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 4 – Tutor Feedback and Reflection


The feedback for Assignment 4 was very encouraging and has given me plenty to think about as I approach the final part of Identity and Place.  The theme of the assignment was more interesting than previous ones as, to a certain extent, it was back on familiar territory from previous modules.  I have always responded positively to words and pictures, and am often inspired by music with songs and lyrics.  What was particularly encouraging was the he reacted positively to the way that I attempted to break out of the usual pattern of my assignments, and try something a little different.  He said that I “produced an assignment that feels like you have taken more ownership” and “pushed your conceptual input, which is a big step”.  For me, breaking away from straight up photographs is something that I have wanted to do but not been brave enough to have a go for an assignment. Here was my chance, and it was a good chance. I felt that I had actually pushed past something in me that had been holding back.  I did enjoy the assignment in the end, and it was a strong idea that stuck early on but the enhancement into something different is what I found satisfying and the fact that my tutor was positive about it too meant a lot to me.

His recommendations are very valid. He has suggested that I make more images to present, and incorporate the threads more into teach one. “This would also allow you to push the idea of the thread further, entwining it deeper into your photographs as you have with, The Sea 4. I really like the way that you have used the thread to work with the image, wrapping around the handrail, twisted wood on the beach and the woman. I feel that I would like to see more of this process, working with your other photographs, weaving in and out of the objects/seascapes, providing a link between each location and story. “  I think that this is something that I will pursue once I have finished as I would like to have a break from the intensity of this assignment to give me a bit of distance, and get on with the final one before returning to it later.  There is more work to be done on all of them, but distance in time works well for me and I can achieve some clarity.

Interestingly, not long after I had submitted my work, the Magnum newsletter came up and on it was an article on a photographer who used the Shipping Forecast to inspire his work. Mark Power :

It tells how he was inspired over the course of four years to travel to each of the areas on the forecast to make images that reflect the sense of being a ‘landlubber’ rather than the sea going people.  The images are all black and white and have wide ranging themes, each is captioned by the shipping forecast for that area on that day. It is an interesting idea and project, and while he captures mainly people my feeling is that I would have approached the whole thing from the point of view of places. That is what makes us all different I suppose.

Overall, it feels as though I have taken a step forward to a different place of thinking about photography and while I was apprehensive in submitting the work that I had done, it is good to know that I am on the right track away from the norm for me.  I am planning to incorporate the changes that Chris Coekin has suggested and I look forward to doing that in due course.

Tutor Suggested Research:

1 Hiroshi Sugimoto

“Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.”  Seascapes. 

This website has several of his work series, and what I found fascinating is the way that they are all very alike, in the way that they are presented.  He present three images from each series, black and white image, side by side and they are all broadly the same ie Seascapes  is a series of three black and white image where the sea takes up half of the frame and the sky the other half.  Being in black and white there are varying shades of grey in there and how bright they are: one is very bright, one is very dark and one is almost blurred.  Yet they all connect as a group. – I thought that it looked like the U2 cover No Line On The Horizon, and wondered if it had been done by him, or perhaps Inspired by him? Yes! It is a Sugimoto photograph that they used on the cover.  Although it cause controversy when another artist claimed that they ad taken their idea, and while Sugimoto had given them usage of the photograph for free and endorsed the band, U2 had just paid for it which devalues the original.

The other one that struck me was on architecture, even more relevant now that I am doing Part 5 and there is a section on buildings and architecture.  He deliberately blurs the buildings to see is they stand the test that it is possible to identify them even if they are just blurred outlines.  the Eiffel tower blurred, ‘erosion-testing’ the limit to which it can be blurred and still be recognisable.  He questions how many of our building today will be as identifiable in the future?

I thought his work was really interesting in its simplicity and straightforwardness.  There was no angle to it and while it is simple, there is a strong theme that ties them all together.  It is this that the exercises in Part 5 of I&P are aiming to address, to have uniformity in the work that is about the work rather than the person doing the work.

2. Julie Cockburn

She machine sews over the top of found photographs.  Again, this links back to another artist he suggested John Stezaker who used montage using old photographs and vintage postcards to subvert the meaning.  She can change the meaning by sewing intricate patterns over the faces of the sitters, sometimes obscuring them completely. I found it interesting, but preferred the ones that looked more like scribbles and less measured.  This image: reminded me of another album cover, this time Disclosure who’s album Settle and subsequent photos and covers feature a drawn image over the top of photographs of the band members and other animals.  Likened this to Disclosure:*/*/Settle-br-CD-Album/2J6J0000000.  I was interested to see that this idea had been fully explained by the design company but again there were claims of plagiarism by another artist at them using his idea.  Maybe nothing is unique anymore.

3. Thomas Joshua-Cooper

I looked at his work but was not as engaged with this as the other two artists suggested.  I found the images too pale and there was nothing that caught my attention when looking at them, apart from one.

Twilight – Rapids on the River Ness, The Weir, Dochgarroch, Inverness, Inverness-shire, Scotland, 2002-2014.

This was more abstract as it was a reflection of light on water but took more looking at it to fully appreciate the patterns and the tones in the image.  As part of a series, it worked alright but I was not engaged with the whole series and moved on quite quickly.

Interesting as all this stemmed from me sewing three photographs together and my tutor suggested looking at these as alternative viewpoints on the sea and the practice of sewing photographs.


Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback and Reflection

Assignment 3 Feedback from Tutor


Overall I was pleased with the feedback and agreed with the main point that he made which was that the editing of the final set of images was too diverse and needed rethinking.  “It feels like there are various strategies being used within your project.”  There were definitely too many images and I can see now, with time, that the running order is not as strong and I have made some inconsistent choices in the ones that I put in.   I intend to revisit it and revise some of my choices, and possibly reshoot some to bolster the main theme.

He also suggested that I include contact sheets, something that had been my intention but was simply an oversight.

He picked up on the decision to do a grid of eight images, four of Kelley practising her posing and four of her at the competition in similar positions.

You have moved away from the reportage style with this sequence, it’s actually a separate visual strategy and `I feel this sequence would stand alone.  There is a uniformity and consistency to the framing and presentation, which I find interesting; the grid could work as large images within an exhibition environment. It would be good if you had reflected on this, why did you make the decision to present it as a grid?

I did not set out with the intention of presenting it like this, it came about once I had done the shoot and was editing the sequence of photographs.  Part of the competition is the compulsory section where the contestants must present themselves to the judges in set style so front, one side, back, other side.  Each one is prompted by the phrase ‘quarter turn to the right’ at which they turn then set up the pose until to move again.  It involves every muscle being tensed and held, and sometimes their breath.  The idea is that this shows off their definition to the best advantage.  At practise, obviously I did not know this but stood behind her while she went through it several times.  At the competition, all tanned and made up, she went through it all again and it came together.  When I came to deciding how best to present this, it made sense to put them in a row so there was a consistency in the movement from one move to another.  And then I saw it in the show images so did another set that corresponded to the pale set.  I cropped each photograph so that they were the same size and shape and put them in order.  The only difference was that there was not one of her relaxed at the show, hence the front image of her with her hands up but I think that added another dimension to the set as it rooted her in show mode not just practise where she didn’t smile at all.  The intention was to compare and contrast her poses, to show that practising is important as this can decide her placings on the day.

The final set of images was assembled in Photoshop to get the sizing of the images right and to be able to place them in an ordered manner.  I chose a dark background to make them stand out more because the top set are of her with very pale skin, the lower of her with much darker skin.  It made sense to have them in one image rather than as eight separate images, as the overall total would have been huge. I must admit that I particularly likes this as an image and the ordered nature of it with the comparisons.  Like a before and after image.

On the image “Definition”, a shot of just Kelley’s arm against a black background:

The definition shot of the arm and hand again has a different feel, it’s more ambiguous and poetical. The image works due to the minimal composition on the black background, it’s very graphic. This visual approach could be a methodology on its own, the project could consist of a series of images like this, and this would identify a consistent visual language.”

This came about after I had looked at the idea of combining images of Kelley with those of vegetables, to try to suggest a link between physique and the diet that it takes to create and maintain it.  I cropped a competition image to single out her arm with the lovely shot of the hand open and a silvery bracelet on her wrist, feminising the masculine muscle of her arms.  In the event, merging her with vegetables didn’t turn out as I thought even though it produced some interesting results, but they just didn’t work.  After Chris suggested looking at this as a separate series, I went through the competition images and cropped them to produce a set of her arms, legs and back.  The quality isn’t brilliant, mainly due to shooting from a distance and then cropping the photos to produce the desired result so I am taking a small part of a larger picture.  However, choosing a part of her body to focus on has produced an interesting set of pictures that are, as Chris Coekin says, poetical.  It would be a very interesting experiment to get her in a studio and repeat this but doing it properly so that the images are better quality to really show the definition in her physique.

Overall I can see there is something to work on as the underlying idea is solid.  Editing has always been a weakness that I need to address, and it has been evident in all my assignments so far.  I have too many images and not enough clarity.  I will be looking to make that approach stronger and more streamlined.




Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback and Response


I received the feedback on Assignment 2 from my tutor.  I was encouraged that I had fulfilled the brief but he made the comment that it lacked something, something with which I agree.

“I think the end series falls short of a really interesting set of images that would engage an objective audience but I have a feeling you are aware of this.”

I found this assignment very frustrating because I could not translate what I had in my mind into images on a page.  Eventually I settled for something that I felt was not what I wanted to submit but I had spent so much time chasing it, I needed to submit something and move on.  The end result was competent but not what I had wanted to achieve.  In fact, it was probably what I had achieved with the Fire Officer photos but with a slightly different emphasis.

He suggested looking at Celia’s Children Albert + George Clark, Los Angeles April 7th 1982 composite polaroid, 35 x 23 1/4 in by David Hockney as a comparison to see how the connection could be made between a photographer and the subjects.  I can see that the children are sitting awkwardly but there is a connection, and although they appear to be unwilling it is perhaps because of their age.  With Barney, there was a sense that he was humouring me and I found it difficult to draw out of him exactly what it was I wanted to portray.  I think that this is what my tutor is alluding to, that there is a distance between me as the photographer and Barney as a sitter.  Hockney was not the boys’ parent but still managed to capture something of their youth with a fondness.  Maybe that is where I failed in that Barney is my older son and that is the barrier to effectively direct him.

Portrait photography has never been  my strong point, maybe photography is not my strong point, and this assignment confirmed how difficult it is to produce works that have a connection.  One of the reasons that I choose to do academic study in photography is to stretch myself and try to get past the snapshot to something more interesting.  In this assignment I had seen a glimpse of what I was trying to do while essentially playing around with an idea, and while I pursued this it actually got further away from me leaving me feeling frustrated, annoyed and doubting that I could do anything of any value.  This is what my tutor picked up on but he has suggested that I might revisit the original idea again in order to experiment more to see what happens.  I am aware of time constraints in that I don’t want to take the full two years but I would like to do exactly that to see if I can find what I was looking for, even bossing Barney around a bit more.  I think that by not directing him and allowing him to do his own thing I actually moved away from creating something meaningful.  Obviously I need to plan better and have a clearer idea of HOW I am going to achieve my goal rather then letting it happen around me.  Maybe that is what my tutor is saying!


Assignment 1 – Tutor Feedback & Reflection

My first feedback was via telephone conversation with my tutor Chris Coekin. The notes are attached:

Assignment 1 Tutor Feedback

I agreed with him that the set of portraits of strangers was not inspiring although technically alright.  This is an area outside of my experience and as an introvert, I found it challenging to start conversations that would lead to a photo.   The positive thing to take from this assignment is that i did it and got the five portraits that were mainly in focus and alright.  Ok, they weren’t anything more than pedestrian shots but I got them. The only way now is forward.