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.

Guest Lecture: Victoria Forrest – Design

Guest lecture – Victoria Forrest

12 June 2018, 1330 hrs

From contemporaneous notes


Forrest outlined five principles which she employs during the process of design:

1). Identify your audience


2). Choose a format appropriate to the audience

This could be a pdf, book, pamphlet, postcard – key point is appropriateness to the audience


3). Use the edit for the narrative

The edited narrative needs to fit with the chosen format

There is a difference between the story the photographer wants to tell, and the story the photographs are able to tell

Always print out, it enables you to see what you have to work with, it also highlights the difference between what the photographer wants to say, and what can be seen and is working

Wider edit – images which are not brilliant but really useful as hinges to use to make the narrative flow for the objective reader, these are brilliant for helping the reader understand the transition from one part of the story to another


4). Design to enhance the message

The overall design is not just an aesthetic, it has an important function of communication

The design is used communicate not only what is said but the order and the tone with which it is read and understood

Size, colour, etc. all allow you the reader to enter the narrative at different points

Case study: Remote Scottish Post Boxes (Parr, 2017)

The packaging for the publication is designed around the concept of the photography, i.e. the slip case is pillar box red and black, front and back respectively

A gloss lamination evokes a sense of the cast iron construction of post boxes

Typography emulates the typography found on post boxes

The series of books are designed to look like letters inside a post box

A postcard edition was packaged in a box modelled on a post box – underlining the very purpose of the post box

Two limited editions featured either two or four prints, with these being packaged in envelopes resembling letters for posting, the envelopes themselves featuring unused, unfranked second hand vintage stamps

Mechanics of page layouts – try to achieve consistency throughout

Don’t be afraid of a very simple page layout – vibrancy and message come from the images themselves and not how they are laid out

Subtleties should be in the photography, not the page layouts

Designs and layouts arising from collaboration between the photography and the publisher can be varied and complex

Designs from a publishing house can be more staid


5). Document and promote

General points

The evaluation process for interactive digital imaging is different to the evaluation process for prints

Books are linear, interactive books aren’t, however, the starting point needs to be the same

Self-publishing – there can be a quality issue

Should the work be published?

This comes down to editorial acumen

500 units for a publication is manageable, 5000 units is not

A common publishing pitfall is unit price – beware of hidden costs

Ken. To be destroyed – Sara Davidmann


Sara Davidmann (2013). Untitled

The work of artist and photographer Sara Davidmann is based around collaboration with individuals whose self-identity places them into categories other than the polarised female and male. By doing so it questions the relationship that exists between the individual and the state, and is, therefore, an important counter to mass media stereotypes which often misrepresent.

Since 1999 Davidmann has worked collaboratively with London’s queer and transgender communities, recording a time of sweeping social change in relation to gender identity, sexual identity and sexuality. Davidmann’s work continues to focus on the themes of self-representation, transgender relationships, and ‘the family’.

Ken. To be destroyed, tells the story of one individuals transgender identity in 1950’s Britain.

Arising from the discovery of photographs, letters and other miscellaneous papers amongst her mother’s possessions, the project explores the life of Davidmann’s uncle Ken after his wife, Hazel, discovered in 1958 that he was transgender.

The following is an extract from Davidmann’s lecture transcript:

‘In 2011, after our mother Audrey had moved into a nursing home, my brother, sister and I began to clear her house and then we found the archive. Finding this archive was amazing. I had no idea that it existed and I was particularly struck by the correspondence, the letters, between Hazel and Audrey. Hazel was Audrey’s younger sister. Hazel and Ken married in 1954 and then in 1958, Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender. She was shocked and she didn’t know what to think about it, or what she should do. She turned to my mother, Audrey and wrote to her asking for advice. Hazel and Audrey then wrote to each other about this, many times, over the next five years.

Hazel’s letters are really vivid and powerful and Audrey’s responses are supportive and nonjudgemental. I found the letters really moving. I felt as if I got to know my aunt and also my uncle much better than I’d actually known them in life, through these letters. They also brought to life how little was known about transgender people in the 1950s and 1960s. The difficulties that Hazel and Ken faced trying to reconcile the fact that Ken was transgender, with their marriage and with society. There was almost no support available at the time.

By the end of this correspondence in 1963, Hazel seemed to have become reconciled to the fact that Ken was transgender. Just to give you an idea of the amount of letters that went between Audrey and Hazel, the archive contains 93 letters. The letters and papers were found in a brown paper bag and two large brown envelopes. On one of the envelopes Audrey had written ‘Ken, to be destroyed’. On the other envelope she wrote ‘Ken’s letters to Hazel, to be destroyed’, and on the bag, ‘letters from Hazel re Ken’.’

Davidmann used a variety of techniques to produce the work, ranging from analogue to digital photography, from digital image manipulation to alternative imaging methods. For example, one image is of Ken’s head transposed onto Hazel’s body wearing the dress she wore on the day she married Ken. Davidmann suggests that such fictional photographs allow Ken to be seen as a woman in public, something that was not possible during his lifetime.

It should be remembered that in 1950’s Britain, homosexuality was illegal, chemical castration was seen not only as an effective but also civilised method of treating what was regarded as an illness, and societies treatment of homosexuals led to the death by suicide of mathematician Alan Turing.

This, then, is an extremely good point to introduce the relevance of Ken to my work.

A key point of Davidmann’s Ken, and her work in general, is about giving a voice to those groups who are often hidden from, or marginalised by, society.

Davidmann writes:

‘From Hazel’s letters, I learned that Ken had felt very uncomfortable having to present himself as a man. The word that was used was that he felt that he was masquerading as a man, and this led to Ken avoiding being in public places and avoiding social interactions as much as was possible.’

I think the social injustice that arose from ignorance in Ken’s situation is clear.

What is equally clear, based upon my research for Jo-Ana so far, is that anorexia (and other eating disorders) are widely regarded as being a lifestyle choice. One area in which anorexia is not discriminated against, however, is in the way it is regarded, alongside other mental illnesses, as being somehow less ‘real’ because it cannot be seen, because it is intangible, or being a sign of weakness, or as being something of which to be ashamed.

Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, nor something to be ashamed of. Mental illness is no less real because it cannot be seen or touched. And this is just as true for anorexia and all other eating disorders.

Attitudes need to change. The media, which has done so much to promote the cult of being thin whilst stigmatising those who succumb to an eating disorder, many for whom the medias glorification of thinness has been a trigger, needs to be both more accountable and responsible. An industry which exists to inform us, needs itself to become much more informed, certainly where eating disorders and body perception is concerned.

In summary, then, Jo-Ana is about helping to raise public awareness of a life-threatening disease. It is also, however, about challenging public perceptions of an illness that can crush completely those that suffer from it, perceptions which are formed not only by the media, but also social media – stereotypes which are misguided and misrepresentational. Davidmann’s work has been highly influential in the development of Jo-Ana, demonstrating clearly that beautiful imagery can also be deeply thought-provoking.



Davidmann, Sara (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Publication) – Sara Davidmann’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: (accessed: Wednesday 14 February 2018)