Monthly Archives: July 2017

Developing a personal voice / Identity and Place / direction after the doldrums

I have been reflecting on this in light of my recent ‘creative block’ (previous post).

I see the land and how our ancestors lived in it as important.  I’m interested in walking, routes, maps and ancient monuments. My spirituality is based around the concept of a Mother Earth.

So this is my ‘place‘, exploring the ‘identities‘ of the natural world and folk that used to inhabit it.

I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry within us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains.” (Macfarlane, 2012).

I feel that this is something I care about, a part of what drives me as a person and therefore I ought to get back to incorporating this into my photography.  It forms the basis of what I might develop to become my personal creative voice.

How do I give the ancestors, the land, the environment a voice in these modern times? What are the commonalities with how we live here today? What are the conflicts and issues?

I feel that I need to start bringing these threads together in my studies – my personal passions, my sense of identity and place.  Still stretch, explore and experiment, open to all the wonderful influences that my OCA studies reveal to me.  But maybe I’ve been trying too hard to go somewhere different than where my passion lies. Hopping about.   I need to be true to myself and use that as the basis for my practice – while still stretching myself as hard as I can with this underpinning it.




Macfarlane, R. (2012) The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.  London, Penguin.

Challenging times again

Ive taken a break for a couple of weeks, being away with my partner and friends in SW England and at a festival.

Before i went i was feeling very flat and demoralised again with my practice.  This is something that hasnt happened before (been taking photographs for 30 odd years) but has happened twice on Identiy and Place.

First of all, lets get this out of the way, it is nothing to do with the quality of the course or my tutor.  My tutor has been fantastic throughout – a great mix of encouragement, support yet prodding and challenging me where I need it.  And I quietly smile to myself when she’s intuitive enough to know which one I need – wise stuff and immensely helpful.

The course content is exactly what I wanted it to be – a challenge in the largely unexplored arena of people photography.  So that is also good.

While on holiday I hardly picked up a camera.  It felt like I needed a break.  I did read – I used the time to really try and get under the skin of the more difficult texts such as Barthes and Sontag. I was asked to take some photographs of my partner and her colleagues at an award ceremony.

A bit messy.  Could have arranged them better.  Shows where my head was at the time.

This lack of motivation created a loss of inertia, a downward spiral, a loss of confidence, apathy and procrastination.

Not good.

So what is going on?  How do I get my mojo back?

I have really dug deep into myself during my time off to try and learn why.

I think one thing is work pressure.  Ultimately photography is foreced to be a hobby to fit in around work.  When work is busy and stressful (and it is just work, not anything that feeds my soul) then my energy for other things is diminished.  But that is just reality. A reality faced by many others on the same path.  But work hasnt been / isnt great.

I’m also suffering from something I call ‘People paralysis’.  I find it harder to motivate myself to take pictures of people…sometimes. I took these photographs of strangers at a festival a week ago.  I think the difference is that they knew they were ‘supposed to be’ photographed at an event.  There was no ‘approaching strangers’ hurdle to ask them involved:

So it isn’t a fear of people per se.  Its a fear of approaching, of supposed to be there in that role of photographer.  I need to work hard to overcoome this but, equally, i need to enjoy my photography again by taking images of things that inspire and interest me.

This fear drives a procrastination which is hard to overcome after a 12 hoour working day and a hot dinner in the evening.


Yesterday a friend asked me to share some photos from the events above.  This I did, to the expected oohs and aaahs on Facebook of those I was there with.  And suddenly Im back.  Motivated, and thinking about Exercise 4.3 again.  But why do we fall into these lulls, waste time and struggle to overcome them?  Especially when it is something we know we fundamentally like to do?

Exercise 4.2

Exercise 4.2

Choose a day that you can spend out and about looking with no particular agenda. Be conscious of how images and texts are presented to you in the real world – on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and online, for example. Make notes in your learning log on some specific examples and reflect upon what impact the text has on how you read the overall message.


• Does the text close the image down (i.e. inform or direct your reading) or open it up (i.e.

allow for your personal interpretation to play a part in creating the final meaning)?

• What do you think was the intention of the creator in each instance?


Example 1 -Skoda


This is an advertisement for a car from a June 2017 edition of The Guardian weekend magazine.  The text reads ‘Be Yourselves The new Skoda Octavia, Driven by Something Different’.the car appears to be placed in a large garage.  The walls are covered with personal effects such as clothes, tools and other items.  They are laid out neatly like a gallery wall or specimens in a museum.

Rather than employ the directional text more often seen in car advertisements (this is faster, more economical, prestigious or desirable) Skoda take a different approach and use more orientational language.

The text opens with the phrase ‘Be Yourselves’.  By using the plural of ‘yourself’ it hints at two different meanings.  Firstly, we immediately consider the others that might make use of the car.  W are being guided to consider the wider interests of the family not just the principal decision maker for a new car – typically the husband!  We might already be thinking that the sleek sports car we always wanted might not be so sensible after all.

Secondly, this orientational text invites us to reflect on the fact that there is more than one side to us.  We are, in effect, plural and have many facets.  Now we have been reminded of all our other hobbies and interests (pinned to the wall behind) how would we get our bike or golf clubs in that racy convertible with a tiny boot?

After planting this seed, that we have lots of very different requirements in a new car, the advertisement simply announces the name of it before suggesting that this car is ‘Driven by something different’.  Perfect match then!


Example 2 – Beauty and cosmetics

Here I selected two different advertisements for ladies cosmetics and beauty products from a magazine. I wanted to expore why they might have taken such visually different approaches to the use of image and text for what are essentially very similar products.
The first advertisement is quite astonishing in that it is offering a “£30 facelift that DOES work” yet has only a single very small image of the alleged product results.  Only approximately 10% of the advertisemet carries any image, with 90% given over to text against a white background.  The text is very directional, unequivocally informing the reader that the produce actually works, has many satisfied customers and is low in price.  The text has an aesthetic mimiking a newspaper, presumably an attempt to trick the casual observer into believing it is more trustworthy magazine content rather than an advert at all, or at least using semiotic codes to suggest editorial rather than advertising.
On closer inspection of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images both are too small to assess how well the product apparently works with any certainty.  The forehead hair makes it obvious that the ‘after’ image has been softened in photoshop or similar.  Interestingly the ‘after’ image seems to be framed higher up yet the mouth, nose and eyes are level in the frame to the ‘before’ shot, leading to the conconclusion that the camera position may be slightly higher on the second shot and lower on the first. The apparently smaller neck supports this.
Overall, this advertisement relies on directive text rather than letting the product photo ‘do the talking’ – despite the assertion that a persuasive before and after comparision is volunteered.
The second advert takes the opposite approach with a close up portrait occupying all of the space with far less text overlaid onto it. Lighting is soft with no shadow on the face but rapid light falloff to the sides.  I expect this is lit with a softbox above the model and reflector, or fill light, below to fill shadows.  There is a trace of a shadow below the nose but falling short of traditional ‘butterfly lighting’.  This view is supported by the single square catchlight in the upper part of the pupil.  The emphasis is on the face itself: presented as flawness and available for critical inspection.
The eyes take a very prominent role in the image.  Taken slightly from above, the gaze is up with a small amount of white visible between the pupil and lower eyelid.  The chin is down.  The look is therefore seductive, beautiful, confident and alluring.  Without saying it, surely a look that any potential purchaser of the product would aspire to?
The text is a thin sans serif font, ensuring that as much of the image as possible remains visible with an aesthetic hint of the Art Deco era of glamour and haute couture.  It supports the image by focussing on the eyes and suggesting that they ought to be used to convey emotion rather than age.  We have already discussed the very clear female allure being suggested in the gaze. The orientational text suggests how we might achieve this.  It does not say ‘use this product to make your eyes look less old’.  But that is what it is gently leading us to believe, placing the product and company name neatly in the right corners of the image.
Two very different approaches to combining words and text to sell beauty cream.  The first relies on directional text and supporting images.  The second puts an arguably perfect look centre stage, charged with seductiveness, then loosely associates the product with removal of the barriers to achieving that look.