Monthly Archives: May 2017

Exercise 4.1 Adverts

Article 8 in Dawn Woolley’s series focuses on the semiotic codes hidden in adverts for the 2015 general election:

After reading it I thought it might be fun to put this into practice, applying the techniques to the very latest adverts for the upcoming 2017 election to be held in just over a week’s time.

This poster carries a strong navy background and text beside an image of Theresa May apparently giving a talk.  The appears to be addressing at least two ladies (we only see the back of their heads) in a factory setting.  The text carries the word ‘Leadership’ in a larger font to the rest.

The photo suggests Mrs May as being in contact with real people – addressing voters in a factory setting. She is animated, talking passionately about something, using hand gestures.  This connotes her having a clear vision she wants to communicate, reinforced by the word ‘leadership’.

The word ‘Conservatives’ is much smaller than everything else on the poster, being about half the size of ‘Theresa May’.  We would be forgiven for thinking the election is a popularity contest for Mrs May instead of promoting her party’s chances overall.  Maybe there is recognition that the person is more appealing to the public than the party is.

The navy background provides – literally – a bold, strong and solid backdrop for the poster.  It also connotes reliability and understated constraint.  It is the colour of business suits and executive limos.

We are being informed that this is a serious, stable person who will act ‘in the national interest’.  It invites us to put to one side our preconceptions of what the Conservtives might stand for: theres a job to be done, and Mrs May is the best person to do it.

We don’t vote for any prime minister in this country, we vote for our local MP.  So it is interesting to conclude that, for this election, the Conservatives are playing themselves down and trying to persuade us that we are instead voting for her personally.


For the Labour Party on the other hand, it was hard to find a poster thst did have their leader on it.

The posters all have a common aesthetic, shared with conference backdrops, of a clear slogan on a bold red background. The principal slogan being ‘For the Many, Not the Few’.  There are witty plays on words such as ‘Let’s make June the end of May’.

Although the Labour Party have red as their party colour, if has often been subdued in previous years (as a red rose against a white background, sor example).  Here the connotation is pure passion, rage, an anger.  Are they trying to suggest that they feel just as passionately about what needs to change in this country as you do? Or are they trying to use this colour to ignite this passion within you? For the latter, it is known that most young people do not support the Conservatves, but many don’t bother to vote for anyone else. Is the poster actually red or really a ‘blue touchpaper’?

The puns certainly might appeal to a younger voter, disengaged with ‘stuffy’ Westminster politics.  The slogans connote being on their side, not the elite class.

The labour Party know that their leader is divisive so are taking the opposite approch to the Conservatives, promoting human values over personality.  The message suggests cooperating with the many folk out there – rather than taking a ‘tough business deal’ to our European friends.


Liberal Democrats:

Leaving to one side the strange merged caracature of Theresa May and Nigel Farage, the Lib Dem posters frequently show hoards of supporters holding ‘Winning Here’ signs like this one:

The message is clear – you are not alone if you support the Lib Dems.  There are many of them.  They are winning ‘here’.  The messages here are less subtle and easier to interpret.  Maybe this lack of sophistication is a deliberate attempt to show them as straightforwrd and honest, alternatively it could just reflect a lower advertising budget.

Assignment 3 – Self reflection


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I made no use of titles this time – viewers are given much more freedom to interpret the images in their own way (compared to Assignment 2), while I’m still confident that underlying narrative was clear enough without textual support.

Evidence of selecting appropriate camera and lenses for the shooting is given, seeking to avoid use of flash despite working indoors in preference for maintaining a good working relationship with naturally lit subject.  Recognising the need to work quickly and unobtrusively.  Visual awareness shown in spotting expressions and details during the shoot that complimented each other to create an overall cohesiveness to the set.

Social empathy and discernment while shooting in an environment with a very significant emotional context. After the media interest around the story I was keen to understand the personal motivations, approach and differences to a ‘normal’ western death.  I feel this comes through in the selected images as a heartfelt, authentic and loving celebration of life, not as a strange counterculture group on the fringes of Western society (as portrayed in some of the more sensationalist ‘Red top’ press).  As discussed in the main assignment text, I considered the inclusion of some abstracts / close ups of ritual items – shrine statues of Indian gods, personal artefacts of the deceased – but felt this muddled the key meanings around grief/celebration when included in a larger set.

Quality of outcome

Seeking to tell an interesting story made – in my eyes – of two contrasting sides.  Images sorted in a logical and coherent manner to underpin the narrative, revealing an apparent paradox in the grieving process – that of grieving itself and as a celebration of a life.
Evidence provided for the structured approach to image selection (using Adobe Lightroom’s ‘Slideshow’ feature.  Various collections were created with different images, in different orders before settling on the final edit.  In this way the images can be dragged and dropped around to instantly see the effect.  This was one of several approaches suggested by my tutor in previous feedback).
I learned that it was interesting to note how small changes can have a big impact. For example, images 4 and 5 were originally the other way round.  When viewing in sequence this created the impression of them looking ‘away’ from each other rather than ‘towards’. Swapping them around deepened the sense of community between the individuals even though they are not on the same photograph.  As stand-alone images, not in a set, this would of course be irrelevant.

Demonstration of creativity

At one level this is just event photography, in a similar way to how many other weddings, celebrations and other events are recorded every day.  But I felt like I was taking a risk here due to the high sensitivity of the occasion and emotions involved, high level of public/media interest in the story and potential to embarrass my partner had anything gone wrong and – perhaps most significantly – the inability to reshoot any of the images should there be a problem.  This was a ‘one shot’ assignment.
Equally, I was confident that my interpretation of the event met all the assignment criteria for ‘Window’ so I abandoned earlier ideas in preference for this one.  I had to work hard to understand the approach these people were taking towards the death of a loved one and reflect this with sincerity.  With regards to the development of a personal voice, I’ve sought to express the two conflicting emotions in the room as I saw them, rather than this being any suggested ‘theme’ for the photographs by anyone else.  I’ve told my story of their story which has been all over the news.  I leave it for others to judge whether the two viewpoints are consistent.


I’ve sought to demonstrate in this assignment how I have taken on board previous feedback and adapted my approach, especially around the use of my blog, confidence around people and taking a risk.  For example the breaking up of blog posts into separate posts to show the evolution of ideas over time (including the abandonment of ideas which I may one day return to).
I’m also being more succinct in my blog to make it easier for the tutor/assessor to read.  I now use a paper journal for ideas ‘on the fly’ then add this to my blog later.  Im finding that this allows me to ‘think around things’ more before committing them to the blog.
I have also tried to show more of the evolution of my editing process rather than simply presenting the final cut for the assignment. My rationale for my choices has been made clear – including where reflective thinking caused me to change my mind (e.g the use of abstract close ups).

Assignment 3 – selection

Overall approach

In a notebook, I first clarified the underlying narrative that I wanted to express and proceeded to filter-out images that met that criteria.  Short provides some good pointers for this in Context and Narrative (Short, 2011.  p102-107).  The key messages I wanted to express were:

  • Whilst parts of the day were extemely moving and sad, this was fundamentally a celebration of a life well lived
  • The power of objects; small details.  The shrine/alar to the deceased was a key focal point for the day, drawing emotions of both celebration and deepest grief at different times in proceedings.  I wanted to capture the power of sentimentality within inanimate objects.  Every item was there for a specific reason.
  • Biodegradable balloons carrying wild flower seeds were released, carring a strong message of hope, loss, potential new life (along with more obvious metaphors of death associated with letting go; something rising to the sky).

Following this I expected further iterations of sorting and refinement before arriving at the final submission.

The final result is a balance, with an equal number of images either side of a punctum, an unexpected change of viewpoint.  The first half acknowledges loss and grieving.  The second a different pespective, a celebration of life.  The work images are intended to raise questions about how we relate to death as a society.

Key decisions taken in editing

  • The sequence is intended to take the viewer on a journey:
    • Observing a gathering in progress
    • Literal and signified respresentations of loss, solitude and sadness
    • A sudden, unexpected change of perspective
    • A celebration of life then, finally, new hope.
  • I chose not to include the widowed husband in any of the submitted images.  Although he was willing, the reason for this was that I wanted the viewer to have space to explore their own relationship with death and loss, rather than being asked to relate to someone else’s situation.

Flowers feature in three of the images, providing a signifier towards impernance (a key theme in their Buddhist beliefs on life and death).  In the first half of the set the connotation is of lonliness and abandonment – a single stem discarded on an empty chair.  Later in the series the same flower is seem in a more positive light – looking upwards.  Finally, the cycle of life is pointed out to us with new hope for the future – a young boy offering a flower as a gift.

My first ‘cut’ had more detail shots of ceremonial items included.  Although these were visually interesting, I reviewed this decision later in the editing process because they appeared to detract from the key meanings around the main paradox of grieving for a loss and celebrating a life simultaneously.  These were therefore removed to give a final sequence of 11 images.

The images


1. 1/400th at f/5.0. ISO400 70mm


2. 1/400th at f/4.0. ISO400 140mm


3. 1/400th at f/2.8. ISO320 70mm


4. 1/2,500th at f/4. ISO500 70mm


5. 1/4,000th at f/4.0. ISO400 200mm


6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm


7. 1/400th at f/8. ISO800 43mm


8. 1/400th at f/8. ISO100 24mm


9. 1/400th at f/8. ISO1600 160mm


10. 1/125th at f/9. ISO1600 123mm


11. 1/250th at f/5.6. ISO640 115mm


Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Assignment 3 – Execution

On the day of the event I arrived early and made sure that I had time to speak to people.  My objective was to:

1. Spend time with the widowed husband to understand what photos he would want and what (if anything) was off limits.  I sought to establish a rapport, an understanding of their Hindu/Buddhist spirituality and lifestyle. Also, to onlookers I wanted to be seen to be engaging with the deceased’s husband rather than just ‘some bloke with a camera’.

2. Allow my partner to introduce me to other key people.  This, along with the above point, I hoped would allow people to be less suspicious of me with a camera.

3. I learned the schedule for the day – knowing when to expect speaking, ceremonial/ritual practices, drumming, chanting and a balloon release.  I made sure that i understood the practical and spiritual significance of each. This would allow me to tell an authentic story of the day and be in the right place at the right time.

4. It was clear that objects, not just people, were of significance, there being a large altar space with the deceased’s ashes as centrepiece.  It would be essential to capture these details as part of telling the story.

Several hundred images were shot.  The immediate task was then to remove the duff ones to give a contact sheet of viable images.  This ‘first cut’ is below.

The next post will cover selection and ordering of the final set.




Liz Hingley – taking the perfect portrait

Taking someone’s portrait is always a disruptive and often very awkward event. Everyone has their default portrait pose. The role of the photographer is to push beyond, to find that mysterious intimate moment that only a camera can freeze.”

Enjoyed reading this because it acknowledges the discomfort that I’ve been experiencing around photographing people.

Hingley’s message is that it is normal – even for her.  The magic happens when we dare to oush through it.

Full article:

Assignment 3 – unexpected opportunity

An unexpected – but very sad – twist of fate created an opportunity for Assignment 3 which i knew had potential to be powerful, but challenging to do.

My partner’s friend passed away recently and a memorial service was planned for her by her husband.  Due to the very unusual but tender way in which her body was cared for after the death, the story made international news as far away as Russia and America:

I respectfully offered by services as the photographer for the occasion, recognising that would be treading a delicate line between a sensitive celebration of life on one hand and crassly insensitive imposition with a camera on the other.  Whilst providing – hopefully – a respectful record of the memorial, it would be a delicate matter to capture the essence of such an emotional occasion for an academic assignment.  There would be many grieving family members and friends present.

I committed to do this for assignment 3 in preference to my earlier ideas.  The reasons being:

  1. The brief asks me to acquaint myself with an unfamiliar group and tell their story.  While I knew of the deceased I had only once met her and her husband very briefly.  Over the course of the day I hoped to get to know all of them better and tell their unique story with empathy but in an engaging way
  2. There was undoubtedly a great story here – heightened by the sometimes cynical or heartfelt viewpoints that had, by now, been circulating in some of the newspapers and in social media
  3. Carrying the responsibility for photographing the memorial event in a sensitive way with such media visibility was frankly, frightening!  I felt sure it would allow me to grow as a photographer if I took the plunge
  4. My various OCA tutors have always encouraged me to take a risk.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right.  I could never go back and reshoot any of the images.
My objectives in planning the shoot were as follows:
  1. To capture the day with authenticity, sensitivity and gain the trust of those present.  This was no time to be a ‘paparazzi’
  2. To seek to understand how the attendees felt.  In practice this was a highly moving mix of raw grief and a celebration of life
  3. To shoot enough to have a wide selection from which to edit into the final assignment submission.  But not so many as to appear crass and annoying.  I intended to demonstrate the selection techniques suggested by my tutor in Assignment 2 as well as <*******basics book reference********>>>>>
Technical Approach:
  • The venue was a light, airy marquee, which I was very pleased about as I ruled-out any use of flash as being too intrusive.
  • I selected fast f2.8 zoom lenses, 24-70 and 70-200 and a full-frame body to allow me to work quickly in varying lighting conditions.  Lens changes would therefore be kept to a minimum to help be to remain unobtrusive
  • I identified some key areas in advance  that i wanted to focus on if I were to ‘tell the story’ of those present.  These were: the environment, the deceased, the sense of mourning, the celebration of life.
The next post will present the images and selection process following the shoot.

Study Visit – 21 May 2017. Bradford ‘A trio of exhibitions’

1. Britain in focus: A Photographic History

  • Not seen a real daguerrotype before, only in books, so this was fascinating to see.
  • Noted how Cameron would defocus to create a soft effect.
  • Learning that US soldiers would purchase daguerrotypes in junk shops, discard the photo then use the holder to store items made me reflect on how much of our archives are lost.  Cameron is prominent in history as she had good contacts, was wealthy and photographed famous people.  But how many local photographers were doing good work, exploring new boundaries, but we never knew?
  • Parr reminds us to photograph the banal…as that is tomorrow’s curiosity.
  • The soldeirs took a risk – but these are the only records we now have for some aspects of the war (unsanitized by the propaganda machine)
  • Smaller exhibition than expected – is this really a celebration of out best wotk over the years? Or have much of Bradford’s archives now been relocated to london i wonder?

2. Pinhole Camera

  • A beautiful ethereal feel to the images, dreamy, otherworldly. Evokes the work of Francesca Woodman in feel if not in technique.
  • Sarah van Keuren: pinhole cameras need long shutter speeds so they hold a collection of expressions, not just a single frozen moment.  “Seems to get at a certain hidden truth” about the character of the subject.  This is something ive reflected on before, how a portrait, a single moment, can never fully represent a full person as they cannot be ‘all of themselves in 1/125th of a second.
  • I’ve been working more with black and white film cameras lately. Theres s connection, a richness, a less-clinical and more emotional representation that appeals to me. How can i apply pinhole photography to my practice to develop this idea further?

3. Mother River, Yan Wang Preston

  • An ambitious project, following the Yangtze River for its length of 6,211km and taking 63 photographs with a large format camera exactly 100km apart.
  • As a group we explored whether this was a good strategy or not.  How many exellent photo opportunities were excluded because they were not exactly on a 100km ‘Y Point?  Some images were not particulary interesting.  However i took a different view.  This made it authentic, not artificially enhanced by picking only the good bits.  If three quarters of the images were strong, then I can believe that three quarters of the river is interesting in real life.  I feel I’m being shown the truth.
  • The work reminded me strongly of a similar project i understook last summer, to walk the entire 15mile length of my local River, the Amber.  Instead of taking photos at fixed points however i took them at the interesting bits.  Which i more successful?  It depends on the viewer’s sense of connection with the land i would argue, not just the images themselves.

General notes:

  • Had a really good chat with the tutor/leader on the study visit about the use of blogs.  I thought i was expected to fill my blog with reviews as evidence of having read books, etc.  However this is not the case, making the blog too verbose for assessors to review and diverting from its msin purpose of being a place to refect, show learning and to critique.  Ive taken a different approach with this post with this in mind.
  • Other advice was to keep my work personal and interesting.  Dont be scared to take risks, say more about who I am, what I like – and brave enough to say what I don’t.
  • As ever, great company from my fellow students. Discussing and sharing makes the course ‘come alive’ and i always come back more motivated and inspired in my studies.

Assignment 3 initial ideas

After exploring the theme of ‘Mirror’ i decided that i wanted to take a more outward-looking approach to assignment 3 and so chose to explore the option of ‘Window’ instead.  Two ideas were shortlisted, neither of which have been fully ruled out yet:

1. Morris Dancers.  I have found that a morris dancing group are coming to a friend’s birthday celebrations in a month’s time.  This presents an opportunity to get closer to the group, find out about them and reflect their ethos through a series of images.  The group would appear to offer a unique mix of heritage and quirkyiness.  What makes them tick? Is it really about bells, cloudy beer and waving handkerchiefs?

2. The sole trader. I know of someone who has just taken a brave step of leaving employment for a large aerospace company and set up his own brewery.  After 20 plus years, he is suddenly standing on his own trying to run a business, selling beers to his local community through pubs and farmer’s markets. I wanted to gain an insight into his world – which feels a very brave and somewhat scary thing to do.  Having worked for a large company all my life this is a step ive often dreamed of but dared not take, so it would be interesting to explore further.

I also found some unexpected direction to how to approach Assignment 3 from the following BJP article:

The article explores what the judges are looking for in a breakthrough project from an up and coming artist.  The same philosophy could be said to apply to an assignment.  I noted the emphasis on being able to tell a unique story in a fresh and engaging way.

This set me off thinking about how i could develop my chosen idea of the farmer’s market brewer.  How do i make him appear brave in his solo endeavour? The contrast in his previous and new life? His enthusiasm, sense of going it alone and taking destiny into his own hands?  Is he fearful of rejection? Is it lonely…or motivating and exciting?