Part 5, Exercise 5.2

Exercise 5.2 Traces of Life without People

For this exercise, I did what I usually do which is go out with my phone in my pocket and see what comes my way that suggests the signs of life without people being in them.  This works for me because I am better at finding things that interest me to capture rather than over thinking it and trying too hard.  I suppose that in the back of my mind I had the notion that there is a lot of evidence of people through the things that they leave behind whether intentionally or not.  While doing photoshoots for the last assignment, I noticed that more and more people are leaving flowers taped to benches or trees to signify that they are remembering a person, whoever they might be, and particularly where there is a view of the sea.  So I have included a couple of those as well as recent ones of the same things as they make up a set of similar images.  There are others that are more random as I snapped them as I walked along, one dog walk through the woods and back along the street, the other while out doing the next exercise on looking, in Torquay.

My approach to this sort of photography would be a casual one, looking out intentionally for things that are similar;  in this case, flowers taped to a bench or tree.  Remembrance.  Then sometimes I like to photograph all the graffiti I see on walls and in doorways, and this is something that I have done all over the world from my hometown to wall art in Hong Kong.  I also like to use my phone as I like the square format, it’s a personal preference and probably harks back to me remembering the photos we took when I was a kid on the instamatic camera.  That’s probably where I got the photography bug as I was always interested in taking snaps on holiday.  So I use the camera on phone, I don’t actively seek these things out but I keep an eye open and I like to use an app called Retrica that uses filters, my current favourite is a natural looking one but the contrast is harder rather than softer.  I like this app because it has more control over the light in it which can be useful when taking photos in very bright light.

Here’s the one I did on graffiti, which is all about not knowing who did it or sometimes what it means to the viewer:

This is the selection that I did on my usual dog walk from my home to the woods and back along the roads:

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Finally, the flowers on benches:

I could go on with this project as this is something that I am interested in, the idea of absence and I touched on it in Assignment 4 with the theme of love, loss and homesickness.  I think that this last set of images of flowers attached to benches is tied up with our sense of who we are and where we come from, and how important it is to retain the connections to people and places once they may have gone.  Some do it through flowers on graves or at favourite places, some do it through celebrating birthdays or anniversaries of those people who have gone.  Personally I think I do it through taking photographs of the places that I go, the things that I see and the memories that they bring up on seeing them again, particularly if it was a good time.  They are my aide memoire and it can be bittersweet when a photo of one of my parents comes up as they are both now gone.  But then a load of photos I took on a holiday to see my sister in Australia last year come up and it is brilliant to go through and see what inspired me about the places we visited.  They are my connection to the place that she lives and so informs something about myself too.

Interesting exercise, and maybe could be a pointer for where I go for the final assignment.  At the moment, there is no inspiration at all so this will be a good jumping off point.



Part 5 Reflection Point 1

Photographer – storyteller or history writer?

I think it is a little of both, a photographer is both a story teller and someone who sets history in the images that they make.  There is a little fact and fiction in every photograph through the choices made by the photographer in what to include and what to leave out of the frame.  These choices are important too, and can decide whether what we are seeing is a truth or a fantasy.  Eggleston appears to pick up on colour in objects, (although I am looking at them online where the screen brightens all the images in a way that may not be right in their place.) and has the implied presence of people.  Wentworth appears to have no people but still the implied recent activity of people.


Personally, Fact or fiction?

I suppose that my approach is more that of fact, of wanting to represent something that I see in the way I see it.  I am, to all intents and purposes, a snapper of things that catch my eye rather than a serious photographer.  But I can see that on certain occasions, the angle of a particular shot could be tending toward the fiction as I consciously crop out something that may spoil the frame, ie a person, a rubbish bin, a car passing through, someone crossing the path and so on.  So a phot of a wide open space may in fact be just one small part of a place that is teeming with people.  An example springs to mind from when I went to Washington DC in the USA and I visited the Lincoln Memorial.  One photo I have is of the monument with no-one around it – I zoomed a little to isolate the monument and waited for that moment when no-one else was nearby.  The next one is the wider angle with lots of people as it was a really busy day.


How could you blend your approach?

Maybe doing what I did at the Lincoln Memorial, wait more for a better moment and move to change perspective.  I am very good at standing still rather than move around.  I enjoy snapping things that I see, such as a lock where someone put two round stickers to look like eyes.  Or graffiti that is colourful or in an unusual place.  Visiting cities and new places means a different look at life so It is important to look beyond the usual things that visitors will capture.  Look further and wider, look behind me, and find another view of a place that I don’t know.  For other subjects, the same approach can work – step back, think, watch, see and then capture.


Where is the departure from wanting/needing to depict reality?

I think that when you stop and start to look around you rather than reacting instinctively then that can be the departure point.  Travelling and visiting other places away from home is an opportunity to try a new way of photographing what I see.  It is my natural instinct to capture what I see.  I find it difficult not to do that.

Part 4 Exercise 4.4 Captions

A difficult exercise to deal with – I am particularly bad at captioning my work so to take newspaper photos and try to put a different meaning on them was a tall order.  I have given it a go, leaving the original captions underneath and they are below.  This was pushing my wordsmithery to my limit but I tried it.  I thought about the flip side of what they were telling me – Colonel Gaddafi for example visiting France on humanitarian grounds when the news reports him as a dictator; McPartlin being nominated for a Nobel award for a cure for alcoholism when he has just gone into rehab; and so on.  Not the most original but the object  here is to think about what you are saying and whether you are describing the image or adding a different dimension to what you are seeing.  Does the picture fit the words or is it saying something else? This is something that is going to be important in the Assignment 4.

Scan 3Scan 6Scan 7Scan 8Scan 9

Part 4 Exercise 4.3 Storyboard

It is a very basic storyboard as it is something that I haven’t really considered before as well as being lacking in the drawing skills department.  The story also is basic but it’s the point of the exercise that is important rather than the content.




The main gist of the story comes across in the sequence so it is pretty obvious what is happening.  I did two sets of captions to see if the way I looked at the narrative changed, and whether I could change what the story was by changing the captions.  The first set was very basic and not really adding anything.  In fact they reinforce the narrative rather than add something different.  The story is: going out for a walk with the dogs; one disappears; then the other; nothing while all parties are looking for each other;  one appears; greeted with joy; other one appears; firmly on the lead to go home.





The second set I tried to be more obscure and suggest a darker meaning.  It could be that the person is in a much darker place and going out with possible bad consequences.  In fact there are a couple of perspectives at work with one possible scenario being that the person goes out and tries to leave the animals behind but then thinks better of it.  The alternative is that the person goes out with the intention of losing themselves but the animals prevent them from harming themselves by looking for them and finding them.


Adding captions was harder than I thought because I think this is one of the weaknesses that I have generally anyway.  Titles can be very literal or banal and I am always impressed by really good titles that can add something to the image.  This is something that I will need to work on, and I found it particularly tricky in Assignment 3 where I had a lot of images and not enough of an idea to caption them so that the titles added something to them.  This exercise, while not being particularly creative, made me think about how artists caption their work and how the caption along with an explanation creates the context in which to view it.  They do guide the viewer looking to understand work.  I was thinking this when looking at David Favrod’s work Hakiri, because my view of the image was enhanced by the explanation although not necessarily by the title.  Sometimes I find Untitled the most frustrating title as I am left wondering about meanings, but perhaps that is why they do it, to allow the viewer to make their own narrative for the image.

As an additional thing, I went out with the dogs and using my phone tried taking some images that would tell a similar story, not easy when it all has to be at arms length! It was interesting looking around and seeing how I could translate the storyboard into actual images. Here are the images for a set that varies a little from the drawn narrative:

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Exercise 4.2 A Day Out

Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example. Make notes in your learning log on some specific examples and reflect upon what impact the text has on how you read the overall message.

Consider: Does the text close the image down (i.e. inform or direct your reading) or open it up (i.e. allow for your personal interpretation to play a part in creating the final meaning)? What do you think was the intention of the creator in each instance?

Tattoo Shop, Torbay Road

Adverts adverts everywhere.  We are bombarded by images and text, advertising everything, exhorting us to buy buy buy, spend spend spend.  Telling us what to do, what to think and what we should be achieving. Watch our health, beware of thieves and absolutely. Do. Not. Park. Here.  Street signs are there with restrictions rather than helpful information.  Newspapers are full of holidays, investment plans, away days and what we should be doing to our homes and gardens.

I wandered around the town of Paignton this afternoon and took time to look around me as I walked through the shopping area and the back streets by the church. A lot of the shops had signs outside to advertise offers or to show what they were selling, pictures and words. “Come in, we are open.”

Convenience stores had photographs of beautiful fruit and veg with smiling staff outside while inside the reality was not as portrayed: the colours of the fruit not so bright, the selection not so lush and the staff not so smiley on a damp Friday afternoon in the Easter holidays.  Meanwhile, there were signs that promised a regeneration of an old cinema and to be part of it while the hoarding was tattered and the building unchanged.

I compared a local newspaper and a national newspaper to see what was going on in there too.  The national paper was a weekend edition with a magazine supplement.  In there, there was an featured home of a designer with a double page spread of photographs of the interior.  The interior was expensive and full of things that most people could not afford but I suppose that that is the point – this is something to aspire to, to give ideas of what things you could have to brighten your home.  I look at these houses and wonder if anyone actually lives in this perfection as my home is untidy and needs cleaning and tidying just to break the surface let alone look like this!

Hang a Hockney 

The local newspaper had a lot of images of local events and then adverts.  This page was about food to eat at easter.  The thing that struck me was that it is very busy with layers of images and text, and a couple of font styles. Bottles of wine are layered over food, but the main picture is of a meal that is centred around wine.  It’s all about eating and drinking.


Feast for Easter
Ships, dogs and Eggs

I was interested in this page.  The photograph at the top of the page is of a beautiful ship in Torbay and that echoes the heritage of the area which has a busy fishing port and had a ship building industry on the River Dart round the corner. Below that is a huge headline about the ban that affects the beaches of the bay that means dogs are not allowed on the beaches during the summer months.  There is always controversy about the early start to the ban as beaches are empty in the evenings and could be put to better use. The headline dominates everything on the page, screaming to be heard on what is really a banal subject. Followed by an advert for cheap eggs.  From dogs needing to run free on the beach to advertising for a product that possibly come from hens kept confined.  Freedom versus confinement, but I do not know.  It’s just a thought.

Police Action

The next one had two stories about the less populist aspect of life with two stories about police attendance at incidents.  It just made me laugh out loud that the face had been obscured with a smiley face – totally at odds with the fact he was smashing down someone’s front door.  It trivialises what they were doing which was raiding houses of suspected drug dealers in Torquay.  Why a smiley face, was he supposed to be enjoying himself?

Lose Weight, Drop a Dress Size, Fade Away

And of course, with summer approaching it is time to get into the gym and slim down and tone up ready for the beach or the wedding or a special event.  It seems that doing it just because it might be a good thing to do on a more long term basis is not on the agenda.  Short term fixes are the name of the game.  I also looked at this from the point of view that if you slim down and get fit then you might end up getting married as a result.

It was an exercise in looking around me and I did that, although I do tend to wander along looking at signs and images, often with a cynical eye.  Adverts are designed to make you buy something, change something or comply with something. Notices and signs and images are everywhere, we use pictures to put the message across then bolster it with words.   My overall impression is that most are directing you to think in a certain way rather than leave it open for interpretation.  This is certainly true of advertising. Newspapers are full of adverts, the magazines of beautiful photographs of houses, food and clothing.  Generally they are designed to sell products or services, depending on the situation of the ad or article.  In music magazines for example, the photographs are there to illustrate the writing, to underline the subject matter. From a personal point of view, I often look closely at the image and disconnect it from the rest of the writing in order to study it, see how they managed to get that look, effect or feeling.  Sometimes they inspire me to try something different in my photography.



Exercise 4.1 Looking at Adverts

I looked at Number 15 in the series of Looking at Adverts, on cosmetics for men and the masculinity of products.  Adverts for men are full of images of men who are depicted as rugged, athletic, groomed.  In particular, it made me think of adverts for perfume and aftershave.  The female versions are of beautiful women in situations that suggest mystery or that they are childlike in a wonderland.  Some depict women running away in dressed in beautiful dresses.  It seems that the female will get her man if she uses this perfume.  The male equivalents are full of suited males, looking important and busy or athletic and outdoors lovers with diving off cliffs or coming out of the waves.  The epitome of this is the advert for Invictus aftershave by Paco Rabanne where the Hero is a god who conquers all including the women.  It is a bit tongue on cheek but still attaches the Hero status to what is basically a cosmetic grooming product.

Dawn Wooley says that “The Clinique for Men adverts seem simple; the commodities are not cosmetic products but tools for men. They facilitate ‘work’ and perform some sort of labour.”  I have noticed this too, from the packaging for men’s products.  Most of it is in strong dark colours such as navy blue, dark green or grey.  The packaging is functional without any other pictures or wording – clean lines on dark packaging.  I agree that it  appears “the product is made to signify a scientific process, an investment and a form of labour”.   Why should this be?  From the female perspective I find that cosmetics for women are now colour coded as being fun, flirty, a bit naughty to indulge yourself but it doesn’t matter because we are worth it. This is the opposite of men – females are allowed to indulge themselves and are expected to do so; for males it is functional rather than desirable.  So maybe they do become tools.

Assignment 2 – Tutor Suggested Research

1  – John Stezaker blog/2014/mar/27/john-stezaker-sydney-biennale

Stezaker collects old photographs in order to deface them in order to create something new and arresting – so says the Guardian in the review of the Sydney Biennial in which he exhibited in 2014.  My tutor suggested looking at this work as it had relevance to what I was trying to achieve with my images in Assignment 2.  I had started looking at montage and collage as a way of exploring the person inside the person that I was photographing, in this instance my older son.  I had gone to the Hockney exhibition in London in 2017 and been really interested in his use of polaroid collages to make a whole image  Also interesting were the montages of landscapes scenes and I had had this in mind when approaching A2.  I still need to rework A2 as it was suggested that there was a distance between sitter and photographer, and I would like to go back to the original idea of the collage/montage to see if I can create what I was looking for at the time.  Stezaker was suggested as a point of reference to look further at collage and the use of different techniques to make images more arresting.

I looked at this article and then at the images that are held online by the Tate Gallery.  Stezaker made us of old movie stills and hand coloured postcards to merge them together to make a new image.  The use of postcards and photographs over the top of portraits obscures the original and often the eyes are hidden behind the front image meaning that the eye of the viewer searches around for other things to focus on.  The front image has some connection with the underlying photograph, through edges lining up or waves suggesting a confrontation.   There is a symmetry and a tension to what he does and it is unnerving to see faces partly replaced by something solid such as a picture of a mountain slope.  Our reaction is to connect with the eyes and when that doesn’t happen then there is a sense of something unresolved.  “What I do is destructive, but also an act of deliberate passivity.”  He does not shoot the images himself but uses them to create something else.

This image is of a woman whose face is obscured by an upside down postcard of a stone house with arches at the front.  It was only when I read the notes attached that I realised that the edge of the house replaced the edge of her face and the arches made it look like a skull.  It shows that I am not examining images closely enough so I looked at the others more closely.

I had picked up on the confrontational nature of this image with the man in a position of strength from the clenched hand on the desk.  His face is obscured and the eye roams the frame looking at the whole.  The breaking wave suggests a rising confrontation between the man and the woman – she has her back to the camera and appears to be clutching something in front of her, possibly as a defensive gesture.  The huge wave crashing over the seafront of the postcard Eastbourne suggests that this is monumental.

This is interesting because as I completed a collage for Assignment 3 in which I used several photos of one place at different times of the day to suggest the passing of time and that this particular activity was an ongoing one at all times of day and night.  I had not seen this particular image before I did the assignment and it was interesting to see how he had used the collage of Big Ben.  From the Tate website:

“Stezaker has commented that The End was:

a response to the current conventions of conceptual art in England which was obsessed with photo sequences and chronology … for several years (between 1973 and 1976 approx) I collected all of the images I could find of the subject both in postcard form and also in films. This was the beginning of my collection of film stills. I discovered that Big Ben was a key image in British Cinema and became a favourite way of ending films – usually with the chimes of midnight. I incorporated one of this collection of cinematic images of Big Ben with the words ‘THE END’ superimposed over it into a later re-presentation of the postcard fragment as a kind of pictorial title label. (Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)”

I was interested by the fact he was looking at the colour of the sky as well as the parts of Big Ben and not all the views are from the same place so the clock appears in various parts of the frame and different sizes.  It makes it more interesting rather than the same viewpoint throughout, something to bear in mind for future works.

He clarified the difference between montage and collage: “Montage is about producing something seamless and legible, whereas collage is about interrupting the seam and making something illegible.”

2  – Annegret Soltau

The other artist suggested is Annegret Soltau who takes self-portraits then creates montages of her own body and face.  These can remake faces in grotesque representation of a face in a similar way to how Picasso would have drawn faces with huge eyes or all features on one side of the face.  In other work, she uses black thread sewn over to create sometimes delicate patterns on her face and body that change the way the viewer looks at it.  The thread images from early works are much more accessible and delicate, and it is as though they have been drawn on rather than stitched but closer inspection reveals an enclosing of her within a frame of thread.  It’s interesting to see a different style of altering photographs.  Her later works when she still uses stiches to make a collage but I personally found them more inaccessible and my eyes/brain constantly tried to ‘correct’ them, to make eyes the right size and the in the right place.  The stitching continues as a way of attaching the new parts to the original image.

This article explains more about her work, but I like the image that heads it. There is a pathos in this image of a woman resting her head on her arm on a table in a way that a weary mother might, or someone who is having trouble, with the arm outstretched and hand loosely clenched.  One way of looking at it is that the threads encircle her like a protective shield; another is that they are chains binding her to the table and her life.

Another interesting approach to the fragmentation of the self.  There are no wild eyes in this one and so I can relate to it better – the big eyes are problematic personally and looking at them make me uneasy.

Soltau is an interesting artist using different techniques to disrupt the normality of a photograph, and explores her identity through her self-portraits that are then amended in some way that can change the meaning and the viewing.


Exercise 3.3 Representation of Marginalised Groups

The situation with refugees is something that appears to swing up and down all the time, and often it depends on things that have happened as to how they are seen.  For example, Syria.  Syrian refugees are still trying to flee their country as the fighting goes on all the time but it only appears in the news when a major explosion or several children are killed or something exceptional happens.  Here are my notes while I considered this issue.


Exercise 3.1 Mirrors and Windows

Select around ten pictures from your archive and put them into either “Mirror” or “Window”. Explain why you chose the category.

  1.  Window

1.  Window

Fire Crews from Dartmoor Area lining up with the service vehicles.  I did these photos as a favour for my friend who wanted to use this as a morale boosting exercise, to get the crews all together and take pride in their station and vehicles. There was also a photographer from the local newspaper there who marshalled the men into a good position.  Most of them are retained fire fighters in that they are not full time and respond to emergencies when on call on rotation.  The local fire-stations are not manned full time, something I learned while touring round with the Lead Fire Officer.  It seemed quite strange to go into an empty station but there were all the uniforms and helmets hung up ready and waiting for the next shout. Interesting to see behind the scenes.

2. Mirror and Window

2. Mirror

Steve Cradock recording acoustic guitar parts for PP Arnold’s album. I know him so it’s a mirror but also a window on the world of music and recording that I am not directly involved in.  Recording has changed a lot in the last ten years or so, from requiring a big studio and lots of equipment to a MacBook and ProTools plus some microphones.  I have followed Steve over the past six years while he records and plays his music, going on tour with the band and following his career.  This is something I would love to do full time.

3.  Mirror

3. Mirror

Looking to the dam from the bridge on the Okehampton walkway. I am an outdoors person and prefer being out in the country than the city.  I am happiest out in the fresh air and walking, taking in the scenery and the huge vista.

4.  Mirror

4. Mirror

My home town of Paignton. The pier changes depending on the lighting conditions and I have so many different images of it in different weather and light.  This is a late afternoon one, looking towards Torquay and is the pink/blue perfection on a late spring sky, and the golden reflections on the white structure light the darker areas.  It is so much part of Torbay as it is the only one that we have, and is part of the heritage of the seaside culture.  This is the opposite of Number 5 below where I am away from what I know.

5.  Window

6. Window

The amusement park in Vienna, Austria.  They have kept the 1930s carousel and the 1960s big wheel with the wooden cars along with other old fashioned rides.  This is not a modern park with high tech rides.  It seems reminiscent of a previous time when life was perhaps simpler and we were engaged with less speed and flash.  It also seemed to be very European rather than a British place.  Visiting another city in another country always is a window on other cultures and customs, and I think that each time I go away I bring back a little something from that place.  I am lucky to travel quite a bit and it shapes my attitudes and outlook by getting out of my comfort zone and having to connect with a different way of life.

6.  Window

11. Window

London, Millennium Bridge.  I am from Devon and visiting London tends to come as a bit of a culture shock these days as it is so much bigger and busier.  Wearing a kimono as a fashion item struck me as brave and I was a little envious that I have never had the style to pull that off.

7. Mirror

5. Mirror

This is very definitely a mirror as this is an image that I made as part of the trials for my final assignment for Context and Narrative.  My theme was on family and the ties that bind us together, and I was trying several different ways of symbolising this using long material ties like those on a maypole.  It could also be seen as a window on my life at the time as I was dealing with an ailing father plus supporting my boys who were changing jobs and life choices.  It is much more the mirror though in this case.

8. Window

14. Mirror

This is Lourdes in France where people come from all over the world to visit the spring where Bernadette apparently saw the Virgin Mary in the 1850s and the basilica where they hold regular ceremonies to bless the sick.  I am not religious at all so to visit this place was an eyeopener.  It gave a glimpse of a whole world that I know exists but am not part of and find it difficult to understand.  I was surprised by the old fashioned carriages and the uniforms of the nuns/nurses as well as by how busy it was even in September.  As a window, this place introduces faith with all the traditional things associated with Catholicism – nuns, priests in long black clothing, gilded crowns on the huge building that stands above everything else and the hundreds of people hoping to find a cure or be blessed.

9. Window and Mirror

8.  Window

This is another one where it could be both mirror and window.  I know Steve and this is his band.  They wanted some promo photos so asked me if I would help them out.  It was a window for me to see them as a band and how they interacted with each other in a casual situation rather than recording or on stage.  They were very keen to wear the right clothes and not smile and be quite static.  The life of a band always seems quite glamorous, full of adventure and travel but in fact they are just four guys who get together every so often to play music.

10. Window (I think)

10. Window

Mushrooms on sale in a street market in Vienna.  It offers a lot of delicious possibilities, although it’s a window because I am a rubbish cook and haven’t seen half of these varieties before, they could be poisonous for all I know!  I like street markets as there are things that you don’t normally see in supermarkets, and all displayed in a way that you want to buy them.  There was also a fishmonger nearby with a beautiful display of fresh fish and shellfish.  Window, yes but possibly mirror because I love food and all the things that this suggests, if only I could find someone to cook it for me.

Going through all my photos trying to pick some out was an interesting exercise as I don’t often trawl through all of them together.  I loved looking at all the images I have taken and the story it told me of what I have been doing over the past twelve months or so, and thinking about what it says about the things that I like to photograph.  Travel has been a big part of my year whether it is fairly local in the UK, from frequent visits to London to a day trip to Bristol, or more far flung as I made my first trip to the other side of the world to visit my sister in Australia.  Everything you see and do informs your outlook on life and each time I go somewhere different I snap things that catch my eye, that can remind me where I have been and open a door on a different place, time, culture.  This exercise has been better than I anticipated and I am glad that I finally got around to doing it as I had lost faith in the course and myself.  I now feel more positive about going forward with the rest of it and cracking on with the assignment.