Research Point – Gregory Crewdson

Look up the work of Gregory Crewdson online.

Watch this YouTube video about Gregory Crewdson and his work and consider the questions below. [accessed 24/02/14]

  • Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?
  • Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?
  • What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?


I hade seen some o the work of Crewdson prior to this part of the course and had been struck by both the cinematic quality  and the sheer scale of the work. As part of the of the ‘Perdidos en la Ciudad’ exhibition I visited at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern in Spain, there were 4 of Crewdson images filling a massive gallery space. I have to say the images in the flesh are utterly mesmerising, the detail is almost indescribable at close quarters. The use of well known hollywood actors as subject in the images adds to the epic cinematic qulkaity of the work. in a digital age the power of his 10×8 view camera negatives printed on a grand scale are utterly beautiful, in spite of their often sensitiser narrative. It is in this context and with a little familiarity that I respond to the questions in this research point.

Do you think there is more to this work than aesthetic beauty?

Certainly but i need to explain why. The images are without doubt aesthetically engaging, the use of colour, the High Definition detail of the work couples with the use of lighting. As the OCA reference video: ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame‘ highlights, Crewdson pays great attention to the lighting using what appear to be the same techniques that a movie director wold employ. All of that said the placement of characters and objects in the frame couples with the location and the lighting challenge the view to ask questions about what is going on. i will use the image below to illustrate what I mean.

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The seemingly simple scene of a residential district in the snow reveals something  about place and time and season, but the lone and small figure standing in the doorway of the building raises questions? The future could initially be overlooked, but like so many of Crewdson’s images the people in them add a tension to the scene. This particle image also has the title “Beneath the roses again asking questions of the view and almost holding the vower in intrigue. There is something eerie in his images in part created by the time taken, often in the strange light of twilight, which again adds to the intrigue. The images also have the look of ‘photo realistic painting and some of the smaller works i have seen by Crewdson demand close inspection to see that they are actually photographs. This all adds to the sense that there is far more to this work than the aesthetic.

Do you think Crewdson succeeds in making his work ‘psychological’? What does this mean?

Crewdsons work has an almost fairy tail, other worldly quality even though he is using a clearly urban landscape at twilight. I was interested in the reference in ‘Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame’ video to Crewdson’s father being a Psycho Analyst and the artist as a child hearing, without really being able to define what was being said as  his father worked with patients in a room below him in his childhood home. There is perhaps an ‘unconscious’ world being p in the portrayed in the twilight realm that Crewdson is creating in his work. This sense of the ‘psychological is to my eye further enhanced by the expressions on the faces of some of the subjects in the images as well as the nature of the ‘tableau’ he creates. The image below I feel illustrates this:

Copyright Gregory Crewdson

The image, called ‘Daughter is quite disturbing, the look on the face of the mother and the posture of the half clothed figure creates a troubling but simultaneously  intriguing tableau that is certainly not a normal family scene. Stephen Berg (2015) suggests that Crewdson’s work uses a ‘supernatural ‘quality to portray american life, drawing upon the work of Gary Winnogrand and Walker Evans , but offering a very personal take. The work is edgy and disturbing and for me the heart of the psychological feel that the work creates is the tension between the aesthetic beauty inherent in his work contrasts with the disturbing themes he is revealing. There is also a tension between the sense of the ‘credible’ that the aesthetic nature of his images offer , contrasted with the troubling themes within the work. this drama adds to the sense of the psychological in the work. There are lots of references on line to the influence of Hopper on Crewdson, Hopper too offers a sense of the psychological in his work, perhaps the solitude evident in some of his work. Crewdson work has encouraged me to visit the work of hopper too.

What is your main goal when making pictures? Do you think there’s anything wrong with making beauty your main goal? Why or why not?

These are tough questions to answer, not least because it would be hard to compete with the beauty of Crewdson’s images whatever my motive for image making! That said I do strive in my own developing practice to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing even if the motive is wider or there is a more specific intent in the work. Why? Well I believe that engaging viewer can be assisted by a visually aesthetic image. The surrealist to an extent used beauty and intrigue to engage the viewer and Crewdson uses a cinematic approach to engage the ver with what i think is a much greater message, one of the things that sit bowl the surface where all might not be what it seems at first glance. I am reminded of David lynch’s work such as Blue Velvet, where the picturesque picket fence  draws us in but later reveals the immensely sinister. Beauty has a way of engaging! i think i need to reflect on this more though as i move to make assignment 5.


Berg, S (2015) quoted in Koetzle (2015)

Koetzle, H-M (2015) A-Z, Taschen, Koln

Gregory Crewdson II:

Perdidos en la ciudad. La vida urbana en las colecciones delIVAM:


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)


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: (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:
[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:


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: (Accessed March 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.








Project 1 Setting the scene – Exercise

 Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: [accessed 24/02/14]

Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.

  • What does this scene tell you about the main character?
  • How does it do this? List the ‘clues’. 

Make some notes in your leaning log

What does this scene tell you about the main character?

This is a fast paced scene and a lot happens in the just over three minutes of the vignette. The pace is supported by the rhythm and time of the accompanying theme, ‘Then he Kissed me’ by the ‘Krystals’, produced by Phil Spectre. Every interaction the main character has with people on the journey from the parked car in the street all the way to the table being put out for hime in the club points to some one of importance and influence. There are hints of people wanting to make this character happy and there is a slight sense of menace in the wider context of the themes of the film. 

How does it do this?  List the ‘clues’.

There is a clear trail of close that give us insight into the character. Starting in the street with the money being handed to the concierge to watch the car, the bypassing of the queue into the club and the use of a different entrance, the tipping of the doorman and the comment from the doorman confirming that Ray Liotta’s character is known. The passage through the kitchen and other non public part of the club where encounters with the passers by again confirm this person is known and must be important if they are to by pass the usual way of getting into the club. arriving in the main club area the queue is bypassed again and the Maître d immediate turns his attention to the character, summoning three waiters who collectively set up a new table right at the front of the club near the stage all attentive on meeting Liotta’s characters needs. again he gives a large tip to the Maître d and no sooner has he been seated when surrounding customers greet hime cordially , followed by a bottle of white appears to be champagne arrives as a gift from an imprint loong individual at another table.  The cumulative affect of this trail of pandering and concern for his needs provides an narrative pointing to a person of importance and influence. 

It is a really well constructed and executed piece of cinema that kin three minutes gives the viewer a significant amount of information about this key figure in the film. W are left with a real sense of the life and influence of a ‘wise guy’ aka Mafiosa.

Constructed Images and fabricated realities- some initial thoughts

This final phase of Context and Narrative will really take me further out of my comfort zone I think. As someone who has been slowly but I think positively developing my documentary practice, helped greatly by engagement with the OCA, this area construction and fabrication will be very alien.

This is a good thing although i have some trepidation. I have in advance of this section of the course been looking at the work of Cindy Sherman and Geoff Wall. The idea o using photography as a medium of fiction, but a fiction that makes a wider statement about culture, gender and contemporary society is of genuine interest to me.

In making links to my interest in documentary work, I can’t help thinking about W. Eugene Smith’s departure from Life Magazine after the incident of doctoring an image in the set about Albert Schweitzer that I wrote about here .

I am also pondering the nature of the boundary between the real and the fictitious in any image given the photographer can send a message to the view through the clever use of angle, framing and post production.

Much to think about as I through ideas of constructed realities and it is this term that set me thinking. This is a theme i work with in my professional life and I am reminded of the work of the sociologists Berger and Lucian and their significant treatise on the nature of reality as a social construct created by language, context and social influences. To me this part of the course opens up a significant opportunity to see how reality can indeed be constructed through visual media  and how visual media has come to play a part in defining what we believe is real. I know this was touched upon in part one and it seems apposite that this is part of the final phase of the course.


Berger, P. and Luckman, T. (1981) The Social Construction of Reality, Peregrine, London

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

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Note

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


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

The camera as a hiding place

I have been reflecting further on assignment 3 and the notes provided with the assignment that made reference to there being few images of me in my substantial archive of images. As the photographer I am often behind the camera. This stands out in our family photographs, but it is more than this?

As an experiment I thought I would dig out from files all the images I have used as avatars on social media, networking and forum groups over the past few years to see what they say about me.

The findings were interesting and confirmed my view that I like to hide in plain site and the camera is my cloak of invisibilty!


Research Point-Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth

A young  Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966

An essay by Liz Jobey: A critical and personal review


copyright Diane Arbus Estate

Read and reflect upon the chapter on Diane Arbus in Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs by Sophie Howarth (2005, London: Tate Publishing). This is out of print but you may be able to find it in your local university library: some of the chapters are available as pdfs online. You’ll find the Arbus chapter on the student website. 

Jobey’s essay offers a detailed and insightful analysis around a single image.  I cant’t help feeling the authors offers a significant caveat about how we interpret what she has written and also how we draw meaning from any image.  One of the opening comments is:

“The fictions we make about photographs are as unreliable as they are undeniable.”

Having read the essay several times this opening statement stood out more and more each time I visited the work. What  I have taken this to mean is that we need to be cautious in what we read into an image and it is ultimately a subjective viewpoint. There is a supreme irony in Jobey’s words in this statement in that she goes on to reveal  very concrete and credible set of insights into the family in the image, their lives, the cultural and temporal context of the image and to me, most of all, an insight into Arbus and her career in a single image. This essays offers a blueprint for the power that an individual work by an artist can reveal . The essay also demonstrates a very  eloquent and robust response to the challenge set  to Beaumont Newell by his friend and photographer Van Deren Coke  to speak for an hour about a single image. This challenge is the premise for Howarth’s(2005) book from which this particular essay is drawn.

To focus on the essay itself and the task set out in the C&N materials, Jobey uses the opening paragraphs of the essay to locate the family in the image in a  wider american trope of ordinary people whose lives may not have turned out as they expected. The reference to Raymond Carver (1938 –1988), the novelist and poet who exemplified ‘Dirty Realism’ further anchors the image and how it might be read in a genre that emphasises the disappointments, broken dreams and hard realities of the characters in this type of work. This early use of intertextuality weaves the potential connotations of the image into a bigger american story about unfulfilled expectations, dissatisfaction, disaffection and the challenges faced by the ordinary in their daily lives. Like  number of artists, Ginsburg,  and Karouac to name two, in the post war period, there is a challenge to a prevailing orthodoxy pedalled by a consumerist media that suggests the american dream is a reality for all.

A similar reference to ‘blue collar’ and Bruce Springsteen songs also makes a cultural link to the anthems of ‘Heartland Rock, a musical genre that concerns itself with the plight and their oppression by the ‘system’

Before describing the image and what it denotes in any detail beyond it being a Brooklyn family about to go out on a Sunday outing, Jobey boldly asserts in a style that might be deemed patronising to the subject and the readers, that :

“We pity them partly with hindsight for their compliance”

I have to question the use of ‘we’ and also ask the question is the compliancy to the request of the photographer or more about their position in late 1960’s american society?

It is only after this statement that we get the authors description of what is in the image. Joey forensically looks at each element of the image describing the four Characters and also making a range of assumption about them.

This too is interesting in that denotation and connotation are interwoven in the text as its set out what we literally see and what Jobey believes it connotes. We are also seeing this through a lens that has already told us in the opening paragraphs that this family have problems. The shy, but direct gaze of the father at the photographer, the only character in the scene how looks directly at Arbus and by default at us as the viewers is described  as being ‘tentative’. His presence in the image is contrasted with that of his wife, whose clothes, poise and ‘armoury of self protection’, the coat, bag.

We gain some further contextual and artistic insight through the reference to correspondence between Arbus and Peter Crookston the then deputy editor of the Sunday Time Magazine ( at one time a significant platform for photographers work)

 Jobey quotes Arbus describing the couples relationship :

“they were undeniable close in a painful sort of way'”

Jobey then ponders on whether the use of the term undeniably is patronising in that it might be interpreted as being judgemental. Through research into Arbus’s writing we then gain a much greater insight, through Arbus’s recollection of the couple into their lives and we gain a glimpse, all be it obliquely into the dialogue that must have take place between photographer and subject. This struck a real note of interest with me because I have in my own work in photographing strangers on the street tried to create sets of questions that try an balance insight through dialogue without appearing to pry. That might be a whole other blog post though. 

Jobey then locates this image and its publication in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1968 in real;ion to Arbus’s rise to notoriety following the inclusion of 35 of her images in an important exhibition at MoMA curated by John Szarkowski, then the Head of the Photography department t the “Modern’. Displayed along side the work of Freidlander and Winnogrand, this exhibition  was to showcase street photography in a new way. 

Gefter (2017) quoting Szarkowski says:

““New Documents” … a showcase for a new kind of photograph, from a generation of artists who had embraced an almost existential attitude toward the medium, adopting “the documentary approach toward more personal ends.”

Joey goes on to describe the different approach to documentary photography in Arbus’s work and her win need to reveal thins that in plain site are often missed by others. Quoting Arbus :

” really believe there are things that nobody would see if i didn’t photograph them”

We get a tangible sense that Arbus was doing far more than just documenting the world around her and her photographs have a very different intent to the previous work of documentary photographers many of whom might be described as having an altruistic intent. 

There are many references in the essay to ‘Freak’ one of Arbus’s main project and one which showcased in “New Documents’ Her engagement and subsequent recording of propel on the margins of American society because of their differences is also related to Arbus’s own inner struggles, struggles that ultimately led to her suicide in 1971. Born into a rich family Arbus had been protected from much that the majority had to face in terms of concerns about money, the future and trials the majority take for granted as part of life. There is a suggestion in the essay that argus’s engagement with people on the margins was an attempt to gain a greater insight in the the world she had been protected from. Although not apparent in the text i can’t help thinking that the patronising tone that i observe in some of Arbus’s statement is a function of her ‘elite’ background , although this perhaps reveals something of my prejudices about that rich? Interesting Sontag, quoted by Jobey suggested that Arbus work lacked compassion, a challenging statement given i think Arbus was may be trying to discover compassion through her work.

There is no doubt that Jobey achieves an immense amount in this essay, taking a single image,  Arbus has used to challenge or venue subvert the classic tropes of the family photograph, the map much about Arbus, her life and the impact of her work. I have learned much more about Arbus through this one image and I can’t help but feel far more daunted now about Assignment 4 and what is expected of me!


Evers, S. (2008) Raymond Carver: The King of Dirty Realists, The Guardian-2008 found at  (Accessed March 2017)

Gefter, P. (2017) The Exhibit that Transformed Photography, The New Yorker March 2017, found at: (Accessed March 2017)

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

King, S. (2009) Raymond Carver’s Life and stories, New York Times found at: (Accessed March 2017)

Sparknotes (2017) ‘Dirty Realism’ defined found at: (Accessed March 2017)

75 Reasons to Live: Jeffrey Fraenkel on Diane Arbus’s A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, N.Y.C. found at: Accesed March 2017)


Research Point: ‘Insomnia'(1994) Jeff Wall

In preparation for Assignment 4 I looked at Boothroyd’s 2012 Beneath the Surface post on the OCA website. This is a very helpful entry point into thinking about the structure, content and nature of the critical essay required by this next assign,went. Writing is not new to me but I am more accustomed to technical objective writing where evidence based facts are the source of the documents I produce. Preparing a thousand word essay on a creative theme presents me with some uncertainty but also an interesting challenge.


Copyright Jeff wall

In considering Jeff Walls 1974 image ‘Insomnia’, Boothroyd demonstrates some of the tools that might be used to review, deconstruct and then assemble meaning around a single image, as well as offering a possible structure for an essay. Although short the piece provides some basic description ‘in practice’ to the concepts of denotation and connotation as well as examples of signifiers and the signified. Most importantly it does set out as sort of essay plan idea by example.

This could be summarised as:

Introduction the image and the artist, some background  and links to their range of work

Literal description –what is in the image, a literal description, describing the place, the settings, the light and colours

Interpretive description –what the elements of the image might mean, to the author and the viewer, an exploratory discourse on the the layers of meaning within the imgae

A personal link for the authorher own work in Oxford, connecting this work to the authors own practice

The works contextwhere the work sits in the genre, the influences on the artist and links to wider works,

The central theme of insomnia -literary links and how this  work might connect to contemporary society, literary reference to Shakespeare as an example of intertextuality

The scale of the work -how its sits in our culture and a short subjective summary of its meaning

Although a very simplistic review on my part  of the structure of Boothroyd’s post, I found it helpful to deconstruct what she had written as a starting point for considering how I might structure how I might write about a chosen image.

I also looked at the use of specific text in this post and used the simple but i find helpful approach of creating a word cloud from the entire work. This is a technique i use in my working life to add some additional insight, I need to share the caveat that this is a very personal approach but I find it helpful, without reading too much into the activity.


A starting point but more thought needed I think!


Boothroyd, S. (2012) Beneath the Surface found at: (Accessed February 2017)


Exercise Part 4


Rip out an advertising image from a newspaper supplement and circle and write on as many parts of the image as you can. Comment on what it is, what it says about the product and why you think it’s there. You could use this as the basis for your assignment if you feel it’s taking you somewhere interesting. Or you could adopt this method for your assignment preparation.

Come back to this exercise when you’ve reached the end of Part Four and see if you can add anything to your analysis.

In undertaking the exercise I purposefully chose a magazine and advertisement that would be unfamiliar and to which would have no direct meaning for me. I felt this would allow a more forensic analysis of the visual and symbolic elements of the advert. For this reason I used an advert from a women’s magazine.  As I leafed through a number of my wife magazines I  was reminded of a line from Williams (1987):

“Adverts are selling us something else besides consumer goods: in providing with a structure in which we, and those good,are interchangeable ,they are selling us ourselves”                                    pp13

The advert I settled on was at first identified because it was on heavy and glossy card within the magazine. Before I looked at the images there was a sense of increased value of the product this page was peddling.  As shown on the can below I then set about analysis of the elements within the advert.

I separated the advert into a range of specific elements:

  • Text
  • Image, composition and use of colour
  • Signifiers and Signifieds
  • Message and connotation

Whether these are the right element or to I am uncertain, but they did aid me in deconstructing this advert.


Before getting into the detailed elements described above it is worth noting that there is a balanced and quite attractive composition to this advert. It has quite a classic and simple appeal in its aesthetic. Adde with the have duty pare and high quality printing (compared to the rest of the magazine, all this suggested something of quality, something standing out from the rest of the content I the magazine. The BJP has recently been printing some of its content on high grade paper/card and this advert had the same feel.


The text was simple, balanced in the composition and the font is simple and elegant. it reminded me of the 1920’s and appeared to be the same font as used in the collectors edition of Waugh’s Jeeves and Wooster novels. It is “modernist’ in the literate sense, a pre second world war serif less font. Key words are use to communicate a message:



The message is in capitals, YOU is used twice in the buyline, WON’T and WILL, stand out in the messaging. SPF FORMULA suggests the scientific, the technical, the significance of the produce. All are textual signifiers. The signed I take from this is personalisation, quality, scientifically proven and above invisible to others. A connotation is that of youth.

Other text tools add to the messaging. The Good Housekeeping Institute seal in the top right of approval. This signifier suggests endorsement by a trusted source.. The Olay Ageless logo and the AGELESS hashtag  place the product in a particular brand space.

The text below the image of the can is in a mix of upper and lower case and has a more narrative message about the product, perhaps aimed at those less foamier with the brad. this is a strong marketing message , finished off with a second and perhaps more important buy line:

skin doesn’t have to show its age

Image, composition, use of colour

As stated in the introduction, I was struck by the simplicity but engaging nature of this add visually. The picture elements are quite aesthetically pleasing. The strong red of the can of product, photographed and printed to give a three dimensional feel, contrasting with the gray gradient background that goes from dark shades in the bottom right of the advert to the light grey tones of the top left. The two feather, white in colour linking visually to the LIGHTWEIGHT reference in the first buy line. It is a high quality , high resolution product image printed on high quality media that connotes value, classiness and something worthy of purchase perhaps?

Signifiers and Signifieds

Using the same technique that Hall (2007) uses I also separated signifies and potential signified from the core elements of the advert.

As an aside, I struggled to create a table in WordPress (this is something I  will have to learn). So I created a list in word, printed it and scanned it and inserted it as an image. Not great quality, but it worked!


This was available exercise in that it showed the range of signifieds and potential signifiers. What stood out through this approach to analysing the adverts was just how repetitive some of the signifieds are. Like a repetitive voice in the background all leading to the message, buy this to be young and no one will notice!


Message and connotationWhat is the advert trying to say?

This is a high quality product, you and others won’t notice you are wearing that will make you look younger, its is backed scientifically and endorsed by external referees with credibility.

None of the above may actually be true but I think the advert is selling as Williams(1987) suggests an alternative ‘you’ and not just a can of product!

The analysis of this one advert shows the power of symbols, both in the text and the picture elements and how both support each other in the creation of an illusion about self, that transcends the idea of a can of cream that you spray on yourself.

There is a lot to learn from this exercise but I am left with a sense that it is the text in advertising that is vital, the visual element and the image lend weight I feel, but can enhance an idea the advert is selling.  But for me it is what is written  and how it is written that the real selling takes place. I have really worked hard to avoid text in my assignments to date in an attempt to get pictures to speak for themselves. Coming out of this exercise I am going to hunt down some text free advert, if there are any. I will report back!



Cobley, P, & Jansz, L. (1997) Introducing Semiotics, Icon Books , London

Hall ,S. (2007) This Mean This -This Mean That-A users guide to semiotics Laurence King Publ., London

Williams, J. (1987)Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising, Marion Boyers Publ., London



Assignment 3 Feedback and reflections


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


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!