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Photo London 2018

On Friday I took the train up to London and visited Somerset House to see the fourth annual Photo London event. With more than 100 galleries exhibiting as well as a number of specially curated shows there were literally thousands of photographs on display – far more than it would be possible for me to absorb in a single visit – so I didn’t even attempt to examine everything closely and just honed in on pictures that particularly attracted my attention.

First to catch my eye were Antony Cairns’s IBM LDN images of nighttime London, inkjet-printed onto tinted IBM computer punchcards, then assembled and mounted on cardboard, which also feature in the Shape of Light exhibition currently running at Tate Modern. Next, and in a completely different style, Evgenia Arbugaeva’s extraordinary, dreamlike images from her Amani series. Like Cristina de Middel, whose work these images reminded me of, Arbugaeva graduated in photojournalism. Her Amani images look for all the world like tableaux of magical imaginary scenes, but they actually document a former malaria research centre in Tanzania.

Juno Calypso’s Subterranean Kitchen, installed in a fittingly kitsch side room complete with reflective metal floor, was my next stop. I also enjoyed two striking modernist-style images from Serge Najjar’s series The Architecture of Light which clearly demonstrate the truth of his motto, “It’s not what you see but how you see it,” and Sebastião Salgado’s Church Gate Station, Bombay (1995), an atmospheric image in which he captured the bustling busyness of the station with a long exposure. I was amused by David Montgomery’s Queen Elizabeth with Corgis (1967) which depicts her as a suburban housewife sitting in front of an electric bar fire, and by Paul Reas’ I Can Help: Hand of Pork (1988), in which a shopper wearing a jumper patterned with dozens of tiny pigs surveys a supermarket meat counter.

It felt like a real privilege to see so many original prints of images by Fox Talbot, Andre Kertesz, August Sander, Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans, to name just a few of the illustrious photographers represented, and I was repeatedly struck by how much more there is to see and appreciate in the photographic prints than is visible in books or on screen. It was exactly like the experience of seeing familiar paintings in the flesh for the first time. I also noticed that many of the most striking black-and-white prints that had particularly strong depth and texture, whether vintage or new, were gelatin silver prints, and this has prompted me to start thinking more about different print methods and technologies.

But I think what will probably stay in my mind most strongly was a two-room installation of works by Edward Burtynsky. As I descended the staircase into the first room, I saw two supersized images that triggered a moment of déjà vu as I thought I was looking at Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. But these are actually photographs of saw mills, mines, quarries and salt flats – spectacularly large, backlit images with a God’s eye view and a level of detail way beyond anything I’ve seen before. People were spending a really long time in front of them, drilling down further and further into the detail. Then, when you stand back and view them as a whole, they look like paintings – by Klimt, as I mentioned, or by Hundertwasser, Robert Sadler or Roger Hilton. The human-generated scarification of the earth is converted in these images from messy desecration into astonishingly sublime beauty.

Burtynsky produces the images with a digital Hasselblad mounted onto a programmable tripod head and a drone, taking dozens of overlapping exposures which he then merges to create a single seamless image – his 3-metre by 6-metre-plus image of Italy’s Carrara marble quarries is made from 122 exposures, each one 50 megapixels.

All in all, the immense diversity of the work on show was inspiring in and of itself, demonstrating that there really is no limit to how creative it’s possible to be in photography. And anyone who doubts that photography is firmly established as a fine art medium not just in the eyes of photographers but also those of dealers and collectors has clearly not visited shows like these, where price tags are very much in line with other art forms. As an afterthought, I noticed that vernacular photography, which was a strong theme at Paris Photo in 2012, the last major photo fair I attended, was not in evidence at all, at least as far as I could see.

References and resources

A Photo Editor (2011) Edward Burtynsky interview. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Arbugaeva, E. (2018) Evgenia Arbugaeva. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Boulting, T.J. (2018) What to do with a million years: Juno Calypso. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Burtynsky, E. (2018) Edward Burtynsky. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Cairns, A. (2018) Antony Cairns. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Salgado, S. (2013) The silent drama of photography. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]
Spirou, K. (2015) Scaling Architecture: Abstract Geometry Meets Everyday Life in the Photography of Serge Najjar. Available at [accessed 20.05.19]
V&A (2018) Photographic processes. Available at [accessed 20.05.18]

Antony Cairns: IBM LDN (2017)

Evgenia Arbugaeva: from the series Amani (2015)

Juno Calypso: Subterranean Kitchen (2017)

Serge Najjar: from The Architecture of Light

Edward Burtynsky: Saw Mills #1 and #2, Lagos, Nigeria (2016)

CAN 1 self-assessment

I was anxious to avoid sentimentality in the presentation of an emotive subject which included potentially emotionally charged motifs (eg teddy, fairy and other tributes) and kept this in mind at all times, drawing on my understanding of the emotional nuances of focus and colour to make decisions about how to shoot and process the images for this assignment.

I took overall texture and colour into account in making my edits, aiming to a create visually coherent presentation. When framing shots I kept in mind the storylines I wished to convey, taking advantage of opportunities to suggest separation and alientation, eg boundaries or distance between the natural and the man-made.

My intial edit was overstated, and the two sets were much improved by my tutor’s suggestion to remove some of the images explicitly referencing suicide. Returning to the assignment later in the module I merged the two stories into a single narrative thread, and feel that this gives further subtlety to the two-sided narrative and matches much more closely the actual experience of taking this walk, in which both sides of the story are always present simultaneously.

My self-assessment ratings for this assignment are as follows:

Ian Jeffrey: Photography

Ian Jeffrey’s Photography: a concise history is a really excellent book that offers a comprehensive history of technical and artistic developments in photography and places them within the broader context of politics, philosophy, geography and other cultural issues. It provides a background to the emergence and decline of different photographic styles and subject matters, schools of thought and understandings about the purpose and meaning of photography. Jeffrey picks out individual photographers and explains their work in the context of all these factors, revealing their personal preoccupations and points of view, drilling down into individual photographs and demonstrating his extraordinary ability to extract meaning from the slightest of clues and articulate it for the reader. I learnt a huge amount from this beautifully written book and feel I’ll take in more again when I re-read it, which I undoubtedly will.

References and resources

Jeffrey, I. (1981) Photography: a concise history. London: Thames & Hudson.

Austin Kleon: Steal like an artist

This little book was recommended to me by Kate, a fellow OCA student, and I in turn now recommend it to others. A light-hearted self-help book for creatives of any kind, it contains plenty of helpful advice – all of which Kleon advises the reader to take or leave as they see fit. For me personally the best tip was to think of other people’s work as a resource to build on. “Nothing is original,” Kleon points out. “All creative work builds on what came before. […] If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” This single insight has shifted my understanding of research for OCA assignments from being a chore to being source material for my own ideas. Not only had I previously seen research as a kind of box-ticking exercise designed to prove that I understood the context of my own work, but I’d actually been reluctant to look at other people’s work before coming up with my own ideas for an assignment because I felt obliged not to copy their ideas so felt it would be better not to know about them rather than find myself restricted. Understanding that the opposite is true has been really empowering and I’m grateful to both Austin Kleon and Kate for putting me on the right track.

References and resources

Kleon, A. (2012) Steal Like an Artist. New York: Workman Publishing Inc.

Roland Barthes: Mythologies

Barthes’ Mythologies might just be the funniest book I’ve ever read – I’m actually only halfway through it but am enjoying it so much I’m reading it slowly so it doesn’t end too soon. Most chapters are only a couple of pages long, and they cover subjects as diverse as wrestling, the royal yacht, hairstyles (on monks and in Hollywood movies), sweat, wine, writers’ holidays, steak and chips and much more – basically any subject in which Barthes detects pompous absurdities. He then unravels the pretensions simply by describing the subject in forensic detail – a process whereby he spells out all the associated cultural assumptions and implied values and brings their ludicrousness into full view. Apart from the entertainment value involved in these skewerings, from which he obviously derives great enjoyment, Barthes is making a serious point about the need for a cultural observer of any description to be able to recognise and deconstruct these ubiquitous fallacies and myths, and provides a series of masterclasses in how to do so.

References and resources

Barthes, R. (1993) Mythologies. London: Random House.

Reflection on Francesca Woodman

The view is often expressed that Francesca Woodman’s work portrays – as the OCA document for this chapter puts it – “dark psychological states and disturbing scenes” and thus reveals the artist’s depressive condition and explains, even prefigures, her suicide in 1981 at the age of 22. Tate (2018) says her images “convey an underlying sense of human fragility” and explore themes such as “questions of self, body image, alienation, isolation and confusion or ambiguity about personal identity”, while Bright (2011) puts it even more bluntly: “It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits… as alluding to a troubled state of mind.”

I strongly disagree both with these readings of Woodman’s work and with the assumption that she had a depressive personality. Taking the second point first, the fact that she suffered from depression following a move to New York in 1979 does not mean that she was by nature or habit depressive. It is not at all uncommon for people to experience a period of depression when circumstances are inconducive to their sense of well-being – and it’s not difficult to imagine all sorts of aspects of city life that Woodman might have found restrictive or alienating. A depressive episode triggered by a change in circumstances is sometimes described as exogenous depression and is considered in such an analysis to be very different to endogenous depression, which has no apparent trigger and may have genetic and/or hormonal causes.

Evidently the assumption amongst commentators who believe they see a troubled mind even in Woodman’s pre-1979 work (which includes many of her best-known photographs) is that she had endogenous depression – in other words, that her depression pre-dated her move to New York and was an intrinsic part of her personality. There is no evidence for such an assumption beyond a reading of her work as being dark and disturbed – a reading that in my view is based entirely on an ex post facto awareness of her suicide.

My own reading of Woodman’s images is that they are light and carefree, and capture her playful experiments with space, time, light, texture and a few quirky props she finds to hand. Her obvious delight in visual puns suggests an upbeat demeanour, and her engagement with them to my mind expresses her sense of being at one with the world around her as she merges herself with wallpaper, a swan, birch trees, window shutters, curtain ribbon, tree roots and (in her blurred self-portraits) light. I see no sign that any of these mergings represent, as is often claimed, Woodman’s wish to hide or erase herself – or as the OCA notes put it, “to help herself disappear”. Indeed, her own parents feel that her work has been misinterpreted: “Fans and critics alike, [her parents] believe, tend to ignore the humour in [their] daughter’s work.” (Cooke, 2014).

And yes, she did commit suicide. But again, the tragic fact that she wished to die instead of live on that particular day after a relationship break-up does not mean that she lived any part of her life before that in the shadow of suicidal intent. Of course, I can’t prove that she didn’t, any more than anyone else can prove that she did, except by looking at her work – and what I see there is the joyful, life-affirming worldview of a startlingly creative young woman who is confident of who she is and what she does – an artist producing works of timeless poetry.

References and resources

Bright. S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames & Hudson.
Cooke, R. (2014) ‘Searching for the real Francesca Woodman’, The Guardian. Available at [accessed 12.06.18]
Schimelpfening, N. (2018) Endogenous and exogenous depression. Available at [accessed 12.06.18]
Tate (2018) ‘Finding Francesca’. Available at [accessed 12 June 2018]

Reflection on copyright

Since starting the OCA photography degree course in January, I had been under the impression that the use of other people’s images in my blog fell within the scope of the “fair use” provisions of copyright law because the blog is part of my formal academic studies. But thanks to a debate on the OCA student forum which can be read here, I have been disabused of this impression. Taking into account also the points that were made in that conversation about looking at the issue from the point of view of the photographers who made them, I have now removed all such images, with the exception of two from The Guardian which are integral to a specific exercise and I feel need to be viewed simultaneously with the text for the purposes of the exercise.

Reflection on defining myself

In the course of working on CAN assignment 3, Putting yourself in the picture, I spent a lot of time thinking about the questions, What defines me? And where can it be found? I found it really difficult to find answers to these questions. I work alone and independently on several different kinds of project, so don’t have a professional identity, a job title, or even a set of tasks that I can use as a shorthand to tell people about the way I spend my time. I am single and have no children so don’t define myself in relation to a family situation except in the sense of being unattached. Eighteen months ago I moved to a new city when my decades-long relationship ended abruptly and unexpectedly, so neither my home nor my location reveal very much about me.

After finding that I was unable to convey any deep sense of myself via my surroundings or circumstances I began to think about the question of who I am essentially, what it is that makes me uniquely me. Something I had already discovered in the previous year as I reconnected with old friends from different periods in my life is that people do have a core essence that is immutable and instantly recognisable even after decades without contact. There is a split-second adjustment as the mind’s-eye image is updated, then you see the same person you knew 30, 40, even 50 years ago, with the same mannerisms, gestures and facial expressions.

I decided to see if I could find my own essential self by sifting through my photo boxes to create a chronological chain of pictures of myself, and was surprised to find that I felt I could see in many of the images not just who I was then but also who I am now, in exactly the same way that I recognised my old friends in their present form. I decided to recreate some of the images to investigate more objectively whether the same me was still visible. I made many attempts to capture the right stance and facial expression for each recreation, and although I didn’t manage to get any of them exactly right I nevertheless felt that the two versions captured something constant in me as well as some changes – not just the obvious physical ones but more subtle ones too. However, I began to feel that I was drifting away from the autobiographical brief into an exploration of identity, so after playing around with the concept for a few days I decided to shelve it for now with a view to potentially revisiting it in my next module, Identity and Place.

Update 2 November 2018

In the months since writing this post on 12 July I have continued to play around with placing myself beside or into old photos of myself to see if this provides clues to what makes me me and whether I’m the same me now as I was then, and with a view to possibly expanding this idea into my response to assignment 5. But after trying out a number of different ways of juxtaposing the two versions of myself (examples below) I didn’t feel any of them really addressed these questions in the way I hoped. I looked into getting the image pairs printed as single lenticular prints, which I felt might give more sense of the simultaneous closeness and distance of the two versions of myself, but found that it costs literally hundreds of pounds to get them made. I considered attempting to make them myself but was unable to find a UK source for the lens sheets, so I have tucked that possibility and this project away for potential future investigation and now intend to use a different idea for assignment 5.

Maria Short: Context and Narrative

I found this a very easy-read book covering pretty much the same ground as the OCA course notes for this module, except that its tone and careful spelling-out of even the most basic aspects of a project – half a page elaborating on the observation that the “choice of film type, speed and other technical considerations in relation to the intention and final output are important factors in the image-making process”, for example – suggests that it’s written for A-level students or someone with no previous experience of photography. For these reasons I found it surplus to requirements and it didn’t add anything to the considerable changes in my understanding and appreciation of the subject that I’d already gained from the OCA course materials. I did, however, read the book cover to cover in case I was missing anything, and found a few interesting snippets such as the observations of Josef Sudek’s assistant Sonja Bullaty about the lengths Sudek would go to to achieve the lighting conditions he sought:

“His sense of light became crucial, often planning for a year or more to capture the exact lighting situation… We set up the tripod and camera and then sat down on the floor and talked. Suddenly Sudek was up like lightning. A ray of sun had entered the darkness and both of us were waving cloths to raise mountains of dust ‘to see the light’, as Sudek said, Obviously he had known that the sun would reach here perhaps two or three times a year, and he was waiting for it.”

References and resources

Short, M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA.

Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida

I was expecting Camera Lucida to be like Image Music Text, which I’ve read several chapters of and found a lot more opaque than Mythologies, so I was pleasantly surprised to find Camera Lucida nearly as readable as Mythologies. Barthes’ reflections on the photographs he uses to illustrate his philosophical ideas gave me as much insight into the individual images and Barthes himself as they did into his primary subject, the ontology of photography. As in Mythologies, Barthes comes over as an extremely sensitive person with a strong sense of humour, attempting here to find a vocabulary to express his visceral and intuitive responses to particular photographs and to investigate whether these responses and their triggers are entirely subjective and unique to him or can be identified and described objectively. He defines two elements – the studium, the field of information contained in a photograph, and the punctum, an element that “rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me”, and concludes that the latter “is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there“.

It seems to me that in defining the punctum in Camera Lucida, Barthes has given a name to something he explored a few years earlier in a chapter of Image Music Text, ‘The Third Meaning’, in which he tries to locate the precise point of ‘obtuse meaning’ in a series of Eisenstein stills. Here too he is seeking to define what it is that pierces him with a sense of significance beyond what is provided by the obvious story in the image, and here too it is always a small detail, something that awakens something personal in him – something subconscious and intuitive like a dream or a distant memory.

References and resources

Barthes, R. (2000) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.
Barthes, R. (1987) Image Music Text. London: Fontana.
Barthes, R. (1993) Mythologies. London: Random House.

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery: Gilbert & George

Despite having been aware of Gilbert & George’s work since the 1980s and having seen it in galleries on numerous occasions in the past, it wasn’t until I visited the Gilbert & George Artist Rooms exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery last week that I consciously realised that their work is primarily photographic. From their 1969 photo diptych George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit through the 1972 film Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk, to a wall of domestic-scale framed photographs of pub scenes, hung in a higgledy-piggledy fashion and many of them blurred, to their 1981 film The World of Gilbert & George, and finally the huge multi-section images overpainted in bright colours like stained glass for which they are now best known, every piece in the exhibition was based on photography – mostly still, occasionally moving. How did I not notice this before? While the world debated whether photography could be considered art, it would seem that Gilbert & George quietly went about making art out of photography anyway. Perhaps people were so preoccupied by the content that they didn’t pay attention to the medium. My new perspective made me experience the works as if for the first time, and I found them fresh, uplifting and inspiring. Clearly, though, they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea: one visitor scrawled in large letters on the comment board: “KEEP IT PG!”

Artist Rooms: Gilbert & George is at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery to 2 September 2018. For more info see

Towner Art Gallery Eastbourne: At Altitude

I only recently discovered Mishka Henner, in the course of reading Robert Shore’s Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera, so when I heard that some of his works were on show in Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery, a 45-minute drive from me, I had to go and see them. As always, I was struck by how much more impressive the images are when seen in full size in a gallery-quality print than in a book, even though the reproductions in Shore are of an extremely high quality and a generous size compared to many similar photo books. There were actually only two Henner images in the exhibition, both from his Dutch Landscape series, taken from Google’s satellite images with pixellation added by the Dutch government to blot out locations it considers sensitive. As Henner has noticed, this pixellation not only draws attention to these sensitive locations, it also creates a readymade artwork.

As its title At Altitude suggests, aerial photography was the theme of the exhibition, which also included a diverse range of pieces ranging from some of the earliest photographs taken from hot air balloons to a supersized print of Wolfgang Tillmans’ End of Land, of a woman peering over the edge of Beachy Head. There were also several very engaging video installations including Tacita Dean’s A Bag of Air and 30km by Simon Faithfull, a bumpy and vertiginous film shot by a camera being carried to the margins of outer space by a weather balloon.

Although it was a fairly small exhibition, every piece was so interesting that I feel I need to visit again to do it all justice, and will do so perhaps later this week. But my overall takeaway from the show was the realisation that a fascinating and multilayered artwork can come from a very simple idea. This led me to the thought that my present feeling of being out of my depth and lacking creative insight, which has enveloped me since early on in the Context & Narrative module, is perhaps due to my current tendency to overthink things.

At Altitude is at Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne to 30 September 2018. For more information see

References and resources

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Robert Shore: Post-Photography

It took me a while to get around to reading this book after my EYV tutor Derek Trillo recommended it some months ago, perhaps because I felt intimidated by its huge weight (almost 1.7 kg) until I finally opened it a couple of weeks ago and immediately became absorbed. The format is very accessible – brief but informative profiles (a one-para bio plus artist’s statement) of 53 artists who work with photography in innovative ways, followed in each case by three to five pages of high-quality reproductions of the works referred to.

Before reading the book I was only familiar with a handful of the artists surveyed, so it has introduced me to a whole new world in which photographs are so much more than something created in a single click of the shutter. It has fundamentally changed my understanding of photography, and I am simultaneously overwhelmed and inspired by the apparently unlimited well of creativity that exists in this space.

References and resources

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Bishopstone Railway Station: A Longer View

Although I was really looking forward to seeing solargraphs in the flesh for the first time, the 13-mile drive along the coast from Brighton to Bishopstone is one I always enjoy, and Bishopstone itself is a bleakly beautiful area of Seaford, with a mile-long pebbled beach leading to the spectacular Seven Sisters cliffs, so I didn’t feel that my trip was a complete waste of time when I discovered on arriving at this exhibition that all the images had been torn down.

Note to self: remember this experience if I’m ever offered an exhibition in an unsupervised location with unrestricted public access.

A Longer View was scheduled to be at Bishopstone Railway Station, Seaford to 31 August 2018. For more information see

New perspective on CAN 1 Two sides of the story

When I was working on the first C&N assignment, Two sides of the story, I made several abortive attempts at different story pairs. One of these was about whether or not plastic “poop bags” should be used to dispose of dogshit, and I discarded it because I was frustrated to find that my photos didn’t offer the opposing storylines adequately by themselves and texts were vital to present the two arguments. This morning I realised I now understand something I didn’t understand then – that an important point of the assignment was that images can have different meanings/interpretations in different contexts. I now see that I could actually have used an identical set of images for both viewpoints, as demonstrated below, using text to guide the viewer towards a different set of conclusions in each case.

Story 1. Why dog owners should bag up their dogshit

1: If they don’t, it lies in wait to ruin the day of unsuspecting passers-by who tread in it.
2: As the dogshit spreads, more and more of the pavement is covered with a potentially toxoplasmosis-causing biohazard which people then tread into their homes.
3: Bagging it up prevents this danger.
4: It can then be safely disposed of.

Story 2. Why dog owners shouldn’t bag up their dogshit

1: Dogshit is biodegradable; plastic bags are not.
2: If left unbagged, it soon dries out and becomes inert.
3: Bagging it up prevents the natural process of biodegradation taking place.
4: Bagged-up dogshit goes to landfill, where even so-called biodegradable bags may not actually break down.

I am also not concerned now (as I would have been at the time I undertook the assignment) that the third image doesn’t quite fit comfortably with either storyline, the split in the poop bag somewhat undermining both statements. Now I like the slight feeling of unease and doubt that the discrepancy introduces. However, this particular story pair still feels more like propaganda than storytelling so I would still reject it today.

CAN 2 self-assessment

I learned a lot about the power of visual metaphor through doing this assignment and even more about the polysemic nature of images and the extent to which the viewer creates their own reading. Connecting with the forums for the first time since I started the course, I also discovered the sometimes painful but always productive benefits of peer feedback, and my work for both this assignment and every subsequent one has been greatly improved by the inputs I have received from this source.

In selecting the images I used for the assignment I looked for consistency in lighting and shadow, and for resonances between the various objects resulting from their shape, colour or emotional impact. The resulting set of seven images gave a slightly lop-sided impression which seemed appropriate to the overall feeling I wanted to convey, so I left it with the trailing and slightly incongruous final image of photographs instead of balancing it up with an eighth image.

I prepared both a Blurb book and a wall poster as presentation options for this work, but was guided by my tutor away from these over-elaborate constructions and eventually settled for straightforward prints, which I cropped to a square format having used this format in the draft book I made up and liking the way this focused attention on the objects. On reviewing the assignment prior to assessment, however, I decided the images required a presentation format that resonated more strongly with their subject matter, so transfer-printed them onto calico to create a rag book, which gave them a stronger sense of nature mortes.

My self-assessment ratings for this assignment are as follows:

Starting to think about sustaining my practice

I am very aware that I have a long way to go before I find my voice and understand what I’m trying to say with my photography, and until a few days ago I had no thought whatever of putting my work out into the wider world. But when Alan515735 started a thread on the Discuss forum about his submission to the FORMAT 19 open call I thought of the speech given in 2015 by Thijs groot Wassink (right), in which he advised his audience of graduating students to enter all the competitions they could find and then forget about them, so that from time to time they might have a nice surprise. (There are many other wonderful pearls of wisdom in Thijs’s speech, which I highly recommend to anyone.)

While this forum discussion was underway I saw a Facebook post inviting submissions to the 2019 BJP OpenWalls exhibition in Arles and, inspired by the example set by Alan and Kate513940, decided on a whim to enter. The theme was Home & Away, so I submitted six images from my C&N assignment 3 that seemed to fit the Home theme. Having done that, I thought why stop there? Why not join Alan and Kate in entering FORMAT 19 too? So I did, with nine images from the Languages of Light assignment I did for EYV. This was rather more challenging, because I had to write a bio and a statement about the work, but it struck me that there is no better time to start learning how to do this than the present, and that by starting now I might actually be quite good at it by the time my work reaches the kind of standard that might stand a chance in these competitions.

The FORMAT 19 application also asked for entrants’ website addresses, which led me to think that I should make myself a basic personal website at, which I’ve owned for years but have used only for email until now. So I’ve spent the past few days doing exactly that, and this too was a really useful exercise because attempting to write descriptions of the included projects made me look at them outside of the framework of the assignment briefs for the first time. It also led me to think about what, if anything, they all have in common, which gave me the first faint inklings of what it might be that motivates me as a photographer.

I’m thinking of all this as very much an ongoing work in progress, something that over time I can refine and improve, replacing what’s there with better work as and when it emerges. But I feel that by doing these things this week I’ve made a statement of intention to myself, and although I’m not yet ready for this path, by starting to lay its foundations now I should have a solid basis in place by the time I am.

Volunteering for the Brighton Biennial

A couple of months ago I responded to a request from Photoworks for volunteers to assist with the Brighton Biennial, which runs from 28 September to 28 October, and on Tuesday evening we had our first meeting with volunteer coordinator Ricardo Reverón Blanco and programme manager Claire Wearn, where we introduced ourselves and learned about the kind of work we’ll be doing.

Our main task will be invigilating the shows taking place in the pop-up exhibition spaces, which don’t have full-time staff like the larger venues do. This will involve making visitors welcome, answering their questions, and asking them whether they’d be willing to fill out questionnaires – an important source of visitor data which is vital to support Photoworks’ funding applications for the 2020 Biennial. There will also be some office work available, mostly entering the visitor data into a database, and over the next couple of weeks there will be a few opportunities for getting involved with installing the shows, mostly in the form of painting walls.

Photoworks’ new director Shoair Mavlian, previously a curator at Tate Modern, is curating this year’s Biennial, which has the very topical theme of A New Europe. I’m excited about being involved, albeit in a very small way, and am looking forward to seeing all the exhibitions.

Further reflection on assignment 3

My tutor provides feedback on assignments in a multi-stage format which I find extremely helpful. First he makes a pdf of my assignment post and marks up my text and/or images with specific comments. Next he creates a framework formative feedback form and sends both these documents to me. We then arrange a date to discuss it all online, which might be a week later or more. This interval gives me time to go through his comments and make changes that now seem appropriate, and means that the subsequent online session is far more productive and useful than it would otherwise be.

In my assignment 3 I had considered transfer-printing my images by hand onto muslin, and my tutor’s marked-up pdf suggested that I give it a go. I immediately realised that it would indeed be a good thing to do, even though I’d already gone down a different fabric-printing route which had produced an outcome that had received a positive response during peer critique. So I spent the next two days doing this, and found the exercise to be unexpectedly revealing as it led me down a train of thought that allowed me to see the images I’d made for the assignment in a very different light.

The first thing I noticed about this new print was the fact that the materiality of the images was strongly emphasised due to the grain of the muslin fabric, and that this seemed particularly prominent 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 with the force of a revelation just how much of my personal story the images actually reveal – something that I really hadn’t understood until that moment. I saw that they speak directly about a sense of solitude and the routines that have been a key element in the long period of adjustment I’ve been going through since my 25-year relationship ended unexpectedly last year – routines that create calming familiarity and track incremental change in the small shifts that occur in their repetitions.

It is the second part of this equation that I recognised in the multiple formats, and I began to consider creating a book and a video to provide further shifting perspectives on the work. My ultimate idea was to combine all five formats into a single installation, with the video displayed at around 3 x 2 metres, the organza hung in an open space where its ephemerality can be appreciated and where passing bodies cause it to flutter, the photo prints and muslin hung on adjacent walls with the prints matching the 3 x 4 layout of the images on muslin, and copies of the book available for viewing at a table. I discussed all 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 perhaps the least likely of the formats I will choose, 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 of the photographer’s interests and preoccupations than they might consciously intend. I had actually considered using the story of my relationship breakdown for this autobiographical assignment, but had discarded the idea at an early stage when I found that the images I was making were essentially clichéd, although I did reclaim two of them for this later attempt in which my original intention was simply to document my daily life as seen through my own eyes. 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.

The Photography MA show at Brighton University

My niece Lara, who studied photography at UWE and has a friend who just completed her MA at Brighton, brought this show to my attention, and I’m really pleased she did because it hadn’t come up on any of my usual information channels. Lara sent me the details in an Artrabbit link, and when I downloaded their app I also found two more interesting exhibitions I hadn’t been aware of, both part of the Brighton Digital Festival, which I visited after the MA show and the following day respectively.

At the MA show I noticed that the themes and concerns of all the photographers were very much in alignment with the subjects and approaches we’ve been studying in C&N, focusing largely on issues of identity and subjective experience, and that I was consquently able to read and understand them far better than I could have done before starting the module. One thing that stood out and surprised me, however, was the number of students working in b&w. It didn’t occur to me to count them, but my retrospective impression is that the proportion was somewhere around 25 to 30 per cent.

Another thing that surprised me was that (if I recall correctly; again I didn’t count at the time) all except three students exhibited only prints, the exceptions being one exhibit consisting of photographs of the sky cut into small squares and made into a kinetic sculpture, another being a slideshow projected onto one pane of a battered old four-pane window frame suspended from the ceiling, and – my favourite piece in the show – a video by Gina Kawecka of women swimming, shot just below the waterline and inverted, so that the interplay of the light and the water surface looked like an alien environment in which the strange and clumsy gracefulness of the humans was emphasised and the inversion of the image also inverted the perception of our place in the world.

The 2018 Photography MA show is at Brighton University’s galleries at Grand Parade from 15 to 20 September. For more information see

Images from Inner Rooms (2018) © Greta Lorimer. For more info see

Stills from Immerse (2018) © Gina Kawecka. For more info see

Susan Bright: Auto Focus

I found this book a real eye-opener and was amazed to discover the depth and breadth of today’s interpretation of the self-portrait. Bright’s commentaries are hugely insightful and helpful and the book is beautifully designed, with excellent reproductions which are large enough to see clearly and are printed on high-quality paper which brings out the colour and detail.

The book was recommended to me by OCA student Allan513287 during a forum discussion about my own attempts to find a way of putting myself in the picture. For the project in question I actually excluded myself from the images, an approach that falls outside of the definition Bright used for this book, in which the self-portraits must show the artist. Bright divides her study into five categories based on the artists’ approaches to self-portraiture: Autobiography, Body, Masquerade, Studio & Album and Performance. This segmentation is very helpful in enabling the reader to get a sense of the overall terrain covered by this genre today and beginning to understand the many different ways of thinking about the subject of self-portrayal.

I’m now torn between reading the whole book again so that I can really get it all into my head or moving on to her Art Photography Now. But I’ve had exactly the same feeling after finishing all the really good books I’ve read for this course, to the extent that it’s a relief when I don’t get that feeling, and I now know that the correct response is always to move on to another one, because there are so many excellent books to discover and because I will never be able to completely absorb the entire contents of the good ones in the way I feel I want to.

References and resources

Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson.

CAN 3 self-assessment

The most important thing I learned from this assignment is that shooting intuitively without a specific plan or visualisation in mind is (for me at least) a much better way of approaching a subject than trying to create it intellectually or too consciously. Having made two different sets that consciously responded to the requirement for a biographical theme and found them lacking in interest, I shot this third set simply by selecting views that my eyes fix on for extended periods during a typical day, and only much later came to realise that they are in fact quite intensely autobiographical, not just in their portrayal of my daily life but in their emotional resonance. The lack of personal or interpersonal references, the sense of life reduced to essential routine… this is indeed the reality of my existence as I continue to build a new lifestyle and sense of identity after my 25-year relationship ended last year.

My edit of the set was done in a similarly intuitive way; while there is some sense of progression through the day, and colour, texture and form all come into play, the main criterion I used to sequence the images was that they felt as if they were in the correct order, and didn’t feel so right if they were ordered differently. Consequently this is the first project I’ve done on the course that really feels like a personal expression. I am not quite certain how I did it and don’t know whether I could repeat the same approach (catch-22: thinking about not thinking), but I am happy with how it turned out.

As  I explored the use of different media to print the images I discovered that each brought out a different – often unexpected – aspect of them, and that this array of slightly different viewpoints/interpretations collectively emphasises both the repetitive routines of daily living that are the subject of the images and the ability of such routines to act as calibration devices for measuring incremental change. I am, however, aware that submitting multiple formats may not be appreciated by assessors so have not submitted them all. Nevertheless my future vision would be to present the five variants (photobook, photo prints, prints on muslin, amalgamated print on organza, and video) in a gallery installation.

My self-assessment ratings for this assignment are as follows:

Developing an idea for assignment 5

Since completing assignment 3 a few months ago I’ve been playing around with a couple of ideas that might be suitable for assignment 5. Both of them revolve around questions of time, place and identity, but one is essentially an exploration of personal identity while the other focuses more on place, and after a lot of experimentation and deliberation I’ve decided to go ahead with the latter.

This idea stems from exploring the history of the 1850s Brighton flat that’s been my home since the beginning of last year, which I’ve become conscious of through quirks of the building, taking guided architectural tours of the area, lease documents, googling, letters that arrive for people long gone, and the flat’s aura of historical occupation. I searched in vain for a genuine photograph of the original owners, who built the house and owned it for two generations, so decided to use a photograph of another family from around the same period to represent them. I had carried out several experiments with printing on semi-translucent fabric for assignment 3, and felt that this could also offer a way to bring the family’s presence into my flat, if I printed the image at full life size and hung it in the room as part of a scene which also included me. I made an A4 transfer print test on muslin.

I then decided to include inhabitants from a selection of other eras, 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 time 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. I then printed the composite image on muslin to see how it worked on the semi-transparent fabric. I also wanted to get an impression of what the effect would be of having the image as a life-sized backdrop to a scene in which I also appeared, so mocked that up in Photoshop.

I also explored the idea of projecting (rather than printing) the composite image onto a muslin or similar 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, plus it only really works with cut-out figures, not full-width images like my composite.

I decided the next step should probably be to make some more considered images of myself, perhaps posing for my portrait in the same manner as the “ghosts”, to see how they work with the composite image. I also thought about including myself as one of the layers of the printed composite image instead of hanging the print and shooting myself in front of it to create the final work, because it would emphasise my status as just one more of the cycle of inhabitants and avoid the possibility that the final image might just turn out to look like a photo of me sitting in front of a wall hanging. So I added a shot of my front room as a background layer to the composite to see what this would look like. I also experimented with making myself less opaque so that the transient nature of my own inhabitance was emphasised.

My present inclination is to get this version printed at a large scale, as close to life-size as I can have it done at a reasonable price, and make that print the final work rather than re-shoot the print in situ. But first this seems like a very good time to request peer feedback, so I’ve decided to ask for that at the next Sunday forum which takes place in a few days from now.

My work as a Brighton Biennial volunteer

The Brighton Biennial has now ended, bringing to a close the six weeks I spent working as a volunteer before and during the festival, which has been a far more rewarding and enjoyable experience than I anticipated. The social side has been a huge bonus and I’ve met the entire Photoworks team, other volunteers, a few curators and artists, and literally hundreds of exhibition visitors and other members of the public.

I have become very familiar with all the works in the festival, and have spent many long hours in the presence of some of them, which has taught me how much more there is to find in a piece than is first apparent. Some of these insights came simply from looking and allowing my thoughts to develop; others came from watching the public’s reactions and hearing their questions and comments. Uta Kögelsberger’s Uncertain Subjects Part II, for example, a performative piece in which 24 head-and-shoulders portraits were displayed in relays on the side of a shipping container over the course of the festival, prompted a surprising number of people to tell me they recognised one or more of the faces but couldn’t quite place them. As this happened several times every day I was in this location, I came to understand that this sense of familiarity was almost certainly due to the way Uta had photographed her subjects, naked and with completely neutral expressions, which seems to have made them into something approaching archetypes.

Much of the volunteer work was invigilation, and doing this in different venues with different degrees of public access (small dedicated gallery spaces vs spaces within Brighton University vs spaces within and outside the public library) gave me unexpected insights into the way different people react to artworks. The most interesting thing I learned from the public library spaces was that a small but vocal proportion of the general public feel strongly that artworks should not represent a single point of view but should also include its converse. Some saw this requirement as flowing from its public location, others from the assumption that public funding was involved, and others simply felt that there was a general moral duty for “balanced” argument. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the works that prompted these responses were the aforementioned Uta Kögelsberger portraits, each of which was accompanied by a statement by the subject about Brexit, the call for participants having been a request for people who felt their views weren’t being heard in the current debate. What was more surprising to me was that it wasn’t only self-confessed Brexiteers who felt the work was too partisan; some who claimed to have voted Remain also believed that the artist should have made more effort to ensure her subjects represented the 48/52 divide of the referendum.

The Brighton Biennial study visit

The OCA study visit to Brighton Biennial allowed me to take a final look at all the works and gave me a chance to see the changes that had taken place in Émeric Lhuisset’s unfixed cyanotypes over the month they were on display (above). It was also a great opportunity to discuss all the works with other people – one thing that my volunteering work hadn’t given me except in my role as information provider. I also got to see some of the Fringe exhibits that I hadn’t seen previously.

But for me the best aspect of the three days was spending time with other OCA students, a small number of whom I’d met at the previous study visit I attended, to see the 2018 Deutsche Börse Prize nominees at the Photographers Gallery. Meeting so many fellow students (I would estimate around 20–25 attended in total over the three days) has further strengthened my sense of being part of something bigger than just my own studies, which was something I lacked until I started participating in the forums and group hangouts in around June or July this year.

I really enjoyed the entire programme OCA tutor Jayne Taylor had arranged for us, but found Sunday’s crit session the most enlightening and productive of all, which was certainly not what I had expected as I thought I disliked group discussions of this kind. It was really inspiring to see the work other people are engaged in and hear them talk about it, especially the Level 3 students. I have started to think that if I keep on plodding through the course, one day I too may produce work of a similar intellectual and artistic standard.

First steps with colour management

A week ago, after months of deliberation, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a printer capable of producing decent-quality photographic prints, settling for the Canon Pro 100-S due to its lower price and smaller size than the other Canon options. I also ordered the Colormunki Display calibration tool on the basis that getting to grips with screen colour management now would save me a lot of ink and printing paper in the future. The Colormunki arrived a couple of days before the printer, and technical issues meant it took me both those days to get it set up and working… as is so often the case, the really time-consuming part was finding out what was causing the issues, and fixing them was quick and easy once I knew that.

Once it was all set up properly I ran the Colormunki software and was astonished to find that it adjusted my screen to a far darker, far more saturated and far warmer setting than I’m used to. I repeated the process half a dozen times in total, using easy set-up mode and advanced mode with a number of different options. While the results varied to some extent, in each case they were dark, saturated and warm-toned. And it wasn’t just my internal computer environment… all the images on my blog suddenly looked oversaturated and too dark, and I wondered whether I was now seeing them as they appear to PC users. I checked other sites. On the Guardian Michel Barnier looked as if he’d just emerged from a session on Donald Trump’s sunbed, so I concluded that the ColorMunki profile is intended specifically to colour-match the profiles used by printers and is not a general “correct” or objectively definitive setting for all environments.

Further revelations followed after my printer arrived and I got that set up, another lengthy process as I went round in circles trying to connect it to my wifi network. (Tip for other Apple Airport users: the WPS “button” on Apple routers is a software connection you make in the Airport Utility app. You’re welcome.) And yes, the ColorMunki screen setting gave a reasonably good match between what I see on screen and what comes out of the printer… after I discovered the Proof Setup option in Photoshop’s View menu and selected the correct Device to Simulate.

So I’ve made a start on this new learning curve, but now have a stack of other questions to investigate. Do I need to use different monitor profiles when I’m preparing images for print and web respectively? What I’ve learned so far leads me to think I do. Does this mean I need to create two separately colour-adjusted versions of an image for web publication and printing on my printer? Again, it would seem so. Should I allow ColorMunki to continually adjust for changing ambient light in my working environment? The match between screen and printer strayed considerably as the evening drew in and ColorMunki responded by darkening my screen, so perhaps I shouldn’t. Is it better to allow the printer or than Photoshop to manage colours? I will need to run a lot of experiments and/or do some googling and/or ask others to find the answers to these questions and many others that have arisen during my first real attempt to get to grips with this complex subject. But at least I’ve now made a start.

CAN 4 self-assessment

I feel I got to grips pretty thoroughly with both the theoretical underpinnings of this assignment, specifically an appreciation and (sufficient) understanding of Barthes’ schema, and its application to the image I chose to analyse for the assignment. I enjoyed discovering that Barthes is not as inaccessible as I’d believed him to be and is actually very funny, and that his intention is not at all to mystify but the opposite: to demystify and thereby deflate the pretensions and pomposities of cultural communications.

My self-assessment ratings for this assignment are as follows:

Photography reading group hangouts

It took me six months after I began my OCA course to take the leap into using the forums and hangouts, but once I started doing so towards the end of May this year, I quickly came to understand what valuable resources they are. The monthly photography reading group hangout initiated and organised by Emma516689 is now a regular item in my diary, offering the opportunity to explore a key text in a informal group setting. Since I joined the group we have discussed Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image, Bazin’s Ontology of the Photographic Image, Grundberg’s Crisis of the Real and Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s Inside/Out. Next month will be a chapter (tbc) from Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography. I find these discussions always bring new perspectives to my reading of the texts, and together with the other forum and hangout activities they make the experience of studying at OCA much more like attending a b&m university than I ever imagined possible, so I’m really grateful to Emma for making them happen.

CAN 5 self-assessment

Creating this composite image required me to considerably improve the pre-existing skills I had in cutting out and blending layers in Photoshop, so I took my laptop along to invigilation sessions and practiced during any quiet periods that arose throughout the month I was working as a volunteer at Brighton Biennial. I knew that working at the highest possible resolution would produce the best end-result, so size was the most important filter I used when searching for images to represent residents from different periods in history. Large image sizes were also vital in view of the intention I had to print the composite onto fabric at or near life size.

The composite image uses three found, one personal family archive and three specially shot images, and it took quite some time to adjust the size and position of each one such that the people were sufficiently matched in scale and the overlays fell so as to create interesting serendipitous effects like the matriarch with a floor-length skirt simultaneously appearing to be hitching it over her knees. I used different overlays and opacity settings for every layer, experimenting with these settings and with layer ordering until I achieved the effect I was looking for.

During the project’s development I investigated the possibility of projecting the image at life size onto a fabric screen as an alternative to print, and learned that projecting onto polyester mesh fabrics can be very effective in creating ghostly images. Although I didn’t end up going down this route, it is something I may well pick up again in the future, as is the large-scale print idea, which I dropped at a late stage due to time and financial constraints. I was also doubtful whether the 300 x 232 cm I was considering would be suitable for viewing in the assessment room. Again, however, looking into large-scale fabric printing was a learning curve that I believe will come in useful in the future. The presentation option I finally chose was to print the image on my newly acquired A3 Canon Pro 100-S inkjet printer, a process which entailed further large learning curves in screen calibration and printer settings.

From a creative point of view, I am fairly happy with the image and feel it expresses what I sought to capture, although I am aware that not everyone finds it engaging. I feel it also captures elements of my own exploration of personal identity in what has been an extended period of adaptation to enormous life changes for me. As with Assignment 3, this is not something I sought to include but something I noticed subsquently, and again I worked intuitively, building the image step by step rather than starting with a master plan, so this is one of the most important lessons of C&N for me – to work from my heart and not my head.

My self-assessment ratings for this assignment are as follows:

Howarth & McLaren: Family Photography Now

What a beautiful and inspiring book this is! A survey of 40 photographers’ approaches to photographing a diverse range of family groupings, the factor that unites these projects is the honesty and sensitivity of the portrayals, which moved me to tears on several occasions. The writing is as tender but unsentimental as the images, and together they offer a beacon of tolerance and hope in a world that seems sadly lacking in these qualities at the present time. A reference I will undoubtedly return to repeatedly.

References and resources

Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. (2016) Family Photography Now. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Reflection on my progress through CAN

This module has been a powerful catalyst for me in a number of ways. It has expanded my insight into several genres of photography and in particular has fundamentally shifted my understanding and appreciation of photographic investigations into ideas of self and identity, in which I previously had little interest but which I now look forward to exploring in greater depth in my next module.

It also prompted me to start engaging with the forums and hangouts, which I initially found nerve-wracking but which has enriched both my work and my experience of studying with OCA immeasurably. Peer feedback has on occasions forced me to face uncomfortable truths about work I’ve submitted for comment and when this has happened I’ve produced something better and/or more appropriate for the brief. At other times it has given me the confidence to proceed with something I was unsure about. And gradually getting to know my fellow travellers on this journey has made me feel less isolated and more supported.

Photography-related reading and research has become deeply embedded in my daily lifestyle as I’ve become ever more aware of the important role that understanding the work of others plays in creating and understanding my own work. I have learned that other students’ blogs are a valuable resource of ideas and approaches. I have joined the reading group organised by Emma516689 and have hugely enjoyed these discussions, finding also that I read the texts with a slightly different eye when I’m preparing to discuss them compared with reading solely for my own purposes – instead of focusing on trying to absorb the material I automatically read with an eye that’s a little more analytical.

I have learned many new technical skills and improved others, from cutting out images and blending image layers, to colour management and print settings, to basic video production. I have improved my self-reflection and documentation of my processes, and have learned that this is not just for the benefit of tutors and assessors but provides a valuable resource in and of itself. And I feel that the quality of my work has improved as I have come, in the course of all these developments, to have a better understanding of the aims and language of art photography.