CAN A1 Summary

This is a summary post for assessment; the full A1 posts are available here.

These images tell two contrasting stories about the clifftops between Brighton Marina and the neighbouring village of Rottingdean two miles away.

I wanted to to tell both sides of this story in a matter-of-fact way without sentimentality, so I used a small aperture and fast shutter speeds to avoid inappropriate soft focus and movement blur. Recent reading about structuralist photographers prompted me to frame the image overlooking the marina to emphasise the separation between natural and manmade environments, hinting at the possibility of alienation contained within the second strand of the story, while Paul Seawright’s Sectarian Murder diverted me from a passing impulse to process the “tragic” photos in muted colours. Instead I actually made them a little more colourful than they were shot, adjusting colour temperatures, vibrance and saturation to compensate for the sudden emergence of a fog-like sea fret halfway through the shoot.

After receiving feedback from my tutor I cut both stories down from their original six images to four, now understanding that they would be improved by a little more subtlety. I replaced the first three images of story 2 with a single image I’d taken two months earlier, and removed two images from story 1 that added little to the narrative. Both stories were now stronger individually with a clearer visual distinction between them.

My understanding of the purpose of this assignment grew as I proceeded through the course, and I wrote a separate post about this on my learning log. With the benefit of this new perspective I decided to merge the two stories into a single narrative thread which makes the transition from story 1 to story 2 with the most ambiguous image of the set, a precarious view through the crumbling cliff to a danger sign below. I dropped two images that now felt redundant and reintroduced another that I’d dropped in the previous edit (a view back to the marina) as it now introduced a sense of remoteness prefiguring the narrative’s transition. I also re-processed the images to retain the progressively deteriorating weather and light conditions, feeling that this was more suited to the new edit and brought a darkening mood into the narrative without sentimentalising it. Finally, I removed the titling, feeling that this new edit didn’t need specific contextualising.

CAN A2 Summary

This is a summary post for assessment; the full A2 posts are available here.

A Lexicon of Life is a book about the journey towards entropy that is an integral and inescapable aspect of physical existence, and references the combination of decay and beauty expressed in traditional natures mortes.

While I was working on this assignment I engaged with the forums for the first time, and received invaluable advice which revealed that my initial interpretation of the brief – that it was to photograph something invisible – was incorrect, and that it was actually an exercise in the use of metaphor. Once I grasped this idea I noticed that the remains of a bowl of cherries I’d bought at a roadside farm outlet a couple of days earlier made a good metaphor for my current awareness of ageing and mortality, and subsequently found other items around the flat that spoke a similar language. I shot each item in both natural and studio lighting, finding that in each case the ones made in natural light looked more authentic and felt more appropriate for the subjective statements I wanted them to make. I submitted this new work for critique and received some interesting observations that demonstrated the ability of metaphor to evoke a theme while leaving the viewer space for personal interpretation. It also gave me a direct experience of the fact that viewers bring their own experience to images, do not necessarily see what I feel is self-evident in them, and see things that hadn’t even occurred to me – the tissue, for example, was invariably seen as a symbol of tears, grief or loss, while for me it was all about the general crumpling that arrives with age.

Turning my thoughts to presentation, I had some cheap prints made up, which were terrible quality but showed me that a 12 x 8 inch print was too large for these images and prompted me to think of other options. I considered glueing 6 x 4 inch prints into a hand-made concertina-style book, and assembled a list of tools and materials I would need to buy to make it. Then I thought about the similarity between the isolated images in my series and the isolated images in a child’s alphabet book, and decided to make up a small Blurb book in that style and include the initial letters of my metaphorical readings rather than the objects’ names. I also created an A2 poster in the style of a children’s alphabet learning aid as another potential presentation option.

My tutor offered some extremely helpful feedback, perhaps the most important of which was a warning not to let the presentation overshadow the images. I immediately recognised that I was trying to be, as he also suggested, “too clever by half” – an over-reaction, perhaps, to my relatively recent introduction to some of the creative and innovative ways other students have found to present their work. I decided to go back to basics, and set out to find whether I could achieve an acceptable standard of print from my cheap office printer. I had liked the way the square format of the book draft had heightened the focus on the objects, and decided to crop the new prints to the same square format. I spent a day trying out various settings and papers, and eventually found a combination that printed to a standard I felt happy with and was certainly a huge improvement on the prints I’d ordered online. Then I laid them out and spent a day looking at them, sometimes intensely, sometimes glancing briefly in passing. I found that they spoke to me in a way they hadn’t in the poster and book, where the accompanying alphabet muted that dialogue. Several months later, I bought a new printer, a Canon Pro 100-S, and made new prints on that, retaining the square format.

Returning to the assignment in preparation for submission for assessment, it struck me that the pristine nature of the prints I’d prepared did not resonate with the subject matter of the images, so after some experimentation I created a rag book by transfer-printing onto calico, liking the way the rougher print and the texture of the fabric gave the images the look and feel of old nature morte paintings and emphasised the theme of ageing and decay that is central to the images.

CAN A3 Summary

This is a summary post for assessment; the full A3 posts are available here.

It’s Not You: Tracking my diurnal routines, these images capture the habitual dreaming points that punctuate my day – intermissions of reflection and meditation during an extended period of intense change following the break-up of my 25-year relationship. Each of five formats in which the images have been produced (two of which have been sent for assessment) offers a slightly different experience of the routine, reflecting the capacity of repetition to provide not just calming familiarity but also a calibration tool for the shifts and adjustments that take place over time.

I initially intended these images to show my world as I see it with my own eyes as I go through a typical day, and despite their lack of specific narrative detail I felt that they conveyed an accurate impression of the way I live through their subjective viewpoint. After I printed and spent some time with the images, however, I realised that while they are indeed what I see every day, they are not what my mind is focused on – in fact I look through these scenes, and what’s in my mind’s eye is something else entirely – the plans, ideas and musings that make up my inner life.

To express this idea visually I thought about printing onto semi-translucent fabric, and transfer-printed a test image onto muslin. This introduced some unexpected new elements, including the fact that the imperfections that arose gave the print the feel of a Renaissance fresco, with the feet taking on the aspect of religious iconography, while the translucence seemed to emphasise the transience and fragility of the subject. I wanted to see what the series would look like with the images aligned edge to edge but realised it would be impossible to achieve this using the manual transfer print process, so I had a print made up by a commercial printer. This time I chose organza – a fabric even lighter and more translucent than muslin, and the resulting print was considerably more ephemeral, inviting the background world into the images. The images became elusive, appearing and disappearing as the fabric moved. I thought about making it into something wearable – literally wrapping myself up in my personal world. I tried it around my waist as a transparent overskirt and over my shoulders as a cape, and the effect was quite disconcerting in the way a hand, a foot, a toothbrush or a kitchen sink would appear in an unexpected position. I liked the dissonance of this, which matched the conflict between the images’ clean Scandi-style setting and the incongruous personal details that intruded here and there.

My next plan was to return to the muslin and transfer-print all 12 images in a (spaced) grid format, wondering whether the fresco feel of my test print would persist when the other images were included. But first I decided to request feedback from my peers and tutor. I presented the work to the fortnightly Sunday hangout group, and received an encouragingly positive response to the organza print. The general opinion was that any further intervention, such as making something wearable from it, was likely to bring a new set of ideas into play and undermine its effect. My tutor subsequently encouraged me nevertheless to go ahead with the idea of transfer-printing all 12 images onto muslin – and this exercise turned out to be unexpectedly revealing as it led me down a train of thought that allowed me to see the images in a very different light. The materiality of the images was strongly emphasised due to the grain of the muslin fabric, particularly where there was fabric texture present in the image itself. I also noted that the muslin’s association with its mundane uses like straining and bandaging brought an everydayness into the images and made this presentation of them very different to that of the organza print, which has a more dreamlike and exotic presence in which the banal details act as disruptive elements.

These observations led me to realise that the shifting emphasis of the different formats I’d produced (individual prints on photo paper and the two fabric collations) was in itself intensely autobiographical. Simultaneously I saw that the images in fact speak directly about the period of intense change I’ve been going through since my 25-year relationship ended unexpectedly last year, in which I’ve used routine for its ability to create calming familiarity and track incremental change via small shifts in its repetitions. It is the second part of this equation that I recognised in the multiple formats, and I decided to create a book and a video to provide further shifting perspectives on the work, with the ultimate idea of combining all five formats into a single installation. I discussed these observations and ideas with my tutor in our subsequent online tutorial, and while he strongly emphasised the positive role of experimentation and encouraged me to continue exploring the idea that combining multiple formats can offer a sense of change through repetition, he also cautioned me not to overload the assessors with too much material when the time comes for assessment.

Since then I have created the book and the video is a continuing work in progress. I plan to make a final decision about which of the five formats to submit shortly before the time comes to send the materials off. While the muslin print experiment is unlikely to be included, it has played a vital role in the development of this project by changing my understanding of the work. In so doing, it also showed me that images can pick up far more than the photographer consciously intends. There are important lessons for me in this experience, one being that it’s better to approach a subject via mood and intuition than by trying to create visuals in my mind’s eye and then photograph them, and another being the value of experimentation even when it seems unlikely to add much to the outcome of a work.

CAN A4 Summary

This is a summary post for assessment; the full A4 posts are available here.

I was initially very intimidated by Roland Barthes due to a preconception that his writings were nearly impenetrable, but as soon as I started reading Mythologies I realised that he has a wonderful sense of humour and an aversion to pretension, and that made me warm towards him. The image I chose to analyse for this assignment is a print advert created for McDonalds in 2017 by Vienna-based agency DDB, which I examined in an earlier exercise and decided to investigate further here because I was impressed by the extent to which the various signs communicate different messages to different audiences based on the different lexicons employed by each audience.

Although it didn’t take me very long to unravel the layers I found in the image on an intuitive level, the task of organising these insights and expressing them using Barthes’ terminology was much more difficult than I had anticipated, and I had to refer back to his texts repeatedly, in particular the ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ chapter of Image Music Text. Eventually I completed my first draft and posted it to the critiquing forum, where I received some valuable feedback and advice that I integrated into a revised version of the essay. I submitted this revised version to my tutor, whose feedback was essentially positive and highlighted just a few minor points for clarification. Having taken these on board I then laid the essay out in InDesign and printed it onto A3 plain paper with a mounted photo print of the image. A pdf of the final layout can be viewed here.

CAN A5 Summary

This is a summary post for assessment; the full A5 posts are available here.

The Looking Glass: A meditation on past and present, the real and the imagined, the physical and the spiritual, this image investigates the tangible and unavoidable sense of history and prior occupation that infuses the Kemptown flat in which I’ve lived for the past two years.

The house I live in was built in the 1850s and is situated in Kemptown, an area of Brighton created to provide seaside homes for wealthy Londoners. During the 20th century all but a few of these once-grand houses were divided into flats and bedsits, and most became neglected and run-down. Meanwhile Kemptown acquired a new identity as Brighton’s foremost gay and alternative area. This image aims to capture the history of the area in general and the spirit of my flat in particular, whose past inhabitants have left their traces in many ways, both visible and invisible.

I searched in vain for a genuine photograph of the family who built the house and lived in it for two generations, so decided to represent them with one of another family from around the same period. I wanted to include residents from a selection of periods, and found a suitable family portrait from around the 1920s, but the 1960s was more challenging as it became apparent that by then nobody went to studios for family photos, so I used a photo of my own family from that time. I also wanted to include at least one person from the period since the house was divided into 10 flats in the 1980s, and I know that a dancer lived in this flat for a while, so found an image to represent him too. I overlaid all the images in Photoshop, using various blending settings to allow each image to be seen without blocking the others and to evoke the analogue methods of portraying ghosts, fairies and ectoplasm used in Victorian times, when interest in the supernatural was at a peak of popularity and séances were very likely held in Kemptown rooms like mine.

I had carried out several experiments with printing onto semi-translucent fabric for assignment 3, and felt this could offer a way to bring the presence of these past inhabitants into my flat. My initial idea was to print the composite image at life size, then photograph it as part of a scene which also included me. I also thought of projecting the image onto a semi-translucent screen, and discovered that this technique is in common use as a Halloween trick, but came to the conclusion that it required a much larger space than mine to achieve a life-size effect that I could also interact with.

To get an idea of what the image might look like as a backdrop to a scene in which I also appeared, I mocked that up in Photoshop, which led me to conclude that including myself as one of the layers of the composite image would actually be a better solution, emphasising my status as just one more of the cycle of inhabitants. Although the image I used of myself in this mock-up was intended only as a placeholder for a more considered one, perhaps one in which I would face the camera and thus take my place amongst the other residents, I decided that there were things I liked about it, not least the way the three-dimensionality of my slippers’ placement on the carpet seems to suggest that I’m standing at the entrance to a time portal. Feeling it was time to ask for peer critique, I tabled the work for discussion at the next fortnightly forum hangout, where I received some thought-provoking feedback, including that there is too much going on in the image, that it is too complex and that there’s no hook to engage the viewer. I gave these points a lot of thought over the following two days, wondering whether I should rethink the project entirely, but decided to press on and submit it to my tutor.

While awaiting his feedback I found myself drawn to the image I made for exercise 3.2.2. I thought about what the 11-year-old me represented in that picture and the me of today might want to tell each other, and found that adding just a few elements to the image significantly shifted its narrative to include personal insights that I would struggle to articulate verbally. Feeling that it might be a better response for assignment 5 than my original submission, I tabled it for discussion at the next forum hangout, where I received divergent views, with a majority preferring the new image to varying degrees and two preferring the original one. Reasons given in support of the new image included its openness and scope for interpretation, while reasons for preferring the original included its greater complexity and scope for investigation. Deciding to keep all options open until I had received tutor feedback, I also considered submitting both images together and made an amended version of the original image with the same wider aspect ratio as the new one.

My tutor’s feedback and our subsequent online discussion included considering the more derivative nature of the new image and the possibility of the pair conflicting with one another. Having also concluded that the original image was closer to my heart, I decided to keep that one – but with its new wider aspect ratio, which gave a greater sense of space and three-dimensionality. Due to time and financial constraints I decided to submit the image as an A3 print, but have not abandoned the fabric print idea and may return to it in future, alongside further consideration of the potential for projecting the image onto fabric, perhaps as a gallery installation in which the viewer would face a life-sized projection, either on a single screen or on multiple layered screens, each screen containing a single layer of the image.