enterprise Team. They are great! Also the UAL student student union team is very supportive of this idea and is frequently helping wherever possible. I also want to help strengthening UAL’s Alumni network, as I believe this to be very important and makes connections for life.

What is your experience with UAL so far?

It’s been great so far! UAL feels like my home. I spend more time here than at home actually. The people are very much my kind of people & the vibe is very much my kind of vibe. I enjoy using all the different campuses and events and programs offered. A lot of the time I’m at the LCF, John Princess Street, campus, at High Holborn, LCC and Central Saint Martins. So I get around the campuses a lot. Chelsea, Camberwell & Wimbledon aren’t as easy for me to get to but I try my best. The collaborative project as part of my course is great. It really helps to connect to other students and do things that matter and benefit the collective. I went to the postgraduate enterprising employability week last week and found there to be many interesting talks around what students want from their university. In fact there wasn’t one of the 14/16 that I could get to that I didn’t love. One of the events found that there is a significant amount of insecurity in the student community regarding whether people will get the jobs they want after their studies and that as a whole we want help from UAL. There is a lot going on here and through my roles I’m doing my best to cover these things.

Is there time to work outside of the course?

No. I could really do with a job outside university, as life in London is quite expensive, but with all my different responsibilities, I have no time left. I love cooking and in Australia, I would always cook, here I end up buying a lot more ready-made food than I would want. Luckily, there is Westfield Shopping Centre next to my house and in it a great M&S branch that has good ready-made food that I like to adapt so that I’m still partly cooking but don’t have to do everything from scratch or stock my house here with a full spice pantry and all of the tools and other things I miss having in the kitchen.

What made you choose this course? Why stop your thriving career and go back to studying?

I wanted to experience new things. I thought a place like London would introduce me to things I wouldn’t come across in Australia. London has a much stronger Fashion presence in the world than Australia. Also I wanted to enter the academic side of things. I knew how to use the camera really well but wanted to explore more why you use it and how you put it across. That sort of thing and preparing my self to possibly teach fashion photography at some time (perhaps sooner rather than later) so that I can pass on the things I have learnt to those that may be just starting out or not as developed in their skills as I am. Since having arrived here I have become more and more interested in the political side of fashion and am in the process of organising some meetings with people who can help me to get more into this, like people from the British Fashion Council.

Why London?

I’m Australian and British so it made sense to come here. And there aren’t that many MAs in Fashion Photography out there and certainly none in Australia. Being in London again seemed like the best place to be.

What did you do before UAL?  Can you tell me a bit about your career in Australia?

I explored for a while before settling into doing what I love, though you could say I’m following in footsteps a bit now. My father was a photographer / photo-scientist that studied at Oxford and later educated medical students; and my family is in politics, industry & education.

Your favourite place in London?

Kensington High Street & Holland Park. It reminds me of Toorak in Melbourne where most of my family in Australia are from; There’s beautiful tree lined streets, lovely food and generally a nice vibe. I also spend a bit of time around the areas of Hammersmith, Chelsea & Shepherd’s Bush and Mayfair. I went to a great Ethiopian restaurant near Vauxhall that is just behind Nine Elms (South Lambeth I think) this past weekend, learnt how to eat Ethiopian food (with your hands for those that don’t know). It was a first for me but with friends it was a lovely time and the food was wonderful. We followed it up some Portuguese afterwards at a place just up the road called ‘A Toca’ which was just as wonderful in a totally different manner & incredibly busy. When I go out it’s probably more for food and drinks. I’m not going to live music as much as I should. It’s not my favourite place but I do go a lot to Café Nero on Regent’s Street because it’s so close to uni.

Where do you go to network?

I go to all sort of events that UAL offers. When you start getting tickets on Eventbrite, it suggests related events to you. That way I find more stuff I’m interested in, like events on Sustainability for example. I find it quite easy to network. I’m an extrovert, in a good way, I hope. I just chat to people wherever I am and meet people that way. Plus, through getting to know more and more people here and attending more and more events it has a snowballing effect where more also show up by referral.

Do you have advice for people in your career who are starting out?

Photograph as much a possible. Take your camera with you at all times. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said “Your first 10,000 pictures are your worst”. For me being in the digital age, I could comfortably say my 100,000 images were my worst. Learn from others; learn from those better than yourself and keep working on refining your art, your practice and challenging yourself to be better than you were.

How can you find out more about the Arts Student Union?

There is a website and as a UAL student you can sign in to access all the information, elect, see events and lots more. The website is arts-su.com but then it’s also pretty difficult not to notice them if you look around any of the campuses, read what’s on the monitors or check the notice boards. Oh and there is the Postgraduate Community Friday Newsletter!

Contact Hamish by email on mature@su.arts.ac.uk or postgrad@su.arts.ac.uk


Arts Student Union:

Their aim is to help each student make the most of all the life-changing experiences open to them as they study and develop their creative practice.

Every single UAL student is automatically a member of one of the UK’s most innovative student unions.

Anyone can sign up to a student-run society, play for a sports team, campaign to improve their college, or simply enjoy low-cost refreshments in our not-for-profit cafes and bar.

They know that you are more than your studies – and during your time at UAL, Arts Students’ Union is the place to find other students, learn new skills, have fun and become who you plan to be.


Related Links:


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More about the author:

Bettina John, is our Postgraduate Community Ambassador for Wimbledon College of Arts

I’m Bettina John and I’m studying on the MA Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Art. Up until now I’ve been working as a costume designer for dance, musical theatre and opera in London and Germany where I’m originally from. I also produce work as an installation and performance artist and have exhibited my work internationally, which informs my practice as a designer for theatre greatly. 

I’m so excited to be part of UAL’s Postgraduate Community and I want to help spread the word about it. London is such an amazing city and studying here is probably one of the most thrilling things one can do in their life. This community is a chance to tap into an incredibly diverse pool of talents, probably more diverse than anywhere else and I can’t wait to be part of it.