Assignment One : Two sides of the story

C&N Assignment One : Two sides of the story

This Assignment has been a long time coming and I’m grateful to my tutor for his patient forbearance.

Preparatory thoughts

There are several areas of woodland near to my new home which has meant I’ve continued with my compulsion to take photographs there (see here ). In the work review group at the Brighton Photo Biennial Weekend Visit I shared some prints of the in-camera double exposures and got to talking about the local Memorial Fields, with its fenced off areas and the houses around it. Russell, our presiding tutor, reminded me of Mark Power’s work 26 Different Endings . Where he looked at places that fall just off the edge of the A-Z London street Atlas. Russell suggested, in view of this Assignment, that I might want to consider something along similar lines but looking at Inner and Outer perhaps. I also showed the prints to the larger group and Gareth mentioned the book Gossip from the Forest (2012 ) by Sara Maitland who used to be one of the OCA Creative Writing Tutors. I bought it and it’s an enchanting book that took me back into woodland and its stories. On the way out, one of my student colleagues made an interesting comment to me that the phrase, “Can’t see the wood for the trees” had come into his mind as I was talking.

During on-going research on the roots of woodland’s attraction to me, I recently listened to a Radio 4 Programme on ‘Place’ part of the “Digital Human” series . During this there was a suggestion that humans are biologically programmed towards landscape and mention of the word ‘topophilia’ – from the Greek topos “place” and –philia, “love of”. Whereas the concept of “heimat’ (German) concerns love and attachment to homeland in the sense of a social unit, topophilia concerns a strong sense of place. This sense of place often becomes mixed with the sense of cultural identity among certain people, and a love of certain aspects of such a place so, to me, this is more an intimate connection. Because I’ve lived in different places and environments, woodland, which has its own special quality, takes the place of ‘homeland’ and becomes my continuing inner and outer space and place.

So far as photography is concerned, I’ve continued to ponder how I can put “me” in the wood – not to own it but to be a part of it and capture the spirit of the wood and I’ve written some further ideas about this in my paper log.

Into the Woods

Brief: Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story.

I decided that the local Memorial Fields would be my subject for the Assignment. This Recreation area has a children’s playground and facilities for bowling, tennis and Sunday football clubs. On Fridays I’ve sometime seen people training birds of prey – falcons I think. I did manage a video on my iPhone but at a distance because one of our dogs chases large birds. There is also an area of woodland that can be accessed. Part of it is fenced in (or fenced out!) but it has a path that wanders along, crossing another main road, and then continuing past houses, many of which also have gates leading onto the path. These houses don’t exactly have their own private wood (see some earlier work I did here ) but I do envy them having this facility so near by. Having said that, I’ve hardly ever seen people walking along these tracks and the woodland doesn’t seem to be used that often which is very unlike Horsell Common which can be quite a social occasion.

The Process

I had four separate sessions with my larger camera plus taking some iPhone photographs as I had a further idea of creating a different narrative which could include a more forensic investigation of the woodland. In the event, I haven’t used the iPhone images but, as part of this idea, I experimented with newsprint to produce a ‘request for information’ poster that I then attached to various places and photographed. I decided not to use In-design for the poster but to keep it simple and use ‘Pages” which has some useful templates. My large printer didn’t like the newsprint so I used the small one I have for general use. The quality isn’t very good but I enjoyed the exercise. I also noticed that Blurb offer a magazine printing facility so will keep this in mind.


I chose 85 images to process from RAW which I then reduced to 67. These 67 seemed to form into categories.

The Memorial Fields themselves and entering the wood:-

ContactSheet-The Memorial Fields

Houses with close, direct and free access to the wood

ContactSheet-Rights of access

Places people can’t go:-

ContactSheet-Places you cannot go

The wood can be a lonely and unsafe place


In her book, Sara Maitland writes that “large swathes” of the old forests people talk about, “…. were never the untrodden tanglewood of the imaginations, but were inhabited, worked, used” (p. 5, 2012). She goes on further:

This was not wild wood that had to be ‘tamed’, but an infinite resource, rich, generous and often mysterious. The forests were protective too. Of course you can get lost in the forest, but you can also hide in the forest, and for exactly the same reason: in forests you cannot get a long view.

Maitland believes that forests are central to European fairy stories in ways that are not true of similar stories in different geographies.

Landscape informs the collective imagination as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination,
I believe that the great stretches of forest in northern Europe with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best. The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting

Now, the reason I’m finding this so interesting is that, a few weeks before reading this I had said to my husband words to the effect of “ it’s only a small area of woodland, and the dogs like it, but I wouldn’t want to be in there as it’s going dark because there are hardly ever any people around. Those words came back to me as I was walking there alone with my camera, and without the dogs, as the afternoon began to darken towards twilight. My senses sharpened as my breathing became more shallow. 

Third Selection

I ‘disorganised’ my categories so as not to be too constricted by them and edited down to 23.

Final selection of 11

Somehow or other the recreational area of the Memorial Fields has ‘disappeared’ in my perception!

Living on the Edge

There are dangers in the Wood

Here’s the ‘information wanted” poster.


The police did get a response from a local resident who emailed them a photograph she had taken in the woods around the same time of a large cat-like creature


This was a composite image I created using a 3D image from Wikimedia Commons .The photograph was taken by Tony Hisgett and was transferred from Flickr. I used this image as a background


and then layered it in the same way as the exercise I did in Project 5.


I got very caught up with the project which was great because it got me interested in photography again. On the other hand I think I took too many photographs, often, similar, which made it harder to choose – my colleagues phrase “Can’t see the wood for the trees” now seems very apt! . A major problem concerned the light. Days were either sunny or overcast with very pale skies which created problems with the dynamic range. I don’t like using a graduated neutral density filter because, to me, it always seems to make the sky too unreal looking and, of course, also affects tops of trees. I did use a Fader ND variable filter on some days which was better but, again, it tended to make shutter speeds too slow. I need to keep practising! When printing, I used 7×5 paper first to check contrast etc and learned that although images need to be brighter for print I also needed to deepen contrast. I enjoyed doing the composite – not sure whether the lynx being 3D helped or hindered. It did fit fairly naturally into the background but I can see an edge around it. In terms of context – although I did little additional reading for this particular assignment I have done a lot of reading in general and critical reflection on Study Visits etc which can be seen in the rest of my online blog.

3rd December 2014


Maitland, S (2012) Gossip from the Forest, Granta Publications, London

11 thoughts on “Assignment One : Two sides of the story

  1. I can see how this project is linked to some of the previous ones you did (first one for DPP and the last one for TAOP), there is a distinctive voice, telling tales of fear, girls lost in the woods, dreams, in and out of reality… envoutant…


  2. I’m hoping to see some of this work on Saturday! I like the “edge-ness” of the imagery, not in the sense of Edgelands, but a sort of psychological closeness to something other than banal, something wilder perhaps, not explaining very well! Not sure about the cat unless you make it very obviously a constructed image, it seems out of place with how I read the rest of the piece, which is about an inner unsettling as opposed to an outer, physical presence.
    Agree with Stephanie about how this links strongly to your previous work, seems like a rich seam to mine!


    • It took me so long to get the prints as right as I could to post to my tutor that I don’t think I could face printing off some more for Saturday! I might be bringing some other ideas along though.
      I wasn’t sure about the cat either – think he should have been further away in the distance and more surreal, maybe like the beast ones – but then that might not fit either. I’ll think some more on that one. I need to do more work on compositing and creating surreal images. Let me know if you know of any workshops etc.
      Yes – ‘living on the edge’ – I can see it more now when I look at what I created. I hadn’t realised how the woodland/vegetation is encroaching on those houses – creeping forwards – like Triffids, even when it’s ‘manicured’.


    • I hope so , I really want to attend a study visit but they always seem to clash with other commitments . It would be so nice to meet some fellow students , fingers crossed for next year.


  3. Hi Catherine, this really has sinister yet fascinating undertones and I can see the links to your earlier work as well as it being an interesting piece in its own right with room to grow. I must admit I’m not sure about the lynx – I’m not sure that he fits in with the rest of the piece as he’s too unsubtle – had you thought about a large paw print maybe to add to the mystery, or is that not surreal enough? Anyway, it’s a cracking assignment, really well done and glad you’ve got your photo mojo back.


    • Hi Carol, I’m pleased you recognised the sinister aspect which is something i’d like to pursue. Agree with you (and John) re the lynx – he’s too obvious as a ‘threat’, how to represent the ‘paw print’ in a different way though. Something that casts a shadow somehow….? Hmmm.


  4. Pingback: 5. Johanna Ward : Talk on 6th December 2014 | Context and Narrative

  5. Pingback: Response to Tutor feedback on Assignment One | Context and Narrative

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s