Result

I got my assessment result email this morning – I passed with 73%.

Close-up-of-explosion-of-champagne-bottle-via-@AnAppealingPlan-KraylFunch

I’m VERY pleased with that. I really wasn’t sure I was going to hit those dizzy heights, I must say.

Assessment criteria

  • Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills
    • “Complete fluency of technical and visual skills.”
    • 25/35
    • Pleased enough with that mark, though I’m not sure about “complete fluency” (if it was complete, I’d have got a higher mark…)
  • Quality of Outcome
    • “Highly effective work presented in a professional way, showing strong judgement. Highly effective grasp of ideas and communication of visual ideas.”
    • 16/20
    • Delighted with this, the highest relative mark of the lot… I put a lot of thought into the work itself and presentation online and offline, and am glad it paid off
  • Demonstration of Creativity
    • “Very good synthesis of analytical and creative thinking. Creative, takes risks with imaginative and successful outcomes. Evidence of a developing personal voice.”
    • 17/25
    • Relatively speaking the lowest mark compared to the maximum available, and this is not a huge surprise – taking risks and stretching my creative muscles is something I only really started to get comfortable with during this course
    • Very pleased about the reference to developing personal voice – I do think I am getting there, slowly
  • Context
    • “Very articulate and self aware, very well researched. Demonstrates a developed intellectual understanding and criticality.”
    • 15/20
    • I like that, it makes me sound clever :-)

Overall comments

I won’t quote these verbatim but will pick out a couple of phrases that resonated:

  • “This is very professionally presented submission, showing great attention to detail and pride with your work.”
    • So relieved to see this – I can now admit to a recurrent anxiety I’d had ever since sending the parcel off to OCA that I hadn’t put all the photos in the right order! Turns out I was just being paranoid. Does anyone else have this?!
  • “It will be good to see you continue to explore more challenging and sophisticated ideas, as you have with the ‘calendar’ assignment, where you took the opportunity to take a creative brief and really make it your own.”
    • This I took as gentle encouragement to be a little more confident in pushing myself creatively – my experimentation over this course was tentative and uncertain at times, but I do feel like I’ve finally crossed over into being more confident to take risks

Just realised, passing this means that I have officially completed half of the degree.

Next I need to finish Documentary – onwards!

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Assessment pack pt 2: production process

I sent off my assessment parcel a couple of days ago after pulling it together over the previous week or so, taking photographs as I went along so that I could present a record of the decision-making and production processes. This is the second post on my assessment preparation, following the first part on research and inspiration.

The main challenge I found in presenting Gesture & Meaning work for assessment is the eclectic nature of the assignments:

  • One photographic assignment each on four distinct genres (documentary, art, portraiture and advertising)
  • An audio-visual presentation
  • A written essay

The outcome of that research and inspiration piece was that I decided that the key to presenting the whole set of assignments in a coherent way was to standardise the presentation in terms of the design principles – colour schemes, typefaces, materials, sizes etc) to provide the consistent framework in which the visually different assignments could sit.

An alternative approach could have been to bespoke each assignment’s presentation to its subject matter, changing the materials, sizes, layouts and typography to best present each individual assignment as a standalone piece of work.

However, I took a step back and endeavoured to correctly frame this for what it is:

  • It is not primarily a presentation of individual art projects
  • It is primarily a presentation of a linked set of artefacts to be academically assessed

With this in mind, and putting oneself in the shoes of the assessors, I determined that consistency of presentation format would give a better impression than eclectic presentation tailored to each assignment.

Process

Upfront planning

First of all I decided on the presentation size: my tutor tried to persuade me to go 16″ x 12″ as a ‘true’ photographic size rather than A3 (a paper industry size), but I instead took the advice of Clive White, a tutor who regularly advises on assessment matters on the OCA forum, who coincidentally posted on the subject on the very day I was researching this: “A3 or 16×12? Once upon a time it went 10×8 then 16×12, 16×12 is just a short hand way for old timers to say A3 […] Nobody is fussed on the difference.” (White 2017). Between this and the fact that I could more easily source A3 portfolio box, paper and divider card I decided to go with A3.

My next decision was how many prints to include. Again I heard conflicting advice! My tutor initially suggested a few samples from each assignment, which was my original plan, but shortly afterwards she passed on advice from a colleague saying it would be better to include everything. Hmm… once again I took to the OCA forum, where issues such as this have been much discussed. I found a sensible opinion offered by the aforementioned Mr White: he advises his students to present a selection to demonstrate print quality, not the entire set as a duplicate of what is on the learning log. Most other OCA students I spoke to online concurred – expecting the assessor to look closely at 40 prints across the four photographic assignments seems a little excessive.

I ordered a half-depth A3 portfolio box from Silverprint. I had previously used the A4 equivalent and was suitably impressed.

For paper I generally use a good quality luster, and Canon make a pro quality luster paper made to work with my Canon Pixma A3 printer. I have seen assessment advice a number of times that recommends matte or luster paper over gloss due to the reflections from the latter. I presume that assessors spend a lot of time looking down onto tabletops under overhead lighting, not straight ahead to a mounted, framed, hung print as one would in a gallery situation.

I wanted to delineate the six assignments more clearly than I had done in the past and so sourced some thick A3 card (‘greyboard’) to use as dividers.

For the section introduction pages I felt that luster might be a touch too ‘photographic’ to carry a mixture of image and typography, so I got hold of some A4 matte paper.

Finally, for the essay I wanted a good quality regular printer (i.e. non-photographic) paper so got some premium A4 paper with a reasonable weight and a subtle texture to the surface

Once I’d gathered all the basic materials I ran print tests of the images I planned to include, as they had all been done at different times, on different equipment (I have changed my computer and printer during the course). I produced variations of Relative and Perceptual colour profiling and experimented with tweaking the output brightness and contrast until I was satisfied on the match between screen and paper.

img_4950

General structure

I made section introductions for the six assignments, with simple explanatory text, just one or two sentences, plus a sample image and confirmation of what was enclosed.

These were printed at A4 and mounted on the divider card using photo corners.

I aso made an overall introduction sheet and attached this to the inside lid of the portfolio box.

l1030025

All prints were done with a minimum 30mm border for handling – minimum as some images were done to slightly different ratios to best serve each individual assignment (e.g. the documentary project used 5×7 to better align with the target book layout; the portraits were done at 8×10 as a standard portrait ratio).

I’ll now briefly cover what I included per assignment – a tricky decision given the fragmented nature of the assignments (four photographic including one with a book and one with a calendar format, plus a 16-minute video presentation and a written essay).

Assignment 1

I included three sample images from the 12 submitted as the full assignment.

The main challenge was how to present the book version. I really wanted the whole presentation to be based around A3 materials to avoid anything ‘rattling around’ the portfolio box. My solution was to tightly fasten ribbon to a greyboard card and slides the book under the resultant ‘straps’.

l1030029

As a symbolic aside: the ribbon formed a cross, and the project was about a church, which I thought was an appropriate coincidence.

Assignment 2

I included three sample images from the 10 submitted as the full assignment.

I felt it important to include the final image as it is different to the other nine, offering a kind of resolution to the narrative of the series.

Assignment 3

I included the final selected versions of each of the four subjects. Coincidentally (but very pleasingly) all four sitters preferred the bespoke shot of themselves, so all four final images sit together quite well I think.

I did have a dilemma here: the original assignment submissions asked for the selected images to be printed large (A4) and the rejected shots at 5×4″. However, as detailed earlier I have been at pains to keep the presentation format as consistent as possible across the assignments. I wanted all the images to be at A3, and I felt that printing smaller versions of the rejected shots was visually jarring. For this reason I chose to exclude the smaller rejected portraits.

Assignment 4

I included all six images from the assignment, for a couple of reasons. First of all, six is such as small number compared to other assignments that selecting three or four out of six felt arbitrary and odd. Secondly, the concept (names subtly embedded into scenes) really needs to be seen as large as possible, so A3 prints is the minimum size that does it justice – I can’t assume assessors look at the online versions on giant monitors.

I discussed with my tutor whether to make an actual calendar for this assignment. Her opinion was that the images work better as a standalone set of photographs and that the calendar format felt like a secondary version of the series. She also took advice from an OCA colleague who agreed that “It doesn’t have to produced as a calendar – it’s mainly about the photography. Design of the calendar can be online”. So the calendar format is presented online but not printed. As per other decisions outlined above, my guiding principle was visual consistency.

Assignment 5

For this I included just the divider with an A4 section intro mounted on it, to keep it consistent with the rest of the submission – leaving it out completely felt wrong.

I did check with OCA whether to provide a DVD or USB drive with the presentation video on it, but was advised not to.

Assignment 6

This is the critical review essay, so it was clearly important to print a good quality copy of the essay. I also decided that the essay needed a cover page for visual appeal, so I took one of the images I discussed (Don McCullin’s shell-shocked marine) and the concept of ‘joining the dots’ to form a graphic design of circular extracts from the photograph.

l1030036

The dilemma though was how to present an A4 document as part of an A3 portfolio (printing the essay on A3 would just look silly). My solution was to craft a kind of A4-sized ‘tray’ out of three sheets of the greyboard card and sit the document in this recess. A ribbon was added to lift the document out.

And – that’s it.

Wish me luck!

Sources

https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/advice-on-printing-for-assessment-perhaps-it-could-be-passed-on/3906 (accessed 09/01/2017)

Assessment pack pt 1: research and inspiration

Before going into any detail on my own assessment pack (in a separate post) I want to start with a little wider context on photographic presentation.

As I have probably mentioned frequently in these pages, Gesture & Meaning is quite an eclectic course, being made up of four genre-specific sections followed by two academic assignments. The challenge for assessment presentation is how to present such a diverse array of projects in a coherent manner.

Helen my tutor suggested looking at photographic presentation in other projects that contain a selection of different materials, to see if there were ideas or directions that I could pursue in some way.

Three projects sprang to mind: Eamonn Doyle’s End, the catalogue that accompanied the 2016 exhibition of evidential photography ?: the Image as Question and the Foto/Industria 2013 catalogue box. Each, in different ways, dealt with the point of collating multiple items into a coherent whole.

Eamonn Doyle’s End

The exhibition of Doyle’s trilogy of Dublin projects, ION and End was the highlight of my visit to Arles this year. It featured a breathtaking array of presentation methods, materials, colour schemes, sizes and sounds, turning the photography exhibition into more of a multi-sensory experience. It made me realise that there are many possible ways of presenting photography and 90% of exhibitions play it rather safe.

I ordered the book that specifically covered the most recent project, End, as soon as I got home. It’s not really a book as such, but I’m not quite sure that the right word is! It’s a kind of a boxset of photographic artefacts. It comes in a white leather-style slipcase, covered in yellow cellophane.

The contents include concertina fold card prints, pamphlets, posters, and even a translucent tracing paper-esque sheet that wraps around a 7″ single (haven’t seen one of them in a while). The prints and pamphlets are slim enough to mount and frame as pieces of art without dismantling them – as I did for my favourite image.

It’s a hugely impressive piece of work, and really plays with what an ‘art book’ is, or can be.

Takeaway points

Thinking of how (or whether) to apply this approach to my own G&M assessment presentation: I concluded that this kind of diversity of material works really well for Doyle as he has the strong backbone of coherent content (the streets of Dublin) running through the work. My challenge is that the four photographic projects are really quite different in genre, content and tone – so applying an eclectic presentation approach might actually make the whole thing just too incoherent.

I came away from examining this particular work with the sense that there needs to be a strong line of consistency in either the content or the presentation method. I will return to this point.

?: the Image as Question

This exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London was on evidential photography, an extremely broad and flexible subject – the kinds of images included reportage, forensic, investigative, judicial, astrological, even record sleeves. The catalogue that accompanied the exhibition was particularly interesting – so much so that I bought one.

It’s presented in the form of an evidence folder, with all the component parts inside held in place loosely by an elastic spine. It means that one can remove or order the contents in an almost infinite number of combinations. It also means that, like the Doyle work above, one can easily remove and frame an individual print (again, I did).

In contrast to the Doyle boxset, this has an eclectic set of contents in terms of subject matter. Like the Doyle set, it uses different materials and sizes of print, in this case tailoring each artefact to the content and format of the original image. So it’s kind of a hybrid format in this sense.

What makes this eclectic mix of both inner contents and presentation formats really work is the ‘wrapper’ – the conceit of treating all the diverse components as items of evidence. The existing cultural code of the ‘evidence folder’ is exploited to provide a veneer of consistency and coherence to what would otherwise be a bit of a mish-mash.

Takeaway points

Again, though this execution is interesting and it ‘works’ for this set of images, I don’t believe that the contents of my four photographic assignments can really be crowbarred together into an arbitrary category like ‘evidence’ as used here, and even if I did go down that route, I’m not sure what the unifying theme and therefore ‘container’ would be.

Foto/Industria

A couple of years ago I bought this boxset of booklets when I was researching workplace photography. It was the catalogue for a photographic festival that I hadn’t attended (nor even heard of to be honest) in Bologna in 2013.

The catalogue is 17 individual square booklets presented in a grey shell box. The spines are all exactly the same thickness and designed with a small black bar that steps down the set like a staircase. The colour subtly shades from yellow to green and back again. The set is clearly designed to work beautifully together when filed in the box.

The contents are very eclectic though; the loose connection is that they are all somehow related to business, but they range from ad campaigns to company reports to corporate portraits to factories to offices.

I really like the format, as I find it gives a strong, professional backbone of consistency to what is in fact quite a diverse set of exhibitions.

Takeaway points

Though they are physically quite different, this ended up being the strongest parallel to my own implementation. It marries very eclectic content to a highly standardised and consistent set of design principles – not just a surface ‘wrapper’ like the evidence set above, but a design style that persists throughout every one of the 17 booklets.

What I took from this is that if the overarching design ‘rules’ – layout materials, colours, typefaces and so on – are both consistent and professionally done, this provides the connecting  thread to compensate for the component projects themselves being quite differentiated.

Sources

Doyle, E. (2016) End. Dublin: D1

?: the Image as Question (exhibition) Michael Hoppen Gallery, London autumn 2016

Various (2013) Foto/Industria: Bologna Biennale 01 Bologna: Contrasto

Assignment 6: Joining the Dots

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are minor structural changes, removal/replacement of sample photos and expanded visual analysis of remaining images.


Submission

Joining the dots: overcoming the photograph’s temporality problem

“A narrative is an account of events occurring over time. It is irreducibly durative.”

(Jerome Bruner 1991: 6)

“Photographs aren’t good at telling stories. Stories require a beginning, middle and end. They require the progression of time. Photographs stop time. They are frozen. Mute.”
(Alec Soth 2006)

These quotes, from a narratologist and a photographer, seem to make a similar point; the former appears to provide an explanation for the latter. Whilst a single photograph can share many characteristics of narrative (settings, characters, themes, styles etc) with other forms of communication, it stumbles on the core trait of a narrative: depicting change over time.

However, there is an argument that even if the former statement is true, the latter does not automatically follow – perhaps the singular photograph’s assumed inability to depict a progression of time is just an obstacle to overcome rather than a fundamental truth. This essay seeks to evaluate the intrinsic and extrinsic techniques available to circumvent this temporal limitation of the still photograph.

Narrative can mean both factual and fictional images; documentary is more obviously built on stories, but advertising and fine art can be too. Here we will focus on documentary and constructed tableaux for examples.

General theories of narrative

Ania Nalecka was referring to a photobook when she said “[it] gives you dots to connect, not drawing the lines. The question is how far you put the dots apart.” (2016) but the concept extends to all narratives, which are a combination of author and reader contributions (Barthes 1977: 142-148). In many textual narratives, the author’s portion is almost total, while others use techniques such as the ‘unreliable narrator’ to shift the burden of comprehension towards the reader.

The single photo narrative is perhaps analogous to the six-word short story usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” (citation disputed). In being short on ‘dots’ and long on ‘gaps’, this is an almost photographic narrative; the reader brings 90% of the story. This is how most single image narratives work.

If we accept that any narrative is partly created in the mind of the reader (/viewer) then the temporal limitations of the still photograph begin to weaken. We enter what Stephen Shore describes as the mental model of photography, where the contents of the frame are augmented by cognitive processes by the viewer (2010: 117).

Using Stuart Hall’s communication theory, the photographic message is deliberately encoded at the moment of production with the intent of it being appropriately decoded at the moment of consumption (1980: 128). This decoding places the image in a cognitive context where progression of time can be implied.

Peter Wollen categorised temporal levels of signification in photography as states, processes and events (in Wells 2003: 77). States are unchanging and so have no narrative ability, while processes (dynamically changing) and events (one-off changes) have at least two data points, even if the viewer needs to imagine one of them.

Wollen initially appears to support my hypothesis: “The fact that images may themselves appear as punctual, virtually without duration, does not mean that the situations that they represent lack any quality of duration.” (ibid: 77), though subsequently concludes that: “Still photographs, then, cannot be seen as narratives in themselves, but as elements of narrative.” (ibid: 78). He accepts that an image can represent a durative process or event yet denies its status as a narrative – a distinction I find curious.

I will now examine extrinsic and intrinsic approaches that can provide the additional data points needed to form a narrative from a single image.

Extrinsic techniques

A simple method of providing more ‘dots’ is to use text. This can be as concise as a caption to a news photograph or as wordy as an artist’s statement in a gallery. Barthes describes the three levels of message in the photographic image as denotative, connotative (to be covered shortly) and linguistic (1977: 36). While some images can communicate a narrative with no caption, others need at least minimal anchoring text to convey a meaningful story.

Compare two iconic images from the Vietnam War:

Don McCullin’s photo contains enough information for a viewer to construct a simple, self-contained narrative such as ‘he went into battle, he saw horrors, he is changed’. His uniform and rifle denote ‘soldier’; his dirty hands, face and clothes denote recent action (the ‘event’); his expression, with blank gaze and slightly open mouth, signify his shock at what he saw. The caption provides additional factual information, but even without it, the photo can act as a ‘closed’ narrative.

On the other hand, Nick Ut’s photograph shows that some horrific event has happened but only makes sufficient sense as a narrative when accompanied by a caption that specifies it followed a napalm attack. The text provides the ‘before’ that places the ‘after’ in a chronological context. Without this, the image of a naked child fleeing soldiers is open to misinterpretation; whilst it contains signifiers, it remains incomplete as a narrative without the caption.

The McCullin photo was one of the first images in the Tate exhibition and book Conflict-Time-Photography (2014), which shows us how aftermath photography relies on extrinsic information; a landscape becomes a battlefield, or an execution site, once a caption is added.

John Berger advises caution in adding text to an image as it may multiply the implied veracity of both:

“The photograph, irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning, is given a meaning by the words. And the words, which by themselves remain at the level of generalisation, are given specific authenticity by the irrefutability of the photograph. Together the two then become very powerful; an open question appears to have been fully answered.” (2013: 66)

A less direct form of guiding the viewer using extrinsic information is to use connotations based on shared cultural codes. The placement of signifiers (metaphors and metonyms) can provide the cognitive pointers necessary to steer the viewer towards the intended story. When signifier is equated to signified in the mind of the viewer, it can provide a missing data point that can be added to the denoted image to construct an implied narrative. Recognisable characters or other references to commonly known stories can provide cognitive shortcuts.

Elliott Erwitt’s wedding scene projects a ‘love triangle’ narrative by presenting archetypes in an identifiable context. The dress denotes a wedding, and her expression suggests suppressed rage. It’s fair to assume that the man to her left is the groom; his bouffant hair and protective demeanour say ‘nice guy’. The slick-haired, smirking man plays the ‘bad boy’. A concerned best friend is visible to the right. The whole scene implies a preceding infidelity ‘event’.

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Bratsk wedding, 1967 by Elliott Erwitt

In this example the viewer provides the build-up and the photo provides the punchline. In other instances the image is called upon to project both backwards and forwards in time, or as Berger says, “When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future.” (2013: 64).

Outside of constructed tableaux, this kind of narrative is harder to achieve than a simple past-present or a present-future pairing. In factual photography the misunderstood notion of ‘the decisive moment’ (usually erroneously attributed to Henri Cartier-Bresson) seemed to imply that a well-timed single image could provide the fulcrum of an implied story.

Bate suggests that “The viewer of the picture can run their imagination back and forth across the time before and after the depicted action to imagine the sequence of events constituting the story” (2009: 57-58).

However, I remain unconvinced that this is inherently applicable to factual photography. In reality, it is the retrospective historical viewing, where extrinsic information is added to the image – i.e. the viewer thinks they know what happened before and after – that provides this illusion of peripeteia (in the Goldberg photo here, no-one got shot; he put the gun away).

Ultimately, I prefer Swarkowski’s interpretation that the moment is decisive to the picture, not the story (2007: 100).

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Room 17, Riviera Hotel, San Francisco, California, 1987 by Jim Goldberg

Intrinsic techniques

One can organise elements within the frame to visually support a desired narrative reading, though these still rely on shared codes to a degree. One method is to mimic other forms of narrative. For example, one can capture or construct an image that places chronological signifiers in a directional reading from left to right or top to bottom, following conventions of written language (assuming a western audience).

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Passerby, 1996 by Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall’s Passerby uses the brightly-lit right-hand edge to depict the present and the murky centre portion to imply an immediate prior event. That the figure on the right is looking back to the heavily shaded/shady central figure gives an impression that something has just happened, or nearly happened. Both figures are in motion, enhancing the sense that this narrative hinges on a split second prior to the shot.

A related approach is to use internal framing devices to communicate separate pockets of time. Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler have used the device of dividing walls to imply discontinuous time in tableaux photographs. The sense here is of the shadow on the left representing an earlier, caged incarnation of the figure on the right, seen emerging into a brighter, more open setting. The window, half shaded and half lit, signifies a transition event.

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Stripping, 1998 by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler

One can divide the frame to imply alternative scenarios rather than sequential time. The classic example is Reijlander’s The Two Ways of Life, which shows a present and two possible futures, though a contemporary example is provided by Craig Semetko, whose balanced image evokes a love story with alternative endings. The left couple sit together but not embracing, and the sullen figure in front appears to be regretting a lost love. The more tactile couple on the right is being observed by a more relaxed equivalent. The background could be read as a memory, the foreground the present.

hanoi-lonely-hearts
Hanoi Lonely Hearts, 2010 by Craig Semetko

An imaginative way of implying a narrative, inspired by both painting and cinema, is by repetition of a character. If multiple figures in an image are sufficiently similar, it can suggest the same character moving through time. Giacomelli’s dancing priests can be read as a single archetype moving around in a clockwise circle before collapsing on the ground, then regaining composure. The strong figure-to-ground contrasts enhances this sense of animated motion.

giacomelli
Senigallia, Italy, 1963 by Mario Giacomelli

Conclusion

I have sought to include a sense of narrative in single images in some of my work to date. I adopted a combination of still life and the Reijlander ‘alternative scenario’ approach in a constructed narrative about a decision to take a career break to study. The image can be read as either two competing halves, or a left-right transition from past to future, but in either case a change of state – an event, therefore a narrative – is communicated by the placement of multiple signifiers.

two-ways-of-still-life
Two Ways of (Still) Life, 2015 by Rob Townsend

I am increasingly thinking about how to consciously build a sense of narrative direction into single documentary images, even if they also add up to create an overarching narrative in the form of a photo essay.

I believe the examples given – using extrinsic signification and intrinsic visual techniques – provide sufficient evidence that it is possible to tell a story in a single photograph. The key to this position is the Barthesian view that the reader is a kind of author, working with information provided by the originating author to construct meaning (1977: 142-148). Communicating a narrative in a single image is a matter of placing sufficient clues for the viewer to connect the dots.

To return to Soth’s quote: a photograph may be frozen but it does not need to be mute, if you can listen to what your mind is saying when you look at it.

(1986 words)


Bibliography

Barthes, R. (1977) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

Baker, S. and Mavlian, S. (2014) Time-Conflict-Photography. London: Tate Publishing

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Berger, J. (2013) Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin.

Bruner, J. (1991). The Narrative Construction of Reality. Critical Inquiry. 18 (Autumn).

Cartier-Bresson, H. (2004) The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. Woking: Aperture.

Erwitt, E (2003) Elliott Erwitt Snaps. London: Phaidon

Goldberg, J (2015) https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jun/07/magnum-photographers-on-the-images-that-changed-their-lives (accessed 15/01/2017)

Hall, S. (1980) ‘Encoding, Decoding’ https://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/SH-Encoding-Decoding.pdf (accessed 03/12/2016)

Koch, R (2009) PhotoBox: Bringing the Great Photographers into Focus. London: Thames & Hudson

Lardinois, B (2009) Magnum Magnum. London: Thames & Hudson

Marien, M.W. (2012) 100 Ideas that Changed Photography. London: Laurence King.

McCullin, D., Evans, H. and Sontag, S. (2003) Don McCullin. London: Random House.

Nalecka, A (2016) http://colinpantall.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/farewell-photobook-bristol-2016.html (accessed 02/12/2016)

Semetko, C (2010) Unposed. Hamburg: teNeues Verlag

Shore, S. (2010) The Nature of Photographs: A Primer. (2nd edn). New York: Phaidon.

Soth, A (2006) https://alecsothblog.wordpress.com/2006/09/13/90/ (accessed 02/12/2016)

Szarkowski, J. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye (2nd edn). New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Wollen, P. (2003). ‘Fire and Ice’. in: Wells, L The Photography Reader. London: Routledge.

List of illustrations

Shell-shocked marine, Hue, 1968 by Don McCullin

Children fleeing a napalm bomb attack, Trang Bàng, South Vietnam, 1972 by Nick Ut

Bratsk wedding, 1967 by Elliott Erwitt

Room 17, Riviera Hotel, San Francisco, California, 1987 by Jim Goldberg

Passerby, 1996 by Jeff Wall

Stripping, 1998 by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler

Hanoi Lonely Hearts, 2010 by Craig Semetko

Senigallia, Italy, 1963 by Mario Giacomelli

Two Ways of (Still) Life, 2015 by Rob Townsend

Assignment 6: tutor feedback

I had my final video tutorial with my tutor Helen a couple of weeks ago but have waited until now to write this up as I’ve been working my way through the six assignments for rework in chronological order, and now it’s time to finalise Assignment 6.

General comments

Whilst there were a few positive comments…:

  • “Presented and formatted clearly”
  • “This is a large topic, which you have approached in a well-rounded manner to cover a spectrum of ideas”
  • “I am really pleased to see that you’re engaging with your peers again here and dealing with their feedback”
  • “It’s clear you’ve also worked to source a wide range of relevant images, creating a varied selection across documentary, fine art and constructed genres. Whilst this is certainly ambitious and admirable…”

… most of the feedback was rework advice; following straight on from “ambitious and admirable” was the counterbalance point:

  • “… I feel it conflicts with being able to discuss points and illustrations in significant depth”
  • “if you even had a few less images, this would allow you to demonstrate more fully, the analysis skills you’ve been developing throughout the unit”

In short: I went too broad and shallow in the original version. I covered too many genres and too many specific images, which diluted the focus of the points I was trying to make.

Helen suggested two possible paths to rework:

  • Merging sections
    • The ‘text’ and ‘connotations’ segments are both extrinsic elements and so could be addressed together and judiciously edited
  • Weaving the narrative theory in with technique areas
    • Instead of separating as a precursor segment

Having gone through the essay again after a few weeks of not looking at it, I can see the former approach working better with this material. The challenge with the latter is that the key points of theory are, to my mind, equally applicable to both extrinsic and intrinsic approaches and therefore difficult to synthesise the theory and the applications without repetition. I therefore plan to first of all try the former approach suggested above.

Specific pointers

A few itemised suggestions for improvement:

  • McCullin image:
    • Explain what ‘information’ I am referring to in the accompanying text, and be less prescriptive in assigning a definitive reading
  • Ut image:
    • Reword to be less ‘closed’ and more objective
  • ‘External coding’ section: decide whether to stick to the ‘decisive moment’ point or the ‘rewritten narrative point’ (and if the former, source an example)
  • My own practice:
    • Reword opening to be less negative
  • Sources:
    • Add list of illustrations
  • Fewer images:
    • Remove duplicate examples to male ore room for better visual analysis of fewer images
    • I think the following images can be cut: Cummings; Fink; Riboud; Reijlander; Goicolea
    • I may however add in an image to illustrate the ‘decisive moment’ point
  • Were there any exhibitions that might have influenced you during this project? I would include these and any other works/texts that you looked at during this time in the bibliography – even if you haven’t directly cited them in the essay
    • Good point – one certainly springs to mind (Time-Conflict-Photography) from 2014/15) and is very relevant; I will mention this

Assignment 5: Portrait Not Portrait

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are minor updates to example images, a re-recorded voiceover and an added List of Illustrations.


This assignment is an oral presentation of about 16 minutes on the subject of Portraiture as a Device in Documentary Photography.

Submission

Notes

  • As part of the original assignment I did a ‘virtual Q&A session’ by taking questions from other students – to see these questions and the answers I gave, please look at the original assignment
  • There are two key preparatory posts that provide some detail on how I produced the presentation, which may be of interest for assessment:

Self-evaluation

Whilst not all of the headings normally used for photographic assignments are relevant for an oral presentation, some of them are and so I provide short commentary here.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I was conscious throughout for the need for a clean and consistent look and feel, and so spent a little time upfront deciding on an appropriate presentation template. Elements such as typefaces, white space, positioning of images and text, transitions and colour palettes all came into play, which extended my design and compositional skills beyond the photographic frame. This was both an enjoyable and educational experience.

Quality of outcome

I am happy with the quality of both the content and the presentation and believe that they work together to support the key messages that I wished to communicate. There was a great deal of discernment required to identify which example images best supported my key messages. The image analysis knowledge I applied in the example selection process gave me both good practice and a deeper appreciation of visual analysis generally, and I have developed analysis techniques that I continue to use.

Demonstration of creativity

In this context creativity can be applied to the choice of photographers and images used to support the points being made, and I worked to make it a blend of iconic and less well-known images.

Context

Both the practical (photographic) research and the reading around the critical theory took up an enormous amount of time before I started pulling the presentation together, which may not be immediately obvious from the handful of blog posts I did. It was, however, all worthwhile for the quality and depth of understanding I gained. As mentioned in the voiceover, the most enlightening aspect of this assignment for me was to reflect on my own past work.


Sources

(List of illustrations used is provided at the end of the presentation)

Angier, R (2007). Train Your Gaze. Lausanne: AVA.

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Higgins, J (2013). 21st Century Portraits. London: NPG.

Marien, M.W. (2014) Photography: A Cultural History. UK: Laurence King Publishing.

Wells, L. (ed.) (2002) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wells, L. (ed.) (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Assignment 5: tutor feedback

Due to circumstances beyond her control, the tutor report back from my Assignment 5 (oral presentation) arrived a little while after the tutorial itself, and I confess that I have had the report a little while myself before getting around to writing this up. I’m reworking the assignment itself today, so this seems like an opportune time to go over the feedback and add my own comments.

General comments

Overall it went down well:

“I found your response to this assignment quite refreshing Rob – the presentation was structured and presented clearly with a pleasing visual treatment, which I felt strengthened its accessibility and my enjoyment of it.”

I was reminded to be more consistent and thorough in documenting my visual analysis:

“Remember to keep building up the depth of your research notes on written assignments as well as practical ones – especially re: image analysis and critical theory relating to illustrations you decide to work with – particularly relevant to the next and final assignment”

Specific pointers

Some pieces of advice, with my comments as appropriate:

  • Section intro slides left blank for up to 20 seconds – some reviewers commented on this
    • I will experiment with reducing this time in rework
  • Add list of illustrations to Acknowledgements slide (original version has photographer names only)
    • Good point – will do
  • As noted by some peer comments – the vocal has a certain echo, that if you have the time and resources, you could consider re-recording
    • Yes, I do intend to re-record now I have identified how to attach an external microphone directly to my computer
  • Daniel Meadows’ example images don’t really align with voiceover point about being non-judgemental / democratic, as boy on left looks ill-at-ease
    • Agreed, there are better supporting examples so I will update this slide to replace that image and ideally add more
  • Although you’ve clearly put a lot of time and research into this assignment and reflection is certainly well evidenced, I don’t feel specific research (into your sources or images) is logged as clearly as it could be. I would say it would be worthwhile writing any of these notes of critique and analysis up and tag clearly in the appropriate section before assessment.
    • Yes, accepted – I can augment the existing notes somewhat
  • You have posted several updates with the planning of this assignment, documenting concept and structure development, questions you’ve had and how you’ve dealt with certain challenges. This is a very useful record, which you’ve managed to make visual with use of screenshots and image ‘boards’ – I particularly find the latter useful in how it alludes to the criteria you’re setting yourself and patterns you might be seeing across certain images. As the actual text for this post is quite short, it would have been fantastic if this could have been followed up with further reflection on final images used (from later in the process), as you don’t refer to them specifically again.
    • Again, I concede that I could fill in some of the written gaps in my decision-making process
    • I have added more notes in the preparatory post I did shortly before completion

Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the cover image and the general presentation.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the July 2016 Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

Firstly, to help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation – by reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is; and:

Secondly, to honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims – by naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image in each set to start a full-screen slideshow. The images benefit from being viewed as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images:

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.


Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

Another important design consideration was the calendar format; I chose to mimic the overall aesthetic of a generic calendar but also to subvert some key elements of the format, in as much calendars tend to be light and positive in tone, and tend not to have additional layers of more sombre meaning. The balance I needed to find was to work within the overall graphic parameters of calendar design whilst still communicating my underlying message.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.


Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd edn). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

Assignment 3: Newbridge Portraits

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the accompanying text.


About the work

Newbridge Park is a outdoor activity facility redeveloped from disused woodland in Pickering, North Yorkshire. In 2011 the land was taken over by local volunteers and funds were raised to create a mountain bike jump park, a cross-country cycling loop and a picnic area. Footpath improvements and woodland management including new tree planting also form part of the ongoing initiative, which seeks to give both local residents and tourists an outdoor experience easily accessible from the town centre.

The park is run by a committee of nine volunteers with a variety of skills and specialisms who both keep the site open and make incremental improvements when funds allow. The set continues my ongoing interest in volunteer organisations and the motivations of individuals to give up their time for a worthy cause.

This assignment has produced sets of portraits of four of the committee members. Despite technical challenges in shooting outdoors with unpredictable light, we all agreed it was important to shoot on site in the woods.

I offered each subject the choice of a standard head-and-shoulders shot, an environmental portrait that emphasised the woodland context and a bespoke pose that we collaborated on to bring out aspects of both their personality and their specific contribution to the group.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image in each set to start a full-screen slideshow.

Newbridge Portraits

More background information per individual can be found here.

Tim

The original project was Tim’s brainchild. A retired GP, he had a vision of improving the activity levels of locals by creating outdoor facilities.

Tim 3
3.3. Tim, the instigator

Tim’s clear favourite was the bespoke action shot with the leaf blower, as he said it showed him actually doing something in the context of the woods.

This image is my own preference too. It works on a denotative (Tim always brings his leaf blower to maintenance days) and a connotative level, as he was the original lobbyist that ‘cleared the path’ for the project, from a local bureaucracy point of view.

Mike

As chairman, Mike is in overall charge of the volunteer group.

Mike 3
3.6. Mike, the committee chair

We both felt this shot captured him best. He’s a very active person and liked being depicted in a more dynamic pose compared to the static alternatives.

In addition to Mike’s rationale, I liked this for a couple of reasons: visually, the colour scheme is more interesting than the generally green/brown-dominated other shots, and the wheel-as-frame draws the eye; from a signifier point of view the wheel represents (mixed metaphor alert) that Mike both ‘keeps the wheels on’ and ‘keeps the plates spinning’.

Rick

Rick is a government botanist by profession, and oversees the forest management side of the park.

Rick 3
3.9. Rick, the botanist

Rick chose the bespoke shot along with everyone else. He said he preferred the second and third as he was self-conscious about the unflattering close-up in the first. When pushed to choose, he went for the third because it was ‘different’ (and that’s as good a reason as any).

Unsurprisingly given my other preferences, I too liked this one best. It worked out exactly how I’d envisaged it – I wanted him to be merged in with the foliage, almost half-man-half-tree. The hiding behind the branches signifies how he mostly works behind the scenes.

Nicola

Nicola looks after the finances, both managing the accounts and raising new funds.

Nicola 3
3.12. Nicola, the treasurer

Like the others, Nicola preferred the customised shot. She wasn’t keen on the close-up and didn’t like her facial expression on the environmental shot, so it was a process of elimination!

Again, I agreed. I am drawn to the ones that adopt an unusual pose, as to me they say more about the individual than the others – in this case the fact that Nic is very in-your-face (in a friendly way) when raising money for the group. Also, in a contrary way I like the fact that the most classically photogenic face of the group is the one that’s completely obscured. Visually, the skewed angle brings dynamism and the curve of the hairline frames the collection pot nicely.

Sequencing

One brief note, in case it’s too subtle: I’ve sequenced the four in this specific way to imply a loose sense of narrative. It can be interpreted in two slightly different ways, both of which are valid:

  • Chronology of the project: Tim started, Mike manages, Rick plants trees, Nicola raises money to keep it going
  • Handing over to the younger generation: Tim (60s), Mike and Rick (40s), Nicola (20s)

Self-evaluation

It’s only in compiling this assignment that I have realised how much I overwhelmingly prefer the third shots in each set. They feel more distinctive, more interesting, more collaborative, more a part of me and my developing voice, more an evocative representation of the subject. I enjoyed planning and shooting these bespoke shots much more than the others, and I feel they are the most successful as a result.

That said, I’m glad I did styles 1 and 2 as they provided a benchmark of ‘normal’ portraiture that helped me appreciate the advantages of the third approach more – in terms of both how much I enjoyed doing them, and the end results.

Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I chose materials (locations and props) appropriately to get over my intended messages, and considered and chose a set of shooting techniques that met my visualisations; in particular I decided early on to find ways of obscuring the subject’s faces, for reasons explained below.

Using my observational skills came up mostly in the planning stage, first in terms of observing my volunteer colleagues to determine who would make the most interesting subjects, and also at a practical level to identify where and how to shoot, particularly the bespoke shots. I was conscious of advice from my tutor to be visually aware regarding backgrounds in portraits not distracting from the focal point, usually the face;

I took design and compositional aspects into account throughout this assignment. I decided early on that for consistency all images should be vertical format as this is a visual cue meaning ‘portrait’. For the traditional portrait I observed norms of placement of the head/eyes. For the environmental shots I ensured that the person was no more than one-third of the height of the image in order to give the background enough prominence. For the bespoke image I was looking for unusual compositions, angles, poses that emphasised individuality. Finally, but importantly, I wanted to investigate a developing theory of mine that you don’t need to clearly see the face to get a successful portrait.

Quality of outcome

Regarding the content of the final images: I’m not 100% happy with the quality of the close-up portraits – I made avoidable errors and/or should have factored in time to check the images and reshoot if necessary; the environmental shots are more successful and I’m particularly happy with the bespoke shots. I tried to mitigate the effects of erratic outdoor lighting in an attempt to bring some control and consistency to the images

I found the course notes and recommended reading oddly lacking in new knowledge that I could apply here, so did more reading around under my own steam; I believe that I do have a better understanding of what makes a powerful portrait and have tried to apply it here.

The sets are coherently presented, both as four sets of three per sitter, and as three sets of four per style. I’m happy that I showed discernment in selecting the best images from the many available from a point of view of both technical quality and capturing the right moment/pose.

All images were pre-visualised and sketched, and in almost all cases the end result closely matched my conceptualisations (small exception: leaf-blower shot, where method of obscuring face changed to mask). The communication of ideas is different for each portrait type: the standard portrait shots only really needed to communicate that these people belonged to the same group, and the t-shirt did that; the environmental shots needed to communicate the context of them volunteering for a woodland project, and I think that works; the bespoke shots were intended to portray particular aspects of people’s responsibilities and character – I believe I was successful here

Demonstration of creativity

The third in each set did demonstrate degrees of imagination, experimentation and invention; the first and second admittedly less so.

Portraiture generally (and the more traditional shots here) doesn’t necessarily feel like part of my developing personal voice, but to an extent in the environmental shots and the bespoke shots, I did feel like the work fits in with my increasing understanding of the visual language aspect of photography; also, from a subject matter point of view, I am increasingly covering volunteering of one form or another in my work

Context

I’m really glad that I did this assignment in the way I did (three different styles) as on reflection it’s helped me articulate two complementary feelings on portrait photography: first, that I don’t really get much satisfaction out of ‘straight’ portraiture as I find it imposes too many limitations on really ‘saying something interesting’; and second, that one can apply concepts of visual language, authorship and communication (all increasingly fascinating to me) onto portraiture, making the end result a unique image that is the combination of photographer and subject.

For the critical theory, I kept returning to Bate (2009) more than anything else, as it helped me unpack the underlying conceptual aspects of portraiture; some useful insights came out of Angier’s Train Your Gaze (2007), Higgins’ 21st Century Portraits (2013) and Bright’s Auto Focus (2010). The main practical research for this assignment was looking at a number of portrait photographers’ projects, some suggested by my tutor both generally and specific to my proposal, and some from the course notes and my own findings. Particular practitioners that made an impression on me: Charles Fréger, Christoph Soeder, Alec Soth, Sarah Carp, Laura Pannack, Brian Griffin, Jack Davison.

In summary, this was an assignment well outside my comfort zone that I didn’t particularly enjoy while I was doing it, but got a lot out of as a learning experience!


Sources

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: the Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury

Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus. London: Thames & Hudson

Angier, R. (2007) Train Your Gaze. Lausanne: AVA

Higgins, J. (2013) 21st Century Portraits. London: NPG

Assignment 2: Running on Empty

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the visual treatment (background colour) and the introductory text.


About the work

In the UK 21% of the population lives in ‘relative poverty’, meaning total household income of less than £272 per week1. Some suffer greater hardships than others. One indicator of extreme poverty is ‘food poverty’ – the inability to consistently buy adequate and nutritious food for self and dependants. Based on food bank usage data it has been estimated that around 2 million people in the UK have experienced acute food poverty in the last year2.

These are the people stuck on the ground floor of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – expending all their energy narrowly focusing on the fundamentals of physiological survival. Since January 2016 I’ve been volunteering at a local food bank that provides emergency three-day food parcels to people in recognised need, allowing me an insight into the issue and its effects.

This project examines the psychological aspects of food poverty – the claustrophobic state of mind of someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from – by imagining a series of hallucinations of food. It combines the contents of a standard food parcel with a journey through a suburban landscape.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image to start a slideshow.

Running on Empty

Notes

  • Vertical letterbox format was chosen for the first nine images to accentuate the feeling of ‘tunnel vision’
    • I wanted to evoke the sensation of a narrowing of focus, of an inability to concern oneself with matters beyond the basics of survival
    • I experimented with including a defocused background to place the image in a context, albeit an unclear one – but abandoned this for the simplicity of the plain background
    • I reverted to a regular format for the final image to signify a resolution to the narrative
    • I changed the background from the original white to a more dramatic and foreboding black following a discussion with my tutor on potential rework ideas
  • Most of the first nine images were shot from a particular vantage point, with a diminishing perspective to imply the continuing journey
    • The final image was shot head on to imply reaching a destination
  • In some cases I tried to match the foodstuff to the location in some way, e.g.:
    • The instant mash was flat so lent itself to the car windscreen
    • The pasta sauce jar was in a slightly open door (‘ajar’)
    • The beans against a similarly coloured background
    • The fruit and fruit juice in a tree
    • The food bank image connoted a welcome with the component parts of a cup of tea and biscuits

Self-evaluation

Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I felt it important to use actual foodstuffs as materials rather than allude to hunger in a more abstract way, and using the actual contents of a three-day emergency food parcel grounded the subject matter in reality.

The primary design driver was the ‘tunnel vision’ concept and how I evoked it with the vertical letterbox format as explained above. I also used compositional techniques, largely around vantage point and perspective, to support my intent.

The main way in which I needed to demonstrate observation was the sourcing of locations (see notes above). In terms of visual awareness I was aiming for a jarring juxtaposition of real (colour, sharp street scenes) and surreal (the introduction of the foodstuff).

Quality of outcome

Once I decided on the basic concept (after much thought and experimentation), defining the content was a case of matching the props to the locations in a visually interesting way. The vertical letterbox format is the key aspect of the coherent presentation that helped me to communicate my idea.

This is by far the most pre-planned and pre-visualised assignment I’ve done, and certainly the one with the most overt conceptual intent. The knowledge from this section that made the most impression on me and therefore I applied were the artistic styles, notably surrealism. I’m confident that I’ve succeeded in communicating my intended idea, and have had peer review comments that reassured me that the execution has ‘worked’.

Demonstration of creativity

I believe I’ve demonstrated a certain amount of imagination in the core concept of the series, and within the overall conceptual framework I experimented throughout the planning and post-processing stages. I’m not claiming to have created the ‘object in unexpected place’ trope but I hope I’ve shown some inventiveness in the specific executions (matching props to locations etc).

There are a couple of aspects of this that are identifiable parts of my developing voice: firstly I like the challenge of depicting an internal state of mind, and secondly the broad subject area of social inequality (and associated volunteer services) is increasingly a preferred subject matter area for me.

Context

I’ve found this section and this assignment fascinating from a self-reflection point of view, in terms of using photography as art, from the point of view of an artist with an intent in mind – I used to have an aversion to describing myself as an aspiring artist but much less so after this assignment.

A couple of visual influences came from specific photographers in my research: Robin Maddock’s III for its use of everyday objects in surreal urban settings, and Berenice Abbot for her use of vertical letterbox format. The use of foodstuffs as props in projects about food poverty was partly inspired by the excellent Stefen Chow project The Poverty Line that Helen my tutor suggested I look at.

Though not on the reading list, one excellent book about art put me in the right ‘critical thinking‘ frame of mind about art photography throughout this section and this assignment: Hugh Moss’ The Art of Understanding Art (2015); I also found much of use in reliable set texts such as Bate (2009), Wells (2009) and Clarke (1997) – particularly around conceptual art.

In summary, I’m pleased with the way the assignment worked out despite being somewhat out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I’ve expanded my photographic horizons. The end result closely matched my pre-visualisations and I believe that my concept has been successfully communicated.


Sources

1 UK Government Briefing Paper No. 7096, 6 November 2015 “Poverty in the UK: Statistics”

2 In April 2016 the UK’s biggest food bank network, Trussell Trust, reported that its 424 centres provided emergency three-day food parcels to feed 1,109,309 people in the previous year. It’s estimated that Trussell Trust accounts for just under half of UK food banks. Whilst accurate data is difficult to calculate, a fair assumption is that doubling Trussell’s data might arrive at a realistic estimate.

UK Parliament: Poverty in the UK https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN07096/SN07096.pdf (accessed 11/04/2016)

Food Bank Usage https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/ (accessed 28/04/2016)

Berenice Abbott http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/berenice-abbott-view-of-exchange-place-from-5420855-details.aspx (accessed 26/04/2016)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (accessed 14/04/2016)

The Poverty Line http://thepovertyline.net (accessed 14/04/2016)

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King.

Moss, H. (2015) The Art of Understanding Art: A New Perspective. UK: Profile Books.

Wells, L. (2009) Photography: a Critical Introduction (4th ed). Abingdon: Routledge.