Assignment 5 : Making it up

Assignment 5 : Making it up

My first idea was to use the landscape to re-visit work done for Art of Photography on fairytales and their meanings. This foundered when the weather became so windy and wet that I decided indoor work would be better, especially as I had now gained more confidence in dealing with flash lighting through attending two day Workshops and then acquiring a new set of lights. I kept thinking back to Part Three when I had portrayed a dialogue with my alter ego (wearing a wig) that I had not pursued because, at the time, I couldn’t imagine what we might be saying to each other.

During my reading and research for the Assignment I had become quite absorbed by the work of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson. The large scale photographs, produced with the use of a production crew, actors, special sets or locations and considerable post-processing work, are impressive. Their concepts are different – Crewdson’s deliberately cinematic evocation of small town life in America and the violent impulses which may lie beneath, and Wall’s aim to portray a moment in time, as seen through his imaginative eye, rather than through historical or social reality. Because everything is stilled in their images, frozen in a limbo between moments that have never actually existed, their subjects appear more like automatons, gazing blankly into space.

I have continually queried whether narrative, a story, can be contained within a single image as opposed to a series. The photograph I analysed for Assignment 4  proved that it can – through its composition, use of perspective and light etc and with only a short photographer’s statement. I enjoy looking at Wall’s work but have to confess that, despite reading and listening to a lot about his process, I have to search hard to find a narrative. On the other hand, despite my initial resistance, Crewdson’s use of light, together with the numerous interviews where he explains his thought processes, pushed me further into the more introspective state of mind that I experience as a year comes to an end. I think it was this that contributed towards the creation of my Asssignment image. My description of the way I approached the Assignment is here .  I wrote a list of threads I wanted to carry forward from earlier in the Module and will write further when I reflect in a separate piece how I think I have met the brief of the Assignment.


I am much taken by the concept of the “uncanny” where we see a world that resembles ours yet appears to have been replaced by a substitute. With this photograph I aim to depict a moment in time in a domestic setting. Real people in a real place but constructed to convey something unseen. My hope is that there is enough of an ‘open’ narrative to interest the viewer and evoke a response.

_MG_0707 v3w



Technical aspects

I have described the path I took to the creation of this photograph in an earlier post here  . A image of the flash placement is below

_MG_0873. 11x7 layout web




It was a simple set-up with the lights almost equally balanced – power 3 on the left on myself, and power 2.5 on the right on my husband. The lights were angled towards each person and at around a 4 feet distance I wanted to have more light on myself , having one of Jeff Wall’s earlier photographs A Woman and her Doctor 1980-1 in mind. This was presented as a transparency in a light box and I do think that, in this sense, pre the computer age Wall was ahead of the back-lit computer screen in bringing light to images. I realised afterwards that the woman in that photograph was wearing a pale, plain top and that makes a difference to the lighting (which is why I wore pale tops in the later photograph experiments, referred to in my previous post). The photograph was shot at 41mm focal length and tightly framed with the camera on a tripod about 8 feet behind the lights which were around 4 feet in front of the subjects. The RAW original showed some evidence of the flash in the window and the healing brush was used in PS. I reduced clarity on the faces, but only very slightly. There was some adjustment of light and shadow to lighten the tree and brighten the ornaments.

I think the process worked, given that I am still fairly new to dealing with flash lighting and the initial work required to balance the light achieve the effect I am seeking. I want to say thank you as well to my husband, Jeff Banks who was a very willing technical assistant and subject.

At this stage, I will write no more about the meaning of the photograph for me  but will return to this, together with a reflection on how I met the assessment criteria, in a further post.



30 thoughts on “Assignment 5 : Making it up

  1. Interesting photo Catherine. You both look quite thoughtful and with eyes looking down perhaps sad. I live the way the dog is walking across seemingly oblivious to the scene. Astounding how you managed to direct the dog! Lighting is well done. It’s always a real challenge avoiding reflections of the lights in windows, pictures and mirrors!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, it works for me! I am drawn into the image, noticing small details, like the fake Christmas tree, the similarity in the shoes and the socks, etc. Suddenly I realize that there is meaning hidden in every details, and I want to discover them all and make my own story for them. Is there a title?

    Well done for finishing this module!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An engaging photograph – I see it as a comment on lack of communication between people who are presumably close – it is just a moment among many but you have chosen to depict something that is I feel rife – people living together without seeing each other as they really are – instead, we are more likely to depend on an agreed form of intimacy rather than a creative one – my reading is not meant to reflect on the couple pictured rather to draw upon what might be implied from this image. Brings to mind a series of photos that Martin Parr did on couples.
    Good work Catherine!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love it Catherine, there is certainly a story here for me, or possibly several layers of a story. The gentleman, it take it your husband, looks engrossed in what he is reading, a work report maybe, I can make out what looks like figures on the back of the paper. Or maybe he is proof reading your assignment (mine does that for me!) You look quite pensive, maybe ill at ease, possibly worried about something. This puts me in mind of some of Cindy Sherman’s work where everything is staged and she is the model as well as the photographer.

    I have not looked at Context and Narrative as it wasn’t an option when I started any of my modules but maybe if it had been I would not have struggled quite so much with the whole idea of contemporary photography. I love the detail too, the dog’s toy in the corner and the rain on the window. You did well to avoid reflections from the lights in the window.


  5. Good photograph! I think an ‘open’ narrative works very well in this picture and you captured the concept of ‘uncanny’ too. I agree with Amano about the message of your photo: ‘lack of communication between people who are presumably close’ – it was my first response to it.
    Well done Catherine!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the lighting and processing is excellent. (I did a job early days and had reflections in the mirror…. So cross with myself!) I also see the influences you discuss quite strongly. I’m a little hesitant to express any narrative I see – my ex used to say things don’t have to mean something. And I agree with him on that at least although that type of response probably doesn’t help you at this stage! But I see so many emotions, possibilities, history, secrets, life, partnerships and all the stuff that can exist between two people who are a unit as well as individuals. So much unspoken. Everyone who looks at this will interpret it slightly differently too. It’s open to so much which is terrific. Because I suppose there is a lot of detail. A lot going on. Well done. You’ve put so much work into this. It shows. And I think the dog is really wonderful. Is that Digby again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s so much to remember! I now have an internal checklist but know I need to write it down. I can understand your hesitancy regarding expressing a narrative as you know me so that will affect your reading as well. Pleased though that you can see the possibilities.
      No – not Digby but Dora!


  7. Great at picture Catherine – personally I find it slightly eerie, everything so perfect and yet nothing is quite right (very much like Jeff Wall in that sense). It could be a still for a film poster, introducing us to the characters without giving too much away.


  8. And what does a picture tell us? It’s Christmas. The celebratory tree stands central, much as the festival does in family tradition and to the far left, out of view for those in the image, are signs of Christmas cards. The curtains are in a state of indecision, neither drawn or open, it is dark outside. Two armchairs placed on either side of the tree, fresh and bright and on a shiny wooden floor. Two people enacting, perhaps sub-consciously a kind of symmetry, deck shoes, stripy socks, denims trousers and a blue upper garment, leaning toward each other and gazing across each other’s view. A dog walks towards the left, leaving the right hand side with nothing other than an occupied chair. He is holding a sheet of paper, it is perhaps a letter, though he isn’t reading it, his gaze is centered to the right of the paper and he holds his spectacles as if to confirm a reflective consideration of the letter’s consequence. She knows what is written on the page.

    The scene depicts a pause between the two, an enactment of a moment of realization between the two who are, by their own design a couple. The absence of presents under the tree suggests that any family that might connect the couple have flown; maybe it is a lack of family that is signified by the deficiency of parcels. But it provides a gulf between the two, separating them, holding them apart. Maybe the letter that he holds confirms that notion? The couple are seated in a full, almost shadowless, light; we can see into the corners, under the tree, everything except the lightless void outside their home, to which they sit in close proximity.

    The paper he holds is seemingly key to the narrative; we – the viewer – cannot know what is on its surface. We cannot know what its narrative is about, but it appears portentous adding the to Studium of him and his surroundings. We see her looking across his gaze, not connecting, suggesting either he has relayed the matter or she is lost in her own reverie regarding her conjection of the content. That he is holding the paper but not reading it, is the strongest emotional element, he holds his spectacles because either he doesn’t want to read it again or he has no need. He is dealing with the consequences.

    And so what is art for? To express an idea or an emotion, to communicate something from someone and all the more wonderful if achieved with eloquence. And for me this is an image that articulates the temporal aspect of long term relationships. The void is still uncoupled from the objects but it has entered into dialogue with them. It isn’t therefore about good news/bad news but rather how we might consider a shared relationship with mortality. The richness of the foreground aesthetic adds another layer to that reflective notion. Eloquent and moving.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for this comprehensive comment John. It’s difficult for me obviously (hadn’t realised how much) as we are a real couple enacting undercurrents that may or may not apply in ‘real’ life. My thoughts were random, coalescing around/within me and I can see some of those in the elements of the composition and they are highlighted for me in your response. It’s amazing how these things can creep into a photograph, almost unconsciously at times.
      I’ll be writing more in a day or so when I’ve had time to reflect on what I saw – putting myself into the role of ‘viewer’ – and the comments I’m receiving.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think seeing an actual print and holding it informed this reading and, from my perspective, it would print very well much larger and still hold the narrative.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I like it too Catherine. There is definately a story there. The gentleman is engrosseed in his paper, report, maybe work, and you look quite pensive, maybe worried about something. As others say the key is lack of communication, so two stories going on.

    In some ways it puts me in mind of some of Cindy Sherman’s work, where the settings are very staged, raising an issue of some sort and she acts as photogrpher and model. Lots of nice detail too such as the dog’s toy in the corner and the rain drops on the window.


    • Thanks Anne. I looked at Cindy Sherman, although I didn’t really write about her work. What’s interesting is how much can be conveyed in a staged photograph, something that I hadn’t really taken on board up to now.


  10. I really like this Catherine. Well done. It definitely has a Wall feel to it. It is very interesting that you have chosen not to give the picture a title and understand why you have done that and how it leaves the photo very open to interpretation. It is also interesting how different titles would radically alter the viewers reading. Well done on completing C&N, I have followed your work with great interest and certainly think that you have finished on a high – in my opinion this is your best work to date.


    • I thought about a title, a simple one, but then decided that even that might affect a reading of the photograph. I’ve definitely been in experimental mode with this assignment. Thank you for the compliment as well. I’m relieved to be virtually at the end of this Module but wishing, in a way, that there is a Level 2 C&N.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Like, Emma, I think it has a slightly eerie, menacing feel, a bit like the Stepford Wives. There’s definitely a vibe that it is constructed too. Everything looks perfect until you look closer and realise that the three participants are not communicating at all and the Christmas tree is empty of presents. You’ve obviously worked very hard to get the lighting right. Well done. Very Jeff Wall and Thomas Friedrich Schaefer.


    • I did think of Stepford wives when doing all the reading, the difference was that they rebelled so didn’t fit the ‘passive’ women theme of Crewdson’s work, say. Thanks for the feedback Holly and also for the link to Schaefer.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I can only agree with what has been said already Catherine . An excellent and intriguing image , a great end to the module , well done. Agree with Vicky – John’s analysis is excellent. There is such a visible sense of tension , it draws you riight into the scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Catherine, I’ve left commenting for a while as I needed to take time to look at the image objectively (something I found difficult as I consider you as a friend and know a little about your life and family so my images in my head of ‘Catherine’ don’t really match with your picture).
    Objectively, and just drawing from the image, I see a couple who are not hostile – knees facing
    towards each other – but there is a definite tension, an undercurrent in their relationship; maybe temporary, maybe not. I think the letter is important – it must contain unpleasant/concerning news of some sort as the couple are both reflecting on it, but whilst the woman is looking serious her hands and arms are relaxed, indicating resignation rather than angst (interestingly it has driven the couple apart and not together). The news is not new (if it was there would be more interaction between the couple), the letter having also been used as a jotter (writing on back). I see a lot of similarities with Martin Parr’s ‘Signs of the Times’ images – a posed uncomfortableness. Anyway, a cracking image – really well done and, as you say, with so many readings. I imagine that it could prove uncomfortable viewing for people who are not so happy in their relationships.


    • Sorry – hit enter too quickly and can’t edit my post above – Bate talks about people projecting their own selves and experiences onto the image and giving them the opportunity to express their own emotions, doubts and fears.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carol, Thanks for the feedback. I understand the difficulty for you and it’s good that you’ve been able to be as objective as possible. I also spotted some unintentional clues which gave me a bit of a start!
      I’ve had some really helpful comments which I’ll be taking into account when I write the Reflection on how I think it all went. I enjoyed the whole assignment and learned a lot from it.


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