IAP A2: reflection after tutor feedback

My tutor suggested that I go back to the original images to create a new edit that gets closer to investigating the emotions and feelings around my sister and her post-breast explant surgery story rather than documenting the literal journey to the clinic. I found this a really helpful suggestion, because I had sensed that I’d focused too closely on documenting the journey itself, but hadn’t been able to pinpoint what the alternative element was.

I now realise also that I had been trying to edit the series to fit the brief as closely as possible instead of building the narrative supplied by the images on its own terms. So I literally went back to all 800 or so original images and created a new edit from scratch. This is the edit that now appears in the A2 assignment post. I am much happier with this one – I feel that it hangs together better both visually and as a narrative series, and also offers more insight into Jane’s experience.

Nine of the 12 images from the first edit made it through to the second edit, but these three didn’t make the cut this time:

And three new images joined the edit. I didn’t consciously aim to keep the same number of images – it might have been that the new edit contained only five or six images in total, but once I’d gone through the process of creating a new shortlist (numbering around 30) and whittling them down to remove those that were superfluous or didn’t fit so well with the overall look and feel, 12 images remained. These are the newcomers:

The first new image is a direct switch of Jane on the train to Birmingham in January 2020 for a similar image from the earlier surgery trip in June 2019. This particular switch was suggested by my tutor, and I now recognise that the June 2019 image is a much better choice. My tutor also astutely recognised that “working on personal projects can be difficult, particularly looking in on family” and that “maybe you are having an issue with portraying your sister […] where she is off-guard, vulnerable, emotional.” This was an extremely helpful insight, as was the Larry Sultan video he referred me to, which I have reviewed in a previous post. I had indeed rejected the older image precisely because I knew that Jane wouldn’t like it, even though she has at no stage asked me not to include “unflattering” portraits of her. But this image hints at an important part of her experience in this story – her fears about the outcome of the surgery and the competence of the surgeon, which meant that she barely slept the night before we travelled to Birmingham and woke up with a migraine. It also illustrates, as my tutor put it, her vulnerability – she is asleep and oblivious as the world rushes by.

The other changes both relate to my now feeling less concerned with the requirements of the brief and more interested in the internal narrative of the series. In creating my original edit I was thinking of the images of Jane as being those that would fulfil the assignment brief (five portraits using studio and location) and the others as being a kind of extra that didn’t really count as part of the brief. Both of the remaining now-dropped images were portraits of Jane that were essentially there to make up the numbers. And now that my tutor has encouraged me to think of the non-portrait images as being an equally important part of the series I have added two more of these, and feel that they both add something to the viewer’s understanding of Jane’s experience. I hadn’t registered previously that the news or weather reporter on the clinic’s TV screen is wearing an expression of horror and has her hands cupped close to her breasts in an out-of-control environment, and noticing this was part of the reason I included it this time. The fourth new image finds Jane’s surgery-related paraphernalia – the painkillers, antibiotics and dressings – making an incongruous companion to her stylish ankle boots.

These changes have also reduced the overall problems with noise and insufficiently sharp focus, as these issues occurred mostly with the portrait images. In fact my tutor had highlighted another two images of Jane as possible candidates for a new edit, but both of these had unfeasibly large amounts of noise, which of course wasn’t visible on the contact sheets.

After creating the new edit I also gathered together some of the most relevant research materials I had found while investigating the background issue of breast implants and breast implant-related disease. I have still not made a decision about whether to include these, or perhaps selected brief passages from them, in my final presentation for assessment, but having whittled them down to about a dozen documents and made tiffs of them, I now have them to hand in case I do want to include them when the time comes.

The full original edit I presented to my tutor for his feedback can be viewed below.

A2 original edit before tutor feedback