On Reflection: Week 7, Module Two

Last week words failed me. This week, technology fails me … …

Least said.

On the plus side, I now have an (enforced) opportunity to start writing the Critical Review of Practice for the forthcoming assignments (deadline 1 May – as I write that’s seven and a half weeks away, the amount of work seems daunting and the available time feels tangibly like seven and half seconds …).

As it happens, I have a plan.

I found the work of German photographer Daniel Gustav Cramer very intriguing this week, images from the “Trilogy” exhibition portrayed a certain ambiguity which draws the viewer into them. I keep coming back to that, ambiguity – something to search for – makes for a better viewing experience, something the viewer wants to prolong.

Interviewed in 2010 by Klat Magazine, Cramer indicates the importance of recognising the “concept” underpinning each of his projects and how he views that concept as a roadmap, outlining the journey each project will undertake as it evolves – perhaps, then, “roadmap” is not the best analogy, more, perhaps, a “map of roads”?

Preparation for a forthcoming discussion on exhibitions has posed some interesting questions. It’s also precipitated me looking at contexts and audiences from (yet) another perspective.

What makes a good exhibition? What are the challenges in setting up an exhibition? What challenges are common to exhibitions irrespective of the media? And what challenges are unique to an exhibition of photographic work?

Is there a “rule of thumb” guiding the number of images for an exhibition? What determines this?

I found it very interesting to watch a video of a photographer preparing for an exhibition, and suggesting that a level of care is taken over the naming of images that are for sale at an exhibition. The value of using a simple name in order to direct the thoughts of potential buyers into thinking positively about the image, and to draw enthusiasm for the image, was firmly reinforced. In other words, avoid politically or socially loaded titles, or titles which make potential buyers think of mental images that they would rather their minds didn’t dwell upon.

It was also interesting to note that background neutrality was strongly emphasised, the gallery featured had neutral grey walls.

In terms of curating the images, psychological responses were alluded to, and it was discussed that viewers “typically enter an image through the lightest point near the frame”, their eyes then search around for a focal point which is typically the area of highest contrast, where the brightest whites meet the darkest blacks. Images are best arranged so that if anything leads a viewer’s eye out of the image, it does so by leading it into the next image.

All fascinating stuff and, of course, basic knowledge for photographer – but it’s always good to go back and revisit the basic periodically, just to keep the knowledge fresh in the memory and give a certain “grounding”. I think this separates how we read an image into two discrete areas: the first is how we respond to photographs in philosophical terms, and the second is our psychological response to images.

In relative terms, few people are aware of Barthes, Sontag and the whole bus load of other theorists. So, when the majority of images are viewed they are not looked at in terms of “icons”, “symbols”, “the signifier and the signified” and “surface, intended and cultural meanings”. Knowledge of these concepts is rather restricted to those who have been trained to think critically. What is common, however, to both those with and without training in critical thought, is a psychological response to the images they view.

This is something I really need to research in greater depth. Back to how some level of ambiguity, some level of us having been told something, but only just enough to pique our interest and leaving us to finish the story, makes for a more appealing image.

So, there we have it. A trifle earlier this week than normal, but I really am mindful of the deadlines for the forthcoming assignments and want to press on accordingly.

Wonder what next week will bring?

Hopefully, I’ll be in a much better position in terms of my Critical Review of Practice … …

(Did I tell you I have a plan … …?)

On Reflection: Week 6, Module Two

“Spring Fever!”

Where a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts … …”

The words so easily permeate my mind as I try to summarise my week in words. It’s just not happening. Anything, everything, is seeping into my mind and swamping what I actually want to be there… …

So, this week!

As it stands, my project proposal involves using photography to explore the knowledge and techniques employed by the great Dutch masters. Pinning down exactly what it is that gives a great painting it’s appeal has been something I have tussled with all week, and don’t closer to anything like a conclusion now.

Pretty much have a handle on the photography side of things, issues like bringing a “painterly aesthetic” to my work are proving a little more elusive at the moment. Just what is the “painterly aesthetic”?

One thing that really struck me, is the extent to which painting is a discriminatory process, whilst photography is indiscriminate.

If an artist wants a mark, the artist makes a mark. If the artist wants a line, the artist draws a line. Perhaps more importantly, is what the artist can just as easily, perhaps more easily, decide not to include in a painting or drawing.

Photography, on the other hand, portrays what is there. It is the “indexical” of nature.

Why is this relevant? Well, because of the debate concerning power and responsibility in photography.

The Big Painting Challenge (BPC) – wow, what a programme. I do see things (very) differently now, much more so than even a few short months ago. I’m much more able to appreciate art, and see the positive and the negative aspects to a specific piece of art. I’m better able to quantify, and qualify, the aesthetics of an image. Looking at it as a YTS MA, there is now so much in there to think about and to make me question. Individuals waging a personal “battle” to express themselves creatively – know how that feels.

I watched an artist turn a non-expressive mouth into a smile by adding a tiny white line of paint to one part of the upper lip as an accent – its seeing THAT level of detail, it’s THAT level of knowledge.

That ties in very nicely with a comment by a mentor on the BPC, Pascal Anson: “Something that is really important for amateur artists is to look for 90% of the time, and draw for 10%.”

Do we, as photographer’s, spend as much time looking?

Wall suggests that photographers are either “hunters” or “farmers”. But, for those who are farmers of images, how much time is really spent “cultivating” images? I suspect in this sense there is little difference between the two.

This week, by accident more than by design, I have been led into studying two of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen – simply breath taking. Even the backgrounds in these two paintings I find to be stunningly beautiful and far from simplistic.


George Stubbs, 1762. Mares and Foals without a Background


George Stubbs, c. 1762. Whistlejacket

I actually feel quite privileged. If I had never embarked upon these MA studies would I have been able to appreciate these paintings as much?

A difficult week, I really haven’t felt like writing. My thoughts have really dwelled on other activities. More than anything I’ve wanted to break away from my desk and use my camera.

I’ve hit a wall, I’ve got whatever the photographer’s equivalent of writer’s block is.

Perhaps it’s a form of “spring fever”.

On Reflection: Week 5, Module Two

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – C. Northcote Parkinson

Bit fraught this week (to say the least) … …

Being half a week behind schedule took some recovery and I’m still seeing, and feeling, the effects now.

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong (eventually)” – Murphy’s Law

Sod’s law states that when (note when, not if) something does go wrong, it is always with the worst possible outcome – and that sums up my week!

… …

The “male gaze” – previously, this is something I have been unaware of, perhaps naively. Interesting theory, and enlightening.

Now I am aware of the “male gaze” and having searched the term “advertisements gaze” I was surprised to see just how many advertisements are sexualised and chauvinistic. This can, of course, be balanced by the “female gaze” theory. (This is huge area to explore). Nevertheless, eye-opening to see how ideologies can be manipulated.

… …

What “spare” time I have had this week, quite a lot of it has been spent contemplating what it is that makes an image appealing, using the work of Vermeer as a reference.


Holy Trinity” … …

It’s all right, Father, I’m just telling him about the Holy Trinity. You know it? Footwork, timing, and hitting!” – Liam Devlin, The Eagle Has Landed

(Touch of intertextuality there … keep it fresh in the mind, Philip, keep it fresh in the mind).

OK, so not that Holy Trinity.

It’s obviously a very complex issue which brings forth some highly subjective answers.

But what I have determined is that there are some common traits shared by, at least some, great images. These are:

A sense of familiarity

A sense of timelessness

A sense of ambiguity.

I won’t expand on these here, it’s not really the forum for one reason. Another reason is that I plan to write a small article based upon my research in this specific area.

Sophistication” is a buzzword at the moment. Think it will be for the foreseeable. It’s so easy to assume we know the true, dictionary definition of words. Not wishing to fall into a trap of my own making (seem to do that often enough anyway), I thought I would check the definition of its root, sophisticated, and fix it in my mind:


Something to reflect upon as I look, over the forthcoming week, to the development of my project and the next round of assignments which are gathering like a black cloud on the horizon.

Being Informed by … Bill Gekas

The work of Australian photographer Bill Gekas is very inspirational and shows an exceptional degree of craftsmanship.

These images work on so many levels, the more I study them, the more I find of interest.

Gekas’ skill in realistically employing artificial lighting to create the impression of beautifully soft natural light is outstanding.

So much breadth and depth … …


All images copyright Bill Gekas

Recreating the “Old Masters”

Self-taught Australian photographer Bill Gekas finds inspiration in paintings by the “old masters”.

In 2010, Gekas started a project recreating the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Velasquez and Christus.

Interviewed for the Epoch Times in 2015, Gekas stated that lighting, colour, tonal relationships, composition, and emotive expressions of the subject all make a contribution, helping to produce photographs which look like paintings.

A trait that Gekas shares with artists working in paint media, including the old masters which influence his work, is the way in which he prepares his images. Photography has an immediacy, but Gekas creates the impression of a limited colour palette by cultivating his images: compositions are drafted in notebooks, outfits, backgrounds and props are carefully selected and, most importantly, lighting is planned. Wall (in Horne, 2012) stated that all photographers are either farmers or hunters. Quite clearly Gekas is a “farmer”, tending to his images and developing them over a period of time.

Most indoor work is usually lit with a 28” soft box as a key light.”

Interestingly, artificial lighting is used to illuminate the scenes he creates and Gekas provides an impressive list of equipment including: speedlights, Einstein studio strobes, light modifiers, reflectors, and RF triggers.

This is one aspect, perhaps, in which Gekas departs from the methods of the old masters who would have used natural light and, if using optics to produce their images, strong daylight.

In painting, the painter can create the emotive expression required in the final works from their own imagination. Whereas in photography it must be captured, and this is the challenging aspect.” Gekas is, therefore, quite clearly able to relate to a concept put forward by Snyder and Allen: “Most people, if asked, would no doubt say that, whereas the painter can paint whatever he wants, the photographer must depict “what is there.”” (Snyder and Allen, 1975, p. 148).


Bill Gekas, date unknown. Potatoes

Potatoes” is an exquisite example of Gekas’ work which, on the surface, shows a Spartan kitchen scene in which a young girl is distracted from her task of peeling potatoes by something quite obviously more interesting outside the window.

Clearly it is Gekas’ intention to recreate a kitchen scene by Vermeer, who specialised in painting internal domestic scenes, and this has unquestionably been achieved. “Potatoes” was quite possibly based on Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” – for me there is too much of a “nagging sense of familiarity” in Gekas’ image for this not to be the case.

The attention to detail: the kitchen “set”, props, costume and lighting – all harmonise to create an enchanting synergy. The overall effect invites a second look, at least, in an attempt to answer the question “is this a painting, or a photograph?

Culturally, Gekas is making a statement regarding the level of quality in the workmanship of the old masters, and the longevity of visual appeal that this quality brings to their paintings. But, in addition to this, Gekas is suggesting that there is still an appeal for something familiar to be shown in a new way.

How does Gekas’ work relate to my photographic practice?

Firstly, the work of the old masters is obviously a source of inspiration shared by Gekas and myself.

Whilst Gekas and myself both share a mimetic desire to produce images with drama, atmosphere – in fact all the qualities seen in the old masters, we differ in terms of what we wish to achieve with the end product.

Gekas sets out, quite clearly, to recreate the paintings of the old masters. It is my intention, through continuing research, to use the techniques employed by the old masters in producing their paintings, to produce images which not only have a painterly aesthetic but which also provide a commentary on our relationship with food: how we produce it and consume it.

For me, moving forward, there is a great deal to learn from Gekas’ work, not least of which is his superb skill in realistically employing artificial lighting to create the impression of beautifully soft natural light.

The old masters produced paintings which have a timeless appeal. There is always something “new” to see in an old master. I think that this is something that we both appreciate.





Horne, R. (2012) “Holly Andres, “Farmer” of Photographs” in The Wall Street Journal (3 January 2012) [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/ [Accessed 9 February 2017]

Snyder, J. and Allen, N. (1975) ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’, Critical Inquiry, vol 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 143-169 [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342806 (Accessed 03 February 2017)


On Reflection: Week 4, Module Two

I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit” – P. G. Wodehouse

… …

A one-to-one tutorial proved very insightful this week, providing me with a much clearer vision of how to move my project forward. Feedback was highly informative and will be invaluable as research continues.

It was very interesting to explore the different meanings that can be attached to an image by an audience. Frith’s “layered” method of analysis, looking at surface, intended and cultural meanings of advertisements, resonated with me considerably – I really connected with this. This is one theory that I can see myself putting into practice as I develop my images on a regular basis.

Francis Hodgson suggests that we frequently refer to images as being “of something” but rarely consider that images are also “about something”. Barthes semiotic analysis, in the Rhetoric of the Image, informs us that there is in adverts both the “signifier” and the “signified”.

For me, for these two concepts, posited by two theorists at different times and for different reasons, to link together so well is intriguing – essentially two theorists reaching the same conclusion and expressing it in unique terminology. I found the “convergent evolution” striking. (Wonder if Hodgson ever read Barthes?) The interchangeability helped cement these concepts in my mind.

In fact, the deeper into semiotics and the encoding and decoding of images I delve, the more interesting I find the subjects. From a photographic point of view, these are areas that I could see myself exploring at some point. But that point certainly isn’t right here, right now. Today, and for the foreseeable, my focus needs to be my project, certainly if I am to do justice to both the project and any (very) tentatively formed ideas I have to investigate semiotics and related areas. Hmmmm … lots to think about!

Visual anthropology entered the conversation this week. I can see potential for lots of projects in this area (wonder what an electroencephalograph would look like right, so many ideas being fired off). But, isn’t all photography a form of visual anthropology in one way or another?

A fair amount of time this week has been spent researching the work of autodidact Bill Gekas. It’s fair to say I’m enchanted by his work which, both interestingly and relevantly, is inspired by the work of the “old masters”.


Bill Gekas, date unknown. Potatoes

I’m very pleased with one particular image taken this week, “Bloodshot”. This image was made especially for an activity in which a “new” image – meaning one that had not been previously viewed by any fellow students – was posted to a forum devoid of any accompanying explanatory text or caption. The viewer was to make their own meaning. This photograph was actually a lot of fun to make. I like the composition, I think that turned out well and is visually appealing, and I like the overall ambiguity of the image – the image is clearly “of” something, but what is it “about”? (Hodgson again!)


Morris, 2017. Bloodshot


Decoding Advertisements

Advertising only “makes sense” when it resonates with certain deeply held belief systems’ (Frith, 1997: vii).

So writes Katherine Frith in “Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising”. She goes on to suggest that in order to “deconstruct” adverts, we must take them “apart layer by layer”.

First, the surface meaning: this is the overall, initial impression obtained upon viewing an advertisement. Breaking the advertisement down into a list of its component parts shows the meaning of an advert at surface level.

Secondly, the intended meaning is the sales message that advertisers wish to promote – this is the “preferred” meaning, the way in which advertisers “expect” viewers to interpret an advert.

Finally, the cultural meaning. The interpretation of this meaning is dependent upon the cultural knowledge and social background of the viewer, the shared “belief systems” to which Frith refers.

Barthes and Heath (1977) inform us of a signifier, something which is identifiable in an advert and which conveys a denotational message, and the signified or the connotational (implied) meanings, ideas or ideologies which the advert attempts to communicate to the viewer.

Interviewed in 2012, Francis Hodgson discusses not only the way in which we analyse images, but also the quality of the way in which we do so (Quality Matters, 2013). Hodgson suggests that we frequently perceive and discuss images as being “of something” without attempting to consider that images are also “about something”, an idea which links strongly with Barthes concept of the signifier and the signified.

Viewing adverts is not a passive process. However, models exist which suggest that this is the case.

The “Effects” or “hypodermic needle” theory suggests that the viewers of adverts passively view images and unquestioningly accept the message.

Conversely, “The Uses and Gratification” theory suggests that the audience takes an active role in consuming adverts, messages are questioned and put to use for the gratification of the viewer.

Both the Effects and the Uses and Gratification models have flaws and limitations. For example, the Effects model posits that children who view violent behaviour on screen will re-enact that violence in real life, the reality is that many people watch specific types of behaviour without going on to reproduce that behaviour themselves. The Uses and Gratification theory controversially suggests that some violent behaviour can be beneficial rather than harmful.

Reception Theory” was developed by Stuart Hall in response to these flaws.

This theory suggests that authors, say for example advertisers, will design an advert to carry a specific message – this is encoding. Decoding occurs when the audience views an advert.

Adverts can, according to Hall, be decoded in one of three ways which will be explored through the following analysis of images.

The first advertisement, The Famous Grouse “Perfectly Balanced” advert of 2016, provides an example of a dominant reading.

Reception theory informs us that authors identify a target audience and subsequently design, or “encode” ideologies into an advert in such a way as to convey a specific message. This message is “decoded” when the audience view the advert. Dominant readings arise when the message is encoded and then decoded in the same way.

The advertisement features a grouse, balancing on the peak of a rocky outcrop, the rock itself is truncated in order to create an impression of great height.

Whilst there is no reference to the product being advertised, Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky, anywhere at all in the image, the intended audience will instantly recognise the preferred message which, according to the distiller, is the bringing together of the “finest grains, pure Scottish water and carefully seasoned sherry and bourbon casks to create our uniquely rich, rounded and sweet whisky.”


Perfectly Balanced” – The Famous Grouse (2016)

Oppositional readings occur when images are viewed by an audience separate to, and outside of, the target audience. The non-target audience forms a view which is based upon their personal experiences or opinions, and which causes them to reject the preferred reading.

Vegans and vegetarians may take an oppositional view of the McDonald’s “Big Mac” advertisement because, in their view, it is unethical to kill animals and eat animal products. This is obviously in opposition to the advert itself which promotes the Big Mac specifically, and McDonald’s products in general, as being delicious and nutritious.


Big Mac Meal” McDonald’s

Finally, the beach body ready advertisement is an example of a negotiated reading.

According to audience theory, “negotiated readings” are the result of an audience both accepting and rejecting elements of an advertisement simultaneously.

The dominant message is acknowledged, but it is not accepted willingly. Instead, the preferred reading is modified according to the audiences own experiences and interests.

Fundamentally, the advert is promoting a series of weight loss supplements. However, the advert received widespread criticism when the “viewing audience” perceived it as promoting lean body types and therefore discriminating against other body types.

Consequently, we can see that the audience will accept the promotion of the weight loss supplements, but objects to the use of exclusively slender models in that promotion.


Beach Body Ready” Protein World (2015)

Adverts, therefore, are “polysemic” in nature – they are open to different interpretations which are dependent upon the audience’s identity, cultural knowledge and opinions.

But what of the “deeply held belief systems” to which Frith refers?

Goodwin and Whannel suggest that messages are “socially produced in particular circumstances and made culturally available as shared explanations of how the world works. In other words, they are ‘ideologies’, explanatory systems of belief” (Goodwin and Whannel, 2005, p. 60).

Their definition of “shared explanations” is interesting because it relates to semiotic concept of symbolism.

Pierce introduced the philosophical system of semiotics in his book “Logic as Semiotic: The Theory of Signs” (1910), a discourse on the theory of language and reasoning. This system has since been utilised widely in attempts to establish the nature of photography and photographs.

Barthes, in his attempts to qualify how photography “exists”, has referred to the terminology introduced by Pierce’s system of semiotics, such terminology as: icon – the resemblance that a photograph has to its subject, and index – trace evidence of the existence of a subject once photographed.

In semiotic terms, symbols are agreed, standardised points of reference which can be used as a basis upon which to form discussions that are inclusive (e.g. a car is a car because that is what we are taught, and it is universally agreed and accepted that a “car” will have a chassis, four wheels, an engine, etc.).

If the symbolic meaning of a photograph is the “studium” referred to by Barthes, the polysemic “punctum” is the initial (conscious) pricking impression that is purely personal and dependent on the individual.

Ideologies are, then, the explanatory systems of belief suggested by Goodwin and Whannel and messages are the mode by which such ideologies are communicated. Consequently, it follows that symbolism is the agreed shorthand used in those messages.

It would appear then, in relation to decoding advertisements, that we have established the link between the “deeply held belief systems” referred to by Frith and semiotic symbolism.

How then, does theory relate to practice?


Morris, 2017. Tomato Soup

Analysed according to Frith’s meanings, the image “Tomato Soup” has the following characteristics.

Firstly, in terms of the surface meaning, the image shows tomatoes, onion, garlic and carrots, a number of pencils stand ready for use in a pot – which we can see is a tin which once held tomato soup, and there is a recipe with the title “Tomato Soup”.

The intended meaning of the image is clearly to portray tomato soup and its ingredients, at least in terms of this particular recipe.

Finally, the cultural meaning of the image. Whilst the image is clearly about tomato soup, the question is introduced as to what tomato soup the image is trying to portray. The fresh ingredients and the recipe suggest that the benefits of fresh, home-made tomato soup are being depicted. The tin which clearly held a well-established brand of tomato soup has been relegated to the position of pen pot – is this image promoting healthy, economical and delicious benefits of home-cooking? Or is the tin – now empty of soup and with its new contents of pencils – lurking in the background for an ulterior reason?

From Hodgson’s perspective, “Tomato Soup” is, again, clearly an image of the ingredients needed to make. But the same ambiguity applies with regard to what the image is about – is it home-cooked soup, or mass-produced soup in a tin?

Taking Barthes and Heath’s semiotic approach, the signifier is not quite so easily determined. In the case of “Tomato Soup”, is it the range of fresh ingredients and the recipe, or is it the tomato soup can in the background? The signified is, therefore, very much dependent upon what the viewer interprets the signifier to be.

On a final note, for me, as a photographer, the value of audience theory is in knowing the way in which different meanings can be attached to images, in understanding the polysemic nature of photographic images – the way that each viewer can have a unique interpretation of an image as a result of their own experiences and values.

Viewers find interest in images which are multi-layered and which contain some ambiguity in terms of the message that is being conveyed – they like having something to find, something to search for. Knowledge and understanding of the meaning attached to images and semiotic analysis allows me to produce images which appeal to an audience on a deeper level because of their multi-layered, slightly ambiguous and subjective nature.

Furthermore, this information allows me to make informed decisions about the images I make. Ultimately, as a photographer, I have two goals. The first is for the images I make to be viewed by an audience, and the second is for the images to evoke a reaction within that viewing audience. At the very least, audience theory allows me to correctly identify my target audience.



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

Goodwin, A. and Whannel, G. (2005) Understanding Television. London: Routledge

Hall, Stuart. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in association with The Open University

On Reflection: Week 3, Module Two

A better week this week (or, as I write this, last week) – a bit less frenetic.

Looking back to the September last year and before … …

I started off not being particularly skilled at critical evaluation, basing my like or dislike of an image on something much more “intuitive” – going with a “gut-feeling”.

Now though, I think it fair to say, my critical evaluation is becoming more fluid, that is to say I’m becoming more fluent, it isn’t as laboured – I don’t have to think so hard about what I’m thinking.

The theory is starting to come together in an appreciable way – all the different strands are starting to weave together and create something of meaning.

Point in case, my analysis of Barthes statement: “In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation” was described by a fellow student as being “really put across clearly and concisely” and having “helped to decipher” a quote that had caused my colleague some struggle.

This is really positive feedback. And it is also very insightful … …


Because it informs me not only of how well I am understanding and assimilating theories being introduced as part of the MA, it also informs me of how well (or not) I may be articulating my ideas relating to those theories.

That’s not to say I didn’t struggle in evaluating Barthes statement myself, I’m just better equipped, and more practiced, in doing so. I’m actually really pleased that my efforts resulted in something that elicited a feeling and a response, and was of benefit.

Consequently, I am feeling a lot more positive regarding the course – as though the “mists are clearing”.

I’m finding a deeper meaning to the “deeper meaning”.

Things that, at first, when being completed were a chore (to say the least) are now starting to show a higher value.

Initially, nothing worked for me. No system of summarising key points seemed effective – everything was more miss than hit. The last week has seen a breakthrough. With the implementation of mind maps, note taking has improved significantly – it’s a system which lends itself very readily to summarising the theory related to photography and critical thinking, helping to assimilate the sometimes-abstruse information much more easily. I really should have started using iMindMap for this before now (why didn’t I think of this earlier?)

I also feel that I am gaining a wider and deeper awareness and understanding of contexts and audiences, and perceptions.

Exploring such concepts as “authenticity”, “representation”, semiotics and most recently the integrity of “constructed” images has done much to make me question my views on how images are consumed. And not only “how” they are viewed, but also “what” determines how they are viewed, and “why”.

The understanding that informed photographic practitioners have of how their images may be viewed by the audience, and the role that context plays in this, is fundamentally important. Knowing the audience, can mean the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph. But not just knowing the audience, truly knowing the audience – getting under the audience’s skin – and understanding the audience!

A topic which piqued my interest this week, are we makers or takers? Photographers follow a tendency to have a genre in which they specialise. But having a specialism doesn’t preclude them from taking photographs which fall into other genres – it isn’t “mutually exclusive”. Consequently, I think that we are, at different times both hunters and farmers of images? Being one doesn’t preclude the other.

An interesting week with regard to the project. ideas are still being developed. Work has continued resourcing materials and props and there have been some developments in this area. As an aside, there is an opportunity for an interesting mini-project in the forthcoming week, this requires some materials which had to be purchased and arrived today – it was quite exciting to open the package and explore the items as it’s unfamiliar territory for me. Something to look forward to: a very loose “brief” with plenty of scope for personal interpretation, in fact more of a set of guidelines rather than criteria to be fulfilled – just grab the camera and “go with the flow”.

Back to discussing the main project … …

I’m increasingly aware of the need for differentiation – generating output which is unique. Incorporating techniques of the old masters into images which have a social relevance is one way to achieve this – or at least goes part of the way. But, going beyond this, what is there? Part of my research this week has looked at post-processing and the techniques that can “add value” to images, in terms of helping produce a characteristic style. It’s been quite successful, informative and interesting. This is an area I wish to explore more.

I am seeing opportunities to explore in “mundane”, everyday things. Seeing the way that light from a lamp played on the surface of a table gave me an idea for something to try out, something to experiment with in a few photographs. It was the colour of the light – amazing – that caught my eye. I think I can recreate it and, if I can, it should make for a highly appealing image.

Visual strategies. What are they – in real terms? That’s something which, as it’s pertinent to the forthcoming assignment, I shall be contemplating over the next week.

An issue which does require some attention – my mind is like a “butterfly”, settling momentarily on an idea to sample its sweet nectar before flying off in a seemingly random manner to explore for the next. Perhaps that’s a good way to be “creative” – or to effectively “create” ideas – but, to me at least, it isn’t a very efficient or productive use of time. There’s obviously a balance to be struck … … something I need to work on.

On Reflection … Week 2, Module Two

Wading through treacle … …

This week has, in no uncertain terms, been hard.

Issues of time management, or more correctly “life getting in the way”, have compounded the difficulties of dealing with some complex philosophical concepts.

Theorists such as Pierce, Barthes, Sontag, Snyder and Allen (and many more) have all been thrown into the conceptual melting pot together with terms like “authenticity”, “representation”, “semiotics” and “indexical” (to mention only a few).

Evaluating the “peculiar” nature of photography and whether this, should it exist, warrants photography having its own methods of interpretation and standards of evaluation has not been a straightforward journey.

At times it has seemingly been a case of two steps forward and three backwards, and at other times it has appeared to be a case of going around in circles (wonder if the circles are “ever decreasing”?)

I am not alone in such a convoluted journey … …

The exploration made by Barthes in his book “Camera Lucida” is subject to a hiatus in which we see him first of all question the existential nature of photography, at times applying semiotics as a means of interpreting photography and photographs, before pausing only to commence again but this time also to question his own, earlier work.

Whilst none of this may lead to a clear-cut and conclusive answer to the question “what is a photograph?”, it does undoubtedly increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge as photographers. Having an in-depth awareness of semiotics and associated terminology, such as icon, index and symbol, further helps us to understand the different contexts in which our work may be viewed, and correspondingly match intent with end requirement.

So, how are such terms relevant in any whatsoever to photography?

Icon – refers to the resemblance a photograph has to its subject, index – is trace evidence of the existence of a subject once photographed, and symbol – an agreed, standardised point of reference which can be used as a basis upon which to form discussions that are inclusive (e.g. a car is a car because that is what we are taught, and it is universally accepted that a “car” will have a chassis, four wheels, an engine, etc.).

In order to gain greater understanding, not only of what photography “is”, but also myself as a photographer and my photographic practice, I should first try and appreciate these terms in terms of their relevance to me. Something for further investigation.

Real world examples provided much clarification as to how relevant such terminology, and its use in trying to evaluate photography and photographs, may or may not be. For example, the authorities governing our passports dictate that the picture in our passport has to be a photograph – this prompted David Hockney to protest that a drawing should be an equally acceptable form of “portrait” (Sylvester, 2002, p. 384).

Frustrating as it has been at times, this week has, in reflection, been useful, informative and interesting. I have taken much away from this week … …

The stand out thing for me, however, has been this. There is much debate about “what is a photograph?”, does photography have a “peculiar” nature? How “authentic” or “real” are the images we make? … …

But the question which never seems to be asked is this, “how real do we want our images to be?”

I think this question, or at least phrasing the question in this particular manner, is highly relevant.


Because to do so forces us to produce context-driven images.

Asking “what is a photograph?” is rather a “shooting the stable door” type of interrogation. Asking “how real do we want our images to be?” causes us to address such issues as who will view the work, when, where and why, and then make our images accordingly … …

Suffice to say, all this has left precious little time for project related work.

As interesting and useful as all this theorising might be, I am eager to crack on with the practical aspect of my research project. This is a sentiment I know is widely shared by my fellow students.

Notwithstanding the intensive week of theoretical work, it has been a useful week in terms of the research project – the limited amount of work carried out in this area has provided a high yield. More specifically it has been a week of sourcing props for photographs – with, I am pleased to say, considerable success. There is still some way to go, but, things have started to come together quite nicely … …


Sylvester, D. (2002) About Modern Art. London: Pimlico

On Reflection … Week 1, Module Two

And onwards to Module Two.

Despite still not having fully recovered from the cold virus which decided to join the household at Christmas, the first week back to studying came as a welcome event.

“Where are you now?”

This was the first question out of the box for week one of module two.

And so followed a very interesting self-analysis of my photography, where it has been, where it is now and where I envisage it going in the future.

I have to say that I found this a good way to ease back into studies post-Christmas break. Feedback from fellow students was very insightful and most encouraging – certainly suggesting that my project proposal and associated work in progress is being viewed receptively (which certainly hasn’t been the case in some quarters).

Having established, or at least having had a stab at establishing, where I am, what next?

The next concept with which to wrestle was the ontological nature of my photographic practice.

In layman’s terms – what are the characteristics of my photography?

Not such an easy concept to appreciate. I think we are much more accustomed to thinking about our photographic “style” than we are of thinking about our photography in terms of “characteristics”.

I think the idea of how my photography exists, the form it takes, and how this translates into an “entity” appreciable by its characteristics is something that needs incubation, an idea that needs to germinate. This is something I intend to continue to look into because I think defining the “nature” of my photography is inextricably linked to further defining the audience for my work.

First thoughts, though, I think it both fair and accurate to say that I felt a degree of resonance with Szarkowski’s analysis of what a photograph is and how its “form” may change (Szarkowski, J. 1980. The Photographer’s Eye. London, Secker and Warburg).

On a different tack … …

In terms of my project proposal, I have continued to look into how the techniques of the great masters can be applied effectively in order to produce images which have a social relevance.

Why the need for a “social relevance”? Well, apparently, the concept of having a social relevance to my images is the strongest and most appealing facet of my proposal (incidentally, not a theory I necessarily subscribe to but I’ve picked up the ball and I’m running with it … …).

How do I happily marry these two concepts? This has been, shall I say, a “thorny” issue, at times a seemingly intractable problem.

Finding a “vehicle” which will successfully carry two seemingly different ideas, each of which could exist as discrete projects in their own right, hasn’t been easy, it’s taken some thought.

“The scales have fallen from his eyes.”

One possible narrative may be to look, progressively, at our relationship with food as it extends from production to consumption. This is an interesting area for exploration, and something I would like to look at closely – but in another time and another place.

Much more interesting for me (at least at the moment), is an exploration of the social, ethical and political issues associated with how we produce, consume (or do not consume) our food.

Oh, and not forgetting to mention that during the last week I saw an image which sparked an idea for a very different way in which some of my still-life images could be photographed. Something I am looking forward to experimenting with.

And finally … …

This week’s webinar was initially viewed with the usual level of trepidation. However, a new year and a new start … … and a new format.

Out with presentations, in with tutor-led question and answer sessions.

The new format was very unexpected. Most students had prepared the previously obligatory PowerPoint slides – the very small number that hadn’t had experienced technical issues preventing this. Initially, there was some slight vexation that the presentations wouldn’t be needed. However, there was unanimous post-webinar agreement that the new formula was a winning one.

Consensus was that the question-and-answer style made for a much more relaxed environment which, in turn, was much more conducive to learning. By mutual agreement, all students felt that they had taken something highly beneficial away from the webinar which had been a positive experience. This is most certainly true in my case.

Long live the new webinar format say I, a sentiment which I know is very much echoed by my fellow students!