Response to Tutor Feedback on Assignment 5

My tutor’s response is detailed, comprehensive and generally very positive. I also had the benefit of a follow-up telephone conversation which enabled further clarification of his comments.

CatherineBanks507005-AS05

The feedback PDF is attached, but I thought it useful to revisit aspects that I think are particularly important – especially when I reach the point of preparing for formal Assessment.The sentences in italics are quoted from my tutor’s written feedback and provide a positive foundation for me in considering some of his queries and suggestions that also appear at the head of each section below.

Overall Comments

Your final assignment for Context & Narrative is very good, your aims and objectives have been visualised to a good degree.  The final image works and contains some intriguing signs and connotations; one of which is about who took the photo! Your selective ‘setting-up’ contact sheets are quite interesting, which could possibly be developed into a triptych for the final submission.

The research is strong, with some excellent observations, coupled with your other visual investigations, which have great potential for further development. Overall, your tableau is interesting and pulls the viewer into your domestic setting, allowing them to read the subtle signs and start to piece together possible discourses.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Technically, your image is very successful, it evidences your strong technical investigations coupled with being an interesting and engaging shot.

 Would the effect of the subtle signs have been stronger if done in a very overt and conspicuous way?

a.The subtle signs were created through my intention to leave the photograph as open as possible to a viewer’s interpretation and so I think that more conspicuous ones would have been more directive and closed.

What was the balance and collaborative nature of the image?

a. This relates to my husband’s involvement. I had thought I made it clear in the assignment write-up here  that I was the one who researched and devised the concept, created the tableau, and made the decision on camera and lights settings after experimentation and placement of the lights. At the point of pressing the shutter release I was on the wrong side of the camera for the wireless remote to work properly and so I asked my husband to press it for me. I could have moved seats but had been determined as to where each of us should sit. I could have cloned out the shutter release switch but chose not to do so.

Quality of Outcome

Your ideas and intentions have been communicated very effectively, your single image does provide some interesting avenues of thought. You have applied yourself very effectively, drawing together ideas and notions from previous projects that feed into this one, which evidences a sustained and responsive approach to learning.

Is the uncanny evident or does it lie on the periphery of a banality?

a. I do think I achieved an image that was more ‘uncanny’ than ‘banal’. The overall lighting and placement gave an impression of a scene that appeared realistic yet slightly odd – almost too perfect, like a wax tableau.

Demonstration of Creativity

It is good that the shoot happened quite ephemerally but could it have been developed through conducting some tester shoots and responding to those?

a. The shoot did happen ephemerally in one sense but two ideas and earlier experiments came together in the impulse to create the shot at that particular moment. As referred to in my earlier write-ups on the assignment, I had experimented with posed self-portraits and a visual dialogue with my alter ego in the lead-up to Assignment 3. I now wanted to create a three-way communication between the subjects in my image and a viewer. I knew I wanted the image to include the Christmas Tree. In fact I had delayed any photographing until the tree was set up. Once the tree was there and I was looking at it with all those thoughts in my mind I knew that this was the right time to start taking photographs.

The ‘random element’ of the dog adds depth and introduces a chaotic element but could I have made any other additions or subtractions that may have suggested more challenging discourses – such as direction of gaze/s, facing away from the camera, all the tree decorations fallen on the floor?

a. I wanted our faces to be in view. We could have been looking at each other but I think it would have been more difficult for us not to react to each other – for us to smile, our faces soften, to become ‘real’ and show our natural feelings towards each other. If that had happened then I would not have created my version of ‘uncanny’.

A totally random image, which popped into my head, was seeing all of the decorations fallen on the floor under the tree. Perhaps something a little more obscure and out of place may have worked, something that does not belong?

a. Decorations fallen under the tree could certainly fit with an earlier query regarding the effect of ‘signs’ if done in a very overt and conspicuous way. That might be too obvious though – could suggest a relationship falling apart, arrangements broken etc. What could be more obscure? There are no presents under the tree, maybe if there was just one present. I’m not sure.

A main recommendation to experiment using two of the test shots to form a triptych with an example of one that puts the dog in command of the scene. Additionally two further artists to explore.

a. Certainly I created a triptych layout previously on my tutor’s recommendation as a follow-up to Assignment 3 and it worked very well. The suggestion of a ‘dog’ layout is a clever idea but would this move the mood away from ‘uncanny’ towards the ‘banal’, turn the concept into a joke somehow. Put together with the main image would it then take away from mood I set out to create? I have time to think more on this before submitting for formal Assessment.

Context

The research component of this submission has been excellent, your have indeed developed your personal voice. The overall project evidences a high level of self-awareness, the prose and language is very articulate and engaging.

The post, titled ‘Approaching the assignment’ was very good and your side project into archives was excellent. This is indeed a project to develop; it has depth and research potential to perhaps even carry forward into your final level (HE6) studies.

Re using a different approach to writing the reflection for this assignment by waiting for the blog comments. Does this provide more, did I manage to extrapolate any other points or readings about the work that I was not already aware of?

a. I chose a different approach this time because I wanted to test how my intention to create an ‘open’ narrative had worked and to include that in the reflection. I liked the idea of fitting my reflection to my concept whilst still then using the criteria headings. There were different types of comments, some of which also recognised that even a title would have directed a viewer. I certainly did extrapolate other points/readings or, rather, feedback highlighted aspects of my life/relationship that are usually in the background. For instance, the push/pull of seeking companionship yet fighting for independence, how a long relationship can lead to confluence (dressing similarly sometimes) and how having a pet can be so important in providing both a purpose in life and a sharing of time together.

Learning Logs or blogs

Your learning log is an extensive resource and provides the viewer with much information into your research, direction and progress through your studies. Reading about the Thames Valley Group meetings is great; this is an incredible and supportive group that truly embodies the nature of peer support and strengthens the practice of distance learners, hopefully your group is becoming an inspiration to other distance learners.

aThames Valley group has certainly played an important part in my development, providing peer feedback, support and inspiration. I do feel fortunate in having such a network available to me on both a group and individual basis. They have spurred me on at times when I have thought I might not continue.

Interim Thoughts

I  feel pleased and relieved that the feedback has been generally positive. It is comprehensive and has given me much to think on further during the period up to submission for formal Assessment.

 

Revisiting Assignment 5 : 23rd May 2016

I have continued to ponder my tutor’s suggestion regarding creating the triptych and have put one together.  However, I still think that, although it adds humour it still moves towards the banal which is not the intention behind my creation of the image. Due to the Module completion deadline my submission to my tutor was digital/via this blog.  I intend to submit one print of the chosen image for assessment whilst the diptych will be included in my Assignment Preparation folder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection on Assignment 5

I decided to wait until I had received some feedback through blog comments before writing this Reflection as I wanted to see if I had met my stated intention:

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’

I’ve been so pleased and encouraged by the comments I received indicating how the composition and various signs within it connoted a range of narratives.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

I think my technical skills have improved during the past two months. Dealing with lighting and setting-up equipment always seemed a difficult task to me but I learned just to see them as tools during the Studio Photography day instead of foreign objects so I can now put everything together reasonably quickly. Additionally I now have a better idea of the steps I need to take to get the type of light I want at least to a reasonably competent level. Gels and green screens etc will have to wait awhile.

In terms of composition – I was clear that I wanted tight framing – as can be seen by the lighting set-up photograph I included that actually shows what was outside the frame. I left just enough in the frame though to draw attention – the cards at the end of the cabinet and the dog’s bone.

I chose the photograph I did despite the dog stepping into the scene – unknown to me because I was focussing inwards at the time. When I first looked at the image on the back screen I thought, “Oh! No!” but looked again and realised that she had introduced that random element – choosing her own decisive moment – as does life in general. This also created a disconnect from the ‘perfection’ of, say, a Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson scene which meant that I wasn’t ‘copying’ either of them.

Quality of Outcome

The comments I received did indicate that viewers read a variety of narrative into the scene and even those who know me were able to suspend disbelief. Indeed, some of them saw more than I had intended, e.g. the matching clothing indicating a couple who are confluent in some respects, despite appearing to be detached and withdrawn at times.

There were times when I was concerned that I was spending too much time reading and reflecting, allied to my anxiety at meeting the Module deadline, but it did work for me because I think all this was a strong foundation for what seemed at the time to be a spontaneous impulse to make a photograph. I wrote several blog posts leading up to the assignment expressing my thoughts on “uncanny’, and the frozen aspect of staged photographs, yet I also knew how this intrigued me and that I was drawn to the psychological undercurrents of Gregory Crewdson’s work. I knew there was something I was struggling with and then an apparently fleeting thought occurred to me.

It seemed to me that, whilst Crewdson might be creating photographs that were eerie, unsettling, difficult to understand on the surface of it, he was speaking about them in a way that pointed towards the existential anxieties that we feel as human beings and usually work to ignore/overcome. – the purpose of life, the push-pull of yearning to be free against the yearning to belong, the uncertainty of being alive and facing the knowledge that we all die one day.

I could well be wrong about Crewdson, but I think that my recognition of my own feelings, especially at that time of year, enabled me to express some of this in the photograph and for it to be seen by viewers. This was the first time I had written a more formal statement. I know this is expected at the next Level and that I need to refine and improve my skills in this respect.

Demonstration of Creativity

I took a risk in enacting a domestic scene and undercurrents in a relationship in my own home and with my own partner. However, he was very willing to collaborate, even though slightly puzzled as to what I was aiming for at times. I think the experiment worked and I was able to transmit something normally ‘unseen’ and not always talked about. I’ve written above about our dog, how she stepped into the scene and I’m pleased this happened because although I do plan photographs I think I do more creative work when I leave myself open to serendipity and her presence serves as a visual metaphor for that.

I’m also pleased that I have managed to encapsulate some of my learning through the Module in this final Assignment. When I look back at my original intentions, here  I see that I met several on the list. The photograph showed a relationship in time and place and conveyed something unseen through using signs, symbols and visual metaphors. I put myself well into the frame and this has been a gradual process since first declaiming that I did not like self-portraits. I think I achieved the “uncanny” in a constructed scene that evoked narrative interpretations in viewers without the use of a caption or textual descriptions. 

Context

 At the time, I know I was anxious about meeting the expectation of the brief and unsure what I might produce but now, looking back, I enjoyed the whole process.

All my reading, research and thinking has been documented along the way and I believe I have increased my understanding and use of constructed photographs within my own practice.

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.

Statement

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.

 

 

Approaching the Assignment

Working towards Assignment 5

My tutor offered me some guidance for the Assignment

“The last assignment is to produce either a single image or a series that is entirely constructed and directed by you, so avoid documentary. Look into creating a tableau, where you have a multi-layered scene and a deep discourse about it. Aim to produce an image/s where the studum pulls you in but the punctum may not be overly evident. Perhaps as a follow-up project from this assignment, how about investigate your own areas of custodial responsibility, either current environments you oversee, or past locations, if still accessible. You could take this further by constructing elements in the environment that represent different aspects of your history. “

Firstly, my mind went straight to landscape but, of course, environment is anywhere I am or have been indoors or outdoors, even my mind is an environment for ideas to form (or fail).. What I was hoping to achieve with this final Assignment was a way of combining learning from all its separate parts and to carry forward some threads from the previous Assignments:

  • Where do I position myself within contemporary photography?
  • Attempting to gain an understanding of why I keep taking the same photographs and returning again and again to small areas of the outdoors – what is it’s attraction for me.
  • The indexicality and temporality of the photograph
  • Narrative in a photograph and the difference text can make
  • How does text, within, around and about a photograph affect its ‘reading’
  • Can a story be told within just one photograph?
  • Ways of photographing the unseen, how to convey it and evoke metaphorical and visceral interpretations
  • The role of Connotation and denotation, signs and symbols in photography. How to read a photograph and then, of course, how utilize these devices in composing a photograph.
  • Learning from ‘Putting myself in the picture’ – present or absent.
  • Constructing a mis-en-scene.
  • The use of the “uncanny”
  • Looking for an answer to the question, How can a photograph be like a “prose poem”

This is probably too large an ambition with such a long list, but I’ll keep it all in mind.

Technical Preparations

I attended two Day Workshops, one on Performance Photography and the other on Studio Photography. I have written about these here and here . These gave me more confidence in dealing with light, enough that, with my husband, we bought some more lights with various accessories. I also acquired three scenic background – two landscape ones and an indoor one.

Initial thoughts

I’ve long had the desire to go right back to a theme begun in AOP – that of fairytales and their meanings. I have been slowly compiling some references but, at this stage, I wasn’t thinking of ‘fantastical’ photographers like Alexia Sinclair  who uses rich, gothic tones or Kirsty Mitchell with her baroque scenes. I’m interested in Paolo Ventura but his scenes/dioramas are more reminiscent of the work of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson, although along different themes, See further information here

Alongside that I was interested in some photographers who have used a backdrop when photographing subjects in landscape. I had a more simple vision of using a scenic backdrop, something more along the lines of Lydia Panas’s work but with a particular theme or Clare Strand’s Gone Away portraits {2002/3), with the obvious backdrop that doesn’t quite match her subject. The difference for my work would be that my scene would be wider format so it would be obvious that the backdrop is unfamiliar in the landscape as with Lydia Panas.

My vision was to re-visit “Red Riding Hood” but with a modern Red Riding Hood. I had the idea of asking one of my grand-daughters to be a model, with chosen clothing and also her choice of objects that would represent how she views herself as a modern version of Red Riding Hood. I even had ambitious thoughts along the line of then (if her portrait was successful) asking to photograph her friends, also against the backdrop, in their version of a modern Red Riding Hood.

First though I needed to see how the backdrop might work in the landscape. I had one that would be suitable for experiment, although not the right scene (another one was on order). Off I went, to the local park and up into the woodland at the top. It was quite a struggle to attach the backdrop to some trees (I realised I would need an assistant to do this properly) I turned round at one point to see I had a couple of interested lady dog walkers watching me as they walked past!

Backcloth ContactSheet web_MG_7740.web

This what I ended up with after trying out various viewpoints. The backcloth needed to be higher and straighter but it looked as though it could work. I just needed to wait for the other backdrop to arrive. Unfortunately the weather became so bad, with a lot of rain during the following weeks. Even now, the local woodlands are very muddy. My idea will have to wait but I would still like to do it.

The new lighting set arrived and was set-up expectantly near to Christmas and so I moved indoors!

Indoor work

I had been continuing the reading for this part of the Module and researching photographers see here , herehere and here . I knew there was no way I could approach the large scale productions of Wall and Crewdson but the concept of the “uncanny’ that I had read about in Theatres of the Real (Lowry, 2009) caught my imagination. I remembered the work I had created during Part 3 “Putting Myself in the Picture”. I could do some further work in my kitchen maybe some kind of installation. I had also experimented with wearing a wig plus staging a conversation with myself  At the time I couldn’t actually think what the dialogue with my alter ego might be but my reading on Gregory Crewdson and his conceptual process had  reinforced the slightly melancholic mood that I seem to experience around this time of year.

I was sitting on the sofa with my husband, television on, but me not really paying attention. Various thoughts were running through my head – memories competing for attention with the here and now. I wondered whether it would be possible to evoke any of those ranging thoughts through a photograph.

I said, “I have an idea. Let’s try the lights”. The furniture was re-organised slightly and we collaborated together on working out the placement, and the balance needed for the lights with the umbrella attachments fitted. I decided I wanted to use a more equal light similar to that of Jeff Wall rather than Gregory Crewdson, but with slightly more light on myself. I had in mind the kind of lighting for Jeff Wall’s A Woman and her Doctor 1980-81 . The light at power 3on myself and 2.5 on my husband eventually worked the best. It quickly became obvious that the flashing strobes could be seen in the windows. I didn’t want to have the curtains completely closed so they were half-closed to frame the Christmas tree, add some colour and hide the flash reflection as much as possible although I knew I would have to do some work in Photoshop to completely remove this. During all this time I endeavoured to split my mind so that I could retain some essence of my thoughts. Here are contact sheets with a selection as we worked through the process.

The Archive

I have already written about this here , but, to add further brief information about the process, when we moved house I had put my father’s letters in a safe place but had only just found them again (after nearly eighteen months). I wondered whether it would now be possible to do a follow-on and create a series of some kind. In the first session, I was on my own during the day time . There were patches of shadow and so I used a light, on low setting, with a barn-door attachment to have directional light. This cast light onto the wall at the back of me.

Archive ContactSheet web

A reflector on my right side, opposite the window managed to offset some of the shadow but I ended cropping what I considered the best image to get this_MG_0723 web

It had been quite difficult manoeuvring equipment around (and myself) in a fairly confined space so the next evening I used my willing assistant who was now available to help with the lighting. At first I tried focused light (with Crewdson as my influence) although the brighter the light became the more shadows occurred

ContactSheet-002 web

A reasonable balance was then achieved, with shadow minimised, and I chose two photographs – one in shadow to use for the Collaborative Art Swap and another in more light.

_MG_0753 crop web_MG_0765 web

Overall I had learned more about lighting from the single images around the archive but, although they had been carefully staged, I preferred the constructed scene with the tree.

 

 

References

Lowry, J et al (2009) Theatres of the Real, UK,:Photoworks

https://alexiasinclair.com/collections
https://kirstymitchellphotography.com
http://paoloventura.com/?p=179
http://paoloventura.com/?p=530
http://www.clarestrand.co.uk/works/?id=100
http://www.lydiapanas.com/statement/
http://www.mca.com.au/media/uploads/images/130501-MCA_Jeff_Wall-3604.jpg