A5: The Story not Told (self directed) – assessment submission


The final dissemination is a narrated photo-video of the work. Earlier edits included a book and a series of images.

Please open video below, full-screen with sound turned up.


Artist’s statement

This self-directed assignment centres around my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow, Orkney in the early months of World War II, when over 800 men and boys lost their lives. The work is inspired by his letter to his wife describing the horrific experience and is a personal response to his words, my research into the killing and to Scapa Flow as a place. He would never talk about the war when he was alive, so the letter is the only record of his thoughts and feelings. The work evolved into a meditation on the fragility of life and how if history had not favoured the survival my grandfather, I and many family members would not be here. It in fact speaks to the very essence of my identity – my being alive. It also serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives on HMS Royal Oak – the work has been shared with a relatives group and I am hoping that it might be exhibited in Orkney museums alongside the original letter and telegram featured in the work.

I’ve chosen to present the work in a video format to allow me to add a personal narrative of the story that complements the images and words from my grandfather’s letter that are a part of the composite images. This also helps to deal with the challenge of reading the text from the original letter. Laura El-Tantawy’s work, In the Shadow of the Pyramids, also a personal history, has influenced me both in terms of the presentation of images, backing sound and low-key, subdued narration. The latter I felt important to be sensitive to the subject matter.

There has been extensive research and several edits to arrive at the finished work. For much of the process, I envisioned the work as a book but in the end have reserved this for family purposes as I found challenges in succinctly conveying the story in this format. Full details of my process, including the use of historical photos, books read, museums visited, personal effects photographed, documents scanned and photographs taken on Orkney, are included in A5 preparation posts here. In summary, archival photographs were obtained from my family and also from the Orkney photo-archive (featuring the ship herself); documents (letter and telegram) were scanned from originals and process; original Orkney photographs were taken during a 1 week visit to the Orkney Islands, which also included a visit to the HMS Royal Oak Memorial Gardens and the Scapa Flow naval museum on the island of Hoy; photographs of my grandfathers medals and naval cap were made in home-studio conditions. Composite images were created in Photoshop. The video and sound recording were created in Adobe Premiere Pro – the voice recorded directly into the software and the background sounds of water imported from a recording I made whilst on Orkney.

As well as producing an output for this assignment, the process has allowed me to discover my grandfather’s wartime experience and what would have undoubtedly shaped him as a man. I’ve found it long and hard work but at the same time highly rewarding.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. The work was originally conceived as a book but in draft, that format felt too biographical and I felt the content could be lost on people not connected with the story. In the end, the work submitted to my tutor was a series of 11 images, including composites.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. While there was positive feedback about the submission, my tutor suggested that he felt more depth was needed to allow the story to be told more fully. I agreed with the advice though was mindful that I’d already passed significantly more time on this assignment than intended. The rework, presented above as a video, involved further editing / addition of images, the creation of a spoken narrative, use of background sound recorded while in Orkney, and pulling together the work in Adobe Premiere Pro (after first learning how to use it!).

A5: rework

My tutor’s feedback is here and it is this that prompts the rework. Specifically I wanted to create more depth in the work to provide great insight into my grandfather’s story. I have done this by creating a narrated video of the work, that includes additional images to those in the tutor submission, my own narration of the story to address the difficulties in reading the handwritten text in the letter extracts, and including a background sound track of the sound of water, which I recorded while at Scapa Flow. Finally, I made the decision to include a roll of the of the 833 dead. My intention is for the work to serve as a meditation on the effect of war on the ordinary man and also to serve as a memorial to the dead of HMS Royal Oak. I am hoping that it might one-day be featured in one of the Orkney museums, alongside my grandfather’s personal effects and have opened a dialogue on this.

The resulting slides are attached below. They were created in Adobe Premier Pro – it was my first experience of using this software and found it quite a learning curve to get up to speed with the technicalities. Also recording my own voice-over was not a familiar experience – I wanted to keep it low-key to reflect the subject matter and to avoid scripting it so the narration didn’t end up feeling stiff and formal. I believe I’ve largely succeeded but hope that having done it once, it will be quicker and easier next time around!

This video is hosted on my YouTube channel. Please open to full-screen and turn on sound before viewing.

Failed it!

The cover of the book by Erik Kessels explains what it is about. What you can’t see from the photo is that the book also opens the wrong side. Genius touch.

The general thrust of the book is about taking failures, accidents, non-conformity and embracing it to make something creative and different from the normal. Making something unexpected and interesting. It is full of examples of artists doing this, including photographers and sculptors.

It is a reminder to think differently and create differently. To not produce chain-art, to not be McDonalds or Heineken.


Failed it! (2006). Kessels E. New York, Phaidon Press.

Ian Sinclair – writer

I listened with great interest to Ian Sinclair being interviewed on his approach to writing in a BBC radio 4 podcast (linked below) in the series Only Artists where one artist interviews another from a different field. I came across Sinclair in the EYV course with reference to psychogeography. Hearing talk about his practice was fascinating – he captures stories (unofficial histories) through discussions with people he talks to while walking and takes lots of photos as visual references for places. He then creates his own narratives based on the stories he’s heard and places he’s seen (and photographed).

I wondered how this approach might work to photography and text as a working method – it would seem to fit very well with my love of walking the streets with a camera. This is a thought to tuck away until it comes to the Landscape module perhaps.


BBC Radio 4 (iPlayer). Iain Sinclair and Keggie Carew. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08pflfh [accessed 28.6.17]


Adobe Muse – website design

For some time I’d struggled with WordPress for a personal portfolio site – it seemed to inflexible in relation to layout of images on the web-page. Perhaps possible if one is familiar with customising CSS, but I’m not and didn’t really want to learn. I assume that the difficulties are because WordPress was conceived as a blogging platform and that is primarily how it is used – and it is great for that.

I dismissed the idea of commercially hosted photography portfolio sites as they seemed expensive and also template driven. As I already have self-hosted sites for my blogs and can add subdomains with no additional cost, I was keen to make use of the server space I am already paying for. A short-time ago I upgraded my Adobe subscription so that I could use Indesign and with that upgrade the whole suite of Adobe software becomes available.

So I took the plunge and taught myself to use Muse (the web-designer software). It is designed by the same team as ID and share some common functionality, so layout was very simple. There is also a great deal of help on YouTube. The concept of layers is also used in the application but in a much more straightforward way than Photoshop. What I did find more trick was some web-specific technicalities that I’d not before come across. For example, how to manage the website so it works with different sized screens. I really took me quite some time to get to grips with this.

Anyway, I eventual succeeded in creating and publishing a new portfolio site. It will of course be regularly refreshed and more content added, but I feel I have a good foundation and have grasped the basics, ready to try something more adventurous next time around. It has also made a difference to the way I interact with photographers websites – not just with the pictures but the website as an entity in itself, now that I have the possibility of controlling my own layout!

Here is a link – http://www.fitzgibbonphotography.com

Laura El-Tantawy – in the shadow of the pyramids

I’m revisiting Laura El-Tantawy’s work, in the shadow of the pyramids (also admired earlier in L1) as the approach to narrating the story along with backing sound, while the photos are shown as a video, is of interest for my final version of A5. In this I have decided a narrative is necessary to do justice to the story of my grandfather, but I’m mindful that dense text on the page can overwhelm images, and I’d like to avoid this.

The tonality of her voice is important in the narration – it is flat and calm, unobtrusive and an accompaniment to the images, rather than the other way around. I think this is why I find the work so compelling; the primary narrative is through the photos but the voice provides support and direction to the viewer. I hope to achieve something similar in my project.


In the shadow of the pyramids (website). Available from: http://www.intheshadowofthepyramids.com/sounds/ [accessed 15.6.17]

A5: tutor feedback

The full feedback on assignment 5 is attached here. It felt positive and pleasing but I focus here only on the points that require consideration and perhaps some further work:

  1. The possibility of taking the work further as the story of my grandfather is engaging.
    I’ve already devoted considerable time to the work for what is one degree project, within a time-limited degree. This makes me apprehensive about spending more time. However, on reflection, I think that is the right thing to do as the work is more important that just a degree project. It is about the memory of my grandfather and those lost on HMS Royal Oak. I am also encouraged by some interest from an Orkney museum representative.
  2. Evidence that I am engaging with the work of other photographers / artists.
    There is a need to document my engagement as evidence for the course work to be evaluated. It is not enough to engage, one must also write about engagement! Point taken.
  3. Consider the final dissemination of the work – what form it will take and make more use of the contextual information to ensure justice is done to the story.
    I think I’ve confined myself to the context of the degree project and its brief; it is perhaps more important to tell the story as there is a good reason to expand the brief to accommodate it.
  4. Practical difficulties in reading the text from the letter could be distracting.
    Agree with this – I was also concerned that typing out the words could distract from the photos. I’m now considering dissemination in the form of slides/video with a narrated sound track.
  5. ‘Try and do another edit maybe expanding on the project and producing more archival images, maybe there are individual key words within the text that you could highlight and bring to the fore. These are just ideas if you want to push the project further. Audio would also be interesting.’
    Agree – I’ve been holding back on this line as I’m wary of the extensive time already passed on this work. However, there is no sense in stopping before the finishing straight.
  6. Your reflective text accompanying the final images could do with expanding upon. This should also cover your working methodology and your influences and decision making.
  7. Suggested work to look at:

Jim Goldberg (Raised by Wolves): http://www.jimgoldberg.com

I enjoyed the scrapbook aesthetic of this work and the use of mixed media and handwritten text. It seems the work was originally created as a photo book, but the artist has produced a video to showcase the work, which is posted to Vimeo and shared on his website. The work was produced over the course of 10 years – note to self; be realistic, you don’t have 10 years.

Erik Kessels: http://www.bjp-online.com/2017/05/kessels-lives/

I’ve looked at Kessels’ work earlier in level 1. A fresh look, revealed this recent video interview with Time, The Story Behind Erik Kessels’ Obsession, How He Breathes New Life Into Amateur Photography. It offers some insight into how he works with found photographs and what he looks for. It is concerned with family archives (other people’s) Erik Kessels. It has not been a significant part of my practice to look at archives (at least before this current assignment), with my preference being to be involved in the process of making new images. However, I can see how it with fit with my practice to more frequently use archive images in combination with my own work. Something to explore as I extend assignment 5.


PDF of assignment 5 feedback: A5 IAP

Erik Kessels. Time YouTube. The Story Behind Erik Kessels’ Obsession, How He Breathes New Life Into Amateur Photography. Available from:https://youtu.be/7_Yjf5l1G9k [accessed 25.6.17]

A5: The Story Not Told (tutor submission)

click to open slide view



For this self-directed assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow, Orkeny in the early months of World War 2, with over 800 men and boys losing their lives. The work centres around his letter to his wife describing the horrific experience and is a personal response to his words and to Scapa Flow as a place. There is an emotional investment in the work, which I’ve found makes it difficult to talk about; without his survival, I would not be here, nor would my children. In a way it is fundamental to my identity.


There has been extensive research and several edits to arrive at the finished work. For much of the process, I envisioned the work as a book but in the end have reserved this for family purposes as it feels that there is too much more to say than is possible in the context of a course assignment. Full details of my process, including the use of historical photos, books read, museums visited, personal effects photographed, documents scanned and photographs taken on Orkney, are included in A5 preparation posts here.


Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Effective use of a range of visual materials to prepare final composites. I feel that I’m beginning to understand the application of visual space and pacing within a series of images.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Extensive research was performed into the subject and I feel the final series conveys powerful emotions. It has been a long path to arrive at the final work and this has resulted in a piece of work that I believe is properly finished, benefitting from time spent and shaped by feedback gratefully received.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Creative approach to combining historical documents, photos of personal memorabilia and photos of Orkney landscapes.

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.

A5: The Story Not Told (edit 3)

Following some reflection and feedback received during a portfolio review (see here), I’ve reworked this assignment so the subject focuses around my grandfather’s letter, which started my journey into this part of family history. I will present the work as a series of photographs and retain the book format only for family purposes, possibly later extending it to deal with a broader aspect.

click to open slide view

Portfolio review

During the workshop I attended at Impressions Gallery (see here) I had an opportunity to share my work on assignment 5 as part of a portfolio review session, which included feedback from Yan Preston and the gallery curator.

Due to printing issues / lack of available time, I was only able to show an iPad version of the work, but was nonetheless keen to obtain feedback.  The version shared is linked here:

As well as it being an interesting experience listening to other talk about their work and the ensuing discussion, I had 15 minutes to discuss my own work and obtain feedback. A few notes on experience:

  • It was the first time I’d spoken about this work, which has a personal subject with emotional attachment. I did not expect it, but I found it quite challenging emotionally to talk to, particularly when asked to read a little from the letter.
  • There appeared to be a good level of interest in the project and subject matter (I’d provided a brief historical background) and I explained that I found the edit challenging because I felt close to the story and there was obviously a family interest in the work.
  • After some discussion there were a couple of significant pieces of advice that I will take on in the next draft of the work:
    • The powerful story was from the letter; the only record of his horrific experience that he never again discussed. This is perhaps the central theme of the work, rather than my journey to discover more about his experience. It was suggested that I take phrases from the letter to accompany the photographs (this would be similar to the original exercise based around the letter – here).
    • Some of the photoshopped work was thought to be distracting from the photos. The suggestion was that the photos were left to stand alone, accompanied by selected words from the letter.

I would still retain the current version of the book as a personal project / family record and perhaps build on it in some way, but for the purpose of the assignment and art, I will rework.

Reboot your practice with Yan Preston

Today I attended a workshop and portfolio viewing hosted by the Impressions Gallery in Bradford. Ten photographers from a variety of backgrounds and experience attended the workshop. The guest photographer and speaker was Yan Wang Preston, who is currently exhibiting her work ‘Mother River’ in the gallery (see OCA visit notes here), and the members of the gallery staff also provided advice and feedback on portfolio presentation and the process of curation.

The day started with a brief tour and discussion of the Mother River exhibition, with Preston explaining the background to the work, which had left me with unanswered questions following the earlier OCA visit. The project was four years in the making and involved photographing the Yangtze River at 100km intervals along its over 6000km route. The photographs are banal and not necessarily visually stimulating, without an apparent message or perspective. However, I learned that it was Preston’s intention to subvert the typical images of the river, whether iconic, based on traditional myths or environmental perspectives on pollution or the damming of the river and clearance of local populations. To show the river just how it is – her process of selecting ‘y’ points at 100km fixed intervals was designed to facilitate this view, along with some unwritten rules (eg not photographing ruins). The work as received wide critical acclaim and been exhibited in several countries. At this point in time, I find the work more interesting conceptually than visually but also admire the determination and commitment in delivering this challenging body of work. It was also a great lesson in how to talk well about one’s own work.

Next, there was a presentation by Yan Preston on planning, researching, and funding long-term projects with an opportunity for questions.  Here, a few notes from what was a very interesting presentation:

Be able to clearly explain your project:

  • what exactly is your subject?
  • what are you photographing? / is the aesthetic appropriate to the subject. In this context, a point was raised on Nadav Kandar’s Yellow River and the mist always being slightly yellow (as that is the aesthetic of his pallet); Preston observed that this can mean the mist is perceived as pollution (yellow smog), rather than white mist, which it mostly is in her experience.
  • what is your relationship to your subject? Preston considers this as fundamental to a project / something that represents an artist’s unique perspective.

‘Taking pictures is not that hard – it’s the bit that goes before’.

From the curator, after the discussion on the importance of research around a subject; worries when photographers approach her saying that they are ‘doing there own thing’ without reference to what has gone before. It is not that she is expecting original ideas (there are none) but something that builds on what has gone before, and that the work has substance, supported by research.

On getting known (in Yan Preston’s order of preference):

  • Portfolio reviews
  • Competitions
  • Personal relationships
  • Exhibitions / publications
  • Social media
  • And overall, be selective, strategic and effective in approach
  • Above all – make good work.

In the afternoon session, there was a portfolio review / discussion. I took along my work on assignment 5, so have made a separate post in that section of the blog here.

A very enjoyable day, and I would certainly attend future events.


Impressions Gallery [website]. Mother River. Available from: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=80 [accessed 3.6.17]

Adobe Indesign – getting started

For assignment 5, the output is to be a photo book. Having experienced frustrations with LR book module on previous outings, and feeling the same pain again in A5 preparatory work, I decided to make the move to ID with an upgrade in my Creative Cloud subscription (only an additional £6/month at student rates). This post notes some of my initial explorations into work flow.

  1. LR does not alter original image files, it keeps a catalogue of changes, it makes use of virtual copies (which are virtual), so there is often no tangible file to pull into ID until something is exported. The question is how to do this efficiently, particularly when LR collections and virtual copies are an important part of my current workflow. After some experiment, my approach is to create a publish service in LR that publishes tiffs to a hard drive location. Published folders can be created within the service, where collections can be drag-dropped and published automatically as tiffs. If a change is made to an image, it is flagged for re-publishing and I guess it will automatically update in an ID document once republished. So not too painful!
  2. To view and work with the files easily in ID, Bridge / Mini-bridge seem to be convenient. First install Bridge, drag the working folder for the images to ‘favourites’ to make it easier to locate. Then the magic is to open mini-bridge in ID and the photos are there ready to drag-drop into the document.
  3. Using ID for making a basic photo book was reasonably straightforward with the help of a couple of good Youtube videos to get me started. It was refreshing to have flexibility of layout and output, something simply not there in LR book module. I guess Adobe would understandably not want too much overlap in their products, otherwise there’d be no reason for photographers to buy ID!

In theory, the output can also be shared directly online through Adobe Publish – embedded in this post below.


A5: The story not told (draft 2)

This draft follows comments received following draft 1 (see here); feedback on content was positive, but several people commented they wanted to know more.

Several people found the files difficult to open. This is perhaps a file size in relation to device processing power and internet download speeds. For this version I’ve looked more closely at the files sizes and relationship with the JPEG quality settings in the LR book module pdf export settings. For draft 1, a setting of 85 was used (generating a 3.4MB file for book contents pages). Interestingly settings of 50 and 60 produced the same reduced size of 1.2MB – at this size there was clear evidence of compression at work. At 70 the size was 1.8MB and a noticeable quality improvement. 80, takes the size up to 2.3MB again with a quality improvement, but less marked. So, here I’ve settled for a quality of 70 on export.

The book

Draft 2 is in fact edit 3 – edit 2 was an attempt at a landscape format, but it somehow felt too informal for the content despite working better with some of the landscape images. The main changes in this edit are to add more textual information (hopefully not too much), a few more images, and to reduce the number of double page spreads with images falling into the gutter of the book.

Edit 3 pdf – book cover

Edit 3 pdf – book content (to view as intended, right-click and open in pdf viewer, eg Preview. Then view as 2-pages).

A5: Story Not Told (draft 1)

The pdfs linked below are the cover sheets and inside pages spreads of draft 1 of the photo book for this assignment, used for collecting feedback.

Viewing instructions – click to open pdf in new window. Right-click to view using pdf view (eg Preview for Apple) and view as ‘2 pages’ for correct display of the page spreads. Not suitable for viewing on mobile phones.

Cover pages

Cover pages – click to open full screen view

Inside pages

Inside page spreads (follow instructions above to view)


Positive feedback through the OCA forum with some suggestions and several comments that people wanted to know more. A general issue seemed to be technical difficulties in opening the files (perhaps because of size). For the next edit, I’ll also look at technical aspects of pdf sizing for LR export.

Grandfather’s documents

Attached are scans of the few documents relating directly the HMS Royal Oak story. The telegram was sent 5 days after the ship’s sinking, when my grandfather and grandmother were not yet married. The extracts from the letter that describes my grandfather’s escape were 6 years after their marriage and it seems that he never discussed what happened with his wife before the time of the letter, and perhaps never again. We cannot know; but he would not talk about it with any other family members.

The photo is a portrait in his naval uniform – there is no exact date, but my mother dates it from early in his naval career as there are no signs of rank on the uniform.

The documents were scanned using an Epson photo scanner, placed on the plate to ensure the paper edges were captured. They will be considered for using in the photo composites for A5.

3 OCA study visits in one day (Bradford)

Three visits in one day with Derek Trillo – sounded like it might stretch my powers of concentration to the limit, but the time seemed to fly by. Good company and good art.

No photographs were allowed throughout the exhibitions, which is going to mean this write-up will lack visually. I do feel exhibitors are missing a publicity trick here – I would share iPhone snaps to Tripadvisor or Facebook and perhaps others would be encouraged to visit. Do they really imagine anyone’s going to make a high quality reproduction with prints behind glass and gallery lights shining on it?

Britain in Focus at the Science and Media Museum (SMM instead of NMM, I suppose we now call it) accompanies the excellent BBC 4 TV series exploring the history of British photography from the 19th century to the present day. The series was presented by photographer Eamonn McCabe – it is no longer available on iPlayer, but I assume can be purchased from the BBC store. Many of the artists featured were already familiar to me, including the ubiquitous Martin Parr. But John Bulmer was not, and his colour photographs of Northern England were particularly striking, standing in stark contrast to the b&w work of Bill Brandt using similar subject matter.

Source: johnbulmer.co.uk by John Bulmer

This exhibition was interesting to compare to the one I saw during the previous OCA study visit, which featured international photographers’ work about Britain, The Strange and Familiar. At the time of the previous exhibition, I was bemoaning the fact that much of the work we study is that of American photographers and it feels like there is an under-representation of native culture. It could simply be down to Americans often being masters of publicity that they achieve higher profiles, or that there are more of them, but I find it strange nonetheless. Again here, the Britain in Focus exhibition was confined to a single room only, to cover the whole of British photographic history, whereas I lost track of the space taken with the Strange and Familiar exhibition it was so extensive. There is perhaps something to learn about the power of publicity in all this.

The Poetics of Light pinhole photography exhibition, also at the SMM, was a surprise to me and I think many of the other students. Prior to the visit I wasn’t expecting much and I thought of pinhole cameras as toy-like. However, I was stunned by the quality of work on display, so much so that I’ve order the catalogue of the exhibition from Wordery online (£15 less than the £50 at SMM). The experimental nature of the cameras used (including a VW camper van, a soup can, cigarette packet and underwater contraption) and the work produced was fascinating; some of the work was surreal, as if we were viewing our world through alien eyes; some cameras featured multiple pinholes.

I am drawn to experiment with pinhole photography, which would inevitably mean getting my hands dirty with some old-fashioned chemicals – I’m somehow not so attracted to modifying a digital camera into a pinhole camera, though one fellow student mentioned that she was already doing so. The output from these primitive devices is very different in quality to standard photographic output and I suspect the photos marketable as unique objects.

The last exhibition, Mother River, was in the Impressions Gallery across the road from SMM and generally received with less enthusiasm than the first two exhibitions of the day. My impression was that the process of taking equidistant images along the course of the Yangtze river was more of a priority than taking images that were visually stimulating. This can be contrasted with Zhangkechun’s work, linked below, which focuses on the same river but engages the viewer in questioning what is happening in the images with their powerful juxtapositions of landscape with the unexpected. However, I will not say too much about Preston’s work at this time, as I will soon be attending a workshop with her at the Impressions Gallery and I hope to gain further insight then.

A thoroughly enjoyable day and great chance to catch up with some familiar faces and see some new ones.


Britain in Focus at Science and Media Museum [website]. Available from: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/whats-on/britain-focus-photographic-history [accessed 27.5.17]

The Guardian on John Bulmer’s photographs of life in Northern England (Wainwright M, 2010). Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2010/jan/29/john-bulmer-photographs-north [accessed 27.5.17]

John Bulmer [website]. Available from: http://www.johnbulmer.co.uk [accessed 27.5.17]

Mother River by Yan Wang Preston at Impressions Gallery [website]. Available from: http://www.impressions-gallery.com/exhibitions/exhibition.php?id=80 [accessed 27.5.17]

Poetics of light: pinhole photography at Science and Media Museum [website]. Available from: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/whats-on/poetics-light-pinhole-photography [accessed 27.5.17]

Zhangkechun [website]. The Yellow River. Available from: http://www.zhangkechun.com/the-yellow-river [accessed 27.5.17]

Artist’s book making course

Over the weekend of 6 May, I attended a two-day artist’s book making course at Hotbed Press in Salford. It’s purpose was to provide an introduction to various book formats and book making skills, producing a number of my own books over the weekend (without content of course). In addition there was some interesting discussion about the nature of books and the relationship between form, materials and content; how this can change a viewer’s experience of the work.

The course was taught by Elizabeth Willow, a fine artist. Creative Sketchbook (linked below) show some examples of her work.

My reason for attending the course was to learn how to make my own photo books – I’ve become interested in this after seeing Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood and a video of him constructing the book, combining photos and documents. I might ultimately use these skills to turn my assignment 5, ‘A story not told’ into a book.

iPhone snaps from the course:



Creative Sketchbook [website]. Elizabeth Willow’s Paper Stories (March 2013). Available from: http://www.creativesketchbook.co.uk/2013/03/elizabeth-willows-paper-stories.html [accessed 27.5.17]

Hotbed Press [website]. Available from: http://www.hotbedpress.org [accessed 27.5.17]

Christian Patterson [website]. Redheaded Peckerwood. Available from: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1 [accessed 27.5.17]

Grandfather’s memorabilia contact sheets

The contacts below show photos of my grandfather’s medals, cap and uniform buttons; all were kept safe by my uncle (so grandfather’s son) and kindly posted to me for the purposes of this project.

I plan to use the items as part of composites and not photos on their own. They were photographed using an improvised set-up, with foam-board scored and bent to stand at an angle from a table top, a tripod with a boom attachment, remote camera release, daylight from a window and exposure set through a light meter.

Visit to Scapa Flow Visitor Centre

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre shows the long history of Scapa Flow, the second largest natural harbour in the world (behind Sydney) and in more recent history the home of the British naval fleet in WW1 and WW2. It is also the location where the German naval fleet was held at the end of WW1 and then destroyed by its own commander when he thought the armistice would not hold. My main focus during the visit was to discover more about HMS Royal Oak, which was subject to various exhibits.

What the museum conveyed to me was the sense of hundreds of lives horrifically snuffed out in a few minutes and the sense of loss and despair that followed. It surely must have  had a profound effect on my grandfather to have survived the tragedy and lost many young friends. It is perhaps understandable that he didn’t wish to bring his memories to the surface by talking to his grandchildren about them years later.

I kept visual notes of these on my iPhone, shown below. I addition there were a number of items photographed using my camera, which will feature in the contact sheets for the trip. Image 5, I found particularly poignant – a buoy floating on Scapa Flow is the only visible evidence of the 19,000 tonne ship and those who perished on her.


Scapa Flow visitor centre [website]. Available from: http://www.hoyorkney.com/attractions/hoy-history/the-scapa-flow-visitor-centre-museum/ [accessed 26.5.17]

Visit to Orkney photo archive

During my research visit to Orkney (during the week of 17th April), I visited the Orkney Photo archive housed in the public library in Kirkwall. I was hoping to find an out of copyright image of HMS Royal Oak that I might use in a photographic composite and I’d been directed to the archive by the curator of the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre on Hoy, which is a naval museum.

There was a good collection of photos, but it was not clear which were taken when the ship was on WW1 active service and which were of her in her harbour defensive role in WW2, by this time being too old and slow for modern sea warfare. For my purposes of an artistic representation of a ‘story not told’, historical accuracy was not necessarily important and I arranged for digital copies to be made of a couple of images. The first image is a dramatic shot of the ship on the move, whereas the second captures a candid moment – this struck me as unusual in among the collection, which were often formally posed and I suppose controlled for propaganda purposes.

The archive photographs:


Photo archive [website]. Available from: www.orkneylibrary.org.uk/html/photoarchive.htm [accessed 26.5.17]

Scapa Flow visitor centre [website]. Available from: http://www.hoyorkney.com/attractions/hoy-history/the-scapa-flow-visitor-centre-museum/ [accessed 26.5.17]

Nightmare at Scapa Flow: The Truth About the Sinking of HMS “Royal Oak”

To better understand my grandfather’s experience aboard HMS Royal Oak, I wanted to discover more about the events leading up to and following the sinking of the ship.

There have been several books touching upon the topic, including a auto-biography of U47’s commander Prien, published by the Nazis as propaganda during the war and later disowned by the ghost writter when a post-war reissue was proposed, without correction for the true facts; and naval histories whose accounts have focused on official documentation contained in naval archives. Weaver’s Nightmare at Scapa Flow is compiled from a range of sources, including personal interviews with survivors and witnesses and spouses of central figures. He allows the stories to speak for themselves, reflecting the emotions and atmosphere of the time, something I wanted to absorb to help me in making my work.

Source: u47.org ‘U-47 prepares to leave Kiel for Scapa Flow. Note the drawing of the skull and crossbones, adorned with the top hat and umbrella that were frequently used as mocking symbols of the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.’

The book conveys the story of the horrific deaths of 844 men and boys; the overwhelming responsibilities upon the armed forces in the early months of the war and a suggestion that all was not as well-prepared as it could have been; the heroism and powerlessness of ordinary men in the face of geopolitical and national power. There are two textual references that I plan to use in my project:

  • “When I saw the first burning tanker in front of me and thought of the wretched hundreds of men perishing in this dome of flames, I felt like a murderer before the scene of his crime.” Words of German U-boat commander, Günther Prien, who was said to be unhappy participating in the hero’s welcome on his return to Germany (personally presented with the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler) and critical of the biography pen by a ghost writer.
  • ‘This marks the wreck of HMS Royal Oak and the grave of her crew. Respect their resting place. Unauthorised diving prohibited.’ This is the inscription on the buoy that I photographed from a distance when visiting Scapa Flow. The cold factuality of this notice strikes me, it is a keep-out sign with no sentiment of memorial – there is a land-based memorial site.


Weaver, H.G., & Weaver, H.J. (2012). Nightmare at Scapa Flow: The Truth About the Sinking of HMS “Royal Oak” [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

A5: a story not told (introduction)

It’s been a while away from my blog, what with building work at home and heavy work commitments. Now I have time to push through to the end!

Assignment 5 is self-directed, a topic of my own choice built on the lessons learned from the Identity and Place Module. I’ve found that the subject matter for my work is best selected from a genuine interest, not something that is necessarily a convenient fit with the assignment brief or the time constraints I face as a part-time student. Art needs to express something and without a genuine interest in the subject, there is little fulfillment in its creation and it is easily read as fake or frivolous.

For this assignment I return to a subject area touched upon in exercise 4.5, my grandfather’s survival of the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak, moored in Scapa Flow in the early months of WW2. Whereas the exercise was inspired by a letter from him to my grandmother, recounting his survival, the material for the assignment is more widely sourced and the assignment has become a journey into a part of my family history that my grandfather would not discuss either with me or his children. The significance of his survival to me personal is my very existence; without it my mother would have not been conceived.

The materials and research for this project, which are covered in detail in the entries that follow, include:

– Grandfather’s documents and photos; a letter describing his survival (the only account I have written or verbal), telegrams sent during the war, photographs of him in uniform, naval post-cards.

– Grandfather’s navy uniform; his cap, buttons from uniform and medals.

– Scapa Flow trip photographs; my own photographs from a road-trip to the Orkney Islands and Scapa Flow for the purposes of this project (combined with a family holiday).

– Museum visit to the Island of Hoy, which houses a collection of materials related to HMS Royal Oak.

– Orkney Islands photographic archive visit (housed in Stromness library) to view images of the ship before she was torpedoed.

– History of HMS Royal Oak’ sinking; there is some material availalble on internet sites, but it is difficult to decipher through the propaganda of war, both from the British perspective (with the sinking being a disaster, subject to investigation and debate for many years) and the German persective (a huge success story, with the submariners receiving a hero’s welcome back in Germany). In the end, my main source of understanding for events leading to the sinking of the ship was the well researched book, ‘Nightmare on Scapa Flow’ by HG and HJ Weaver.

From this range of materials, it is my intention to create a series of composite images that tell the story of my personal journey into a  time in my grandfather’s life that he did not discuss. I only recall him telling me, as a boy, that he did not want to talk about the war as too many horrible things happened. My mother explained a similar situation in her childhood, saying ‘they would never talk to us about the war; I think they just wanted us kids to feel safe’. On HMS Royal Oak, 844 men and boys met horrific deaths in the fire of exploding munitions, in the water that rapidly filled the ship where they were trapped below deck, in the icy-cold oil-saturated sea of Scapa Flow, injured or unable to swim.

Pros and Cons of LR book module

I used LR’s book module for assignment 4, from initial drafting, uploading to my Blog for feedback and assessment and sending a copy of the book for printing with Bob’s Books. Overall, I found the process quite painful for this type of book and, on reflection, think I have chosen the wrong tool for the job.

I note here pros and cons, which I’ll revisit before approaching another photo book and deciding upon the tool to use.

Pros and cons

  1. Integrated with LR library, so very quick and easy to experiment with various edits and change edits at a later date based on feedback. This makes it a great tool for making a mockup of a book.
  2. A range of standard layouts available, which is good for quick drafting. The downside is that the layouts are not easily editable.
  3. Book size is limited to standard options, which may not be the same dimensions as offered by the book publishing service selected. This is a significant drawback in using LR as a final layout tool. Blurb is offered as an add-in, which overcomes this drawback, providing one is happy to be limited to Blurb as a print provider. No student discount available from them.
  4. LR can export the book as pdf or jpg – again useful for mockup / sharing of edits for feedback.
  5. If the book is saved as hi-res jpg and uploaded to a print provider, text pages are large files as the white space is treated as an image and increase upload times. Preparing the book in a provider’s own software would avoid this.
  6. The standard software interface supported by the higher-end print service providers seems to be Adobe Indesign, with templates available for download to accommodate their book formats. However, from the little I understand about Indesign, it requires considerable investment in time to become proficient and it is more aimed at text-based editing than media (eg no interface with LR).

My current feeling is that for a photo book that is more about photos than text, a more efficient process would be to simply use LR for preparing a mock-up for the purposes of editing and obtaining feedback. Then complete the final book directly in the editing software provided by the service provider. So the question then becomes, which provider to use and the flexibility of their software.

A quick look at Bob’s Books and their downloadable ‘Bob’s Designer’ software, plus the offer of student discount, looks like they would be a good starting place for the next project.

A4: Not Familiar (image and text) – assessment submission


These images are submitted as a printed book as part of the assessment pack.

Click to open as gallery



Artist’s statement

This work uses text as a direction for photographing the atmosphere of a place.  I worked in collaboration with a writer, who I asked to provide a passage of text that I might draw upon. I was not specific in the request and just explained that I would not be illustrating the text but using it to inspire a broader narrative. Details of the text are here. Over a period of days I reflected upon the text before deciding on the type of photographs I might make (see here) – I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The title, ‘Not Familiar’, is drawn from the text and reflects ambiguity and lack of clarity.

My initial inspiration for the mood of Northern English urban landscapes is from the monochrome work of both Bill Brandt and Martin Parr (The Non-conformists). More recently, I have engaged with the work of John Bulmer, who’s striking use of colour in this context has driven me to find colour in these apparently drab Northern towns and cities.

I worked on the shoot without reference to the words or thinking of the descriptions in the writing. I kept only the mood in mind. Contact sheets from some of the 170 shots are here. It has been a long process to get to the finished output: I initially decided to work the photos and text into a photo book, using the Lightroom book module,  where I made the book text-heavy to avoid the reader making a direct connection between image and text (see here). However, following feedback on my first edit, recorded here, I substantially reworked the photo book and the online presentation of the planned book for submission to my tutor. Following his feedback, which suggested simplification of layout and increasing ambiguity further, a further rework was completed to what is presented here and in the accompanying printed book. Closure on the work was present the book to the writer whose work inspired the photographs – he received the work enthusiastically and appreciated the interplay between the atmosphere conveyed in his words and the photographs; even though the words were dragged from their original context and not the same order of appearance as in the original piece of writing.

Through this process, I have come to appreciate the value in revisiting and reworking a piece before it is finally released into the world – work needs time to rest and brew before looking at it anew and refreshing it.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here. This was also presented as a book (mocked up through a video) but is a significantly different edit and layout to the work finally presented.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. I learned a great deal about the process of making and editing photographs in book format through the work and the feedback received. The earlier version of the work was perhaps too intense and busy with insufficient time for the eye to rest a while and absorb the content. I also battled with the tools for assembling the book – finding Lightroom’s capabilities for layout inflexible; this has encouraged me to use Indesign for future work book works.

A4 rework for feedback

Following my tutor’s feedback (see here), I reworked the edit of the photos and the layout of the book. I think the updated version offers a more consistent edit, better representing the theme of ambiguity inspired by the passage of writing used as a basis for the work. The book layout is also simplified.

I put the rework out for critique on the OCA forum and the feedback was mixed, with some liking the edit of the book as initially submitted (here). I’ve taken some time to reflect on this and will submit the reworked version (as a printed book) for assessment – while I do not find the mixed layout of the original submission as objectionable as my tutor, I will follow his advice on this aspect. In terms of the re-edit and the consistency of images among themselves and with the theme, I think there is a clear improvement and I prefer it this way.

Click to open as gallery


A4: Tutor feedback

I had a telephone feedback session with my tutor on A4 (the work submitted is here) and received bulleted notes of points for reflection, which are attached for reference. On the positive side I found the telephone interaction far more useful to understanding than just receiving a written report and able to better understand the concerns about the submission as a result. On the less positive side, was the recommendation that I go back to the drawing board on the work, which I found a little disconcerting given the positive feedback I’d received on the OCA forum (including resident tutors). But, I believe the observations are valid and I will rework. Key areas to work on are:

  • Reflect on image selection again and stay true to the original concept of ambiguity
  • Layout of book is incoherent, with too many different page layouts. Simplify. Text needs to be smaller for a printed book.
  • Let the images speak for themselves (as visuals) and don’t over-work things. Do not crop sizes down.

In addition to recommendations on the assignment, the work of some photographers collaborating with writers was recommended:

Susan Lipper (Trip Book): http://www.susanlipper.com/trip.html
A J Wilkinson (Driving Blind Book): http://ajwilkinson27.com/galleries/driving-blind/
John Holden (Lots of Company Book) http://john- holden.net/lotsofcompany.html

The common theme I see in this is the priority given to the visuals above the text, including in Susan Lipper’s work where the text is fairly lengthy, but only revealed if  the view clicks an icon to reveal it.


Tutor’s bulleted report is attached: http://identity.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/A4-IAP.pdf

The Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

OCA Study visit – Manchester Art Gallery
Hosted by Derek Trillo

Manchester Art Gallery describes the exhibition as, ‘curated by Martin Parr and celebrating the work of leading photographers, including Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Rineke Dijkstra, Bruce Gilden and Evelyn Hofer… Strange and Familiar considers how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK. From social documentary and portraiture to street and architectural photography, the exhibition celebrates the work of leading photographers … Bringing together over 250 compelling photographs and previously unseen bodies of work, Strange and Familiar presents a vibrant portrait of modern Britain.’

source: www.guardian.co.uk

There is a catalogue of the exhibition, which unfortunately was not available for purchase at the gallery. However I’ve ordered it and will consider in more detail the photographs featured once I have the catalogue. In this post I reflect on my overall impressions.

Before visiting the exhibition, I wondered whether the eyes of international photographers would select anything different from a British photographer might have chosen to photograph. However, there was nothing. Perhaps because the eye of trained photographers everywhere is looking for interest in the banal. What I did find is there was something in the style of some photographers that seemed typical of their own culture and strange with British subject matter, particularly in the case of some of the Japanese and American work.

From a personal perspective, I found the photographs ‘strange and familiar’. In the rapidly changing world photographs from previous eras (even those I remember from my early childhood) seem alien and dream-like. An example is the bus conductor and postman featured above in their smart uniforms. It was not only temporal distance that created this impression, it was geographical distance – in reality I see more of some foreign countries than I do of some parts of the UK (many of which I have never visited). We are limited in our capacity to be visit many different places, so they remain strange but familiar through information we receive through different channels.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and found the theme of ‘strange and familiar’ successful in bringing together a fascinating collection of photographs from masters of the art. Perhaps that is enough to justify Parr’s theme.


The Guardian [0nline]. Jack I (March, 2016). Strange and Familiar indeed – these photographs of the life I lived are eye-opening. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/19/strange-and-familiar-barbican-photographs-of-life-i-lived-are-eye-opening [accessed 11.4.17]

Manchester Art Gallery [website]. Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers. Available from: http://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/exhibition/strange-and-familiar/ [accessed 11.4.17]

Snaps of introductions to featured photographers

Click to view as gallery


Ex 5.2 – View Point

Choose a viewpoint, perhaps looking out of your window or from a café in the central square, and write down everything you can see. (OCA IAP)

I chose a car journey, in which I was a passenger in an hour long journey from my home to the Lake District. The window on the world was through a car windscreen or momentary glimpses through side windows as the car sped through the countryside.

Some things I noted:

  • Runners – sometimes in charity logo’d shirts. There is a large variety in runners, from those who look like they are newly seeking fitness or weight loss to those who look well conditioned. There is possibility of a street portrait project on the subject, perhaps running alongside the subjects to add the image of movement.
  • Signage – it seems that every 100 meters there is a road sign warning us of some hazard or direction. The signs have distinctive  typographics and colouring as well as featuring different symbols. The semiotics of road signs?
  • Motor bikes – I often notice reckless motor cycle riders, who seem to treat the road as a race track. Though is it only the annoying riders I notice, and there is perhaps more of a balance than my immediate impression? Bikes and riders – a portrait exercise as they rest at watering holes.
  • Clouds – cumulus in blue sky. Clouds often top of landscape photographs. What about a series of cloud-scape photos, bottomed off by the landscape?
  • Trees – still mostly bare at the end of March. Reminded me of my annual disappointment in March’s weather, always expecting it to be better than it is. A project around what a certain month means to me, or even what each month means?
  • Walkers holding hands, with muddy boots – a less offensive group than the bikers (actually completely inoffensive).Walkers are everywhere in the countryside – how about joining a group of walkers as an out-side, looking in project.
  • Red phone boxes – I read recently that BT are planning to remove many phone boxes because of the lack of use – extinction? The Yorkshire Dales National Park is raising objections to this for boxes located in the remote areas of the Dales, where there is sometimes no mobile phone coverage. A documentary project
  • Country pubs – in the tourist areas these seem to be thriving, but I still hear of pubs closing through lack of custom. Pubs are a topic close to my heart. What is the real fate of this national institution?
  • Car interior. Black plastics sat nav tracking. Not immediately interesting, but how much time do we spend in these moulded interiors. What tricks of style are used to appeal to consumers. What do people like or dislike about the interior of the cars they select.
  • Rolling hills and drystone walls – Yorkshire Dales country side. A history of drystone walls and walling, dating back centuries – there are around 5000 miles of them, and they’re some of the oldest man-made features of the landscape.
  • Traditional housing – all similar but more character – local materials blend with landscape. The architecture of the Dales? Traditional verses any modern incursions.

What is clear from this exercise is that there are potential photography projects all around, without looking very far. Time is more scarce than ideas.

Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers

Over the weekend I read (or at least skimmed) the Martin Evening book, Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers (2014 release).

I bought this a couple of years ago when first joining the OCA, and have dipped in and out of  but not paid too much attention to it, preferring to take Photoshop tips from YouTube videos (learning by watching).

However, as I approach the end of the level 1 courses I’m making an effort to close any niggling doubts on post processing techniques and decided to go through the ‘bible’ to see what I might find. Here a note a few points that will have a significant impact on my approach to post processing.

  • RAW conversion and basic adjustments. There is an overlap in the tools available within LR and PS and some additional tools in PS (eg for sharpening). It can be puzzling to know what to do where. Evening suggests that the Camera RAW filter in PS has improved to such an extent that there is little need for the sharpening tools in PS for the import and selective sharpening of images. The Camera RAW filter in PS is in fact the same as the basic adjustments and sharpening panel available in LR. Therefore, I see a strong argument for keeping clean ‘master copies’ of files in LR, complete with basic adjustments and input sharpening. The basic processing in LR, eliminates the need for general application of filters in PS such as levels, curves and exposure. One then creating copies (or virtual copies in LR) for further processing for specific uses. I’ll look at tagging these ‘master files’ in some way for ease of identification.
  • There are some finer points regarding the use of the smart selection tool that I didn’t appreciate; most importantly that it remembers the types of area manually excluded (or included) in the selection and makes next step selections base on that (a little like a self-correcting guided missile) – so it is helpful to click and drag while deselecting the are around a picture element for example.
  • I’ve not yet made much use of tools that allow perspective adjustments or liquify – something to play at during spare-time.
  • Finally a mental note to remember that there is most likely a way to perform any kind of manipulation in PS. It may be a better option than setting up an elaborate tableaux in studio.
Image manipulated using various selections to create hint of a floating flower.


Ex 5.3 Journey

Recently, I’ve not had as much business travel and my journey has often been around my home-office, which is also partly a construction site. For these images, I’ve slowed up my process and used a tripod and long exposure to photograph in available light. My recently purchased light meter was used to measure exposure times across the high contrast scenes and a compromise exposure selected.

click on image for gallery view

Robert Harding Pittman

Robert Harding Pittman’s work is referenced in the OCA course material. I was drawn to his work and look at it more closely in this post.

In his interview with Sharon Boothroyd (Photoparley), Pittman discusses his work Anonymization, referring to the urban sprawl of large-scale developments that have little connection with the spaces that surround them. He says’ with this anonymous type of development not only comes the destruction of the environment, but also a loss of culture and roots, as well as alienation.’ This is something I have witnessed as western style shopping malls spread to other parts of the world – in side these places it is difficult to know whether one is in Moscow or somewhere outside of Manchester!

Source: www.roberthardingpittman.com by Robert Harding Pittman

Pittman is closely engaged with the environment, originally an environmental engineer, and says of his photographic process, ‘Usually my approach to photography is impulsive and instinctive. The more I can connect with what is around me, without thinking too much, the better it is for the photographs.’ This ‘not over-thinking’ is something that has become important to my own practice over the two years since starting my studies. It is not a question of being ignorant of context or technique, but not allowing it to hinder the instinctive creative flow when making pictures.

There is an absence of the human figure in Pittman’s work, yet he explains how evidence of humanity also dominates the work, ‘In the images we see how we control and dominate the earth, by reshaping it, by flattening it and by covering it with roads, parking lots, lawns in the desert and with large-scale developments.’ This sounds self-evident, but I wonder how many of us are numbed by overwhelming human presence and therefore do not recognise it for what it is.

The personal appeal in Pittman’s work is it’s pushback against sameness and lack of sympathy for natural surroundings and locality. It is something that impinges on many aspects our our lives – the imposition of uniformity, often in the name of efficiency and economic sense, with little regard to other sense.


Perspectives on Place [blog]. Robert Harding Pittman: Anonymization (June 2015). Available from: https://perspectivesonplace.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/robert-harding-pittman-anonymization/ [accessed 30.3.17]

Photoparley [website]. Robert Harding Pittman (May 2015). Available from: https://photoparley.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/robert-harding-pittman/ [accessed 30.3.17]

Robert Harding Pittman [website]. Available from: http://www.roberthardingpittman.com/photography [accessed 30.3.17]

Ex 5.1

Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people. (OCA, IAP)







These are traces of my life through first and borrowed experiences. They represent things that have shaped me; of which I am a product.

I chose to make clean images that might be part of a product brochure. The objects were placed on a table covered with white foam board. For some shots the room light alone was used with a long exposure and the colour balanced through a custom white balance in-camera, based on a grey card and also an x-rite color passport to create a custom camera profile in LR. Other shots feature side lighting from a flash shot through a white umbrella. A light meter was used for exposure times and the lens was stopped down.

Still life photography

In IAP part 5, absence and signs of life,  there are ‘many examples of photography that avoid the use of the human figure in order to communicate truths and stories about humanity.’ One particular aspect that interested me for further research was that of still life: it is not an area that currently features in my practice (as my working life is mostly desk-bound, I’m keen to be outside when I can); I’m interested in exploring the concept of everyday objects being transformed into something different through the medium of photography, including the use of symbolism, visual pun and metaphor; and I’d like to explore the lighting techniques for table-top still life photography, both in their own right and as techniques that can be translated into larger scale.

The National Media Museum’s video, What does it mean? Symbolism in Still Life Photography, touches on the origins on still life in painting and its dual purpose of allowing the practice of technique on things that do not move or need any particular love and attention (Don McCullin (National Media Museum) also discusses this practicality), and of representing something beyond the objects themselves through symbolism and metaphor.

My earlier studies have include aspects of lighting for still life: Light Science and Magic (Hunter F, Biver S, Fuqua P, 2015) and Table Top Photography  (Harnischmacher C, 2012). The blog posts (hyperlinked) provide some useful reminders and areas to revisit. One significant different to my kit is that I now have a light meter.

A call for ‘still life’ reference material on the OCA forum provided some useful suggestions. Some artist referenced follow.

Imogen Cunningham made exquisite use of lighting to photograph a wide range of subjects, both in locations she found them and in more formal tableaux.

source: imogencunningham.com by Imogen Cunningham

One fellow student provided a substantial list of photographers to consider: ‘contemporary’ work coming out of the USA – Daniel Gordon, Lucas Blalock, Sara Cwynar – but also UK – Lorenzo Vitturi, Jonny Briggs. Links to websites are referenced below. Gordon’s work has the feel of collage about it – complex patterns with a mix of natural and created objects; visually disconcerting. Creative Review features Blalock’s book Making Memories, including an AR (augmented reality) app that allows the work to be viewed in 3D through a phone screen. This illustrates how Blalock treats the photograph itself as just a point of departure for his work, with post-processing being a significant part of his work. Vitturi’s own website provides a stunning visual display in itself – not just a vehicle to show photographs.

This research has given me a mind full of information to digest as I develop ‘still life’ as part of my photographic practice.


Creative Review [website]. AR comes to photography in new book by Lucas Blalock. Available from: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/ar-comes-photography-new-book-lucas-blalock/ [accessed 26.3.17]

Daniel Gordon [website]. Available from: http://www.danielgordonstudio.com [accessed 26.3.17]

Foam Museum [Youtube]. Still/Life – Contemporary Dutch Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/tk0wborGNxs?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]

Imogen Cunningham Trust [website]. Available from: https://www.imogencunningham.com/still-life/ [accessed 26.3.17]

Jonny Briggs [website]. Available from: http://www.jonnybriggs.com [accessed 26.3.17]

Lorenzo Vitturi [website] Available from: http://www.lorenzovitturi.com [accessed 26.3.17]

National Media Museum [Youtube]. What does it mean? Symbolism in Still Life Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/iQ_ftM0ZXy8?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]

National Media Museum [Youtube]. Don McCullin on Still Life Photography. Available from: https://youtu.be/Qvgic5q-1Zw?list=PLtFVp4OpD5nZrcpUQN36YjI3GHG9z6dFL [accessed 24.3.17]

Sara Cwynar [website]. Available from: http://saracwynar.com [accessed 26.3.17]


Research point – Something and Nothing; or who was Brian?

We are asked to read Chapter 4,  Something and Nothing  (Cotton C, 2014) and respond to the question:

To what extent do you think the strategy of using objects or environments as metaphor is a useful tool in photography? When might it fall down?

Cotton provides a number of examples of artists using effectively objects or environments as metaphors, which prove their use in photography. Some of the examples seem more like visual puns than metaphors and I find it useful to think of them this way – otherwise the literary reference is broken and confusing.

A visual metaphor uses a visual that ordinarily identifies one thing to signify another, thus making a meaningful comparison.

A visual pun is a pun involving an image or images (in addition to, or instead of text) to form a new meaning.


Source: thewhitereview.org

For example, Gabriel Orozco’s Breath on Piano, in which the imprint of the breath on the polished piano serves as a pun for the imprint of the photo itself on paper. Cotton comments that ‘we are asked to pay close attention to the nature of photographic images and the perpetual hovering between being the medium and the subject’ (ibid, p 117). Making this kind of interpretation requires a visual education, otherwise the viewer is likely to be stuck at seeing a dirty piano. This is a potential pitfall of metaphor/pun – do we need to inform or educate some viewers to enable an interpretation beyond the subject of the photograph? If so, we must achieve this without explaining the work directly, otherwise it is surely like having to explain a joke; it is no longer a joke.

Jennifer Bolande’s work Globe is presented as a metaphor for our limited and simplified interpretation of the world around us. Cotton observes that is through repetition of the theme within a series that we can understand this as a metaphor – a single photography would be less likely to register. Again there is the challenge of communication and helping our message to be received by the viewer. We habitually switch off or turn away from text that lacks clarity or involves too much effort to understand and there is no reason that it should be any different for visual arts for many viewers.

There is the problem of comprehension when it comes to metaphor and pun. Not only based on visual education but also our broader contextual experiences in cultural, social and political environments. Concluding with a humour analogy; I once had a Japanese colleague who was determined to borrow and watch my copy of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, despite my suggestion that he was unlikely to understand it with his cultural, historical and religious background. He watch the film three times and couldn’t tell me what his favourite bit was. But he did ask me, ‘who was Brian?’.


Artnaos.net [website]. Ad using visual pun or metaphor method. Available from: http://artnaos.net/COMD2400/VisualMetaPunAd.html [accessed 24.3.17]

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd edition) London: Thames & Hudson.

Book: Writing the Picture by David Hurn and John Fuller

During the feedback process on assignment 4, it was suggested I take a look at David Hurn (photographer) and John Fuller’s (poet) book that combines image and text.

It is an interesting collaboration between the two artists, with Hurn’s reportage photographs having a response from Fuller in the form of a poem. The introduction to the book takes the form of a discussion between Hurn and Fuller on the creation of the work and the nature of photography and poetry.

At one point they discuss what came first the photos or the poems and they both seem to agree:

JF:  … I was also wondering if you would be able to take photographs to go with poems that I had already written.

DH: That doesn’t work , does it? Poetry is far more flexible than photography … the pictures must come first. Trying to pretend you are taking a photograph that represents an already written poem is absurd … (Hurn and Fuller, 2010, p10)

For my assignment, I had started with an existing piece of writing but had not tried to represent it directly, rather represented the atmosphere and feeling I found through reading the writing. In the final edit the writing content was reduced to extracts of phrases accompanying the picture, so the narrative in the original writing became invisible. But something of atmosphere remained.

So, I agree with Hurn and Fuller’s argument that the photograph needs to come first if there is to be a direct or literal reading between the two components. Perhaps important to Hurn with his reportage style. However, I don’t believe the order is important if a connection between the components is to be made at a different level.

A fellow student directed me to the work of Louise Bourgeois, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, which she described as a collection of drawings (rather than photographs) and poems by the artist that don’t necessarily at first glance look remotely connected.

Source: MoMA.org

I think this illustrates the point very well – images do not need to be directly illustrative of text and the combination is more interesting with the space for meaning between the two.


Hurn, D. and Fuller, J. (2010). Writing the picture. 1st ed. Bridgend, Wales: Seren.


Reflection point: absence and signs of life

IAP, p94 discusses with work of William Eggleston and John Szarkowski’s introduction to Eggleston’s work in the catalogue accompanying a 1976 MOMA show. In essence, the point made is that it is not the photographed things that are the works of art, but the photographs of the things transformed through the view of the photographer and camera. They become fictionalised in an alternative space, ‘one balanced loosely between recognition and art’.

We are asked to reflect upon:

  • Where does that leave the photographer? As storyteller or history writer?

It is sometimes difficult for us to tell the difference between stories and histories – the political and cultural forces shaping the presentation of history can distort it to the point of becoming a story-like. So, I would generally treat ‘history’ with some care, but do not doubt that there are some histories that do their best to present an impartial and balanced view of past events. However, there must always be a selective view or frame from reality – it is not possible or desirable to consider every aspect when making a history; we would never be done writing or reading. So, in some ways it is similar to a photograph being a slice from time and space selected by the photographer as a visual author. I therefore think that perhaps photographers are a little of both storytellers and history writers – moving along a continuum depending on the work, but never purely one thing or the other.

  • Do you tend towards fact or fiction?

I tend toward fiction with my photography. I’m not so much interested in documenting things as they are but creating a story or an emotional response based on my subjective reading of an objective. I work in a day-job that is supposedly strictly concerned with facts and my photography provides a release from that.

  • How could you blend your approach?

My approach is already largely blended, representing objects and people as parts of narratives they are not intentionally telling – an oak tree representing the story told in the letter of a survivor – a real place representing a fictional place, based loosely on a different real place. Truth is used as a point of departure into a world of fictional narrative that touches reality at some points.

  • Where is your departure from wanting/needing to depict reality?

I feel no want or need to depict reality, but to show my interpretation of a person, object or place. Being a photograph, it will have an indexical relationship to reality, but it is not the same thing. Often there is a fictional narrative pieced together from tiny disjointed fragments of time / space. Not reality.

A4: Image and text (submission to tutor)

                              Video of page spreads from planned photo book.


The brief for this assignment, Image and Text, was to ‘create a series of work (7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place looked at so far in this course, using the written word to play a part in its creation.’ (OCA IAP, p89).

I chose to work in collaboration with a writer, who I asked to provide a passage of text that I might draw upon for inspiration. I was not specific in the request and just explained that I would not be illustrating the text but using it to inspire a broader narrative. Details of the text are here. Over a period of days I reflected upon the text before deciding on the type of photographs I might make (see here) – I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The title, ‘Not Familiar’, is drawn from the text and reflects ambiguity and lack of clarity.


I worked on the shoot without reference to the words or thinking of the descriptions in the writing. I kept only the mood in mind. Contact sheets from some of the 170 shots are here. It has been a long process to get to the finished output: I decided to work the photos and text into a photo book and my initial thoughts are recorded here, where I decided to make the book text-heavy to avoid the reader making a direct connection between image and text. However, following feedback on my first edit, recorded here, I substantially reworked the photo book and the online presentation of the planned book.

The final output submitted is considerably different from the first edit, both in terms of the book’s content and its digital presentation on the blog (video above). It has increased ambiguity and, I hope, allow the viewer time to take in the images and words and bring their own interpretation. To complement the video are still slides of the page spreads here.


Against the OCA assessment criteria, I conclude:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%) – materials, techniques, observational – skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Developed a photo book layout (to be printed) for this project in Lightroom and used Photoshop to format the output for digital viewing; the double-page jpgs and video with soundtrack. Successfully combined text and photos in the book.

Quality of outcome (20%) – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. 

Extended the meaning of the text and photographs to create an ambiguity that allows the viewer to bring their own interpretation. Developed more effective methods of presenting images digitally for web-viewing.

Demonstration of creativity (20%) – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.

Used low-light photography to develop ambiguity and light and shade in shots, while using colour photography. Blur was also used to add a sense of mystery. Used the text as a point of access to a creative pathway and presented in the output effectively for both digital and analogue platforms (book to be printed, following tutor feedback).

Context (20%) – reflection, research, critical thinking (including learning logs).

Extensive research reflected in learning log and preparation for this assignment linked in this post.

A4: Edit for tutor submission

The images below show the page spreads for what will ultimately be printed as a book. Click on an image to view as a slideshow. This supplements the movie included in the assignment submission.

A4: Feedback on 1st edit

I requested feedback from the OCA community on my first edit flipbook (here). The feedback offered many aspects to consider and I note the main points here, along with thoughts on how I will use the feedback to shape the next iteration of the book:

  1. Textual content – general feeling that there was too much text and it distracted / confused the impression of the photographs. Suggestion that two versions of the book could be prepared – one in which the text was just hinted at, and other in which the text would be shown clearly, without being over-laid on an image.  I’ll focus on the photo-orientated version and discuss a text-focussed version with my collaborator.
  2. Commented that sidebar on WordPress site was a distraction (taking up too much real estate). Addressed by changing to full width theme.
  3. Too hectic a pace in the book – should be slowed down (eg blank pages) and allowed to unfold like a ‘Scandy drama’.
  4. Some comments lead me to realise I was diluting the output by trying to make the work serve two purposes (paper and screen) – a printed book, but also something that could be displayed online in this blog – and compromising both output forms. I will re-work with the focus on a paper book and then think how to give an impression of that book on the blog. Noted that there would be production difficulties attempting to reproduce the dark screen background in a paper output. One commentator mentioned how it is surprising how much the analogue format of books is used for online replication when there are other options available that suit digital better and make better use of the possibilities of the medium.

So overall, it is back to the drawing board with the creation of the photo book. On the plus side, the images were generally well received.

A4: Photobook for feedback

Below is the first edit of the photo book, which will put the form of output for assignment 4, Image and Text. It is provided here for the purposes of gathering feedback from the OCA discussion forum and elsewhere (page numbering is shown for reference purposes only).

Please leave comments in the forum or, if you do not use the forum, feedback is also welcomed below.

Click or use cursor keys to turn pages



A4: Approach to shoot and photo book creation

I approached the shoot with just the mood of the text in mind, rather than the details of the narrative – this was to avoid the temptation to directly represent the descriptive writing with photos. The contact sheets are here.

The creation of the photo book was somewhat tortuous. As well as the overcoming the technical challenges of producing a book for online viewing (‘flipbook’) in LR’s book module (see here), the selection process to combine image with text felt twice as perplexing as coming up with an edit of images alone.

After initially using snippets of text to go alongside the photos, I found that this not only destroyed the narrative in the writing, but also created a direct connection between the photos and text, suggesting they were meant to be illustrative of the text; even forcing me to make some kind of direct connection. Therefore, I eventually decided to include the full text, which has created a layer of ambiguity, rather than discord. An alternative would have been to exclude the text completely, but then there would have been no intercontextual ambiguity.

In Lightroom, I experimented with various layout options and making of background colours to the darker colours in the images create confusion between the boundaries of image and page. The text pages are over-layed on an opaque water shot, which also features as a stand-alone image. I’ve also included small abstracts of images on the text pages, designed to confuse.

Below are the pages from the first edit of the photo book, as standalone jpeg files.


Lightroom for online photo books (flip books)

I invested considerable time in working out how to present a photo book on this blog, without paying for a third-party flip book  service, which seem to come in at around $15 per month. Here are notes for future reference, or any one else who might find them of use.

Lightroom book module

  • This is geared up for printing paper books, either through a connected online service (Blurb) or by generating jpgs or pdfs (perhaps for proof of concept only) to be sent to printers. To make it work for online flipbooks, a different approach needs to be used:
    • Cover page (front and back) – LR generates as a wrap-around, so it is of no use for a digital book – set up book without cover page.
    • As we will work with no cover page, there is a need to insert a blank page before any inside cover text (automatically created when cover pages are used) so that the page spreads are kept intact.
    • When exporting to jpg files for online use, LR will export a single image whether a double page spread or a single page spread is used. LR’s double-page spreads therefore display small, in the space of a single page. Do not use double-page spreads for online flip-book preparation.
    • For the front and back cover, set up a normal page spread, using one page for the front cover and the other for the back. These will then print as separate jpgs to be inserted at the beginning and the end of the flipbook.

In WordPress (org) – plugins

Various plug-ins are available. On this site I use Photo Book Gallery, with free features that are sufficient for simple flipbooks and with a degree of control over its configuration in the settings panel. The only thing I needed to adjust was the book sizing so it was in a consistent dimension to the size of the jpg files being used.

A big upside of this approach is that the flipbook uses jpgs uploaded to the WordPress media library, so the images can be reused elsewhere in posts related to the same project.

My first flip-book was made for the first edit of assignment 4, here.

A4: contact sheets

Having reflected for a while on the text chosen for this assignment and my reading of that text (see here), I decided to base the shoot in a historical / atmospheric place and chose the home town of the Brontës, Haworth, which is a drive across the moors from my home (the moors of Wuthering Heights).

Below are contacts for the photos I considered in my selection. In total, I took around 170 shots.

OCA study visit – Les Monaghan’s Aspirations

Source: www.aspirationsdoncaster.blogspot.co.uk by Les Monaghan

Les Monaghan, a practicing photographer and OCA tutor hosted an OCA study visit covering his own work Aspirations (Stockport Gallery, 11.2.17). I was lucky to enjoy what turned out to be a four hour discussion of Monaghan’s work, his aspirations and the practicalities of obtaining funding for projects.

Monaghan is passionate about his subject matter; he is a photographer with a cause. The theme of his work could be described as the social inequalities and limited life opportunities experienced in the relatively poor areas of the UK, including his home town, Doncaster. I’m not sure whether he would describe himself as a humanist photographer, but his practice seems very much concerned with giving a voice to his subjects, with their collaboration and permission. There is a real sense of ‘being on the inside’ in the work; in the community, of the community, for the community.

What I found striking about the way Monaghan talked about his work was the way his subjects and their social and environmental conditions dominated the air-time; photography seemed to be purely a means of record, with visual aesthetics not a significant factor. At one point it was mentioned that sociologists might be interested in the work, but considered photography insufficiently objective to be useful.

I reflected on this afterwards and wondered if photography on its own, with its flexible meaning, can ever be an adequate vehicle to do justice to serious social issues. Perhaps, this type of work might be more effective as joint project or at least with the input of a sociologist / concerned writer, which might give it broader traction. But that would of course create an addition set of challenges around the collaboration process.


Aspirations Doncaster [blog]. Available from: http://aspirationsdoncaster.blogspot.co.uk [accessed 8.3.17]

The Art of Printing Workshop with Mark Wood

Source: Wilkinson.co.uk, by Mark Wood

To satisfy my continuing interest in the technical aspects of photography, so I can make an informed choice of what to bring to my work and what to discard, I recently attended a day-long printing workshop. It was run by Mark Wood (who has some impressive credentials) and hosted by Wilkinson Cameras in their Liverpool training suite.

I feel I make reasonable prints, but you never know what you don’t know until you know – my main motivation for attending the workshop, which covered:

  • The Theory & Practice Of Colour Management
  • Setting System and Application Colour Preferences
  • Calibrating Monitors and Printers
  • Exploring the qualities and requirements for a great print
  • Soft-proofing and Printing for inkjet printers and photo-labs
  • Benchmarking Colour Management

I learned more than I expected, and note here a few points that will be introduced to my practice:

  1. I’ve never used Photoshop for printing – Wood demonstrated how much more control over prints there is in PS above LR – for example in the more realistic rendering of the soft proofing it generates.
  2. I learned the differences between rendering intents: – Perceptual rendering retains colour relationships ie good for portraits, Relative – just brings out-of -gamut colours into line. I can now used this in an informed way.
  3. We explored the use of colour spaces and why Pro RGB is standard in LR and preferred for master copies of images; the most detail / information is retained for future use – even if current screen technologies cannot use the information, future ones may be able to do so.
  4. Screen calibration was discussed at length and how anything other than a reference monitor (showing full Adobe RGB colour) was going to be a compromise on quality – no guarantee that you will be seeing what others with properly calibrated reference monitors are seeing when viewing your work. But, the technology, would most likely do a reasonable job in rendering. Also, with a reference monitor more reliable soft-proofing of prints is possible.
  5. Wood recommended testing accuracy of calibration by printing an sRGB image, letting the printer manage the colours, before moving on to paper specific printer-profiles. Is the printed image close to the on-screen soft-proof? If not calibration needs to be revisited before continuing.
  6. Another suggestion was to obtain a colour reference print and compare that to your own print of the jpg file of the reference print (I found that Marrutt.com provide a print free of charge!).
  7. Wood showed some powerful examples of how the human visual system reacts to colours and even can create phantom colours – to emphasise that despite all the efforts made during the printing process, the context in which a print is displayed can undo the effort.


Adobe [website]. Print with color management. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/printing-color-management-photoshop1.html [accessed 8.3.17]

Mark Wood Photography [website]. Available from: http://www.markwoodphotography.com/index.html [accessed 8.3.17]

Wilkinson Cameras [website]. Advert for workshop – printing master class. Available from: http://www.wilkinson.co.uk/printing-masterclass/ [accessed 7.3.17]


A4: Image and text – analysis of text and theme

In this post, I reflect on the text I will be using (see here) and how it might be interpreted as a piece of visual art.

I read the text as analogous to uncertainty or ambiguity through the transition between light and dark. The language used is descriptive and full of visual details, but it seems to be mood that is more important than the phenomenal. There is the boy familiar at first, but then dismissed. The boys sees dumped items from a past era and a sofa that is the narrator’s own. The boy is an echo of the narrator’s own past perhaps? More uncertainty. A shift in time, as the light ‘changes to monochrome’, as well as a shift between light and dark.


And so, I will explore images that create ambiguity, between light and the dark, certainty and doubt, past and present.

A4: Image and Text – brief and concept


The brief for this assignment, Image and Text, is to ‘create a series of work (7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place looked at so far in this course, using the written word to play a part in its creation.’ (OCA IAP, p89)

One of the ideas I’ve worked with is how text can provide a creative access point to inspire a photographic work. I experimented with this in an exercise using a poignant letter from my grandfather to his future wife, describing his escape from HMS Ark Royal, which was torpedoed with the loss of 800 lives (see exercise here). My intention was to create images that symbolised the mood in the letter, photographing an oak tree to the point of abstraction, but nonetheless remaining symbolically connected. For this assignment, I wanted to work to a similar process.


The idea for this work is to create a visual response to a piece of creative writing, but to stretch the meaning of both the text and the images, leaving space for the viewer to engage their own imagination. It is only this concept that acts as the direction for the upcoming work; I will see where it takes me and analyse later.

I wanted to collaborate with a writer on this work and luckily an old friend, James Wall, agreed to work on the project.

source: fictivedream.com

James’s work has been published in the Best British Short Stories 2013 anthology, Tears in the Fence, Unthology 6, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, The Nottingham Review, Prole, The View From Here, Long Story, Short Journal, Fictive Dream, and in Matter Magazine. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. I am fortunate indeed to have such a friend!

I explained the concept to James and asked him to send over a couple of text extracts, without explaining the context or full story, so I might choose one and create a visual response. I’ve also requested that James shares his views on the images during the editing process – so I’m looking forward to good coffee and a long natter as the work progresses.

The extract I have chosen to work with is reproduced in full below. As a next step, I’ll absorb these words and let some creative ideas surface.

I stood and moved to the window, gazing out into the evening. The darkness was winning against the light, and the streetlights were already on. Cars were parked up now that most had returned home from work. I couldn’t see anyone walking by. The park was shrouded in black, with the occasional light from the old-fashioned streetlights dotted about the pathways. Then a light appeared from the right. It was moving, veering one way and then the other. As it crossed by one of the streetlights I could see it was a young boy on a bike. He was travelling along the paths, up the hill, then round and back again by the small roundabout there that had a flower display in the middle of the grass. I followed his route further, watching his light illuminate the park before it passed again back into darkness, with just the faint red of his rear light. Then it shone onto the lake. More objects were jutting out of it. White from a fridge reflected in the light briefly. What looked like marks were scattered about it but they looked too uniform to be dirt from the lake. They were in blocks, and reminded him of the fridge magnets he used to have at home. The light shifted a little and I switched my gaze to see the boy light up a cigarette. Wasn’t he too young to be smoking? I caught a brief glimpse of his face in the flame, at once familiar, and I inhaled sharply. I peered in closer, desperately trying to get a clear view but he was too far away and it was too dark. No, I must have been wrong. Not familiar. I couldn’t see properly from this distance. The boy remained, in the half light one leg straight and on the ground, sitting on the saddle. I couldn’t see but I imagined his other knee was raised, his foot resting on the pedal.

The orange glow from the boy’s cigarette sped to the ground and then disappeared. The bike’s light moved from left to right, as if scanning the lake, revealing more objects sticking out of the water: the top of what looked like the Eiffel Tower, half of an old black and white TV set that had a programme showing, an old record player, with a red lid that we had kept in a corner in the living room, and a sofa with a cream throw over it. The sofa had been a mucky brown underneath. It was meant to be temporary until we could afford something nicer but it was years before we bought another.

The light swept across the lake now and then up towards the trees at the top of the park, where it and the red rear light diminished until finally disappeared altogether. I grabbed my coat and made my way downstairs. The evening’s chill chided me as soon as I was outside. I passed the two stone pillars marked the entrance to the park. I wondered whether there’d once been wrought iron gates here fixed to the stone. My footsteps echoed as I followed the path towards the lake, and the light changed to monochrome. (James Wall ©2017)

A3: Window: assessment submission


Prints of the images are included in the assessment submission pack.


Click on first image for full-sized gallery



Artist’s statement

This work is an exploration of a community about which I previously knew nothing; the internationally renowned Steeton Male Voice Choir (Steeton MVC). What I discovered was a dedication to and passion for music among men who were not professional musicians but love what they do. There is a spirituality about their rehearsals and it is this that I wanted to reflect something of in my work. The relaxed concentration of men lost in their moment.

Following an initial email request and discussion with the chair of the choir’s committee, the committee agreed that I could attend a number of their rehearsals to take photographs. I attended three of their rehearsals (and post-rehearsal pub stops) – my initial approach and discussions with them are recorded here. No performances were scheduled during my project – it was ‘off-season’.

I found very little in contemporary photographic practice that dealt specifically with choirs and most of the vernacular photographs of choirs by choir members or press photographers deal with capturing the choir in colour as a corporate body, rather than the emotion conveyed through their music; I examined this here. However, I did find inspiration from the study of the Group Portraiture of Holland (see here) and the observations and techniques used to add interest to group portraits and making individuals stand out within the group. Later in my process, I also looked at Klaus Pichler’s Golden day and how he edited to create images with variety, while working within a theme and single location.

I chose to work with monochrome for the series as an echo of the tradition of male voice choirs and a signifier of distance to emphasise their spirituality and other-worldliness as they sang. In selecting the series I considered Alec Soth’s advice (here) on finding an interplay between the images, rather than looking for discrete single selections. I also obtained feedback from peers and the choir itself, which is detailed for an initial cut here, and a second cut, including a colour option here. During the course of the three rehearsals I attended, I worked with and without flash in what were challenging lighting conditions in an old Methodist hall. The photos were shot using a DSLR and the monochrome conversion of RAW files done in Photoshop.

The experience of working with the choir was rewarding and I felt I developed a good relationship with them – in the end politely declining and invitation to attend an audition to join them! The images capture something of the experience of being close to, or perhaps even part of a choir.

Submission to tutor and report

The original submission to my tutor along with introductory, process and concluding text is here.

My tutor’s report and my response is here. Details of the rework are here. I re-edited the images based on my tutor’s feedback and referral to the work of Klaus Pichler – this helped me arrive at a stronger edit with more variety than the initial submission. Editing my own work is not something that I find easy and I’m conscious of the need for more experience and more patience in doing this.