Category Archives: Reflection

Semiotics and the ‘Textbook’ Project



I attended an OCA Lecture day in Leeds at the weekend – delivered by OCA Art History & Visual Studies Tutor, Gerald Deslandes. Reflections on the day, which was devoted to the origins and development of Modernism & Postmodernism, are better suited to Contextual Studies but, as I said to Gerald as I was leaving, much of what he covered helped me to feel more confident about some of the work I’m doing in Body of Work.  I’m not sure that it was the lectures, specifically, that made me think afresh about my ‘Textbook’ project this morning, only partially I suspect, but something has led me to what feels like a better understanding of what this project is about.

In my previous post about it – here – I put it in the context of Analogue and Digital photographic processes, and that is certainly valid, but I realised this morning that it is also – more so, maybe – about Language and Signs.  The words, diagrams and images from this 1963 publication have lost, for me, their original meaning.  They do not signify what the writers intended.  For me, they signify an unintelligible, dead, language.  But, rather than approaching them like an archaeologist, seeking to decipher their original meaning, I appropriate them as unattached signifiers.  I construct something new, something whose ‘meaning’, for me, is the investigation and expression of my own creative use of digital methods, and which is an expression of the ‘ambiguity’ I discussed here.

The image above is a good example – and includes a ‘text’ based element, too.  Reading the image, as it is presented here, one might start with a formal analysis.  It is, clearly and obviously, a construction.  There is a ‘cut-out’ image in the foreground and some other ‘cut-outs’ in the background, with a slight background difference between the top third of the frame and the lower two-thirds, which together seem to suggest that this is a representation of a ‘landscape’.  the colour of the background (and the image of a polar bear in the foreground) appear to be specifically representing a ‘polar’ landscape, further confirmed by the suggestion of what appears to be snow around the boots of the two men in that foreground ‘cut-out’ image.  This foreground image seems to have been cut from an old photograph, its surface suggests the graininess of such an origin, and the dress of the two men also seems to signify the early part of the 20th century.  Each man is holding a rifle at his side, resting the butt on the floor and grasping the barrel.  They stand, slightly apart from each other, looking down at what must be a dead polar bear – and we almost certainly reach the conclusion that they shot it.  Two men, in the early part of the 20th century, shot a polar bear in a polar landscape!  They were photographed with the carcass, and I have now chosen, in the early part of the 21st century, to cut out their images from an old print of some nature!

Then we come to the other cut-outs, in the background.  There are four triangular shapes, each with a kind of bulge on the side. Three, positioned right at the back of the ‘landscape’ and to the left, are coloured light blue, with their ‘bulges’ in purple; the fourth, a little closer and larger, is coloured purple, with a black bulge.  They look as though they have been cut out from a printed source; each has a thin black outline and there are black spots printed inside each triangle.  Some also have other printed symbols – plusses and minuses, and arrows, in one case.  They have a diagrammatic look about them, though there is nothing to suggest what they might represent.  One of the blue triangles also has symbols outside its cut out shape – arrows pointing down to its left hand side and minus signs around its purple bulge.  All four of the triangles are slightly out of focus – though the arrows and minuses just identified are quite sharply defined.  Although the colours and diagrammatic qualities of these four triangles does not support such a conclusion, one might suppose that they have been placed to loosely suggest mountains in the polar landscape.  The ‘trained’ eye might read these diagrams as having some scientific significance, but there is little or nothing to explain what that might be.

Finally, within the frame of the image, there is a printed ‘caption’, which reads ‘Fig. 24. Stability of the latent image’.  The ‘content’ and the style of presentation of this text would seem to suggest that the image is either from, or we’re asked to consider that it might be from, a book, maybe an academically oriented book, given the use of ‘Fig. 24.’ and the specific nature of the language of the text.  All these symbolic elements – the foreground cut-out; the four triangle cut-outs; the ‘landscape’ background; and the caption – have been deliberately brought together for some purpose.  The ‘formal’ analysis of the image doesn’t necessarily lead to a clear conclusion and probably raises as many questions as it answers.  Contextually, presented as ‘art’, the image would probably be identified as having characteristics of the postmodern, and so the questions are about the artist and his purpose.  In any other context, the image is likely to be seen as curious and/or meaningless.  Printed large on a gallery wall, it would invite a close examination of its aesthetic qualities, which would (hopefully) lend it some ‘art-context’ credibility – the signification associated with a large, high-quality print and curatorial support.  As one of a series of images in a gallery (with supporting ‘artist statement’ and curatorial text) or, similarly, in a book of images, all based around some linking theme (perhaps all images made from the ‘Textbook’ for example) and with supporting text, it may begin to have some ‘significance’ in the analogue/digital context.

Fundamentally, though, it is a somewhat ambiguous collection of signifiers that are unlikely, without further information or context, to communicate much beyond the fact that I, the artist, chose to put them together and create this image.  Those who look at it – tutor and fellow students, for example – may be sufficiently drawn to begin speculating about my purpose/process and the origins of the individual parts of the image – but they will probably have to construct their own conclusions because there is little in the image itself to help.  Hence my own conclusion that I am appropriating these unattached signifiers and presenting them in a construction that has no significance beyond its own construct!  Interestingly, though, because I do know exactly where these individual elements of the image came from, I also know that they are not quite so unconnected as they may seem.  The triangular diagrams (which were not coloured in their original form) represent crystals of silver bromide, each with a speck of silver sulphide attached, and the sequence represents the process of formation of a ‘latent image’.  The foreground image was taken on a fatal polar expedition in 1897 but the exposed film lay in the icy environment for 33 years before being discovered and developed; that’s why it was included in a section of the book entitled ‘The Stability of the Latent Image’.  There, I’ve spoiled it now!

Through ambiguity to seeing more clearly

An Image Without Meaning

Image without meaning

I have reflected positively before in here about the ‘thinking with’ approach that appears in the module notes.  The notes also encourage the use of a notebook in which to write regular thoughts and get rid of the “boring stream of consciousness” (which I have always done anyway).  It also says “Please don’t put all the boring stuff on your blogs!”.  Spoken from the heart of a tutor/assessor, I think.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those ‘stream of consciousness’ sessions; it came out of a ‘what the hell am I doing?’ moment; and I did grab a piece of paper and write on it – before stuffing it into the notebook and forgetting about it.  Today, coincidentally, I took it out and re-read it a few moments after I had been re-reading Chapter 8 of ‘Visual Culture’’’ by Howells and Negreiros, for Contextual Studies.  It’s a chapter on Photography and, amongst other things, it looks at the relationship between photography &reality and runs through the arguments around photography as art.

So, here, in summary, is what was in my notebook reflections from a few weeks ago:

What am I doing?

I am constructing images (maybe not photographs?).

My images may …

  • attract attention;
  • invite further investigation;
  • provoke questions;
  • encourage thought and speculation;
  • seem to promise meaning and truth;
  • entertain;
  • please;
  • frustrate.

But, like all images (maybe) …

  • lack substance;
  • hold no answers;
  • provide no solutions;
  • be ‘unreal’;
  • fail to satisfy.

Ambiguity – I am creating ambiguity.

There was more, but I’ll adhere to the module author’s request!

As I said, the Howells & Negreiros chapter looks at the photograph’s relationship with reality.  Personally, I long since abandoned any notion that photography presents truth and/or reality; and I recognise the need to question the meaning and relevance of those two concepts – certainly to recognise that they are open to interpretation.  However, the chapter does acknowledge that but argues, even accepting what I’ve just suggested, that photography does have a “special relationship” with reality.  They suggest that the photograph manages to be an “… hallucination which is also a fact …”.  That idea certainly is important and relevant – the potential for a photograph to be read as real, or as a representation of the real, or to seem/feel real when it isn’t; the possibility of knowing that it isn’t what it seems to be yet being drawn to look and read and take something from the process – even just speculation about intent or process.

So, I combine a dip into my own stream of consciousness with a spot of contextual reading and seem to feel that something significant has been distilled out of the process.  I was right – I am creating ambiguity.

Tapes–a studio series



This short series of images was made ‘in the studio’, last week; beginning as an experiment in lighting but, perhaps, ending as a series ‘with meaning’.  The process developed something of a life of its own and went from a set of mini-tableaux still-lifes of mundane objects lying around the store to a set of images that might, I think, have potential for multiple readings.  Of course, all images have that potential, but what causes me to reflect on this set is the fact that it seemed to come out of nowhere, seemingly without me directing it (though I obviously did!).  I am reluctant to start expressing too much about my own readings but, almost as soon as I put the stripey tape under the plastic box for Tapes-1 and it rolled forward to the front, I got a sense of some human emotions such as shyness and vulnerability, but also maybe, curiosity and a degree of questioning.  I just recently re-viewed this short film of Lucas Blalock making his ‘99c store still-life’ images (Lucas Blalock), in which he says that he sometimes feels that the objects were standing in for something else that might have been in the images.  My series progressed as follows:

Tapes-2   Tapes-3

Tapes-2                                                                                                               Tapes-3

 Tapes-4  Tapes-5

Tapes-4                                                                                                              Tapes-5



What is interesting, perhaps, is the question of ‘meaning’ as created through the photographic transformation of inanimate and insignificant objects; particularly the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of this transformation.  Lighting is a significant factor here – and that was, as I’ve said, the starting point for the work.  The very first image is not lit in a simple manner.  I was initially trying to create a sense of something happening outside the frame – which does happen here, in some of the images, especially Tapes-4 for example.  And that first images poses a question, maybe, which is explored and developed through a kind of narrative as the little series develops.  In the end, it’s just six pictures of junk, and I certainly don’t want to make more of it than is appropriate, but I suppose I have to admit that I quite like them.  Allowing the experiment to take its own course has resulted in something that almost feels to have come about separate from me – like the characters in a novel taking over the narrative from the writer.

Ideally, these would be large-scale prints on a gallery wall!  Then I speculate about critical reviews.  There would be the one that said: “It is hard to understand why the gallery believes that Dickinson’s photographs of junk should be of any significance to the art world – pretty and well-printed as they might be!”  And then another that opened: “Lit like a series of dramatic stage sets, Dickinson’s images trace a surprising range of emotions and sensations, considering the prosaic subject matter, raising questions about identity, personality, relationships, maybe even gender and sexuality.” Well … in another world!

Where do I go from here?

Personal Journey-21

Time for a bit of planning and structure, I think, after completing the first Assignment.  How do I move things on from this point?

Let’s start from where I’m at right now:

The broad directions for my Body of Work are defined and agreed;

I know that there is more than enough to challenge/extend and to enable me to satisfy assessment criteria.

So, what are the next objectives?:

Assignment Two should be the next ‘landmark’ and I believe that it should comprise:

  • at least 6 studio-based images, ideally more, which a) move the experimentation forward, and b) are at or very close to, a completed standard;
  • at least 2, preferably 3 or more, self-portraits, which are also at, or near to, completed standard.

Assignment Two should be submitted by mid-May/end-May at the very latest.

How do I get to that point?

I’d assess that it requires a different approach for each of the two main strands of work – being more open-ended, the studio work could be progressed in all sorts of ways, whereas the self-portraits are more focused can be more easily planned.

Studio Work:

  • could usefully be informed by looking at and reflecting on the relevant work of some other contemporary photographers;
  • and, in parallel, further ‘thinking with’, but in an informed and directed manner.


  • select, say, 3 or 4 on which to concentrate;
  • plan what is required to deliver each one;
  • research/organise as necessary;
  • produce 3 or 4 portraits for submission.

Personal Journey-23

Time to cast off!

Assignment One – Feedback

I received Clive’s feedback on Assignment One yesterday, which is positive and supportive, so now it’s a case of onwards and upwards with the various strands of my Body of Work.  The feedback on my key question of scope is to maintain this breadth, which has the potential to ensure I fulfil requirements, then maybe narrow things later as time/interest develops.

Within the Studio Projects, I’ll continue to look at all the various strands with which I’ve been experimenting.  Clive seems to have picked up on the provocative/subversive aspects, noting that using Photoshop crudely is “… in direct opposition to the accepted polite ‘application’ …”, which can make it “… problematic for people to accept.”  He also points me in the direction of Elad Lassry, who certainly seems to approach photography in a provocative manner e.g. in this interview – The Photographic Problem.  That short piece certainly poses some challenging questions, which are worthy of further thought.

The Self-portraits are also fully supported.  On further reading of the feedback just prior to writing this note, I have picked up a reference to a ‘form of return’ (read, in addition, ‘to the past’) and there is a comparison to autobiography.  I understand where that comes from, but it makes me reflect that, whilst I have in mind to use the old Newsbook as a kind of prompt, I do not see the project as in any way ‘looking back’, and certainly not as autobiographical.  I regard it as a work of fiction that is perhaps closer to Cindy Sherman’s images of ‘Self’ – photographically constructed versions of fictional persona, which just happen to feature my body.  Of course, I also recognise that it is difficult to imagine that there can be no ‘me’ in the Body of Work; just as one could argue that there is Cindy Sherman, the artist, in her work.  But that is, maybe, something of a truism and doesn’t say anything helpful about the work itself.  Food for thought, also.

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.

Personal Journey-18

Personal Journey-20

Personal Journey-28

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!

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.

“Autofocus: the self-portrait in contemporary photography” – Susan Bright


Just read this – Susan Bright – “Autofocus: the self portrait in contemporary photography” (Thames & Hudson, London, 2010).  First point to make is that it’s my first ‘borrow’ from the Huddersfield University Library, having joined for £25 pa, as a Public Member.  It’s a good scheme; Huddersfield runs a Photography degree, so reasonably well stocked with relevant books and I can borrow up to five books at a time, for two weeks, with online access to their search facility (from home) and the facility to renew/reserve online, should I wish.

This book is on the extended reading list for Level Three modules, but I specifically looked at it as a possible source of context and ideas for the notion of a major project based along the lines discussed at the end of this earlier post – here.  To some extent, ‘context’ is for Contextual Studies, and the confirmed guidelines are that there must be a clear distinction between the two modules when it comes to Assessment, so any detailed discussion, should it be relevant, will come there.  But I’m sure I can, at least, say that this is a very useful ‘survey’ of the use of the self-portrait by contemporary photographically-based artists, with a little bit of history thrown in for context, and a reasonably broad definition of what constitutes a self-portrait.  She sub-divides the ‘genre’ into five headings – Autobiography; Body; Masquerade; Studio & Album; and Performance – but there is inevitable overlap and flexibility.  It has certainly introduced me to several artists/work that I had not seen before, some using ‘Masquerade’ & ‘Studio & Album’ in interesting ways, such as Aneta Grzeszykowska, Tomoko Sawada‘ and Yasumasa Morimura; as well as some that I already knew of, such as Joan Foncuberta & Gillian Wearing.

Reading this book, and reflecting on my idea for a project stemming from the ‘Newsbook, has fired my imagination in all sorts of directions as to what this project could be.  What if I ‘invent’ a number of alternative, present day persona, directly related to pages from the ‘Newsbook’ and then create a series of contemporary self-portraits of me as those persona?  [Bishop Stanley Dickinson; Stan the farmer worker, who stayed in the village (and who might be deceased!); Stan the radical left-wing activist; Stan the forgotten pop lyricist; and so on!]. What if I then construct, through images or whatever, the back story for those persona?  What if those back stories all take different forms?  A newspaper article about the Bishop; a family album and/or Facebook page about the farm worker; a police file about the activist; a blog about the lost lyricist; and so on …  The possibilities for such a project are considerable, which excites me a lot.

Then back to feet on the ground and what might be achievable!  I think I’m approaching a point where I need to formalise a few ideas ‘on paper’ to share with Clive before moving much further forward.  At the moment, my thinking is best summarised along these lines:

  • I remain committed to the idea that my work will explore the boundaries and potential of digital image-making;
  • Extending the still-life exploration also interests me – with the added possibilities associated with the first bullet point above;
  • There is, I feel sure, good potential in looking at ways of extending the use of found images, collages, studio constructs etc, to respond to ‘events’ – as I began to do in my final Level Two assignment;
  • And now, I can see lots of opportunity to create work that explores photography’s ability to construct narrative and identity – initiated by the Newsbook, but then brought up to date with some form of self-portraiture.

I wonder whether, actually, these points can define my way forward.  I need to share and seek input from my tutor.



‘Thinking With’ – My Photography – Progress Report 3

There may be ways of combining different aspects of my interests with an element of personal project.  My final PwDP assignment used a sort of still life/collage/archive mish-mash to respond to an event – a sporting event, ‘The Ashes’.  I have thought about exploring the potential to use what I might call ‘studio constructs’ to respond to real life events – studio documentary?  Might this be possible/important/relevant, with the supposed demise of traditional photo-journalism?

My final People & Place assignment involved portraits of people holding a possession that they had had since childhood, and this image sort of combines elements of all of that.

About Why 10 - Holding the past

The notion of holding something that we/others held in the past; I find that interesting … a physical connection that can unleash all sorts of emotional responses.  There are different references to ‘holding’ in this very personal image … and I have held all the objects in the image in the last few days, when I put them together.  And the traditional idea of a photograph as something to ‘hold’ – that has particular meaning today.  There isn’t a lot of thought gone into the actual assembly and composition here – but there is a notion with scope for further investigation.

Holding a possession from the past links directly to this final group of images.  Between May 2nd 1955 and March 19th 1956, when I was aged 5-6, I kept (like all fellow pupils in my primary school infant class) a News Book.  It was done every Monday and tended to report what had happened over the weekend (often not much!).  My late mother hung on to it and now I still have it – 35 pages, each with a wax crayon drawing and some words in pencil, recording events in my life over that ten month period, getting on for sixty years ago.


I can’t help but feel some odd sensations, all these years later, holding the book in my hands and thinking about that child who made it – the little me (literally – I have pictures to prove it).




The events aren’t particularly impressive in themselves; and my drawing wasn’t up to much; but I can vaguely remember doing it, and even vaguely recall some of the events.  I’ve actually photographed the whole book and turned it into a 3 minute slideshow, as part of my ‘Thinking With’.  It’s here, on YouTube.

This object – document, perhaps – has opened up other thoughts about personal projects.  The module notes identify a genre referred to as ‘Personal Journeys’ and I do intend, perhaps in the next few weeks, to go back to some of the places featured in the News Book and photograph them as they are now; some I will not have seen for year and years.

But then there is a much bigger idea that is developing in my mind – a challenging, genre-hopping project that might just be the basis for a significant Body of Work.  There are no clues in the pages of the News Book that point to the person I have become.  There’s evidence of a good Christian upbringing – long forgotten, in truth, but hopefully helping to for a ‘decent bloke’ – but not a lot more.  So – what if I were to take some of these pages as starting points for the construction of a series of fictional (largely image-based, of course) narratives of different versions of me – alternative ‘Stan Dickinson’s, that never happened?  … and on that bombshell… as Alan Partridge might say!

‘Thinking With’ – My Photography – Progress Report 2

I said that Christmas intervened in my thinking with.  Inevitably, it involved some family fun and some family photos.  There can often be something quite surreal about these Christmas get-togethers.  So some of the photos of the photos have a touch of surreal ambiguity about them.

About Why 15 - Ambiguity

Photographs can certainly tell stories but they can also ask questions!  And trying to answer the questions can raise new ones and make the whole thing even more complicated …  Or is this the ‘decisive moment’?

About Why 16 - Resolving Ambiguity

Which brings me and my ‘Thinking With’ indoors.  Into this ‘stream of consciousness’ approach to image making comes an impromptu self portrait.

About Why 11 - Me

I’m not sure this approach is clarifying anything!  And something photographed ‘to see what it looked like photographed’ (thank you Gary).

About Why 09 - Just to see

Which brings me to the matter of ‘Still Life’.  That artistic genre led me through the latter stages of Level Two and I am well aware that I am not likely to drop it anytime soon.  Time to do some thinking with it.  I like a flat, even, subtle light (see most of the landscapes above); so some experimentation with my ‘studio lights’, designed to achieve the subtlety one might associate with a still life painting.

About Why 12 - Subtlety 1

About Why 13 - Subtlety 2

About Why 14 - Subtlety 3

The differences are subtle – but the top one works best for me – a single 500 watt bulb, turned upwards and away, then diffused with a hand-held diffusing ring.  It could, perhaps, be brightened a little, but I approve of the soft, even feel – some important, subtle judgements in trying to get this sort of thing just right.

The contemporary ‘still-lifers’ that I studied for my Level Two essay – Lucas Blalock, for example – like to experiment with ordinary objects, rather than the traditional still life ‘matter’.  This is some colourful electrical tape, with a cleaning cloth.

About Why 17 - Colour, Texture and Light

And, like all good, thrifty still-lifers, I can combine, re-use, and experiment with familiar, easy-to-hand objects.

Still Life with Electrical Tapes and Cabling 1

But my real interest in digital still life lies in the scope to experiment further and test the boundaries.  I’ve said that one of my objectives in my ‘Body of Work‘ module is to explore and exploit the potential of digital image-making.  I’m interested asking ‘What can we actually do with this process? and ‘What does that look like?’.  The words that occur to me are “disruption and subversion”.  What happens when we blatantly use the power that digital processes give us and disrupt the normal flow, subverting the genre.

Still Life with Electrical Tapes and Cabling 2 (Removed)

Still Life with Disruption 1

Still Life with Disruption 2

What happens when we subvert the very idea of ‘still’ still life.  (cf. – Ori Gersht & Sam Taylor-Wood, who have produced moving still lifes).  This following type of image really interests me.

Still Life with movement

I find it visually attractive, slightly intimidating … it challenges me to try and decide what it is.  I could print it big & beautiful, and hang it on a gallery wall – in which case it would definitely be ‘real’.  But what is it an image of, and why do I find it attractive.  I do feel the need to explore more of this within my Body of Work.  I am, though, as mentioned right at the start of this blog, very wary of getting too far up my own backside with intellectualising.  That still troubles me and I wonder whether I should be looking at a more personal project.