Part 3 Feedback

I’ve had a chat with my tutor about assignment 3 and the work I did during the thrid part of the course. As the chat was online I’ve got the written feedback in bullet form which I’ve included below.

Assignment 3

  • Improvement in Photoshop skills, well suited to the idea you are exploring. The merge function has worked well and to good effect.
  • Overall images lack ‘punch’ this could be addressed through increasing contrast or some saturation. Consider what it it you are trying to convey – what is the relationship between the 2 figures.
  • It’s a strong idea but what is the dialogue/conversation between the 2?
  • How might you better direct the models to communicate your ideas. Were there any barriers in directing them more?
  • Both images are staged against very busy backgrounds which appear out of context/
    incongruous with the activity. Consider how you might overcome this whilst remaining true to your original vision.
  • Sequencing of images could be important in helping you develop and communicate your idea/concept.

As I’ve progressed through the course I’ve used the techniques that have been highlighted in the course notes and exercises. Some I’ve found useful, others not so much. Some techniques I use regularly, others very infrequently.

Recently I’ve been making use of other techniques to improve the quality of my images, spot removal for instance.

One of the suggestions for the next assignment is to make use of the tone curve in order to improve the tonality and contrast in my images. I’ve started doing that with some photographs I took of seals while staying in Norfolk. I also looked at adjusting the saturation and vibrance in a couple of images, which I think make them better.

With regards to the assignment I had considered a number of techniques that would allow me to overlay the images. However, being of the keep it simple school of thought, decided to go with what I felt was the easiest.

The concept behind the series of images is one that I will try and explore further, with other subjects as well as the two that I’ve already used. However, before I undertake further shoots I need to refine the brief and also come up with a bit more of a narrative.

I think the point about directing the models better is a fair one. Although there wasn’t any probems communicating what I wanted, I gave a very high level of instruction and let them do what they wanted. Having a better idea of what I want to achieve I hope will allow better direction.

In general I think I hadn’t given enough thought about what I was trying to convey and the story I wanted to get across. I had a subject for the photographs (performers) and an idea of what I wanted to do (have the same person performing and viewing themselves) but hadn’t gone beyond that. Something I need to work at in the next section of the course.

Projects/ Exercises

Part 1. Series and sequence: good attempt at maintaining the crop – not easy in a
public space. Seasonal change is a well known example to explore. Returning
to previous ideas and exploring them in projects/exercises is beneficial. Good
to shoot a range of options – good that you reflected on that advice! Images
lack contrast, add slight a curve?

Part 2. Difficult as your sitter is sensitive to appearance, what did you feel about this
exercise, might you have chosen a different sitter?

Part 3. Couldn’t be accessed.

With Part 2, using another sitter would have meant arranging a time convenient to both of us when they could have dropped in and we could have taken the photos. The brief requiring us to take photos, and then allow the person being photographed to doctor the images in whatever way they saw fit required access to a printer or some other means of producing a print. Without ready access to this, the exercise involves a lot of scheduling of time and availability of everyone involved.

Part 3 just wasn’t there. When reading through the course notes I missed the part about researching Richard Billingham’s photos. I’ve remedied that now.

Learning Log/Blog

You continue to maintain a well populated learning log that features detailed notes and
thoughts on a range of exhibitions and visits. Interesting to read your reflections on Arbus – what do you think on her approach to her ‘subjects’, to those on the outskirts of the society of which she was a part. Do you find the work voyeuristic or do you think she had empathy with them? She is a much discussed/cited photographer, often much is made of the manner of her death but how much has this shaped our discourse around her?

Consider some of these issues when looking at the work and try to get less bogged down in the detail around her wider life story (husband, children, work etc.). This is important to some degree, but it is background information. What we are discussing here is the work on its own terms – what do you understand/feel when you look at her work – what response do you have to it?

Arbus was an interesting person, reading the biography showed that. What I didn’t do was move beyond the biodgraphy and explore her work in enough detail, critiquing some of her images. I’ll look to do that in another post, and also remember to do something similar with other photographers whose biographies I read. Although understanding who they are or were is important, exploring their work is the way to develop ourselves as photographers, looking at what it is appeals or intrigues us, draws us to them.

In response to the questions posed:

I don’t feel that her work is voyeuristic. I believe that she was drawn to the people that she chose to photograph because she had a certain empathy with them. They weren’t part of mainstream society, and she herself didn’t fit how society might have dictated she should behave. By photographing “freaks” and people who were different she was highlighting how diverse society is. Although her photos could be seen as voyeuristic I don’t think that she would have been able to capture the images she did without instilling trust in the people she photographed. No matter how good a photographer you might be, without your subject trusting you, you’ll never truly personal and intimate images.

I think the manner of her death will colour any discussion of her work. If you know something about a person, how they lived and even died then it will have an influence on how you see their work. If you know the circumstances around a photograph they’ve taken, you begin to see it differently.

For instance if you were to see an image of someone in the street and they appeared angry then you’d wonder what has caused them to be angry. If that person was part of a crowd at a demonstration then that anger could be directed at the target of the demonstration, police or armed forces that were policing the demonstration, people who were protesting against the demonstration. You could not be sure but could come up with multiple reasons. However, if you were then told that moments after the photograph was taken they ripped the camera away from the photographer you see the image differently and an entirely different set of reasons for their anger opens up.

If Arbus had died of old age, illness or in an accident then her work would be seen in a different light. Arbus taking her own life, colours how we see her work because it becomes the product of someone who struggled throughout her life, who didn’t always have control over the work she produced but did have control over the way her life ended. It also lends a degree of tragedy to her work and leave the question of how successful a photographer would she have become if she’d not committed suicide.

Suggested reading/viewing

You might enjoy the film on Diane Arbus ‘Fur’
A recent show in London at The Barbican ‘Photography on the Margins, more here: https://www.barbican.org.uk/our-story/press-room/another-kind-of-life-photography-on-the-margins
Do some more research around the show, read some reviews (it has since closed)
investigate some the practitioners listed further.
For the next assignment – have a look at the work of OCA tutor, Andy Hughes here:
http://www.andyhughes.net/

I’ll be looking at ‘Fur’ when the opportunity presents itself. An initial look at the trailer and reviews show a film that is a very artistic spin on Arbus; although based in part on fact, is focussed on a short period of her life, and which doesn’t touch upon her eventual suicide in any way.

For assignment 4 I want to try and build on some of the photos I took in Cyprus that reflect man’s impact on the environment. Although the assignment relates to still life I look to take this outside the confines of a studio/home and instead capture images in situ, but in a way that leaves the subject matter isolated from the environment and so making it unclear as to whether it is natural or constructed.

The biggest challenge being finding locations and creating the still life, do I capture objects as is or build something from them.

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