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.



Assignment 3 Research

It was not easy to find photographers who have done studies of bodybuilding or even name any well know bodybuilders so I began by looking for images of Arnold Schwarzenegger who I remembered was famous in the late 1970s and 1980s.  I was surprised to see that Elliot Erwitt had done a few photographs of him in 1976 and 1977, one of which was a pose of him doing the classic Mr Universe at a performance:

USA. New York City. February 25, 1976. Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER during the performance series, “Articulate Muscle: The Male Body in Art” at the Whitney Museum.

This image is of Schwarzenegger in the spotlight surrounded by the shadowed audience, and he is flexing muscles but his face cannot be seen.  It is more a performance than a competition but was interesting to see how Erwitt had captured him while posing.  Erwitt also shot Schwarzenegger in more relaxed poses in the same series.

Another Magnum photographer who did a series on Schwarzenegger is Thomas Hoepker. He did a series on Schwarzenegger in 1977 when the film “Pumping Iron” was released.  There were images of Schwarzenegger in the gym while others looked on as well as at the beach in a more relaxed situation.  The black and white images of him flexing his biceps have a kind of beauty to it when seen framed by a simple black background.

USA. Los Angeles. 1977. Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER flexing his biceps.

I like to think that this is something that I had in mind when I was trying out the merges of Kelley with various vegetables.  There is a simplicity that makes the pose and person interesting.

Searches for ‘female bodybuilders’ brought up the extreme end of the sport with hypermuscular women that, to me, had gone beyond a natural point.  I read a couple of articles that dealt with the challenge to the perceptions of female bodybuilders and how there is a point at which it severely challenges the general view of femininity as it also challenges the patriarchal view and what is ‘male’.  Muscles are synonymous with strength and while some strength is to be encouraged, once the female body is very muscled

“Emerging in popular culture media is a new fit body ideal that have suggested as a possible shift in the conception of femininity and attractiveness (George 323). The current ideal physique for women celebrates muscle in moderation but embodying too much muscle is still heavily “contested ideological terrain” (Messner 198). Rather than celebrating the gains that female bodybuilders have achieved in the male-dominated arena of sports, women continue to apologize through displaying emphasized and often hypersexualized femininity. “

From: Marginalized Muscle: Transgression and the Female Bodybuilder (Article)
Victoria Felkar.  Felkar writes as a hypermuscular bodybuilder.








Assignment 3 – Looking through the Window

Assignment 3 – Mirror or Window

Mirror or window, the choice was not easy and eventually I ended up overlapping the two concepts to merge them.  The starting point suggested itself as I had been thinking about doing it on the gym that I go to regularly.  In addition, I was aware that my Pilates teacher Kelley was preparing to defend her title in the British National Bodybuilding Federation competition. There are several categories and she competed in the Master Over 40 Figure, coming 2nd in the UK heats then overall champion at the World Final in 2016.  It was a matter of ‘now or never’ as the competition heats were in September and the assignment began.  She actually competed in two different federations, the BNBF and the Natural Bodybuilding Federation, and I attended both shows, with some trepidation as I had never watched anything like this before.

Bodybuilding is something that I was aware of but knew nothing about, and I knew Kelley only through seeing her at the gym and at the Pilates class.  She was very keen to help me and spent time talking to me about food, exercise, approach to competitions, gym work and work.  These conversations carried on over the course of a couple of months while we discussed her views, her outfit, what she had to do and eventually about what it meant to her. This is natural bodybuilding which means no drugs or supplements to enhance performance and is done through diet and exercise alone. It is something that takes over her life and is her life.  I must also point out that she is not the extreme end of bodybuilding – the Physique is the more acceptable end of body building. It struck me that this is that it is a very self-centred thing to do as a huge amount of discipline is involved.  Kelley is hugely motivated and has a rigid schedule of diet and exercise that does not waver, along with teaching her classes.  The diet is very restricted and carefully controlled in terms of the ratios of proteins, fats and carbohydrates while drinking huge quantities of water.

The culmination of a year of diet and exercise is the show, and this is where I struggled with my reaction to it.  There are several categories for ages and type of figure as well as male and female.  It is the showing of the physical form that brought up mixed feelings about what they were doing.  Firstly, the males are about strength and muscularity, and the poses are designed to show this.  They are bare footed and wear briefs, and all are wearing fake tan to a deep brown colour to show the definition of muscle structure.  The females by comparison are in sparkling bikinis and wear high heeled shoes, jewellery and lots of make-up.  They reminded me of the beauty pageants for very young girls in the USA.  The poses are much more feminine and the hands are not to be clenched so to show off arms and upper body they have the hands with fingers pointing upwards.  Males clench their hands.  When requested to do a pose of their choice, males cluster round in a show of strength and semi aggression while females are posed prettily.  This struck me as being a divisive and sexist approach, the females are judged on feminine traits while the males are about power and strength.  It is possible that female bodybuilding challenges gender distinction because ‘physical strength and muscles is equated with maleness and masculinity’ (B. Christine Shea, 2001) but the show appears to be the opposite because there is a distinction in how male and female competitors present themselves.  Females are even judged on how they enter the stage. I was very uncomfortable throughout, from the strange rigid poses to the deep fake tan even on black skins, to the way that the male competitors’ muscle structures were so clearly visible like the diagrams from Biology lessons.  I enjoy weight training but this seemed extreme and bizarre.

The images I took are trying to give a balanced view of her life from being at the gym at all hours and even training though pain, to the pleasure that she has from teaching her Pilates classes.  Her diet is paramount and she carefully controls portions and what she eats to the point that she had some meals prepared for her requirements by a local company who specialise in tailor made plans for people wanting to control their intake.  One conversation about food and cravings led to talking about chocolate and sweet things.  I suggested that one lump might satisfy the craving and she said she could never do that because diet is a balancing act.  If she ate one lump and her weight changed or she didn’t feel that she was defined enough, it would affect her mind-set and she would blame the chocolate then berate herself for weakness.  So, the one lump is on a pedestal above all the good things that are usual snacks.  Her outfit is special to her, the heels and her personalised bikini covered in hand-sewn sparkles, that comes in a special box for transporting.  I did one shoot of her in the studio while she practised her set moves wearing the bikini, something that she was a little reticent about as she doesn’t like exposing herself until show day.  The photographs from the show have been chosen to illustrate the competition within her own group and then contrast with how the men present themselves.  The women are in heels and it changes the dynamics, as well as the open hands versus the clenched fists.

I started experimenting with merges in Photoshop while thinking about the diet and exercise routines, merging vegetables with images of Kelley’s body.  My thinking was that diet is of supreme importance and because she is a natural bodybuilder, it is part of her.  Overlaying vegetables with her body I was looking at the texture and lay of the vegetable to reflect the definition in her muscles.  They were interesting to do but I was also disappointed with the results as they seemed a little trite and banal.  Only one really worked enough to include in the final selection.  The one that I liked the most was the multi-coloured one where I experimented with changing it to negative so it came out in bright blues and purples. That was much more interesting but I felt that it did not go with the overall look of the narrative.

Does the assignment work as a narrative about a subject I was unfamiliar with at the beginning? I think it goes some way to explaining what it means to Kelley to be a natural bodybuilder.  She is in effect an athlete and trains heavier than the average gym goer, myself included.  There is a thread of following the same person through her training, her food and her work to the moment when she has to present herself in sparkling bikini and heels to the judges and all onlookers.  There is a comparison between Kelley practising in her outfit in her studio and then on stage so there is progression.  Overall I feel there is more that could be done to round it out but given the time available, I have covered the main points.  This is a wide subject and very personal and so more of her home life as well as interaction with other competitors would have added depth to the subject.  At the time of shooting the competition, I had only just started on the journey and did not have the confidence to approach people outside.  I think it would be different now having spent more time with Kelley and I would be able to use her to link with others, and that would open the assignment out much more.  This is an individual sport but they can support one another through online contact.  Overall it works, and I am relatively pleased with the result seeing that it took me so long to get to grips with the idea.




A view of nude model by an MA student at Falmouth University:

Suggested by Helen Sear as comparison:


General reading about bodybuilding:

  • Shea, B. Christine. “The Paradox of Pumping Iron: Female bodybuilding as resistance and compliance.” Women and Language, vol. 24, no. 2, 2001, p. 42+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 2 2018.
  • Suffolk, Mark T. “Professional female bodybuilding: self-determination theory approach.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 2015, p. 71+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 2 Feb. 2018.
  • Felkar, V. “Marginalized Muscle: Transgression and the Female Bodybuilder”Article. Ignite, vol.4, no.1, p.40-49. Academic Accessed 2 Feb 2018.


Assignment 3 – Analysis of Outcome

  1. Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

I have used a variety of cameras to complete this assignment, from my mobile phone to a DSLR.  The phone photos of the outside of the gym allow an everyday feel to it and everyone carried phones with them in the gym, to record times, speeds and workouts.  I used the DSLR at the second competition and the lighting was kinder than I am used to indoors and so they are clearer than normal.  Lighting continues to be problematic as I suffer from camera shake and in low levels of lighting I have to up the ISO in order to get a decent shutter speed.  Most of the times that I was shooting this, I used available light – flash is not appropriate in competition time – except for the still life set ups when I used small continuous lights to light them.  There is a combination of still life setups to demonstrate parts of the process that are important and define Kelley’s ambition.  There are no posed portraits, they were done as happening to capture the feeling of her getting on with the job in hand and shutting out everything else.  In the gym, teaching her class and posing on stage are all things that she does on her own and has to concentrate, be at the top of her game and give it her all.

  1. Quality of Outcome

I took what I knew about – the gym – and extended it to an activity that I knew nothing about beyond my own perceptions of bodybuilding.  I got to know Kelley and was in conversation about her goal to retain her title while also getting to understand what is involved in her daily life in order to do this.  There is a background to the competition show that illustrates a commitment to lots of exercise, good food intake while working in the fitness industry.  The story could have benefitted from fleshing out into more personal territory but time did not allow that level of knowledge.  In addition, it was difficult to illustrate my reaction to the competition show and how uncomfortable it made me feel. Overall though I think it fits the brief.

  1. Demonstration of Creativity

I started looking at montages in Assignment 2 and was quite keen to bring this in.  The two montages of the exterior of the gym help to show that this is not just a daytime activity, it is dark and light, rain or shine, early morning and late nights.  There were some images created in Photoshop that were interesting but did not fit the overall look and feel of the narrative. However, I kept in one that I had done with Kelley and the vegetables, to show that she is inseparable from her diet. I enjoyed doing the still life food shots and this is something I may well pursue on a personal level.  These were more creative than the portraiture as the lighting could be more carefully controlled as well as having time to move around still subjects.  The images of the studio and gym fit the narrative, and helps to show that Kelley works to help other people as well as concentrating on her own exercise.  She suffers from back pain and sometimes this shows as she rests.  The headphones are her way of blocking out the world to concentrate and makes it a very solitary activity.  It is gym etiquette that if a person is wearing headphones, they are not to be engaged in conversation.

  1. Context

The assignment is a window into the world of a female bodybuilder who competes in regular competitions.  Kelley has always trained in a gym, has been a gym instructor running exercise classes and now teaches Pilates full time.  She took up natural bodybuilding at the age of 42 and worked her way up to win the title in 2016 for her class, the Masters Over 40.  Her time is structured to train for the show each year, and her diet and routines are strictly controlled.  The show is her chance, and all the bodybuilders, to show off their hard work.  She is actually very shy about being seen in her bikini when not competing, although she allowed me to photograph her wearing it while practising her compulsory poses in the run up to competition.

I train regularly in the same gym but I did not know her very well before I approached her and asked to follow her while she prepared for the competition in September and October 2017.  My perception of bodybuilding was of huge muscled men and women, and talking to Kelley about her reasons for doing it and the different classes of physique was fascinating.  It did not stop my reaction to it at show time as one of discomfort as there were undercurrents of inequality and sexism that did not sit easily.  I would have liked more time to dig deeper and speak to other competitors but that may be something that I complete in time.

  1. Overall

As a window on an unknown activity, I hope that I have managed to give an idea of what goes into the training for a major competition for a female bodybuilder.  There is a variety of images that follow her preparation and occasionally a view of behind, such as the one in the gym where she is covering her face. Technically some of the images are not pin sharp but I used a variety of cameras to gain the images that I needed as well as lighting conditions.  I am aware of this and I am working on it.  It would have benefitted from more in depth work if time had allowed it.  While it was challenging to capture the feel of what happens on the road to competition, it was interesting to have another view of the gym and my place in it.  It can be a solitary activity and possible to be in a crowd on your own, but it is also something that brings people together. I do not want to do body building but I understand the pull of having a challenge to work towards, even if it appears to be one that is outside the realms of ‘normal’.

Assignment 3 Images

Winners 2000
Winners 2000
2 Day and Night
Day and Night


3 Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking


Her Own Soundtrack




Keep Going


Good Food
Food Fit


Meals for the Day


The good and the bad
The Good and the Bad


Pilates Teacher
Pilates Teacher


Correct Posture
Correct Posture




Show Shoes
Show Shoes
Posing Practice
Posing Practice


Show Bikini
Show Bikini




A Quarter Turn
Quarter Turn to the Right


Carrying Case
Carrying Case


19 Wish Me Luck
Wish Me Luck


Practice and Showtime
Practice versus Showtime


Clenched Fists
Clenched Fists


Loose Fingers
Open Fingers


23 Favourite Pose
Favourite Pose


Open Hands


25 First Place
First Place
26 Winner Over 40s
Winner Over 40s

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.


Before I get to posting Assignment 3

It has been a long haul for this assignment as I have suffered from lack of motivation and any desire to complete the task in hand.  I admit that I have not been clear enough in deciding which aspect to cover, mirror or window, and actually I feel that I am not any nearer as I complete the shooting for the assignment at this stage.  I had to start it early and started shooting a series of images in late September after my initial thoughts.  It was always going to be gym based because that is what I do with a lot of my time, but there was an opportunity to see a different side to one aspect of training in the gym.  I go to a Pilates class regularly and the instructor competes in bodybuilding competitions, and in 2017 was the current holder of the trophy for her class for the British National Bodybuilding Federation, Masters Physique category.  At the qualifier for the finals, she came in 3rd place.  She also competed for the Natural Physique Association, winning the Masters Physique for the qualifying round and went on to come third in the national championship.  I went to watch both shows and took cameras with me as I was aware that this was a once a year opportunity and if I decided to go forward with this then I needed action shots on stage.  I went to the first show on my own and it was a massive culture shock to me.  It was loud, noisy and bright.  The audience were encouraged to support their family or friends competing by clapping, whistling, shouting out and cheering.  Then there are the tans and the outfits.  The deep fake tan varied between competitors from deep and even to patchy and streaky, while one man had done his whole body except for his face.  His pale skin and blond hair looked odd on top of a deeply tanned body.  Even competitors with black skins put on fake tan to enhance the definition in the muscles.  The female competitors reminded me of the child beauty pageants that you see in America, with the tan, the nails, the hair and the sparkle.  The men were all about show of strength so that when it came to them using extra time to have a ‘pose down’, there was loud music and they all clustered at the front of the stage by the judges in a competitive manner, jostling for the best position.  Meanwhile, the same request of the females meant that they shuffled awkwardly a little then struck more feminine poses and smiled brightly.  An interesting observation.

I was surprised by my reaction to the show.  There are two parts to each competition: the compulsory posing section where they go through a range of poses, seen from all sides so that the muscles definition can be seen clearly.  There can be several rounds of this as they move competitors around in order for the judges to see all of them.  The second section is the routine.  It depends on the federation as to what they do, and how they judge it.  There is a definite difference for male and female competitors.  At the BNBF, the females had to do a T-walk: enter the stage in the middle at the back, walk forward then go left and back, right and back to the middle, all set to music.  In high heels. Part of the judging is on how elegantly they complete this walk and is in addition to the posing at each stop.  Males do a routine of their choice of poses to music, and can come on and go off stage in any manner.  It seemed rather sexist to insist on the females wearing high heels and judging them on elegance.  It reinforced the stereotypical response of female bodybuilders having to be feminine as well as well defined.  One of the rules can be that women are required to be muscular, lean and hard yet feminine, attractive and ‘soft’.  Therefore they have to be both ‘athlete’ and ‘woman’, whereas it appears that males only have to be athletes.  This was stated by B.Christine Shea in the paper The Paradox of Pumping Iron: Female Bodybuilding as Resistance and Compliance.  The constant display of muscles became overwhelming at times, and the jockeying for position among the male competitors on ‘pose down’ more amusing as they pulled faces along with poses.  The females in comparison showed each other respect and space but that in itself made me think that they were taking it all very seriously, perhaps a little too seriously.  I don’t really know how it would be possible to level the field and make male and female competitions more universal.

I had several conversations with Kelley about her motivations for doing bodybuilding which is an extension of the kind of gym programme that I follow myself, albeit to an extreme extent.   She is very driven to succeed and her life focusses on the outcome which is placing in the top three of the heats and then going on to compete in the final with a view to winning.  The diet seems to be the overriding factor in her training as she carefully control her intake to maximise the good food to fuel her exercise.  She trains with heavy weights and does a lot of cardiovascular work such as steady state workout on a treadmill for 30 minutes or more.  Diet is paramount and if she succumbs to a craving for something not on her plan, that can affect her attitude to how well she is doing.  While she is very proud of her achievements, there is also a reluctance to relax and switch off after the show in case she loses her physique.  It appears to be a double edged sword.  I admit that I was fascinated by what makes people do this sort of thing and imagined that it requires a lot of confidence to get up on stage wearing very little.  My perception was of very muscled women to the point that they are more like men, and that is where I think I followed a ‘safe’ path in choosing to focus on Kelley who competes in a Physique class rather than heavyweight classes.  At both shows that I attended, there were a lot of male competitors and after a while I became detached from the people that they could be and saw only the time spent training in the gym, eating different diets to their families and practising aggressive poses.  This is not something that will make them money, it is something that they do outside of work and families.  But then again, is it any different to other pastimes that require a lot of time and energy to do it to competitive levels?  It does seem an extreme way to control your body.

I am glad to be moving on now and away from this as I have been thinking about it and living with it for months now.  I am not going down the route of bodybuilding as I like my food too much and I don’t like routine so it really isn’t for me, but I have admiration for those who do commit time and effort to do it and for getting up on a stage and showing off the months of hard work.  No different to an Olympic athlete or professional cyclist say, although without the same recognition.


Helen Sears at the OCA Southwest Group Meeting 10.2.18

As published in the SW Group newsletter.

Helen was introduced by Patricia Howe who gave a bio of Helen’s background of study and work, starting at Reading University and the Slade School, UCL. Helen then gave an informative and interesting talk about her work, starting with the installation “Between Us” at the Chapter Arts Centre in London in 1985. Much of her early practice was a combination of 3D and 2D work, using transparencies and slide projectors along with other solid objects. She spent some time making images using dioramas of animals and birds from a museum that were overlaid with vivid colours to disrupt the viewers approach. Colour has been very important to her, influenced by her surgeon father who kept photographs of his operations and used her and her brother as academic models. Green and red have featured prominently in her work, often in a very saturated and prominent manner.

She took us through various projects that she had done and there was discussion about all of them. “Grounded” uses a combination of images of animal backs and prominent skylines. At first look, they appear to be normal landscapes but closer inspection reveals the land to be a fur covered animal. “Spot” is a project from an 18-month residency at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, using stuffed birds from the collection photographed against painted backdrops and then a flat spot of colour obscuring the eye. Normally the viewer will connect with the subject through the eyes, but by losing that connection the viewer has to look more into the frame and what is beyond. The project that most of us found fascinating was the “Inside View” series. Again, she disrupts the normal view in that each one shows the back of a head looking into a landscape rather than seeing a person against a background. She digitally merged two images and then painstakingly blended them so that parts of the background stood out, most being brightly coloured flowers. They is a painterly feeling to them with fine lines all over them where the brush moved to remove the top image to reveal the second one below.

Overall, there was a lot to take from her work from the subtle ways that she makes the viewer look again beyond what is going on in the frame. She combines photographs to make new versions and started with transparency film before moving on to do this digitally. There is a theme of eyes and obscuring the eyes in order to make the viewer look beyond the obvious and then make new connections. It was an engaging and interesting walk through her practice and her approach to her photography and it was a shame that we ran out of time. There was plenty of interaction between Helen and the group, and there was exchanging of opinions and ideas between everyone. I am sure that many of us came away inspired by her use of colour and techniques.

Helen Sear has an exhibition at Hestercombe Gallery in Taunton from July to October 2018.

Playing to the Gallery – Grayson Perry

I was looking for some reading, something interesting and preferably short!  Grayson Perry has been introduced through this module and seeing his exhibition in Bristol in December 2017, so he seemed a natural choice as his writing is easy and accessible.  This book covers the approach to art, asking the questions: “What is art?” “Who decides what is art and what isn’t?” “Why is it ok to like some artists and not others?”

There is a section on photography that rang a bell with me.  How do you tell if a photograph is art? “In the 1990s you could tell it was art because no-one was smiling and they often had a stagey portentousness.” (p64) Now that we are flooded with images on all different platforms, it is even more difficult. Humourously he suggested “you could probably still just see if they are smiling.” In which case, it probably is not art.  In addition, if the photograph is huge then it probably is art.  It struck me as a fair assumption in these days where there are some enormous sized prints in exhibitions, but there are also some much smaller.  At the Tillmans exhibition for example, he placed one tiny 6×4 image next to one that filled most of the available wall.  Does that make it art too?

At a time when I have managed to visit more exhibitions than ever before, I am constantly questioning why a particular photographer is lauded as an artist when someone else who produces really good work is not.  It may be something to do with the context of the work that I have not been privilege to that makes a difference in connecting with the work.  Thomas Ruff left me non-plussed while I admired Tillmans and found his work interesting and varied.  I saw some beautiful photographs of the Syrian conflict that had pathos and humanity to them but thought that some of the more famous work on display in the Elton John collection were dull.  Maybe in the end it is all down to personal connection and whether we can see something to relate to in the images.

In another chapter he discusses technology and its effect on art.  Photography was a challenge to painting as it asked “What is art now that photography can do it?”. (p101)  This leads on to the use of technology to produce art and he has fully embraced technology to draw and produce some of his works, the tapestries in particular as it has enabled him to make things he would not have thought about or tried to make before it.  During the 1980s and 1990s the technology lead the art – he gives examples of art that were cutting edge at the time but now seem almost redundant.  As technology makes artists of us all (with cameras on phones that can film and make stills, drawing apps and so on), what becomes important is the approach of the artist, “the approach of the artist is more and more relevant in the age of creative capital.” (p103). However, in his conclusion he says that in fact technology in some ways has protected the art world because with the internet, people can look up work and then make an effort to go and see it. In fact it seems that, in the digital age, people are keener than ever to visit art galleries, to be in the presence of the actual unique object (and take a selfie in front of it, natch, to post on Twitter)”. (p134)  From the point of view of someone who lives in Devon where there are not the galleries and opportunities to see work, the internet has been invaluable.  But seeing something familiar close up and having the chance to examine it closely, to see the colours as they should be, the size it really is and the whole thing in front of you is still the best way to appreciate the work that goes into some of the pieces.

A great short book on art and how to view it without any pretentious waffle is refreshing, but I am biased as I like Perry and his approach.  He is engaging and talks in a way that I can understand.  My review is completely non-academic but the book made me think a lot more about what I am seeing.

Playing to the Gallery, Grayson Perry, 2014, Penguin Books (2016)

Grayson Perry at Arnolfini, Bristol

Since being pointed in his direction through this course, I have really liked Perry and his work.  It’s a refreshing change and is made doubly interesting by the television programmes that he has made that explain the context of the work.  I recently watched Britain Divided, on a plane journey of all places, and was interested in seeing the two pots that he had made in response to the views and opinions of the opposing parties of the Brexit question.  Holly Woodward, another OCA student, wrote a blog post about visiting this exhibition and her reaction to it, and since Bristol is close by it was a golden opportunity to visit and see his works up close.

I went to visit the Arnolfini just before Christmas last year and just in time, as the exhibition closed on the following Sunday.  It was busy with plenty of people circling around the exhibits, reading the information and talking about them.  Again, it was refreshing to be somewhere where it was a mix of ages with children as well as adults, it wasn’t quiet as people discussed the work and the ability to take photos on my phone without feeling like I was stealing something.  The overall impression of the exhibition was of colour – the work was varied in bright colours and the tapestries were huge and full of colour and detail.  The pots are covered in lots of tiny detail and I would have liked some more time to fully go round each one.  Like Holly, I was interested by the gold motifs that adorned most of the pots.  They looked arabic in some way, perhaps religious symbols? They were small but stood out against the backgrounds so attracted my attention.  The pots are about Britain and what people value about it, and yet this “foreign” symbol was on it too so perhaps he was commenting on the wide range of faiths that make Britain unique.

The tapestries were attention grabbing, not least because they often took up most of a wall.  One was a deep red and looked like a map, and it was set on a backdrop of tower blocks.  The places and street names were all ‘buzz words’ that are in current everyday use, and I found this amusing because they are the sort of words and expressions that can irritate me or make me laugh when used all the time.  This piece struck me as being very much of the here and now a comment on society and how we use language.

Grayson Perry, Red Carpet, 2017

It also reminded me of the opening scene from Eastenders with the map of the loop of London and the Thames.  However, it could be anywhere.

The pots are fascinating and full of comments on certain situations.  One was on how those with money can see good causes as being good for the CV or because they are told it is a good thing.


I got the impression that he is poking fun at The Establishment, at set views and things that we believe because we are told to do so.  Is it possible then that we are enjoying the exhibition because he makes it light hearted, almost not serious and therefore more accessible.  The descriptions accompanying the exhibits were all written by him in an easy to read style, and you could almost hear him talking about them.  I believe that this is what makes him popular, it is the accessibility of him and his work made more so by television appearances.  Having said that, I took my husband and he knows only Perry’s name not his work and he enjoyed it even without any prior knowledge.

From a photography point of view, there is a lot going on and shows how images can be used in several ways.  The pots used transfers of personal photographs and other things from advertising, all merged together in telling the story.  There is a lot to look at in all the works on display, there is colour, there is size and there is humour.  The work is clever without being highbrow, accessible with or without any knowledge and I found that to be a positive change from other exhibitions that I have seen.  I often feel disconnected from the work and this is made more so by the atmosphere of galleries.  Art needs to be discussed whatever your opinion and sometimes it doesn’t matter if you miss the meaning as long as you get something from it.  This exhibition made me want to be more creative in the way that I approach my own photography

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.