Assignment 2 – Feedback and reflection

Yesterday I received my Tutor Feedback for Assignment 2. Having had time to  digest it and to clarify certain points, I have cut and paste it below, along with my reflective thoughts in red. Overall, I have found this feedback to be very honest and constructive, despite my initial reaction which was a mixture of disappointment and defensiveness. Like most, I am my own worst critic, yet I was quite content with the work that I produced for this assignment. On reflection, I largely agree with my tutors suggested areas for improvement and I will make efforts to bear her feedback in mind as I progress through the course.

Formative feedback

Student name Adam Newsome Student number 512403
Course/Unit CN Assignment number 2
Type of tutorial (written)  

Overall Comments

Thanks Adam for sending me your prints and the assignment. The prints were well presented in a consistent manner of presentation and your blog is in good order.  Thank you! Overall I thought the subject ‘Stress’ was an interesting response to the brief of photographing the unseen and showed evidence of you working through your ideas methodically and with a certain degree of success. I think there were points when the images were too literal and a little laboured but the assignment shows an encouraging amount of thoughtfulness and commitment as well as technical ability.

I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment.

I find that one of the biggest problems with distance learning is the lack of verbal communication between student and tutor. The ‘Overall Comments’ could be construed in a number of ways without tone of voice or body language to reinforce the points. My previous tutor would use this space to elaborate in a general manner, whereas my current tutor is very brief. Given that the prints I sent were the first that I’ve ever had assessed, there is no mention about the print quality, sharpening, colour, brightness etc or how they compare to the online images in my blog which is a little disappointing. I guess that for my next assignment I should just do the same again?

The phrase “with a certain degree of success” had me worried and feeling reluctant to read any further. This to me suggests that the assignment is largely unsuccessful. Had my tutor wanted to suggest otherwise, she would have perhaps written “largely successful” or “with a good degree of success“. I can accept that it may be largely unsuccessful, but I’d prefer to be told straight. The comment is rounded off with a positive remark about “thoughtfulness” and “commitment” which is reassuring given the time and effort that was spent on the project. The remark about “technical ability” is designed to give me a boost but is really a bit of a cop-out, given that this is not a technical course, but a conceptual and creative one. So What? Well, I will need to examine where the project is unsuccessful. This is likely to be the images that are too literal, or which stray too far from the brief, and try to understand what it is that doesn’t quite work.

The final comment in this section is a pre-written paragraph taken from the student handbook, and designed to give students a feel for how they are performing in regards to Assessment. There are 4 of these comments on a sliding scale of best (you’ll probably pass) to worst (you’ll probably fail). Again, this had me a little worried because at first glance it appears to be the ‘best’ comment in the set, until you get to the end, where the words “I suggest that you are likely to be successful at assessment”, have been replaced by the words “I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment”, which are taken from the ‘second best comment’, minus the phrase “provided you work to address the points raised in this feedback”. So, this would appear to be an amalgamation of 2 standardised responses which sends me mixed messages. I emailed my tutor for some clarification and had the following response: “It simply means that I think you will be able to pass at assessment as it stands. I think the work would benefit from a rework but you don’t need to redo the whole thing – these were just pointers for improvement“. This has put me at ease somewhat, and I must express my gratitude for her getting back to me so soon.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Your choice of subject is very good – well done. I think it is interesting to look visually at the impact of stress on the home environment and I’m sure many could relate to these images. I wonder if you took it a bit far though! I think the more subtle images of the stresses of home life were enough without needing the knife in the bath shot. For me this one, although of course it could be a believable scenario and unfortunately one which does occur, was a bit too extreme. Often it is the little details, like having a cigarette after years, or a flicker of an eye, that tell so much about our inner state of mind.

I have an inclination to agree. I think that subtler images may actually have more effect and would also be less literal, fitting the assignment brief better. This comment has gotten me thinking about Wall’s image ‘Mimic’ in which it is a micro gesture that tells the storyThe final photograph is possibly a bit extreme for this project, but I like it as a standalone image.  I will bear subtlety in mind if I decide to re-work some of the assignment, and will certainly be conscious of it in future. I think that I may have let my desire to create ‘interesting’ photographs cloud my creative judgement in this respect.

My favourite image is the one at night as insomnia is a strong symptom of stress. I liked the darkness of the image and thought it was subtly produced. Perhaps you could have enacted other symptoms or researched them on the NHS website for example. Actually some of these images look like they could be on brochures in doctors offices and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. The technical standard is high but some of them feel too overacted. I like the idea of staging your own ‘dramas’ and I particularly enjoy that style of photography but try, if you choose to do this in future, to make them look more realistic. I think it needs to be more subtle. I am also not sure about the blurring head by the computer – this is because it seems out of keeping with the rest of the set. As a set I think they hold together well in general with a consistent the[m]e and narrative flow but, as you say, a lack of repetition which is encouraging.

Overall, this is very constructive, but disconcertingly, my tutors favourite image was the image that I initially liked the least. I guess it just goes to show that everyone’s taste is different, but given that my tutor will have forgotten more about Art than I can ever hope to grasp, I will trust her judgement over mine. I DID do reasearch on the NHS and other websites which is documented in my research posts. I probably shouldn’t be pleased about the ‘brochure‘ comment, but deep down it means that they’re technically and aesthetically good. Creatively, and in the context of this assignment, not so. The fact that it could be on a brochure means that it is far too literal. In order to really portray what can’t be seen, a metaphor is needed. I’m not going to take the comments about the overacting to heart. I’m a photographer, not an actor. I don’t have the luxury of ‘classmates’ who could help me out and model for me, and this is the first time that I’ve included myself in any of my work. I will take the point on board because it may be pertinent to Assignment 3.  I get the point about the ‘blurring head’ image. It is the only one of its type using double exposure, and therefore it disrupts the flow, but I find that it adds an element of interest and depth to this image that a ‘straight’ photograph wouldn’t.

Your mirror shot, although a bit literal, was executed well.

Perhaps you could tone down the obviousness of the drinking shot for example by having a wider scene – showing the character in context and further away from the lens might give more of a sense of a film still look. This is something you could develop further in other work as I think you show potential here. The development of narrative is a high point of this submission.

I hadn’t considered the ‘film still’ look, but then I’m not sure it has a place in a project that is about photographing the unseen. It’s definitely an interesting avenue to explore though. As for the wider shot, it was a consideration, but given that my kitchen was my studio, it didn’t really seem viable. I was also worried about having too many distracting elements in the frame. One of the things that I learnt on the last course (Art of Photography) is that I create better images when I keep the composition simple. Maybe this is an area where I need to take more risk?

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays


Your research is very thorough and consistent. Great to see you go through the exercises and go into depth in your reflections. Keep it up! It’s good to see you adapt the exercises to suit you – li[k]e instead of using a poem in the traditional sense you responded with something uniquely pertinent to you – good.

Remember to keep your analysis critical and reflective and less prosaic.

Have you done much extra curricular reading or seen any exhibitions recently? Don’t forget to write reflections about things you are engaging with beyond the course notes too. Assessors particularly like this!

I’m glad my work between Assignments is being looked, and it would appear that my tutor is pleased with the work that I’m producing for the exercises. I had to look up the word “prosaic“:

Adj – Not challenging, Adj – Lacking wit or imagination, Adj – not fanciful or imaginative.

I guess this means that my analysis has been un-challenging? I will try to address this, but will always be limited by my knowledge and understanding of Art. I’m a practical person, and will always argue that Photography is a practical skill, supported by technical and creative theory. This course is about Art, supported by photography. I can read Barthes and Sontag all day long. That doesn’t mean that I’ll understand it and be able to analyse it critically using academic language. What I can do however is try. 

YES – I have done lots of reading. The reading from the Reading List is recorded in my log. Perhaps I should also document my reflections on journal articles and articles that I find regularly on the web. I haven’t been able to get to many exhibitions or study visits, in fact I’ve only been to one exhibition during this course, but it is documented in my log. I will make efforts to see more exhibitions, but again, OCA tutors need to understand their student audience. Many of us work full-time, with families, and are doing this on top.

Suggested reading/viewing


Jeff Wall – staged tableaux scenes based on real life Vs Gregory Crewdson – staged tableaux scenes which look very filmic

Cindy Sherman’s Untitled film stills would be a good reference for you.

Note how realistic they look – perhaps write a reflection on the above photographers and relate it to how you could develop this style in future.

Pointers for the next assignment

  • Be creative and play with different options before choosing one form of self portraiture that you feel best suits your expression style.
  • Write critically about the other photographers you are looking at and tell us what you learn from them and what you reject. – i.e. how do they influence your work.
  • Go off piste – try to get to a gallery or a study visit.

Noted. Will do.

Tutor name Sharon Boothroyd
Date 10.09.15
Next assignment due 10.11.15 approx.

My huge thanks to Sharon for her time and effort in providing this Feedback.

Assignment 2 – Development and Sketches


Before beginning to develop and refine my ideas for this assignment, I had a quick read over my last tutor report. There wasn’t much in the way of critique or areas for specific development, but there was a suggestion to watch a video entitled The Art of the Metaphor in preparation for Assignment 2. The video provoked some thought and helped me to think about my subject metaphorically rather literally.

Having had plenty of time to generate ideas and think about this assignment, I decided to create some sketches which would give me a basis on which to refine and develop my final images. In previous posts, I have mentioned some of my influences, primarily being Jeff Wall and Duane Michals. Recently I have come across the work of Tom Hussey whom I find to be a remarkable photographer. Most notably, his Reflections project really caught my eye and has influenced the development of my assignment.

I have decided to create a set of images that portray Stress in its varying states, looking at the contributing factors and the resultant symptoms/effects. This will be presented in a sequence, almost like a story board. Each image will be in colour, utilising strong highlights and contrast to create an uneasy feel. Predominantly, they will be tightly cropped to create a feeling of constriction or they will be busy, in to order to confuse and disorientate. Each image will feature people/characters which I feel is important as stress is a very personal problem for the sufferer, and to be portrayed properly it needs to be personified. Most importantly, like Wall’s images, each will be staged. I’m also keen to use some double exposure and digital manipulation in order to create some ethereal effects which can depict a state of mind.

Some of the elements of stress that I’d like to try and portray are:

  1. Denial.
  2. Anxiety.
  3. Anger.
  4. Fear.
  5. Depression.
  6. Insomnia.
  7. Coping mechanism’s.
  8. Pressure.
  9. Maintaining a facade.


All the sketches below are straight out of camera with no processing. They are presented in chronological order on a contact sheet to show the idea’s development.

Denial – As the initial image in the set, I want this to set a scene. It needs to portray the family unit and be busy/cluttered, with an action and signifiers/signs that will lead the viewer to the images meaning although the title will reinforce this. The aim is to make the main character appear nonchalant to the fact that he’s being handed a Final Demand/Bill. The clutter symbolises the hectic and disorganised lifestyle and cluttered mind. The child represents innocence and ignorance to life’s problems. The clothing and appearance is also important in setting the scene. I’m not content that the drinking suits this image, and it would perhaps be better to be engrossed in a mobile phone or the TV. The triangle created between the 3 main visual components works well and the lack of balance created by negative space on the right adds some tension. Like the rest of the sketches, the images were shot on remote shutter release, which is actually a wifi app on my mobile phone (in hand).Denial-2

Anxiety – I’m tempted to refer to this as panic. It is often the initial stage of stress where we go through the Fight or Flight emotions, once the gravity of the situation is revealed. Money, or a lack of it is often a key contributor to stress so that is what I want to portray. The pile of bills and a calculator showing a negative figure denote the requirement for money, whilst an empty piggy bank and wallet denote a lack of it. Whats missing is the result (A-B=?). Perhaps my wife will model in the background, hunched on the sofa, head in hands? A shallow DoF to retain focus on the foreground elements, whilst the blurred figure in the background is clearly worried would work?Anxiety-2

Anger & Despair – 2 emotions related to stress which are often bottled up and rarely seen, and which are also closely linked. I wasn’t too keen on the initial images because they were far too cliche, and the camera angle too high. I then tried some intentional movement during a long exposure to see if I could make my head look busy which may connote confusion or rage, but it just looked naff! The 2 double exposure sketches were each done in single exposures (4 seconds). I think that the hand gestures in the first are too strong and the OCA content on screen may not go down well with a tutor or assessor! I also want to shoot this at night so that it’s dark outside, which will denote working late.Anger & Despair-2

Insomnia – This is tough one to portray without photographing someone awake at night. Jeff wall did it very well in his image Insomnia, but I do not have access to a set or studio of that size. I also do not think that wall’s image is relevant to your average stress sufferer, but rather the chronic insomniac.I began with some very close portraits, but felt that they lacked context. The later images convey the sense of sleeplessness better, but they are too bright. The colouring/light will need to be modified to create night.Insomnia-2

Coping Mechanism’s – When things start to get stressful, stereotypically, we hit the bottle.  Alcohol misuse is often an indicator of deeper emotional issues and would be a good way to connote a state of mind.Coping-2As with other images, the clothing of the character will be important and I’ll opt for formal attire i.e. a shirt to depict someone who has just finished work. The use of alcohol to aid sleep after the Insomnia image will add to the sense of using alcohol to get through the situation. The lighting needs to be quite harsh to simulate kitchen strip lighting at night. As you can see, I opted to empty the bottle (not by drinking it) to portray a problem!

Putting on a brave face – For this image I’m taking inspiration from Tom Hussey, to show the real person and the facade. As the name of the assignment suggests, we are supposed to photograph the unseen, and to the general public, work colleagues, family etc, we often don’t see the stress that people are suffering.Appearances-2It took a little while to get the composition right for this sketch. I’ll experiment with the lighting when it comes to shooting and take multiple images in order to merge them so that the reflection differs from the person.

Depression – Depression is an extreme symptom of stress, which can manifest if stress is suffered for too long. It is a mental illness in its own right and is although not visible, is characterised by certain thoughts or tendencies. For this image, I want to depict suicidal thoughts, without the the actual act which, as the final image, will leave the story open ended.Depression-2After getting the composition right (and working out how I could cover up my modesty), I thought more about the final image. I figured that bathing in a dark liquid would be representative of the dark mood and state of mind and would help to balance the image, allowing the handle of the knife to be the focal point thanks to a colour accent. I also plan to change the colour of the handle to red to connote danger/stop/blood.

So there we have it, my ideas laid bare. Now on with making the final images.


  1. [accessed 26/08/15]
  2. [accessed 26/08/15]


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]

3.  [accessed 4 Jul 15]

4. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

5. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

6. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

7. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

8. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

9. [accessed 4 Jul 15]

Assignment 2 – Research – What is Stress?

The task of portraying something that can’t necessarily be seen using photography is a daunting task. Rather than photographing the subject itself, the subject will need to be suggested through semiotics (visual clues and signs) due to a lack of denotative elements. As a photographer I will need to connote the subject using studium as a vehicle to communicate my desired message. With this in mind, I thought that it was important that I try and discover as much about my intended subject for Assignment 2 as I could, which in turn will help me to understand and portray it.

Stress is one of those things that we all think we know lots about. After all, we’ve all suffered from it to one degree or another, but I was quite interested to find out about the causes and lesser known effects of stress. But where better to start than with a definition? I found 2 different yet interesting definitions of stress:

1. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

2. Pressure or worry caused by the problems in somebodies life.

Those definitions contain some key words which I think could help interpret the subject into an image: Emotional, Mental, Strain, Demanding, Pressure, Problems, Circumstances (work/home/money etc).

I then went on to discover that there 2 main types of stress:

1. Psychological. Essentially, this is the feeling of being stressed. This is perceived when the demands placed upon us seem to be beyond our ability, causing anxiety or other negative emotions. This stress is caused by threats or challenges such as events, experiences or environmental stimulus. Psychological stress can be broken down into 2 further types:

a. Eustress. This is good stress in that it motivates us and keeps us challenged, energised and focused.

b. Distress. This is bad stress which results in a slowing of working pace.

2. Physiological. This is our physical reaction to stress, whether that be perceived, or a physical environmental stressor. Interestingly, it is the physiological reaction that drives the psychological reaction through the release of hormones. We suffer stress when our equilibrium is upset. Bear in mind that our equilibrium (or homeostasis) is always in a state of flux, it takes a significant divergence from equilibrium to cause stress. The further we get from equilibrium, the more stress we suffer. Unseen physical reactions occur when we are stressed, some of which can have long term health effects if the stress is not managed or recovered from. An example would be stomach ulcers, caused by an increase in stomach fluid acidity. The Physiological reactions that I’m interested in however, are the ones that cause the Psychological reaction. This is the Neuronatomy, or Brain Response.

Stress triggers a “fight or flight” response. It is not always as severe as fighting or fleeing for survival as the term suggests, but it can be used to describe the initial stage of stress when we consider our options, or reaction to the Stressor. Glands within the brain and spinal chord release hormones which are carried around the blood stream. Initially, Adrenaline causes a tightening of the muscles (coiling like a spring!), increased blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate and widening of the pupils.

When “flight” is not a desirable option (or option at all) and the “fight” feels un-winable, the levels of stress remain high for a prolonged period. This constant release of hormones and lack of homeostasis will cause symptoms such as reduced attention span, reduced problem solving ability, poor concentration, and short term memory loss. The brain will also struggle to regulate mood, which will cause the sufferer to feel pessimism, irratibility/short temper, anxiety, fear and loneliness/isolation. The suffer may also feel overwhelmed and display nervous habits such as nail biting.

Chronic stress can actually physically alter the brain leading to mental health issues such as Depression!

We all have different tolerances for stress, as well as our own ways of managing it. If chronic stress is not managed/recovered from, the result is Exhaustion.

All of this information, the causes and symptoms of Stress, has started me thinking about how I visualise it, despite it not being a visible entity. A quick Google image search of the word Stress returns lots of Stock images that are very cliche (heads in hands, pulling of hair etc). Although they convey the subject, they don’t convey the emotion which is what I aim to do. Straight away, I’m thinking of creating a sense of confusion with busy scenes that are unbalanced, not allowing the viewers eyes to rest. Signs of emotion, Isolation and loneliness are also ideas for me to exploit. The use of dark simple images to convey emotion, blurred movement showing busyness or agitation are also other ideas to develop. Before I get too carried away, I still want to research how other artists have portrayed such subjects, and in what context their work has been displayed.

References: [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15] [accessed 2/7/15]

Assignment 2 – An idea emerges!


That about sums up how I was feeling about this assignment until yesterday! I’ve been struggling with motivation, inspiration and ideas for this assignment for some time now, and I’ve felt a lot of self induced pressure to push forward given that I’ve stalled slightly. But now I think I’m getting somewhere….

The pressure comes from a number of directions. First, given that it’s been a long time since I submitted Assignment 1, I’ve almost forgotten how to do research and plan an assignment! Second, the feedback I received from Assessment stated that I needed to demonstrate more “directed” research, but without any ideas for a subject, what can I possibly research? Third, the course material for Part 2 puts a lot of emphasis on work being “personally driven”, and uses some really compelling case studies that set the bar extremely high. Fourth, I’ve seen a lot of work recently from fellow students who have completed this assignment, and it is excellent. How do I follow that? And Fifth, we are presented with 2 possible options for this assignment which poses its own problems.

When I first looked at this assignment (see First Thoughts and Brief), I had pretty much made my mind up to undertake the Using Props option. That was before reading into Part 2, and understanding the effect of personally driven work. Scouring the OCA website and other student blogs, I cannot find any examples of students taking the props option. Although I think I have a sound idea for a narrative using  a white shirt, I can’t help but feel that it would be the easier option, and as we students keep being told, we need to “take more risks”! So, with that in mind, I’ve kind of had my mind made up for me, and will be attempting Photographing the Unseen.

Over a protracted period, I have had several ideas for subjects. The problem tends to be that the ideas are too grand, or turn out to be unoriginal.


  • A State of Mind – This could actually be a range of subjects but essentially, the idea would be to convey a state of mind. The idea arises from recent advertising campaigns which  have brought Mental Illness to our attention, particularly Depression. More and more we hear about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two things put me off: I have no personal experience of mental illness and therfore am not personally driven in this area, and a fellow student has used PTSD as her subject recently, creating a quality set of images.
  • Aftermath/After effects – Often we do not see something occur, but we get a sense of what happened from the aftermath. Portraying the impact of the event through its after effects would essentially capture the unseen. The first thing that springs to mind is illness. This year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease she is now thankfully recovering from. At the same time, my uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer and sadly he lost his battle with it this weekend. Although, my family is now technically free of this disease, its effects will be felt for a long time. In terms of subject matter, I can claim to be personally driven, but I am at the other side of the country from my family and would-be subjects.
  • Emotion – Again, this could be a very broad subject. Sometimes, the only clue to a persons emotion is their facial expression, but there are many things that can invoke an emotion, colour being a good example. Portraying a range of emotions through photography is again not very original, but there is a lot of scope for creativity.


So there I was, sat in front of the computer yesterday. Completely stuck for an original idea, feeling my self induced pressure, with the prospect of moving house at Christmas, 2 months working away from home between now and then, missed deadlines on my OCA assignments, deadlines to meet at work, a very needy 2 year old at home, a car that keeps breaking down, etc etc etc….. And I’m looking through the work of Duane Michals. Since starting part 5 of the Art of Photography, Michals has been one of my favourite photographers thanks to his narrative ability and his playful, elegantly simple, yet poignant photo-series’. All of a sudden I came across a single image of his –


– and I find myself staring at it for a prolonged period and feeling a sense of understanding/relation to the image. Then it dawned on me; the mirror is representative of the self. The hand breaking the mirror tells a story of self destruction, with the prospect of breaking free of something, whilst the action, the clenched fist, spells out aggression or frustration. It is almost helpless. It is STRESS! and man was I feeling stressed!

In this single image, I’d found inspiration and a subject with which I can personally connect. Hoo bloody ray! As it turns out, the image is part of a set, another of Michals narrative mini-sequences called Alice’s Mirror, but more on that in my next post.



So there it is, my Unseen subject will be Stress. I haven’t yet made any decisions on how I will portray or depict my subject, but for the time being, I’m just happy to have a focus. In order to make my research more directed, I intend to look further in to the work of Michals, with a a particular view to identify what he wanted to communicate in his narratives, and how he went about photographing his subjects from a technical and creative perspective.

Next Steps

Now that I have a subject in mind, I need to have a think about how I will depict my subject photographically. This will involve some brainstorming, and basic research in the subject of stress. From there I will look to formulate a research proposal before conducting in-depth research, which will be followed by story-boarding and test shots.

Here we go…..

Narrative – Project 3: Photographing the unseen – Exercise


All three of these projects¹ are examples of personally driven work but they become universal when we can relate to the feelings they present by visiting our own personal histories.

• Which of these projects resonates most with you, and why?

• How do you feel about the loss of authorial control that comes when the viewer projects their own experiences and emotions onto the images you’ve created?

Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood resonates the most with me for a couple of reasons.

Firstly,  all of these works are very personal to the photographers, and in order to resonate with a viewer, there needs to be a connection. This doesn’t mean that the viewer needs to have also experienced the same things, but they must be able to relate to them (the feelings, emotions etc) on some level. Peter Mansell’s work is very engaging. Through his photography we are afforded a very personal glimpse of his life, and what it is to live with his impaired mobility. As able bodied folk, we’ve all wondered how we would cope if we were in Peter’s position. Here he shows us the secret reality, not the “everyday” impression we normally get, and he helps us to understand the emotional as well as physical implications through the use of metaphor. I find Dewald Botha’s work the least engaging. The images are technically very good. Well composed, balanced and lit. They are succinct, and visually they cohere as a set, but, for me they are little more than interesting landscape shots of a lesser seen part of China, with other consistencies (the ever present ring road, an ominous lack of life and vehicles, a distant vanishing point and the low heavy ceiling of the road/bridge above). Without Botha’s explanation however, I would struggle to link the images to his intended meaning. I wonder if this is where the study of Art is flawed. I could take a number of shots of my kitchen in a square format and tell the world that it is a metaphor for “feeling trapped and isolated”, so long as all the doors and windows are shut, there is no one in any of the images and the lighting is dark and moody. Art can be like horoscopes. People will find the meaning they want to, if they believe in it (particularly if you tell them what the meaning is). But don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the images/set, it was just the least engaging of the 3 for me.

Secondly, not being in the same position as Mansell or Botha, I cannot project my own experiences and emotions on to their work. This means that I can only read the images as they intended (which isn’t a bad thing, and I do find them interesting and engaging), but Taylor’s images provide me with a second level of interest. At first glance, I look at the images and try to read them as she intends them to be read. In doing so, they start to fuel my own nostalgia of a happy 80’s childhood. I often had a 35mm film camera as a child, and so not only does the content of the images resonate on a personal level, the format and style of the photographs also take me back. Although I’m projecting my own experiences onto the set, Taylor does not fully loose authorial control, because her images and their meaning remain the basis for the way in which we tap into our own memories.

I am not overly concerned about the loss of authorial control in my own images. Control is exactly that, and it can be applied in varying degrees. it is often the intent of the photographer for the viewer to make their own interpretation of the image. I would be a lot more concerned about it if I had a specific message to communicate i.e. documentary or photojournalistic photography. Likewise, I would be distraught if one of my images were misconstrued completely, and perhaps caused offence where this wasn’t the intention. The same goes in reverse. If the intent was to offend but people missed the point I’d be quite upset. Liker Taylor’s images, those that viewers can interpret in a number of ways provide an extra level of interest, which will make the image more engaging. Surely, in the context of the gallery or photo-book, this cannot be a bad thing for an artist?


¹Boothroyd, S (2014). Coursebook – Photography 1: Context and Narrative, OCA, UK.


Boothroyd, S (2014). Coursebook – Photography 1: Context and Narrative – Appendix – Peter Mansell, Level 3 OCA Student – full interview, OCA, UK.


Narrative – Project 2: Image and text – Exercise 2


The aim of this exercise (and Assignment Two) is to encourage you to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something rather than a record of it.

Choose a poem that resonates with you then interpret it through photographs. Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.

Start by reading the poem a few times (perhaps aloud) and making a note of the feelings and ideas it promotes, how you respond to it, what it means to you and the mental images it raises in your mind. Next, think about how you’re going to interpret this visually and note down your ideas in your learning log.

You may choose to develop this idea into creating a short series of images reflecting your personal response to the poem (or another poem). Write some reflective notes about how you would move the above exercise on.

The number of pictures you choose to produce for the exercises and assignments in this course, including this one, is up to you. Try to keep in mind the following tips for knowing when you have done enough/not done enough:

• Are the images repeating themselves? Are there three versions of the same picture for example? Can you take two out?

• Does each image give a different point of view or emphasise a point you want to make?

• Do the images sit well together visually?

• Have you given the viewer enough information? Would another picture help?

I began looking at this exercise just over a month ago, and dreaded the thought of it. I’m not a poetic person. I have no fondness for poetry and know nothing about it. Whilst searching for inspiration I became aware that Anzac day was fast approaching, and that we were only a month away from VE day.  This got me thinking about the act of remembrance, and almost instantly, the Kohima Epitaph came to mind. That’s not surprising given that it’s been recited at every remembrance parade I’ve attended over the past 17 years of military service. Although not an actual poem, it is verse, and it got me thinking…..

Epitaph: A short text honouring the deceased that is inscribed on a tombstone or plaque. It may be in poem verse¹.

The Kohima Epitaph is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds² who created a collection of epitaphs for WW1. Four of these were published in The Times newspaper on 6 Feb 1918, on page 7 in an article entitled Four Epitaphs³.

Although each of the four epitaphs are different, and they were essentially written for death in different battles/scenarios, they evoke some generic emotions and feelings.  These are feelings of sadness and loss. Bittersweet contrasts of victory despite an ultimate sacrifice. Peace in the knowledge of victory, and no more pain and suffering in war. Gratitude and a need to remember the sacrifices. Patriotism, and death far from home all spring to mind. Although generic across the four verses, each epitaph also generates it own response, and it was for this reason, that I decided to create a single image for each, accompanied by the text in a bold, engraved style.

For a general grave on Vimy Ridge:


On some who died early on the eve of battle:


On those who died at the Battle of Jutland:


For a village war-memorial:


If I were to move this idea on and create a series of images, I would probably look to take it in a slightly different direction. Rather than looking back at the sacrifices made, I would look to the present day in an attempt to marry the epitaphs with the “things” that the sacrifices were made for. Freedom and Preservation of the English way of life. Perhaps a look at where sacrifices were made in vain could be an option too, for example, marrying the epitaph “You come from England; is she England still? Yes, thanks to you that died upon this hill” with an image of inner city London, emphasising the unemployment, crime and multi-culturalism.


¹ [accessed 22/05/15]

² [accessed 22/05/15]

³ [accessed 22/05/15]