Assignment 5 Preparation – Making it up

Making it up

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.

As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images. The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas. This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece. You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualise your ideas.

The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. (Use flash/lights if required but available light is fine as long as it is considered.)

If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. For example, don’t automatically use red roses in a love scene but try to be subtle in your ideas to obtain a more true-to-life scenario.

For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).

Send your final image(s) to your tutor, along with your commentary and relevant pages of your learning log (or blog url).

At the start of this course when I looked through all of the assignments I would have to undertake I felt most daunted by Assignment 5. Now that I have arrived at the preparation stage for this assignment I feel much more confident about its planning and execution. Why?  Well I am viewing it as a culmination of the whole Context and Narrative journey and I generally feel a better image maker, not a great image maker, but definitely a more thoughtful one.

Throughout my OCA studies there has been reference to finding a ‘personal voice’, in the course materials and in the dialogue between students online, on both the OCA Forum and the numerous unofficial OCA social media sites. At this point 26 months into my degree programme, I am getting closer to a notion of the work I want to make and the idea of the autobiographical image has been a feature of most of my assignments on this course.

In planning  this assignment I thought it would be helpful to do a quick recap from memory of what I had covered in the course so far and who had been the influential photographers whose work and ideas had piqued my interest. While waiting for a train  I sat in a damp waiting room and I  drafted out a  quick chart of the C&N content, it was a useful exercise to do from recall alone and it helped me to begin to distill and create the idea that was to become the theme for this final assignment. 

Although not covering all of the course in detail, it still proved to be a valuable exercise, particularly in reminding me of the photographers whose work had had the most impact on me throughout the course. It was also helpful to see a clear train of learning from the initial exploration of the photograph as document, the ideas of reportage, the challenge of authenticity and the manipulated image. The work of W. Eugene Smith and the reasons for his departure from Life magazine reminded me of the fluid idea of what is real and what is not in an image. Then in part two the notion of narrative as story, but also as the link between images and how meaning can be communicated in a variety of ways.  Barthe’s idea of the death of the author, tackling the post modern narrative and the loss of primacy of the author. The idea of the reader/viewer creating meaning as being separate from the authors intent also  made me think about the idea of a narrative in general  and where the locus of contreol sits in the creation of meaning in both text and image.  Autobiography, the self absented portrait and the idea that an image can tell a story beyond the frame and its content has also been a clear message along the way. Masquerades and the photographer themselves being the focus of a project, but hidden and exposed simultaneously within a wider story made me think of the power of photography beyond it’s imagery and obvious initial content. The work of Lee, Morrissey  and Wearing really stand out in this section as does Shaffron and  Brothers.  Latterly Calypso’s ( see Christianson 2015) work has also influenced my thinking about masquerades, making it up and the self absented portrait.

All these artists  offer a narrative beyond the content of the frame. All to some extent use common tropes, the family portrait, the tourist photograph, the self portrait and the construction of  still life of domestic objects to mention a few,   to say something bigger about the human condition.

Decoding images and having to write about a single photograph in assignment 4 made me think in real detail about narrative, rudimentary semiotics, the sign and the signified and also placing work in a broader context and the concept of intertextuality. This notion in particular made me think about the natural and also accidental links between works in the same and different genres. Although not an exhaustive review of the course this was what I gleaned from just recall in a dreary railway station waiting room with paper pen and no access to my blog or the course materials. I was pleased with this exercise in recall!

The next stage in the assignment preparation was to pull out the work of photographers whose images and approach to image making seemed to be most relevant to my developing idea for a constructed image  for this assignment. Again, putting my thoughts on paper as a diagram assisted. From this I pulled out ideas based on the work of:

  • Cheryl Dunye and Zoe Leonard
  • Gregory Crewdson
  • Geoff Wall
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Tom Hunter
  • Jodie Taylor
  • Gillian Wearing
  • Hannah Starkey

While doing the research and preparation for the assignment two fortuitous things happened. I revisited the work of Jodie Taylor and I received an annual pension contributions statement from my employer. Two entirely unconnected events that led to a creative moment!

The genesis and development of an idea

I hated every day of school!

Attending secondary school in the 1970s, at a large urban secondary modern, was marginally more bearable than primary school, but only just. I generally hated school. The exception was the time I spent in woodwork lessons. They were a sort of haven, in no small part due to the kindness of Mr. Arkwright, a teacher who seemed to genuinely care and be interested in his pupils.

A very different educator to his peers, who with hindsight were cruel martinets, quick to use the cane and even quicker to point out your failings and inadequacies. A tough and at times brutal regime that made the idea that your schools days are the best of your life an utter absurdity. The secondary modern school was the home to those who had failed the 11+ and I recall being reminded of this on a regular basis. A topical issue in 2017 with marginal  government committed to opening new grammar schools (stop press, this might be off the table now), which by default will mean the downgrading of comprehensive schools to secondary moderns,  a thought that sends a chill down my spine! But I digress.

As a 15 year year old I found confidence and sense of self worth in being able to make accurately  measured and well cut mortice and tenon joints, dovetail joints and many other constructions in timber. All executed, planned and prepared with hand tools, through careful measurements and a can do spirit spurred on by a good teacher. First a jewellery box, then a small coffee table , then a chair. Moving from using cheap pine to then ash and oak, then teak and mahogany. I had an aptitude that meant I was trusted with higher grade materials. The experience of one part of school being positive and engaging helped my confidence and sense of self worth. In my final two years of secondary education I was set on becoming a carpenter, a career working with tools and wood, making things of value and usefulness. A future as an artisan was my plan for when I left school. The next step  would be an apprenticeship maybe, day release to technical college and a pathway to  earning a living making things in wood.

This never happened and a strange turn of events took me along a very different and highly ironic path and as I read my pension statement of April 2017 recording 34 years of service in the field of work I have been in for more than three decades, I pondered  on what life would be like and who I would be  had I taken the path of artisanship all those years ago.

I decided this would be the theme of a constructed stand alone image, an imagined me as an artisan worker in wood, as I might have envisioned myself all those years ago at school.

It has to be a fictional image for multiple reasons, firstly it isn’t who I am, but more importantly it won’t be like a genuine woodworking artisan in 2017, with all that technology affords such a worker today. I want the image to be a carpenter as envisioned by my 15 year old self, a fantasy made real through location, props and lighting. There is undoubted nostalgia in this work but also something about a fictitious tableaux  image, that reveals something about my past. I’d also like the work to invite the viewer  to consider who they might be at this point in their lives if they too had taken a different path at 15 or 16 years of age. I want the work to ask that question of others. Life is full of key points of decision making, but also key points to ask the question, what might have happened if I had chosen a different route?

My influences in creating this work were Jodie Taylor’s: Memories of Childhood, Nikki S. Lee’s Masquerade image and  Tom Hunter’s constructed images influenced by classical painting. In addition the tableaux approach of Goeff Wall and also the epic and filmic work of Crewdson also gave me food for thought. Cindy Sherman’s images or more specifically her fictitious but plausible within her work also offered some real inspiration. Reflecting on the work of these artists allowed me to begin to construct , or make up the idea for this final assignment

In short I set out to create a self portrait of who I would be now, based upon an imagined self from my adolescence. A fifty something self had I taken a very different path at the age of 16.

Creating a plausible fiction, Making it up!


I needed an authentic  location in which to make the work. I had thought of hiring a studio and taking some props, but decided early on I needed something more authentic. After some leg work I was offered access to  a modern carpentry workshop, set up with high tech equipment, a fully 21st century operation. That didn’t fit the bill  for the atmosphere I wanted to create in the work. My mid teens where in the middle of the 1970’s and my notions of wanting to be a carpenter were located in the workshop and tools of that era. Given I wanted to create an image of me as a carpenter in my mid 50’s it needed to be as I imagined it back then. Trapped in time, un-realistic and far more about a vision in my head as a teenager, than any contemporary notion of the woodworking artisan in 2017.

The rural landscape of East Anglia where I live, is littered with remnants of the second world war and in particular the remains of the 8th Army Air Corp of the United States. After the war some of those facilities were recycled and it was in one such location I found the exactly what I needed. In the 1950’s a local house builder in the village where I live bought and moved a wartime nissen hut to his premises. The hut was used as the workshop for his caparenters who made bespoke windows and doors for the houses he was building. He went out of business in the 1970’s (when I was still at school hundreds of miles away from this location and thinking it was a carpenter I would become) and the workshop fell into disuse, eventually being used for dry storage. Some traces of the nissen huts workshop past remain but when I found the location I needed to do a lot of tidying and clearing to make a usable location. It did have a workbench though and although the working space was cramped, I set about using this as the location for the work and clearing things out (with permission) in order to construct my plausible fiction.

The bench and the main shooting location

The lighting and also an image showing the relatively cramped condition in the location


In setting out to create a tableaux image I needed the right props. My image of me as a carpenter in my mid 50’s, as perhaps envisioned by my adoelscent self would be using hand tools and the sorts of tools that were used in a school woodwork room. Other than a lathe and a pilar drill all other items were basic hand tools, a try square, steel rule, pencil, chisels, a mallet a tack hammer and mortice gauge. A couple of car boot sales and  several eBay purchase proved beneficial and I was a blue to assemble the tools I envisioned using in the assignment.

The range of tools as props, not all were used

There was also what to wear? I have no doubt that my 16 year old selfs vision of a carpenter was  was shaped by Mr. Arkwright and his appearance. Unlike the other practical subject teachers, he always wore a collar and tie, what I now know to be a regimental tie and cufflinks. He also wore a white lab coat ( not the manila beige coats of his fellow practical subject teachers. His lab coat pocket filled with pens and pencils was also a feature I recall. I didd’t know any carpenters and my positive engagement with woodwork, shaped by a helpful and positive teacher created a sort of fantasy that being a carpenter would be like being Mr. Arkwright!

This then became part of making up my plausible fiction. I acquired a white lab coat , a regimental tie and the pre requites pan and pencils for the lab coat pocket. Reflecting on the military striped tie neatly in place created an echo of a time before health and safety regulations. 


The assignment forced me to really push the boundaries in using lighting. I tend to use natural light and have some rudimentary skills in the use of  speedlights. For this work I set out to create the sort of lighting that is use in environmental portraits, the sort that might be used in advertising materials or magazine articles. The nissen hut had poor quality fluorescent lighting that would not be helpful and also had a number of windows allowing natural light. One of which was large and given the restrictions of space and where I could place the camera and me as the subject, meant it would be behind me. I  did a lot of experimentation with both multiple speedlights, umbrellas and reflectors and also some daylight balanced continuos lighting from a softbox.  the corrugated scripture of the building created some strange effect that I was able to counter through experiment.


I was able to practice and experiment at the location and eventually settled on a mix of daylight for backlighting, a single high power daylight balance continuous light and a speed light and umbrella running at just 30 %. The diagram below shows the arrangement at the location. It also illustrates the mix of light sources I was manipulated to achieve my desired outcome. What the diagram can’t show is the effects that all light sources, artificial and natural have when directed in a corrugated nissen hut, which is in effect a giant baffle.

Lighting arrangements

It is also worth noting that the diagram shows the final position of the lighting, but during the image making process the camera position was changed slightly with the final images being made with the camera off set to let from the position in the diagram

Camera and Lenses

This assignment was a solo effort much like assignment three. It would have been great to have had an assistant but in  truth having to work alone pushed the boundaries technically for me. I used a crop sensor camera, initially with a zoom lens until I understood the space and location better and then switched to a  fast prime lens  approximating to 50mm on a full from camera. The camera was mounted on a tall tripod and I aligned if from a step ladder in order to get the height I wanted. like the experiments with the lighting I made a number of self timer images to get the framing that i wanted.

I used a wireless trigger for the speed light that also allowed me to control the flash output remotely. In addition I used the camera wirelessly tethered to an tablet. This allowed me to frame and focus as well as get a quick preview of the images. Had I not done this I  think I would have taken days to get an image I was happy with.

Location of the iPad for wireless control o the cameras functions

I set up the location and made the images over two days , around 300 images were made included the location light testing shots.

All in all this was a very enjoyable, nostalgic and personally thought provoking assignment to execute, one that I learned much from, technically, artistically and also psychologically.


Boothroyd, S. (2015) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art, Thames and Hudson, London

Christianson, H. (2015) The photographer went on a one woman honeymoon, Dazed- found at : (Accessed June 2017)

Cosgrove , B. (2012) W.Eugene Smith’s landmark Portrait: Country Doctor 1948 Found at: (Accessed June 2017)

Kino, C. (2006) Now in Moving Pictures: The Multitudes of Nikki S. Lee, New York Times found at: (AccessedJune 2017)

Shaffran, N Website, found at: nigel shaffran (AccessedJune 2017)

Gillian Wearing takeover: behind themask – the Self Portraits (AccessedJune 2017)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: (AccessedJune 2017)

Phillips, S. (2013) Trish Morrissey’s best photograph: infiltrating a family on a Kent beach, Guardian, found at: (Accessed October 2016)

Trish Morrissey works found at: (AccessedJune 2017)

Sherman, C. (1977) Untitled Film Stills Found at: (Accessed June 2017)




Assignment 4- Reworked and rewritten

Motorama – Los Angeles – Robert Frank  

This essay interprets a single image, reflects on its meaning and places it in a wider artistic, historical and political context. It also presents a personal reflection on a single image, the artist’s intent and what might be being communicated.

The image is Robert Frank’s: ‘Motorama – Los Angeles’, taken from ‘The Americans’ published in 1958.

Frank, a Swiss born photographer needs little introduction, ‘The Americans’ makes a major contribution to photography’s cannon, described by Peter Schjeldahl[1], art critic of The New Yorker as: ‘one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium.’

‘The Americans’ was the product of a road trip in three parts,[2] over several years. On coming to America, Frank’s association with Edward Steichen, then the curator of Photography at MoMA[3] and with photographer Walker Evans, led him to successfully secure a Guggenheim grant to fund the project.

Motorama – Los Angeles at first glance might appear to be one of the less iconic images in ‘The Americans’. The image denotes a dark scene that on closer inspection reveals the illuminated interior of a car seen thorough its windscreen. Cars and people framed through windows are recurring tropes in Frank’s work. This image isolates the windscreen in a sea of darkness, hints of chrome in the highlights imply an expensive automobile at night. The image alone reveals little about the cars location. The framing and printing[4] place emphasis on the occupants of the vehicle. All are children, but one stands out in particular, his face half lit, half in shadow stares directly out at the viewer. It is this face, self-assured and assertive in its expression, flanked by the two others, both staring at this protagonist, as if seeking approval or waiting for instruction that creates what Barthes (1979) would describe as the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks or bruises me’. The interplay of the expressions of the car’s occupants asks questions of the viewer about the relationships of the occupants. The absence of adults and the unknown location present additional questions to consider.

The occupants, protected in a steel and glass sanctuary from the surrounding darkness could be an allegory about wealth, class, race and division. The car as a symbol of prosperity is not new. Two decades earlier, Margaret Bourke White’s image[5] of African Americans queuing for aid in front of a hoarding depicting a white happy family through the windscreen of their car, anchors it as symbol of the American prosperity. The hoardings caption reads: ‘Worlds highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, questions the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[6] two terms of presidency the administration only balanced the budget on three occasions. Frank’s image doesn’t refute that Americans have wealth and happiness, but rather that it might not be a universal experience.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was General Motors annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[7]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car?

The image is beautifully cinematic, a screen within a screen, like a still taken from a film noir movie, evocative of Hollywood’s renditions of Raymond Chandler[8] or Dashiell Hammett[9] novels and Frank is highlighting the three-young occupants and not the car.

The title too is important, although the image was taken at an event to showcase new automobiles, this may not be what Frank was revealing in this image. It is the three young people in the scene that Frank captured and like the new cars at the show they too were on display. The next generation, most likely to inherit the fruits of the American dream, already being groomed for a future far from the experience of many. The expression on the face of the principle protagonist confirming a confident assertive view of themselves. The meek might inherent the earth, but these future presidents, praetorians or philanthropists in waiting, are the generation that will inherit the best of the American dream and Frank’s image tells us that they know it.

Like Chandler and Hammet’s fictional private detectives, Marlowe and Spade, Frank and his camera are revealing a truth that might otherwise have been hidden.

Thinking about this image in the wider context of Frank’s work, it certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of itself, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[10] who’s literature and poetry also challenged the assumptions about the American dream.

As Jobey (2009) states:

 ‘Frank’s book was condemned almost unanimously when it was first published, but for decades now it has been recognised as a work that identified a cultural shift in America; that showed the country back to itself, and more clearly than most of its inhabitants cared to acknowledge.’

However, Dunford (2011) presents an argument for Frank’s work being appropriated by commentators wanting to make political arguments about America in the 1950s. In doing so Dunford suggests they have robbed it of its aesthetic and iconographic content. Citing Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to a single image.

Barrett’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might also help understand where Frank’s work has been located and how the connotations present in ‘The Americans’ have become a tool for political and or sociological critique, as he suggests:

the meaning of any photograph is dependent on the context in which it appears.’

In summary, what this single image reveals is the investigative power of Frank’s camera, his bold use of iconography, referenced to wider media of the time, notably cinema, to present to the original viewer in 50s America, three young people, who just might be charge in the future. As an outsider, Frank was uniquely placed to do this, uncontaminated by an American’s view of themself and revealing what was there in plain sight. For the contemporary viewer seeing this image ‘out of time’ it is Frank’s keen eye for the pictorial that tells a story beyond that which is contained within the 35mm frame and in doing so we are offered tangible evidence about the power of the still image to tell a story.

[1] Peter Schjeldahl, Quoted in Dawidoff (2015)

[2] Sarah Kennel (2014) describes the three components of Frank’s road trip in her lecture to the Bowdoin College

[3] MoMA is the Museum of Modern art in New York

[4] In researching this essay 8 distinct versions of the image were found with differing crops and varying degrees of darkness and light in the prints

[5] Bourke White’s image was part of an assignment looking at the impact of the 1937 flood of the Great Ohio River in Kentucky that displaced many residents. Source: Cosgrove 2014

[6] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

[7] Motorama was only held once in Los Angeles during the period Frank was working on ‘The Americans’. Frank started his road trip in July 1955, too late for the only other time Motorama was in LA Source 1- Kennell (2014) Source 2- GM Archive found at:

[8] Raymond Chandler 1888 – March 26, 1959American/British novelist famous for crime dramas and his character Philip Marlow, a private detective

[9] Dashiell Hammet 1894 – 1961 American author famous for stories like The Maltese Falcon and his character Sam Spade, a private detective

[10] Beat Generation writers and artists such as Karouac, (who wrote the introduction to The Americans) Ginsberg and Burroughs questioned materialism, wealth and the inclusivity and equality in American society Source:


Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Campany, D. (2014) The Open Road- Photography & the American Road Trip, Aperture, London

Cosgrove, B. (2014) Behind the Picture-The American Way and the flood of ’37, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Dawidoff, N. (2015) The man who saw America-Looking back with Robert Frank, the most influential photographer alive, New York Times Magazine found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1959) The Americans, Stieidl (2008 Reprint), Gottingen

Howarth, S. (Ed.) (2005) Singular Images-Essays on Remarkable Photographs, Tate Publishing, London

Jobey, L. (2009) Photographer Robert Frank: holding a mirror up to America, The Guardian, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. (Accessed April 2017)


Juno Calypso: The Honeymoon Suite

Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

© Juno Calypso

The Honeymoon Suite is a collection of work by British photographer Juno Calypso. The artist uses self portraits and created realities to explore gender and the pressures on women about beauty and appearance. this exhibition that was based around her Honeymoon suite work, also had a range of her work from other projects. Using her self as the subject of the work she creates elaborate and visually engaging scenes often using panels shades and challenging colour contrasts.

Posing as a travel blogger she visited a couples only Honeymoon Hotel in Pennsylvania, to access one of the lurid coloured  and very kitsch honeymoon suites to make some work. Upon arrival and suprised  that she was on her own ( it is a honeymoon location) her tale of being a travel blogger got her access to all the rooms at the hotel. This exhibitions shows that work. Using wigs and costume she created tableau scenes that are thought provoking and at times very strange.

© Juno Calypso

This work builds on earlier work were she created an imaginary alter ego ‘Joyce’, whom she has used to, what the gallery exhibition guide described as:

‘reenact the private underlife of a women consumed by the laboured construct of femininity’

Reading about Calypso’s work online it is clear that she explores societal expectations  of women, the role and power of the beauty industry and also the simultaneously comic and tragic in the every day. Influenced by the painstaking preparation that Geoff Wall under takes in his work, there is a complex and well prepared tableau in all the Honeymoon Suite images.

© Juno Calypso

Some of the strange images such as the one at the top of this blog post offer insight into her core theme of women and the expectations of society. Doing eBay searches for ‘beauty’, in the technology section of the auction website, led her to finding a whole range of devices sold to ‘make you look younger ‘or ‘more beautiful’, or so the marketing goes. As part of her tableau approach she uses costume, wigs, location and these strange devices to present a stark message about the inherent absurdity in how some parts of scoria, the media and commerce treat women. This is powerful work that also uses humour engage the viewer to want to see more.

What did I learn from this exhibit and the artists work?

The work very much chimed with part of of Context and Narrative and the notion of “making it up” to tell a wider story.

The work and the youtube videos by the artist gave me some real insight into the notion of ‘personal voice’. there is a clear mission and purpose to Calypso’ work and whether you like it or not her carefully planned and executed created scenes offered me some real insight into a photographer using a clearly defined theme ad the engine of their creative endeavours. Looking at her growing body of work  I could also see how she further refines and develops ideas from an initial starting point around the

Calypso arrives at a location with camera, lighting and propose and experiments until she achieves the look she is trying to achieve. the idea of experiment rather than sharp design in advance was very helpful as a concept while trying to complete assignment 5!


The Honeymoon Suite – Gallery Guide, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

Juno Calypso: (Accessed June 2017)

Bouquet, E. (2016) Juno Calypso: Return to the Love Hotel found at: (Accessed June 2017)


Belfast Photo Festival – Off Theme

St. Annes Square – A  journey through Assad’s Syria

Syria, January 2017 – Destroyed street alley in East Aleppo. Residents who have returned to the streets. A child and his mother search a beauty shop for nail polish. ©Christian Werner

Christan Werner’s ‘A journey through Assad’s Syria’ was for me the most hard hitting work I saw throughout the whole Photo Festival. There were only six images by Werner, a German photojournalist and filmmaker, but all were gripping and at the same time full of dread. Making work in Syria’s second city Allepo, his camera offers us a glimpse into the true terror for ordinary citizens trying to find a way through the hell they must have experienced. What struck me most was that he used signifiers that in someway were so mundane but in the context of the terrible conditions for the people of Allepo these simple signifiers take on true terror as the signified.

His portrayal of people trying to go about a life that in anything but normal created a sense of helplessness to my western sensibilities. Reading about Werner after seeing the six   20×16 images he had on display in St. Annes Square, I learned that he had at an early age been influenced by the conflict photographer James Natchwey. Quoting Natchwey in the video clip referenced below, Werner describes his desire , like Natchwey to ‘tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. This work at Belfast Photo Festival certainly achieves that goal.

Werners images for this exhibit were taken from a wider set of work called Rubble and Delusion. These can be seen here:


Christian Werner – World Press Photo Interview – Found at: (Accessed June 2017)

Viktoria Sorochinski – Lands of No Return

© Viktoria Sorochinski

Tableaux images have been a theme throughout part five of the course and I have been looking for examples beyond the references in the course materials. In the July edition of the BJP there is a short article about an ongoing work by Viktoria Sorochinski, entitled ‘Lands of No Return’.

Focusing on her home country of Ukraine, this project explores the remaining authentic villages in the rural parts of the country, often now only inhabited by the elderly. There is a tangible sense of something passing in this very engaging and evocative set of images and Sorochinski uses a mix of formal portraits , informal portraits and still life scenes to provide a narrative setting out the circumstances  around these dwindling communities. there is an extra poignancy given the current political tensions between Russia and the Ukraine.

© Viktoria Sorochinski

What particularly interested me was the framing and content of the still life images and the square format the artist had chosen. I am sure whether these are staged still life scenes or items in the village houses as the artist found them. Irrespective of the background to these images it is the still life work that reveals something about a way of life that is passing, a simplicity probably not enjoyed by those that have moved to the cities.

© Viktoria Sorochinski

It is also perhaps the interplay between the formal and informal portraits that anchors this work and the light it shines onto a fading way of life that once existed across Europe that is now being taken over by a way of life in which the occupants of these marginal and elderly inhabitants have no place. The work is capturing history before it is lost.

This work has given me much to think about in how to order images to create a narrative that describes more than that written of the faces of the subject so the work.


Projects : Viktoria Sorchinski i:  British Journal of Photography Issue 7861, July 2017

Viktoria Sorchinski Lands of No Return, found at: (Accessed June2017)

Clear of People -Michal Iwanoski

I pre-ordered this photobook by Michal Iwanowski at its design stage, long before the printed artefact came into being.

Having heard Iwanoski speak at the OCA Landscape Symposium last year I was drawn not only to the final prints in this work, but more importantly to the rationale and artistic intent that underpinned the work. Landscape as a repository of history and memory is a theme I am developing in my own practice and Iwanowski has created a visually evocative work that to my eyes encodes two individuals epic journey in a desolate and hostile landscape, littered with ghosts of a recent and troubled past.

© Michal Iwanowski

Clear of people records in pictures, the re-enactment and I choose this words carefully, of an epic journey made by two of the artists relations, his grandfather Tolek and Uncle, Wiktor. In 1945 they escaped from a soviet concentration camp in Kaluga and the two brothers made an epic 2200km walk back to their home town of Wroclaw in Poland. passing through several states they risked capture and worse very day o the three month odyssey. 

The brothers walked at night to minis the risk of being seen, using remote and cross country routes avoiding settlements so the they did’t encounter  people who might see them and report them to the authorities. This would have led to the return to incarceration or worse. Their journey must have been fraught with danger. There is nothing about this journey that is ordinary or easy. It is a concrete example of the triumph of the spirit over adversity. That spirit driven by notions of love, family, home and belonging. Interestingly like many war time exploits

© Michal Iwanowski

Seventy years latter using a hand drawn map with notes given to Iwanowski by his uncle, he re-enacted the journey. Again avoiding people and travel through a landscape that still held close to the past Iwanowski has created a visual record of his version of the Tolek and WiKtors journey. He was questioned by Russian police during the journey and also felt the sense of isolation and challenge is uncle and grandfather must have felt, although he was not under the same pressure thy must have been. he also allowed himself the luxury of hotel accommodation. This doesn’t detract from the body of work he has created however.

The images in the book are haunting, some with a hint of foreboding, I have been trying to decode the elements of the images that give me a sense of foreboding, because this is a powerful tool to develop in my own work. In part it is the interplay between the text and the image. Iwanowski sets a clear and detailed scene and context for the work, so having read his introduction I know I am seeing the work through his re-0enectment of his relative’s journey. I choose the word re-enactment carefully because the artists sets out in his text how he tried to recreate some of the conditions NN and BB experienced.

The landscapes are a mix of sweeping vista’s desolate roads and ominous forests. Images of distant houses some ruined and others far away but just close enough to make out lights and humanity create a tension about Tolek and Victors quest for home, but threat of discovery and its consequences never being far away. Natural and man-made obstacles add to sense of the challenge of the journey. From quite a mixed collection of images there is a coherence created by the sense of a lonely and dangerous journey.

© Michal Iwanowski

The book itself which was delayed in production is a simple but visually beautiful artefact. its simple card cover and ‘lay flat’ binding contains subdued colour prints. All rectangular images. some time a small image set against the background of a white tow page spread, other pages contact full spread landscape images that fill the pages.  Near the end of the volumes there are very nicely copied archival images, family photographs of Wictor and Tolek before the war, letters, notes from the backs of photos and official documents. set against this is the sort of their family and the the journey. this is a piece of living oral history committed to pare in the life time of one of the travellers. The overall effect of this section of the book is simultaneously, melancholic , a hymn to a lost generation, but also deeply uplifting in the triumph of their spirit and tenacity to overcome the circumstances they found themselves in.

I am smitten by this work!

This is a work I will continue to return to in my own quest to improve my personal practice and find that elusive personal voice.


Iwanowski, M. (2016) Clear of People, Brave Books, Berlin

Clear of People: found at: (Accessed May 2017)

Charles Latham, Cyrus (2006)

My tutor suggested that I  should look at this work i response to a recent assignment submissions. I could find little on line about Latham but did manage to get hold of a copy of Bright’s(2010) book : Autofocus, the self Portrait in Contemporary Photography. I was pleased to get the book as self portraiture and auto images have very much been a developing theme for me in Context and Narrative.

Latham’s work is unusual, but strangely compelling. Bright describes how Latham created an imaginary friend called Cyrus in response to a chain of events. Starting with the artist posting images of himself online in the act of self harm, following the break up of a relationship. Some sort of reactions followed to his post that led to the creation of this imaginary friend. Cyrus subsequently carries much of what Latham doesn’t like about whimsies and his comments quest kin Bright 2010 suggests a tension between cyrus being a mini and simultaneously a repository for fear and self loathing. 

It is an intriguing work in that it asks a question of me the view about is cyrus lather, or is he a a vehicle for lather to exercise his demons. My gut feeling falls on the latter.

What is perhaps more significant is Lattham’s use of the self image as a tool to reveal things we don’t like in ourselves without actually saying they are us. Cyrus is a ‘proxy self’ and i am intrigued by the idea of porters of proxy selves’ I may explore this further in future work but for now have added , Latham to my mental  gazetteer of intriguing photographers!


Bright, S (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography, Indigo, Toronto

Madame Yevonde (1893-1975)

© Yevonde Portrait Archive













Yevonde Middleton was a society photographer photographer known as Madame Yevonde. Born into an affluent family she attended several independent girls schools and by all accounts was a free thinking and motivated woman in a time when opportunities for women were less available than today. She was active as a society photographer from 1914 until well after the second world war. She was one of a list of photographers whose work my tutor suggested I look at. I was previously unaware of this artist, but am pleased to have been introduced to her work.

An internet search revealed some highly engaging , cinematic images that stood out because of their vivid colours and strong composition. There is also something of the surrealist in some of the images and I am remided of the portrait work of Man Ray in some of the compositions. The striking difference is  Madame Yevonde’s use of colour.   I subsequently discovered that she used a

The interest in colour probably stemmed from her father whose business manufactured printing inks, the young Yevonde had been exposed to the work of her fathers business from a young age. After leaving school she worked with the photographer Lallie Charles not quite finishing her apprenticeship with hime and setting up her own central London studio as Madame Yevonde at the age of 21. Having a wealthy father to assist certainly will have helped, but her work to my eye stands out as being strong and innovative. Using ocular would not have been the norm so i suspect she was also a risk taker. Her early inters in women suffrage reveals itself in her work, there are images of strong female characters, which must have pushed against the tide of the times.

The process she used was called Vivex and was produced by Colour Photography Limited of Willesdon. A three part negative process, that at one time accounted for 70% of the colour work i the UK. The process was finished in 1939 with the onset of the war and never restarted again. However Madame Yvonne recreated the process and continued to use colour after the war. Many famous people had images made by her but from my brief research it is her images of women that really stand out

by Madame Yevonde, Vivex colour print, 1936

In addition to portrait work she also undertook fashion and magazine work as well as advertising work. In the Archive referenced below there is also some documenters work recording the artisans at work in the fitting out stage of the Queen Mary liner. Of all her work i found this the most engaging. The mix of beautiful and creative composition employed in a documenter project make for some very original documentary photographs. The image below shows the artist  Doris Zinkeisen painting column of the Cunard liner in the 1930s before it went into service in 1934. At a time when documentary photography would almost have been exclusively  black and white, Madame Yevonde was truly a colour pioneer, long before Bulmer, Egglestone or Parr!

Things that I take from this work include:

  • Colour Pioneer
  • The very brave, imaginative and bold us of colour
  • Commercially very successful
  • Painting like quality evocative of the pre rephealites
  • Strong cinematic composition
  • The use of a complex technical process
  • Use of very imaginative theme for tableaus images, mythology in particular
  • Not as well know as she ought to be!

As an end note I have to say I am surprised this artist is not as well known as some of her contemporaries. Her work to my eye is every bit as engaging as Beeton, but she would appear to be eclipsed by others?


Madame Yevonde Archive, found at: (Accessed May 2017)

Madame Yevonde – ‘Godessess’ Found at:;_ylt=A9mSs2bEwy1ZhBUAtI5LBQx.;_ylu=X3oDMTB0ZTgxN3Q0BGNvbG8DaXIyBHBvcwMx (Accessed May 2017)

Madame Yvonne by Lawrence Hole, found at: May 2017)

Asssignment 4 – Feedback

I received feedback for assignment 4 from my tutor and as I had expected my assignment needed more work if it is to meet the brief. Whilst there were a number of positive comments about what I had written, the fact that had left a number of questions unresolved meant that the work was unresolved.

The feedback is very valuable though and I will redraft the assignment taking on board the comments my tutor made.

The full feedback can be found here: Assignment 4 Feedback J.O Tutor Report 4

In response to the feedback I sent what is set out below to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on Assignment 4. You will have read in the preparation section on my blog that I had some struggles with this assignment. I don’t have issues with writing but this type of writing is new to me and I recognise I need to work at it. I am pleased that the descriptive element of the assignment appears to have been ok, but I do see that I didn’t reach a proper conclusion and left more unanswered and unresolved. I guess defeating the object of the exercise! I think I hit a point where I just thought I needed to complete the work and submit it or I would have just kept going around in circles.

It has been a valuable exercise though, and your feedback has given me some helpful suggestions about how I might resolve some of the questions I left hanging in the submission. Your reference to Frank’s outsiders eye and the potential influence of European film noir set me thinking. There is something of the cinematic about the image and certainly film noir ‘esque’ (if I can say that!) Rather than the European tradition there is something to my eye, of the Hollywood ‘Chandler’ or ‘Hammett’ atmosphere to me in the image. Also, thinking about the image title, it does suggest something about drama. I think I became to fixed on tracking down exactly what the title meant In a literal sense) and it was this I focused on rather than what Frank might have been intending to communicate. My head works better in the empirical, but I need to begin to operate in the theoretical and the imaginative. I will use these thoughts to commit to a personal perspective that resolves the questions I posed in the essay. To compound arriving at a personal conclusion I think I also felt a bit of a block in arriving at a personal viewpoint given so many others have written so much about the meaning of Frank’s work, although I didn’t refer to that either!

I am interested in the notion of the ‘privileged flanuer’ that you refer to and will look up some of the references you made in the feedback. The idea of critique from those that remain in the mainstream with all its advantages, but critique what is around them seems a valuable area to delve further into. I did a quick search around Wilson’s ‘Outsider’ and have ordered a copy as it looked quite intriguing.

With all the above in mind I am going to redraft the essay in an attempt to come to a firmer conclusion about the image, using the permission that Frank himself gives in the quote at the end of my initial submission.

I will also look up some of the photographers whose work you have suggested that I consider further. Several are names that I am familiar with and Wearing and Crewdson are artists whose work I have blogged about in this course. Others are entirely unknown to me so I will seek them out.

I am pressing ahead with part 5 and pleased with the progress I am making. I have begun this weekend to start to plan, all be it in outline,  ideas for Assignment 5. I am keen that this is a piece of work that reflects what I have learned along the way during C&N. Many thanks again for your helpful critique, it is appreciated.

Best wishes


Exercise: Record a real conversation with a friend

Record a real conversation with a friend. (It’s up to you whether you ask permission or not!)

Before listening to the recording, write your account of both sides of the conversation.

Then listen to the recording and make note of the discrepancies. Perhaps there are unfinished sentences, stammers, pauses, miscommunications etc.

Reflect upon the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process and how can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?

This was an interesting exercise for a variety of reasons. I should say at the outset that for professional reasons I have a well developed memory system for listening to aural information, processing it and then feeding it back in as accurate a manner as possible. Indeed retaining one of my professional accreditations involves an annual assessment based upon listening to the three way conversation in controlled conditions and feeding back a detailed summary and synopsis of the key points from the triad. Dropping below an 80% accuracy level means failing the test and not getting the accreditation. This would be serious for my employment, so I am well prepared, attentive and regularly practicing this skill.

Against this back drop I recorded a conversation with a friend as part of the exercise. I pondered on whether I should say I was recording the conversation or not and in the end decided to record it secretly. I know this throws up a whole raft of ethical issues, but I felt that if I alerted the friend that I was recording the conversation it would have led to a different and less natural engagement, the dynamic would have been different and my friend perhaps more guarded.

In order to manage and address the ethical problems this approach I am revealing nothing about the friend, who they are, not even their gender or relationship to me. I also deleted the recording once I had completed this blog entry. Given some of the personal characteristics of the friend, I think there is a high probability they will never know about this blog entry and OCA exercise and anyone looking at the this online would never know the identity of my friend.

The topic of the conversation was taxation, rebates, engaging with the local tax office and the implications of in complete personal information and records. I need to sayat the outset  that myself and the friend have nothing to do with HMRC, nor the world of the fiscal! This just happened to be the conversation. My friend had a range of concerns and our conversation was about those concerns an might attempt to are advice and support, all of this at a personal friend to friend level and not from the stand point of expertise in taxation. My only knowledge of taxation is that I am a taxpayer!

The conversation was 17 minutes long during which time my friend was initially upset because of a personal circumstance. During the first 8 minutes I listened and made a small number of comments mostly affirming support and a desire to assist someone who was experiencing some real difficulties. In the latter part of the conversation based upon the information gleaned, I offered some suggestions, that might be interpreted as advice but were all caveatted with a denial of any claim of expertise on tax affairs. The conversation ended much more positively than it started with the friend listing for themself a set of actions they were going to follow up on. I left the conversation with a sense I had offered a listening ear and assisted the friend ‘see the wood for the trees’ around what they needed to do next.

Before listening to the recording a I made a written record of the key elements of the conversation as a sort of table of contents. There were 14 distinct elements I picked out during the exchange. These elements were all based upon what I felt where the most significant things we discussed. I also gave each of the 14 elements a ranking of importance based upon a reading of my friends worries and concerns. I completed my write up by listing the key words at the start of the conversation that framed the whole dialogue and also the actions my friend was going to pursue following the conversation.

As the above suggests, I brought my clinical and forensic professional approach to my review of the conversation. Listening then to the recording I learned something new about myself and my approach to listening and mentally recording conversations.

As stated above I have a tried and literally tested methodology for recalling conversations. What struck me about listing to this recording was the subtle nuisance of my friends emotions at different points in the conversation. My list of what was covered , how the conversation started and was framed and how it finished was as I suspected very accurate. However the relative importance I had assigned to the different elements of the conversation was challenged by the recording. Some of the things that I had recalled as being the most significant where called into questions by a review of how things were said in he recording rather than what was said. Although my recall was generally very accurate listening again to the conversation made me ask some questions about how I had interpreted  some aspects of the conversation. It made me think that accuracy of recall is not all about the content,  it is also about the nuisance, tone and what is sometimes not said. I didn’t have some revelation that my professional technique for listening was wrong, but it did make me think that my analytical approach can at times miss subtle aspects of meaning, particularly when dealing with something that is upsetting to one or more of the parties in a conversation. I then left the exercise and spent some days pondering on its relevance to photographic practice.

In considering the believability of of re-enected narratives, there will always be an element of bias , with the author (or participants) of a work recalling an event or events through a lens of their own perspective, biography, motives and intent. The concept of accuracy, which might link to more forensic perspectives on recall and memory has itself some limitations. There are a variety of contradictory perspectives on human memory and recall and there is a whole other potential blog post about neurons, axons, short term , long term memory and the bias and hierarchy when memory is being encoded, but  I feel myself drifting into the work of my professional life here, which in many respects I am trying to escape in this OCA work!

Reflecting on listening back to the recording I made of the conversation, where my focus had been on accurate recall of the content, I must confess it was the tone and cadence of my friends comments that I had paid less attention to. Language and communication are manifold concepts and meaning is transmitted through more than the words. Indeed meaning is created through the interplay of phonemes, pitch and intonation. In English we also have the added complication of not actually saying what we mean, our language is abstract at times, with us often not actually saying what we mean but rather, coding what we mean through tone and body language.

Where does this take us in terms of making pictures and re-encated narratives? Well I think we need a healthy scepticism about what we recall and we need either to check what we believe we saw , heard or did with a variety of sources. I often think about returning to my primary school as part of a visit, shortly before it was demolished. What I was confronted with as an adult did not fit with the recollections I carried in my head. For this reason we need to apply external references whenever possible.

Some summative thoughts:

  • Be skeptical about what we recall from our past
  • Be skeptical about memory in general
  • Where ever possible look for external references that will help shatpe recollections in to something that is closer to the truth
  • Accept that the past is gone and only a trace remains, even images only tell prt of the picture
  • Re-enactment or recreation of a past event can only ever be a subjective act with all the caveats about accuracy and truth