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!).