Response to Tutor feedback on Assignment One

Response to Tutor feedback on Assignment One of Context & Narrative

The Assignment itself can be read here and below I give some extracts from the feedback.

Your thorough research has underpinned your project providing a sound base to experiment with. This has enabled you to take some risks with this project, experimenting with the poster and printing on newsprint has really added extra depth and strong narrative.

Technically and visually you have submitted a set of very competent images, well balanced and well composed. This helps to illustrate your idea of the ‘forensic’ approach’ but as a criticism this approach is the same for both sets of images which is not helping with ‘Two sides of the story’.

‘Living on the Edge’ also shows and hints at vulnerability with sinister overtones, isolated properties with flimsy fences (I love the textures and colour palate), the strong wooden fence by the road has menacing overtones. The vegetation encroaching onto the properties perhaps becoming them,. These are some clues the viewer may pick up from these images.

I was pleased to read this. My preference would have been for the whole series to be about ‘living on the edge’ and in retrospect I could have dealt with this by doing one set in monochrome or evening light.

‘There are dangers in the Wood’ the similar light has not helped differentiate the two sets, a moody darker more sombre light would have induced much more sense of foreboding. You comment about twilight and how that affected you, so where is the twilight? I do really like the idea and the poster is great, especially the close up so we can read it and then the pulled back shot which gives us a strong sense of place so I feel overall that this is a successful assignment especially as you are aware of the similarity between the two sets of images.

Being a bit more ‘picky’ should the clothing have been slightly grubbier and the shoe on its side? Again these are clues that could enhance the narrative. You could argue that the clean clothing and upright shoe actually becomes more ambiguous and surreal, so discuss on your blog!

I didn’t think of having the shoe on its side but did think about the clothing. My reasoning was that clean clothing could more signify that something had only recently happened. The upright shoe was because there was similar colouring between that and the brown earth and path and I thought that the red parts of the shoe might stand out more.

Your large cat is a valiant attempt at photocomposition and certainly ticks the box for risk taking. (in consideration of the light) …the Lynx image should share a sympathetic light with the woodland with shadows and dappled light you would expect the feet to have more of a solid shadow ‘holding’ the Lynx to the floor. Do we need to see the Lynx so close and in its entirety? If it had been emerging in the background from behind a bush just slightly visible it would be a much more intriguing image offering the viewer more to consider.

Suggestions for photographers to look at in respect of working with light

Several interesting photographers suggested. I won’t comment on them all here but I was particularly interested by Sharpe’s Wood (2007) Liza Dracup,  where very long time exposures were used to photograph the wood by the light of faraway street lights and the headlights of passing cars. This work was commissioned by the Impressions Gallery and made in woodland over several years. Striking images, with an almost unearthly light rather than a frightening aspect.

Also, John Blakemore used long time exposures in woodland in his early work to “giving a sense of living through blur and movement to woodland”. I have long admired Blakemore’s work and experimented with photographs of dying tulips a couple of years ago , see here  I have ordered the recommended book A Retrospective 1955-2010 and already have Blakemore’s Black and White Photography Workshop (2008).

Further action

I took some 5×7 prints with me to the work review section at the Johanna Ward Talk (see here). Johanna was very interested in the house that looked like a gingerbread cottage saying it reminded her of a Disney film Watcher in the Woods. She encouraged me to do work with that, including introducing myself to the owner and seeing if I could photograph inside. My courage failed me on that score but I did take some further photographs in the woods.


I aimed for darker days that would help towards longer exposures, using a tripod. I made a selection and then processed these along the lines of an HDR effect gained by reducing highlights and increasing shadows and contrast. I also experimented with the shoe on its side and did another lynx composite using a different background.

Here are some colour versions.


Further work on the Lynx composite

_MG_7045 lynx composite 9x6 web

I layered the lynx to look as if it was emerging from the trees and essayed a shadow using the ‘burn’ tool. It’s quite an art re-sizing to look proportionate and still more practice needed.

I also experimented with different papers, including Permajet Titanium lustre to see what effect that would give. I took these to the recent OCA Thames Valley Group meeting, see here . Feedback there was that the different papers were distracting. We had quite a discussion about the staged shots with the shirt and shoes, also the poster I created and whether I could do something more along those lines in terms of actually leaving posters there regarding something lost/found to see what happened. Sharon, our attending tutor, also suggested to stay slightly ‘wacky’, as with the lynx image and to do more of those as opposed to the more sinister ones with abandoned clothing.

In retrospect I do feel reluctant to try anything that would ‘trick’ people too much, especially as just recently, on two separate days, I did really lose a dog collar and had telephone calls soon after to let me know each had been found. In fact one person even came to our house whilst we were out and left a collar on the door handle.

In the spirit of experimentation and also in response to my tutor’s mild rebuke concerning my failure to do the earlier street photography exercise properly (comparing colour with black and white) I have also converted the images and used Nik Silver Efex for this.

I do find it difficult to compare because, to me, they just look like black and white versions of a colour image. Is there more a sense of menace?

Given direct feedback during the OCA Thames Valley Group meeting and also further comments on this blog post I made the decision to print the four images above in colour and these will be submitted for formal Assessment.

Pointers for the next assignment

  • You demonstrate good technical abilities so allow yourself to consider the image more, the technical will just work for you!
  • Consider coherence with your images.
  • Do read carefully what the exercises and assignments are asking for and make sure you include all the information
  • Carry on allowing your research to inform your own practice

Now I’m moving on to Part Two. My previous tutor has now retired from OCA work. Many thanks to him for his support and advice which helped to keep me going.

12th February 2015



Blakemore, J (2008), Black and White Photography Workshop, David & Charles Ltd, Cincinnati, OH

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