Self Portraiture – some further thoughts

“It’s about the messages in the narrative and what they say, rather than the subject in the frame!”

The term self-portraiture did conjure up for me something a little self-indulgent, not necessarily narcissistic but some that was intrinsically about self. I think this conception had been reinforced by the [torrent of ‘selfies’ on social media but also the transition into wider culture of the notion of the selfie. By this I mean that even though I am only a partial user of social media the selfie is now part of the experience of being out in the world. On a recent visit to Cambridge there were more tourists taking selfies than there were tourists tank photographs of the environment.


Indeed the selfie as the popular manifestation of the self portraits has become ubiquitous.

It was therefore very good to read the material in part two of the of the Context and Narrative module which sheds a somewhat different light on the use of the self portrait. Rather than self absorbtion I can now see that the self portraiture, beyond being an easy and reliable source for the photographer , it can tell of bigger things. I was very much struck in particle by the work of Brotherus and the rich narrative around loss, strength and how people can move on. Morrissey’s exploration of the genre of the family photograph, which like the contemporary selfie has a specific and repeatable formulea, can be a vehicle to explore the nature of relationships . Perhaps most starkly is Sherman’s work. Her iconic film like images are instantly recognisable stereotypes of female figures, suggesting a social construct n of the feminine image and persona, raising issues about control and influence and how images in contemapary culture may have a darker implication.

In an oblique form of exploration the self portrait can be as revealing as the documentary  photographer when distilled down to the message in the narrative and the thoughts and ideas  engendered  in the viewer. I’ll return to this theme again as I move through to the next exercise.




Project 2 Masquerades Exercise 1

Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

I don’t feel that that Lee’s work is that of a voyeur. Voyeurism needs something of the sordid and scandalous i believe and her work does not meet the test of r such an accusation. It is explorative and it does rely on a degree of intrusion. I am uncertain the degree to which she shared her motives with the other people in her images but even if she didn’t i don’t think there intended exploitation. Her exploration requires something of engagement and participation in order for the work to have meaning. i reminded of the ‘participant observer’ in social research and the immersive sort of research undertaken by students trying to understand a subculture from the inside. 

Her work does raise ethical questions and there are questions I suppose about whether such a project would get the the ethccs committee of a university if someone wanted to infiltrate a group in order to understand it more. There is also no sense of harm to the other in the image, even they they are not aware of the nature of Lee’s interloper position.

Whilst the work is about identity i think Lee is trading who she is to be part of a subculture and as such the work focuses more on the values, clothes and culture of that group. It might even be argued that she is forfeiting her own identity in order to make this work. That raises questions about the boundaries of who she is and who she is observing and the bias that is inevitable when observing others. It is impossible to escape the lens of our own biography, conditioning and experience,

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not?

This is a really tough question. I think knowing that someone was an artists exploring a creative endeavour i would be quite willing to engage in this art work. But that is on the basis that I am a creative too and would have some natural affinity with the intention. In my own art practice which involves taking pictures of starters, i carry one or more photo books of my work with my equipment for those tricky moments when people ask what am I doing. the phonebook can be a saving factor in some tricky conversations. sadly there is a developing suspicion about people in the street with a camera!

Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist. Look at these projects online and make some notes in your learning log.

I really like the work of Trish Morrissey, in part because she is using the role of the outsider to look in on others worlds and come to some view about this. I had come across her work: Ten People in a Suitcase.

Inspired by an archive of 30,00 images of people and places in the Finnish town on Mantta, Morrissey has remade images of a number of characters in the original images. She has used techniques and styles that captures something about people that would otherwise have been anonymous. as with much of her work she is the subject and this creates a common thread though the work. I find it strangely engaging, slightly humours but above all melancholic, she has captured the passing of time and the work says something about the forgotten and the mundane. individuals lives are important to us all but time marches on and we are then forgotten. This works captures long past moment in time and says something more that n merely a statement about the individual in the image. it talks of the transience of life and the passage of time waiting for no one. She uses colour in particular to create a sense of a particular time.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

In the image above she has remerging a moment from an adult education class about art with the teacher Ritta Ranta being played by her. This moment long past is part of the history of the town, but until this rework was entirely forgotten. The image asks the viewer to imagine Ritta’s life what happened before and after the image and where she is now? In short we are requested with that which we have forgotten.

Seven Years is perhaps a prelude to the next exercise on the course. Morrissey looks at the style and orthodoxy of the family photographs. there are common themes in family picture that transcend time and culture . Morrissey mimics images from her own families album, acting as the creator of a new revised seen, her own websites says that the work:

‘aims to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it’

All of the images in the set are well crafted to replicate an event from the past, captured in the photos of the family album. There are well defined and replicated approaches that Morrissey showcases though the work. The viewer has to make some assumptions but the titles guide some of the thinking. Morose plays a role in them all. I was particularly struck by the image below which i think must be her as an infant just born or soon after. She plays the role of her father in this classic style of family image.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

The Failed Realist is a very different piece of work to the other sets I looked at. The title is based upon the work of Psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet. Considering the developmental stages of children, Luquet suggests that the failed realist stage was when a child could not produce art or creative work that met their own expectations . Verbal skills being developed before the fine motor control required to draw and paint. Let many artists would seek to regain some of the un contaminated thugs and ideas of childhood in their own work. reflecting on a creative purity exorcised over time .

In this work Morrissey’s daughter  paints her mother’s face with themes  based upon s films and books she has seen or has had read to her. There is a simple innocence to the work, but it is the photographers own car that is the canvass for her daughters cartoons. Of all of her works I found this the hardest to read . The common themes of the outsiders and the interloper I found less present in this work.


Copyright Trish Morrissey


Trish Morrissey works found at: (accessed October 2016)

Project 2 – Masquerades

Of all the self portrait work discussed to date, the idea of masquerades really caught my interest and I have spent some time reading about and looking at the images of the artists referenced in the text. I have also followed further references and considered the work of several other artists who are working in this area. I will start by saying something about this work and then draw together my thoughts and learning from reviewing this work.

Nikki Seung -Hee Lee

Nikki S. Lee (b 1970) is a Korean born photography who based in New York but now works in Seoul whose work takes the notion of the artist as the subject to an all together different dimension than the artists i have written about earlier in this section. Indeed considering her work I have to ask myself is she a photographer or performance artist with the latter winning out. Her approach is to assume the identity of different characters, dressing up as them and then playing their role in the world at large. In this work she takes on both the individual identity of the character she is playing, but also participates in the group identity in which her character would exist. She then asks an onlooker to make an image. The work includes her playing the role of a tourist, someone at a wedding, a jogger and a bride. One of the edgiest and most risky , by her own admission was playing the role of an exotic dance. I was also struck by the idea of paradox and irony in some of the work, like the image below where she is a character in this image?


Copyright Nikk Sueng-Hee Lee

Her work explores identity at a number of levels  and not just from the characters  point of view but also from the group perspective. There is something about the exploration of subculture and the images reveal more than just the character she is assuming. This work and the ideas behind it appealed to my interest in culture and the social construction of meaning. The performance nature of Lee’s work demonstrates the power of an image beyond a conventional story telling narrative and offers some insight into decoding ideas about the post modern narrative. Boothroyd (2015) suggests that Lee’s work questions the reliability of the photograph as a record. My view is that this has always been in question, what Lee does for me is raise questions about how a fictional narrative might reveal trust in the way a pure record of an event might not. in this sense the idea of documentary photography is challenged. I am also reminded of the reading earlier in the program about authorship and the death of the author. I will return to this themes later in my conclusions

Trish Morrissey

Trish Morrisey (b1967) is an Irish born artists who has also explored the idea of identity through constructed scenes and images. She has done  this through a novel and confident approach. In her work front (front referring to the sea front, although to me its alternative colloquial meaning of cheeky confidence also perhaps applies to her approach)  she visited  beaches around England and also in Australia ( while she had a residency there). Approaching family groups on the beach she requested that she swopped clothes with the main female figure in the family group and replaced them in a fictional scene that is then photographed by the person she has replaced. This must have taken some nerve and I can only imagine her level of self confidence. The images are strangely beguiling and there is strong sense of smooth ng natural but also unnerving. She is simulation and gust and interloper, a cuckoo in the nest, literally. Like  Nikki S. Lee, she forms part of a wider seen although she is perhaps more obvious in the scene because she is not as disguised as Lee is in her work. As well as exploring identity this work considers boundaries and to me asks questions about a families dynamics and relationships. The work is simultaneously engaging and a bit disturbing. Also like Lee’s work it rises questions about authorship and perhaps shed light on a postmodern narrative in which meaning is created through thinking about the fiction it creates. Cotton (2014) suggests that this type of approach:

‘rather than being evidence of the photographs originality (or lack of it) or statement of authorial intention, photographs were seen  as signs that acquired their significance of value from their place within a larger system of social and cultural coding”


 This really helpful statement leads me to ask about the family photograph and its importance and meaning. The images with Morrissey as the interloper or imposter, still have a strong sense of the family group to the viewer that doesn’t know the family in the picture and are still valid examples of that trope. I think it is this that made this work so attractive to me. there is a cultural coding built into this type of image because they are so much part of family life. Morris test this coding by replacing a key element but the code rains as strong as ever.


Copyright Trish Morrissey

Yasumasa Morimura

Working in this similar genre of mascara ad and mimicry the Japanese born artist Yasumasa Morimura (b1951) has created a series of self portraits that parody western art. His eastern eye brings a critical outsiders view and I am uncertain of there is a degree of mockery  as part of his mmimicary. Cotton (2014) refers to his experiments with the malleability of identity and this can be seen in his portraits. It is however the overt parody that stands out to me in this work . The image below perhaps typifies the point I am trying to make. Mimicking  an american icon, Murimura as Marilyn Monroe is both parody and humour. The image is clearly not Monroe, but it has features of Monroeness’, that are recognisable, beacusue Monroe is such an icon, her lines has become a recognisable cultural code. , Murimura is playing this back to the viewer. There is fiction and truth in the image


Copyright Yasumasa Morimura

Cindy Sherman

In researching the genre of the self portraiture in photography Cindy Sherman’s (b 1954) name is a recurrent theme. Sherman has used herself as the object for her work over many projects. Her series of self portraits that were based upon and inspired by moments from american cinema attest the the iconography of american cinema and how these have passed into a common cultural awareness. Replicating scene from  cinema, Sherman captures something of time and culture. At the same time the images can be larger than life with an extreme empathise on makeup and features. There is something of parody rather than homage. Cotton (2014) suggests that Sherman’s work, Untitletled Film Stills is:

a demonstration of the argument advanced by feminist theory the ‘femininity’is a construction of cultural codes and not a quality that is naturally inherent or essential to women. 


With this in mind Sherman’s self portraits far from being studies of different selves are far more about how society assigns attributes based upon appearance, gender and culture. This opens a new and interesting area to consider the value of the image as a representation of how culture is constructed and not just a story narrative.

Final thoughts

It’s is hard to summarise the learning from considering masquerades, but what I can say is that my ideas about the purpose and nature of images and their meaning has been expanded. Through replication and mimicry all of the above artists are commenting not just on culture and identity but also how the visual codes create wider understanding.

There are also some interesting  ideas about authorship in this work and I am reminded about the earlier coursework about the death of the author and the post modern non linear narrative. In all of these works the artists have constructed the images but they not the photographer.  Or are they?  Questions are raised about who is the photographer. In a modernist critique it is perhaps the person pushing the shutter release, not so in a postmodern interpretation.

All of the artist above have something to say about intent being beyond the domain of the photographer too. There is something beyond the contents of the from of the image that purposefully allows the viewer  considerable latitude in their interpretaion of the image. These are examples of a postmodern critique and a postmodern view of photography as a medium. I am of course merely scratching the surface of what feels more like an exploration of the construction of meaning in the world about us than it does an interpretation of images. I will need to reflect more upon this, but this is very different territory to the ideas I wrote about when considering documentary narratives!


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

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

Kino, C. (2006) Now in Moving Pictures: The Multitudes of Nikki S. Lee, New York Times found at: (Accessed October 2016)

Nikki S. Lee: The Creators Project found at: (Accessed October 2016)

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

Morimura-Yasumasa found at: (Accessed October 2016)

Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

How do these images make you feel?
Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Make some notes in your learning log.

How do these images make you feel?

All of the images are thought provoking and all take a different level of decoding. They all demonstrate the power of the artist as the subject o the work but they do this in different ways. I still find Woodman’s work the darkest but that is perhaps because I see them in the context of her troubled life and ultimate suicide. I am perhaps looking for allusions to this in the work. All her simultaneously confident and even exhibitionist, but also disturbing. They are  the most dynamic of all the works. the slow shutter images give a sense of motion and things changing. 

The work of Brotherus seems far more staged and planned, although that is a perception on my part rather than an objective fact. There is a clear  sense of planning and an ongoing theme running through the work that tells of reflection through self. To me there is a more evident thought process behind the images I reviewed and there is also a sense of an ongoing engagement with her self as the subject in order to explore the world.

Wearings work is disturbing to but in a different and actually quite a positive way. the idea of literally getting inside your family is a genuinely innovative one that set me thinking about my relationships with family. As stated, all very positively thought provoking. It did make me think about ways i might include myself in images that say something about my family and my place in it!

Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?

I really pondered on the idea of narcissism t when  I first looked at the work, but quickly came to the conclusion the were not. Nor was any of the work self indulgent. Experimental, self focused and very personally confident yes, but not self centred in anyway. To me narcissism is rooted in some sense of self love and that is not what these works are about. In these works the self and the self portrait are vehicles to explore, thought and feelings, the family, the self and the world around the artist. I also ned to say although perhaps a bit overs simplistic, these works are well beyond the notion of the selfie which is so much part of contemporary culture.

What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?

I asked my self would the images work with the artist clothed and my genuine answer is that i don’t know. Her nakedness points at a vulnerability but also an honesty, literally bearing all. The theme of motherhood, IVF and the sadness of not being able to conceive a child are all supported by her nakedness and the works are not sexual in nature. The nakedness I guess confronts the subject and makes a statement to view. That said I still ponder on whether other images could create the same narrative?

Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text? 

I have really pondered on this too, particularly in relation  to Brotherus’s work. I have come to the conclusion that some text is required to make sense of the work and to be able to gain insight into the artist motivation. Whilst and outsider will bring some of their own interpretation, an artist’s statement of intent at some level is needed to really reveal what is at the heart of the work. There is a question about how much text is required and I have grappled with this dime in my own work. 

Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

There is a resounding yes to this question for all of the artists. Woodman’s explores the possibilities of identities, of expression through self and ideas about emotion and even mental health. I suspect also she was creating work to communicate rather than to look inward. Brotherus is engaging with a range of contempaosry them about being a women anbaout displacement in place and about motherhood and IVF. All resonate with wider thoughts about the human  condition. She is wanting to make wider connections and her work asks questions about how we see ourselves and how we are seen. Similar is true of Wearing, her work seems to try and reveal something quite personal that asks questions about our place in our families, of inheritance and most of all who we are and where we come from. All of this work offer the possibility of understanding the  world around us in different and quite innovative ways.


Exercise- Autobiographical self portraiture 1

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) work evokes a range of thoughts an feelings. the somewhat ethereal black and white pictures, almost all of which contain the artist, present a confident and at times exhibitionist view of Woodman. I can see that there are themes such as gender and identity evident in the work, but to my relatively untrained eye there is also something of the troubled about them. The artists use of props to hide in ‘plain site’ in some of the images suggests something about anonymity too.

This notion is reinforced by many of the poses where the artists face in’t seen at all either because they are turned away or because there are obscured by an object of some sort. The use of a slow shutter exposures creates a ghost like presence in many of the images. Also the locations chosen for the staging of the images I googled appeared to be run down and defying old rooms/spaces, suggesting faded grandeur in decay.

I find much of the artist work quite dark and I think the elements described above suggest that I concur with Bright (2010) when she suggests the work alludes to a troubled state of mind. Reading about woodman reinforces this idea and she seems to have been a talent cut short by her suicide. I watched the film, the Woodmans and was  with an over whelming sense of a child that was bourne into a house with odd and self obsessed parents. Woodman’s art and untimely death raise some troubling questions about her family constellation. All o that said, her work appears to typify the idea of the artist being the subject of their own work and whether accurate or not , reviewing her images leaves me with a real sense of the artist as a troubled talent communicating something about the power of the image to reveal the soul of some one. And in Woodmans case lon after they have gone.


Copyright Francesca Woodman Estate

The first image I saw of Elina Brotherus’s  (b. 1972) work iI mistakenly took for an image by woodman. Although in colour, the nude and seemingly troubled pose in the image evoked many of the feelings I had looking at Woodman’s work. However as I looked at more of Brotherus’s work I saw something quite different. This work looks to be less dark, but none the less not without a sense of pain. There is also a real sense of the artist confidence, her face is also very prominent in many of the images. like Woodman there is a real sense of confidence in showing herself and some might also see something of the exhibitions about the work. There is something of the classical painting in some of her images and to me her interest in the painter and their model is evident in work such as the one below , where her gaze back at the camera is a gaze at herself as much as it is to an unseen audience. The best description of this artist biographical journey though images I found, was in her own words:

“I only can acknowledge that work follows life. I made autobiographical self-portraits in the very beginning of my career when still in art school. At that time I simultaneously finished my previous university studies of chemistry and my first marriage. It was a major liberation on all fronts and it had to become visible in my photography. Then, for ten years, I did other things – I was interested in painting, the way artists look at their models and how to represent this in a picture. I was using myself as a model but the photos didn’t talk about what was going on in my life. I was an image-maker, dealing with formal, visual and art-historical issues. Then I approached 40 and life got complicated and the autobiography sneaked in again. It wasn’t anything I planned but I didn’t push it back either. This is my strategy as an artist: to accept the pictures that need to happen”

Elina brotherus (2016)

I found it easier to find some recurring theme in Brotherus’s work. Whilst she is the subject, she is exploring ideas such as diverse and separate, sex, motherhood and IVF. I gained a real insight into her approach watching her discuss her work on the Louisiana Channel interview. I key bit of learning from this is caution in interpreting an image, as she said to some one asking her about the theme of her image ‘I don’t like sex’, her reply was simply ‘it’s only a photograph!” There is caution in this statement to the view about how much the images is about artistic exploration and how much is about the artists? In many respects this is more accessible work than that of Woodman because there is a clear descriptive narrative about motive and intent available when you search this arrest on line and in texts. What did Learn from it? Well common human themes can be encapsulated in single images, there is also a confidence that points to the recurring theme of liberation that i hard the artist comment upon in the Louisiana video and also the photographers gallery Interview. A further and  recurrent theme that struck me were the number with two people looking in different directions. there is something about relationships and separation in the work and I will continue to reflect on this as I move through part three.


Copyright Elina Brotherus

Gillian Wearing (b 1963) presents to me some markedly different work to the previous artists. Wearing is a Turner Prize winning artists and one of the YBAs who has used photography to explore ideas of identity and self. While hunting for references I came across her work from the early 1990’s where she photographed strangers in the street holding placards that made a statement about how they felt. The work titled: The Family. Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992–3) in essence reveals what the the subjects of the images were thinking. This work was almost prescient about the social media age to come where people would share their inner thoughts with strangers through Facebook and other social media.

The work referenced in the course materials took a little understanding. Albums is a collection of recreated family  images found in albums. In each of the works Wearing creates a silicon mask of the family member, mother, father, sister, uncle. Wearing wears the mask to look like the family member in an earlier photo. The work is at first disconcerting because the edges of the masks and eyeholes of some of the masks are clearly visible, the work has a sort of unfinished , look with it being clear to a view that a mask is being worn. As Cotton (2014) suggests:

‘Wearing is literally trying on the identities of family members’  pp197

Exploring her place in her family through this project raises questions about families and relationships. Also, although the masks are artificial, they do point to the fact that the person behind the mask is linked through birth, blow and DNA to the subject they are mimicking. This is a complex work that takes the idea of the self portrait to a different conceptual level than the previous artists discussed


Adams, T. (2012) Gillian Wearing-“I have always been a bit of a  listener, The Guardian found at: (Accessed October 2016)

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

Bright, S. (2010) Quoted in Boothroyd (2015)

Brotherus, E. ( 2016)  found at: (Accessed October 2016)

Brotherus, E. ( 2013) It’s not me, it’s a photograph, Louisiana Channel video found at (Accessed October 2016)

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

Gillian Wearing takeover: behind themask – the Self Portraits


Assignment 2 Submission

Photographing the unseen

Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally, it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.

Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in or curiosity about. Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond. Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the photographer you’re becoming.)

Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7–10 images.

Love in the inanimate

‘Accidental death verdict on man who stepped into road’

Brian Robertshaw, 72, a retired market grocer who lived on Scatcherd Lane, was attempting to cross Bruntcliffe Road at 2.30pm on February 25, when he was hit by the 7.5 tonne van. He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary with serious injuries but died five hours later. Recording a verdict of accidental death, Coroner David Hinchliff passed on his personal and belated condolences to Mr Robertshaw’s family.

Morley Observer and Advertiser 

22nd September 2004


















Context, Preparation and Completion

As mentioned in my blog entry which can be found here: this was a very personal theme to explore. Particularly so I thought for my wife and I didn’t initially discuss it with her until I had made some of the first images. I wanted to see if the project would work before I talked it through with her. When I did discuss it she was comfortable with what I was doing and was supportive of me undertaking this as Assignment 2.

In the spring of 2004 my wife’s father was killed in a road accident. It is painful to lose a parent, but the circumstances of Brian’s death made the loss all the more devastating.

My wife’s parents had divorced in difficult circumstances some years before. There had always been a close father and daughter bond, but the divorce, in which my wife very much sided with her father, strengthened their relationship.

Brian lived alone and his house contained a considerable amount of personal possessions, gathered over a lifetime of interests and activity. His son, my wife’s brother, wanted none of the contents of his house and following his death much went to charity or to an auction house. There were however some personal effects that my wife wanted understandably to keep and we brought these back to our home. All were artefacts that said something about him as a man. Items from the grocers shop he owned and ran for many years, other objects reflected his rich range of interests. A keen birdwatcher all his life he inspired the same interest in his daughter. He was a keen and accomplished musician, a pianist and organist as well as singing as a tenor in the Leeds Festival Chorus with whom he made many recordings and television appearances. He had very many books of which we retained a few poignant examples that had been important to him. He had also sailed in small and large boats in seas near and far. All were elements of his life that are present today in our home in some measure. Almost like an echo of his past in our present.

This disparate collection of ‘things’ have become part of the fabric of our living environment and have gone from being sad reminders of a tragic loss to a positive reminder of his presence in our lives. These objects sit as fixed items in our home and attest to who he was, but more importantly the love for him that exists beyond his passing.

When creating this work, I was very mindful of Stephanie D’Hubert work referenced in the course materials and her reflections on the presence and absence of her mother. There are parallels to this work in my assignment, although I believe my work is fundamentally different. Notably, that for my wife, myself and our daughter, the presence of his possessions has now come to affirm that his presence continues with us. The sense of loss has waned over the years and although still missed there is a love exemplified by a range of inanimate artefacts. This is in contrast to D’Hubert’s sense of loss and absence in her poignant but I think melancholy work.

At the recent OCA symposium: New Pastoral Paradigms-Explorations in Landscape and Self, held in Sheffield, I had a chance to see and hear about John Umney’s work: ‘I Look for Him’, which is an exploration of the artist’s relationship with and memory of his father.

Although a very different and altogether darker relationship with his father, Umney’s description of how he arrived at his finished work was thoroughly engaging and set me thinking about the potential for revealing the unseen in the inanimate. Both Umney and D’Hubert used staged objects to record their ‘unseen’. Umney even spent time with a museum photographer to learn about object placement, position, background and lighting. It was while reflecting on this that my real idea and theme for this assignment came.

The unseen I allude to in this work is not just about the objects, indeed it isn’t the objects in and themselves. Their location in our home is as much about the idea as the artifact itself. The unseen exists in the ideas and thoughts about those objects and their location in our home simultaneously. The exception is perhaps the second image in the set, the binocular and book, because these things are not fixed in location because my wife uses them almost every day. The idea of the unseen in most of the images is however is about the object, its location and the thoughts and memories that are evoked.

Technical Information

All of the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and one of two prime focus lenses. The majority were made with 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full Frame camera). A small number were made with a 35mm lens (equating to 53mm on a full frame camera). I chose to use these focal lengths because I wanted to avoid any sense of distortion, I tried to create a ‘visitor in our home’ viewpoint. The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs, 1500 pixels on the long side and in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printer as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. I used natural light for all the images although weather did not always co-operate. To manage light, I used two separate large silver reflectors to direct natural light and create an even illumination. Placing the reflectors was dictated by a range of light meter readings with a hand held meter and some examination of test image histograms to manage shadows and highlights. More than 250 images were made and successive editing reduced them to the final set. I also left some thinking gaps between making and editing the work.


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

The images are well lit and exposed and I used a range of photographic controls to achieve the finished work. As mentioned controlling natural light was an issue and I believe I have created some appropriately lit and balanced colour images. I did this without the use of artificial light or flash. I was keen to retain the sense of natural light in our home. As mentioned above I used silver reflectors to direct and illuminate subject in the scenes. I sought to produce satisfying compositional elements within the parameters of the creative impression I was trying to achieve. I wanted to create a sense of the viewer being in our home environment and I think to a fair degree I achieved this. Composition of the images is simple and I think clean. As I look at the final set though there are some I would revisit if time had permitted. Most notably the 4th which with hindsight is too cluttered. I am also uncertain about the final image but will consider in the light of feedback.


Quality of outcome

The final selection of images I believe demonstrate a degree of technical competence in terms of composition, lighting and colour. Unlike my first assignment I had much greater control in this set of essentially still life studies. It was only the changing quality of the daylight I needed to manage. Although these images were made digitally, I am predominantly a film photographer in my personal work and I use my hand held meter for spot and incident metering with a measure of competence. There is a narrative to the set, but and it is a big but, I remain uncertain about how transparent this is to the viewer, not least because the real quality of the outcome is as much about the thoughts the work evokes rather than what is contained within the frame of each image. For this reason, I retain some uncertainty about the final outcome or impact of this work. Self-doubt runs deep!

Demonstration of creativity

This is the hardest element to self-assess. I worked on this theme over several months and the final images for better or worse are the outcome of a creative reflection around the theme. The challenge is that the images do have personal meaning for me and more particularly my wife. There is a narrative to the images and their order, but they need some description perhaps?

The title of the work, ‘Love in the Inanimate’, followed by the extract from the newspaper about Brian’s death is an attempt to set the context of the work. The first image of the old and now faded canvas of father and daughter taken on a long since passed birdwatching excursion is intended to anchor and make human the subject. The second image, of Brian’s binoculars, the same ones seen in the canvas within the first image, are a permanent presence on our dining table, in a kitchen that looks out over our rural garden. Brian’s faded and scribbled in bird identification book, sits along with the binoculars. Coffee and tea items in the next two images, objects taken from his Yorkshire shop, now are feature’s in his daughter’s kitchen. A shelve of his grocer’s manuals in our lounge, a memory of his work life, his prized ship in a bottle remind of his sailing adventures in distant seas. His silver framed and faded photo of his daughter’s wedding that once lived on top of his piano. The framed river scene behind it, taken by me, recording a place where my wife’s family spent their summer holidays and when her parents divorced, Brian identified this location as a place and time when he was at his happiest. For this reason, it is also the place where my wife and her brother scattered their father ashes. The image holds multiple meaning. His metronome, resting on our mantelpiece, once lived on his piano. This image captures my wife’smemoryfromchildhoodofherfathersettingitgoingeverytimehewalkedpast. Hisdaughterdoesthiseveryonceinawhile, its slow uniform tick an auditory reminder of his memory in our present. The final split image of an antique print Brian acquired on the continental travels of his youth, purposefully presented as partially out of focus and juxtaposed with Sally, his daughter in the background. All the images were carefully selected to tell the story of memory, loss, acceptance and ultimately love found and remembered in the inanimate.

As mentioned this is the hardest area of the assignment to judge and I would welcome advice and guidance of weaving a narrative through my images without a reliance on lengthy text.



This work is firmly located in the ideas of section two of context and narrative and I think my reflection on the topic demonstrates a genuine engagement with the ideas of the brief. On reflection I did spend too much time overthinking the work and I might have better spent some of the time considering the work of a wider range of artist exploring this and similar theme. I also think that I should have started making images sooner in the process. I need to see early images as a drafting process, keeping them in my note/sketch book. I will adopt this process for the next assignment.


This was a challenging assignment that stretched me, not least in the conceptual work required to plan and implement what was a very abstract theme. I think the final execution of the work demonstrates an understanding of the ideas raised in the course materials, but in truth only scratches the journey of recording the unseen. My dilemma is that the work fits the brief for me, but I am uncertain whether others will see it in the same way, others who don’t have the personal proximity to the subject and the ideas. I did consider adding some captions to the images. Looking at the work of others this can be a device to provide context for the viewer. I have been a fan for some time of Paul Seawright’s work and in particular ‘Sectarian Murder’. This is a good example of photographing the unseen. Seawright uses ‘parallel text’ intended to not only provide context but the combination of text and image creates the art. On balance though I decided not to use any more than the introductory text in the work. This strikes me as being at the heart if the challenge for the photographer, how do you make a personal theme relevant to others. I can’t claim to have the answer to this yet! That said, I learned much from this assignment in terms of balancing ideas, managing time and meeting and all be it extended deadline.


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

D’Hubert, S. (2013) What Remains, found at:

Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found (Accessed August 2016)

Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at:

Orr, J. (2016) In the Lands of Prasutagas – Unpublished Photobook

Seawright, P. (2000) Sectarian Murder, Found at: (Accessed September 2016)

Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at:, M (Accessed August 2016)

Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: (Accessed September 2016)

Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: (accessed August 2016)
New Pastoral Paradigms-Explorations in Landscape and Self- Open College of the Arts Symposium, Sheffield July 2016- Details can

be found at: (Accessed October 2016)

Morley Observer and Advertiser found at: stepped-into-road-1-1487965

Putting yourself in the picture- some initial thoughts


I must confess to feeling more than a little uncomfortable reading through this section of the course! I thought I should share some of my thoughts about this as I begin part three of the module.

I do recognise the ideas set out in the opening page of part three. There is clearly a strong and well established tradition of the artist making themselves the object of their own work. Earlier in the year I attended the excellent Alberto Giacometti- A line through time show, in which one of my favourite works was a self portrait painted by the artist as a young man. It was more than just an image of himself, the paintings rich use of colours and sculptural, heavy and thick brush strokes said something about Giacometti beyond the likeness that the painting contained. In this image I could see the power of the self portrait as a statement about an artist. Giacometti made many self portraits through his life and to my still perhaps naive eye, this works plot a set of helpful markers about style and approach through the differing phases of his work


I have also seen many photographers using self portraiture as a theme for their work, some I am sure I will cover as I work through this part of the course. Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Claud Cahun to name just a few  and all artists were there is s strong and personal narrative at the core of their.

All that said, I tend to hide behind the camera. In years of image making I  am the one missing in the thousands of images that plot my families life. In recent years I have experimented with shadow and reflection self portraits. I am concise though that this approach still retains a high level of anonymity. I think I will need to to move beyond this as I start this next part of the course.

More to follow but I have made a quick review  of some of my blog entries from my previous course.

Selected Reference

EYV blog entry about Claude Cahun Exhibition here