OCA Thames Valley Workshop : 19th October 2013

OCA Thames Valley Workshop : 19th October 2013

 Photography, portraits and prints

Eight of us met, with tutor Sharon Boothroyd in attendance.  The format, as usual, was a portfolio review in the morning and then a discussion in the afternoon.  Our homework for the discussion was to read Chapter 4 of David Bate’s book Photography : The Key Concepts.

The morning session

Experimental work, a photo essay exercise and two sets of work towards assignments for AOP and DPP provided a lot to think about and digest here. I was able to experience a microcosm of the way in which my own process of “compassion fatigue” sets in, despite the strategies of the photographer to challenge this. I realised over again how difficult I find it to edit a selection of photographs to produce a ‘story’.  We also discussed methods of presentation – size of prints and use and placement of captions.  Sharon then shared her progress on a new series she is working on at the moment, including giving us a live demonstration of how she works later in the afternoon.

My print experiments

_MG_5525 2 edit 12x8 low res


As there was time, I took the opportunity to ask for some feedback on two prints of the image above.  The background to this was that, since the Arles Residential Visit I had been thinking more about presentation. I’ve been working on edits of my Templemere project and I wanted to achieve a print with a dark glow, perhaps an aluminium print.  I asked for some suggestions on OCA Flickr and decided to use The Printspace and Kodak metallic paper. The print arrived the next day and I’d liked the effect but it was quite glossy and almost like a print on a mirror or on aluminium. I knew that, if I was going to submit such a print for an assignment or Assessment, then I would have to have a good justification for it. Kodak Metallic paper doesn’t seem to be generally available so, after more discussion on OCA Flickr, I decided to experiment with Permajet Titanium Lustre using my own printer.  It was definitely less glossy and had a slight texture to it that gave almost a painted effect.  My next step was to bring the prints to the TV group.

Feedback was generally positive with not a lot of difference seen between the two. Comment was made that the narrow border on my own print made it slightly more difficult to compare as the Printspace print was full bleed. I had aimed for full bleed  on Titanium Lustre print but my sizing was inaccurate and I need to work on this. My Titanium print was considered to be slightly cooler than the Kodak metallic in having a slight blue tone and suggestion made to warm it up and print it again. John had also thought he could detect ‘bronzing’ on the shadow areas but when he double-checked it wasn’t there.  I’ve looked this up and found this discussion.   I need to read it again but is seems to me that having two different types of black ink (as in more expensive printers) is a way to overcome this effect which appears to happen sometimes on glossy paper.

Dave also reminded me of the photographs we had seen at the Somerset House Exhibition,  Henri Bresson-Cartier: A Question of Colour  – a Russian (?) photographer and  the low-key prints were very large and on aluminium. I immediately recalled how their rich, dark tones deeply glowed and also how we commented at the time that you had to stand in a certain place to avoid the reflections on them from the lighting.

The afternoon Session


The points I picked up from my reading of Bate’s chapter were

  1. Portraiture is a semiotic event for social identity and aims to say, “this is how you look”.
  2. Painters began to use photographs as a basis for their paintings and this changed the conventions of posture and style – e.g. hand used to prop the face. Photographers also borrowed from paintings.
  3. All classes could benefit from photography in different ways and to meet their different aspirations.
  4. There are 4 basic elements of portraits that work together to make up their codes of description – Face; pose; clothing and location/background setting.
  5. The question of how much can be ‘read’ from an image goes back to Plato and his distrust of surface visual appearance so there is always a critical suspicion that the surface is hiding or covering something over. It’s like the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” I suppose or “handsome is as handsome does”. However this leaves out the intentionality of the spectator in the equation.
  6. When we look at a portrait we ‘recognize’ the human figure and this process gives us pleasure – the pleasure of looking (scopophilia). The fact that we ‘recognize’ means that we are returning to something already known, and this fits with the ‘compulsion to repeat’.
  7.  This pleasure of recognition applies to 3 general categories of people – familiar, unfamiliar and known representations (e.g. celebrities). We are a viewer with the camera and looking at images of others engages our own sense of self. The latter links with Lacan’s ‘mirror’ phase – the process by which the infant recognizes itself as a person through identification with its ‘mirror’ image of another person and, in this sense, human identity is a precarious structure because it is subject to ‘others’.
  8. A central gratification of portraiture is that it addresses the question, “Am I like this person or not?”.  This can link to the phenomenon of projection where we relocate feelings (usually uncomfortable) about ourselves within another person or thing. This process of projection also has implications for what we do with portraits, e.g. we can confirm our own stereotypes.
  9. There are certain techniques which can be used to encourage viewers to use their imagination to prove to themselves that the traits they believe they see do exist. The artist Gainsborough achieved this through leaving some features undetermined. Leonardo da Vinci used the technique of sfumato  – slightly smudging Mona Lisa’s face to give her an enigmatic quality such that she seems to smile or frown according to the mood we project when we look at her face. Photographers such as Julia Cameron and Edward Steichen used soft-focus blur similar to the painting technique of Rembrandt. An opposite technique to this can be the use of excess detail in an image such as images by the photographer Thomas Ruff where the viewer will search for meaning.

An interesting post on WeAreOCA blog by tutor Russell Squires also gave me food for thought. This concerned Russell’s experience of photographers not wanting to be a ‘subject’. His point of view is that to be a portrait photographer one must go through the process oneself,

You must understand what it is like to be in front of the lens and relinquish your power to another. And it is the power and control element that fundamentally drives a portrait photographer. Take note, they are in charge, dictating the lighting, the pose and the focus, then at a precise moment firing the shutter, capturing a moment that is theirs and theirs alone (R. Squires, 14.10.13)

Russell goes on to talk about the ways in which some photographers are endeavouring to circumvent this and he refers to the idea of a ‘controlled chaotic environment’. I have certainly been photographed umpteen times in my life.  For me it’s having to sit still for a certain length of time in what feels like a frozen pose that’s the most difficult. I had a very different experience though when I was a guinea pig/subject for Keith when he began exploring his idea for a project on women and landscape photography . It felt much more collaborative because he talked about what he was doing and why and we discussed where I should be and how I should pose.

Group Discussion and Exercises

“Can we tell anything about a person from a photograph of them?” Sharon shared four different photographs of herself to illustrate this. I have always been interested in this searching for the ‘true’ person underneath (linking with (6) above) and the two poles  –  every portrait shows something of the essence of a person versus we only see what the person/subject wants to portray.

Sharon then led us into some exercises around the aspect of the how we can be manipulated by whoever uses the image to see what they want us to see.  Three images – an older man (I was quickly aware that he reminded me of my husband!) and a young man and woman. We had to write down what came into our heads when certain were made – “This person is going to be famous, committed a serious crime,  is a a philanthropist. I found it hard to project anything particularly imaginative. It’s hard for me to do that when all I see is a face without any context – but then to see them in some kind of context might make me project more. On the other hand, maybe I’m resistant to directions to think in a certain way/the statements were too closed.

Following this we looked at elements of portraits with Dave as our willing guinea pig. We thought about this in three different ways – writing a sentence about how we saw him; thinking of a photograph that could tell a lie about him and then discussing with him how he would want to be taken.  It was the third method that I was most interested in and it opened my mind more flexibly towards portraits, helping to dissolve a few of my inhibitions I think.  Dave said he would like to be seen in a more serious, thinking pose and Sharon asked me if I would take the photograph using her Canon 5D. I was pleased that Dave said he liked it and it’s a pity I can’t show it here but there it rests on Sharon’s camera card.

We then went to the laundry area as Sharon was very interested in its pictorial qualities and I ended up being a ‘subject’ as she used her Mamiya film camera. I knew this was how it worked but hadn’t really thought about the effect of having to make a photograph when what you see is upside down and this led to some interesting effects as Sharon was ‘staging’ me.

Immediate thoughts of the day

Interesting, interactive and it moved me on in a positive way. I enjoyed seeing how people were progressing with their various projects and was pleased to get some feedback on my prints.  Also a different way of looking at portraits in a collaborative sense – not how people don’t want to be portrayed and trying to meet that, but working with people on how they do want to be portrayed.  Each has its pitfalls and difficulties I’m sure but it does seem more freeing somehow and fits in with Russell Squire’s point in his blog post.

How I’m moving things forward


Discussing them as opposed to taking them as yet!  There’s been another interesting post by Russell Squires on WeAreOCA as a follow up to the first one were he talks about self-portraiture  He writes,

I ask now, why produce a self-portrait; is it to construct another identity in which to provide a sense of externalisation. Or do we create these images to see a perceived idealised version or ourselves?

This accords with Bate’s comments regarding narcissism. Conversely a visit to two recent Exhibitions under the umbrella of Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity contained self-portraiture that challenged idealized and sentimental views of motherhood and aimed to show how identity is altered through the process of becoming a mother.


I’ve looked back and the photographer at the Somerset House Exhibition was the Ukrainian photographer  Boris Savelev, here  and here  who prints all his photographs himself using traditional and alternative techniques.  The ones we saw at Somerset House were multi-layered pigment prints on gesso coated aluminium. There’s no mention of the type of gesso but I’m assuming it’s clear and applied as a primer.  They certainly have a dark and melancholy richness. The effect is very unusual but I do think that a lot of attention needs to be given to placement of this type of print.

There was also a discussion  about printing on the OCA Flickr forum  Technical for me, but it was regarding the use of either Perceptual (P) or Relative Colormetric (RC) rendering intent.  I’ve used RC up to now because that’s what Scott Kelby suggests.  Still, encouraged by the discussion I did two small test prints using each.  The difference is infinitesimal to my eye but Perceptual does seem to have a slightly lighter effect which I’ll bear in mind.

I also arranged to go and visit a local photographic printing company and went yesterday.  I’ve been exploring the idea of not having a whole book printed, just the images, and then creating my own covers. Actually I’ve been thinking about this for a year and so I decided to take some action instead of pondering about it all the time! Michelle, the owner, showed me the type of  books they produce. They provide software if necessary and generally use hard covers similar to those sold by Opus  – in fact I’ve had one of those – yes – for a year.  The full photo book cost is £60 for  15 pages/30sides which is more expensive than Blurb. They do have alternatives, such as just providing a cover-wrap for one’s self-created book.  The photopaper they generally use is Naritsu double-sided Lustre which is similar to  Blurb Premium Lustre but Michelle also showed me some Tecco Professional Matt which is 225gm.  I mentioned I’d tried some metallic paper and she also showed me some Tecco Iridium Silver Gloss that she mainly uses for Company work. After that Michelle showed me the large Epson printer she uses,  her smaller Noritsu mini-lab and we had a brief discussion on hand-developing black and white film.

All in all I came away with a lot to think about, although my tendency at present is still to think about either Blurb books or creating my own book. To that end, I have enrolled for five sessions on a weekly evening course which is an introduction to Book Arts and Book Binding run by Meg Green .   I’ve had quite a lot of email contact with her and was pleased to discover that she is particularly interested in ‘the psychogeography of place as an accumulation of cultural identity’ which seems excellent synchronicity. The course begins on the 7th November and I’m looking forward to meeting her.  Have several ideas of book projects I’d like to embark on.


The OCA Thames valley Group meetings are certainly continuing to exert a creative effect!  I think it’s because meeting face to face has so much more impact and seeing other people’s work spurs me on to progress my own. Additionally I’m beginning to feel more settled in myself in terms of my own photography.

31st October 2013



Bate, D, Photography : The Key Concepts (2009), Berg, Oxford










OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th August 2013: (B) Discussing Martha Rosler’s work

 Martha Rosler In, Around and Afterthoughts (1981)

This was our ‘homework’ for theoretical discussion. Generally, I think it’s important to first have a look at an author’s context and general attitudes and beliefs so that I can take this into account. This time I thought I knew what she was about and so spent more time in reading the piece (three times), making notes, and making assumptions that were sometimes erroneous.  This is partly due to my own experiences at the time she was writing and also because I found her frustrating to read mainly because she seemed to wander around the years and switch between them as if her readers already knew what she was talking about – like a conversation amongst old friends; an in-group discussion. Of course, that’s what she was doing to some extent and I’ll come to that later. It was also a “This is so” analysis of documentary photography rather than a balanced view, looking at it from all aspects.  Whenever that happens I do tend towards looking for arguments against and know that I have to watch out for that – otherwise I’m doing whatever I’m complaining about!

Martha Rosler  (b. 1943) is an American artist who works with multi-media.”Her work deals with the separation of the public and private sphere, exploring issues from everyday life and the media to architecture and the built environment”. She is also a writer. In, around, and afterthoughts, is a 1981 critical essay exploring these questions more systematically and attempting to develop criteria to define contemporary photographic activities as meaningful social practice. What Rosler appears to be saying is that, in the earliest years, ‘documentary’ photographers were using their images to show how the “underclass’ of society lived and to gain some amelioration of their conditions. This was from humanitarian attitudes but also to encourage charitable giving to prevent social unrest.  In Rosler’s view such Charity “is an argument for the preservation of wealth” and “the need to give a little in order to mollify the dangerous classes” (p. 177, 2004).

In the 1930s (In the US) Roosevelt’s Administration responded to the Depression by instituting a “New Deal” – Relief (for the unemployed and poor); Recovery (of the economy) and Reform (of the financial system). One example of this was Farm Security Administration (FSA) created in 1937 that had a special photographic section  Again the images were used to gain sympathy for the plight of the poor and also to encourage the population to accept the New Deal and the move towards social reform.  The photographs achieved the aims of the FSA and did bring in money for general relief. However,  Rosler refers in particular to the photograph of Florence Thompson taken by Dorothea Lange; how Florence Thompson became a ‘symbol’ of the Depression and yet did not directly benefit Florence and her family (p. 185, ibid). All this is what Rosler terms “liberal documentary”. “Causality is vague, blame is not assigned, fate cannot be overcome” neither the victim nor the oppressor are blamed, “unless they happen to be under the influence of our own global enemy, World Communism”.

As I wrote earlier, Rosler does tend to skip around the years so I am making my own ‘logical’ order here.  She moves on to state how, “ 60s radical chic has given way to eighties’ pugnacious self-interest” (p.180) so that in the 1960s, photographers took the view that they were not there to reform but to show “what is” (I think of Robert Frank and William Klein here for instance) and thence, as photography moved into the Art gallery photographers aspired to achieve a higher status and fame. Her conclusion is

Perhaps a radical documentary can be brought into existence. But the common acceptance of the idea that documentary precedes, supplants, transcends, or cures full substantive social activism is an indicator that we do not yet have a real documentary” (ibid, p. 196).

In our group discussion we identified these different stages and particularly talked about photo-journalism; the role of war photography and other documentary that portrays misery and powerlessness. Does that change anything? If not, what’s the point. Are we as photographers just exploiting our subjects to take photographs that people will look at for an instant and then move on?

During the discussion I told myself that we were really only talking about an extreme – war photography and similar.  I began to  think about documentary photography that had influenced change, even on a more individual scale. Dana Popa and her project around sex-trafficking and how this work has informed a project to assist the victims. Jodi Bieber  and how her photograph of Aesha Mohammadzai the young Afghan woman mutilated by her husband’s family, led to free reconstructive surgery in New York. I hope that there are many other similar stories of the power of photographic images to influence change, but I still cannot help but feel despondent that, whatever, is done violence and war continue unabated so, is there any point?

Reading about “Radical Documentary” I began to think that this was concerned with marching alongside protesters; taking part in protests; gaining publicity for radical views. I think I was imagining Rosler as similar to the young Jane Fonda.  I was also linking into my experiences of social work training in 1978/9 at the mention of documentary photographers and ‘social work’. In the first term we had a series of lectures on radical social work – Thomas Szasz and “the myth of mental illness”; Howard Becker’s Labelling Theory; how social work was an agent of an “iron fist in velvet glove’ governmental authority, just placing a sticking plaster on the fundamental ills of the capitalist society. I remember feeling horrified and saying there was no way I wanted to be involved in that kind of oppression.   At the same time, I had this “Yes but ….” view. Surely that didn’t mean that one shouldn’t do anything right now to help people whilst waiting for the revolution to occur. There are so many shades of grey.

That’s the danger of making assumptions. I had to come back home after the Thames Valley Group meeting and read further to gain a more informed understanding.

Further Reading on Martha Rosler and “Thinking Photography”

Postmodern ideas encouraged new thinking around social documentary photography and Martha Rosler (along with Allan Sekula and Fred Lonidier was a member of an informal study group formed in California during the mid-1970s. The three of them were soon at the core of what was being called in the mid-1980s

…the new documentary, or the new social documentary, created by sophisticated, college-educated, politically active intellectuals who wanted to use photography as an important element of social critique.

(p. 438, M.W. Marien, 2002)

The group was influenced by Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and the breaking down of the “aura” of the original work of art.  They were also influenced by the thinking of Bertolt Brecht – his notion that “less than ever does a simple reproduction of reality express something about reality” and Brecht’s understanding of how to affect an audience with a story. Brecht believed in constructing obviously artificial situations and disrupting the anticipated narrative with the unexpected.

The group linked conceptual Art with political protests/activism and so helped to form a new philosophy and practice that was very different from that of earlier documentary photographers. They wanted to find a way to comment on social oppression without generating what they called ‘victim photographs’ that only evoked self-satisfying sympathy or voyeurism among viewer.

Assumptions about the  causes of poverty and the power of photography to report them were challenged in relation to renowned images from the past (hence In, Around and afterthoughts) Presentations of gender and ethnicity in film and advertising were examined and also incorporated into visual analysis of the power of images. There was one comment by Mary Warner that reverberated with my own perception, mentioned above, that Rosler was writing for an in-group that already knew what she was talking about:-

The new documentarians wrote in language that required familiarity with history and philosophical distinctions, an obvious obstacle to non-intellectual audiences (M.W. Marien 2002, p. 441)

In the early to mid 1970s, Rosler had made three photomontage series called Bringing Home the War” (c. 1976-72) that combined mass-media images of the conflict in Vietnam with pictures taken from design and architectural magazines. Almost 20 years afterwards she revived this series in response to the Iraq War.

Watching this video and seeing the images on websites such as this  I could see Brecht’s influence. It made me think of  his War Primer   and also the recent  re-worked version War Primer 2 by Broomberg & Chanarin  that did take my breath with its poignant images and words despite my being used to seeing countless images of war, death, violence and bloodshed. I think this is what Martha Rosler and her colleagues were aiming to achieve; to find this new way of drawing attention. The main problem as I see it is that as with any genre the viewer gets used to seeing a particular type of image so that the new quickly becomes the old and then yet newer ways have to be found.

Some further thoughts

Subsequently, John Umney sent the Thames Valley Group a link to a recent post on Duckrabbit   with John Macpherson’s conclusion that maybe we should “accept that it [the war photographer’s job] may only usefully serve to mark, and honour, the passing of the fallen, and as a consequence to remind we who are left alive how lucky we are”. I agree John Macpherson’s final sentence that this is an unsettling and disquieting notion and yet it fits with the view of documentary photography that Martha Rosler pointed towards in 1981 and is still working to overcome.   I feel more heartened by a link from the Duckrabbit post to  a post about faked images and separating fact from fiction on the BBC blog News from Elsewhere

I’ve left to the last another issue that the Thames Valley Group touched upon which concerns what makes an ethical photographer and documentary photography.  Aspects which came up for me where should documentary images appear on a gallery wall; the importance to me of explaining and engaging with people; how my practice fits with my personal conscience. Other suggestions were that documentary photography should make people ask questions and should represent some type of truth/reality. I think the last is probably the hardest given that we all have our own versions of the truth and is there such a thing as a generally accepted truth. this is something I need to work on more.

20th August 2013



Rosler, M ( ) In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) (1981in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings 1975-2001 (2004) MIT Press, London

Marien, M.W. (2002) Photography: A Cultural History 3rd Ed, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London



http://duckrabbit.info/blog/2013/08/war-porn-blood-loss-and-living/ [accessed 19.8.2013]







OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th August 2013: (A) Overall View

Thames Valley Group Meeting : 17th August, 2013 in Thatcham

(A) Overall View.

I missed the third meeting and so it was good to meet up with everyone again. Nine of us gathered together, with Sharon our attending tutor, for what proved, as usual to be a very full day.

Portfolio Review

As before I was struck by the sheer variety of work and interests, indeed passions, that absorbed each of us, and how much we could learn from each other. What was also reinforced for me was the importance of expressing our own vision.  I know this is pretty much drummed into us by tutors but I always realise it anew when I see so many different responses to a piece of work.

Interesting aspects and questions raised included:-

  • If photographs have been taken in a particular location is that location the best place to exhibit them and how can/should ‘permissions’ be handled (e.g. release forms)?
  • The contrast between seeing a person and then hearing their voice separately illustrates how the image can deny the reality (reference made by Sharon to Taryn Simon’s work)
  • How attaching one image to another anchors them together and so follows the voice of the artist and his/her intention. What effect does this have on the viewer?
  • How does contextual information in an image inform the reading of that image?
  • Is there an actual difference between female and male landscape photographers?
  • How captions; text and words influence the reading of an image. How they can be used to add information rather than directing it.
  • Much discussion on editing/processing photographs. How far can we go with this? Should there be ‘rules’; do each of us have our own ‘rules’.
  • If I take a photograph of a work of art – whether the whole or a detail, can I call it “my art”.
  • Thinking how taking photographs at the same event, by the same photographer,  can lead to very different outcomes and effects depending on how they are to be used.
  • Using an evocative approach in building a narrative around place and the use of sound. Sharon provided the example of Interval II  the work of Suki Chan, a video that including the murmurations of starlings.

I presented some work I’ve been doing towards Assignment 5 of People & Place and the feedback was very helpful for me in clarifying my emotional response to that environment. I’ll be writing more on this in a subsequent post.

Afternoon Discussion

We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked for the discussion on Martha Rosler’s 1981 Essay In, Around and Afterthoughts. It raised some complicated issues regarding the nature of, intentions and effect of photography, particularly documentary and so, for me, it deserves a separate blog post – to follow.


Everyone had brought work to show and discuss and so this took up much of the day. As I said above, I gain a lot from seeing and discussing other people’s work as well as my own, but concentration can fade after a few hours. The discussion on Martha Rosler’s piece was therefore limited. It raises a lot of complex issues and so I came away thinking I/We had only skimmed the surface and it deserves much deeper analysis and discussion, particularly as we touched upon some wider issues. I have done some more reading on Rosler and the Study Group she belonged to and so now feel much clearer about the issues which is why I’ll be writing a separate post.

I’ve given myself a lot of general questions as well – all of which arose from the morning discussion.  To begin with I’ll be thinking and reading more around the area of Women Landscape Photographers.

19th August 2013


Rosler, M ( ) In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) (1981)  in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings 1975-2001 (2004) MIT Press, London



Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

Second Meeting of OCA Thames Valley Group 20th April 2013

 We had a slightly different format this time with Portfolio review in the morning and then the afternoon spent discussing Semiotics.

Portfolio Review

I didn’t have anything to show at the last meeting because I had been going through a stuck phase which seemed to have lasted for months. It wasn’t that I wasn’t taking photographs just that I couldn’t feel enthusiastic about photography.  This time was different and I took two sets of prints from ongoing work.

(a) Medium Format Camera (earlier post here )

I told the others that they were my witnesses that I’d carried out my promise to myself to do more work with the camera. I’d expected to be asked, “Why film; why medium format?” and I was. I’m still not sure I was sufficiently coherent to give a reasoned reply though and keep thinking about this. It’s the whole process and the slower pace.  Putting film in the camera (still with some trepidation and remembering to push in the locking buttons); the awareness that it’s more costly; I won’t know what I’ve got until I get it back from the lab.  All this makes me consider framing and composition more.  I can’t just walk around the subject as I try to do every time now and then have a quick look at the screen to check the focus and settings. It’s exciting to get the negatives back and CD with scans. I hardly need to do anything at all apart from minimal tweaking and slight cropping (why does that black line appear down the side sometimes?).  The aspect ratio appeals to me and, most importantly, prints from film are different. They have a special quality for me, that soft clarity.

I got very positive feedback and encouragement to continue working with the camera; including the sense I’d conveyed of me looking at people from afar, from behind the trees, and beginning to show groupings; the way in which people come together in the landscape.

(b) Work towards Assignment 4 of People & Place

I explained the process I’d worked through from three visits to Winchester; and my developing concept of how one aspect of the cathedral is a place where the living meet the dead; a timeline; how still the visitors are in their looking.  Sharon was very positive about the idea of statues and also suggested I look at Mark Power’s “Mass” .

(c ) Insights gained from looking at other members” work

One aspect I enjoy is to see how others are progressing their ideas; trying new approaches, and how they’re putting their interests into coursework. As before, I won’t go into any detail because I know they’ll be writing their own posts. Areas covered looking at manipulation and reality; re-doing assignments in a completely different way – just for fun!; using small images as details to take the viewer beyond the frame/fill out the picture; dealing with issues regarding confidentiality and strategies used; combining found images with current ones; how to combine images of nature into a personal theme; moving forward on photographing people.

Sharon excellently models the critical approach towards selection for a series and the importance of having physical prints there that can be shuffled around to make different stories. It isn’t a case of the rest of us just sitting back to observe a 1:1 discussion – we all get involved and absorbed.

Introduction to Semiotics

This will need a separate post so that I can summarise what I’ve learned so far;  thoughts on the further work set for us, and, more importantly, how I’m making use of this type of analysis.  The format was good.  There was reading to do beforehand and we then had a discussion around the topic and the meanings of signifier/signified/denotation/connotation. We also talked about studum and punctum. After this Sharon read to us an essay on “The Hippopotamus” a photograph by Count de Montizon taken in 1852 (from David Bate, 2009)  which lead into some pairs/trio work on analyzing an advertisement to draw out the underlying messages.

We’ve been left with some further work to do. More questions for me to ponder concerning the order of ‘signs’; text as a form of relay as opposed to anchor and what needs to be in an image to make the viewer stop and look. Another topic was to now deconstruct a photograph. So many to choose from!

What did I gain from the day

After the discussion on my prints I said, “I feel like a photographer now”. I think that was a real step forward for me in that I’m taking myself more seriously and I’m sure that a part of that is being taken seriously by my peers.

The importance of meeting face to face with a tutor who is a role model for constructive criticism and analysis and demonstrates editing a series visually.

I’m very pleased that our small group has melded so quickly. We all knew each other already so that is obviously a factor but that shared purpose and desire to encourage others constructively is very important.

Semiotics doesn’t seem as complicated (once I put aside my reaction to the stilted language of its academic proponents) to the extent that I’ve ordered a book Semiotics: The Basics by Daniel Chandler. I know I can read it online as well under a different title (Semiotics: The Basics) but I wanted to get the book this time.

27th April 2013




Bate, D (2009) Photography (Key Concepts),  Berg, Oxford

Chandler, (D) (2007)  Semiotics: The Basics, Routledge



A Personal View : Inaugural Meeting of the OCa Thames Valley Group

A Personal View : Inaugural Meeting of the OCA Thames Valley Group on 23rd February 2013

I’ve done a write-up on this for OCASA, our student association website which will be appearing in due course, so I don’t want to just repeat it here.

In brief, Eddy had the idea for this group towards the end of last year and he gathered members together through the setting up of a new Flickr group http://www.flickr.com/groups/2084851@N24/.  As usually happens, it took a while for everyone to agree on a date but, in between, we did have an informal meet-up at the Cartier-Bresson/Colour Exhibition at Somerset House at the beginning of January. Through this we met Barry who was over from Japan (and is now an honorary member of the group).

Eight OCA students and an OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd,  gathered together on a cold, wintery Saturday for the inaugural meeting.  The comfortable venue and sandwich lunch were organised by Eddy who also made an application to OCASA for funding towards some tutor input – something which all of us had agreed was very important.  I was very pleased that Sharon agreed to be involved. I read her blog  and also her posts on WeAreOCA which are always thought-provoking and have changed my mind as well about conceptual photography.

Cameras were at the ready as one of the stipulations of the funding was that there had to be a write-up and photographs. There was also the promise of an ‘official’ group photograph, taken with large format camera by Keith and an experimental video by Siegfried.

The morning was spent looking at work in progress – half an hour each person (very hard to stick to !). I was impressed by the feedback everyone gave – careful and deliberate; critical without ‘criticising’ in that sense of making off-hand, harsh comments which can only put people down rather than encouraging them to develop and extend their thinking.  I know there have been various comments thrown in by ‘old-hands’ on the forums who state that that was how it used to be; it’s a cruel world out there in the profession of photography etc and you just had to get on with. My view is that, just because it was done that way in the past it doesn’t mean it has to be done that way now.

We were fortunate in having students from level 1 to Advanced and so it was very interesting to see and hear how approaches and concepts deepened and evolved with increasing experience, experimentation and study. Prints were spread out on tables; closely examined, and discussed.  There were the technical queries/comments, such as degrees of contrast, borders on prints and types of paper but it was the conscious deliberate inquiry into each image that was important. What was the underlying concept; what choices were made; how and why?  What strategies were used to engage the subject or disarm the pose (in portraits for instance). All of this gently steered by Sharon.

We had a short break for lunch and then composed ourselves for the large format camera portrait by Keith.  I’ve been following his explorations into portraiture closely.  I have to confess that I hate having my photograph taken, especially when I have to stand or sit their for ages whilst the photographer works out all the settings and keeps telling me to turn this or that way. Keith’s enthusiasm for and engagement with portraiture shines through and I was so busy watching how he was setting-up this rather cumbersome camera that I completely forgot about ‘posing’.

The work review finished with Sharon sharing  the work she is developing on her Project,  Edelweiss through a Residency with UCA Farnham. The outcome will be an exhibition at the end of the year, so something to look forward to. We talked about issues around photographing children; the ethics involved and how someone who is both a mother and a photographer handles these boundaries and attempts to keep them clear. Another aspect that came into this was also about coherence and consistency between images – colour balance; tones; size ; orientation and presentation. There was only a short time on this but I’m sure those aspects will be extended as our group develops.

We then had two sessions on ‘Transitions through the Levels” with personal views from John (Level 2) and Keith (Level 3) and ended with a discussion on “Where do we go from here?” All of us want to continue to meet, preferably on a two-monthly basis.   It was a very full and enjoyable day. Thank you Eddy for the inspiration; Sharon for agreeing to join us and OCASA for contributing some funds.

What did I learn?


There was a lot of other learning but this is something that’s stayed with me over the last few days. Projects can evolve over a number of years. There’s a good discussion going on at the moment on WeAreOCA entitled Put A Frame On It   regarding the importance of contextualising your work and what a difficult task it can be to develop one’s thinking around the meaning of a project. I know it isn’t the case but I can’t get myself out of the habit of thinking that I must have a fully formed idea of what I want to do and why before I even start to take photographs.

Sometimes we take photographs and just don’t know why so it can be important to tease out from our own subconscious what’s going on. I was the only one who didn’t take any ‘work in progress’ with me (I gave myself the penance of doing the write-up of the meeting).  I have been feeling ‘stuck’ for a while (whilst still continuing to take photographs for the projects/exercises) and doing a lot of reading.  I had decided to take some photographs taken in the Peak District a while ago – not the ones I took when I went to the Leeds Students’ residential, but some others which were a response to reading a crime thriller set in the Peak District. I worked on these images over a couple of days but then decided that they didn’t fit what I was trying to achieve. I’d been attempting to illustrate the novel. If I continued with this I would have to go back to the Peak District and it really isn’t feasible for me to keep travelling up and down from South to North.

However, the photographs I took really are linking in with something I’ve been thinking and reading about ever since which is Cultural Geography – how we shape our landscape and the landscape shapes us over time.  When I went back to the Peak district I’d been returning to the landscape which helped to shape me. In fact, my personal projects on the Muslim Burial Ground, Pylons and People Traces on the Common are all linked by that, as are the two churches I wrote about for Assignment 3. This is my real area of interest and so I’ll be doing more work on this, whether or not it fits with People & Place.

28th February 2013