Portfolio Choices …

Compiling a resolved body of photographic work for an examinable portfolio is an emotive process.

In terms of choosing the images, it is easy to let technology interfere in the process. Culling a certain number of images from a series can become a monotonous task, and the internet makes it too easy to make a few clicks and start to research some aspect of the next project. Printing out small copies of each image gives me something tangible to work with. They can be shuffled like a pack of cards to see what works. They can be pinned to a wall, the order changed around, and most importantly, I can step back to view the images from a distance and gain a feeling of which images work together well, and which don’t.

Intuition plays a part in image choice Some images “resonate” more than others when the shutter is operated. “Sam” is an image which immediately resonated with me: it’s a strong image which benefits from a simple composition, a relatively limited colour palette makes effective use of orange and related hues and provides cohesion throughout the image.

Chicken Chow Mein

Morris, 2017. Sam

It is important to find a theme which runs through the series of images and which can provide a narrative – the storytelling ability of the images as a whole is important. It isn’t enough for the images just to be “strong”. Ten images which demonstrate my style and collectively tell a story are better than 20 images which portray a disparate variety of different subjects.

Images for my Work in Progress Portfolio submission have two themes, both of which explore our relationship with food.

Eyeholes, earholes and …” is taken from the series ““Junk” Food” which focuses on some of the social issues associated with our food and the way we consume it.

Earholes, eyeholes and _

Morris, 2017. Eyeholes, earholes and

Chloe” is an image which has a visual anthropological dimension, recording the meals consumed by “Ten” schoolchildren on the evening of 7th March 2017.

Chicken rolls

Morris, 2017. Chloe

Having initially decided on twenty images, I found it invaluable to have the assembled work reviewed by as many people as possible. This helps to offset any personal likes or preferences, it prevents any “conflict of interest which might arise from a strong attachment to any one specific image.

Each reviewer provided a different perspective, and in several cases the opinions conflicted. This is an inevitable part of this method. It is also absolutely necessary – if every opinion provided agreed, what would be the point?

What I was looking for was similarities in the opinions, some sort of common thread running through all the comments.

Ultimately, the final decision regarding what is and is not included is mine, but having obtained and listened to the opinions of several reviewers, at least the final decision is informed.

Moving forward, areas to investigate include the context in which images are viewed and the interaction between the two, the curation of images, and viewer management.

An Alternative View …

The intent for my project is to provide an alternative view of our relationship with food.

It is my opinion that we take food for granted. I want to promote the idea that there are implications, ultimately for everyone, because of the way we eat. Consequently, I aim to produce images which not only have a painterly aesthetic (“Towards a Painterly Aesthetic”, 17 April 2017), that is portraying the characteristics commonly regarded as giving paintings their appeal, but which also bring into question our relationship with food.

I want to produce images which exist in their own right as beautiful works of art, even if the subjects are not visually appealing – exploring the tension between beautiful form (aesthetics) and ugly content (subject matter) – fig. 1.


Fig. 1. Morris, 2017. Bloodshot

This is far removed from the project concept as it stood in May 2016: a photographic exploration of British cuisine, iconic dishes and fresh regional produce with the working title of “British Food”. As “British Food” developed into “The Great British Food Project”, the project was in danger of becoming as much to do with cooking as it was photography, if not more so.

Time for a major rethink …

I think food photography has a very narrow objective which is limited solely to the promotion of food and its consumption (“Where Am I Now?”, 29 January 2017).

Sischy (1991) writes that “beauty is a call to admiration, not to action’ (“A Force for Change”, 29 March 2017). Whilst I do appreciate the beauty of food photography (it really is my passion), I do think it is exclusively focused on the aesthetic and could fulfil a greater purpose.

The Photographic Art of Food”, then, provides a commentary on the issues associated with our food and the way we eat it (fig. 2).

Earholes, eyeholes and _

Fig. 2. Morris, 2017. Eyeholes, earholes and

Additionally, the project has a visual anthropological dimension, recording the evening meals consumed by school pupils on Tuesday 07 March 2017 in order to produce a series of ten photographs (fig. 3). This body of work will take a similar documentary-type approach to that of Mat Collishaw’s “Last Meal on Death Row” (“Last Meal on Death Row” … Mat Collishaw”, 3 April 2017).

Chicken Chow Mein

Fig. 3. Morris, 2017. Sam

Both strands of the project, ““Junk” Food” and “Ten” have been interesting, informative and entertaining. Exploring the social issues associated with our food has provided a challenge in terms of subject matter, whilst both ““Junk” Food” and “Ten” have provided a creative challenge.

Where next? Research is continuing into the paintings of the 17th century Dutch artists which inspire me so much (in addition to looking at the work of contemporary photographers). There is still lots of scope to develop ““Junk” Food” and there is plenty of opportunity to explore variants of “Ten” – ideas are already on the drawing board.

As module 2 of the MA inches closer to completion, it will be nice to head off for a while and look at other, non-food related subjects to photograph – a few portraits and some still-life images – just to keep things fresh.

Da Vinci on … Backgrounds

Of Back-grounds

One of the principal parts of painting is the nature and quality of back-grounds, upon which the extremities of any convex or solid body will always detach and be distinguished in nature, though the colour of such objects, and that of the ground, be exactly the same. This happens, because the convex sides of solid bodies do not receive the light in the same manner with the ground, for such sides or extremities are often lighter or darker than the ground. But if such extremities were to be of the same colour as the ground, and in the same degree of light, they certainly could not be distinguished. Therefore such a choice in painting ought to be avoided by all intelligent and judicious painters; since the intention is to make the objects appear as it were out of the ground. The above case would produce the contrary effect, not only in painting, but also in objects of real relievo.”

Leonardo da Vinci, ‘A Treatise on Painting’, chapter CCLXV

Relevance to practice: Background Analysis


Da Vinci, Leonardo and Rigaud, John Francis (2015) ‘A Treatise on Painting’. Istanbul: e-Kitap Projesi


Towards a Painterly Aesthetic

German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) first used the term “painterly” to distinguish between Baroque and Renaissance art.

Wölfflin felt that Baroque art was “painterly” and focused on mass, light and shade, whilst Renaissance art was linear, portraying the world in clearly defined shapes.

Linear art emphasizes solidity by using outlines and even lighting throughout to distinguish the individual subjects within a composition. By representing subjects in an objective manner, linear art conveys a sense of stability.

In contrast, the subjects in painterly art are less clearly defined as a result of broad brushstrokes and form is lost in shadow due to uneven lighting, design elements blend together to present a more continuous composition which flows through the painting creating a sense of dynamism.

Consequently, form and pattern are more characteristic of linear art, whilst movement is more readily associated with painterly art.

The term now has a much broader scope, not being limited to critical evaluations of Baroque and Renaissance art. Consequently, its use is now more widespread, being applied to any works of art where brushwork and the medium of the paint are clearly visible. Artists widely regarded for painting in this manner include Titian, Rembrandt, Velázquez and Goya.

Tate.org provides the following definition: “painterly refers to the application of paint in a ‘loose’ or less than controlled manner, resulting in the appearance of visible brushstrokes within the finished painting” (Tate.org, ca. 2017).

Additionally, the term can be applied to the technique or approach of the artist, as well as to the appearance of the finished artwork.

Software applications exist which apply a “painterly” look to photographs – either at the time the image is produced electronically or subsequently. As a result of using such applications, images mimic recognizably artistic styles such as oil or watercolor painting, or are based on styles like van Gogh or Impressionism. Theoretically, the resulting photographs are referred to as having a “painterly aesthetic”.

In reality, however, the term “painterly aesthetic” is widely used in reference to any image which displays at least one characteristic commonly associated with a traditional painting method.


Characteristics of painterly art include:

Chromatic progression

Warm and cool tones

Complementary and contrasting colors

Broken tones

Broad brushstrokes




One aim of my project is to produce a series of images which not only bring into question our relationship with food, but which also have a “painterly aesthetic”.

Key areas of research are the use of techniques, both in camera and post-processing, which add a painterly element to the visual appeal of the images.

Silent Killer” is the analysis of an image to which post-processing techniques have been applied in order to achieve a painterly aesthetic.



Clarke, Michael (2010) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Oxford University Press

Nygard,Travis and Wren, Linnea (2003) ‘Heinrich Wölfflin’, in Murray, Chris (ed.) ‘Key Writers on Art: The Twentieth Century’. Oxon: Routledge

Tate.Org ca. 2017. Art Terms entry: ‘painterly’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/painterly (Accessed: Monday 17 April 2017)

Da Vinci on … Composition

How to Study Composition

The young student should begin by sketching slightly some single figure, and turn that on all sides, knowing already how to contract, and how to extend the members; after which, he may put two together in various attitudes, we will suppose in the act of fighting boldly. This composition also he must try on all sides, and in a variety of ways, tending to the same expression. Then he may imagine one of them very courageous, while the other is a coward. Let these attitudes, and many other accidental affections of the mind, be with great care studied, examined, and dwelt upon.”

Leonardo da Vinci, ‘A Treatise on Painting’, chapter CXXXII

Relevance to practice: “Leigha” – Image Analysis


Da Vinci, Leonardo and Rigaud, John Francis (2015) ‘A Treatise on Painting’. Istanbul: e-Kitap Projesi

A Little Bit About Aesthetics

To say that an object is beautiful or ugly is seemingly to refer to a property of the object. But it is also to express a positive or negative response to it, a set of aesthetic values, and to suggest that others ought to respond in the same way. Such judgements are descriptive, expressive, and normative or prescriptive at once. These multiple features are captured well by Humean accounts that analyse the judgements as ascribing relational properties. To say that an object is beautiful is to say, in part, that it is such as to elicit a response expressing pleasure in certain observers. The observers in question must not be ignorant, biased, insensitive, or of poor taste, and they must not base their evaluations on aesthetically irrelevant properties of the subjects they judge” (Goldman, 1990).

Aesthetics is a word which is used a lot within an art context. We commonly hear phrases telling us a painting has a particular aesthetic, indeed my project aims to explore the “painterly aesthetic” seen in 17th century Dutch paintings.

But what exactly does the word “aesthetics” mean? I think a relatively small number of people actually have some knowledge in this area, and could provide a decent, credible definition of the word – it is after all, a very complex and specialised branch of philosophy. I also think it’s a word that a lot of people hear, and then repeat, without really going back to basics and doing some research to establish the meaning – I think it “assumed” knowledge.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms defines aesthetics accordingly:

“The philosophy of the beautiful in art and “taste”. The present usage of the term originates from its adoption in 1735 by the German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten to distinguish the study of the sensory, the beautiful, from that of logic, the study of reason and intellect” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms, p. 5)

The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following definition:

“The philosophy of the beautiful or of art; a system of principles for the appreciation of the beautiful, etc.; the distinctive underlying principles of a work of art or a genre, the works of an artist, the arts of a culture, etc.” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2017).

So, we have at least established that “aesthetics” is three things: “the philosophy of the beautiful”, “a system of principles”, and “distinctive underlying principles”.

Sibley suggests that aesthetic qualities, such as grace, power, balance and originality, require “taste” on the part of the observer in order to be ascribed to an object (Sibley in Goldman, 1990). However, Goldman argues that, without a knowledge of what “taste” is, this is a less than helpful definition.

Kant posited that whilst there are no universally shared principles by which aesthetic qualities are ascribed to objects, judgements which ascribe qualitative descriptors to objective properties are more universal (Kant, 1966). Kant goes on to suggest that because the pleasure derived by “disinterested observers” (i.e. those deemed not technically qualified, or educated, to make philosophical judgements) is based on commonly held human faculties, the ability to ascribe aesthetic qualities should also be commonly held – in essence, there are no guiding principles. An objective property, universal to all beautiful objects, does not exist. To determine whether an object is, or is not, beautiful, pleasure must be derived from perception of the object.

What of “taste” as referred to by Sibley and the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms?

Sibley’s usage of the word seems to suggest that taste is a sense, present only in limited circumstances, in addition to the standard five senses.

Alternatively, taste might simply be interpreted as meaning a sensitivity to aesthetic properties.

Taste, however, can also suggest that an ability to perceive all the non-aesthetic qualities of an object is not, by itself sufficient to judge the aesthetic qualities of the same object: to perceive an object’s aesthetic qualities, one must first perceive the non-aesthetic. The ability to perceive non-aesthetic qualities does not preclude the inability to perceive aesthetic qualities.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines taste accordingly: “mental perception of quality; judgement, discriminative faculty” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2017).

“Taste”, therefore, can refer to a predisposition to evaluate in a certain way. Ascribing aesthetic qualities to objects is relevant to our evaluation of those objects – aesthetic judgements are justified by using qualitative descriptors as a standardised reference point.

Any aesthetic qualities which are assigned to an object are relational, that is they compare the non-aesthetic properties of an object with similar properties in other objects, which may be similar or dissimilar. Such properties include structural characteristics such as tone, shape, and colour.

A comparison of physical non-aesthetic properties is, therefore, the basis, and justification for, the ascription of aesthetic qualities, which in turn is the basis and justification for aesthetic judgements. As Bender informs us “we might say that aesthetic attributions function either to offer critical evaluations of an artwork or to offer the reasons supporting those evaluations” (Bender, 2005).

Whilst aesthetic evaluations are subjective, the characteristics upon which they are based are, nevertheless, real. In philosophical terms, “real” refers to the ability to be recognised and agreed upon by a non-qualified consensus – e.g. a car is a car because that is what we are commonly taught, and it is universally agreed and accepted that a “car” will have a chassis, four wheels, an engine, etc. Recognition of such characteristics, by nature, is independent of the observer’s opinions.

The ascription of qualitative descriptors is, however, context based: “‘powerful,’ when applied to a locomotive, generally refers to a nonaesthetic property; when applied to Beethoven’s Third or Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, it refers to an aesthetic property” (Goldman, 2001).

In conclusion, aesthetics can be regarded as a system for the qualitative, if subjective, evaluation of objects – most commonly works of art. Evaluative aesthetic judgements have as their basis, non-aesthetic characteristics which are normally the physical properties of an object. The observed characteristics of an object are compared with characteristics in other similar, or dissimilar, objects – in doing so they provide a standardised point of reference. Such characteristics are “real” in that they are commonly recognised and agreed upon by non-specialist observers.



“aesthetics, n.”. OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017 [Online]. Available at: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/293508?redirectedFrom=aesthetics (Accessed 08 April 2017).

Bender, John (2005) ‘Aesthetic Realism 2’, in Levinson, Jerrold (ed.) ‘The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics’. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Clarke, Michael (2010) Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Oxford University Press

Goldman, Alan (1990) ‘Aesthetic Qualities and Aesthetic Value’, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 28, No. 1 (January 1990), pp. 23 – 37 [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026797

Goldman, Alan (2001) ‘The Aesthetic’, in Gaut, B. and McIver Lopes, D. (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. London: Routledge

Kant, Immanuel (1966) Critique of Judgment. Translated by J. H. Bernard. New York: Hafner

“taste, n.1”. OED Online. Oxford University Press. March 2017 [Online]. Available at: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/198050?rskey=ZIgoCw&result=1#eid (Accessed 16 April 2017)

“Leigha” – Image Analysis

Leigha” is one image taken from a series which record the meals consumed by ten schoolchildren on the evening of 7 March 2017.


Morris, 2017. Leigha

It is a good image, technically and creatively. I feel, however, that it is not a strong image.

Using Frith’s method of layered analysis, the image has the following characteristics.

Firstly, the surface reading shows a slice of pizza ready to be eaten with the remaining pizza visible in the background, a pink flower which has shed some petals, an ammonite fossil sitting on top of two photography books, and a glass of water.

The intended reading shows a meal consumed by one individual, Leigha – a schoolgirl, at a specific time and date. It shows Leigha’s preferences, at least in terms of this one meal.

The cultural reading aims to reflect society’s relationship with food by recording the meals consumed by a sample group, it is a contemporary record of what food we consume and how we choose to do so.

Using Barthes semiotic system of analysis, the signifier is the slice of pizza waiting to be eaten, the signified is the individual’s choice of food which, by extension, is a reflection of our society’s food culture.

Hodgson informs us that images are about something in addition to being of something. “Leigha” is clearly an image of pizza prepared for a meal, it is about the food choices we make as individuals and collectively as a society.

In terms of meaning, I think the image’s narrative is quite well considered, especially within the context of the series.

The image is well executed from a technical point of view. Deliberately low key, the image portrays beautiful chiaroscuro with rich, deep shadows and the main subject being appropriately lit, maintaining the overall atmosphere of the image.

Where the image’s weakness lies, I feel, is in the composition.

Much has been spoken regarding the use of the golden spiral in composition, and the main subject of “Leigha” is placed centrally around the origin of such a spiral. There are, in fact, many places in which the main subject could be located and still remain the main point of focus. The golden spiral, whichever way it is orientated, is just one tool to help analyse the strengths or weaknesses of an image. Nevertheless, many of the greatest paintings, when analysed against the golden spiral, show placement of key features on significant areas of the spiral.

Leigha_Spiral Overlay

Morris, 2017. Leigha – spiral overlay

The main subject, the pizza slice, also sits on the lower left intersection of thirds, which is significantly close to the lower left intersection of the golden ratio. Again, many of the greatest work of art have key features which are placed on these points.

Leigha_Thirds Overlay

Morris, 2017. Leigha – ‘thirds’ overlay

I don’t think the problem with this image lies in the placement of the main subject. Rather, I think the issue lies in the overall composition, the mise en scene.

Inverting the image in Photoshop allows the background and immediate environment to be dropped out of the image, enabling us to focus on the positions of the main and supporting subjects.


Morris, 2017. Leigha – inverted

So, what can be done to improve the composition?

The flower and petals could be moved to a more significant position, currently they sit in a compositional “no man’s land”, not being located on a significant point of any compositional tool.

The same could be said for the glass of water, would the image have greater visual appeal if the glass was located more strategically?

Would more peripheral subjects benefit the image? Or less?

Perhaps the subject doesn’t lend itself to such a dark image? Perhaps the image would be stronger for a greater dynamic range? I don’t think the image would work in high key, but it is something to try before dismissing it outright.

These are all areas for further exploration.

See also: Da Vinci on … Composition


Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc accessed 19 February 2017

Frith, Katherine Toland. (1997) Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. New York: Peter Lang

Putting “Context” into Context

How context affects the way we respond to photographs … …

Shore suggests that “the context in which a photograph is seen effects the meaning a viewer draws from it” (Shore, 1998, p. 26).

So, given that the context, or environment, in which a photograph is placed for viewing greatly influences how it is viewed and interpreted, what are the characteristics that facilitate a positive viewing experience.

Lighting should be subtle in order to avoid hotspots, prevent degradation of art by accelerated aging and assisting with lightfastness. Additionally, from an artist’s point of view, subtle, diffused lighting has significant advantages over strong, specular light. The diffused characteristics of reflected light bathe art in a light which allows subtle colour changes (hue or saturation) and contrast (determined by the difference in the color and brightness of an object compared to other objects within the same field of view) to be perceived accurately and with repeatability.

The background should not be a negative draw on the available light. Ideally, the colour should be neutral (grey works especially well). As a guide, dark walls make paintings appear lighter.

The background environment should enhance the artwork, by drawing attention to it rather than competing with it or being a distraction.

That being said, subtle colours enhance soft artworks, whilst art which is more graphic and has bold lines works well with a contrasting background.

A particular colour from a painting can be chosen and used to create an accent wall, drawing attention to that painting, in which case other walls would be a different colour.

In terms of finish, a matt or satin finish is best so that any reflected light comes from the art, not the surrounding environment. It should also reflect the overall mood of the collection.



Jones, Johnathan (2011) ‘What Colour Should Gallery Walls Be?’ in The Guardian (21 October 2011) [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/oct/21/colour-gallery-walls-musee-d-orsay (Accessed: Saturday 8 April 2017)

Kloss, Kelsey (2016) ‘How to Choose the Best Paint Color For Your Art Gallery Wall’ in Elle Decor (12 April 2016) [Online]. Available at: http://www.elledecor.com/design-decorate/color/advice/a8540/how-to-choose-the-best-paint-color-for-art-gallery-wall/ (Accessed: Saturday 8 April 2017)

Shore, S. (1998) The Nature of Photographs Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press

On Reflection: Week 11, Module Two

With a voracious appetite for knowledge of the subject, I thought I knew a fair amount about the use of natural light in photography.

Reading books and articles, watching videos … absorbing it all.

That is until this week, when I caught up with an online broadcast by fashion photographer Sue Bryce.

Material which I already knew was delivered in a refreshingly different way – and its always food to have a recap.

Bryce is a photographer who, during the early part of her career, has seen lean times and as a result has had to “hack”. It is her systematic and non-defeatist approach which has enabled her to identify the fundamental characteristics of light and light behaviour, in practical terms, which has allowed her to utilise familiar materials in unfamiliar ways to overcome problems which, at one time or another, plague every studio photographer, for example, the diffusion of “hot” light and the subtle reflection of light.

Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest, in fact, so simple that they are overlooked.

The majority of time this week has been spent on preparation for the forthcoming assignments: Critical Review or Practice, Work in Progress Portfolio (and of course, maintaining the online journal)

Practical work on the project has gone well this week – a few things went wrong, but that is OK because it provides a moment to stop, pause, catch breath and analyse what went wrong, and why, and then develop a corrective measure.

What have I learnt this week?

Well, putting thoughts into words – shooting with natural light brings its own unique “challenges” – not enough light and everything is lost in shadow, too much light and there is glare, or blown out highlights, try to control that phenomena and (arguably) it reaches a point where you are no longer shooting with “natural” light.

Bryce’s broadcast was most certainly informative and I did learn something new, but the main thing I learnt is a new way of looking at light and analysing its interaction with a subject.

I’m looking forward to implementing the ideas which have arisen as result of viewing this broadcast over the forthcoming weeks.

In addition to shooting images for the WIP, practical work has focused on diffusion material and backgrounds with considerable success. The preliminary research this week has identified opportunities for future exploration.

Finding props for still-life food photography isn’t always an easy task, the task is a lot more involved than it at first seems. However, this week I found “prop nirvana”, an absolute goldmine of food photography goodies … …

Background Analysis

An ongoing evaluation of background materials and their effect upon the image aesthetic … …

The qualities which denote whether or not a background is a success are difficult to both identify and quantify – they are very subjective in nature.

This post, and all subsequent updates, is an attempt to identify those qualities, and provide a method of quantifying them.

To remove some of the subjectivity, the investigation will adopt a scientific approach: aiming at achieving repeatable and reproducible results, manipulating the independent variable, keeping all other variables constant

As an opener, an attempt to promote further discussion (and investigation), I would suggest that the qualities which make a good background in an image, are similar to those which make a good context within which to view an image, albeit for different reasons. In summary, these are as follows.

The material should be of a nature which avoids specular highlights, unless there is a specific reason why this should be the case.

Colour should avoid competing with the subject.

The background should avoid providing a distraction, for example, by being heavily patterned.

Investigations will, therefore, look at these three key areas: finish, colour and pattern.

1). Slater Harrison Colourcard, “Black Surf”, 260 gsm


Morris, 2017. Silent Killer

2). Colorama “Black” (LL CO 568)

Morris, 2017. Hasret

See also: Da Vinci on … Backgrounds