Monthly Archives: February 2014

Assignment One Submission

My first Assignment submission has just gone off to Clive.  It sets out my proposal for the Body of Work and submits some images that indicate the direction it’s going.  This quote from the accompanying notes summarises my intentions.

My proposal, now, is to pursue two main directions:

1. ‘Studio-based’ image-making that uses collage, montage, still-life and digital manipulation to explore the layers of meaning and disruption that are imposed in the creation of digital photographic images. I anticipate that this exploration will include images that respond to events and news, as well as more generic still-life constructs.

2. A series of self-portraits that create alternative identities (alter-egos) that I might have been, ideally shot in a variety of styles which relate to the context of those identities. Prompted, to an extent, by the pages of an old Newsbook created when I was a child, the series should examine the ways in which photographic images create persona and construct narratives that may or may not bear relation to truth.

The images submitted have all appeared elsewhere in this blog, with two exceptions that I include here for completeness.  The first is another in the trial self-portrait series – Farmer Stan, photographed in the style of a magazine article illustration that uses fill-flash to illuminate the subject.

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The second is a new ‘still life’ construct, based around a Cezanne painting (appropriated and printed), to which I have added, through photography, collage and digital manipulation, a mandolin, a pewter vase, and a roll of electrical tape.  On the one level it is , hopefully, an attractive and mildly amusing image, but on another, it raises questions about the layers of influence and disruption to truth that have ben applied in its construction; and hopefully, questions about the nature of digital photographic images as a whole.

Assignment One 04

I won’t repeat the other images that have gone off; but all of them are, in a sense, sketches at this stage, intended to indicate my proposed direction.  I need feedback before going further – not least to take a ‘reality check’ on whether my proposed projects are too little, too much, or about right.


A Personal Journey – back where I started!

A deliberately ambiguous headline!  On Wednesday of this week, I took a trip back to some old haunts from my childhood.  Searching out a few of the locations that featured in the Newsbook provided some focus, but it was also intended as an open-ended/open-minded exploration of the place I grew up, with the potential to hit some emotional buttons and lead who knows where.  Actually, I don’t feel that it has lead me anywhere – other than back to the conclusion that I don’t do emotional, personal journeys!  As briefly as I can, this is the story – starting out with the revisited locations.

Newsbook Locations

The book itself was created, nearly 60 years ago, behind the two tall arched windows to the right of the building shown in the top right image – my old primary & junior school.  The location featuring most frequently, with the narrative “I went to church on Sunday”, is a very small country church – St Marks at Eagland Hill.  It is still there, little changed, and judging by the drawing & photo (second row down), the weather on Wednesday was similar to October 1955!  Another frequent piece of ‘news’ was that I went to my ‘Granny’s’ (or on one, more pretentious, occasion, ‘Grandma’s’!).  The third pair of images shows that ‘Clocky Hill Cottage’ has changed significantly.  It was always attached to another property on the left, even though my 1955 drawing suggests otherwise; but the smaller, older whitewashed part of the property (known to my mother’s family as “Th’owd end”) has been replaced with a new extension.  My mother was born there nearly 100 years ago, and the last of her family only left the cottage in the 1980s.  St Marks Church and Clocky Hill are both in the hamlet of Eagland Hill, but my childhood was more associated with the neighbouring village of Pilling, where I lived.  The school is there, and so is the graveyard that featured in my Newsbook – between two other village churches shown in the fourth photograph down.   I couldn’t seem to locate my grandparents’ grave and the ground was too sodden to tramp around in.  But I did go off in search of the cinema at Knott End – a few miles away – where “I went to the pictures” in January 1956.  I knew very well that the cinema was no more, but the building remains – as a squash club named ‘The Squash’!!

So, what to make of that aspect of my trip?  It’s at least twenty years since I last saw some of these locations – but no surprises, really.  And, apart from a recognition that the locations exist in some form or other, and could possibly provide locations for some of the self-portraits, no inspiration either.  I could use them, but they don’t have anything distinctive to offer.  Which is pretty much my reaction to much of my ‘Personal Journey’.  I don’t believe that the ‘place’ that is Pilling – or Wyre Borough, as the district is now known – ever had much impact on me.  In fact, as I’ve looked back, I’ve always suspected that it’s greatest effect was probably a stifling one and Wednesday left me with the same idea.

Personal Journey-13

Interesting to note that the institutions – the churches & schools – have barely changed at all in 60 years.  I have brothers living a few miles away, but I know no one in the village, and so I wondered whether the people and their lives have changed much.  They will have, of course, through technology and communications if in no other way.  Then I notice the names of Churchwardens in the Parish Church illustrated above.  One of them is called Ben Shepherd and, remarkably, when I attended this church regularly, maybe 45 years ago, one of the Churchwardens was called Ben Shepherd!!  And, at St Marks Eagland Hill, I popped into the church porch, where a flower rota was displayed.  My late mother’s name was Dorothy.  It’s not that common a name these days – but here is the St Marks flower rota for 2013-14!  Crikey, Mum, not still doing it, surely!

Personal Journey-5

That’s what I mean by stifling.  I was only in the area for a few hours, but I felt the past crowding in on me.  I may sound ungrateful – to an area that looked after me well enough; to a loving family & friends; to a harmless and enjoyable childhood – but I’m not.  I went off to University in the centre of London when I was eighteen and hated the wrench from this comfortable country village life – understandably.  But a few years later, much as I loved to come back and see my family, I would always get that stifling sensation within a day or two – and it’s perhaps the most striking emotion, maybe the only one, that I felt on this visit.

And so, I began making pictures that looked outward.  Pilling & Knott End are on the Southern edges of Morecambe Bay; and my eye and my camera began to wander in that direction.

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Personal Journey-20

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Personal Journey-29

‘Looking upwards and outwards’ is a good principle to work with, I think; looking to the present and the future, not towards the past.  I had thought that the self-portrait project should be about ‘now’ – a serious but light-hearted reflection on where one might be now rather than any notions of regret or nostalgia – and I now know that that is correct.  There is a slight hint of melancholy in the way those four images above have headed; and part of me does wish I was more emotional, more naturally open about my feelings, but whenever I’ve tried to go that way with my photography, the result has been angst and frustration, so I’m certainly not going to make that mistake again.  Mind you, if I believed in Divine Intervention, I might have been moved by what happened just a few moments after the last of those four images …

Personal Journey-30

I left those churches and associated beliefs behind a long, long time ago – but maybe they’re still after me!! It’s just light, of course, like all photographic images!  It was the light that was changing, not my mood, honestly!

So I made my personal journey, back to my roots, and I took 80-90 photographs, of which a handful have something to say about where I go with my Body of Work project.  I first came up with the idea for the Newsbook project when I was reading BJP.  It was an article about a young photographer who was making a series of images that related to a narrative around communication with his mother, who had died when he was a child.  Not for the first time, I thought “… no deep emotional trauma has ever happened to me, and maybe that’s a shortcoming when it comes to being creative …”.  Then came the idea of creating different narratives, different versions of me – maybe using the Newsbook, the five-year-old’s story as the trigger.  If life isn’t interesting, create an interesting life – more than one, maybe!

The journey back to my roots has also taken me back to the beginning with the project.  It will be a contemporary, post-modern project in the ‘now’.  It is not about me or my personal journey, because the author is dead.  Abigail Solomon-Godeau, in the concluding paragraph to her essay ‘Playing in the Fields of the Image‘, in ‘Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices‘ (page 102), says:

“The photographer’s personal vision, sensibility, or capacity for self-expression is assumed to be of interest only to his or her friends, families, lovers, or analysts. While the aesthetics of consumption (photographic or otherwise) requires a heroicised myth of the (male) artist, the exemplary practice of the player-off of codes requires only an operator, a producer, a scriptor, or a pasticheur.”

I am a producer, a scriptor or a pasticheur and, happily, can dispense with the angst!

Studio Self Portraits – Trying out some ‘in the style of’

Thinking about the proposal to produce a series of self-portraits, I have been trying out some ‘in the style’ of ideas.  I was partly prompted by a Sky Arts documentary about the current David Bailey exhibition, ‘Stardust‘, at the National Portrait Gallery.  Listening to Bailey and viewing many of his portraits – from back in the Sixties, right up to date, with some produced specially for the exhibition – I was inspired to try creating a Bailey-style self-portrait.  It could be, for example, that one of the alter-egos has been photographed by him!  I did a little bit of online research, too, to ascertain as far as I could what his typical lighting arrangement might be; and to soak up the grainy, high contrast black & white look.  One of his own, recent self-portraits, featured in this article about the exhibition, provided a useful reference point.

In simple terms, there is a strong, raised light source from front left of camera, with a brightly lit white background to ensure strong contrast.  Whilst that isn’t necessarily the universal pattern for his portraits, it is certainly typical.  So that wasn’t too hard to replicate.  I don’t have a pure white background but I illuminated it with a second light shining from behind be onto the off-white background, to ensure that much of it might blow-out in the portrait.  (It was also creased, so there are a few marks that got through to the final version!  Well spotted by Clive when I shared it on Flickr!)  I worked with quite a shallow depth of field – F5.6 – to try and ensure that the background was out of focus (limited space available to create distance), which did mean that the portrait itself was less sharp at the edges than it might have been.  I imagine Bailey using a fast shutter speed, from his fashion work, and I wanted to get some graininess in the final version, so I went for 1/250th at ISO1600, with a 50mm prime lens.  I used one of Lightroom’s preset Black & White conversions as a starting point, and then tweaked further to get a little extra contrast, as well as cropping square, Bailey-style.  This is what I ended up with.  Bailey would be watching his subject, looking for the pose and expression he wanted.  That is certainly one of the challenges of the self-portrait; and I did take a few, from which this was my preferred selection.

Stan D 1

Feeling reasonably pleased with that first shot, I moved on to try the ‘style of’ another contemporary portrait photographer, Nadav Kander.  He has taken portraits of some highly influential people, of course, and once again I did some internet research first.  There is quite a selection on his website, here  I  articularly noticed one of the Prince of Wales, using backlighting, and decided to have a go at recreating that one.  He frequently has his subjects looking off camera, to the right of frame, often with a staring expression & sometimes open-mouthed.  It’s an
odd, almost mystical look, which I’ve tried to replicate here.

Stan D 2

There is a light low to my left and slightly behind me, creating the edge-lighting highlight; then a second, reflected light to my front right, and much further away, which is filling in to ensure some detail is visible in the front shaded area.  I like that this is such a contrast with the Bailey-like image; a very different mood.  If the Bailey image makes me a rock star, this might work for the bishop, for example!  Imagine me in a dark jacket, purple bishop’s shirt front, vicar’s collar, maybe a cross around my neck – I could see that working!

There are certain generic portrait styles that crop up again and again in magazine articles.  One that is a regular in the Times Magazine – maybe elsewhere, too – it to have the subject standing, facing to the right of camera, at a slight angle, shot full-length against a white background.  The subject might be adopting a quirky attitude or giving the camera a defiant look.  There is a hint of shadow somewhere, to give the image some depth, but it always looks to me as though it has been added later, in a kind of painterly fashion.  So, that’s what I’ve done with this one.  Simple front on lighting, though through a diffusing umbrella, then a hint of shadow added (not all that professionally!) in Photoshop.  The background I used wasn’t that white, but I’ve selected my image and put it on a pure white background before brushing in that hint of shadow.

Stan D 3

Finally, I’ve gone back to a portrait style that I used a few times myself, when completing the People & Place module – a deadpan portrait, in the style of the images of friends and fellow students taken by Thomas Ruff back in the Seventies.  The style and the lighting is OK, but I’m a
hell of a lot older than the subjects in Ruff’s series !!

Stan D 4

They were deliberately expressionless portraits, with very neutral lighting and a very plain background, always shot as head and shoulders and always in a 4:3 ratio.

It’s been an interesting exercise that, if nothing else, has got me into the process of photographing myself.  The project will involve location work, too, of course, but there’s some useful groundwork on studio styles here.

Thinking With – Responding to Events

Thinking With - Responding to Events 2

I’ve titled this part of my experimentation ‘Responding to Events’, for want of something better; it stems from the final assignment of my last Level 2 module, where I constructed images of cricket in response to a brief to photograph an event.  I am, I feel, likely to continue, as part of my Level Three ‘Body of Work, to explore the potential for using appropriation and ‘studio-based’ work to respond to ‘events’.  I suppose I might say, in the manner of documentary photography. Last week I read Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s essay ‘Who Is Speaking Thus? Some Questions about Documentary Photography’, from ‘Photography at the Dock’ (University of Minnesota Press 1991), in which she refers to Bertolt Brecht & Walter Benjamin’s insistence that “… reproductions of reality were powerless to say anything about that reality …” and that political photographic practice must be “set up” and “constructed”; in which context she uses the photomontages of John Heartfield as an example.  There’s nothing new, as they say, and I guess what I’m doing here certainly falls within this tradition of photomontage, albeit with a contemporary digital twist to it.

A word or two about the production of this image, to begin with; there is probably at least three days work in it, maybe more than four.  That doesn’t make it good or worthwhile, of course, but it does suggest I’m serious about it!  I have recorded the actual process elsewhere in a notebook and won’t repeat all the detail here, but it has involved:

  • researching and sourcing images online (both initially and then subsequently to complete the composition as it developed);
  • shooting one part myself and sourcing another from within my own images;
  • since these images came in all manner of sizes and resolutions, resizing and adjusting as necessary to bring them to a standard (resolution of 150 ppi in this case, as it happens);
  • selection of people, buildings etc in Photoshop to create a ‘digital sketch’ of the idea – below;

Thinking With - Responding to Events

  • print and cut-out with craft knife, then assemble a ‘physical version’;
  • re-photograph that physical montage, experimenting as necessary with lighting (of which I could have done more, maybe), but arriving at this version;


  • more research to add additional elements, followed by further digital processing and manipulation to arrive at the final version at the top of this post (and there are subtleties in the detail of, for example, the sky, which are designed to confuse the eye as to how the image has been constructed).

That’s a lot of work; these images are certainly not the same as popping out and taking a few photographs!  There might even be questions about whether or not they are valid images within the context of a photography degree.  I don’t have any problems with a strong ‘yes’ in response to such a question; and I’m hoping that this one works on a number of levels:

  • The subject matter itself, for example; questions about what these people are doing & where they’re all going; and why it matters; and how we know about it; and just what is the media’s role.
  • Then, perhaps, questions about documentary photography in the 21st century & the ways in which photographers/artists might respond to events; questions around appropriation and the significance of constructed work versus photographing the ‘real’.
  • Maybe also, some questions about what constitutes a photographic image in the digital/internet age; the layers of meaning that I have constructed through the various stages of the process;
  • And it also occurs to me that there are issues around the single image versus a series of images – whilst this could certainly form part of a series that more thoroughly explores some of the above issues, I’m also seeking, I think, to make it work as a single image.  That isn’t always the case with contemporary photography.

This is part of the experimentation and the process of ‘Thinking With’.  It will probably form part of my Assignment One submission and is something that I’m sure I will continue to work with in my Body of Work.