assignment 6 – preparing for assessment

The purpose of this final assignment is to help you review your work and decide how you’re going to submit it for assessment. […] Although this sounds like a relatively straightforward and quick exercise, students generally find it takes much longer than they anticipated! Tackle this task methodically and allow yourself plenty of time to do justice to the effort you’ve made throughout the course.

– LPE Coursebook (p.193)

This is the second course I have put up for assessment since the start of the Pandemic pushed the process entirely online. It is also my second course at level two with a ‘preparing for assessment’ assignment like this.

fig.1 – full course mindmap (on miro)

At the same stage with Digital Image and Culture, I used the online whiteboarding tool, miro.com (you can get an – only slightly limited – free account; I recommended it two years ago and happily do so again now) to organised my thoughts about the course as a whole; this time I started doing so right at the beginning of LPE, using it as one of my main editing tools, for trying different drafts of the assignments, as I narrowed down my first cut down to the final set. At the  – offset – centre of this sprawling diagram there is a purple disc containing the five learning outcomes for the course. Having them in the back of my mind from the off has made it much easier to put this assignment together than if I had had to start from scratch. Given that I am running out of time, this is no bad thing.

So here – taking advantage of this opportunity to test it out on my tutor – I have concentrated on creating first-draft of what I intend to submit for assessment after the summer, so that we can both check that everything is heading in the right direction and that nothing vital is missing.

This is the form the assignment takes:

A post containing the pictures that will make up the portfolio part of my submission, with some brief explanatory commentary

A second post, structured around the five Learning Outcomes for Landscape, Place and Environment which contains links to the individual posts in the main body of my log which illustrate them

This is all laid out in the Learning outcomes & discipline specific guidance section of the bit of OCA Learn that deals with Assessment (https://learn.oca.ac.uk/mod/book/view.php?id=15690&chapterid=1685) which also requests we submit a 750 word (or video equivalent) Reflective Presentation on our experience of the course. LPE’s sixth assignment asks for something similar:  a short entry in your learning log, reflecting on what you’ve learned during this course. I have combined the two into what will act as a draft for the completed RF.

The Subjective Evaluation of how I have found the course

I will leave the final decision whether develop this into a video, or leave it as illustrated text until I have completed the next (final) stage of amendments to the assignments and to my log.


Following this final assignment, there are plenty of pre-assessment tasks to complete:

    • there a whole screed of posts which have so far resisted moving from draft to published; some of them feature in the learning outcomes list, so they’ll take priority
    • some  – relatively – minor changes to the assignment photographs and to the way some of them are presented; these are indicated in Portfolio Post.
    • a final going over of the critical review, to tidy up its argument.

…but there is no need to worry: this time I shall not start my next course before this one is handed in; this was not the case with any of the earlier Photography modules. So this time, I have plenty of time to do it all, before the end-of-September deadline, and will be able to hit the ground running for level three.

assignment 6 – creative work

‘Selecting three assignment outcomes (excluding critical reviews/essays) or pieces of creative work. These assignment outcomes/pieces of creative work would typically constitute a series of photographs, but depending on how you have approached an assignment brief or course exercise, it could be a video outcome, an installation, an photographic artefact or other piece of digital media. It’s up to you to discern what your strongest outcomes on the course unit have been, not to select the “best images” from across all of the series you have produced.’

– Digital Assessment: BA Photography Guidance

 


For this part of the assessment submission, I have selected three series of work derived from the course assignments, based around the different  relationships I have to the places pictured. Formative feedback did not suggest that I make significant revisions to any of the series of photographs, but  – before the cutoff date for submission to the November assessment event –  I will make some changes to the two animated presentations (indicated in the short texts, below) and will also explore further some of my ideas for physical display of the fifth assignment which makes up the second series here.


1: Orkney

This set of images combines parts of two assignments – Beauty and the Sublime (A1) and Space into Place (A3) – both consisting of photographs taken in Orkney, where I was born and grew up. Despite this, both depict a place viewed from an outside perspective and this presentation of them together points up the differences between a personal, first person view of  somewhere and a more third-person take, intended for an audience who are not familiar with place described in photographs.

The first set – a slide show with voiceover – presents a nostalgic, vernacular, touristic – view of the islands. At the tutorial, Derek pointed out that I didn’t mention that Orkney was ‘home’ at any point during the slideshow’s voiceover; this, along with a new linking caption to lead into the second half of the series (a selection of the Flotta pictures from A3) will be the only changes made to the Orcadian Pictures slideshow.

The second set moves the islands from a darkened suburban living room into the gallery, with the pictures hung large on the walls and partially obscured by other viewers. The intention is to provide a greater degree of understanding of the kind of place Orkney is, moving beyond ideas of simply serving up a nice view…

Flotta is a place whose Old-Norse name means  ‘the flat island’

Elements 1 – EARTH (over the last hundred years Flotta has become a place where fewer people live and farm)
Elements 2 – FIRE (Flotta is a place where North Sea oil is landed and stored before it is taken away by for refining)
Elements 3 – WATER (Flotta was the site of a major naval base during two world wars)
Elements 4 – AIR: (Flotta is still economically viable)

Flotta is a place where I go to take photographs.

The ‘Flotta is…’ pictures are a cut-down version of the full set presented as Assignment 3. At the tutorial, we discussed ways of allowing a viewer to examine much larger versions of the installed images that I had presented. Before the assessment event, I will try removing the ‘installation view’ framework from the images that do not include overlaid spectators.

 


2: Twenty Small Acts of Enclosure

The intention here is that the twenty individual, square images presented here should be viewed as related (or contrasted) diptychs and triptychs.


fig.1


fig.2


fig.3


fig.4


fig.5


fig.6


fig.7


fig.8


The presentation of seven of the eight picture sets has not changed since assignment 5 was handed to my tutor; however fig.6  – the two walls covered in graffiti – now shows a maquette of one form that a physical installation of the photographs could take: mounted and arranged into ‘concertina’ screens. I want to take this further, before assessment – trying different ways of combining the images to represent their physical relationship to one another and to allow extra information  – maps perhaps – to be present on the reverse of the mounts.

I hope to be able to ‘walk’ a goPro camera through the display, to give an idea of the exhibition experience…

3: A Journey

Playing around with maps and mapmaking and the idea of exploration, I structured the second assignment around the idea of being given prompts and directions by a satellite navigation device.

The submitted assignment included a second physical method of describing a journey – a map made from blueprint-style, tracing paper stencils and cyanotype treated paper. I would like to play further with this, replacing the Fuji Instax-printed pictures taken on my phone with cyanotype prints of a number of the pictures used in the digital animation. If successful, this will be added here, to contrast with the Sat-Nav directions of the map.

Towards the end of the sequence, there are two pictures of high-tension power lines (in one they are reflected in the water; in the other they are overhead in the sky).  At the tutorial we discussed moving these to the very end, making them into a closing shot for the animation. I already felt there was something ‘out of place’ with them, and it is reasonably simple to reorder the sequence in this way, so I shall. I also intend to work further with the directional texts to extend the conceit of being given directions via sat nav, by turning some of them into synthesised speech and adding them to the narrative’s sound track.

 


Reference:

assignment 6 – relating it all to the learning outcomes

Outcome 1 – visual and conceptual strategies
Select log entries and examples of assignment work that show your knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies in landscape photography and the representation of place. Consider selecting examples that show how you have tested and understood these concerns.

Outcome 2 – social and cultural contexts
Your learning log entries will evidence your emerging awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts that surround the representation of place. Show how you have articulated relevant ethical perspectives in relation to your own practice. 

Outcome 3 – exercise judgement in the production of visual material
Your range of ideas and creative starting points is likely best evidenced in your log entries demonstrating initial ideas, test-shoots, edits and final workings out. These could be accompanied by some evidence of critical reflection and relevant decisions to show how you have exercise judgement in the production of visual materials.

Outcome 4 – contextual and visual research
The Critical Review in part 4 will evidence the main focal point for evidencing your awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts and help to show your ability to conduct self-directed contextual and visual research. Selected learning log entries and assignment pieces will likely evidence your understanding of visual research and together these can help show assessors the connections you have made between contextual and visual research.

Outcome 5 – autonomy, voice and communication skills
Your learning log will likely demonstrate your developing personal voice. Try to identify where your engagement with your learning community has helped shape your developing practice, knowledge, understanding and communication skills, then select any aspects of the work that help to show this.


LO1 demonstrate detailed knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies in landscape photography, the representation of place and be able to explore your own critical photographic projects

‘To evidence this part you could select learning log entries and examples of assignment work that show your knowledge of visual and conceptual strategies in landscape photography and the representation of place. In terms of showing your ability to explore your own critical photographic projects, you might consider selecting examples that show how you have tested and understood these concerns.’

In my response to the brief for the four practical assignments, I have tried to vary my relationship with regard to the subjects I have photographed.

Outside vernacular and commercial photography, focussing on the tourist experience, or in the highly constrained world of photography club competition, it is quite hard to find contemporary landscapes presented simply as ‘landscape’ – where the relationship between the image and its subject is essentially a transparent depiction of what is there, in front of the camera.

For the first assignment, I selected archive photographs, taken in the north of Scotland. They were presented as conventional views, situated within the realm of the picturesque – formally composed images of ‘tidy’ agriculture, rural beauty edging into the sublime, prehistoric sites,  sunsets and other effects of the light.  I placed them within a digitally constructed slideshow, emphasising their status as constructs.

Assignment 1 – Beauty and the Sublime

Each photograph from the slideshow was then paired with another, taken in non-rural Walthamstow, which shared some formal or structural element with it. These were titled using the words I had used to describe the equivalent Orkney view in the slideshow’s voiceover.

In this way, I explored the tension between viewing the photograph as an object in its own right and as a simple vessel for its subject matter, while balancing the autobiographical content of the pictures with third-person documentary.


Traditionally, landscape is viewed as static and unchanging (no matter how much we may know that it does, in fact, change almost daily). ‘Narrative’ involves sewing a number of diverse things together to tell a story;  often the word ‘journey’ is used as a metaphor for a series of events that move from a starting point to a destination (an example would be to talk of my time with the OCA as ‘my photographic journey’). Similarly, it could the definition of a specific sort of narrative…

Assignment 2 – A Journey

We were asked to depict a ‘journey through landscape.’ In the form of a set of directions, the animation forming the core of my submission tells a fairly simple story of exploration, which moves from a (Tottenham Hale) to b (out in the green belt in the Lea Valley Park).

It is a road movie of sorts, where nothing much really happens…


Much of the theoretical writing included inthis module dates back to the disputes between those who favoured the Modernist-based curation of photography practised at MoMA in New York and the more politically engaged strand of American criticism that helped spark Postmodernism in the late seventies and early eighties. In assignment five, I tried to capture enough material capable of generating concrete meaning within my frame to prevent the  – modernism-tinged formal abstraction from taking over entirely.

Assignment 5 – Self-Directed Project

The idea was to balance historically-grounded documentary elements against ‘timeless’ artistic ones. I think I succeeded. By choice, this is the most tightly  constrained of the assignments, consisting (almost) entirely of ‘straight photographs,’ but at the same time  – and in strong contrast with the Walthamstow pictures from assignment 1 – it is the one that most reflects a close personal response to the place where I have lived for the last twenty years.

 


LO2 demonstrate an awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts that surround the representation of place, and be able to discuss relevant ethical perspectives in relation to your own practice

‘It is likely that your learning log entries will evidence your emerging awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts that surround the representation of place. By selecting both learning log and assignment pieces you could show how you have articulated relevant ethical perspectives in relation to your own practice. You could use selected log entries to explicitly show you have considered ethics.’

I am aware that most of the photographs I have used for the assignments are devoid of people – indeed this is one of the characteristic tics that other members of the LPE hangout have picked up on as being indicative of my voice, as discussed for LO5 – and this has required some further examination.

I suspect that Assignment 3 would have more impact if I had been able to make a distinction between the people who live on the island and farm it, and the external groups – the navy, the oil industry and whoever operates the wind turbine – who have made use of it as a location for their activities. I had already noted towards the end of exercise 3.4 where I discuss a campaign protesting proposed restrictions on houseboats in the section of the Lea that I used for my assignment 2, that one of the ways I could get further into the life of the places I was photographing would be by engaged more with the people who lived there.

Earlier in exercise 3.4- a persuasive image, I began to explore the ways different organisations use photography to further their interests. I looked at the way the petrochemical industry  – though photographic studies of their own and the sponsorship of cultural institutions – have tried to present themselves in a good light. At the same time I looked at some of the later, more engaged work by Joel Sternfeld, particularly his combination of text and pictures at the 2005 climate change summit (COP11) featured in his 2007 book, The Day it Changed.

It is impossible to deny that photographs on their own (however epic) are incapable of providing more than a starting point for deep analysis of the climate crisis. This really begins to come into stark focus during the final section of the course. I have developed this insight further in my examination of the differences between the epically sublime photographs of Ed Burtinsky – link to post – not published yet – and Richard Misrach’s book collaborations Bravo 20 (1990) and Petrochemical America (2014) – link to post – not published yet – which combine his photographs with writing and deep background in the form of historical and political essays (Bravo 20) and also in the form of fascinating infographics (Petrochemical America) which expand massively upon the places pictured in his original photographs.

 


LO3 explore and realise a range of ideas and creative starting points, and exercise judgement in the production of visual material

‘Your range of ideas and creative starting points is likely best evidenced in your learning log entries: demonstrating initial ideas, test-shoots, edits and final workings out. These could be accompanied by some evidence of critical reflection and relevant decisions to show how you have exercise judgement in the production of visual materials.’

Looking back over my work for LPE, I have to conclude that the work I have submitted for the assignments has been significantly less experimental than the work which went into its production. It is as if each time I had pushed into areas that I did not have time to fully explore and then moved back to a position of relative stability.

From Assignment 1 to Assignment 5, I have tried to take an idea and let it develop to the point where it seems complete. I have documented this for each of the practical assignments in some detail but would pick out here:

assignment 1 – approach, editing and presentation

…which deals with the early stages of putting the assignment together, taking in the initial edit of candidate images and the process by which I worked out how to present the paired rural/urban photographs, working through diptychs (which recur in assignment 5) and postcards (which made an appearance dummied up and printed in assignment 3) before lighting upon my first go at the ‘Orcadian Photographs’ animated slideshow.

The course encourages you to experiment technically as well as conceptually. Following on from the exercise on the Zone System (the zone system in practice), I moved gradually from working digitally to adapting an increasingly analogue workflow to shoot the next 3 assignments, using a mixture of medium format black and white and colour film with a camera capable of some movements. This led to using a tripod which in turn allowed longer exposure times and therefore greater depth of focus. I suspect that I can get similar levels of crisp detail with my full-size sensor DSLR, but for much of the course, I have restricted my use of my digital camera to acting as a (good) spot light meter and for taking quick sketches when I am out and about. I have bits of writing about this scattered through my log, but shall pull them together into a single post on this subject before assessment.  (link to portmanteau post – not published yet ).

Some of this (and more on working to create seamless panoramas) is contained in the first section of the Reflection piece for Assignment 3 which also includes my first experiments at coming up with a photographable physical display of the collaged Flotta pictures. The physical display of my pictures is something I have been working towards throughout the course, although this is not yet a completed process. I have made prints of all my work (apart from the first assignment) to use as an aid to editing down my image longlists. I also would like to push beyond simply reproducing the finished images, flat and in two dimensions on a screen.

I visited the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery too late fully to incorporate the display ideas I’d found there  into the submitted version of assignment five, but I had time to make a start with something closer to a 3D installation. Now, in the time I have before the assessment event dealine, I shall try to experiment with this more and see where it takes me and my work for the assignment.

 


LO4 manage learning resources, conduct self-directed contextual and visual research, and be able to appraise your progress with increasing confidence

‘The Critical Review (2,000 word essay) in part 4 will evidence the main focal point for evidencing your awareness of the wider social and cultural contexts will likely help to show your ability to conduct self-directed contextual and visual research. Selected learning log entries and assignment pieces will likely evidence your understanding of visual research and together these can help show assessors the connections you have made between contextual and visual research.’

The critical review can be found here: Assignment 4 – Critical Review. After some revisions to strengthen the conclusion (as suggested in the formative feedback), it will be added to the relevant folder of my assessment G:Drive.

Part of the motivation for my choice of essay subject grew out of my discovery that all but the most remote areas of Flotta (the small island which was the location for my third assignment) had been surveyed by Google’s Street Cars and also my use of proprietary software to document journeys of my own. This is discussed in my log post Mapping the Lea Navigation and a Journey to Flotta. More traditional research with maps has featured in the work I submitted for assignments two and three, with a day spent in the Orkney Archive  providing useful context for the third assignment: Exercise 3.5 – local history.

Further evidence of my ability to apply critical thought to my work can be found in the Course Review that forms part of assignment 6.


LO5 demonstrate increasing autonomy and a developing personal voice, and exercise your communication skills confidently and interact effectively within a learning group

‘Your learning log will likely demonstrate your developing personal voice and engagement with your learning community – this could be amongst the OCA student body through forum activity, group work sessions, study visits or regional groups; or your increasing autonomy may relate to interacting with photographers outside OCA. Try to identify where in this project your interactions have helped shape your developing practice, knowledge, understanding and communication skills, then select any aspects of the work that help to show this.’

From the start of my time work for LPE, I have engaged regularly with other OCA students. I have sought feedback on my work in progress from photography-focussed groups – mainly Forum Live and monthly meetings for students working on the Landscape Course – and have found my peers’ critique to be useful in shaping my direction of travel, particularly as I was getting started with the module. I ran the slideshow presentation from assignment 1 (see LO1) past the landscape group – who got it straight away:

Assignment 1 – peer review (work in progress 2)

Then I tried out an early version of my ’journey’ animation at Clive White’s final forum live.

Forum Live – 11/7/2021

I have continued to demo my practical work with these groups, and have also put forward the assignments – at various stages of completion – for critique in the relevant section of the OCA Student Forum.

The Forum Live post also discusses how the prototype of my animation for assignment 2  can be found in work I did for the OCASA-backed Keeping Up Momentum session, Contamination/Collaboration.  I drew on my work with programming.org’s scripting software for the previous module, Digital Image and Culture and  moved it forwards to make a scrolling, animated gallery to showcase my multidisciplinary group’s work; in a more fully developed form, this provided the structure for Assignment 2.

The full animation can be viewed on the WeAreOCA  post, written by drawing student Paula Alessandri-Gray, describing our collaboration; a short extract of it can be seen here:

At one of the LPE zooms, Ugo Moin suggested we listen to Lyse Doucette’s contribution to the Apple Podcast series, How I Found My Voice where the BBC correspondent mapped her journalistic voice directly to the questions she naturally asked and to understanding where the origins of those questions could be found. I found it quite easy to translate the idea of ’questions‘ into ‘photographs taken’ so it was interesting when other members of the LPE group began to identify pictures I was showing as being demonstrably mine.

At present, I am unsure whether this amounts to more than a series of identifiable stylistic elements – and indeed I think the first three assignments are more distinctive than the final one – but it does feel as if I am getting somewhere in terms of making work which is demonstrably mine.

assignment 6 – reflective presentation

an overall review of my work for Landscape, Place and Environment

In one of the first posts I made for this log, I set out what I hoped to get out of LPE: I wanted  to make series of photographs which could cohere over the timescale of the course; I wanted them to be technically excellent and to engage the viewer visually;  I wanted them to contain meaning beyond the individual image’s subject matter; I wanted them to say something about me and my relationship to the places I chose to photograph.

So, how did I get on with this?


fig.1: assignment 3 (out-takes)

Helped by having to work within the constraints imposed by the COVID pandemic which limited my ability to travel, I was able to identify a simple path of development spanning the entire course. Almost all the photographs for the assignments being taken within a few miles of my house in London, or during two short trips home to Orkney, last summer and this has made it easier to define non-subject-based continuities through the five assignments.

Assignment one led to my producing disconnected dots on a map, as – with aesthetic questions to the fore – I looked for beauty (and the sublime) in the town and the country. Assignment two joined the dots to make a line, as I journeyed north along the Lea Navigation. For the third assignment, I explored a small island and finally for the fifth, moved in closer to examine a particular aspect of Walthamstow, my island in the archipelago that is London.

Underpinning my exploratory journey through the course, I had been thinking about, using, and making, maps from assignment two onwards.  Maps (and postcards) provided a second unifying them to the course and fed through directly into my Critical Essay, which dealt with the use of google maps – Google Street View in particular – as a research tool before travelling to make photographs and then, in some cases, as a substitute for travel entirely.

fig.2: St. Barnabas Church, Walthamstow

Technically, I have moved from a predominantly digital workflow to one where, by the time I had decided on a subject for the fifth assignment, almost all of my pictures originated on medium format film and were composed – or structured, to use Stephen Shore’s term (one of a series of posts about individual photographers that still needs finishing and publishing on my log) – upside-down on the ground glass screen of my Hasselblad Flexbody. Having learned how to fit my equipment into panniers and bought a shoulder strap for my big tripod, I have got on my bike and managed to stop taking ‘snatched’ photographs.


The other two of my initial goals seem harder to quantify, but probably can be combined to indicate my desire to have a greater awareness of and more control over, the relationship between me, as a photographer, my subject matter and the potential viewer and then how that can affect the meaning of what it is that I am doing. None of the assignment photographs were of places that were completely new to me. Interestingly though – to me at any rate – the pictures taken in Orkney seem to be taken from a more distanced point of view than the pictures of Walthamstow. It would be interesting to see what photographs of other places I have spent a lot of time – Glasgow, where I lived for more than ten years would be a great example – would look like now.


Paralleling  the development of the practical aspects of my examination of Landscape, the course also moves from purely  artistic theories relating to the picturing of places, and gradually develops the ways non-aesthetic meanings  – both personal and political/historical –  can be included into the picture-making process and their final display. The images I was making became less simply (for want of a better word) beautiful and began to contain clues about why the places pictured looked the way they did and how I (and by association) the viewer was meant to react to them. We moved from landscape viewed through the prism of art, towards a much more political/historical take on the landscape and the ways we – humans – have shaped it.

This brings us to the last section which replaced the earlier versions of the course’s investigation of different ways of displaying and presenting images with an examination of how photography might engage with ideas of environmentalism when confronted by the anthropocene age. This was the last update made before this course was withdrawn, and it feels a bit bolted-on somehow. Certainly it is the bit that I found it hardest to engage fully with, although possibly this could simply reflect that my environmental position (as described in the course materials) is less well-developed than I might hope.


Looking forwards, I think I am not quite as far on as I would have hoped when I started the course in November 2020, but I’m not too far off it. I think I have a much more useful working definition of what ‘landscape’  might mean, and I have answered a fair number of questions I had around methodology that I can take forward to level three. I have taken an analogue workflow to the point where I no longer need to engage in endless angels-on-heads-of-pins justifications around the ideas of artisanal photography and am happy to work within either an analogue or digital space, or to combine the two depending on what it is that I’m trying to do; I need to work on my printing and have found a small space for black and white in my practice, but have confirmed my preference for colour. I still have to decide how politically engaged I wish my work to be.

fig.3 – one view of the edmonton incinerator chimney

Incomplete projects – particularly 26 views of the Edmonton Incinerator (fig.3) which has never quite come together, but still seems to have masses of promise – have fallen by the wayside (or have been only partially developed in some of the later exercises) but I can always see if they fit into work I do further down the line.

Anyway, I am done. I am ready to go. There’s lots to do, but lots done as well…

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2022

an exercise in serendipity

So far during my OCA studies there seems to have been a lot of overlap between whatever topic I have been focussing on and the exhibitions that have been on in London at the time. I am not suggesting that major exhibitions are being secretly put on for my benefit, of course – just that my studies provide a prism that organises what I take from looking at other people’s takes on art, without really analysing it.

LPE has been no exception: as well as Edward Burtynsky being featured at the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition at Somerset House a month ago and Sebastaio Salgado at the Science Museum, the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Exhibition  at TPG contained work that could directly feed into what I was doing at the time (putting together Assignment 5) both in terms of subject matter – Anastasiya Samoylova –  and the way some of the images by Gilles Peress and Jo Ractliffe, were displayed…

Gilles Peress – Installation at Photographers’ Gallery 2022

Both of them presented series of photographs as rigid ‘concertinas’ of relatively small prints, displayed on a shelf. I thought this would work quite well for my photographs and took a couple of photographs showing how they were put together.

Gilles Peress – Installation at Photographers’ Gallery 2022 (detail showing construction)

I made some concertinas of my own as one of two physical ways of displaying my assignment images (the other was a more traditional installation of large prints, flat on a wall and in a line) but rejected them both as I could not really see a way to invest them with greater meaning than was contained in the images.

I had already seen some of Peress’ images (taken at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland in the early 70’s) as part of the Barbican’s 2016 exhibition Strange and Familiar and for a number of reasons – my nationality, my age,  having lived in Glasgow between 1982 and 1998, being interested in current affairs and politics – had all the information to hand to unpack them, here. They weren’t providing me with anything new, and they were not going to change anything I believed, but they were understandable in a way that they would not, if they had been taken somewhere less familiar.

I had also seen some of Ractliffe’s pictures that were on display here at another exhibition – Time-Conflict-Photography at Tate Modern in 2015 – but these remained considerably less readable to me. Her sequence of concertina-ed prints had been double-sided with the reverse being visible in a mirror placed behind them. I  started to wonder if this might not be an answer to my problem of how to include extra information to a physical display of my Walthamstow pictures, with reversed prints of the extra material I linked to in the online version on the back, and readable in a mirror. I need to think more about this, but I shall give it a go before locking my log for Assessment towards the end of this year.

The need for some way of expanding the meaning of photographic images beyond what can be directly read from them, to include extra information critical to their context can also be illustrated by Ractliffe’s concertina. I have already mentioned that I find them more opaque than Peress’ pictures of the Troubles, but I did not realise quite how much I was missing until I started researching this post and tried to discover the details of Ractliffe’s series, which I had not noted down at the time of my visit.

I knew that the pictures were taken during a series of journeys between Cape Town and Johannesburg, made by Ractliffe in the late 1990s. I knew that their title included a measure of distance, so I searched for ‘ractliffe johannesburg cape town’ and ‘ractliffe every hundred miles’ (it turns out to be kilometres, but never mind) and found a number of links relating to a 2020  exhibition  – Drive at the Art Institute of Chicago – including one to a post which dealt with this particular series. From that post (Witkowsky, 2020), I got the – quite vital to understanding the pictures, and Ratcliffe’s room at TPG as a whole – information that the large image of a dead donkey’s head, exhibited beside the shelf where N1: every hundred kilometres (1996) was displayed, was taken during one of the journeys between Johannesburg and Capetown and that – at that time – local white youths had been shooting donkeys – the favored means of transport for itinerant, not white, sheep shearers – for sport.

And  – WHAM!!! (with apologies to Roy Lichtenstein) –  Here was an explosion of political and historical context, that was completely unavailable at the DB show. Both here and at Tate, six years ago, I had found Ractliffe’s pictures harder to get a handle on than others where I had a much better grasp of their context. Another example (link to Marlboro post here!) of how a lack of information in galleries’ presentation of a photographer’s work does much to render a greater understanding of what is going on in the exhibited photographs, considerably less easy to grasp.

Of course, the concept of a journey in Ractliffe’s concertina can also be used to  illuminate my work for Assignment 2  (and the instances of non-composited two-frame panoramas was another thing I was able to directly apply to the sequencing of Assignment 5) but the question of increasing the weight of meaning (and the lessening of the effects of abstraction of a subject from its context in photographs) is probably the more pressing thing I need to explore at present…


However, to finish off this post in more direct, Assignment 5 edit terms, I was struck by how some of Samoylova’s pictures of Miami  – displayed very effectively as large prints, in a darkened section of the fourth floor of the gallery, with the walls painted green and flamingo pink, to match the palate of the city and the photographs – contrasted the sort of idealised images that developers use to promote new buildings on the hoardings that cover up the reality of construction, with the dusty pavements and worn street furniture that they share space with. This is part of the substance of exercise 5.6 (LINK) and seeing Samoylova’s installed images, at this point in time at TPG, had the direct result of my including an image I liked, but had been unsure of, in my finished set for assignment 5.


And of course, showing that serendipity isn’t everything, it was announced last week that the one photographer who didn’t directly engage with where my head was at when I was visited the gallery – Deana Lawson – won this year…

 


Reference:
  • The Photographers’ Gallery (2022) Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2022 [Exhibition] London: TPG . 23/03/2002 – 12/06/2022

assignment 5 – reflection

I think my final selection of pictures for this assignment hold up individually, in their groupings and as a sequence. They are not necessarily ‘beautiful’ but they can hold a viewer’s attention, drawing them in to examine the image more closely.  The medium format negatives have captured a lot of readable detail which is passed on to the prints (fig.3).  The viewer will, I hope spend time looking and finding out what is there.

Some of the words contained with these frames can be read as invitations, but there is no easy route in. The pictures are formally uniform – flat planes, divided by rectangles and squares; any possible vanishing point is partly or fully hidden from the viewer. Mainly, the absent people who have claimed these spaces for themselves wish to keep other people and their disruptive behaviour at a distance, if not out, completely.

There is some dissent from the official view and some of the pictures contain distinctly unofficial statements, but there is less variety in the messages contained by the photographs than I had originally planned. I don’t think the idea that I really quite like it here (after all, I would not have lived in Walthamstow for nearly twenty years, if that wasn’t the case)  comes across as strongly as I would have wished – but I found that increasing the number of conflicting things going on reduced their coherence as a series or set.

When I wrote the project brief and sent it to my tutor, I had intended to present the photographs for this assignment as a physical display, consisting of twenty large prints, arranged in a single row of alternating diptychs and triptychs. The titles would provide a simple location for them, by consisting of the street name and the date the picture was taken.

I made two sizes of prints: 12″ squares (as large as my printer will go – fig.1) for hanging on a wall, and smaller, 5.5 x 5.5 inch  ones intended for display as rigid concertinas, like those used for parts of the 2022 Deutsche Börse exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery. I mounted them on foam-core and assembled the mounted, smaller prints into zig-zags, to get some idea of how they would look displayed that way (fig.2). Perhaps, like Salgado’s Amazônia huge, hanging prints at the Science Museum (another post due here!), the zig-zags could be  huge, forming a maze that the viewer could walk through and have a more immersive exploratory experience.

fig.2 – no fun! (zig-zag installation view)

Both physical ways of displaying the pictures work rather nicely, but there is no easy way to allow photographs in a gallery setting to provide  some sense of meaning beyond that of their being intended solely as ‘art’. Certainly they do not have meaning that goes beyond being faintly political with a very small ‘p’.  Throughout the time I have been working on this I have been wondering how to squeeze more out of them than is possible with just a simple caption card. As I put the wordpress version of the project’s outcome together, I settled on using the locations’ GPS data to provide a springboard to a better idea of where the photographs were taken, placing them amongst the shops and other landmarks on Google Maps’ satellite view.

So – at the moment at least –  I think the definitive presentation of this set would need to be the online version on this blog, with each photograph having its own online space, and a link to the wider internet and the images wider context. From there, an interested viewer could enter street view and explore further if they wish, linking the project neatly back to my fourth assignment’s critical essay.

fig.3 – portmeer close; (no fun! #1 – print detail)

For something which is meant to be a conclusion to the course, my submission for this assignment feels an awful lot like a starting point, even if it is currently in a form that could be seen as complete in itself. I have continued for now, noting down likely subjects for further photography as something catches my eye, and then slipping out to cross off a couple from the resulting list, when the conditions are right.

A few of the new pictures would fit within the original body of work.  I would replace the second of the Courtenay Place pictures, partly so that the diptych does not consist of two pictures of the same place, both taken at the same time and also because there is something ‘off’ with the second picture, which I only spotted when it was printed; I noticed with delight a group of ‘Do No Feed The Pigeons’ signs that would contrast nicely with the ‘No Dogs’ ones, although I don’t know precisely which image might need to go to make space.

Around the corner from Portmeer Close, there is a marvelous, slightly oversized, painted wicket, set central on a brick gable end, awaiting the players for a hard-fought afternoon’s game of cricket…

Looking forward, I am beginning to take forward some of the groups of pictures that were rejected during the editing of the assignment. I am adding to my collection of pictures of corner shops, and the pictures which reflect the borough’s changing priorities around traffic. There are pictures which capture the changing social mix. And I am continuing to document the rise of the multi-story block of flats that is rising to the east of Walthamstow Central Station – my subject for Exercise 5.6 –  and need to get ‘before’ pictures of the three-story mixed-use block opposite, before it is demolished and replaced with another tower. At the south end of Hoe Street there are a cluster of shops selling mangos. They have changed over the past year and a half and they are still changing…

This way of working now forms a strand of my practice which could be developed further. I have come to enjoy portraying my surroundings and could use these new pictures as the basis for a set of related works, like Richard Misrach’s Desert Cantos (1979-present) , or a more diffusely focussed set of narratives, like Paul Graham’s  set of short books, A Shimmer of Possibility (2004-2006).

It could even form a starting point for the extended work that is at the heart of the degree’s third (and final) level…

 

Assignment 5 – Some Context

an artistic lineage and some theory

This Assignment is probably the most traditionally-presented set of photographs I have put together as part of my OCA work since I completed level one, nearly four years ago. They all present a static, unpopulated  view and are taken with  – in most cases – a camera placed on a tripod and sited perpendicularly to the subject.  Formally, they are arranged geometrically on a single plane; there is very little sense of depth to most of them. Only the first image has been composited and then only because the second exposure I made from the same viewpoint as the first used a wider lens, which provided a much more interesting image, but was not in colour like the rest of the images. There is nothing radical going on here; any construction of greater meaning beyond that contained within the frame is achieved by the combinations of two or three images.

As such, the pictures fit Robert Adams description of ‘Truth in Landscape’ (in: Adams, 2004) residing in a combination of geography, autobiography and metaphor: the titles ground them in a particular place; they are my observations of the place where I have lived for (nearly) twenty years – ie they are personal; and they all try to achieve a meaning greater than a simple statement of ‘this is.’ Adams essay contains a quite an old-fashioned view of what photography can be and do (the collection’s subtitle is ‘Essays in defense (sic) of traditional values), but I hope the set of pictures have captured enough of the specificity of their subject matter for them not to be simply an abstract exposure of some mystical underlying form; I hope they are located with some sense of the history and the society that has produced them. They are meant to be political, if only with a small P.


I have taken Stephen Shore’s work for Uncommon Places as my main starting point for the images. I am working in colour and, while I have not had the nerve to use a large format camera, the majority of them have been taken with a medium format camera with the ability to do (limited) tilts and shifts. Like Shore I have been trying to work with the way a camera conveys geometry. They share Shore’s tendency to ignore the rule of thirds and to centre his subject matter, something he has in common with Richard Misrach.

Some of the subject matter – graffiti, marks, walls and decay – makes me think of a number of people’s work: Brassaï in Paris in the nineteen twenties and thirties; Helen Levitt or William Klein in post-war New York; Shirley Baker’s pictures of slum clearance in nineteen sixties Manchester. The signage (and the slight ironic distance that I am trying to achieve here) can be traced back to Walker Evans’ or Lee Friedlander’s work. The centrally placed doors bring to mind Thomas Annan’s photographs of 19th Century Glasgow tenement closes.

In the back of my mind, while I was taking the photographs, I often had a picture of Tod Papageorge’s description  – in Core Curriculum – of Eugene Atget trekking through early-morning Paris with a large camera and tripod over his shoulder, on his way to St Cloud; however, I was not making ‘documents’ of a vanishing city; I was trying to get closer to Walter Benjamin’s description of Atget as a proto-surrealist, making photographs of unpopulated ‘crime scenes…


Reference:
  • Adams, R. (2004) Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. (2nd Ed.) New York: Aperture

 

assignment 5 – how I got there

a work in progress

Working through the course, I had had a number of ideas for Assignment 5’s Self-Directed Project. At different times, I had considered:

    • The limits to my movement, imposed by the one-hour exercise period allowed during the first lockdown – what you could see, half-an-hour’s journey from my front door.
    • Listed buildings (contrasted with unlisted, but nonetheless eye-catching, interesting or characteristic structures) found in the tightly defined area Walthamstow around my house.
    • (Not) Every Building on Hoe Street, as it cuts north/south through Walthamstow. 
    • A Hokusai-influenced ‘Twenty-Six Views of the Edmonton Incinerator’ a building complex I became more and more aware of as I cycled up and down the Lee Valley, taking the photographs which became Assignment 2. 
    • Something depicting the surprisingly large number of different places of worship (sometimes repurposed as waves of immigrants moved in and moved out over the last century or so) that there are in somewhere I had always supposed was becoming increasingly secular. This would have made a nice typology, I think.
    • Shops serving an identifiable community. Another typology.

As well as taking photographs – some digital, some analogue – as I did the first three assignments, I had taken to noting down suitable locations/subjects for the pictures, and in some cases had started nipping out to take formal, tripod-mounted photographs of some of them, using a semi-technical medium format film camera. Once I had three or four rolls of exposed film I’d send them off to Peak Imaging in Sheffield to be processed and then scan the resulting negatives, putting them aside for later, keyworded and in a folder in Lightroom.

By January this year, I had amassed somewhere between 200 and 300 images. Some were repeating sequences done over time, some were one offs. I sat down to review them on a large screen to see what jumped out as me as something to take to a conclusion. While none of my possible projects seemed to have really acquired critical mass somehow, there were a lot of images that contained text or some other human-made markings. This seemed to offer an opportunity to do something about how people in cities lay claim to a small corner of space to call their own. 


As required in the course book, I started to work on a project brief:

‘Disputed Territories: 20 Small Acts of Enclosure

‘In November 2020, when I started Landscape Place and Environment, I began taking photographs of the things I noticed as I went about my day-to-day life. Now, nearly eighteen months later, I have quite a large number of these ‘ambient’ photographs, ready to use as the raw material for the fifth assignment, the Self-Directed Project. 

‘Most of them depict the area where I have spent most of my time, the urban space around my home in NE London. Many of them include words and can literally be read by the viewer; others contain more encoded meanings, which can nevertheless be read by an active viewer.

‘I can extract groups of meaning from these city pictures. There are official pronouncements (no ball games!), unofficial commands (no park!) and opportunistic gestures of dissent or of appropriation. There are things which suggest enticement, resentment of ongoing change and there are simple advertisements of the fact that someone is there, offering something to others. Often two or more things are going on at one and the same time. 

‘I’ll need to take more photographs to fill out the project, but principal photography should be complete by the middle of April. Then I shall narrow them down to twenty photographs, showing the ways people seek to control urban space and then go on to determine how others will behave there. I will present them as a mixture of discrete images, diptychs and triptychs, intended for exhibition on the walls of a gallery. The pictures will work at a formal level, but this will not be the primary purpose of the work.

‘Moving around the area where I live –  my ‘manor’ – I will have drawn frames around the images’ subject matter: the ‘small acts of enclosure’ of my project’s title. However, I am not alone here –  I share this space with many other people. All of them are trying to claim something as theirs from the ongoing chaos of urban life, all of them are intent on leaving their mark upon any available surface. We are all Kilroy; and we are all here’


At around about the same time as I put together the brief together, I made a presentation containing a small selection of possible photographs (in fig.1 above) for discussion at the March Landscape hangout, with a shorter blurb to introduce it:

‘The basic idea here is around how we (literally) read a space and how that affects our relationship to it; it also reflects different groups’ ideas of what a space is for. I’m not sure about how these should be presented, so some are here as individual images, some are collaged a bit while others are presented more straightforwardly as dip- or trip- tychs.’

fig.1 – an initial selection of 17 images (16th March)

During the discussion my fellow students’ comments were positive, picking up on the way some of the individual images in the triptychs hung together compositionally, a perceived underlying sense of humour  – although I need to avoid a totally detached, wry viewpoint; this is my environment too, and I do not want to evoke a Martin Parr-like sense of distance from the subject matter – and the fact – which I had not completely clocked – that they were totally devoid of people. Encouraged, I carried on taking photographs, while beginning to work out how many different strands of meaning could be contained within a reasonably small number of pictures and also how to present them to an audience.

I was still taking pictures of a wide range of subjects at this point. When I got back the first batch of processed negatives, it quickly became apparent that there was still far too much going on to be contained within a single project. There were pictures of small shops indicating the range of people who live and work in Walthamstow. There were repeat photographs of some shops which had changed ownership and now had a different target market. There were pictures of faded twentieth century ‘ghost adverts’ on the gable ends of buildings. There were also pictures showing the development of cycling infrastructure in the borough and also indicating some of the opposition to it. 

Both of these probably could have been expanded into projects of their own, but  there wasn’t room for them here. There were two sequences of shops changing over time – I was particularly fond of a series of five pictures showing a mango shop changing its signage before it was transformed into a more standardised grocers – but they used too many of my set limit of twenty images.

fig.2 – End of March 2022

In an act of simplification, I let them go and concentrated on images showing details of things that could be ‘read’ by a viewer and focussed my last burst of photographic activity on filling in the gaps that I had identified in the material I had already collected. 

Throughout my work on this, I have been moving the images in and out of the digital domain. I have been reproducing my blu-tacked wall arrangements of rough prints using a digital whiteboard service called Miro (at www.miro.com) to take snapshots of my work in progress (screenshots of this digital ‘wall’ are the source for the illustrations for this post).

I got the final batch of negatives back around the middle of April. They were scanned and then, after some quick initial editing of the resulting files, I made rough prints from them and stuck them up on the wall beside the earlier images that had made it this far. In total, there were forty photographs still in contention, and they were in some sort of order with a beginning and an end. They were beginning to fall into smaller groupings of between two and five images. I stuck up post-it notes with a simple phrase summarising what each grouping appeared to be saying.

fig.3 – closing in on a final edit (mid April, 2022)

At this point – in parallel to narrowing down my shortlist of images – I began to seriously work on how the images would be grouped for display. Ever since I first saw one in a gallery, I have like the idea of a carefully put together elliptical ‘splat!’ of different-sized, unframed prints. Fig.3 shows how some of my candidate images would look arranged in that way, but this is a difficult thing to do online, and also – in my opinion –  only works with a larger number of images than I have allowed myself for this project.

However, pretty much from the start, I had also been thinking about a more rigidly-ordered way of organising the pictures – this had played a part in the number of pictures I was aiming for as 20 breaks down neatly into a 4×5 typographical grid – but this didn’t sit well with combining the pictures into a mixture of single images and small groups of two or three. It became easier if you rotated the grid and made it four rows of five, losing any photographs that only worked on its own, but that still obscured the smaller groupings. However, I did hang on to the idea of four diptychs and four triptychs for my final edit of twenty. 

fig.4 – a typographic grid?

 After getting stuck on a 19 image edit – the top row of fig.5) I realised that the rotated, five x four, typographical grid could be broken down into an alternating two-three, three-two pattern. This allowed me to move quickly to start producing a single row of images (using the quickly made inkjet prints, blu tacked onto a blank wall and then playing further on Miro) and this is what I have stuck with for submission to my tutor. 

fig.5 – the penultimate and the final pair of edits (May 2nd 2022)

Once the set of images and their order had been finalised, I set about making good copies of them. Where necessary – some of the original scans had not been as sharp as I would have liked while others were beyond my ability to achieve satisfactory colour values – I rescanned the negatives and inverted the resulting files using a Lightroom plugin I had bought for the purpose called Negative Lab Pro. It does a much better job of processing negatives than my Epson scanner’s preset. Then, I created two copies of the postives and  processed them twice: first for printing on my Canon ten colour inkjet printer and then as digital files intended for display online. The online files were then exported at a suitably high resolution to allow them to be viewed at fullscreen on a good monitor. These have been uploaded to my log, here.

Although all assessment by the OCA is being carried out electronically, online, I have use the second set of proof files to make printed versions of the images at sizes of up to 12″ square, so I can experiment with different ways of displaying them and also check that the key textual elements remain sharp at all times. I will discuss this in more detail in a later post.

For the online version, I have thought carefully about how much text is required alongside the images. The main post contains a brief artist’s statement (and an afterword) and displays the images grouped together as diptychs and triptychs. There is also a set of links to individual posts where the pictures are given a location and their GPS coordinates. The GPS data in turn links through to Google Maps’ satellite view, providing a much greater level of physical context than could be supplied by the images themselves.

I think there is enough there to allow a viewer to be drawn in to engage with the photographs and from there to start to delve into possible meaning. However, the GPS information was a very late addition to the display and I cannot rule out further thoughts on this…


During my work on this body of work, I have followed David Hurn’s recommendations (Hurn & Jay, 2008; 93-104) for devising and executing projects, fairly closely. I have worked out how many pictures I need; I have done location research and have tried not to take the same picture again and again. I have made contact sheets, reshot pictures that did not quite work and have tried to let the better pictures determine what I shoot next. I have worn comfortable shoes.

While I have imposed some limits on the pictures I have used, I have not been overly precious about how they have been individually edited. Three of the final pictures were not taken using a medium format film camera, but they have been cropped square; similarly I have not stuck blindly with the original framing of the analogue images, if it lets them sit together more comfortably as a group. I have had to lose several images that I liked a lot, but that is always the case. The set of messages that can be read from the pictures is simpler than I had hoped when I set out to do in January, but the series is coherent and hopefully will engage an audience, and keep it looking long enough to want to unpick some of what is going on. 

Hurn says that, for a seven picture essay, he would shoot 20 to 30 rolls of 35mm film, or between 700 and 1000 frames (2008: 100); admittedly, this is for documentary assignments, but even so, I am falling well short of reaching that sort of volume of shot material. In On Landscape and Meaning, Richard Misrach (2020: 20) says that, with any project,  there comes a time when you feel you have finished with it, and that at that point you should force yourself to go on shooting until you have genuinely exhausted the idea.

However, I retain the possibility, that this project will continue to be developed beyond the point it has reached currently. I am still taking photographs that would fit within my project brief and will have them processed long before the deadline for submissions to the Winter/November Assessment event(at the end of September). If any fit better or allow the range of meaning to expand further, I shall make changes. However, with what is available to me now, I am happy to present this work to my tutor as a completed project.


Reference
    • Hurn, D and Jay, B (2008) On being a photographer: a practical guide (3rd Ed.) Anacortes, WA: LensWork Publishing.
    • Misrach, R. (2020) On Landscape and Meaning. New York: Aperture

assignment 5 – self-directed project

disputed territories: 20 small acts of enclosure

While the countryside can seem timeless and unchanging, cities are in a state of constant flux. During the time I have been working on this project, within a couple of minutes walk from my door, shops and cafés have changed ownership and purpose, people have died and babies have been born. In this small corner of the city where I live, building work has never stopped for long, even during the pandemic. Buildings have been demolished and new ones built in their place.   Everywhere is a palimpsest, written and then overwritten as each new wave of people replaces the last.

What follows is a series of snapshots, capturing moments of time in Walthamstow. They were all taken between March 2021 and May 2022. Some of them still look the same as they did when the photograph was taken,  but others have altered dramatically.

All of them contain material which can in some way be read by the viewer.


(Clicking on each group of pictures will allow that diptych or triptych to be viewed full-screen.)


We read the space around us every time we set foot outside our house. Words, pictograms and glyphs direct our actions, letting us know what we can and what we cannot do . We can comply – maybe willingly, maybe grudgingly – or we can try and resist. People lay claim to each and every scrap of space. All of them try to claim something from the ongoing chaos of urban life, as theirs and theirs alone; all are intent on leaving their mark.

I am no different. We are all Kilroy; and we are all here.


The pictures can be  viewed individually using the links below. Each image page has a link to its geotagged position on Google Maps, which may help put them into some sort of wider context.

Click on the small dip- or triptych at the bottom of the picture’s page to return here.

              1. Construction hoarding – 8th April 2022
              2. Wall of derelict public house – 23rd March 2022
              3. Netley Road – 16th April 2022
              4. Chingford Road- 7th January 2022
              5.  Broomfield- 9th January 2022
              6. Courtney Place – 23rd March 2022
              7. Courtney Place – 23rd March 2022
              8. Construction Hoarding – 8th April 2022
              9. Rosebank Road – 13th March 2022
              10. St James Street – 8th April 2022
              11. Portmeer Close -2nd April 2021
              12. Lea Bridge Road – 8th January 2022
              13. Ray Dudley Way – 9th January 2022
              14. Lea Bridge Road – 8th Jan 2022
              15. Lea Valley – 30th May 2021
              16. Exmouth Road – 16th April 2022
              17. Chestnuts House – 9th January 2022 
              18. Courtenay Mews – 23rd March 2022
              19. Under the railway bridge #1; 22nd March
              20. Under the railway bridge #2; 9th April 2021

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