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