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.




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