Assignment 2 – Research – Formulating an approach

Whilst learning more about my intended subject (see previous post), I simultaneously began to generate some limited ideas about how I might portray it. In order to develop those ideas, add context to my images and ensure the best quality of outcome, I wanted to do some specific research into how other artists have photographed the unseen.


The assignment brief asks for 7-10 images that are visually consistent. Achieving this consistency will ultimately be done at the editing and proofing stage, but it needs to be at the forefront of my mind whilst developing ideas. If there is too much disruption, or a lack of common elements that back up the central theme, then the set will not hold together. Some points to consider can be found on p.52 of the course handbook.

The work of fellow students

Having seen a few examples of how other students have approached Assignment 2, I’ve felt a little underwhelmed. Although I can fully appreciate their work and its context/narrative, they’ve just not really appealed to me, with the exception of a couple.

Steve Middlehurst’s The Wall Series completely epitomises what I deem to be a visually consistent set of images, and he does extremely well with this subject to avoid repetition and retain the viewers interest. It is difficult to deconstruct the images and understand the narrative without the context that he’s applied through his accompanying text. Although this is a good marriage of text and image to narrate the unseen, I’m more inclined to try to create images that will speak for themselves, which I think would have been near impossible for Steve with his chosen subject.

Claire Borlase’s Assignment submission, The Shames of PTSD, is a lot easier for me to relate to. Claire has produced a visually consistent set by doing something as simple as using a square format throughout to create a sense of claustrophobia. The use of text works in relay with the images, adding to the meaning, but the set is capable of standing alone. The use of visual clues throughout the images (a service commendation on a windowsill, pills on a bedside table) connote the meaning, and her creative use of focus, ICM, and moody lighting give us the denotation we need to draw us in. Claire’s work reminds me that song, poetry and other art forms are also used to portray the unseen, and can be a good place to seek inspiration.

Peter Mansell’s work is used as a case study during the course. He has completed numerous assignments based around his disability and its resulting emotions. He uses photography as an investigative tool to look at his own condition. Unless I go around shoving my camera in the faces of people who are stressed, I think I can rule that out. Like Steve Middlehurst’s work, it is largely the context of Peter’s work that gives it its meaning.

Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood (also a C&N case study) is unique in that she stylises her printed photographs and presents them in a manner reminiscent of her childhood (i.e. as 6×4’s in a flimsy album). This in itself starts to convey the subject before the viewer even begins to look at the images.

Jeff Wall

Whilst thinking about how I might make the images for this assignment, I thought about an image by Jeff Wall called Insomnia (1994) which I first saw in the course material for Art of Photography. In this image, he uses harsh lighting/hotspots to create an uncomfortable feel, and he uses signs such as open cupboards, a missing clock, and darkness outside to reinforce the subject.

Insomnia (1994)

Insomnia (1994)

The majority of Wall’s work is staged, using detailed sets and actors. In the image Mimic (1982), it is a micro gesture that is the punctum that leads us to the meaning of the image.

Mimic (1982)

Mimic (1982)

The simple title is also subtly working in relay with the image. Metaphor features highly in Wall’s work. In Milk (1984), the burst milk is emblematic of a state of mind. Because Wall stages his images, he has the freedom to choose a setting and to compose his images in a way that will help to tell the story or convey emotion. Again, we see this in Milk, where he uses the strong vertical lines to contrast with the curve of the milk.

jeff wall milk

Milk (1984)

In a very interesting interview, Wall begins with the phrase “I begin by not photographing”. What he means by this is that he does not stop to take photo’s of events or scenes that he finds interesting, instead he observes them and chooses to recreate them later. This could work well for me if I take the time to observe what I can about Stress and its effects.

Duane Michals

I always seem to revisit Duane Michals, and each time I learn something new. Again, I first came across his work whilst studying Art of Photography, and I find his work extremely engaging. Michals defied convention and redefined the medium by using staged scenes, props and actors in conjunction with a set of images that reinforced each other rather than a single powerful image to tell a story. His subjects are often seen as un-photographable, being things like death, sensibility and innocence. Unlike a lot of other artists, Michals puts more emphasis on text which he employs in relay. Most interestingly however, I learnt that Michals never studied photography, and claims that this is one of the reasons he has been so successful. So, remind me again why I’m sat here at my computer on the hottest day of the year?

Where to go from here?

Having now seen numerous methods for capturing the unseen, I’m certainly feeling more confident about this assignment. There are elements from each of the above that can help me to achieve my aim and which are food for thought. What I now need to do is draw on some of those methods and ideas and decide how I can utilise them within the sphere of my own creative voice to create a set of images with meaning.


1. Boothroyd, S (2014). Photography 1 – Context & Narrative, p.62-67 (case studies). OCA, UK.

2. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

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9. [accessed 4 Jul 15]


One thought on “Assignment 2 – Research – Formulating an approach

  1. Pingback: Assignment 2 – Development and Sketches | My Learning (B)Log – Context and Narrative

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