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.

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.

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.

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.