Square Mile Feedback Analysis

I had feedback on my first assignment a few weeks ago. It’s taken me until now to sit down and write up my thoughts. I’m not going to go into a lot of what was written but suffice to say that what I produced was emotional and took a lot of courage to do.

The combination of images of Rhys, his environment and the hospice grounds helped make a strong body of work. The use of the ‘quieter’ images, particularly those with more oblique references help give ‘rest’ between the harder images, like the ones where Rhys’ one tumour is particularly visible.

Gina, my tutor, made the comment that “Disease too is part of/present in nature, yet too often hidden within our society, it is something that happens behind closed doors, in institutions, in private rooms.” I think this is very true and by doing this assignment in this way I hoped to be able to show that a life drawing to a close doesn’t have to be a sad, mournful experience but can be a joyful experience.

Terminal illness shouldn’t be something to be hidden away, it should be a time to try and do some of those things that you might not have got around to, and a time to share with family and friends, making memories that will last forever, and maybe inspiring others to strive towards their dreams.

I remember before Rhys went into hospital an occasion where we were out shopping. Rhys was in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk long distances at that point. The mouth tumour was very obvious at that point. As I was pushing his wheelchair I noticed people staring at him. I found myself wanting to shout at them and ask them what they were staring at. If it hadn’t been for the fact that it would have drawn attention to Rhys and probably made him feel self-conscious about the tumour, I would have.


Part of what I wanted to achieve with the images was the sense of loss and I managed that with the use of the empty chair. A couple of images that I didn’t use but which also gave the feel of loss were of some toys at the end of his bed, a collection that grew throughout the course of our stay, although the last two (Grandad and Doctor Rabbit puppets) didn’t reach the hospital before Rhys passed away.

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There is a some repetition within the edit and although this is OK, it doesn’t always use the most interesting images. The one of Rhys and the owl, although nicely observed could have been replaced with a more complicated and interesting image of the owl in flight.

I did consider the image but rejected it at the time because it I didn’t believe it was in focus enough. Since I submitted the assignment I’ve revisited that particular photo and edited it to try and make a much better image.

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Another photo that was highlighted as being of potential use was one that was taken on my birthday when we visited SS Great Britain. Rhys was reading something and didn’t notice me taking his picture. The photo wasn’t posed and he looks thoughtful as he reads a plaque. I had considered using the image but having restricted myself to documenting the hospice, with the exception of the images I used to start and end the series, this didn’t really fit within the brief. However, it does fit within a wider body of work that I produced for his wake, a series that covers our from the point we discovered the lump in his mouth up until he’d passed away.

Assignment1-Additional-Birthday Trip

There were images that could have been improved by better technique. The photograph of the syringes and pill crusher was a little hot lighting-wise at the top, this was as Gina suspected due to the strip lighting about the bed and is something I need to be more aware of and take into account in future.

Another point that was highlighted was the fact that it’s surprising that pets can be taken into the hospice. In fact all sorts of animals have been in there. We saw cats (Patrick is the hospice cat and pretty much owns the place), dogs (Pebbles and a couple of dogs from pet charities came in), owls and eve goats.

Goats

The last point that was raised was whether Rhys could take photographs. At one point he would have taken photos himself. He had his first camera when he was very young and used to take photos all the time. Some of his images were quite good as well. Unfortunately by the time we were in the hospice doing a lot of things took effort and he never showed any interest in taking photos himself. He did see the images that I produced for the assignment and there were a number he liked. Some of which didn’t get included within the assignment.

Although Rhys took a number of photos of me over the years, not all very flattering, some are ones that I’m really proud to have and sums up how he saw me at the time.

Pirate2

Pirate1

There was also a selfie that I took on my phone of Rhys and I which is the last picture there is of us together.

Rhys and Me

Having seen the work of two different photographers now, Gray and Briony Campbell, who have addressed the same subject matter, and comparing it to my own work it is obvious that each photographer’s experience and approach will be intensely personal but will also relate to the person that they are photographing.

Gray and Campbell both photographed their parent after the point of death, although Gray went that one step further and photographed his Mum in her coffin. Although I photographed Rhys’ empty coffin and also the yellow rose that was placed on his pillow after the nurses had washed and dressed after he’d passed away, taking photographs of him once he’d died was a line I couldn’t cross.

Yellow Rose

The rose was particularly poignant as when my Mum passed away several years ago she left instructions that the only floral tribute that she wanted was 7 yellow roses. Seeing that rose on his pillow left me with a sense that Rhys was being looked after by his grandparents.

The coffin was spectacular and the design was something that Rhys chose just after he learned his cancer was terminal. What none of us expected was the interior. Again these are photos that wouldn’t have been included as part of the assignment because they are part of the story after the hospice. They may get included in a different project but that will be dependent on Rhys’ Mum’s agreement.

Coffin Top 2

Coffin From Side 2

While researching for the assignment I also found a photograph who works with families who have a loved one in a hospice. The idea of helping a family to document their loved ones last days, or even helping families document a ill child’s time in hospital was one that sprung to mind. Something like that would be a challenge to me personally, not only from the point of taking photographs of people but also emotionally because it is so close to home. Whether that idea comes to fruition or not, one thing that I realised through my own work and also looking at Gray and Campbell’s work is that you can only do someone real justice in these situations if you actually know something about them and the type of person they are.


Other points that were raised about my coursework were to do with ways to improve the work for some of the exercises, thinking about the colour of backgrounds, not having so many eggs in the shots for Smash! so making the composition simpler.

Also I need to take the time to populate my learning log more with the results of my research and I need to show more that I’ve looked at the suggested photographers and made notes of what inspires me and why. I’ve tried to do that over the last few weeks by adding posts about the various photographers. I still have a few to do and I plan to get that out of the way before I get too deep into Part 2 of the course.


This first assignment was challenging, the exercises were fun and pushed me beyond my normal limits with regards to my photography, getting up beyond dawn was something I would never have considered before.

Looking at what other photographers have done with similar work, isn’t something I’ve done before, and the photographs I did for the assignment while at the hospice would never have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for the course. In a similar way producing a body of photographs showing what we’ve done since April would never have crossed my mind if it hadn’t been for the course. It’s something that I found useful, and which also helped with reflecting who Rhys was and the life he’d managed to live both during the funeral service and afterwards at the wake.Assignment1-Additional-3738

 

 

 

Square Mile (Assignment Submission)

This is the submitted work for the first assignment – Square Mile. Finalising 12 images was very difficult as it has meant leaving out a number of photographs that expand on the experience.

I have based the assignment on the time we have spent at St Margaret’s Hospice in Yeovil with my son Rhys. He is hanging on at present but we don’t know how long for. 

The material presented here will be just part of a larger work that I will be developing in the future.

I have included a brief history at the end, after my evaluation of my work, to provide a context for this work but it is not part of the actual submission, that is covered by the photographs, bibliography and evaluation.

Comments and feedback are welcome.

 Photos

1 - Rhys leaning against car - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Rhys leaning against my car outside his Great Uncle’s house in Bristol while waiting for him to come back from the shops.

2 - Rhys' Chair - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Rhys’ empty chair at home

3 - St Margaret's Hospice - Sunflower Centre - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
St Margaret’s Hospice – view of the Sunflower Centre from the gardens

4 - St Margaret's Hospice - Stormtrooper visit - Stormtroopers and Scouts - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
St Margaret’s Hospice – Rhys is visited by two Stormtroopers and a Speeder bike Scout from the UK Garrison of the 501st Legion

5 St Margaret's Hospice - Round House - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
St Margaret’s Hospice – view of the Round House and water feature

6 - Rhys and Pebbles - MDG_3300 - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Rhys and Pebbles

7 - St Margaret's Hospice - Bird of Prey Experience - Barn Owl Flying towards camera - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
St Margaret’s Hospice – Rhys is visited by Sharanandys Bird of Prey. Barn owl flying towards camera

8 - St Margaret's Hospice - Bird of Prey Experience - Snowy Owl - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
St Margaret’s Hospice – Rhys is visited by Sharanandys Bird of Prey. Rhys and Snowy Owl

9 - Syringes - MDG_3550 - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Syringes and pill crusher

10 - Rhys Asleep Full Body - MDG_3554 - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Sleeping

11 - Butterfly - MDG_3406 - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Free at last

12 - Rhys (Bokeh) - 1024px Adobe 1998 72ppi
Goodbye, my beautiful, wonderful, brave son. Sleep tight, sweet dreams.

Contact Sheets

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Bibliography

  1. Campbell B The Dad Project. Available at http://www.brionycampbell.com/projects/the-dad-project/?overview (Accessed: 3rd September 2017)

Evaluation

This assignment has proven to be a challenge.My initial response to the brief was to limit to an area around my home and to photograph new things, the renovated church, the pub that has been converted into a veterinary surgery. However, that idea changed so that it revolved around the hospice waiting for my son to die.

Looking at Hunter’s work I found that using every day locations and focusing on people allows the viewer to relate to the situation and even put themselves into it.

From Holdsworth’s work I found that giving people a wider view of an environment allows them to get a better sense of it.

A third photographer I looked at was Briony Campbell. Her work “The Dad Project” had a similar theme to how my work has developed. From her work, I learned that it is possible to take what is still a taboo subject, and also an intensely private one and turn it into something special that honours the individual central to it.

To complete the brief, I used a combination of my Nikon D7200, with a variety of lenses, and my Samsung Galaxy S8. The Nikon allowed me more control over shutter, speed, aperture and ISO. The S8 allowed me to capture photos without being too intrusive. All of the photographs I took were freehand without the use of a tripod.

Editing of the final selection of images I’ve submitted for the assignment was done using Camera Raw (I shoot in RAW) and Photoshop. Editing of the images was mainly to do with adjusting the exposure, increasing and decreasing highlights and shadows, adjusting contrast and increasing colour saturation.

While editing the photographs I found that having a workflow and doing things in a controlled manner makes editing easier, quicker and the results more consistent.

Am I satisfied with what I’ve achieved? To a degree. Having to choose 12 images to submit was difficult. To do the project justice I needed closer to 20 images as some of the ones I’ve had to leave out give a fuller picture of what life has been like and my son’s last days.

In a similar way to Campbell I see this assignment becoming far more as it becomes a project in it’s own right that may possibly help other parents faced with losing their child.

The main areas I need to work on are getting my workflow right, I found myself editing the photos and then restarting the process a number of times. As part of this I need to be more disciplined with storing all of the images I use, selecting those I plan to edit and then keeping only the ones I plan on using for the final body of work.

I also need to become more familiar with the editing tools I’m using so that I can begin to develop a signature style.

Background

My son Rhys was born on January 7th 1998. He was just under a month pre-mature because his mum suffered from pre-eclampsia during the final stages of her pregnancy.  Shortly after he was born the doctors confirmed that he had a condition called Neurofibromatosis, something inherited from his mum.

For the first two years of his life the only scare we had with him was over his first Christmas and New Year when we thought he might have contracted pneumonia.

By the time he was three that scare would pale into insignificance for us as we dealt with that dreaded of words, Cancer.

Below is a summary of everything, medically, that has led us to where we find ourselves now.

Neurofibromatosis Type 1, since birth. No active treatment.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, diagnosed summer 2000. Chemotherapy.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (Relapse), summer 2005. Chemotherapy, cranial radiotherapy (1½ years).
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (Relapse), end 2007 / start 2008. Bone Marrow Transplant (May 2008).
Malignant peripheral nerve sheaf tumour (stomach), 2014. Surgery on stomach.
Malignant peripheral nerve sheaf tumour (stomach) – recurrence, 2015. Surgery on stomach.
Meningioma (left forehead area), 2014. Surgery – December 2015 to remove and replace affected bone with acrylic insert.
Seizure, 2016. Result of the surgery on his brain.
Malignant peripheral nerve sheaf tumour (left thigh), 2016. Surgery to remove, Post-operative radiotherapy.
Tumour (lung) – resulting from left thigh nerve sheaf tumour, 2017. Removal of wedge of lung by keyhole surgery.
Tumour (facial), 2017. Underwent radiotherapy in preparation for surgery to remove tumour and for facial reconstruction.
Tumour (brain), 2017. Days prior to starting radiotherapy for facial tumour, a series of fits led to the discovery of a brain tumour. This tumour could not be treated. Subsequent scans identified further tumours growing.

Square Mile (New Vision)

It’s funny how events make you re-evaluate your thoughts and intentions.

My initial plan for this assignment had been to take photographs in the area around where I live. Recently though the term title of the assignment has come to have a far different meaning in my life. I’ve tried to pull together a series of images that sum up the way life is at the moment and evoke more of the sense that for us right now square mile is not so much something that is bound in the physical world but also in time and in the limits on what we are able to do.

Below is the current sequence of images that I am planning to use, there are a couple more that I want to use as well as contact sheets for everything that I’ve decided not to use.

Some of the photos were taken a few months ago but are things I feel help summarising the journey.

Thoughts and comments are welcome.

 

1 - Rhys leaning against car - 1500px
1 – Leaning against car

 

 

2 - Bristol Birthday Trip - 1500px
2 – Bristol birthday trip

3 - Easter in Wales - exposure +1.0 shadows -100 highlights +41 - 1500px
3 – Easter in Wales

 

4 - Silverstone - AMG Mercedes - Rosberg Car - 1500px
4 – AMG Petronas team HQ: Nico Rosberg’s 2016 championship winning car

 

5 - Silverstone - AMG Mercedes - Trophies - cropped - 1500px
5 – AMG Petronas HQ – Trophies and rare goodies

 

6 - Stormtroopers, Scout and mini Stormtrooper gift - 1500px
6 – Stormtroopers, Scout and mini-me Stormtrooper

 

7 - Stormtrooper and Scout - 1500px
7 – Stormtrooper and Scout inspecting mini-me

 

8 - St Margaret's Pagoda - 1500px
8 – Hospice pagoda

 

9 - St Margaret's Bench - 1500px
9 – Hospice garden bench

 

11 - Rhys' Chair - 1500px
10 – Empty Chair

 

12 - Rhys Bokeh - 1500px
11 – Cheeky grin, full of life

 

Below are the current contact sheets to go with the assignment.

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Square Mile (Thought Process)

Brief

Make a series of between 6 and 12 photographs that responds to the concept of the ‘Square Mile’. Use this as an opportunity to take a fresh and experimental look at your surroundings. You may wish to re-trace your steps to places that you know very well, examining how they might have changed; or, particularly if you’re in a new environment, you may wish to use photography to explore your surroundings and meet some of the people around you.
You may wish to explore the concept of Y Filltir Sgwâr further, or you may deviate from this. Decide whether to focus on urban space or the natural environment.
You’ll need to shoot many more than 12 photographs for this assignment from which you’ll make your final edit. You should try to make your final set of photographs ‘sit’ together as a series. Don’t necessarily think about making a number of individual pictures, but rather a set of photographs that complement one another and collectively communicate your idea. Title your photographs or write short captions if you feel this is appropriate and would benefit the viewer.
However you choose to approach this assignment, it should communicate something about you: your interests, motivations, and your ambitions for your photography. Think of it as a way to introduce yourself to your tutor. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to this brief, as long as you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone in terms of subject matter; try out new approaches rather than sticking to what you think you’re most successful at.

Initial thoughts

My initial thoughts with regards to this assignment were that I wanted to limit the area that I used for the photographs to within a mile of my home. Google provides a useful measuring tool which allowed me to work out an area that was roughly 1 mile in a north/south direction and 1 mile in an east/west direction. My home was not the centre of this area as I found that there were major roads that would provide useful boundaries, the one that provided the southern boundary being reasonably close to my home.

The thing that leapt out at me from the brief was the part about re-tracing your steps to places that you know very well. Recently two places that I know fairly well have undergone changes.

The church my family and I have attended since 2000 has just completed a major renovation project and the vicar is looking for people to take photographs so that they can update the various booklets and leaflets about the church.

In addition to this a public house that we have used for the odd meal out and quiet drink has been revamped and is now a veterinary clinic.

Both of these venues are located on the southern edge of the area that I decided to limit myself to.

At the northern edge of the area a new housing estate is being built. With the new houses springing up I find my home becoming deeper and deeper within the town as it slowly creeps outwards and consumes the surrounding countryside.

While working on the exercises leading up to this assignment I had to return to the area where I grew up in order to empty the last bits from my late parent’s home before we sell it. I took the opportunity to take some photos at the cemetery where my grandparents are buried because I knew that there was a river running through the middle of it. Walking to the bridge that overlooked the river was nothing new, however, getting back to my car led me to discovering a footpath which lead to a part of the cemetery I’d never visited. During the walk to and from the car I found myself noticing gravestones in locations I’d never spotted before, some of which were difficult to reach but which still had flowers adorning them.

On the drive to the cemetery I took a longer route than I would normally have done, with the aim of stopping to photograph a river that ended up in a pool below a bridge. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a place to stop and being pushed for time had to carry on. I found myself driving in parts of the area I’d not been since I was a child and as I did spotted an old quarry with dilapidated buildings, some with walls that had collapsed, others covered with graffiti. Again I couldn’t stop to explore further but both these instances highlighted that no matter how long you may live in an area there are parts of it you just don’t discover unless you have some reason to go exploring.

If I’ve learned one thing since I’ve started exploring my photography, it’s that we go around with our eyes closed to the world around us and don’t notice all the interesting things there are to see.

Research

Tom Hunter

• Look at the two series Life and Death in Hackney and Unheralded Stories.
• Do you notice the connection between the people and their surroundings? How does
Hunter achieve this?
Hunter makes the people in his photos the focus of the photograph. He achieves this by by making them stand out from the surroundings because they are incongruous either because they should not be there, by the use of colour to draw the eye to them or by other features that catch the eye but which then draw the eye back to the person.

• What kinds of places are these photographs set in? Are they exotic, special or ordinary,
everyday places?
The places in the photographs are everyday ones, the sort of place that can be found with little or only slight effort.

• There’s something “mythical” and yet also “everyday” about Hunter’s pictures. Look
carefully at one or two images and try to pick out the features that suggest these two
different qualities.
In “Victoria Falls” Hunter has taken a photograph of water flowing over what appears to be a weir on a river, something that it is possible to see on many a river. At the base of the weir, waist deep, is a woman who evokes the image of a mermaid or water nymph. Why is she there? Is her name Victoria and she has just fallen over the weir into the water below?
In “The Way Home” we see what appears to be undergrowth alongside a road or train line, something that you can see any day as you travel on foot or by car, bus or train. Hidden from the view of passers-by lies a woman, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty or the Lady of the Lake. Is she asleep, is she resting or is it something more sinister.

Dan Holdsworth

• Why do you think he often works at night? Is it because there’s less people and traffic
about to clutter the view? Is it because of the effect of light in a long exposure and the
sense of artificiality or “strangeness” that brings to the image?

I think that Dan Holdsworth works at night because the effects that can be achieved because of longer exposures as well as light sources can make scenes seem strange and eerie.

I certainly don’t believe that he works at night in order so that people and traffic don’t impact on his work. Looking at his series Blackout and Forms the presence of people is irrelevant. The images in these series could have been taken any time because the impact of people would have been minimal. Although in Blackout I do feel that the presence of people would have been a bit jarring.

• What happens to your interpretation when the views are distant, wide and the main
emphasis is on the forms of the man-made landscape?

Wider views give bigger scope for interpreting the image in ways different to what was seen through the viewfinder. In Blackout the choice of black and white leads gives the landscape a lunar feel to it.

• Is there a sense that these images are both objective (because you are looking out at the
world) and subjective (because they seem to deliberately conjure up a mood)?

I would say that the images Dan Holdsworth produces contain a variety of elements that allow for both objective and subjective interpretations.