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

John

Assignment 4 Submission

“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.

Copyright Robert Frank

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 personal reflection about a single image and the artist’s intent.

The image that is the focus of this essay 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 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 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[3] place emphasis on the car’s occupants. 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 raises questions to 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 and all that connotes, 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[4] 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 a symbol of American prosperity. The hoardings captions read: ‘World’s highest standard of living’ and ‘there’s no way like the American way’. Frank’s subtler image, like Bourke Whites earlier work, raises questions about the validity of Americas view of itself in the 1950s as a place of growth and prosperity. Indeed, during Eisenhower’s[5] 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 this is not universal or evenly spread.

But all may not be what it seems, Motorama was GMs annual show of its latest models. It’s likely that Frank made this image at the show in March 1956[6]. Does this contextual information shift the meaning of the image, now simply a group of boys sitting in a show car? Does it change what is connoted? Connotations are subjective and they may still be valid, but it raises questions about precisely what Frank was communicating in this work.

Frank’s work certainly provoked a range of reactions and has been used to question a nation’s view of its self, presenting an alternative view of America that chimed with the ‘Beat’ generation[7] 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 hijacked 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. He cites Frank’s work being referenced by sociologists without any use of or reference to an image at all.

Barret’s (1988) notion of the ‘external context’ of an image might 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.

What a single image can connote and how widely varying interpretations can be drawn suggests the viewer ultimately constructs their own meaning in spite of the rich and varied commentary available about Frank’s work and its meaning. It is perhaps through Frank’s own words that the best insight is gained into the meaning and purpose of this image and his wider work. Writing in the U.S. Camera Annual (1958) Frank says:

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind—something has been accomplished.”

 Frank’s view of different facets of American life has certainly left an image in people minds, it might not however be the one he envisioned himself and in conclusion we might ask the question, does that matter?

 (1000 words –excluding quotes)

Footnotes

[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] 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
[4] 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
[5] The Eisenhower Era 1952-1960- AP United states history Study Notes, found at: ww.apstudynotes.org/us-history/outlines/chapter-38-the-eisenhower-era-1952-1960/ (Accessed March 2017)
[6] 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: https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/1956_Motorama:_Design_for_Dreaming
[7] 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: http://www.online-literature.com/periods/beat.php

References 

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida, Vintage Classics-Random House, London

Barrett, T. (1986)  Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts  Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. Found at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/pdfs/Barrett%20(1986)%20Photographs%20&%20Contexts.pdf (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: www.time.com/3879426/the-american-way-photos-from-the-great-ohio-river-flood-of-1937/ (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: www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/magazine/robert-franks-america.html?_r=0 (Accessed March 2017)

 Dunford, T. (2011) Looking at Robert Frank’s “The Americans”- New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/90393/sec_id/90393 (Accessed March 2017)

Dunford, T. (2012) Miss reading “On the Road” New English Review found at: http://www.newenglishreview.org/Terry_Dunford/Misreading_%22On_the_Road%22/ (Accessed March 2017)

Frank, R. (1958)  U.S. Camera Annual 1958 , p. 115 found at: www.americansuburbx.com/2012/07/robert-frank-a-statement-1958.html (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: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jan/29/robert-frank-america-photography (Accessed March 2017)

Kennel, S (2014) Robert Frank: Nobody’s Home, Bowdoin College Lecture found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfEhCoWcvrc (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2004) The Big Empty- The Guardian, found at: www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/oct/24/photography (Accessed March 2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Robert Frank at 90- The Photographer that revealed America won’t look back. The Guardian found at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows (Accessed March 2017)

Papegoerge, T. (1981) Walker Evans and Robert Frank – An Essay on Influence, found at: www. americansuburbx.com/2010/07/theory-walker-evans-and-robert-frank.html (Accessed April 2017)

Reflection and Self EvaluationAs noted in my preparation entry on my blog, I struggled with this assignment and needed additional time to complete it. This was in a large part due to spending too much time overthinking the whole exercise. I have learned something from this though through the difficulties I experiences. Sometimes you just need to produce a piece of work, ‘warts and all’ and just submit it, there is always scope to redraft based upon feedback. In this instance, I managed to create a significant block for myself by over thinking and worrying too much about my essay. I will try not to make this mistake again!

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills: I used my knowledge and Frank and his work to undertake further research in the preparation of the essay. My references demonstrate a genuine engagement with the assignment and I have tried to make good use of primary and secondary sources in constructing the essay. I have used learning from earlier activity in this course and in Expressing Your Vision to produce a coherent response to the challenge of the assignment.

Quality of Outcome: The essay meets the core requirement of the assignment but would benefit from critique and view in order to make a more robust response to the question. I see my submission as being partially complete.

Demonstration of creativity: This is a hard criterion in the context of an essay although I have used a range of sources and reflections on franks work to produce this essay. I think the range of material demonstrate an attempt to produce a worthy response to the assignment all be it an in complete one at this stage. I await tutorial critique in order to refine what I have produced at this stage

Context: In the context of this section of the course and the requirements in the essay remit I feel I have started to respond to the question. I feel that the issues raised and the position I have taken in this work demonstrate an appropriate engagement with this section of the Context and Narrative course, I have more to do though to not only refine this essay but also to develop my writing around art. I need also to be more succinct, I really struggled with the 1000 word limit, which I recognise is part of the challenge in effective writing about art

Summary: I have had a good stab at this assignment but I am dissatisfied with what I have produced. I have set myself the task of reading more about ‘writing about art’ in order to try and overcome the barriers I experienced in this assignment.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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!

References

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

Assignment 3 Feedback and reflections

ass-3-feedback-6249

I was pleased with my feedback for this assignment, particularly given the challenges that this assignment presented to me. As stated in my peroration notes i am far more used to being behind the camera than in front of it and I arrived at a very individual take of the brief. I also learned a lot along the way, not least how it would have been helpful to have an assistant for this sort of work. 

Using my now standard review methodology, I highlight the strengths my tutor identified as ell as the limitation and the areas for further study

The full tutor feedback can be found here:  j-o-tutor-report-3

As with other assignments i set out my thoughts I response to my tutor:

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your feedback on assignment three, as ever it is very helpful and thought provoking. I did find this assignment a challenge but enjoyed the whole exercise, the diary writing, the thinking, the execution and the technical aspects. It was very different, particularly the diary production and this whole way of working from a self-produced text. I agree about the images of the diary on my desk, the scribbles and comments on the diary copies perhaps form a different response to the assignment.

Images of my work, writing and OCA activity on my desk are a sort of ongoing project that spans across my OCA studies to date. Spurred on by a single polaroid image I made in June 1985. That year I left a bricks and mortar university and my abiding memory of it was an empty Formica desk with a single and permanent stain from a coffee cup on its empty surface. My ongoing collection of images of my desk at home with the activity from my OCA journey has become a personal project which counters the single polaroid from my past!

The assignment also brought home the ongoing dilemma I have about whether there should be any accompanying text with an image. This has been a recurring theme through each assignment in C&N. I am still working at not including text, although some of the reflection you offered regarding the assignment and in particular, how it would appear to a viewer, could perhaps be partially resolved with some excerpts from the diary that make direct reference to things I had written that link to the texts I was reading at the time. It was these elements of writing in the dairy and the observations of my diary reviewers that led to the selection of the texts I used as masks in the self-portraits. That said I think I still prefer to avoid the use of text to make me think about how an image might speak for itself. I recognise though that I still have a way to go on making my images talk for themselves.

Your comment about using a wider context of the background is interesting. In my initial experiments, I did try some images using a 14mm (21mm full frame equivalent) lens to show much more of the context in which the image was made. Some of the images I liked but I also felt the focus on the principle subject was reduced. I think I would again perhaps use a slightly narrower wide angle to include more of the context, particularly because I was trying to say something about me, the text/mask and the environment. I think this brought home to me the balance between a creative and well thought out assignment response balanced within the time available to make the work. This is a useful reflection when thinking about future work. I do sometimes struggle with time and experimentation and to be frank, the work is a compromise to some extent between vision, intent and the ruthlessness of time.

On the date for the next assignment I think the date you have suggested are the ones for this previous assignment, as the due date for the next assignment is that date for the submission of assignment three. I’d be grateful if you could let me have a date for assignment 4, it helps me focus and manage workload and time.

On a final note, I am in the process of looking at a number of images that might form the basis of the assignment four essay. When I have narrowed this list down to two or three I will drop you a line to get your thoughts

Again, many thanks for your comments and commentary, I genuinely find them helpful.

Best wishes

John

PS, I really like the reference to Fahrenheit 451, I hadn’t thought of that while making the work, but I could perhaps be a character in it, I am pushed to choose which book I might consume and become but it would probably be Becker’s outsiders or Funder’s Stasiland!

Assignment 3 Submission

The semi absented portrait – hiding in plain site

“Sharing your [book] shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity.”

 Knox (2012)

frank-2-6065

frank-6057

emmerson-2-6086

dick-6171

funder-6099

critical-6113

becker-5881

emo-6128

Context, Preparation and Execution

A full description of the preparation and planning for this assignment can be found on my blog here:

https://johnaorrocacn.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/assignment-3-preparation/

In brief though I completed a diary as suggested in the course materials. My diary was written over 21 days and was in many respects a collection of the thoughts that came into my head at the end of each day. It wasn’t a slavish account of the all the events of the day, although it did refer to things that took place during the day. The diary was then reviewed by four people I know. Each gave me their thoughts about what the diary said about me. Although my diary reviewers all made unique contributions to this task the single factor that stood out most in their review comments were my reading, my commitment to make time to read and the material that I read. This objective observation became the catalyst for this assignment.

In reading the course materials I had been struck particularly by the work of Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. In different ways, they both use a wide definition of the concept of the self-portrait to explore different aspects of identity. Both artists have work that looks at family identity, or indeed multiple identities. ‘Mimmickery’ is a feature too of their exploratory approach. Morrissey takes this approach further and her: ‘Ten People in a Suitcase’ is a mix of performance and investigation. While reading Baylis’s (2016) review of this work it was her comment:

‘Morrissey works to embody the lives of the subjects she has chosen and to speak of what those connections mean to her.’

 Considering this work coincided with reading an article I found in the Guardian while researching something for a presentation at work. An article by Knox (2012) entitled: What does your bookshelf say about you? In the article Knox encourages us to take a picture of our bookshelves to share this image with others as it can say so much about who we are, but more importantly why we are the person we are. He further suggests:

“Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. “

I thought of photographing a bookshelf or collection of books as a still life and exploring this idea as an absented portrait, but I then came up with the idea of being the bookshelf, in a semi absented traditional style portrait. It was this idea upon which I developed the work for this assignment.

Technical information

All the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and using a single prime focus 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full Frame camera). 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. Given the brief of a portrait image I chose the 60/90mm focal length because it was reasonably fast at f2.4 and it would allow the subject to be isolated from the background in a shallow but sharp depth of field. This assignment presented some new challenges, not least that I would not be behind the camera. Initially I enlisted a family member to help but this proved problematic. My family member assistant non-photographer they were unable to get the focus correct in the shallow depth of field that I needed. Also, there were availability issues as I made the images over a week in a variety of different locations.

Being creative and using a bit of a Heath Robinson approach, I used the camera on a tripod and set up a second tripod as a stand for the book that would be in the image and the area of key focus.

This created a precise zone to focus on the achieve the sharp but shallow depth of field images I was pre visualising. I used the camera in manual focus mode and set the scene up. Then using a cable release and self-timer I set about making the images. Some were made at home; others were made in two different city locations that I happened to be in during December. I did illicit some strange looks and comments from passersby but this is becoming a feature of my OCA assignment activity!

Self-Evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think there is some technical competence demonstrated in several the images. This is set against the backdrop of the technical challenges taking pictures of yourself creates. Even using my multiple tripod technique there are some images I am much happier about than others. I think there is a coherence to the set of images and I think I meet the brief of the assignment. There is of course room for improvement and If I did this activity again I would enlist the assistance of a competent photographer as an assistant. This would allow for far more experimentation. I felt constrained to some extent using my ‘one man’ methodology.

Quality of outcome

I believe the outcomes meets the brief of the assignment and there is some technical competence in the images submitted. I also recognize that some are stronger than others. I am far better practiced in natural light than in artificial light. The latter is an area I need to develop my skill in. I think there is reference to the work of part three of the course in my images and if nothing else the work raises some questions and issue about identity. The approach I have taken to this assignment might be interpreted as clichéd, but I think there is the kernel of an approach self-portraiture worthy of some further exploration and experimentation.

Demonstration of creativity

I have engaged with the material cited in the course around the theme of ‘putting yourself in the picture’. I have also read and researched beyond the material. This preparation supported in the production of this work. I have tried to use some of the simple tropes of formal and informal portrait images in a different manner. I have used the idea of a mask and hiding in plan site to respond to the brief in a personal manner. I think the resulting work is an ‘oblique’ form of self-portrait revealing things about self and identity. I am pleased with the outcome but recognise I am merely scratching the surface of a potential  vein of self-expression.

 Summary

This was a genuinely engaging assignment to work on that made me think in different way. I also had to manage some technical as well as creative challenges to achieve the images that I visualized. I have partially managed this and feel this assignment responds to the brief but has more potential than perhaps my images at this stage present. As with all my OCA work I press on with a journey that test me but also offer insight and challenge.

 

References

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

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, OUP, Oxford

Clarke, G. (1992) The Portrait in Photography – Critical Views, Reaction Press, Seattle

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

Zohar, A. (2011) The Elu[va]sive Portrait: Mimicry, Masquerade and Camouflage-Conceptual and Theoretical Notes, an Introduction, Trans Asia Photography Review, found at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0002.102?view=text;rgn=main (Accessed December 2016)

Assignment 3 Preparation

diary-2-5890

Assignment Brief

Drawing upon the examples in Part Three and your own research, you can approach your self-portraits however you see fit. You may choose to explore your identity or masquerade as someone else, or use empty locations or objects to speak of your experiences. However you choose to approach it, use yourself – directly or indirectly – as subject matter.

Keep a diary for a set period of time (at least two weeks). Each day write two or three pages about yourself – what you’ve been doing/thinking. This can be as specific or poetic as you wish. You may wish to pick a theme for the duration. This is an open brief designed to give you freedom to create something personal which suits you best. Use the artists you’ve looked at in Part Three or your own research for inspiration.

Select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most banal or mundane) and interpret them into a photographic project.

A good way to approach selection could be to ask a friend/fellow student/stranger to read it and send back a highlighted version. You could then base your project on those parts. This would take the pressure off you to find a ‘good story’.

You may choose to select a few days or phrases that spark an idea for you, or you may wish to exaggerate how you were feeling one day into a parody of yourself or the circumstance. You may wish to create a ‘document’ of that time in a re-creation of events – or direct a model to act out some of the content of the diary, making your own ‘film- stills’.

You could present your chosen diary entries as a visual diary or use it as a springboard for further exploration. You may choose to insert the pictures like snapshots into your diary and hand it all in together. You don’t have restrict yourself to the diary itself; you may decide to use it to take you into new territory.

Send your finished piece to your tutor by the method agreed together with an introduction of around 300 words briefly setting out your rationale and how you approached this project. You should also send to your tutor the relevant pages of your learning log or blog url.

Introduction to Assignment

As I noted in my reflections earlier in this part of the course, I have spent a lifetime remaining behind the camera. In a mass of family pictures taken over decades there are few in which I am anything other than virtually present. I am uncomfortable in front of the camera and this made this assignment novel and challenging.

My interest had been piqued though by the very different interpretations of the concept of the self portrait that I discovered in this section of the course. The traditional notions of the self portrait are challenged by the work of Sherman, Goldin, and to me, most notably by Trish Morrisey, Nikki S Lee, Gillian Wearing and Yasumasa Morimur. All of these artists use the self portrait to reveal something more than the the image of an idividual. While considering their work I was reminded of Clarke’s (1992) comment about the self portrait:

‘at virtually every level the portrait photograph is fraught with ambiguity’  pp31

Clarke (1997) goes on to suggest that this ambiguity is in part that it is never clear as to who or what is being photographed. Making reference to Robert Mapplethorpes portrait ‘Apollo’ 1988, Clarke suggests this is an exemplary enigmatic image. Half real half mask the images presents a  contrast indeed conflict between the real and the ideal, the real and the imagined. It trancends the idea of simply capturing a likeness, it captures a much richer set of ideas about who someones is, who they might be and what we might learn about them beyond the merely pictorial. I was captivated by this image and wondered whether Trish Morrisey had seen this work, the idea of the mask, of hiding within plain sight and of revealing more in an image than the sitter really helped me bring together alI I had learned in this part of the course.

The idea that the self portrait reveals something beyond the immediacy of an individual in the frame was where I started to develop the concept that I used for this assignment. The course reading had already helped me see that the self portrait was something that had to possibility of going well beyond the simple idea of the ‘likeness’.

Assignment Planning 

As suggested in the brief I kept a written diary over a three week period. This too was a new activity,  having never kept a journal type diary as far as I can recall. I have a very busy work diary with appointments and activities, that at times I see as tyrannical, and controlling, but the idea of recording events and thoughts from the day was new to me. Perhaps as  child I had recorded some reflective jottings as part of school exercises but I left school a very long time ago!

Taking a leaf, literally from Anna Fox’s ‘Cockroach diary, I used an a A5 spiral bound notebook as the repository of this diary journal. I just wrote what I was thinking about at the end of each day.The three week period covered several days on a holiday, but mostly time during my hectic working life. There wasn’t really a pattern to what I set out to record, I just set aside time at the end of each day to write two pages of jottings about the day, my activities and thoughts. Reading it back it does provide some insight, all be it a disjointed insight into three weeks of my life.

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I wrote the diary long hand and like many I am sure that most of what I tend to have to write (and I write a lot as part of my work) is done with a computer and not a pen. I noticed some real writing fatigue during the recording  of the pages for this project and I was reminded of times in my youth when I had to write pages as a student. My long hand writing muscles had not quite atrified but they had certainly been dormant for some time.

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I did really enjoy the physical act of writing the diary in long hand and although fatiguing I had forgotten the satfication of writing this way. I have produced long hand planning charts for my OCA studies, but this has been the some total of scribbling for many years.

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At times I think the diary reads as a bit of a stream of consciousness, it flits from one thing to another as ideas and thoughts came into my head. I used no formal structure or plan and I treated the diary task as free thought and free writing. I also recognised that I was too close to it to get any meaningful analysis from the pages and as suggested in the brief I enlisted friends and colleagues to review the diary for me.

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Two of the diary reviewers were professional colleagues and two were photographers friends. I felt this would provide some more objective insight into my jottings. I was a touch concerned about whether they would actually be able to decode my scribblings, given that my cursive hand is at best idiosyncratic and at worst illegible. Although my reviewers were from two different parts of my life, they all had in common the fact they had at sometime been secondary school teachers. I particularly chose them for this reason, the deciding factor being their ability to decipher scribbling, rather than any artistic or psychological criteria.

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Each was given a photocopied complete version of the dairy, all  45 hand written pages to review and comment on. I thought I did need to frame the review process but without fettering each of the reviewers own ability to comment on the diary and its content. I was also mindful they like me were all busy people. So I set three broad questions to each of them in their task.

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The questions, although not intended to limit their comments were:

  1. What does the content of the dairy say about me as an individual

  2. Could you recognise any themes or patterns in the dairy

  3. Any other comments you want to make about the diary

I encouraged them to highlight or scribble in the diary and return their thoughts, reflections and comments by e-mail to me, ideally with a bit of a summary.

Each of my four reviewers had a full photocopy of the diary for about a fortnight. All returned their copies with some annotation and some notes.  Most amazingly they all managed to decode my hasty and scribbly handwriting and all commented on the insight the diary offered into me an as individual. After the review activity I spent about an hour either face to face or on the telephone with each of the reviews talking about their observations. What stood out was that their thoughts on my diary’s content raised more questions than answers. I was  also struck by the range of things they commented on in the diary and some of the insights they made, one common observation however stood out above all others. I will return to this later.

The Diary- Review, Analysis and summary comments

Caroline C., a work colleague with the same professional background as me. She really focused on the work elements of the dairy, commented on the long patterns of work and also how work extends far beyond the 37 hours a week that we are payed for. She also picked up on my role in some of the review work. This was interesting because from my perspective I felt that the smallest bit of the diary was about work. I guess this was the common ground that we have though, so perhaps this was the lens through which she read my comments and reflections. She did comment on photography and the fact that I still used film and managed to carve out some time in a hectic work schedule for  a personal interest. She commented on her lack of ability to find time for personal interests. By far the biggets point she raised though was my commitment to reading. Reading for work, reading for my photography interest and also reading for pleasure, particularly literature. She commented on her lack of time to read and that this was a source of stress for her. In fact I felt there was something cathartic for her in her comments about my diary, she revealed something about herself while commenting about how I used my time. I was left with a sense that it had actually upset her, not because of its comments and content but because it shone a light on her own concerns about how all consuming our job can be and how little time we have if we let the job become all consuming.

Richard W., also a work colleague made a few comments about our work and my references to it, but made lots of comments about my photographic work, both for the OCA and my own project work. He was very interested that I was still using film and that I developed and scanned my own negatives. His feedback was fuelled with more questions than observation, but of course these questions said something in themselves. To me that highlighted the important role that photography plays in my life, a thread that runs through it offering moments of sanity in what is at times an unreasonable work expectations. That said, most of his comments were about my reading, the material I read, particularly the prose and poetry and also my perceived capacity to make time to read in a very busy professional life.  In reality I feel guilty that I do not read enough although I got a sense from his comments that he was keen to read more but had resigned himself to the fact that this might not happen. I have subsequently loaned him my copy of Asimovs, Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep. A book he commented on , saying he had read it in his youth and would like to read it again

Margaret S., a photographer friend and acquantance who has nothing to do with my work commented on the range of activity that I do in my work and also commented about my semi structured days. She commented on my pattern of work, reflections, cycling and then reading. She was very interested in my film developing and scanning and the labs that used when not processing images myself. She did make some reference to my work and asked me lots of questions about the work I do particularly the references to reviews, which she knew were about schools. What was fascinating again about this reviewers comments and questions was that she raised more questions than  offered comments. I suppose I provided a written snapshot into three weeks of my life and it raised more questions than provided details. I really liked this idea of the dairy as a catalyst for wider thinking. Margaret was also very interest in my OCA photography studies and I have since given her access to this blog and also my EYV Blog. Again the thing that struck her in my scribblings was the reading that I did and that reading tranceded all of my activities. I read for work, for pleasure and to learn, she felt this was something she would like to do more of and she asked me to share the titles of books about photographic practice that I found useful. I have subseqauntly bought her a copy of Bergers Ways of Seeing, giving her the copy over the christmas holidays, sadly only days before the news of John Berger’s death

Jeanette C. Also a photographer friend and retired teacher. She focused immediately  on what I was reading, she commented on the range of books I made reference to and her views on several of those books, particualrly Street Photography Now which she was also reading. She commented that retirement had brought her the time to read the things she felt she had not been able to read when working and like the others commented on my time commitment to read in a busy working week. She was also interested not in my film photography work but on my choice not to use digital cameras. We had quite a chat about this but that sits outside the remit for this task and assignment. We also talked about education and she was interested , although with a sense of concern, about my school review work, she knew about my work as an Inspector (not directly referenced in the dairy) and she shared her feeling and indeed anger about Ofsted and her perception of its impact on teachers. In many respects Jeanette’s engagement led to responses that were wider in scope than the other reviewerss, All helpful though.

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Common themes identified in the diary

There is clearly some subjectivity when looking at someone elses diary but in collating the general comments the list below is a summary of the collective observations that my reviewers made. I have edited this does to some extent and the criteria I used was to only list things that appeared in all four reviewers commentary.

These were:

  • Very variable handwriting, at times really legible at other times quite hard to decipher
  • You seem to spend at least some of everyday reading
  • You read a lot. You make and allocate  time to read for pleasure as well as for work and for study.
  • I need to make more time to read like you do
  • You spend more time on  an exercise bike than a real bike.
  • Do you really watch TV on your exercise bike?
  • This OCA course is clearly something you are investing time in.
  • How do you create time for all the things you do!
  • Your reading habits tell me things I didn’t know about you.

The Semi Absented Self Portrait-Hiding in plain site

Armed with the comments from my diary reviewers  and reflecting on the course materials, I began to develop my assignment response. I had been struck particularly in the course reading by the work of Gillian Wearing and Trish Morrissey. In different ways, they both use a wide definition of the concept of the self portrait to explore different aspects of identity. They appear to exploit the ambiguity that Clarke (1992) refers to that i mentioned at the artist of this blog entry. Both artists have work that looks at family identity, or indeed multiple identities.’ Mimicry’ is a feature too of their exploratory approach. Morrissey takes this approach further and her: Ten People in a Suitcase is a mix of performance and investigation.

While reading Baylis’s (2016) review of this work it was her comment:

Morrissey works to embody the lives of the subjects she has chosen and to speak of what those connections mean to her.

Considering this work coincided with article I found in the Guardian while researching something for a presentation at work. An article by  Knox (2012) entitled: What does your bookshelf say about you? In the article Knox encourages us to take a picture of our bookshelves to share  this image with others as it can say so much about who we are, but more importantly why we are the person we are. He further suggests:

“Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. “

I thought of photographing a bookshelf or collection of books  still life and exploring this idea as an absented portrait, but I then came up with the idea of being the bookshelf, in a semi absented portrait traditional style portrait. It was this idea upon which I developed the work for this assignment.

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This idea gained some momentum as I re read the diary myself, through the lens of the comments of Caroline, Richard, Margaret and Jeanette. The time I invest in reading also really stood out now to me, it was not something I had thought about before to the same extent. If a portrait is about capturing something of the sense of an individual, revealing a wider perceptive or even truth, then this seemed a way to develop the assignment.

As with other assignments I brainstormed out some of these ideas, but to be frank, I already had a strong idea in my head by this stage of what my assignment images might look like.

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I have already commented upon my concern about being in a photograph and my preference to be behind the camera. The  approach I took offers a sort of camouflage, a hiding in plain site, but affording something about me in the camouflage I deployed. Although an article about women in protest work, I took the idea of camouflage from Zohar (2011) excellent article on: The Elu[va]sive Portrait.

Making the work

This assignment presented some new challenges, not least that I would not be behind the camera. Initially I enlisted a family member to help out but this proved problematic. My family member assistant  non-photographer struggled and was unable to get the focus correct in the shallow depth of field that I needed in the images to achieve the look I envisaged. Also, there were availability issues as I made the images over a couple weeks in a variety of different locations. Timing was a challenge too during the month of December when days are short and available light can be limited. We tried for several days but in the end frustration on both parts meant I had to rethink the approach.  As I mentioned above, I had a vision in my head of what my images might look like. Being creative and using a bit of a Heath Robinson approach, I used the camera on a tripod and set up a second tripod as a stand for the book that would be in the image and the area of key focus.

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This created a precise zone to focus on the achieve the sharp but shallow depth of field images I was pre visualising. I used the camera in manual focus mode and set the scene up. Then using a cable release and self timer I set about making the images. Some were made at home, others were made in two different city locations that I happened to be in during December. I did illicit some strange looks and comments from passers by but this is becoming a feature of my OCA assignment activity!

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I made a number of images many of which I discarded in the first instance. I retried and refined my approach and started to get images of an acceptable quality in terms of technical execution and the visual effect I was trying to achieve. I really enjoyed the technical and creative challenge of this assignment and by the final set of images I had added elements into the images that reveal something more about me and who I am. This was a genuine exploration of self  through a semi absented self portrait using a type of mask but a mask that contained information that had the potential to be revealing but also ambiguous and secretive. Even what I am wearing  in the images has some coded information. 

From a technical point of view all the images were made using a crop sensor camera (1.5x crop factor) and using a single prime focus 60mm lens (equating to 90mm on a full frame camera). The images were recorded as RAW files, processed in Lightroom then converted to Jpegs,  with a dimension of 1500 pixels on the long side. As per the OCA requirements they are in Adobe (RGB) colour space. A second set was made ready for sending to a commercial printers as TIFF Files in sRGB colour space and the file size specified by the commercial printer. Given the brief of a portrait image I chose the 60/90mm focal length because it was reasonably fast at f2.4 and it would allow the subject to be isolated from the background in a shallow but sharp depth of field. I did initially experiment with a 14mm (21mm full frame equivalent) lens at very close proximity (300mm) to the subject, this created an interesting effect but I found too much distraction in the wider background and quickly settled on a classic portrait focal length lens and portrait format image orientation.

References

Baylis, G. (2016) Hidden People, Ten People in a Suitcase, Source- The Photographic Review,  Autumn 2016, Issue 87

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

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph, OUP,  Oxford

Clarke, G. (1992) The Portrait in Photography – Critical Views, Reaction Press, Seatle

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

Knox, P (2012) What does your bookshelf say about you? Guardian , found at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/07/bookshelf-say-about-you (Accessed December 2012)

Zohar, A. (2011) The Elu[va]sive Portrait: Mimicry, Masquerade and Camouflage-Conceptual and Theoretical Notes, an Introduction, Trans Asia Photography Review, found at: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0002.102?view=text;rgn=main (Accessed December 2016)

Assignment 2 Feedback, Reflection and Rework

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I was very pleased with the feedback for this assignment. There was a helpful balance of positive comments mixed with constructive critique. I code all my written feedback using highlighter pens in order to maximise the learning from tutor comments and also to inform the rework of the assignment. This has come a bit of a habit, but as a distance learner working in a degree of solitude I try to eek out all that I can from the written feedback.

Strengths are highlighted in green, areas for development in pink and follow up suggestions are highlighted in yellow. The feedback for this assignment confirmed that there was good development in conceptual thinking, a sense of narrative with some continuity and some good images. There was a good level of technical ability also demonstrated.

This was tempered with very helpful critique suggesting that some of the images did’t meet the ambition of the project. Also my thinking was not singularly defined enough leading to some ambiguity in reading what the work was ultimately about. I have stated before that I am on a journey and I am refining my technique as I go, but achieving my intent in work is still illusive. But, there is much learning on the way and in many respects the constructive critical feedback is more valuable as a learning aid than the positive comments. I also recognised and understood the criticism  about some of the images , particularly the cluttered ones where my message was not clearly enough defined. This was a very personal project and making it accessible to a wider audience isn’t easy, nor should it be really. At the risk of sounding trite any one could do it if it were easy!

This work was in many respects very emotional and personal, particularly for my wife. For this reason I feel it is important to rework some of the images in order to fulfil the goal I set out to achieve , capturing love and cherished memory in the objects left behind by someone close who is no longer with us.

My response to Tutor feedback

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your helpful feedback for Assignment 2. It was a very personal interpretation of the brief and your feedback is helpful in identifying the strengths and limitations of the work. Your question about the purpose of the work proved to be particularly helpful in raising what should have been an obvious point for me to consider. In many respects I saw the work as a response to the brief, but recognise I need to make work that transcends the idea of the brief and stands out in its own right. With hindsight the work is about presence and this needs to stand out more. I was pleased that you liked the final images in the set. Interestingly these were also images I made towards the end of schedule. I think ideas and themes developed through the process of making the work may be the most interesting, more so than those the planning stage.

Taking on board your feedback about the clutter in some of the images, which I agree with, I am going to re do the exercise in advance assessment. I want to explore the idea of a juxtaposition of the living with the objects that are in the images. I will also look at some references about still life photography. I was very interested in your comments about Vanitas objects. I have done quite a bit of reading about this over the past few days. I have looked at some interesting on-line discussions about the work of Steenwyck.

Many thanks for the references, I really enjoyed the Avedon and the Richon in particular

This was a good assignment from a learning point of view and I recognises that I still have further work to do.

Thank you for the comments about the blog. It is a work in progress and there are still some items that are not displaying. Mainly write ups to exhibitions and study visits. I thoroughly enjoyed and felt quite enlighted by my visist to the Conceptual Art show at Tate Britain. I am going to set aside some time to try and get to grips with my WordPress woes!

I will press on with the next part of the course and am today starting the diary in advance of assignment 3 I thought it might be good to do it for longer than 2 weeks.

Many thanks again for your helpful feedback, it is exactly what I need.

Best wishes

John

Overall I was pleased however that my tutor felt this was a good attempt at a complex piece of work. I was left with the clear sense of the strengths and the areas I need to work on. The full feedback can be read here: j-o-tutor-report-2

My tutor also suggested I should look at further work around still life photography and supplied some helpful links which I followed up on.

I was intrigued by the notion of the vanitas object, a feature in dutch school painting

Objects featured in artwork are a well known area of discussion and thought and the vanitas works of the dutch school are perhaps some of the best known. I first came across the idea while reading Berger’s: Ways of Seeing. He talks about painting becoming a mechanism for the display of wealth and power during the Renaissance.

The gospel quote below shed some light on the idea of objects and vanity

 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:18-21

Olivier Richon suggests:

–“ a re-interpretation of the still life genre and a reflection on the object as sign. He uses a large format camera to quote genres and other images, also using animals as a recurrent subject that complements the stillness of objects. The camera is commonly a metaphor for the eye. Richon proposes that the camera is also a metaphor for the mouth: a devouring eye or a drinking eye that absorbs its subject to turn it into an image. Here photographic practice is located within a contemporary notion of allegory that considers the images as a script and a rebus, where meaning and signs are accumulated, in the same manner as objects are represented as an accumulation of signs in the Flemish still life.”

From this quote I began to explore two key areas in the reworking of this assignment. The first was the notion of images as a script or more significantly a Rebus. I also spent some time looking at Flemish painting and the idea of ‘Vanitas’ symbols.

Following up on a reference made in the written feedback I read the 1974 article from Camera Magazine by Richard Alvedon – ‘Jacob Isreal Avedon- (1974). In this brief article Alvedon reflects on photographing his father in the final years of his life. Avedon was impolying all his skills as a prriat photographer who in essence worked with strangers to record a subject with whom he had a deep relationship. I was struck by a particular line in the article in reference to the final images:

They exist on their own. Whatever happened between us was important to us, but it is not important to the pictures. What is in them is self-contained and, in some strange way, free of us both.

This quote was important in my reflections about my assignment and what i was trying to achieve in the images I made. The essence of the images and their content was highly personally an at odds to the idea Alvedon sets out above. This helped me anchor what I wanted the set of images to say, it helped me unpack some of the confusion evident in the work as suggested in my tutors comments. In the feedback my tutor posed the question any viewer would ask:

….what is the purpose of the work? Is it a celebration of a life, an account of a life, a critique of a life or an evaluation of a life?

For me I wanted the work to be a celebration of life, a statement about objects in the present that say something about an important life that still has influence although now gone. I was also helped by the critique of the individual images. One was singled out as offering a different way of developing the theme. With reference to the image below the feedback suggested:

I particularly like the image of the picture and the figure in the background that creates a certain ambiguity. This image suggest to me that perhaps there was another way to interpret this brief through the relationship between the objects and at the point that they come in contact with the living.

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This set me thinking about how I might combine some of the compositional ideas i had looked at in the flemish painting and the notions of objects at the point they come into contact with the living. Based upon this idea I made a number of new images, in which the Vanitas, the Moment Mori are seen in the same context as the living. This was much more exploratory and to some extent more of a risk than the original set of images.

The set uses some of the original images but removes some of the very cluttered one and actively superimposes the living in the same scene as the objects that are at the heart of the theme.

The works remains very personal and i am struck by the paradox that it is very hard to be objective about a work that is so unashamedly subjective. For the images to work they need to strike a connection with the vower who may also hold certain personal object dear from deputed family member sand relatives. Indeed this is at the heart of the idea of vanities object. in the end object outlive their owners and a vanities object does not have to be as brash as a skull, a candle, a clock to make the point about the passage of time and the temporal nature of life. To me and in this work, the binoculars seen on both the first and third images (they are the same pair) fulfil the same symbolic function

I am uncertain as to whether the final set works, but it does get closer to the sense of a celebration of someones life and the part they play in the current lives of their loved ones.

Reworked Image Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Avedon, R. (1974) ‘Jacob Isreal Avedon’ Camera Magazine November 1974 , found at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/04/richard-avedon-jacob-israel-avedon-1974.html (Accessed December 2016)

Harman Steenwyck – Vanitas Still life Painting http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/still_life/harmen_steenwyck.htm

Momento Mori Defintion, found at : http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/memento-mori (Accessed December 2016)

Arkette, S. (2009) http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/photography-olivier-richon-anima-l/

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


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Context, Preparation and Completion

As mentioned in my blog entry which can be found here: https://johnaorrocacn.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/assignment-2-preperation/ 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.

Self-Evaluation

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.

 

Context

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.

Summary

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.

References

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

D’Hubert, S. (2013) What Remains, found at: http://www.stephaniedhubert.com/what-remains

Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found at:www.michaliwanowski.com/clear-of-people/4577315405 (Accessed August 2016)

Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at: https://johnaorroca.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/manfred-willmann-das-land/

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

Seawright, P. (2000) Sectarian Murder, Found at: http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian/ (Accessed September 2016)

Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at: http://www.oldbergkunst.format.com/gerhard-stromberg#1Willman, M (Accessed August 2016)

Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: http://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ (Accessed September 2016)

Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: http://www.johnumney.co.uk/i-look-for-him.html (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: https://weareoca.com/photography/new-pastoral-paradigms-sheffield/ (Accessed October 2016)

Morley Observer and Advertiser found at: http://www.morleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/accidental-death-verdict-on-man-who- stepped-into-road-1-1487965

Assignment 2 – Preparation and Planning


1. 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.

assig-2-mindmap

Image from C&N Notebook

Of the two options available for this assignment I quickly settled on the first. Although bot presented a challenge and new territory, I quickly started to think about ideas for the first option. That said I then spent a considerable amount of time pondering the challenge of this assignment. In fact I had a  big psychological block and spent far more time thinking and rethinking that I should have done, I may have been overthinking things too. I have been trying to take a more in depth approach to assignments in this second OCA module for me, but there is a balance to strike that i may not have achieved yet.

As a result of all of this thinking I began to pursue a particular  idea, based on my reflections of childhood and significantly  influenced by Jodie Taylor’s work referenced in the course materials. This work struck a real chord with me. I got as far as making a  number of the images  but felt unsatisfied on a number of levels with what I was doing and how the work was developing. As mentioned above I am spending far more time in deeper thinking about the work I am producing and with a newer and more challenging idea for the exercise in mind I decided to start all over again, but I am glad that I did.

An implication of this was that I ran out of time and had to ask my tutor for an extension on the original date. To compound my challenge I also changed jobs during this period and this brought some additional challenges in that I was ‘time poor’ for much of August and a good part of September. The new day job has greater demands than my already demanding work so  have also had to reorder many priorities. I know this goes with the territory when undertaking personal study.

The challenge I had was thinking about a strong enough and engaging enough idea, particularly one which would be recognisable by others. The case studies in the course materials are all bold and inspiring and I think I managed to think myself into a space where I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees. What follows therefore in this blog entry is a review of my initial thinking and ideas.

Themes I initially considered and explored:


Marks on the the land

I live in a very rural, but heavily farmed landscape. As an outsider, although I have been here for 17 years, I don’t hold any notions of the idyllic or the pastoral about the English landscape. The land around me is a man made construct and an industrialised space, far more the product of human intervention than of the topography that underlies it. The massive fields are exploited to their limits by men and machinery and shaped and governed by GPS technology, yield algorithms and the needs of the markets. I was introduced to the work of Manfred Willman and Gerhard Stromberg through my earlier OCA studies and I thought in particular about Stromberg’s work ‘Unterwegs-Along the Way’ and its exploration of themes about our place in the landscape offered some insight into exploring the unseen in the landscape. From my perspective the landscape carries an imprint of  how it has been used and abused and I thought this might be an interesting idea to pursue and explore. I reflected on this sort of issue in my very first OCA assignment, and have continued to record my square mile for personal exploration and development. In part for this reason I decided not to pursue this work just yet!

Journey from childhood to where I am now

Jody Taylor’s work I found very engaging and thought provoking and evocative, in truth more the themes and ideas within her work than the images necessarily. It proved to be inspiring and at first I settled on this as my theme for the assignment. In fact I did some outline work exploring this concept.  As a professional in my mid 50’s I reluctantly have to admit to  moving towards the final phase of my career, one in which I have enjoyed reasonable degree of success. I think it was this that struck a chord when I looked at and reflected on Taylor’s work. I live 175 miles from where I grew up but I invested some time and travelled to the streets of my childhood, including going back to the gates of my primary school and retracing my journey to the house that was my childhood home. It was an interesting and emotional journey through an urban space that was simultaneously alien and familiar. As I walked the two miles I was reminded of a conversation between my parents and the headteacher of my primary school just before I left to go to secondary school. Although more than 40 years ago it was a strong memory, a conversation in which I sat as a silent witness. In short my parents were told that  if I kept my ‘nose clean’ I might just get a job in one of the many factories in the industrial midlands. On leaving primary school this was the highest expectation and best hope  for my future. This conversations contents shaped my parents and my own view of my capacity and capability until I left home in my late teens. This seemed a rich vein to explore but also felt too big and frankly too complex project to do justice in the time available and although I had already invested some time and energy I decided to stop and change track. But it is a theme to which I may return too at some point.

Reflections on my late father in law

This was a very personal and potentially upsetting theme to explore, but one that offered some challenge in stretching me creatively and technically. In 2004 my wife lost her father in a road accident. Following the acrimonious divorce of her parents some years earlier  she grew even closer to him and it has taken many years to come to terms with the tragic circumstances of his death. When we cleared his house and subsequently sold it, my wife was keen to retain a small number of his possession as mementos and reminders of him. I thought of Stephanie D’Hubert’s work referenced in the course work and her reflections on the presence and absence of her mother and I had also recently seen John Upney’s work, “I look for him’ about his own father and his dark relationship with him.  Reflecting on these work and the assignment brief it seemed an interesting idea to explore the part my father in laws possessions  play within our lives. Their impact seemed to be a good example of the unseen and one in which I might seek to meet the expectations  of the assignment. Ultimately it was this theme that I used of the assignment.

Work, Work, Work

I lead a very busy life and as stated earlier I tend to be time poor. I wondered about trying to illustrate this idea through a collection of images of my work environment. it would involve recording fragments of my working day. A big challenge because I needed to think about how I create a sense of the pace of work without it being a literal representation. Added to that I would not be able to just make photographs of what I do for a host of reasons. That said there are traces of my world of work that might be recorded that together could create a sense of a busy working life. I got as far as scoping out some locations and ideas, but ultimately felt this was just too abstract at this stage for me to successfully complete in the time available.

The photographers shadow

I have for some time experimented with my own shadow when making images. Shadow play and self portraiture are well warn paths and not particularly original but I thought exploring the notions of capturing my own shadow while making images might be a way of showing the image maker as the ‘unseen ‘ element in many images. I was reminded  of several  shadow self portraits by Ansel Adams. There is something about these images that anchor the artist in his work without them being physically present and although I know that I will explore self portraiture as part of the third element of this course. Again I decided not to pursue this theme further at this stage.

Traces of time, people and place

Although I live in a rural area, I am 20 miles from the city of Norwich. I have had an ongoing project looking at the contrasts in the built environment of the city. A city which has many buildings dating back to medieval times juxtaposed with some magnificent but hated brutalist edifices. I think the built environment offers insight into how the powerful feel we should all live and in this there is something about class , culture and politics. I have recently completed a personal photobook on the topic. I initially thought I might begin some further work around the theme. I did however think this might be in breach of OCA regulations about using previous work or theme and although I would have created entirely new work I felt I should move on from this theme.

Distant roots and family ties

Although I have lived in England for most of my life and I even have a blunted, but still distinct regional accent, I am still an immigrant, all be it arriving with my parents as an infant. My heritage has always been in the background but over shadowed by my sense of the influence of England and Great Britain on me. That said I remain a dual national and this was brought into sharp relief with the Brexit vote earlier in the year. I was deeply disappointed by the outcome, but respectful of  the voice of the majority. My  18 year daughter is far less sanguine about the outcome of the vote which has led to us taking action as family that I had never thought would occur. Feeling that she as a UK citizen may in the future be cut off from the wealth of opportunities currently available to the young in Europe, particularly study, I began the process of getting dual nationality for her, so that she will retain EU citizenship when the UK leaves the EU. This has been an interesting journey and I thought recording this might prove a fruitful subject. There is a lot of paperwork and I envisaged and almost collage type presentation for the final assignment. However it has been a time consuming process and I felt if I pursued this theme I might again run out of time.

Sally and Illness

This was another potential theme that was close to home and potentially emotional. My wife has not enjoyed good health over a period of time and hospital appointments, medication and adjustments to family life have been a feature of our world. Clearly this  sort of theme is a well worn path for photographers, but each set of personal circumstances is unique and I thought that this fact alone offers the opportunity to create work that meets the brief. I discussed the idea with my wife , which I thought was appropriate given that she, all be it indirectly, would be the subject of the work. She was not averse to the idea but did suggest that elements might be upsetting to her. After a setback in her current round of treatment I decided that this was not an avenue to pursue.


In parallel to investigating the themes above I was reading a re-reading the case studies in the course material to try and gain a deeper understanding of the task. As highlighted in the ideas above and set out in the references, I  looked at and considered the work of a wider range of artists to help me think through the options.

One not mentioned yet is an inspiring collection of images by Polish artist Michel Iwanosski; ‘Clear of People’. This is a record of the epic journey his ancestors made in escaping from capture during the second world war. Retracing their journey through Eastern Europe he records something about the tension and fear they must have felt by documenting the land along the way. To me this work absolutely captures the unseen, using landscape as a metaphor and record. Although I finally settled on  a very different project I was very much influenced by the words Iwanosski when I heard him speak at an OCA Symposium particularly when he spoke of his family history and the power of images to evoke meaning far beyond the contents of the frame.

In summary I did a lot of preparation and had more than one false start before I settled on a final theme for the assignment. 

Reflections on my late father in law became the final choice. It is hard to define precisely why. The course had encouraged some wide thinking and as mentioned already I had initially settled upon and started another theme, but my research and reading drew me back to this idea and with the additional time agreed by my tutor I set about making the work.

References

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

D’Hubert, S.  (2013) What Remains, found at: http://www.stephaniedhubert.com/what-remains

Iwanosski, M. (2016) Clear of People: found at:www.michaliwanowski.com/clear-of-people/4577315405 (Accessed August 2016)

Manfred Willman- Das Land Blog Entry at: https://johnaorroca.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/manfred-willmann-das-land/

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

Stromberg, G (2013) Unterwegs-Along the Way, found at: http://www.oldbergkunst.format.com/gerhard-stromberg#1Willman, M (Accessed August 2016)

Taylor, J. (2013) Memories of childhood, found at: http://weareoca.com/photography/photography-and-nostalgia/ (Accessed September 2016)

Umney, J (2015) I Look for Him, found at: http://www.johnumney.co.uk/i-look-for-him.html (accessed August 2016)

Assignment 1 Feedback and Rework

I was really pleased with the feedback from this first C&N assignment. It was a good balance of positive comments with some clear and helpful critique around improving and developing this type of assignment. Although not assessed, it is helpful to have a clear view of strengths and areas for development. As with feedback from previous courses I use different colour highlighter pens to identify the strengths, areas for development and things to follow up on.

The full tutor feedback can be found hear: §

Dear Matthew,

Many thanks for your detailed and encouraging feedback. I was pleased overall with the assignment, but also recognise there are lots of areas for improvement.

Your critique of the assignment images is very helpful and in the light of your comments I will rework the assignment.

You are right about the initial pair of images and given they are the first that the viewer sees, I am going to replace them with a pair I pondered on using in my original edit. Your comments about the majority of the images being from behind the adult is also correct. In part the motivation was to use this viewpoint on purpose. When I had my ‘stop and stare’ time in the planning phase, it was the children that trailed behind their parents that caught my eye. That said I have some different view points in the contact sheets an I will look through these again with a view to adding something different ino the set.

I am very much enjoying the reading and research element of this module and will continue to add to my blog. I am reading a lot of John Berger at present and will be adding some thoughts about this on the blog soon.

Thank you very much for the suggested reading material I will press on with part two!

Again, many thanks for your detailed and constructive feedback.

Best wishes

John

 

Reworked  Assignment

Taking on bard the issue about the initial images and to address the point raised by my tutor editing, set out below is a slightly revised set of diptychs. Making images in the car was difficult so I have made new images that locate the start of the journey for the adult and child outside the car. A minor change but one that I think adds to the narrative.  This revised set has also been printed in readiness for submissions for assessment. Although this assignment doesn’t form part of the overall assessment i still preferred to change in the light of tutor feedback.

 

‘Every parent’s nightmare as seven-year-old son goes missing’

A mother whose seven-year-old son went missing for more than seven hours has described how she feared she would never see him again.

Eastern Daily Press January 2014