On Reflection … Week 12, Module One

Putting the final touches to the research proposal and work in progress portfolio, two seemingly simple tasks, hasn’t left much time for other activities this week.

Labour under no misunderstanding, these are assignments and I am after every available mark. I was leaving nothing to chance. Presentation was absolutely everything.

I tend to use a subtle frame to set off my images, a small white border around the image with a very fine grey keystroke to demark the area. And, in my opinion it looks good – a small finishing touch to define the area in space occupied by my images, just as a frame sets off a physical painting or photograph.

Disappointing then, and frustrating, that when my portfolio was assembled and converted to .pdf file and given final scrutiny, the border became corrupted. The two sides and top were present but with artefacts, and the bottom edge of the border was missing completely.

A number of attempts to rectify this problem failed to produce anything different. No matter what I tried, the border became corrupted when the portfolio was converted to a .pdf.

So, the borders were disposed of. All images are now borderless. At least, on the plus side, this will prevent marks from being lost due to untidy presentation.

I think I need to do some research into why the problem occurred. Certainly, the time to look into the issue further before the assignment submission deadline wasn’t available. Furthermore, there was a job to do and, as much as I think the borders helped set off my images, giving them a point of reference in space, there was no benefit in sentimentality. I would, however, like to look into their continued use in the future. I can’t be unique in having experienced the problem, so, something to research.

Who is this CRJ for? An interesting question which arose this week.

Is it for an individual? If so, is that individual myself, or someone else?

If not for an individual, then what audience?

Let’s just pause for a while and evaluate what the acronym, “CRJ”, actually means. I think there is a lot of mileage in such an evaluation.

Critical Reflection Journal.

Ultimately, whatever name is used to refer to the act of “reflective writing”, the aim is to focus on writing which is not solely descriptive but also analytical.

My view is that this CRJ is primarily for an individual, me! It is about my progression through an MA in photography. It is to document the research I undertake, the things that interest me and those that don’t, the things that go according to plan and what I can do to ensure more of the same and build upon these successes, and the things that go wrong and what I can take from such experiences.

Note, the use of the word “primarily” … …

I have no problem with sharing my thoughts, or indeed salient aspects of my research with those who share an interest in my project. And for that reason, I am more than amenable to suggestions of how the CRJ might be made more “reader friendly”.

Again, as with so much recently, it all comes down to perspectives. But to what extent should personal perspectives be allowed to dictate? And should any one personal perspective be given precedence over another?

On reflection (see what I did there?), I think it isn’t what is said, it is the way something is said that can be so irksome. I certainly feel that is what has caused me vexation this week.

Let’s distil that idea … …

It isn’t what is said, it is the way something is said.”

What that distils down to, rather pragmatically, is this: “how is it meant?

What are the motives for the commenter? What are the motives for the comment?

Being a photographer is about having a point of view. I think there are times when you have to make a stand, when you have to defend your art or your view on art.

Describing an image or its use as “tiresome” doesn’t really benefit anyone, doesn’t really enter into the true spirit of critiquing and isn’t really best practice. Photographs have different meanings to different people. What appears as a “tiresome” image to one individual may be an important image for any number of reasons to someone else. For every image, there is an artist who invested time and effort, possibly other resources, into making that image and, as a consequence, it deserves respect.

Images, whether they are paintings or photographs, are intended to be looked at – repeatedly. It isn’t common practice to hang a picture on the wall on Monday, find it “tiresome” by Tuesday and change the image that hangs there on a repeated basis thereafter. Or is it?

Clearly a compromise needs to be found. So, yes, a CRJ needs to be a “reader friendly” entity. But not at the expense of all “individuality” rendering it “sterile” and “barren” and devoid of any opportunity to learn “reflectively”, after all, we are all individuals and we all learn in our own unique way – no two CRJs are the same. People include in a CRJ what has value to them at that time.

Letting all the dust settle, a lot of valid points have been discussed this week and a number of opportunities to make this CRJ more “accessible” have been identified and will be implemented.

One final thought on CRJs, perhaps there is a reason why any particular CRJ is the “way it is”. That reason, perhaps the learning curve relating to setting up and maintaining a CRJ is a steep as that relating to the subject of the CRJ itself (maybe even steeper).

From a personal point of view, I haven’t found WordPress the easiest of applications to use. I’ll be investing some of my downtime during the Christmas holiday genning up on WordPress and its wily ways.

Moving on … …

I have had two ideas for future images. Images which I am really excited about. Images which bring so much of my research and subsequent findings to date together in a cohesive manner. And there is plenty of scope to be creative and generate something really aesthetically appealing.

I’m looking forward to working on these images.

Being Self-critical!

Time to take a few steps back and be self-critical.

The image shown below has been given the title “Still-life with Citrus Fruit”. It was made as part of this week’s research into the methods used, if any were, to control light by the great masters.


Morris, 2016. Still-life with Citrus Fruit

I think it has a strong, yet simple composition designed to show the exquisite texture and rich colours of the main subjects – an orange and lemons in a simple, hand-turned wooden bowl. A white scarf featuring an intricate blue pattern compliments the main subject and provides a degree of balance, as do an orange leaf, knife and an ammonite fossil.

The view point for the image is similar to that utilised by the great masters in many of their works. So, whilst it is not, in general terms, unique it does have a legitimacy arising from a tried-and-tested “formula”. Close-up shots are en voque in contemporary food photography and I wish to avoid producing images with such a perspective. What other perspectives portray the characteristics of still-life subjects to be displayed in such an appealing and “accessible” manner, laid-bare and nothing hidden? Or is there? What is hidden away in this image? What can’t we see?

That’s an area for future exploration.

The image was taken using only natural light. The location for the composition was chosen so that the subjects would be bathed in pools of warm mid-morning light. The split-lighting effect of the natural light provides contrasting regions within the composition, dapples of joyful bright colour in the highlight areas opposed by the dark moodiness of the shadow areas.

Note that the image is lit from the left. It was an interesting exercise to construct a “dolly”, a quickly conceived contraption upon which the still-life table could be placed in order to allow it to revolve 360 degrees around it’s rotation axis. Keeping all other variables constant, seeing the same composition lit from the right was quite revealing and is something I will expand upon at another time.

Does the image meet my expectations? Well, no actually. It exceeds my expectations. Is that selling myself short? No, I don’t think so because I “hoped” and planned accordingly to achieve a final image that had a high degree of aesthetic appeal and technical quality, but aiming to produce an image lit solely by natural light, did I “expect” the desired outcome.

I am, in short, very pleased with this image. That’s not to say I’m comfortable having arrived at this point. In fact, far from it. Having reached this juncture, I want to continue exploring, to see what is around the next corner. So, what can I do differently in future that builds upon this momentary success? Again, something for future exploration.

Does the image match my pre-visualisation? Yes, I was able to arrange the still-life with items I planned, in the way I planned. That’s an area I had a reasonable level of control over, unlike the environmental conditions. Which leads very nicely into my final point …

Were there any challenges involved in making this image? Most definitely. The image was taken on a day with very changeable weather conditions. Dark clouds producing rain for the main with intermittent spells of blue skies and sunlight meant that there was no guarantee of the warm mid-morning sun that I hoped for. In the end, being prepared and patient paid dividends.

Doesn’t it always?

On Reflection … Week 11, Module One

Who looks at my work? Why do they look at it? Why should people look at my work?

A week for thinking outside of my personal viewpoint and striving to see things from other perspectives.

This is something I have really taken apart this week.

Me, looking at them, looking at me.

Interesting to see how my project proposal looks from alternative views. And interesting to see how many differing views there are.

All this poses a whole new set of very pertinent questions.

How critical is my reflection? How does this enrich my learning? Does it enrich my learning at all? Does any of this even make sense to other readers? Who are the other readers? Does anybody even remotely care about the words I write? Will it make sense to me when I refer to it in the future?

The latter question I can reliably answer, eleven weeks in and looking back I see validity, and some integrity, in what I wrote earlier in the course and it still makes sense – I certainly don’t find myself pondering and asking “what on earth …”, I still know why I wrote as I did. Perhaps most importantly, I would now look for different, possibly more refined ways, possibly additional ways, to express my views on the same subjects.

Time to start smashing down a few walls!

Moving on to other matters … …

Referring back to the subject of perspectives, some interesting discoveries were made this week concerning Vermeer and the way in which he composed his works. A lot of valuable information there. Lots more to think about and potential to open up further areas of investigation.

Significantly more time spent on the research project proposal, reviewing and refining. Finally, I have something that reaches out to me, something that makes me feel a presence, something that stands by itself and which I have a quiet confidence in submitting.

Next stage in the process, more practical work … …

On Reflection … Week 10, Module One

Working on my research proposal this week has been an interesting and revealing challenge.

The challenge came in the form of “writer’s block”. Overcoming this inability to think coherently about anything in-any-way-whatsoever related to the project proposal, let alone attempt to write it down, was at times very frustrating. However, perseverance won the day.

Surprising that, no matter how well, how meticulously you record all your thoughts in a notebook, when you start to write up your notes in a meaningful way it just doesn’t seem to come together sometimes. I feel compelled to say that tiredness played a major role in that this last week.

Further challenges came as a result of obtaining resources, or more to the point, trying to obtain resources. Adding to the communication chain meant adding to the complications this week. It was reassuring to work with suppliers who were prepared to jump through hoops to fulfil orders and overcome issues.

It has been, and continues to be, an interesting experience to dig deeper into the subject of my project. Analogy, it is a bit like trying to unravel several bits of tangled string, identifying one specific strand and then gently working along its length as it meanders through the knotted ball of equally tangled compatriot threads, following its journey through to a natural end at which point a discovery is made.

Questioning why still-life photography appeals to me more than any other subject has revealed something very significant. A fairly simple question you would think, but, in reality, one which was not easy to find a robust answer that would stand up to any sort of interrogation.

Some genres of photography restrict creativity, beyond choosing an already existing subject, to the act of photography itself: for example, choosing a viewpoint and a corresponding angle of view, choosing an aperture setting and depth of field in order to capture “what is there” in an artistic way. Still-life food photography allows me to create what I photograph myself – putting my own personal creativity into both the subject and the photography. It is this extension of creativity, to a level found more commonly in painting than in photography, that holds great appeal for me.

A peer review of progress on the research proposal and the WIP to date was very informative – surprising how each of the four projects that were discussed had been refined and evolved in what seems like a long time but is, in reality, only a very short period.