On Reflection … Week 15, Module One

A consolidated account of the Christmas break and weeks 13, 14 & 15 of module one!

Where has the time gone?

I’ll begin by saying that Christmas was not at all as expected with everyone, like so many others, succumbing to a particularly nasty cold virus. As a result no one, despite the build-up, was remotely interested in doing anything even slightly festive and so, we all took separate paths to our own little sanctuaries to suffer in silence.

I think next Christmas we will go out for Christmas lunch: let someone else have the planning, shopping, cooking and washing-up to deal with!

On the plus side, however, feeling rotten and not wanting to do anything created time to sit quietly and think about the course and the project.

Looking forward, feedback from the module one assignments provided a great deal to think about. My immediate thoughts were quite vexed, disgruntled. Whilst there was much to be positive about, the suggestions for future project development seemed to focus on issues which, in my view, had already been addressed to some degree by an appropriate form of practical activity and subsequent discussion.

But, it all comes down to perspectives doesn’t it?

It is absolutely crystal clear in my mind as to what it is that I am trying to achieve. And I believe I have communicated my intentions for the development of my project very well (within the constraints of format, time, word count, etc. imposed by the assignments).

But what I think I’ve communicated, and what I have actually communicated may not be the same thing.

That is to say, people may not be reading my words as I intended.

So, is there ambiguity?

Is my message abstruse? Subjective? Open to interpretation?

Pragmatically, my initial response was a very valid and natural one arising from the underlying wish to do a good job. Prima facie, I felt that there was some disparity between my efforts and the resultant feedback.

Criticism, even when it is well-intentioned and constructive, is not an easy thing to accept. It’s inherent in our nature to want praise and hear good things about ourselves and the things that we do.

But would I strive as hard if I had received the highest possible marks and feedback which only “showered praise”?

Yes, I believe I would. I know from personal past experience that I’m a very “driven” individual and like to excel at everything I do. However, that is almost irrelevant because we are each one an individual and as a result respond in our own unique ways. Additionally, our predominant personality type ebbs and flows: even the most “driven”, self-motivated individuals have some moments where they settle for something mediocre – it’s what we do 99% of the time that defines our personalities.

Consequently, we all have to be subject to the “carrot and the stick”, we all have to go through the same critiquing process. And in doing so we learn to become more self-critical and more accepting of the criticism of others.

Putting this wisdom (and feedback) to use … …

Looking back to September and the ensuing early weeks of the course, I can now see quite clearly the flaws that existed in the initial project proposal.

Hindsight? No, I don’t think so … …

A lot of our studies to date have focussed on developing skills to identify and assess different perspectives, and to critically evaluate both our own work and that of others.

This has made it so much easier to assess my own work, evaluating it for its strengths and its weaknesses.

As a result of the assignment feedback, the project has become more defined, more refined, both in terms of what it is, and what it is not.

The concept has become more “finalised”, research into the tools and techniques used by the great masters to control light, their knowledge of such compositional techniques as the golden mean, their use of symbolism and the sources of information for this will continue.

Progress in terms of where this knowledge should lead has been significant. A (perhaps) pronounced flaw in the concept in its earlier form was to what use would this new-found knowledge be put.

I had the seeds of ideas firmly sown in my mind. That these seeds were beginning to germinate as they were dutifully incubated, though, may not have been adequately communicated to others.

As already stated, the positive thing to come out of having a cold virus was an opportunity to think things through. The vision I hold for the output resulting from my research into the knowledge and methodologies of the great masters is currently mine alone – the project still requires much work over the next 18 months or so before it reaches a stage where it may be shared with an audience. Based upon my own internal vision for my finalised project, I believe that this work alone will be unique in its nature.

Notwithstanding the latter, I now have a much clearer vision of how to utilise the findings of my research whilst at the same time producing a body of photographic work has a “unique selling point”, of using this research to produce photographic images which convey a message and invoke a reaction.

Whether or not these ideas were adequately communicated or not raises some interesting questions … …

How does one communicate an idea which isn’t fully “matured”? Should one do so? Or, is it better to wait until the idea is developed, has integrity and can stand up to interrogation?

Again, perspectives.

The optimum solution, possibly, is to formulate a statement of intent, nothing more than one or two sentences, to “put a stake in the ground”, a clear signal that an issue has been identified and marked for, at the very least, future consideration.

In summary, this has been a very interesting and extremely valuable exercise.

To finish on a high point, discussions have been held with two parties who are very interested in my project proposal. One of which is an author and art historian with many published papers to her name, an expert in her field who is most willing to share her knowledge and experience as my project develops.

I am extremely grateful to both for their interest in my proposal, their highly positive feedback and their offers of support.

Next station call, “Module Two” … …

Where has the time gone?

On Reflection … Week 12, Module One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If not for an individual, then what audience?

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

Critical Reflection Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s distil that idea … …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on … …

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

I’m looking forward to working on these images.

Being Self-critical!

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

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


Morris, 2016. Still-life with Citrus Fruit

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

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

That’s an area for future exploration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t it always?

On Reflection … Week 11, Module One

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

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

This is something I have really taken apart this week.

Me, looking at them, looking at me.

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

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

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

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

Time to start smashing down a few walls!

Moving on to other matters … …

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

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

Next stage in the process, more practical work … …

On Reflection … Week 10, Module One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Interesting Quote …

During the course of my research this week, I stumbled upon the following quote:

“The two most amazing powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” – William Thackeray (1811 – 1863)

William Thackeray was an English novelist and is known most notably for his satirical “Vanity Fair”.

I can find nothing to suggest that Thackeray was in anyway involved in photography. He was, however, a very skilled artist, which in my opinion more than qualifies him to have made such a statement. Certainly photography was an emerging technology during his lifetime and, as an artist, it is not inconceivable that he may have made the statement.

Whether he held an interest in photography or not, whether he himself spoke these words or not, for me they capture a fundamental truism regarding photography and its purpose.

In researching the provenance of the quote, I spent some time looking at Thackeray’s sketches. The following image is entitled “Coach and Four”.

I think this is a wonderful example of his work.


William Thackeray, date unknown. Coach and Four

Communicating Practice

I am drawn to still-life photography more than any other genre, and especially to images which feature food as either a main or a supporting subject.

Obviously, a lot of time has been spent recently prepping for the presentation, research proposal and WIP portfolio, and as a result I have asked myself a lot of questions. One question which really challenged me is “why does that particular subject appeal to me so much more than any other?”

Finding an answer to that question which stands up to any form of interrogation has been interesting.

I think the appeal lies in the similarity to art in the most widely accepted notion of an artist using paints and canvas to produce an image. In other words, I research, resource, set-up and then photograph my subjects in the same, contemplative and progressive way that an artist might.

I appreciate art very much, but I can’t draw or paint. Still-life photography allows me to be creative -what I photograph I “create” myself and I can see it develop incrementally before me.

This is what motivates me to take photographs – an enormous sense of satisfaction at what I create. What keeps me motivated is striving for excellence – being critical in the evaluations of my work and how it was produced.

The work of the great masters is an enormous source of inspiration to me. I feel that understanding their work, the “how” and the “why” for the paintings they produced will enrich my photography.

Theory in Practice


“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved” – Ansel Adams


With this statement, Adams is capturing the very essence of photography.

“Photography” is not simply the use of a camera to record a permanent image of a subject. Images that justify any length of time spent looking at them require effort on the part of the photographer. Photography inescapably involves some level of technical knowledge, which expands with experience, and familiarity with one’s photographic equipment means that important images aren’t lost at the “decisive moment” as a result of fumbling about with various controls. But photography is so much more than the equipment or knowing how to use it.

It takes time to develop as a photographer. During that time, the individual is exposed to a huge variety of experiences which shape and refine the way in which they view things. Perspectives are changed, personal paradigms are shifted. Our experiences change the way in which we interact with our subjects. Reflecting on our experiences helps us to grow as we understand not only our subjects, but ourselves as both photographers and individuals.

We are products of our environment and, as is the case with so many disciplines, there is an element of “nature and nurture” (“nature” being that we are products of our environment), how proficient the practitioner becomes in a particular discipline is dependent upon how the individual not only strives for successes, but also embraces failure, analysing it and the reasons for it, accepting ambiguity and enthusiastically seeking as many questions as answers, in other words, “nurturing” ability through enriching understanding.

On Reflection … Week Nine, Module One

In the previous week, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what makes a photograph “interesting”, something that attracts attention and has appeal.

This had a lot of relevance, as this week’s topic was “critical theory”.

I belong to an online food photography group and, as an experiment, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring by contributing an image and seeing what would happen.

Hopefully, I produce quality images that people find pleasing to look at and which have some point of interest. At least, that’s the intention. But is that what I am achieving?

I had an image in mind, something that I felt would make an appropriate submission – given that this was an informal experiment. But, before making the submission, I wanted to do some editing which is something I haven’t done before, certainly not in relation to my food photography, it’s not my “style” of photography – my images are made “in camera” with post-processing being very limited to tweaking the odd exposure, adjusting colour balance or contrast slightly and some sharpening.

Having invested a reasonable amount of time on editing the image, I was very pleased with the result. And through research, trial and error I learnt a new technique which is effective, repeatable and reproducible.

So, the submission was made … …

And nothing happened.

Well, I say “nothing happened”, it is probably more correct to say nothing happened in relation to my image.

At risk of repeating myself, I don’t set out to take poor quality images. In my opinion, the image I submitted certainly wasn’t poor quality, nor was it my “usual style”, nor was it like any other image being submitted.

In context, there is a decent number of images being submitted to the group by a fair number of contributors.

And the spread of quality is fair too, covering the full spectrum: images which need quite a bit of work being submitted by enthusiastic beginners, through to outstanding images being submitted by photographers who have developed their style and technical ability over a number of years.

And what I noticed has me perplexed. I’ve been left with more questions than answers.

Every single image submitted since my own contribution was made has attracted either at least one “like”, or a comment, or both.

Every image, that is, except mine.

Images which are routine, mundane and can be seen posted by people out for a meal with family and friends where they just point a camera ‘phone at a plate of food and snap away … …

Images where time has been spent thinking about the subject, the lighting and the composition before pressing the shutter.

So, what’s going wrong? Why the abject lack of interest? Where do I go from here?

Well, there’s a lot of analysis to be done even on this very basic and limited experiment.

Something to bear in mind, though, is that the group is just one “audience”, most of which may have little, if any, knowledge of critical evaluation. That’s not to detract from the value of their collective opinion though, in fact it emphasises the need to cast the net wider and canvass opinions from a more diverse range of “audiences”.

I’ve got ideas of how to take the experiment forward in a way which will, hopefully, provide some meaningful data which can be used to reflect upon and develop my personal photographic practice.

“Critical Theory”…

Critical theory. What is it? Why does it matter?

Critical theory is a means by which we consider the contexts associated with art and culture. It provides a system for the identification, investigation and evaluation of the social, historical, economic and philosophical backgrounds, or contexts, which give rise to a specific work of art and which have helped to both shape it and constrain it during its production.

It is a system of evaluation which allows art to be viewed from various differing perspectives rather than being viewed solely from the viewpoint of the creator.

By “critiquing” work, we assume that there is no real pre-determined knowledge relating to a specific piece of art or to the art movement with which it is associated. Instead, we assume that any knowledge relating to a work of art is the subjective opinion of those putting forward an argument at any one particular time. Consequently, the validity of anything that is offered as a “fact” is brought into question as are the motives and methods of the author wishing to establish that fact.

Artists, including photographers, need to research their subjects. However, not all pieces of art have the same level of quality, nor do all sources of information appertaining to those works of art have the same degree of integrity.

Critical theory allows artists, and viewers of art, to evaluate existing works of art and appraise them, together with any opinion relating to them, in a systematic manner.

Critical thinking, the act of applying critical theory, facilitates the difference between “consciously viewing” or “passively consuming” images to alluded to in Presentation One: “Looking at Photographs”.

Hodgson (“Quality Matters”, 2012) states that because photographs are so easy to create (implying in a way that other types of art are not), it is only some form of discrimination which allows us to identify which images are worth “attention, concentration and further distribution”, critical theory provides the “shared vocabulary” which allows different viewers to begin to evaluate and then communicate objectively about art in a standardised way, analysing them in a manner which is free from bias due to previous personal experiences and circumstances.

An important way to develop as a photographer is to study the work of artists and photographers in order to achieve greater awareness and understanding.

Critical theory is a means of realising this technical and creative growth because it provides a vehicle for constructive criticism, criticism which achieves something – facilitating reflection and aiding improvement.

Such reflection could be based on critical evaluations provided by others, or self-evaluation. Whichever the case may be, ultimately the outcome is a greater understanding of one’s own practice. As Presentation One: “Looking at Photographs” informs us, looking critically at photographs:

“Is important for the development of your own practice as the clearer your understanding of what you are doing becomes, the easier it will be to take photographs, edit and reflect on them, as well as talk or write about them.”