assignment 1 – peer review (work in progress 2)

‘accept advice’ – card drawn at random from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s pack of Oblique Strategies

The fifth learning outcome for LPE asks us to ‘exercise your communication skills confidently and interact effectively within a learning group‘. During my last course, I regularly attended the course group hangouts (building up relationships with various fellow students that will outlast our common work on DIaC) and also made use of the OCA Forum’s Critique section to put up early stages assignment work to see of what other people made of my ideas before they were too difficult to change; increasingly, I augmented this by attending the Forum Live sessions, hosted by Clive White. While it was still active, I participated in the Photography Reading Group and found it a great way to get some discussion going around context. I also make a point of going out and looking at other students’ (and ex-students’) logs; I try to make useful comments, and have received very handy feedback on my progress, in return.

I have continued this approach of active engagement with other students, during my work on this module.

For assignment one, I had got so far as working out what form my submission would take, and had done the coding necessary to make a slideshow to display one set of archival photographs taken in Orkney (conventional beauty/the sublime)  which would then be set alongside ‘equivalent’ pictures, taken in Walthamstow (testing the conventions), before I offered the raw concept and my first go at how I would present them up to my course mates. The next couple of paragraphs were written up immediately after.

‘Wednesday, 17th February: tried out the slideshow and a selection of Orkney images at this month’s Landscape hangout. Response to both was good. People liked the slideshow, for its slide-iness – the effects (fan and slide-changer mechanism) got some nicely nostalgia-tinged(?) recognition, and opened up further some earlier lines of discussion around options for online display of images.

fig.1 – cows, flotta
fig.2 – cow, walthamstow

‘The idea of pairing of pictures was thought to work well (and the concept between past and present, rural and urban was generally viewed as being a successful way into the assignment at the present time). Singled out was the group of cows in Orkney paired with the single cow in the undergrowth on Walthamstow marshes. This is good. I just need to finalise my edit and get the various assignment posts together. A week or so, I think…’

The week became a fortnight, during which I refined my ideas and did some more work on both the selection of pictures and their presentation. I wrote my first WIP post and linked to it from a Critique Category forum post. I also sent the link directly to the people I from my group at the two Keeping Up Momentum sessions that straddled my finishing DIaC and starting LPE. After producing a collaborative, animated exhibition piece (I should really do a post about the experience, but until I do, Paola, another of my group, posted it on the WeAreOCA blog, if you have a few minutes) we carried on meeting as we got on well and  found that – coming from different course pathways – gave a wider range of thoughts about one another’s work.

I didn’t get much back from the discussion thread on the forum (although I did get a catalyst for my idea of the sublime being comparable to a radioactive isotope decaying into successively less toxic forms of its element over time) but the comments on WordPress and the emails back from my keeping-up-momentum group were positive about the direction the work was taking, helping me come to some final conclusions about which photographs to include in the final pairings and – where there were multiple possibles among the Walthamstow pictures –  which one to use.

Two suggestions definitely changed the final edit – I had been inching towards using the foggy carpark picture as a pair for the ring of Brodgar but the shrouded park gym was easily the majority choice (partly because of something I had not noticed – there were as many uprights in the apparatus as there were stones in the Brodgar picture) and there was something about the strength of the pub window picture that outweighed its being the only portrait format picture.

That should probably have been that, but prompted on the OCA forum by the organiser, I added the assignment to the agenda for the first of the two, March Focus Lives on zoom. I moved much closer towards completing the assignment – reediting the slideshow to reflect the changes to the two sets of pictures, redoing the voiceover and then playing with the timing to make the whole thing tighter – finalising the processing of the Walthamstow pictures and making a start at the contextualising words. I published a ‘nearly there’ version of the assignment post and prepared for a final feedback session.

I’ve had a very positive reaction to every version of the slideshow I’ve put online. The clanking projector gate f/x and the rattle of the cooling fan appears to be instantly recognisable, evoking memories of slideshows past in anyone who experienced them as part of growing up; placing the Orkney images in this context – along with my voiceover – was seen as undercutting the tendency of some of the pictures to represent a hackneyed sublime. All this is good.

fig.3: farmer with a boat, version 2

Things became less clear when displaying the pictures as diptychs (from the earlier, wip post) got an equally positive response. By doing that, I think it becomes about the pairings (and not a little like an extended version of the first assignment for The Art of Photography) rather than beauty and/or the sublime. After playing with the manner of juxtaposition (fig.3, above) I decided to stick with showing the London pictures separately from their Orcadian equivalents. Viewed online, as these pictures will be, I think they look better and have more impact as full-width images that fill as much of a screen as possible. The contrast between the large scale photographs taken as landscapes and the ‘holiday snap’ slides is more apparent too.

There is, of course, always the possibility of reviving the diptych idea when it comes to compiling series of images for assessment (and when the individual assignment brief becomes less important than the learning outcomes). We shall see.

There was also a suggestion that the two sets of images could be combined into a single, much more complex, animation. A brilliant idea, but my heart sank. I can imagine this working well and coming even closer to my memory of  Roger Mayne’s 1964 multi-channel Venice Biennale slide show installation (with music). However I can also imagine just how much work it would be to program. Again, possibly, something to play with later…

I think discussing work, like this, while it is still unfinished, is really useful, but that it requires an openness on the artist’s part to what is being said. There is a constant need to suppress one’s desire simply to be told that what they are doing is great. Similarly, when looking at the work of others, it’s important to come up with reasons for the judgements you are Suggestions should help what is there to develop further, rather than being a statement of how you would have have done a similar thing totally differently. Generosity, from both sides, is all.


  • OCA (2021) Course guide for the assessment of photography units. (Version: March 2021 event) Barnsley: Open College of the Arts

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