Assignment 5: proposal

After a fairly intense first four sections on this course it was a pleasant surprise to see that sections 5 and 6 have no coursework, only an assignment each.

Assignment 5 is the oral presentation, and the brief is detailed below, with annotation where appropriate.


For your oral presentation, you’re free to choose from any of the study areas on this course – social documentary, fine art photography, portrait photography or advertising photography.

My tutor advised me to make the subject of the oral presentation (and the critical review) something that fits in wth my own practice and/or my developing personal voice. My realisation of recent weeks is that my work is predominantly most closely aligned to documentary photography in some form or other – the subject matter is always based on some reality rather than acts of pure imagination.

I’m attracted to what might be termed ‘expressive documentary’ (or ambiguous, or poetic…) rather than straight, didactic social documentary. I like to lean towards the ‘creative treatment’ part of John Grierson’s definition of the genre as “the creative treatment of actuality”.

With this in mind, I want to make both my oral presentation and critical review documentary-focused to one degree or another. However, I don’t just want to run through a potted history of documentary photography here, I want to look at how it borders with or overlaps into one of the other genres listed above.

After briefly considering the overlap between documentary and fine art, I landed on an examination of the use of portraiture in documentary projects. More details below.

Prepare your presentation in PowerPoint and deliver it to camera. Your presentation should demonstrate your understanding of the underpinning issues behind your chosen area of study and how you’ll adapt them to your own future practice.

Not sure if or why PowerPoint is mandated, as the final output is a video file – I know other students have used iMovie, and I was planning on using Keynote… we’ll see.

Your presentation should look at:

  •  the historical background
  •  contemporary practitioners, visual language, influences and contexts
  •  the relevance to your own practice
  • your future plans and direction and possible projects relating to this area of study.

Your presentation should be 15 minutes long (± 2 minutes).

From discussing this with my tutor, her recommendation is to divide the presentation into three five minute segments, first on the history, second on the contemporary use and third combining the last two points about my current work and future plans.

Post your presentation onto the OCA website or to your own website. There must be a facility for student reviewers to ask you questions about your presentation and for you to reply and post both questions and the answers that you give.

I’m going to see if I can embed it directly here on this blog.

Proposed theme


Portraiture as a device in documentary photography

… meaning the use of pictures of people not to communicate something about the character of the subject (as per the traditional definition of a portrait) but to illustrate a wider social documentary issue.

This can take various forms:

  • Person as symbol (metaphor)
  • Person as specimen (metonymy e.g. typologies)
  • Person to illustrate narrative point

I do want to place certain criteria on the subject however, to avoid the scope become too broad – I want the images I select as examples to resemble a portrait, even if the intent is different.

  • Person is the main subject matter in the frame
  • Person is aware of being photographed

I have a few photographers in mind already – August Sander, Robert Frank, Alec Soth, Zed Nelson, Charles Freger, Daniel Meadows – but I’m sure I’ll come across and include many others…

Next steps

  • Research historic photographers
  • Research contemporary photographers
  • Draft an outline structure

2 thoughts on “Assignment 5: proposal

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