Project 3: Photographing the Unseen

Metaphor and the three Case studies

I’ve followed Pete Mansell and Dewald Botha’s blogs and also went to see the Exhibition in Sheffield last year where their work was shown with that of four other graduate students. It was good to have seen the development of their work over extended period with the final celebration of the Exhibition. I first became aware of Jodie Taylor’s work from the WeAreOCA post linked in the Handbook.

Peter Mansell

In the interview Pete talks of becoming attracted towards speaking visually about things that were important to him rather than creating beautiful or spectacular pictures in order to meet a course requirement. He refers to his images thus becoming more mundane in terms of subject matter , whilst showing aspects of his life that others don’t see. He says, “…this form of expression often saw me through pain and anguish whilst the end product acted as a visual statement about my existence and that experience”. To me his images act as a witness – this is my life. Pete also talks about his process – having a general objective and a loose framework that allows room for experimentation and serendipity. This is a way that I’ve already found works for me. The format is important to him as well in terms of using this to evoke different feelings. I’m thinking of lenses and depth of field also.

His images are often graphic – he pulls no punches and yet they draw me in to continue looking and get a sense of the effects of his impairment and also how the environment around him makes it so difficult to move through it. Pete hones in on small details in the equipment and environments that surrounds him and this reinforces the atmosphere he is evoking.

Dewald Botha 

He uses muted, desaturated colours to convey his feelings of being an outsider in the crowded busy life of China in the city of Suzhou. He sees this body of work as a, “metaphor for boundaries and limitations” as he looks for beauty or relief in a fast changing society. Over all lies the perpetual haze that, when I visited as a tourist, I was told was mist – yet I knew it was pollution. What was interesting for me was how Dewald was able to evoke that sense of being ‘stuck’ in his place whilst producing haunting images. The distance, without people, and the framing, puts me in an observer stance and gave me a sense of loneliness. The continuing question for me was how Dewald continued to stay in that place, in that Country, when it was so obviously alien to him. In fact he has now left there.

Jodie Taylor

Jodie’s work struck immediate bells with me because I have long intended to create a Project around Reconnections with scenes of my childhood. I was interested in how she approached the work at that particular time, looking at the environments where she used to play with and meet other kids and placing them in a small album reminiscent of those times. She’s much younger than I am but it reminded me of my own childhood playing on my home street.

It’s been fortuitous that I’ve now been able to see the outcome of all the work done for Advanced because WeAreOCA posted a video of Jesse Alexander talking about the way she has presented all the Assignments and used different forms of presentation for each.. See here. In terms of all the work the video emphasizes the coherence of the 5 assignments, how they show progression over time and how appropriate the different methods of presentation used are. They comprise 6×4 prints in an album, in a vernacular style; postcards in envelopes; experimentation with 3D imaging and a book. I’ve also been able to access her blog for the Module and seen the extent of her planning, research and experimentation.


The three projects resonate in different ways. Pete’s work gave me insight into his life, what he has to contend with and the barriers that stand in his way. The close-up detail emphasizes this. Dewald’s work gave me a different viewpoint on China so that I was seeing it though his eyes. Jodie’s work evoked my own childhood for me and brought it alive in my mind, even though I lived in a different kind of neighbourhood. Her different modes of presentation also add to that sense of exploration and experimentation.

Regarding loss of authorial control. I’m quite happy with that. It shows that my images have had an effect and the work is open enough to allow for the viewer to step in and take some ownership of it as well.

31st March 2015



Part Two : Research Points re Narrative, image and text

Part 2 : Research Points re Narrative, image and text

I have looked at these Photographers mentioned in the Handbook.

Sophie Calle

She does not have her own website as such but there’s information here on the website of her Faculty  I really appreciate her work. I think she is witty, funny mischievous, creative, inventive, caustic, cunning, guileful, wily, and maybe somewhat manipulative and voyeuristic! I have four of her books, including Take Care of Yourself which I borrowed from the library first and then enjoyed it so much that I had to have it for myself. . A large book which is almost an installation in itself, with a pink metallic cover that is quite ‘feminine’. Here  is a summary of the work that I think encapsulates her style.

The work was in response to an email from her lover breaking off their relationship and she asked 102 women, chosen for their profession, plus a parrot, for their responses to this. I think that, in its multi-dimensional way (photographs, short stories, poems, different modes of writing, , video, film, CD etc) it extends, enlarges, exaggerates the shock, insult and disbelief that such a thing could happen. Was it a true event? In some respects does that really matter? The work reminded me of the ways in which one agonises over words and letters from someone important, especially in a relationship (or maybe feedback from a tutor!). Each word analysed, reframed for differing interpretations. There’s that sense of “How could he does this to me!” with the anger leaking out all over the place. I also visualised smaller events with a woman surrounded by her friends and dissecting the relationship, and the man.

It isn’t clear whether Calle took some or all of the photographs or made the film herself. What is clear to me is how she orchestrated the work to create her desired effect and the amount of co-ordination that this must have necessitated. I certainly think it embodies postmodern approaches to narrative, included creating art from everyday events, femininist approaches and working in collaboration.

Sophy Rickett

Objects in the Field is a very different kind of work, less emotional, more measured and painstaking in a different sense. The interview in the Handbook Appendices is from Photoparley, November 2013 The work reflects the ‘encounter’ between Rickett and Dr Roderick Willstrop, a retired astronomer who, in 1980, designed and built the Three Mirror Telescope, which is a camera telescope in the grounds of the Institute of Astronomy.

The telescope produced 125 black and white film negatives, until it was modified to capture digital images in 1991. When Rickett and Dr Willstrop met he was preparing to have the negatives archived and she started making her own large scale prints of them. Her work explored the connections between optics and seeing; the shift from analogue to digital; relationships between two different types of photographic practice and the relationship between an artist and a scientist. This is achieved through the prints themselves; a written text describing her encounters with Dr Willstrop and the memories triggered from childhood, and a recording of Dr Willstrop reading the text that forms the soundtrack to Afterword (Grinding a lens for King’s College Chapel) which is monitor-based video work.

I’ve read the interview and other reviews of the project but have not had access to either the text or video and have only seen the photographs on my monitor. In that sense I have an uninformed view. As such, the photographs didn’t have much impact on me and it’s the story of the encounter that I find interesting. As a postmodern narrative, I don’t get the sense of an artistic or intellectual conversation between two experts; no meeting between two minds leading to a richer dialogue. I could, of course, hypothesize regarding differing views on the role of photography and purpose of a camera; the meeting point between the artistic and scientific mind at two extremes and the misunderstandings inherent in the generation gap. I won’t though!

Kaylynn Deveney

The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings (2007) Here is another meeting between a younger and an older person but so different. Close, more intimate and personal – being invited into Albert’s life. Deveney met Albert, known as Bert, when she moved into basement flat in South Wales and he lived nearby in a dilapidated apartment building. She asked him if he’d work with her on a photographic project. The introduction to the book outlines how Deveney met Bert. In the introduction to her book she writes:

I often seek in my photographs the banal moments of the day – the experiences not usually considered significant enough to warrant a snapshot….I look too for domestic patterns and arrangements, practiced daily routines that make us feel at home or that confirm – or conform to – our ideas of what home should be”.

This what she did with Bert. There are reproductions of his personal possession; drawings connected with his clock hobby; handwritten TV listings, old photographs accompany poems Bert composed. All of these communicate something of Bert’s life whilst recognizing that no book could possibly present a complete picture, “In fact I believe it would be an impossible goal. Nor do I believe there is a single ‘true’ story about any one of us, but rather a plurality of versions made up from various perspectives. .

Deveney asked him to caption small prints kept in a pocket-sized workbook which he does in his handwriting. There’s a dialogue going on here where Bert’s personality comes to play because I get the sense sometimes that what Bert writes isn’t in accord with Deveney’s artistic intention – almost as if he doesn’t quite understand what she’s getting at but is doing his best to please because they have a good relationship going on. As she writes in the introduction, “Bert’s captions create a new context for my photographs while some correspond to the thinking that shaped the image, others interpret the image in a different way, thereby adding a critical second perspective to this work.”. It’s a delightful book and Bert’s personality shines through. It reminded me of Julian Germain’s work, For every minutes you are angry you lost sixty seconds of happiness (2005) portraying his friendship with Charlie Snelling over a period of eight years which is similar in atmosphere and conveying the partnership that can evolve between photographer and subject.

Karen Knorr

Karen Knorr is one of the first photographers I wrote about when I first started with OCA. See here . Her series Gentleman was an early work (1979-1981) and photographed in St James’s Clubs in London and “..investigated patriarchal conservative values of Britain during the Falklands War”. In the section on her website she writes that she wanted to use humour to explore these attitudes which still prevail.

In a recent interview with Sharon Boothroyd for Photoparley, commissioned by Photomonitor, Knorr talks about her work, and what’s interesting to me is that she chose a critical approach as opposed to a self-expressive one, “A critical approach may deal with emotion and desire but more knowingly appreciates the staging and performing involved. In other words that something has to be constructed…performed”. The pretensions of the upper class are critiqued through humour – a wry humour that is evident in the choice of texts beneath each image. Of course, she is critiquing her own background of privilege and, of course, it’s that background that actually enabled her to gain entry to these Clubs. She knows how to ‘be a lady’ and speak in the right way, using the right connections.

It was collaborative work as, after gaining access, she asked people who worked in the Clubs and also friends to pose for her in different rooms . Regarding the texts. Unlike the texts in “Belgravia” the text here was “totally invented” and inspired by clubland literature and parliamentary speeches published in the Hansard sections of The Times. Knorr’s view of text is that text adds new meanings; operates between text and image (relay) and, “Adding text also prolongs the time that a viewer spends looking and thinking about the work. It slows the consumption of the image”.

I find Karen Knorr a fascinating photographer – splendid imagery, imaginatively conceived scenarios, rich in classical and political meaning. Some good advice to women photographers as well in the article, “Challenge your comfort zone, take risks learn new skills, update and push the boundaries, experiment.

Duane Michals

I have long admired Duane Michals., whose original surname was Mihal, but changed by his parents . Duane was named after the young son of Mrs Michals’ employer, who actually committed suicide whilst a College. The two of them had never met. In the Photofile book Duane Michals (2008) Renaud Camus, states in his Introduction,

The whole issue of the name Duane, and all it suggests of frustration doubts regarding identity, a virtual rivalry for his mother’s love, unsatisfied curiosity, the ambiguity surrounding the death of someone who was more himself than he was – and more legitimately so – may not entirely explain but may well symbolize the majority of the basic themes and recurrent aspects found throughout Michals’ work, his life, and especially in his comments.

He incorporated painting into his work in 1979, by painting directly on his own prints or on classics by other well-known photographers, “…and never hesitated to add his own signature above that of others”. At one point he said that he saw his handwritten words as proof that he’d been there. This fits well with the image we are suggested to look at which has the title this Photograph is My Proof (1974), see it here. The heading, in handwritten capitals, is “This photograph is my Proof”. The caption below it reads:-

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The photograph, in b+w, is of a couple sitting on the edge of a bed, sideways on looking at the viewer. The woman is hugging the man from behind cheek resting against his back, and gazing soulfully at the viewer. He is smiling. We know that they were in love once, but now it’s ended. The words themselves and that they are in handwriting enhance the layers of messages and evoke a response. I had thoughts like, “They look happy there. Why the bed? Are they on a weekend together? Are they married, new lovers, what happened between them? We know it must be in the past and so he’s looking back. There’s a hint that he might be trying to console himself against a thought that maybe she never loved him at all and it was all a pretence. This Youtube video here shows one response by a student of Fine Art

Stepping, back being more objective. It doesn’t look as if it’s Michals himself so are/were they a real couple or models.? The handwriting adds that touch of authenticity. The brief words leave it open for the viewer to build one’s own narrative.

Part Two : Exercise

The exercise points us towards Assignment Two and encouragement to develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones, to give a sense of something. We are invited to choose a poem t hat resonates, then interpret it though photographs. – to give a sense of the feeling of he poem and the essence it exudes.

Now, I haven’t done this exercise as such because I’ve have previously created this type of work and think I have a good idea of ways to achieve this. See here where, in a simple way, I linked one of my photographs with a Manley Hopkins poem; here where I responded to a poem by John Donne; in DPP: here, again in DPP, where I responded to one of my own poems for Assignment 1; and here,  last October in C&N where, in exploring my fascination with landscape, I illustrated and wrote a poem

I’ve also previously looked at Elmet : With photographs by Fay Godwin (1994 ) where Fay Godwin responded to Ted Hughes’s poetry with landscape photographs in Yorkshire where he grew up. An earlier book was published as Remains of Elmet in 1979 but the newer book contains additional poems and photographs. I have to acknowledge that I didn’t really enjoy the book. The photographs do have a dark and brooding aspect, which Godwin’s photography often had and, whereas I normally enjoy Hughes’s poetry, here I found it stilted somehow. Godwin also collaborated with other writers and there’s an interesting article in the Guardian in 2011 here.

Another recent ‘booklet’ I’ve bought is Photographer/Writer/Illustrator which continues a new experiment in play from Miniclick .This looks at how the interpretation of image and text changes from person to person and how these images and text are connected. Eight different photographers provided an image, stripped of context and title, that was passed on to eight different writers who responded in short stories, poems and descriptive text. The writings, but not the photographs, were then passed on to eight different illustrators who created a piece of art in response to the writing.

It’s simply presented as an A4 booklet with fold out pages where you can see each triptych. What interested me was that the writing, on the whole, didn’t seem to bear much relation to the image – as if something else had struck the writer’s creative response. However, the pieces of Art did more often reflect the writing. How could this be? Maybe it was to do with the writings being so descriptive; painting mind pictures that had an impulse to follow.


This has been quite a lengthy write-up but I wanted to keep everything together. We’re guided towards some very interesting photographers here and I learned a lot about Narrative and the way in which image and text can interact to provide deeper layers of meaning and exploration. I’m particularly interested in:-

  • Giving the subject a voice through collaboration and their handwritten captions (Kaylynn Deveny, Julian Germain
  • Deepening the layers of Narrative by using multi-dimensional strategies (Sophie Calle)
  • Using handwritten text captions generally as a means to add depth and a sense of authenticity (Duane Michals)
  • Using literature as a reference point/springboard.
  • Creating fictional stories that can evoke memories and emotions in the viewer; that they can relate to in their own lives. (Sophie Calle)
  • The additional depth that can be given by collaboration where the people involved have an empathic/sympathetic response to each other. If artists are collaborating with each other then there can be a multiplier effect in depth/layers of narrative.

There’s a lot of material here which  has guided me towards my idea for Assignment 2.

25th March 2015


Calle, S (2007) Take Care of Yourself, Actes Sud,
Camus, R (2008) Duane Michals, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
Deveney, K (2007) The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings, Princeton Architectural Press
Hughes, T (1994) Elmet : With photographs by Fay Godwin, Faber & Faber
Miniclick (Vol 2) 2014) Photographer/Writer/Illustrator, Mini Click

Websites all accessed on 25.3.2015

Project 2: Image and Text – Part 1

Project 2 : Image and text
Part 1 : Narrative, anchor and relay

This Project is continuing from the picture essay to look at how text and image can be combined in different ways. It touches upon the difference between a picture essay/story and classical prose. A writer will normally present paragraphs etc in a particular order that governs how a piece is read, although I have to say that I’m one of those people who sometimes looks at the end of a story first. Other people might read every word whereas I tend to scan to get the essence of the rhythm and mood and a sense of the unfolding story. For some reason or other this enables me to allow my imagination freer rein. I guess I’m a post-modern reader!

I don’t want to dwell too much on narrative and writing because this project is about narrative and images, but it’s a fascinating subject. There was an interesting discussion over on the OCA student forum some time ago here (for those who are able to access it).  Tutor Peter Haveland gave us some links to relevant essays etc and this one by Paul Barolsky gave me food for thought. It rests its argument, “There is No Such Thing as Narrative Art” on an image by Ghiberti which refers to seven episodes from a Biblical episode. Barolsky states , “Understanding the way in which the panel relates to the Bible story requires the beholder to retell the story to himself. This act of recollection is itself a narrative. The figures that refer to this narrative are not a narrative in themselves” “This is because the composition of the work is more important than its allusions to narrative and, if anything, the harmonious arrangement of figures in space distracts viewers from the temporal sequence of the Biblical narrative.” Bartolsky continues,

The proper appreciation of Ghiberti’s art rests on the understanding that “Ghiberti’s panel essentially spatial and only temporal by implication. The difference between narrative and image is based on fundamental differences between space and time, between literary composition and pictorial composition……When we attempt to put words to such mute images as Ghiberti’s, we ourselves become narrators. “

What was interesting to me first is the aspect of the ‘beholder’ having to retell the story to himself. You have to know the story first. It made me think about the wall paintings in the early Churches – put there to remind worshippers of the glories of God and the temptations of Satan and in pictorial form for those (not allowed education) who were unable to read, not only in their own language but also in Latin. Needing to know the story first brings in cultural aspects and how this affects the viewer of an image.

More recently, in Postmodern narrative in literature, …” ‘experimental’ authors have challenged the beginning, middle and end narrative and the notion of authorship control that had its roots in traditional and classical literature” (p. 54, Boothroyd, S., OCA 2014). Roland Barthes and Michael Foucault referred to this as ‘the death of the author’ that allowed the readers to put themselves into the story. This is implying that the reader had always been passive but I disagree here to some extent. Hasn’t the reader or listener always put themselves into the story identifying with particular characters? I’m thinking of folk tales here.

Turning back to image and text, Roland Barthes (1967) used the terms Anchor and Relay to define different ways of using words with pictures. His examples concerned advertising and his was a pejorative analysis of the subtle ways in which the creators of advertisements aim to manipulate the reader/viewer into buying the products.

….all images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a “floating chain” of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others:

Anchoring text fixes the meaning of an image into one clear and distinct message.

The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship.

Image and text ‘bounce’ off each other and widen the scope for ambiguity and varying interpretations.


This asks me to cut out some pictures from a newspaper and write my own captions, using both anchoring and relaying text.

  • How do the words put next to the image contextualise/re-contextualise it?
  • How many meanings can you give to the same picture?

One of the images I chose was this from the Independent Newspaper of 15th February 2015. I came out with such captions as

  • 10am on 15th February 2015. Boston is covered in snow. (anchor)
  • Shoppers are unable to use their cars (anchor, although there’s scope for expansion into another story)
  • There’s a cold wind blowing over Boston (relay)

I do think though that this kind of image has a more ‘arty’ appeal together with a universal application that lends itself towards relay. The snow is hiding landscape details and the woman is wearing dark clothes, worn for warmth not style probably. In fact, as you can see if you follow the link, the caption itself provides a relay to an article concerning the state of the American economy.

Maria Short looks at the relationship between image and text in her book Context and Narrative (pp 144, 2011) and provides examples of the way in which the use of text, (as caption or within the image, as print or handwriting) works with, or against, the image to allow wider interpretation or create ironic tension. Paul Reas’ early work I Can Help  (1988) has a documentary style that reminded me, in a more everyday way, of the work of Anna Fox. For example the shopper dressed in a cuddly sweater with a pig pattern, rummaging into the labelled frozen meat section in the supermarket, or the man in combat trousers, cigarette in mouth, holding up the wallpaper of a fighting soldier. Very colourful, wide-angle, reminding me as well of those other elements in ‘telling a story about the truth’ – the colour, tone, orientation, composition etc.

The C&N Handbook asks us to look at further examples from the work of Sophie Calle and Sophy Rickett and I’ll look at these and others in the next part.

9th March 2015


References [accessed 6.3.2015 [accessed 6.3.2015] for those who can access



Project 1 : Telling a Story

Project 1 Telling a Story

This section looks at two examples of linear storylines telling a story chronologically from an insider’s point of view.

Exercise :

  • How does Briony Campbell’s the Dad Project (2011) compare with W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor (1948)?
  • What do you think she means by ‘an ending without an ending’?

Both photographers were around the same age when these projects were created but a gap of more than fifty years divided them.


  1. Eugene Smith

An American photojournalist, joined Life Magazine in 1939 when he was around 21 after first working on two local newspapers in Wichita, then Newsweek. Smith was a war correspondent during the Second World War (hit by mortar fire in 1945), rejoining Life Magazine when he had recovered. He has been said to be the originator and then master of the photo essay and had a distinguished photographic career.

I looked at the article on the Time website, link provided in the C&N Handbook  . I also remembered that there had been a WeAreOCA post about this work on 4th August 2011 that included a flip slideshow of the magazine spread so that I could see how the layout worked. The post also included a diagram of the sequencing on the spread but, unfortunately, that has now disappeared.

Briony Campbell

A British photographer, gained a Masters Degree in Photojournalism and Documentary in 2009. Her website here  details her personal and commercial work. I read the the pdf  of her accompanying text to The Dad Project which is on her website and also accessed a WeAreOCA post  from 23rd August 2011 that contains two Vimeo interviews with Briony and links to a film and stills . There was also a limited edition book .

1. Comparisons

Here is my own pdf of a comparison between these two such different projects.

Part 2 Project 1Exercise re Two Projects

Yes they have a linear storyline and they involve film but the intent and process are so different. These are two statements that encapsulate an approach:-

The majority of photographic stories require a certain amount of setting up, re-arranging and stage direction to bring pictorial and editorial coherency to pictures …. It is done for the purpose of a better translation of the spirit of the actuality, it is completely ethical (W. Eugene Smith)

The sunlight supported me this year (Briony Campbell)

One is objective the other subjective. One created to persuade and the other to mourn a loss whilst celebrating a life and relationships. One got me thinking about sequencing and manipulation whilst the other touched my soul, created a lump in my throat and brought tears to my eyes.

I thought about ethics. Remembered at a student Residential Weekend in September 2012   where Peter Rudge from Duckrabbit was asked whether they would turn down work for ethical reasons, to which the answer was yes they would if necessary. This also came up in the first WeAreOCA interview with Briony Campbell where she said that she had not had a bad conflict in photographing for clients.

There’s another ethical question as well concerning the nature of The Dad Project. Is it right to film people who are dying? It isn’t something I could contemplate doing. For Briony Campbell it seemed to be a way to cope with the impending loss and she said that it was important to not make a series of ugly, painful, dark images and if there was a painful moment she tried harder to make the picture beautiful. I also noticed how she paced the sequencing of images – moving between her father when reasonably well and then when he was more ill. Her family agreed to the project and, her father? In the video he says, ”I thought it an opportunity to learn more about you as my daughter. To learn what it would be like for you to be without your Dad”. He was trying to be a good dad for as long as he could.

2. An ending without an ending?

Well, Briony Campbell does say she hopes it will always be the story of an ending without an ending. I can only guess what that means to her. What it means to me is that my relationship with my parents will never end even though they died in 1986. They are in my head and my heart; memories, letters and photographs. I see them when I look at myself in the mirror. I imagine that Briony Campbell might experience something similar.


22nd February 2015


References [accessed 16.2.2015] [Accessed 13.2.2015] [Accessed 22.2.2015] [Accessed 13.2.2015] [accessed 31.2.2014) [accessed 16.2.2015] [accessed 22.2.2015]