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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.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


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!


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

Assignment 6: essay plan

I believe the research phase of my critical review has come to an end, and it’s time to corral my thoughts into shape. The first step of this is to draft out an essay plan, to give a sequence to my line of argument and to assign approximate word counts to each section.

Working title

Stretching the Moment: overcoming photography’s temporality problem

Essay plan

  • Introduction
    • Establish argument
    • With quote? tbc
    • 200 words
  • Define terms
    • Narrative
    • Narrativity
    • Ambiguity
    • Fact vs fiction
    • 200 words
  • Narrative theory
    • Dots vs gaps – cognitive effort
    • cf literature
    • Mental modelling  (Shore)
    • Encoding/decoding (Hall)
    • State-process-event (Wollen)
    • 250 words
  • Topical time techniques
    • Long shutter
    • Multiple exposure
    • Composites
    • Examples
    • 150 words
  • Contextual techniques
    • Supporting text
    • Caption
    • Embedded text
    • Juxtaposition (series / pairs)
    • 250 words
  • Intrinsic / formal techniques
    • Composition
    • Directional reading
    • Tableaux
    • 250 words
  • Extrinsic / cognitive techniques
    • Lending a past / future (Berger)
    • Signification – metaphor / metonymy
    • Cultural references – identification
    • 250 words
  • Application to own practice
    • Past
    • Future
    • 200 words
  • Conclusion
    • Refer back to opening argument
    • 200 words

Total word count based on this plan = 1950, so I have a little wiggle room built in.

Next steps

I’m going to do a first draft of all of the above sections today, with the possible exception of the introduction and the conclusion as I may add these in at a subsequent draft.

Assignment 6: research and preparation

I’ve spent most of this last week trying to wrestle the subject area of my critical review (in short: overcoming the limitations of the still photograph for narrative) into some kind of shape, as it is potentially a little sprawling. I needed to get my thoughts down in the form of a mind map and then start honing it down into a line of argument.

Mind map

I’ve been using mind mapping for assignments for a few months now, and I’m definitely a fan. They help to capture the breadth and depth of a subject, and help me to identify connections, overlaps and gaps. To some degree they help with the essay structure, although that’s maybe more a function of the essay plan (to follow).

I usually do my mind mapping straight into an iPad app, but for the first time the subject area felt so vast that I started on an A3 pad:

Once I felt this was as full as it needed to be, I transferred it onto the digital format. Maybe it’s psychological, but even just repeating the same words in a neater format feels like progress :-)

Line of argument

There are a few different ways I could structure this essay, and to be honest right now I’m not completely sure which way to go. It will depend on the hypothesis I choose: what angle I’m taking, the point I want to make – this will help me to determine the ‘backbone’ of the essay. The sequence of arguments and the introduction/conclusion bookends will fall into place from this backbone. My approach here is influenced by the fact that my last essay, for Documentary, went through a complete re-write when I conceded that my first draft did not have a strong core hypothesis. I am trying to avoid repeating that mistake.

The basic ‘bookends’ of hypothesis I have in mind is something like:

  • Introduction:  (phrased as a question) Can a photograph tell a story?
    • Alternative phrasing: start an appropriate quote and interrogate it
  • — [middle bit] —
  • Conclusion: no, a single photograph cannot tell a story in and of itself
    • But there are clever ways of working around it

It’s the middle bit, the line of argument, that can be organised in a couple of different ways…

  • Address the subject from a point of view of a fundamental genre split
    • Fact (documentary)
    • Fiction (art, advertising)
    • Discuss approaches that are appropriate to each genre based on their inherent characteristics
  • Address the subject from a point of view of the different types of approaches employed
    • Internal i.e. within the frame
    • External
    • Mental modelling
  • Address the subject from the point of view of characteristics of narrative
    • Temporality
    • Transition
    • Characters
    • Apply each to single image photography and discuss techniques for working around them
  • Narrow it down to one major limitation to address: temporality
    • Examine techniques employed to lend a sense of time to the still image
    • Look at it from either genre-first or approach-first point of view, per options above

Next steps

  • Make a decision on the central line of argument
  • Write up an essay plan
  • Send to my tutor for comment

My 2017 eureka moment – photography as a language

This was triggered by a request on the OCA Photography Level 1 Facebook group for people to post their 12 favourite shots of the year. I did this last year and so I first looked back on my 2015 set and thought, yeah, that’s still a pretty good bunch of photos. Then I pored over the images I’ve produced this year while I’ve been studying full-time on two Level 2 courses and after a while realised something:

I don’t think I’ve produced 12 great standalone images this year.

At first I was a little taken aback; I’m supposed to be getting better as time goes on, right? Then I looked back over my assignments in 2016, plus my work on ongoing personal projects, and came to my second realisation:

I’m proud of my project-based work that I’ve produced this year.

These two realisations together led to my third:

I’ve been moving away from trying to make inherently interesting images and towards using photography to ‘say something‘.

The work that I’m most proud of this year needs its own context to be appreciated (even by me). The images tend not to ‘work’ so well as standalone images.

This is a double-edged realisation!

  • On one hand, it’s good that I’m learning how to use photography as a communication medium and not just a purely visual aesthetic one
  • On the other, I do feel like I should be able to do this without losing sight of what makes a good standalone photograph. It feels like the balance is a little off, like I’ve lost something…

I need to find the balance…

Photography as a language

All of this reminded me of a post I did a couple of years ago based around a David Alan Harvey quote that I will repeat the salient points of here (my own emphasis), as it was a turning point in my understanding of the medium:

You must have something to ‘say’. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. […] Today, with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an ‘author’. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship. […]

Without having tangible ideas, thoughts, feelings, and something almost ‘literary’ to contribute to ‘the discussion’, today’s photographer will become lost in the sea of mediocrity.

Photography is now clearly a language. As with any language, knowing how to spell and write a grammatically correct ‘sentence’ is, of course, necessary. But, more importantly, today’s emerging photographers now must be ‘visual wordsmiths’ with either a clear didactic or an esoteric imperitive. Be a poet, not a technical ‘writer’.” (Harvey 2008)

I understood the theory of this notion at the time of writing that blog post in 2014, but it’s only now that I’m starting to feel like I’m learning how to put it into practice, albeit still rather clumsily.

At the time of the earlier blog post I made two observations:

  1. The possibilities of using photography for capturing something beyond ‘pretty pictures’ [have] opened up in front of me, and this is quite exciting;
  2. The realisation that I’m not yet sure that I have much interesting to ‘say’, and this is quite dispiriting!

So I reckon today I started feeling more comfortable that I’m getting there with point 2 :-)

The writing analogy

I like the analogy with written/verbal language and so will stretch it a little to close off this post:

  • Some good writers can come up with great, self-contained one-liners
    • funny, wise, concise, simple, insightful
    • jokes, sound bites, slogans, catchphrases
  • Some good writers can tell a fantastic story
    • with interesting characters, plot twists, growth, development, moral messages
  • Great writers use language to not just produce great stories…
    • …but also to fill them with quotable paragraphs, sentences and words

I want to find a better balance between the standalone image and the project – the pithy quote and the novel…!

An interesting insight. I hope that when December 2017 comes round, I will have a dozen images that both fit into their respective project contexts and stand alone as striking images!


http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/09/26/35-magnum-photographers-give-their-advice-to-aspiring-photographers/ (accessed 05/12/2016)

https://robtownsendpp.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/photography-is-a-language/ (accessed 05/12/2016)

Assignment 4: tutor feedback

I had the video tutorial on this assignment with my tutor Helen a few weeks ago, so this is very belated due to various delays between me and my tutor, plus a holiday in between. Better late than never.

I will post the full report as part of my submission prep but here I summarise the key points from the feedback.


  • Generally successful online presentation
  • Print submission had acknowledged colour matching issues (printed by external lab)
    • Lessons already learned in terms of mistakes made
    • e.g. colour profiling, soft proofing workflow
  • Calendar construct distracted from images a little, maybe work better as standalone images
    • Tweaked to lead with standalone images in online presentation, with calendar format pages as a secondary presentation
    • Will determine combination of standalone and calendar format prints before final submission
  • Cover image needs some rework re sensitivity of subject matter
    • Re text presentation and in terms of its tone jarring with the inside pages
    • Need to prepare the viewer better for inside concept and tone
    • e.g. phrase ‘Wish you were here’ needs to come across a less tongue-in-cheek – try different typeface styles
  • More information needs to be provided about the planning and production process
    • Need to provide more preparatory information, more “layering up the pathway to the final work”
    • Particularly around the post-processing work to embed the name text into the images – very important, as the method of producing the digital manipulation was not initially clear
    • I did a post explaining how I’d planned and constructed the images, after posting the assignment itself (I wanted to see how successful the image manipulation was…)
  • Research into external context and related works needs to be documented:
    • other responses to tragedies (generally)
    • other responses to Nice attack specifically
    • text embedding/manipulation techniques
    • visual language of calendar format etc
    • I wrote this up after the tutorial and it can be found here
  • Generally – need to see more reflection on assignment-specific:
    • Planning
    • Ideas development tests
    • Workflows

Coursework & research

  • Good to see exhibition reviews but must make sure that standard of visual analysis evident in section 3 is maintained
    • e.g. Eggleston review could have featured deeper analysis of observations made: he’s “good at capturing facial expressions” but why, what’s the evidence/ examples – how does he achieve this? what does it tell us? etc
    • Identify different qualities of photographs and photographers and draw conclusions
    • Identify commonalities with contemporary practitioners e.g. some of Eggleston’s portraits resemble Alec Soth’s aesthetic – analyse how and why E. might be an influence on S., etc
  • Keep the same (high) standard of visual analysis and level of detail of ‘enquiry’ throughout all research work
    • Try to carry through the standard of stronger analysis posts across to all research

We also briefly discussed Assignments 5 and 6 and agreed that these are progressing OK at this stage (indeed, Assignment 5 is already submitted).

Reflection: personal voice

I had a lightbulb moment over the weekend.

So far I’ve found Gesture & Meaning to be quite frustrating in its fragmentary nature – it sometimes feels like it’s been compiled by multiple authors given a genre each, and the connections between the sections are minimal. I also felt that such a disjointed syllabus was getting in the way of me discovering my developing ‘personal voice’, something that I was hoping would become clearer as I moved through Level 2. The genre-hopping felt a little artificial, a little forced and I felt it was holding me back. My other Level 2 course Documentary feels more coherent and in line with my own developing practice.

My eureka moment came on a long countryside walk after an email exchange with my G&M tutor Helen.

The email conversation was about subject ideas for Assignment 5 (the oral presentation) and Assignment 6 (the critical review). Helen’s advice was to make sure both assignments relate in some way to my own developing practice. This (obvious and sensible) insight made me question why I had been considering doing my critical review on portraiture, given that I have no practical interest in taking portraits, only an academic interest in the viewing of other people’s work.

Framing the two final assignments in this context (of relativity to own practice) made me realise what I consider to be my own ‘style’, or preferred way of working. I came to the conclusion that my practice might be pretentiously described as ‘expressive documentary’.

By this I mean: I like to work with real life rather than pure imagination; I prefer to capture than to create; there’s a foundation of reality in everything that I do – but I find ‘pure’ (objective, deadpan, neutral, eye-witness) documentary to be a little dull. I like to find ways of expressing ‘truths’ that are visually interesting and thought-provoking rather than in-your-face.

On the revelatory Sunday afternoon walk I mentally ran through my four G&M assignments so far to look for a connecting thread, and I found one…

  1. Social Documentary assignment: I unsurprisingly used a traditional eye-witness documentary photography approach
  2. Fine Art assignment: I chose subject matter of social documentary origin (food poverty) but executed in a semi-surreal way
  3. Portrait assignment: I chose subject matter of social documentary origin (a voluntary group – OK, this is the most tenuous link…)
  4. Advertising assignment (w-i-p): I chose as subject matter a social ’cause’ in response to a recent event

The thread is now visible to me. I like to choose subjects of documentary interest, whatever the overall genre norms or assignment parameters are.

I was reminded of some reading that I’d done on the Documentary course, with a simple and memorable definition of documentary by the person credited with coining the term, John Grierson:

“the creative treatment of actuality” (Franklin 2016: 6, quoting Grierson 1933).

What I’m realising at the moment is that my area of interest lies in playing with the creative treatment part whilst respecting the underlying actuality.

So in fact, the fragmented nature of G&M has turned out to be a big part of helping me find my voice, in as much as I have aligned my work to a kind of ‘expressive documentary‘ practice, whatever the genre and brief have been. Moving out of my genre comfort zone has helped me refine what I really want to do, what subjects I want to cover, and how I really want to work.

A quietly revelatory weekend, then.


Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse. United Kingdom: Phaidon Press.

Assignment 4: theme decision

After much thought, discussion with other students and finally some good old-fashioned mocking up images, I have arrived at a decision on the theme for the calendar assignment.

Yesterday I summarised the various ideas I’d shortlisted so far and my concerns with each of them.

Fellow student Stephanie made an excellent (and retrospectively obvious) suggestion that I should start mocking up executions for some of the ideas to see where that led me. A couple of other students suggested going with what was most personally interesting as this should be reflected in the final outcome. Three people specifically said that my proposal for the Nice calendar sounded worth pursuing as it was evidently something important to me.

To recap on what I wrote about the Nice idea yesterday:

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

The concept was to produce a calendar with the twin aims of restoring the city’s tourist reputation and commemorating the 86 people who died in the attack. The idea was to produce classic scenes of Nice (beach, promenade, old town shutters etc) with the names of the victims subtly included in each image.

Pro: creative; area of passionate interest for me

Con: no real advertising techniques involved; tricky balance to achieve in terms of tone; if the secondary memorial message is too subtle, it’s just ‘pretty pictures’

I mocked up two images for this. Note you need to see the pictures large to see the secondary meaning, so click on one for an enlarged view.

The lightbulb moment came when I realised I was pondering whether the ‘cons’ of this idea were showstoppers or things that I could work around, justify or subvert – if I’m trying to diminish the downside, I’m talking myself into it! I wasn’t doing this for the other four ideas. This is the one that has ‘grabbed’ me.

I appreciate that it isn’t going to employ many of the ‘clever’ advertising techniques that I’ve admired in my recent research, but I’m OK with this. I harbour no desire to become an advertising photographer, so I feel justified in bending the brief slightly to align with what I want to do here.

Statement of intent

(first draft to send to my tutor)

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

Two months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; the city is simultaneously trying to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honouring the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Tourism Board with two overt objectives:

  • Restore Nice’s tourism reputation
    • By reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is
  • Honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims
    •  By naming them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The communication objectives are in three ‘layers’:

  • First reaction: I want viewers to see aesthetically pleasing scenes (‘pretty pictures’)
  • Second reaction: then look closer and see the dedications inscribed in each image
  • Third reaction: I want there to be connoted meanings in the images, pertaining to emotional responses to the incident, e.g. loss, grief, defiance, optimism, peace, harmony, love etc

This does mean that getting the tone right will be extremely important, and a very delicate balance will need to be struck. I think it can be done.

Next steps

  • Email statement of intent to tutor
  • Sort through remaining images from trip to Nice earlier this month
  • Sort a follow-up trip if needed

Assignment 4: shortlisted ideas

Oh, Assignment 4…

I’ve had SO much trouble landing on an idea for this that I’m happy enough with. I still haven’t. I’ve been thinking of ideas since before I started the Advertising section but have pretty much fallen out with every idea I’ve had.

What I want to do here is to summarise my objectives, the various ideas I’ve had (pros and cons) and where that leaves me in terms of refining what I DO want to do the assignment on.


In summary, the objective of Assignment 4 is to produce seven images for a calendar (cover page plus 6x 2-months-per-page).

If I’m following the brief (and I usually do, though this is one of my problems…) then there are a few key criteria that should be met:

  • Client is ‘a company that I find interesting which creates a calendar product for a market that I can relate to’
  • With ‘past imagery’ that I can look at and decide its relevance to the current market
  • Calendar is creative and ‘does not revolve around featuring the product’
  • Must also include the company logo and strapline, if there is one

My objectives

I have developed a few key considerations for this that may to may not converge on one idea; I may need to prioritise between contradictory criteria.

  • I want be more creative than I have been in the first three assignments
    • I’m disappointed in my own work so far on this course, it’s a little pedestrian
    • If I’m not wowing myself, I don’t expect anyone else to be overly impressed…
    • So I want to be more visually experimental
  • I want to apply what I’ve learned on the Advertising section of the course
    • I’ve learned things in this section that I’ve found really fascinating – the authorial nature of advertising work, with such deep and well-defined ‘meanings’ embedded in advertising photos – it’s almost an art in itself (or maybe a science…)
    • I’m particularly keen on the notion of implicit messages – the ‘clever’ ads where the viewer has to make the connection between the image and the brand message – the effective use of visual language impresses me
    • I’ve looked at other students’ work and think that for the most part, people have unfortunately missed the opportunity to really apply this kind of knowledge (there are a lot of local cause / charity type calendars are perfectly pleasant but show limited use of visual advertising techniques)
  • I want the subject matter to be something that I am genuinely interested in
    • And I’m trying to think about this as widely as possible!

Ideas so far

I’ve had several ideas that have stuck around for various lengths of time before I rejected them, and it’s in the rejection reasons that I’ve been refining the criteria above. So some of these are closer to being ‘right’ than others (but to repeat: I’m not fully happy with any of them!). In order of when they occurred to me:

1. Rob Townsend Photography

My initial idea was to go all off-piste and instead of doing it on an existing brand, to do it on my (so far imaginary) photography business. I was planning to use it as a showcase for some creative imagery of my own choosing

The visual twist was to be that the calendar text (i.e. month name, days, dates) would be incorporated into the images in-camera, e.g. written in pen on someone’s skin, printed on a t-shirt, on a wall as graffiti, etc.

Pro: creative/experimental; passes the (self-)interest test

Con: ignores large parts of the brief (almost all of it); self-indulgent; kind of cheating

2. Waterstones

Or any bookseller, to be fair. – the concept is really based around reading books and I needed a brand to hang it off.

The idea was close-ups of people holding books (hardback, no dust cover, so can’t tell what the book is), with drawings on their fingers that allude to the title/contents of the book they are reading – so it’s a kind of visual puzzle. The significance of using the fingers is to connote the physical feel of reading a real book rather than an e-book.

Pro: creative; uses some visual advertising techniques; I am interested in books; I like the ‘visual puzzle’ aspect

Con: I’m not sure I can think of enough different executions!

3. Five a Day

For a while I thought a social cause would be more interesting than a company, so I was brainstorming around healthy eating and in particular the advice to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

The pitch was that you should ‘reach out for your five a day’ and I planned to set up shots where a piece of fruit or veg would replace a common object that a person was reaching for (e.g. banana for a door handle, a strawberry for a light pull, carrot slices for coins, etc).

Pro: reasonably creative, visually; applies advertising techniques

Con: I realised that it’s VERY similar to my Assignment 2 concept, which also featured food surreally inserted into everyday scenes – so too much self-plagiarism

4. Nice Memorial

The city of Nice has been my second home for about 15 years and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I visited Nice recently and saw the memorials still covering parts of the city.

The concept was to produce a calendar with the twin aims of restoring the city’s tourist reputation and commemorating the 86 people who died in the attack. The idea was to produce classic scenes of Nice (beach, promenade, old town shutters etc) with the names of the victims subtly included in each image.

Pro: creative; area of passionate interest for me

Con: no real advertising techniques involved; tricky balance to achieve in terms of tone; if the secondary memorial message is too subtle, it’s just ‘pretty pictures’

5. Leica

I went full circle back to the brief to think about what brands I am particularly invested in. I narrowed it down to Apple and Leica, then rejected the former as it has such a distinctive and long-standing minimalist aesthetic that they are just too well-known. So I settled on Leica.

I intended to produce a set of images that depict the kind of photos one might take with a Leica (street, portrait, photojournalism, abstract etc) and that each one would have a red dot somewhere in the image (red dot denoting the Leica logo). Secondarily, I wanted the content of the images to connote Leica brand values, such as precision, heritage, quality etc.

Pro: fits the brief well; uses advertising techniques; allows me to be creative with the images themselves (very meta)

Con: I’d need to capture or create seven really great images that would do the brand justice, and I’m unsure of my ability to do this in the short time available! and it’s not quite as ‘clever’ as I’d like…

Next steps

I’m still looking for a better idea than any of these five, in particular an idea that lends itself to implicit messaging, my current fascination.

In the meantime, I might throw this out to other students for comment, and/or send this list to my tutor for any feedback and direction…

Research: semiotics

This is a quick post – little more than a link and a brief mention of a book really – but I wanted to demonstrate to tutor/assessors that I haven’t completely overlooked the Semiotics section of the course notes!


Last year on Context & Narrative I spent quite a lot of time getting to grips with semiotics, followed by some further investigation into structuralism and poststructuralism – detailed in this post. Rather than repeat or summarise here I thought it best to refer back to this analysis.


The best book I have found that explains semiotics in a straightforward way is Sean Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012). Every concept is given a visual example and clear explanation.

My current reading (Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements and Packard’s Hidden Persuaders) is helping me to apply these concepts to advertising in particular.

That’s all I intend to write up specifically around semiotics in this section, although it will no doubt be relevant throughout the rest of this part of the course. I just wanted to document that I have a reasonable understanding of the subject!


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