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: [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: [accessed 26.5.17]

Scapa Flow visitor centre [website]. Available from: [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: ‘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

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: Image and Text – assessment submission


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

Click to open as gallery


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.

Artist’s statement


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):
A J Wilkinson (Driving Blind Book):
John Holden (Lots of Company Book) http://john-

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: