Assignment 5 Final Version December 2018

I have finally finished the last amendments to this assignment.  Time has been productive for me I think with this one and I have taken on board the comments made by my tutor concerning the aesthetic of the digital threads.  When I submitted the original idea, I had gone as far as I could with it without ‘finishing’ the full idea.  I had got to the point that I was fiddling around the edges while being blinded to the changes that needed to be made, both in the minor tweaks of the images and in the final presentation of the images together.

I was happy with the images as they were and although a bit rough and ready in my manipulations in PhotoShop, I did not want to start all over again from the beginning.  I have removed the digital threads as suggested by my tutor and by doing so, and leaving them a little while, I can see that the images appear cleaner and more straightforward. The threads that are the metaphorical ties between heaven and earth are now physical threads that I have sewn onto the printed images.  There is no particular theme on the colour, it is more what I had available.  I did feel that it was important to retain the original idea of tying the people to the bench and the flowers so that they make up a whole unit, with each person being bound loosely by the threads.  Each one is slightly different.

I have changed the titles so there is a more poetic flow to them.  They are various lines from songs that seem to fit the idea of the assignment.  The original assignment had scans of dried flower heads with the titles on them, and these were sewn into the interleaving pages of the scrapbook that held the whole project.  This was clumsy and actually was too cluttered with threads everywhere and small pieces of transparent paper printed and sewn.  I have changed this so that each photograph with its threads is mounted onto paper card, as they would be in a scrapbook so keeping the original idea, and a page of semi-transparent tracing paper with a small photo of a flower plus printed title is before each one.  I have had them bound together with a spiral binding and plain front and back covers, therefore keeping the scrapbook idea but now it is cleaner, smarter and flows better as the threads are all contained rather than running from page to page. The small photo is black and white which I chose to contrast against the colour of the sewn images and make it clean and simple in presentation.  The overall theme is black – background, mounts, spiral binding, writing and small photograph and therefore it creates a symmetry in the final book.  The iris has the symbolism that earthly life is transitory and fragile.  Maybe this is also what my tutor wanted me to think about when he suggested looking at the notion of vanitas paintings, although this is not strictly what this means.  My main concern is the notion that we define ourselves through relationships with others, particularly family, and we want to retain those links with them when they have gone on to a different world.  We can achieve it through memory alone or a physical place or thing to focus the memory.  My adding photographs of people that have links to my own family and past is my way of humanising the names that I do not know.

Overall, I am much happier with my final presentation of my idea and by refining the threads, I believe it is a stronger version of the original idea of life and death, love and loss and connecting ourselves to who we are through a physical place.

Here is a PDF of the finished book:  K.Allen_402872_PH4IAP_A5

A few close-ups of the sewing on the images:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Assignment 5 – Tutor Feedback and Reflection


The feedback for Assignment 5 was positive but with the familiar feel that I had not quite gone far enough and there is a need to further refine the whole to finish it off.  I knew this when I submitted the final selection of images to my Tutor as I had got to the point with it that I was effectively playing with them while not making any progress forwards.

The main point he raised was concerning the digital threads that I had drawn onto each photograph using Photoshop.  He felt that they were crude in comparison to the real threads added to the images as I sewed them into the book.

My main issue is how you have implemented the thread. The idea to bind and link the series is fine and how this connects to the book makes sense. However, I feel that at the moment the drawn thread has a negative impact upon the final aesthetic. To be honest, it feels a little crude and detracts away from the sentiment of the work. The way that you have applied it doesn’t feel very accomplished, I think it is because it isn’t a real thread, it’s digitally produced.”

I can see his point although on a personal level I think they work and I found that the process engaged me with the image more than leaving them out.  But I am willing to try them without the digital threads and will look at adding the binds as a physical thread rather than a digital thread.  He elaborated on his reasoning:

This point is also enforced when combined within your physical book. The book is a nice idea; I like the physicality of it and how you have incorporated the physical thread (although obviously I’m looking at it online). I feel that you need to review and re consider the juxtaposition of the real and digital thread in order to gain the full potential of the series. Maybe, you could consider using real thread rather than the digitally produced thread? I’d suggest more experimenting with the final image.

The book is also a contention for me for while I like the idea of connecting the images together in one place in a physical location, I felt that I had ‘overdone’ it a bit and I wonder whether the images can be combined together in a better way  There is the factor of sewing ties onto the images and pages, and redoing the whole thing but I need to investigate a better way of doing that.

He raised the question of the inclusion of the photographs:

Another point that I think that you should reflect upon is the inclusion of the archive image from a moral perspective. You have chosen to include an archive image not related to the person whose memorial bench you are depicting. I have no issue with mixing fact and fiction within work; it’s embedded within photographic practice and the history of photographic representation. But, it would be good if you took a little more time to reflect upon this within your critical analysis and evaluation.”

When I first started thinking about the benches and the plaques, I was struck by the fact that these are just names and dates to most people as well as being of people who have been away for a long time.  Who were they, where are their families, does anyone remember them, what kind of people were they?  Some are for children both young and older so that seems a little more tragic than the ones who passed on at a good age.  In building the layers of each image, the flowers and the plaques felt impersonal and more like an extension of the bench already there.  It was this that prompted the threads and then a photograph of someone to take the place of the name.  Both my parents passed away over the past few years and I am still aware of the feelings of loss and remembrance surrounding the death of a close relative.  I wanted to personalise these people, make them real again but because I don’t know them I had to use other photographs.  I considered the match carefully based on the name, gender and age so that it was not just a random pairing but carefully considered.  I also used photographs from the family archive, which could be seen to reference the exercise earlier in the course when we had to raid the archives and make groupings that may not have been seen before.  The old black and white photographs were of my parents and grandparents and friends of my mother. I also chose a photo of the kids my boys grew up from years ago as well as a photo of an old school friend of mine.  For me, it tied the past to the present and gave meaning to the names and dates.  They were someone’s parent, husband, wife, child or sibling and they were allowed a face to make them relevant.  Maybe it was too personal to include my own parents but it felt right to do so at the time. Is it any different to some of the artists that I have looked at who use found or orphan  photographs or postcards and blend them together to offer a new meaning to an image?  He had pointed me to John Stezaker after Assignment 2.  Adding an old photograph fitted with some of the dates and gave it more meaning and personalisation.

I am now ready to take another look at this assignment to see how I can polish it and make it appear completed.  This will involve removing the digital ties and reprinting the images so that I can then add physical threads.  The final binding may change too to make it cleaner, less cluttered and more streamlined so that the flow of images works better.



Research and Looking at suggested artists:

Points made:

Research relevant to the subject – Once I had decided on the subject, I found it difficult to find relevant artists who had done anything similar.  Chris Coekin advised me to investigate still life painting and photography as well as the idea of vanitas which has a relevance to my assignment.  The definition of vanitas: “A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly good and pleasures. “ Tate Modern version.

“Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit (decay); bubbles (the brevity of life and suddenness of death); smoke, watches, and hourglasses (the brevity of life); and musical instruments (brevity and the ephemeral nature of life).”

Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on. Still life can be a celebration of material pleasures such as food and wine, or often a warning of the ephemerality of these pleasures and of the brevity of human life (see memento mori).  (

I can see the relevance of this but I did not think of it as a depiction of death, it was more the feeling of trying to hang on to a person after they have gone and the memories that they created.  The creation of plaques on benches is a way to remind us of someone but I also questioned for how long it can be relevant, fifty years, a hundred years, does anyone alive still know who some of these people are? It is a transitory way of remembering, just as we are transitory so maybe it is Vanitas after all, reminding us that we are here for a fragment of time and then we are gone, possible forgotten.

My tutor suggested looking at the tradition of Dutch and Spanish still life paintings, and I found several articles that link the tradition to the vanitas paintings.  This article:  

talks about the influence of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and Edward Weston, both from different parts of the 20th century but still influential in doing still life photographs that echo the Dutch masters.  I visited the Tillmans exhibition at the Tate Modern last year and saw his wide variety of images, large and small, that could fulfil the description of still life.  They were of normal everyday items rather than carefully constructed images, but maybe they were constructed as he took photographs of items such as the parts of a printer.  I tend to think that my images are  more in this vein as I took several normal things and merged them into one image.  The layers each have a meaning on their own but combine to make a different whole.

I had also researched Edward Weston in Assignment 3 when I was considering his images of vegetables as part of the investigation into my bodybuilder project, with an idea of merging vegetables with a posing bodybuilder.  The images are clean and simple with strongly contrasting blacks and whites. They are so different to Tillmans’ images yet both are still in the tradition of arranging objects and photographing them. I am nowhere near being in that calibre but it does influence my thinking of objects.

The article states: “Is this how a photographer should approach still life? Should you be looking for metaphysical bananas, or arranging dead butterflies on a table to take an artistic picture of death? Is the still life, as some might say, essentially a vanitas, or emblem of mortality? Should you put a skull beside that array of nice food?”  I put decaying flowers beside photographs of memorial plaques on benches and photographs of people then bound them together in an image along with physical ties in the form of sewing threads.  It suggests that these images are still life and vanitas as I am pointing to the mortality of a person, and this is all that is left after they are gone as there are no physical remains and they no longer have any possessions.  The flowers could be symbols of death although I am not sure that I consciously had this in mind.  I did strongly feel that the flowers should decay and be changed in some way as the images progress, from fresh in one to dried and dying in others.

I found this photographer a few years ago while studying another OCA photography course, and was very drawn to the simplicity of the images that she made using flowers that were past their best.  In addition, the flowers were from florists so not the usual everyday flowers that we are familiar with.  The stark white or black backgrounds contrasted with the colour that still remained in the flower heads,

“Rachel LEVY photographs flowers almost faded. It is a limit state, an in-between, because for the gardener or the florist it is the moment when he has to cut off the stem and to get rid of the flower. The flower just starts to decay, so most people keep it. This moment crystallizes the ongoing metamorphosis. An obvious daintiness emanates from it. 

In a way, we are almost facing a photographic herbarium, a collection of floral photos patiently gathered by Rachel LEVY. However, unlike herbariums, pictures became portraits, the plants are humanized thanks to a subtle work of removal. We can note the leaves are always subtracted from the stems, giving the impression the plant is standing. Therefore, Rachel LEVY emphasizes the living being present in each plant.”

These are still life portraits and focus on the flower head as its’ life drains away.   There is such a beauty and stillness n the simplicity of the image, that I have in the past tried doing something similar.  In some ways, I had this in mind when photographing the flowers to use with the plaques as adding flowers to tributes gives a sense of passing of time, while can remind us of the person that has passed.  For example, there were a lot of hydrangea bushes in my parents’ garden and when my mother passed away in the care home, they put one of these flowers in her hand without knowing the significance of it.  Every time I see them, they remind me of her.

He also suggests that the images need refining, and I am in agreement.  When I submitted them to him, I felt I had gone as far as I could with them at that point and had got to the point of playing with them.  There did not appear to be a stopping point when they were ‘finished’.  His issue with them revolves mainly around the added digital threads and has suggested reconsidering these, while maybe replacing them with real thread.  Part of my thinking behind the digital threads were that they were my input to the images, my way of putting my mark on them and threading them in a way that I was not sure I could in real life.  While personally I like them, I can see his point and I am considering redoing the images without the digital thread but attaching real threads.  I admit that there is a reluctance because the images need to be reprinted then resewn into the book so I will need to look again at the total presentation of them, something that I knew I would have to revisit.  I had got to the stage that I was actually sick of looking at them and going round in circles so a good break from them will have been beneficial.

Another photography student at the OCA looking at setting up still life arrangements, and the discussion on it.  An interesting article as I had spent time during other assignments setting up shoots with inanimate objects and it is harder than it looks.  For this assignment, i had to shoot photos of the flowers from when they were fresh through to dried out in the sunlight.  I ended up using a lot of natural light rather than artificial, mainly because it summer and the light was strong and clear.




Assignment 5 Images

Where you go-4
If we don’t know where we’re going
Where you go-1
It’ll make no difference from where we started
Where you go-5
I am the sea and the waves
Where you go-6
I am the high mountain and the low cloud
Where you go-7
I always thought that I would see you again
Where you go-3
I am the sun, the moon and the stars
Where you go-9
I am the stones and I am the wood
Where you go-8
I am the fire and I am the rain
Where you go-2
Wherever you go, I will go with you

Assignment 5

The last assignment in Identity and Place and it proved to be a lot harder than I anticipated.  After a couple of false starts, I finally settled on revisiting and building on work I started in Assignment 4 on the theme of love and loss. The idea was to develop it using the ways that people try to hold onto people that have gone, people who are part of their past and heritage.  There is a market in memorial benches, particularly in seaside towns, where the bench is adorned with a brass plaque with the name and dates of the deceased.  Often these are also used as shrines with flowers and plants or small items attached to them.

Personally I have no desire or need to have a particular place to go to connect with my parents who are both now gone.  However, I realise that some do need a concrete something in order to stay connected to their heritage and the person that they loved whether it is a parent or a child.  I was interested to read the inscriptions, find out who these people are and what they might mean to me.  From that, I looked at the issue of flowers that are attached by various means.  The experiment of taking my bunch to use on each bench did not work as I expected, neither did attaching a photo of flowers.  There was something missing.  I realised that what was missing was the human connection.

I have always loved going through my mother’s photo album with the black and white photos of people long gone.  By re-photographing some of them and adding them along with my photographs of the flowers as they decayed leant a different aspect to the plaque.  It humanised it and gave it substance, even if they are not the actual person named. Photoshop was a good tool even if my use is very basic.  I blended the flowers, photograph and name plaque into one image and then drew delicate threads over the top.  In this way, the three elements link together and bind them to the present.  To link them together as a series, I sewed them into the album and added the scanned flower in between as a guide from one to the other.

The flowers represent the then and now, they are fresh but they die and then we replace them in an attempt to keep them going in the same way that we try to keep the memory alive.  The memories are who we are, where we came from and ultimately where we are going, born in one place until we go on to the final place.

karen Allen 402872 PH4IAP Asignment 5

Assignment 5 Research and Info


William Eggleston – looked at in the course materials as one photographer who could use everyday items to suggest the presence of people without having people in the frame.  They used the child’s trike made large in the frame.  He loved road signs and store signage.  Mundane things that caught his eye.  Photographing the mundane and the ugly.  Bright colours.


Lost and Found, the culmination of road trips over many years.  reminds me of driving across Utah and seeing a sign in the middle of nowhere for something hundreds of miles away. I had this in mind for another incarnation of the assignment following the M5 southbound from my old hometown of Birmingham to my new hometown of Torquay.  In the end I decided to go with the idea of benches and flowers in an exploration of how we keep tabs on our past.


On how people see the benches.  People can get very upset if flowers are removed and yet this is a public place not a shrine.

a council tried to ban them!


Derek – He wanted to scatter the ashes of his mother in the woods on Dartmoor. They asked permission which was granted so they went ahead, put flowers on bushes and decorated the surrounding area.  The Park Ranger told them that they were free to do that but everything would be removed the following day.  Derek said it made them feel closer to his mother and designated a place that would be about her even if there were no other markers. Maybe there is something of that in me too as I am taking the ashes of my parents to Scotland to scatter them there. However there is something of the “what do I do with these?” and putting them in the garden does not seem quite right. The flowers that decorate bushes etc are transient.


Jerry – a friend of mine has a bench in memory of his mother.  He used to go there a lot to sit there but not so much  now.  It was more for his children and the other grandchildren who could have somewhere positive to go.  I was interested whether he had put flowers on it, he said never as couldn’t see the point.  The point of the bench was to have somewhere to be quiet. It’s a way of connecting with the person who has gone before us. Perhaps it is also a place to find some quiet in a busy life.

So why something so public? Why not go for a gravestone as was traditional, somewhere with a name and date and a physical thing to visit.  Is it because we have moved away from religion and now we need something that is more normal?


Julie Cockburn

Another suggestion from my tutor to expand my knowledge of artists who were altering photographs through different practices.  In this article she talks about using archetypal portrait shots from the 1940s to 1970s so that there is space around them and they are divorced from any background, allowing her to stamp another meaning on them. Also:

“Found objects start the conversation. I think that perhaps the fact that I use actual photographs in my work (at a time when photography itself is taking on a new dimension – particularly with the sharing culture of social media) has highlighted the nostalgia of the photograph as object. How great to have all ones photos on file, ready to crop, colour adjust and post online in a few seconds. But I miss my old photo albums and the paraphernalia that went with them. The guillotine, glue, corners, hand written notations and ‘stuff’ (pressed flowers, train tickets) that went in too.”

So true. I think I had this in mind once I went down the route of coupling my old family photographs with names on benches of complete strangers then drawing ties on them to bind them all together and along with my new flower photos they create a new something.  I actually read this particular article after I had completed the work and was looking through things that had inspired me, Cockburn being one of them.


Anegret Soltau

I was still thinking of her work when I began this assignment.  There is something very personal about taking a needle and thread and sewing through an image, as it involves deciding where to pierce the paper and how to use those threads to symbolise something intangible.


New and old photographs – the old black and white prints that are so small are very evocative of an era that is gone.  The 1940s and 1950s were the years that my parents were young people and it is my way of keeping in touch with who they were, where they came from and keeping connected to them. Rephotographing them reminded me of Sherrie Levine’s After Rodchenko 1-12, 1987 and in particular the one of the old lady and reading glasses:

The full set:

I studied her work during an OU course in art history and thought that her approach was interesting, challenging the male canon.  No different really to Marcel Duchamp taking found objects.


Perhaps that what I am doing, I am taking found objects in choosing a bench and a commemorative plaque then adding found photographs and combining them with everything else to make a new image.

Assignment 5 Background

north or south bound?

This is how I felt about this assignment….

It was a difficult start to this one as I felt that I had used up all my creativity in Assignment 4.  I realised that I was over thinking it and went back to the beginning to revisit the idea of that assignment.  I suppose for me personally the past couple of years has been taken up with the issue of losing my dad and what that means in terms of who I am, where I come from and losing the history both his and ours that came with his parenthood.  No longer can I ask him something about when he was young, or when I was young.

Among the abortive attempts was one on music – my friend owns a recording studio and does work with other musicians.  There were possibilities but nothing that strongly spoke about identity or place, even though for Steve it is his life and work.  Time was not on my side and it was difficult to arrange convenient times to make other visits to add images to the bank of ones that I had.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another was on the journey on the M5, a physical journey as well as a metaphorical one as I was born in Birmingham and now live in South Devon, but I travelled up and down the motorway over 30 years as I also lived at stop off points along the way including Bristol and Gloucestershire.  I had been looking at William Eggleston and his road signs as part of the course work, and I was interested to see if anything could come of the road south with the numerous big blue signs, and the keeping right all the way down.  While the initial idea was alright and it was interesting to me, I think it was too personal and did not say much more than I travel a lot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On my many walks with my dogs around the area in which I live, there are numerous benches and nearly all of them have commemorative plaques on them in memory of people who have passed away.  Some of the benches have bunches of flowers or plants attached, some full bouquets, some just a small bunch from a supermarket but the common thing is that there are flowers in a way that would have been put on a grave.  These benches are the new graves and they can become very personal.  There is a tree on the edge of Paignton Green that is regularly covered in flowers, ribbons and messages as it is the way that young people remember a young man who died after a tragic accident.  The more I saw them, and not just around here but when I was in Brighton recently too, the more that it struck me as a way in which we have moved away from having burials and graves, and with those things a place to visit to have a connection with the people who have gone before us.  Why do we need what is effectively a public display of remembrance when it is a very private thing.  The plaques mean nothing to those who don’t know them, they are just names on benches and often of a past that is further away all the time.  1912? Over a hundred years ago, a different lifetime ago.  The flowers are the traditional way of expressing emotions from love to grief, we have flowers for births, deaths and marriages, flowers for birthdays and special occasions and it is always a pleasure and a surprise to be given flowers as they are special.  There is a temporary nature about them as they last a short time, a bit like we do.

I photographed many different versions of flowers from close-ups to larger displays, from fresh to wilting to fried in the summer sun.  I tried taking the same bunch and photographing it on a series of benches.  That did not work out as I thought and did not add anything.  I also tried adding a polaroid style photo to the bench so it was an artificial bunch of flowers to see if that changed how it appeared.  Another version was with ribbon and handwritten notes on the photograph.  None of these really worked effectively, although some of the individual images were pleasing aesthetically.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It occurred to me that perhaps what was missing was the human interface, something to humanise and personalise each plaque on the bench.  Who were these people, what had they done, why was this place so special?  I talked to a friend who had a bench in memory of his mother who passed away about 15 years ago to find out the motivation behind it.  It meant more to him at the time because his children were very young and it was about having somewhere that they could go that his mother had enjoyed as well as a physical thing to see.  However he had never put flowers on it, he did not see a need.  It was more about the place, of having somewhere to go to contemplate.  I felt he was describing an anchoring of ourselves in this place while feeling as though there is a connection to those who are in another world.

From Assignment 4 – A lovely place to sit and contemplate


The problem then was how to combine all these ideas into an image as doing a still -life type of arrangement had not worked, not to mention that I felt extremely silly walking from bench to bench with a bunch of flowers and a camera.  There was a feeling that I was somehow invading this private space and yet it is a public bench in a public place, but the issue of grieving and death has changed to be more in the public eye rather than behind closed doors.  I decided to try combining the different parts in PhotoShop with mixed results to begin with as my skills are very basic.

Assignment 5 Moving It Along

Once I had found the elements that I wanted to have, I then had to think about the photographs of people that would complement the flower/bench.  It was interesting to think of how having a human portrait could affect how the viewer sees the image.  I chose to use some older photographs that were in my mother’s album from when she was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.  It just so happened that the plaques that I chose were predominantly female, maybe our mothers are the most important people in our lives.  I rephotographed some of the old photos and then imported them into PS to add them to the flowers and benches. There were numerous attempts at getting the right combination of flower/bench/person through layers and making some opaque so that they all featured. Some worked, some didn’t work but after a while I could see the pattern emerging of the plaque with the flowers and the photo all merging into one another with a scratchy type of rubbing out of bits of each.


Dave Robbins Photo

I liked this one but it was too cluttered with too much to look at and I found that I was straining to focus on any one particular area.  The roses in the background were made of three copies of the original photo which was interesting but made the overall image too busy.  In addition, the blue background of the polaroid photo stood out too much

George and Betty 2

Similar to the first one, less cluttered but still not clear enough.

mavis rutherford 3

A slightly different approach to the same idea but it still was not right.


Phyllis Butler photo

The iris is beautiful and I like the delicate strings that attach the plaque to the flower.  However, as part of a larger set the overall tone and colour did not fit as the others were predominantly blue and pink.  The old photograph is a look at the 1950s styles and good to see that the sunglasses style is back in fashion.

Violet Ham Diptych
Violet May Ham

As a different trial, I separated the photo from the other elements to see if it worked better as two images that I could then link via the threads.  I showed it to a couple of friends as impartial viewers and they felt that there was a distance by doing this, and I agreed with them.

Contact sheets for choosing styles of flowers:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.