Reflecting on Weeks 26 to 28, FMP

Presented as an online exhibition, Jo-Ana has a permanence that is largely unavailable to physical exhibitions which are afforded space in a gallery only for a limited period of time.

It has, I feel, been a very successful project. All the objectives I set at the beginning of the project have been achieved, people have viewed the images, all responses have been positive with some indicating that the exhibition has changed their view with regard to eating disorders.

Jo-Ana is a springboard to future projects, it’s success is something positive that can be built upon.

The intention is to produce a photobook, work is under way. Beyond that, it is my intention to offer Jo-Ana to schools and colleges where it might reach and inform a susceptible demographic. I can see longevity for the project.

In terms of building on Jo-Ana’s success, I am increasingly drawn to narrating the stories of those who are socially disadvantaged. Alcoholism appeals to me as a subject for exploration. I am aware that there are many more personal accounts of eating disorder sufferers which need to be told. The UK eating disorder charity Beat Eating Disorders provides a liaison service which puts journalists, writers and photographers in touch with sufferers who wish to provide their account.

Researching this project has been harrowing, but we need to be a lot more aware of, and understand a lot more about, eating disorders. Early intervention for eating disorders is key to successful long-term treatment. Such early intervention can only come about if those with an eating disorder can talk without being stigmatised, and if others can recognise the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in their family, friends and colleagues.

In his book Sweet Earth, photographer Joel Sternfeld supplements images with text. Geoff Dyer (2010) asks whether the book’s value is reduced because the images have to be seen ‘in tandem with accompanying text’. He addresses this question by writing ‘it was we, the viewer, who was being interrogated, forced to answer the most basic question; Do you have any idea what you are looking at?’

Dyer is raising an important question – how aware of the issues which surround us are we?

I think we are, to some extent at least, desensitised to issues. An idea with which Sontag (2004) seems to concur, informing us:

‘Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look. People have means to defend themselves against what is upsetting – in this instance, unpleasant information for those wishing to continue to smoke. This seems normal, that is, adaptive. As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.’

Sontag might be discussing an extreme example. But if we can shut out ‘horror’, how much easier is it to deny what we perceive as ‘lesser’ issues?

And so we can rephrase Dyer’s question, and make it relevant to Jo-Ana, by asking, how aware of the plight of others are we?

This is also a question with relevance to many other issues having potential as photographic projects as I seek to further develop my practice.

See also: Francesca Woodman


Dyer, G. (2010). Working the Room. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Limited

Sontag, S. (2004). Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Penguin Books Limited

Jo-Ana: Peer Review


Jo-Ana visually describes diary entries made by Jo, a 30 something recovered anorexic, throughout her period of illness.

Key events before, during and after her illness are recorded. Presented as a series of still life compositions, they offer the viewer insight into Jo’s struggle with anorexia.

Items of food consumed by Jo are portrayed, the nutritional value corresponding to her transition from health, to illness, and on to recovery.

Her thoughts are displayed alongside text she found inspirational. Everyday objects offer a glimpse of her interests and her personality.

Examining an alternative relationship with food and played out on a very small stage, it is the story of what happens when food stops being a friend.

There were two primary objectives for Jo-Ana.

The first being to ensure that the voice of the participant, Jo, was clearly heard, and the second being to present the images in a clean website with supplemental text and images which enriched the viewing experience rather than detracting from it.

Have I been successful in achieving these objectives?

Sutherst (2018) reviews as follows:

‘The words from the diary are the reminders that this is a real person’s account of their road to recovery. The inclusion and placement of personal items in each image remind us that there is more to an anorexia sufferer than them just not eating. They have lives and interests like everyone else and they are more than just the disease – it does not define who they are, it is something they are suffering with.’

Clear confirmation, then, that the first aim for Jo-Ana has been achieved.

‘Each image is expertly showcased on the responsive website. The style is understated and does not intrude on the viewer’s experience of work. Viewing the sequence of images of food and pages from Jo’s diary, the visual narrative is one of despair through to hope (with a multitude of emotion in between). The viewer starts to appreciate the mental distortions that anorexics have in their relationship to food. The unhealthy thoughts recorded in the diary are sympathetically and cleverly reflected in the accompanying food images.’

Clear confirmation, then, that the second aim for Jo-Ana has also been achieved.

Such confirmation can only be viewed very positively as I not only look to extend the range of surfaces across which Jo-Ana is presented, but also assess the feasibility of future project themes.

Jo Sutherst’s full review can be read here.



Sutherst, J. (2018). ‘Final Major Project: Review of Philip Morris’s ‘Jo-Ana’ Project’. josutherstphotographycom [online]. Available at: (accessed Thursday 23 August 2018)

Ambitious Art

‘The world of art has always had the ambition of having the work completed by the viewer, and part of what comes from that is that no one person brings the same thing to the same work.’

– Philip-Lorca Dicorcia (in Read, 2014)


Read, Shirley (2014). Exhibiting Photography: A Practical Guide to Displaying Your Work. Oxon: Focal Press

Differentiating Visual Anthropology & Anthropology

Visual anthropology is the graphical and written representation of a group’s culture. It is concerned with the study of the production and consumption of visual forms of communication.

Anthropology, however, is concerned with the study of humans, human behaviour and societies both past and present, whilst social anthropology is the study of societies norms and values.

Jo-Ana, then, is not an example of visual anthropology, moreover it is anthropology presented visually – recording what were once the private thoughts of an individual, making them available as a source of information for future reference.

You Have Nothing to Worry About – Melissa Spitz

Spitz - mom's vacation

Spitz, 2013. Mom’s Vacation

Melissa Spitz’s You Have Nothing to Worry About describes the tumultuous relationship between her and her mother.

From her earliest memory, her mother has suffered from mental illness and substance abuse. The diagnosis of her condition frequently changing from one of alcoholism to dissociative identity disorder.

This has led to the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, and a relationship between mother and daughter which is resentment filled.

You Have Nothing to Worry About is described by Spitz as a ‘complex and difficult body of work’, having images which, she informs us, are ‘simultaneously upsetting and encouraging, honest and theatrical, loving and hateful’.

For me, the images have a richness, but also have a repellent quality. I oscillate between wanting to view the images on one hand, and not wanting to view them on the other. The images in this series contain a punctum (Barthes, 1980), a detail which ‘pricks or bruises’ the viewer’s consciousness, evoking a sense of emotion.

Spitz’s work is significant to me for the way in which it is approached.

Firstly, she has considerable self-awareness of how she interacts as a photographer with her subject

“There was never really a conscious decision of going to photograph my mentally ill mother,” says Spitz, yet, in the shadow of the stress, her lens became a mechanism through which she communicated with her family. “It was the easiest way to give me a reason to go home but still be separated from the situation, via the physical act of putting a camera up in front of my face,” she explains (Richter, 2015).

Secondly, Spitz appreciates the impact of her intervention as a photographer upon the subject.

I am fully aware that my mother thrives on being the center of attention and that, at times, our portrait sessions encourage her erratic behaviour’ (Spitz, 2018).

Spitz is in a position to influence. How she approaches one moment in a shoot can affect what happens for the rest of that session, how she approaches a shoot can determine the way in which future shoots proceed.

Jo-Ana was different. The moments in time upon which the still life images were based were already fixed, immutable. The subject’s thoughts were already captured in a diary and could not be influenced by the act of my photography. Each outcome had already been determined.

I propose a future project investigating alcoholism. This will be different again, placing me closer to the situation in which Spitz finds herself – a position of being able to influence the perceptions held by subject’s regarding their circumstances.

Molloy (2018) states that a key question when producing participatory works is ‘what difference does it make having me being part of the story?’

Mannay (2016) seems to suggest an answer to this question, suggesting that ‘consideration is given to the relationships between participants and researchers, and acknowledge that even when the ‘intrusive presence’ of the researcher steps out of the site of visual data production this leaves a space that is often filled by the ‘intrusive presence’ of others’.

Pauwels (2011) suggests that participatory productions place the social scientist in the position of participatory facilitator, and that research is conducted ‘with’ and not ‘on’ participants.

I think that, for me, this is the point to take away from Molloy’s presentation – to engage without influencing, to present a true and fair view.  In essence, ensuring that conceptual and practical filters which can be applied as a result of pre-knowledge and associated underlying assumptions (Walmsley and Johnson, 2003) are eliminated.



Barthes, Roland (1980). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill & Wang

Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge

Molloy, Caroline (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Research) – Caroline Molloy’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: (accessed: Friday 23 March 2018)

Pauwels, L. (2011), ‘An Integrated Conceptual Framework for Visual Social Research’, in E. Margolis and L. Pauwels (eds) The Sage Handbook of Visual Research methods. London: Sage

Richter, T. (2015). ‘This woman documents her mother’s battle with mental illness’. [online]. Available at: (accessed: Monday 25 June 2018)

Spitz, M. (2018). ‘You Have Nothing to Worry About’. [online]. Available at: (accessed: Monday 25 June 2018)

Walmsley, J. and Johnson, K. (2003), Inclusive Research with People with Learning Disabilities: Past, Present and Futures. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Welcome to the LTP – Irina Popova

Popova - men eat soup

Popova, 2015. Untitled

The first Labour Treatment for Profilactorium (LTP) was established in Kazakhstan 1967 and offered alcoholics and drug addicts rehabilitation in return for forced labour.

Operated along the lines of a prison, residents could be incarcerated for periods lasting from 6 months to 2 years. There was no right of appeal. There was no crime.

Should the residents have one, their home is rented out to meet the costs of their treatment. Any children are placed in care.

The LTP system met with strong protest from human rights campaigners in the USSR, and was closed down by Yeltsin in 1993 under perestroika. However, some LTPs still remain in operation in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.

Irina Popova is a documentary photographer and curator. Her book Welcome to the LTP is a journey through the Soviet-era passageways of despair of one Belarusian ‘workhouse for substance abusers’. She is the first photographer to be allowed access to such an establishment.

Draconian in concept, Draconian in practice – the LTPs are not an investment in people, instead there appears to be two objectives behind the system. Firstly, to remove the problem away from mainstream society, out of sight is out of mind. Secondly, to beat the addiction out of the residents with a proverbial stick.

The LTPs are a chimera of the penal system, being described by human rights activists in the USSR as ‘punitive psychotherapy’ – prison meets rehab.

Popova’s Welcome to the LTP conveys a strong message of not only addiction, but also abject poverty and loneliness.

Her images have a distinct richness to them. Which is in stark contrast to her subjects and their surroundings in Welcome to the LTP.

Grimy walls, dingy corridors, stark rooms – the outlook at every turn is dismal, hopeless, bleak. Popova’s images capture an infrastructure in decay, a system that was never going to work. The base level at which the decay starts, and the magnitude of that decay suggest that there was never any interest in the system, nor the people who would go to these centres. The system failing the system.

My projects to-date have explored alternative relationships with food. These have been interesting and rewarding projects to work on.

I feel that as my photography has developed, so has my interest in giving a voice to the socially disadvantaged through my practice.

Taking my three most recent projects in the order they were produced, this trend can be seen clearly: the cravings experienced by an athlete preparing for a competition, the interrelationship between diet and mental health, and the diaries of an anorexic.

With reference to the latter, eating disorders are a conveniently forgotten disease. Periodically there is a news article informing us that a celebrity has an eating disorder and the issue becomes topical for a very brief time, before being forgotten again.

Eating disorders are highly stigmatised. They are something that the general public are largely ignorant of, many believing them to be a lifestyle choice. The reality is that eating disorders are a serious mental illness. Some individuals are susceptible, they carry within them a ticking time bomb. For such individuals, family and societal pressures are merely triggers which stimulate an underlying condition.

Alcoholism shares some similarities with eating disorders. It is perceived by much of the general public as being a lifestyle choice, whilst in reality being a serious mental illness. There is much stigma attached to alcoholism. It destroys careers, homes, families, people.

Building on the success of Jo-Ana, my next project will investigate alcoholism. Popova’s work is a fascinating documentary, in view of my plan, however, it takes on new relevance.

Jo-Ana took me out of my comfort zone, and that was necessary for me to develop as a photographer. My next project needs to do the same, but in different ways.

My photography already has a definite characteristic style – close up, point of view still life compositions beautifully lit by natural light. I do not intend to deviate from this. However, I think my practice will develop, both technically and creatively, if I include some environmental shots in my next project. Popova’s Welcome to the LTP is a benchmark as to how this can be done.

On Reflection: Weeks 21 to 25, FMP

It was interesting to see the different reactions to Jo-Ana across the three social media Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I expected a certain anti-climax after the exhibition launch, an amount of feeling maudlin post launch as something that had been anticipated for some time had been and gone. However, a high degree of positivity remained, together with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

There has been significant interest in Jo-Ana, not just for the exhibition as it stands, but in terms of where else it might be seen.

At the time of writing, the following have been confirmed.

Jo-Ana will exhibit as part of Landings 2018 – an annual collaborative exhibition staged by Falmouth University students.

The Association of Photographer’s will feature the project on their social media channels.

The photography journal Source annually showcases the work of BA and MA photography graduates, Jo-Ana will be hosted on the Source Graduate website alongside the work of my Falmouth MA peers.

Contemporary Photography, the journal of The Royal Photographic Society’s special interest group of the same name, will carry an article highlighting Jo-Ana and its aims.

This is an enormous amount of exposure. I feel very positive about where this might potentially lead, the opportunities which this level and kind of exposure could create.

And so, we move from exhibition phase, to post-exhibition analysis.

In real terms, this means a 3,000 word critical review of practice. This really isn’t my strong point – give it five minutes and examining cracks on the ceiling becomes much, much more interesting. I struggle with the attention span needed to write paragraph after paragraph. This is an area I must work on.

Moving on from Jo-Ana, I am beginning to question how far I want to push this subject in terms of introducing creativity or experimentation to the photography.

For example, how could the project develop if the subject were to take control of the camera?

This is an area I want to explore much further, having relevance for a proposed future project investigating alcoholism. Notably, Paul Keast, a recovering alcoholic, was encouraged to take up photography as part of his rehabilitation. The journeys he photographed to and from his treatment sessions exhibited in 2016.

Guest Lecture: Laura Nissinen

Guest lecture: Laura Nissinen

Tuesday 24 July 2018, 1200hrs

Laura Nissinen is a Helsinki based photographer and photography researcher. She specialises in abstract Finnish art photography.

Transcription (selected points) of guest lecture:

‘Also, do remember, there are no wrong words. Even in masters level, you have, or PhD, you should have your theoretical frame and history and so on and you have to know how to locate yourself and know the other people doing your stuff but you should also have your own voice. And that own voice can be very unorthodox. It can be the work of dreams, or play, your fantasy, it doesn’t have to be, er, you know, Monday morning reality.’

‘Maybe just to everyone who is struggling with photography. I just want to say that I’ve always been struggling with photograph.

In the beginning I wasn’t technical enough, then I wasn’t something else, and in the third I was something else. You just find your own path, you know. It’s there, and photography is such a wide medium, there is something for everyone there, believe me. Just do your own stuff and go to the direction that interests you.’

‘I’ve always been drawn to things I don’t understand. And I think abstraction is one of those things you can never fully understand and of course this goes into art, er, anyway. Art is very, you’ll never get bored with it.

It is OK to be secretive and we all have our own way of working. And I like mysterious things. I mean, that sounds quite interesting, (having) a secretive and serious life as well.

Just follow your own path and don’t let, er, do what you like without harming anyone. Don’t let them tell you which is right and which is wrong because, er, that’s not true.’

‘I understand you when you say it is difficult to take the lead.

But it’s worth it. It’s not going to break you, nothing bad is going to happen so just go for it.

It will come but it takes work. You have to read, you have to write, you have to see thousands, and thousands, and thousands of images of all sorts. You have to sort of, er, put yourself out there. And then, I’m sure something will happen. But it will not happen if you try to lock yourself in a room and be alone because I don’t think that’s how people’s brains work in that way. First you have to fill it up, overload it and then something (undistinguishable).

That’s my way of working anyway.

If I’m stuck, I go to an exhibition, I start reading. It doesn’t matter what I read, whether it’s photography, history, philosophy, er, science fiction or, you know, science magazine – it doesn’t matter. As long as it sparks something within me. And finding answers is difficult, but they are there. And don’t be insecure, just go for it.’

Note: the above transcriptions are excerpts from a lecture lasting 1 hr 10 minutes. These particular excerpts have been chosen because I feel they are the lecture content most relevant to my practice and its development.


Nissinen, Laura (2018). Untitled [Lecture to Photography Course Hub, Falmouth]. 24 July.