Assignment 4 Preparation: An honest reflection on my problems with this assignment

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

I pondered on this assignment for far too long before making a proper start. I thought about a range of images that I might use and narrowed these down to three:

  • Robert Franks:  ‘Motorama LA’
  • Phillip Jones-Griffiths: ‘Boy destroying a piano in Pont-y-Waen’
  • John Bulmer’s:  ‘Manchester 1977’

But more importantly I  bought a copy of Sophie Howarth’s : Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs and read much of it, some of it twice. This I  thought would be good preparation for thinking about the content of an essay. It also gave me access to Liz Jobey’s Essay about Diane Arbus’s image ‘A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday Outing NYC 1966 for the Part 4 Research Point.

As well as reading the Jobey’s essay several times I read all the other essays in the book with the exception of Geoffrey Batcham’s: Latticed Window (with camera obscura) August 1835. I will at some point soon read this one too.

In truth  I struggled with the Jobey’s essay. It wasn’t difficult to read and it was also very engaging, indeed it’s an excellent example of using a single image  as a window on the work of an artist. It takes an analysis of a single image and skilfully weaves a compelling and evidence based history on the life , work and death of Diane Arbus..

What I struggled with and I think it shows in my Research Point here, was that the essay created a real block for me in thinking about what i needed to write in my assignment. I now know much more about Arbus and that’s good, but I started to really over think what had to be in my 1000 word essay.

Where I really struggled was that perhaps I had perhaps completely misread the purpose of Assignment 4? Howarth’s introduction to: Singular Images Essays on Remarkable Photographs offers a compelling reason for focusing on a single image, the challenge between Van Deren Coke and Beaumont Newhall provides a rationale. But am I supposed to be reviewing a single image for meaning, i=or offer an greater insight into the photographer, their life and work? This I believe is what Jobey has done in her essay in Howart

In short I read the essay and thought how can I do anything like that in 1000 words. I know the assignment is not meant to be on the scale of Jobey’s, an accomplished writer, who also had 4,350 to make her case, but I suppose I slipped into a serious phase of over thinking assignment 4 perhaps. Other essays in the book seemed more achievable as a blue print for my assignment. In particular Dominic Willsdon’s:  Aegean Sea, Pilion 1990, using a Sugimoto image as the focus.

To cut a long story short my reflections and pondering on all of this ground me to a halt. I did decide upon an image fairly quickly and checked out my choice with my tutor and he was supportive of the image that I finally settle upon.

Struggling to make a start I immersed myself in reading about Robert Frank. Although, familiar with Frank’s work I felt I needed more background. Using the title of the image and some internet research I even tracked down to with in 4-5 days when and where precisely the image I had chosen was made. I found no reference to this in any of the material I read through so I felt fairly pleased that this, at least to me seemed like an original piece of research about Frank. All this activity though was to a large extent an diversion to setting pen to pare and writing the assignment. I even had to ask for an extension in order to complete it. What I wrote was the product of 5 to 6 drafts none of which am I really satisfied with , however, as the poet said: ‘what is writ is writ”

End Note

I should say, that I don’t have an issue with writing, but I have struggled with writing for this assignment. I have to get over it, move on and learn from the experience. I am sure their will be much more writing of this nature ahead!


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


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