OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 21st November 2015

Six of us met in Thatcham and we spent the day reviewing progress in our various projects. Eddy’s documentary project lead to us discussing choices – why black and white, justifications for this and – one of my continuing interests – whether, and when, images provide narrative within themselves or act as illustrations to text.

Carol is studying UVC at present and this got us on to the topic of its relationship to the creation of photographs – does studying the theories assist in development of creativity. This aspect is something I became more aware of recently when studying Part 4 of C&N as I hadn’t really taken on board how much photographers follow their own theories on photography in their work. Reading about ways of analysing photographs, and signs, signifiers etc (again and again) also made much more sense to me this time around and made me realise how I can use these more consciously in images now if I wish to.

Teresa has really met the challenge of creating portraits in landscape of her family. It was very interesting as well to see the work that Holly is producing as a self portrait and how she is creating something tactile and three dimensional in weaving two images together. I so often wish that my brain could also sometimes use a different path. I have the ideas but then I just don’t feel I have the wherewithal to carry it out. I write ‘feel’ because it is a feeling, a feeling of being inept! It’s good to take on something new and challenging.

Keith talked about his Exhibition and I was pleased to hear that Toynbee Hall have asked him to do some work for them on two projects they have. He also showed us prints of different techniques he is experimenting with for his on-going work on new building developments in East London.

I didn’t have any prints to show but talked about the work I’d done in response to tutor feedback on Assignment 3, including the min-Exhibition in the Copse. The collaborative group, ‘The Elephant’s Journey’ have also asked me to link with them and to re-post my blog post onto their site. It was flattering to be asked and to know they appreciate this work. This has given me pause for thought though because I haven’t worked this way before – does it fit with my style/ voice? Keith commented that there are many photographers who do different kinds of work but do not include these on their websites. I’m trying to think of examples – like authors who always write the same kind of books so that I begin to think they’re following a formula.

I’ve thought more on this since the meeting. There was some discussion about ‘style’ and ‘voice’ on the OCA student site which came about from the topic of “It’s all been done before” here for those students who can access it. Vicki asked about the difference between personal voice and personal vision. Clive’s response was “Personal voice is about discovering what you want to photograph and why”. He made a comparison with handwriting in that beautiful handwriting may not necessarily mean that what is written ‘… is inherently worth reading’. This led on to comments regarding authenticity and personal voice. That takes me back to my earlier concern regarding working in a new way. It’s important to me that I’m doing this as part of developing my creative vision.

In my reading for Part 4 I was interested in Terry Barrett’s views on ‘Style’, ‘Subject’ and Subject Matter’. ‘Style ….. is recognized by a characteristic handling of subject matter and formal elements’ (Barrett, p. 31 2006) . Subject matter is what the photographers chooses to put within the frame, but the Subject is the underlying message, the connotations. I’m assuming that Voice is linked with connotations. I saw a good example of this the other day, which also helped me to think about the difference between ‘style’ and ‘voice’. I followed a link to another photographer through a fellow student’s blog. The photographer is Bill Jacobson  who is known for his quiet and pale ‘unfocussed’ portraits and landscapes – work that ‘parallels an inner journey through a world we are constantly experiencing with the uncertainty of the mind’s eye rather than the sharp clarity of a camera lens’. He moved from black and white, to colour, and now to a different style which is an exploration of space and geometry with images that are more minimalist, yet distinct, with sharp focus. He continues to look at what lies beneath the photograph, the interplay between what can be seen within the frame and what lies beyond it.


Well – we’ll have a fresh start in January when we decide how we’re going to conduct ourselves for the year. Everyone will be expected to go with ideas – so watch this space!




 Barrett, T (2006) Criticizing Photographs : An Introduction to Understanding Images 4th Edition, NY McGraw-Hill






OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 19th September 2015

Brief notes to record some thoughts from this meeting which was overshadowed somewhat, for me, in knowing that this would be the last time Sharon Boothroyd would be our presiding tutor. Sharon has now left the OCA to work elsewhere but at least I can continue following her blog Photoparley and her Facebook page.

  • There is continuing discussion regarding the differences between imitation, copying, noting influences and referencing .Interestingly there is, separately, a WeAreOCA post http://weareoca.com/fine_art/steal-like-an-artist/ regarding the book “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon (2012) which is along the lines of we learn to be artists by emulating others; explore what interests/enthuses you in other artists’ work and expand on this in your own work. Kleon also appears on YouTube videos and there’s a link to one on the WeAreOCA post. Kleon’s website is here and I’ve subscribed to his newsletter and now have the book. I like his No. 4 “Use your hands” We need to move to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads (p.54)
  • Many of us in the group continue to ponder over text and image and how much text is too little or too much. I also hadn’t really taken on board the idea that images can be used as punctuation and this was discussed in relation to Amano’s work.. I know that intellectually but I don’t think that I’ve done this consciously up until now. As a side issue there I’ve also thought and commented previously on how much my reading of a photograph is influenced by knowing a an artist or hearing them talk. I will be writing more on that when reporting on the exercises/projects for Part 4 of C&N.
  • We looked at some very personal work done by Eddie, exploring his feelings around his wife’s serious illness. Very much a way in which photography can be used as therapy.
  • The way we make photographs can change during a series. This arose when Sharon was commenting on Holly’s recent work and how her imagery had developed. I’ve had my own experience of that anad think it’s to do with becoming absorbed into the work and entering a different kind of creative space – moving from the literal to the metaphoric and paying attention to waking dreams and thoughts.
  • Re-tracing the past can be such a creative way to find new pathways in the present. I’ve done this myself and it’s so illuminating to see how other people in the group are doing this. Richard showed us a family journal of walks done together when he was small and we discussed ways he could use this in his current project in a way that’s meaningful to him. I also learned (from Holly) that the National Library of Scotland  has historical online maps from all over.
  • Sexism in photography and in ‘real’ life plus how to translate the latter into a body of work. Vicki is bravely exploring this very large topic. My self query is, given that I no longer step out into the world of work, how much am I protected from this and, indeed, how much am I so inured to it that I no longer notice it? I do know that, recently, I was concerned about my grand daughter going off to University because of all the stories about sexual harassment in student life. My consolation was that she does have a black belt in karate and, even more important, is well able to stand up for herself verbally. I was also pleased and touched to learn that her older brother had had a talk with her about all this and given her advice.

I talked about the tutor feedback from my Assignment 3 and showed a mix of small square and landscape triptychs I had created. I also mentioned my idea of creating a geocache and setting up a mini-exhibition as well – leaving some prints hanging on trees in the Copse. My response to feedback is here  with the triptych images and there will be a further blog post reporting on ongoing work.

20th October 2015


Kleon, A. (2012) Steal Like an Artist Workman Publishing, NY.


OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting on 18th July 2015


There were 11 of us today with Jesse Alexander as attending tutor. As before, the whole of the day was given over to ongoing work review – prints, physical, in photo books or on-screen, or discussion on work planning. There was a lot to cover and below are some notes.

Emerging Themes

Maintaining ‘authorship’ of a work, particularly one that is more personal and emotive

The advantages and disadvantages of editing work after feedback. The advantage is that the work can become more polished/sophisticated, more in line with assignment criteria or tutor preferences and further work can add more depth to a concept, (e.g. Michael’s new ‘artefacts’).

The disadvantage is that the immediacy and raw spontaneity and emotion of work can become diluted so that ‘authorship’ leaks away more quickly and we discussed this in relation to Teresa’s very personal work. The choice can be to retain the original whilst extending/adapting the work for other contexts and so have more than one version.

I had this dilemma with my work for Assignment 2. I have been asked if I will continue Paul’s blog but I felt I would be forcing the story somehow in creating new scenarios for him. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t do something along similar themes in the future.

Context and Narrative

We touched upon this again in relation to whether text supports the image or vice versa. I’m sure this will be a continuing theme.

Holly’s work on C&N Assignment 1 – two sides of a story develops her views on the ways in which our perception of ,say, a landscape is shaped by earlier famous artists and photographers, i.e. always going for a particular composition or scene rather than looking what’s outside the frame that we don’t normally ‘notice’ because it doesn’t fit with traditional views of landscape.

At a slight tangent, Vicki’s intended work on “Fifty Shades of Grey” also brought up how several competing themes might need to be refined to produce more clarity/focus in thinking through strategies. Added to this is the difficulty in using large objects as metaphors or symbols and then taking them out ‘in public’.


The importance of ensuring that presentation of the work complements the display environment, whatever that might be. For instance, the amount of work involved in placing work in an exhibition and how important it is to take the showing environment into account. Where will people exit and enter; and how this can ‘interrupt’ a narrative flow.

Listening to John and Keith talk about their Exhibition planning reminded me again of how much work there is in getting ready for one and the importance of visiting the Exhibition space beforehand to gain a sense of how visitors might view the display – will the narrative flow be affected by exits and entrances. Additionally there’s ensuring that the size of the prints convey your concept as do the size and style of frames plus arranging for the printing of accompanying catalogues/books and business cards.

Printing and Photo-paper

The differences between a photo-book with a more limited selection of printing papers and choosing exactly the paper that fits and then creating an original, probably hand-made, photo-book.

Checking out how the same image looks on different papers and the value of obtaining a personalized printing profile from the paper manufacturer that more exactly matches with your printer. I’m going to a day seminar on the 28th July on using my new Epson printer. I’m told they don’t offer this type of service, but am hoping to become more proficient in using the printer.

Moving on from the above, how different papers affect perception of a work. For instance I noticed that a photograph on semi-gloss paper can keep me at a slight distance from the subject, whereas one on matte paper can absorb me into the narrative with its softer look and texture.

The ethics of manipulation, e.g. Photoshopping

This is a vast topic, raised this time by Stephen’s images from a model photo-shoot. At this point we moved on from a beginning argument concerning objectification – something that is very well illustrated in its various aspects in Francesca Woodman’s work I think and I will be writing more about this.

Coping with the OCA workload

All of us in our own ways had issues with the amount of time spent studying. I have to admit that it was partly because the group was meeting that I pushed myself to take some photographs instead of ‘thinking about it’, concurrently giving myself a rest from obsessing about Francesca Woodman.

My current progress

I had been feeling ‘stuck’ – again – and, as I commented above, knowing I was going to the Group gave me an additional push to use my camera. I decided to challenge myself with self-portraits and one strategy I tried was to wear a borrowed wig. I know of several photographers who have done this in various ways but it was seeing was the work of Alma Haser  that influenced me towards this at this particular moment.. Haser had previously hidden her face in self-portraiture and she utilized wigs and outfits to gain the confidence to look square on at the camera. This was just a beginning because she then went on to explore how other people might feel more empowered by dressing up.

Progress so far is on my Flickr photostream here again I had wanted to make public the fact that I’ve begun to tackle the problem. I’ve had some positive encouragement to continue from fellow students but know that it isn’t enough just to take such photographs for the sake of it. I need to have an underlying concept that interests me. I’ll write more about this on my blog in due course.


18th July 2015

OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting : 16th May 2015

We were a smaller group than usual although, whilst I missed people, there were some positives to this. Sharon asked if, to begin with, each of us could give a brief summary of where we are in relation to our individual Courses and this was good because it set the scene for the following work presentation and brought us up to date with each other.

The Theme for the meeting regarded editing /sequencing and different ways of approaching this, so this was the thread we followed throughout. Along the way we looked at:

  • the ways in which, given a background context and the opportunity, individual viewers will provide their own unique interpretation of how a series of images should be sequenced
  • text or captions for photographs and the advantages of this being handwritten
  • Duane Michal’s view of text as stating things that cannot be said through images
  • the way in which different text can change the meaning of the same set of photographs
  • how far do you go when taking photographs of people who don’t know this is happening

Smaller numbers meant that there was less pressure on individual timekeeping during work presentation, but, actually, everyone was very much to the point on what they wanted to get out of the discussion. I think this is a credit to the way in which the group has evolved towards being purposeful/business-like whilst allowing space to discuss deeper issues when necessary. Several of the series being discussed were quite personal and emotive in intent and, again, I think that smaller numbers further facilitated discussion of this.

I had taken along some of the work I had produced for Assignment Two of C&N as I wanted to discuss my thoughts on the feedback  I had received from my tutor which was very positive and constructive whilst opening out several avenues for exploration.

I was heartened by the fact that everyone was so interested in the project and the characters I had created came alive for them. It was suggested at one point that I continue writing Paul’s blog but my view was that it had seemed to come to a natural end point as Paul was beginning to accept that the relationship had ended. I also found that, again, I was talking as if Paul was a real person! An interesting realisation in view of the fact that my tutor had suggested perhaps I could find some references regarding the effects on people of ‘performing’ a role.

Sharon moved us on to talk about how I would present such a project. I had run off a faint (due to running out of ink!) print of the blog post, fastened together with a treasury tag and she suggested that I could do something like this, in better print. Sharon also suggested that I move myself out of the work. I found that difficult to understand to begin with, but now I think I know what she meant. I had put myself into the work by taking on the role of a reader of the blog and providing separate images – still-lifes of objects left behind by Laura in Paul’s place and still-lifes showing a more feminine and delicate aspect of Laura. The suggestion now was to proceed as if these separate images had actually been created by my characters. Images of the objects left behind could perhaps be viewed from a card on a cheap digital camera – Paul’s secret memories. The other still lifes could to be printed small, to show their delicacy, and be put in a presentation box – created by Laura, who is now an artist. On the other hand, others wanted to see these latter photographs printed very large.

Further Thoughts

I woke up the next day thinking about presentation! The kind of presentation box that might contain small still-life photographs; the idea of a concertina book which could contain all the images from Paul’s blog, with a short piece of text for each, taken from the blog content. I then began to worry that I might create too much additional material and so lose the original concept to the extent that Assessors might be critical. My reassurance is that there’s plenty of time to play around with ideas and I’ll still be learning as I go along.

Something else occurred. Two or three on-line photography magazines mentioned a book, Gardening at Night (2015) by photographer Cig Harvey.  The book, a love story, is “ […] an exploration of home, family, nature and time”. The title denotes settling down and finding a home, with seasons as metaphors for the cycle of life:

Each photograph and written vignette offers a tactile experience of things that ordinarily seem intangible – the secret life of birds, of barren winter trees, of the lake in springtime, or the girl in the window whose house you pass every day. The jewel-toned images are arresting and weighted but punctuated, as always by a characteristic whimsical style. The result is an intensely personal collection that captures an experience of the world that is at once otherworldly and yet instantly familiar. (Aline Smithson, 2015, in Lenscratch )

The book arrived yesterday. It is beautifully printed and presented in square format, its dark blue linen cover embossed with the title and author in lighter blue with a handwritten-type font. The end papers are in dark blue with different-sized, and smaller, pale blue spots, speckled on them – looking like a night-time sky. What especially interested me, apart from the lovely images themselves, was the mix of genres – landscape, portraits and interiors, something that very much appeals. Some of the full-bleed square images are accompanied by pale text that is mainly large capitals but interspersed with occasional words in bold hand-written-type font. I’m not too sure about the size and faintness of the large text, but the narrative itself adds to the story of ‘settling down’ and extends the theme.

There is also a postface by Vicki Goldberg who is a photography critic, author and photo historian and credit is given to the book designer, Deb Wood .

Harvey’s website also includes some delicate animated GIF images (from the series?) in the Motion section. I have attempted several experiments in producing GIFs over quite a period of time, Despite following a variety of web tutorials on these I still haven’t managed to produce anything worth looking at! Any suggestions of useful books or tutorials on this will be gratefully received.


Harvey, C (2015) Gardening at Night, Schilt Publishing


OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting on 21st March 2015

Eleven of us gathered in Thatcham for the day with, for the first time, Jesse Alexander as our attending tutor.

Most of the group had attended last time and so it was good to see how their ideas had developed or changed in direction slightly. What struck me anew was how our own personal stories usually underlay the work we were wanting to produce even though it might not appear so at first sight.

I put forward my idea for Assignment Two of Context & Narrative based around a theme I’d wanted to do since last November. Last November I took a photograph of a girl amongst the crowd at a night showing during the Brighton Photography Festival. The photograph is full of noise, grain and hazy but there is something about it that draws me. I started to think about times when you’re in love or a relationship has ended and you keep thinking you can see that person. Walking along the opposite side of the street; riding on a bus or in their car. Their face haunts you in your dreams but you just can’t reach or touch them. The phrase that came to me was, “I thought I saw you yesterday”.

This stayed in my mind and I even gathered some other images together but they just didn’t seem right until I woke up the Saturday before this meeting with an idea in my head. I would write a story about a relationship that has ended. It lasted all too briefly for the young man and he can’t accept this. I created a blog he was writing for his therapist and an email address for him. I had checked this out with my tutor who thought that the idea sounded in depth and quite interesting but was concerned that it was quite a deep and emotive piece of work that needs some time to develop fully and maybe merited dealing with at a more advanced level. This concept is urging me to continue with it though and so we agreed that I would explore it now as a little foray into the idea.

I explained the concept to Jesse and the group who all agreed that it sounded very interesting, with advice from Jesse to contain it somehow in its creation due to the many possible ways of exploring it.

Off I go then! Thanks everyone in the group for cheering me on with this.

2nd April 2015

Thames Valley OCA Group Meeting on 17th January 2015

OCA Thames Valley Group Meeting 17th January 2015

This was a whole day work review – no pre-reading or theory. What it did make me do though was to go out and take some more photographs in line with C&N Assignment 1 and my tutor’s feedback. I had experimented with photographic paper using Permajet Titanium Lustre paper to see if that would give a more textured effect; darken the images and so provide more differentiation between the two series. I also used AJP Portfolio Paper and Innova Smooth Cotton High White and used the proofing view in Photoshop to process the images. One thing I had done was to re-do the lynx in the wood to see if I could make it less obviously layered/composited




_MG_7045 lynx composite 9x6 titanium web

I showed the group the original Assignment images and the new work. Sharon said she found the titanium paper distracting which is true because I realised that I was overcomplicating everything and had got carried away with paper experiments rather than thinking about the actual subject. Her suggestion was to stay slightly ‘wacky’ as with the lynx image and to do more along those lines as opposed to the more sinister ones with ‘abandoned’ clothing in the woods. We also talked about creating a poster that I would actually leave on fences etc as opposed to sticking it up; photographing and then taking it down as I had previously done.

I’m certainly left with more to think about. It was good to practise the layering and manipulation but I have to decide how much more work I actually want to do on Assignment 1 as opposed to getting on with Part Two as I really am so far behind. I’ll write more in in my response to tutor feedback post which is to come.

All in all it was a constructive and enjoyable day (as ever) with fourteen of us, including Sharon, showing on-going work. I continue to gain so much from this group because we have evolved such a supportive atmosphere of constructive ‘criticism’.


7th February 2015

Thames Valley Group Meeting : Saturday 11th October 2014

Thames Valley Group Meeting : Saturday 11th October 2014

Sharon was unable to join us this time as she was unwell but eight of us decided we would still meet. The discussion topic had been “Strategies and Presentation” and we agreed we would weave this theme around work review instead of having a separate discussion. It worked well and here I will attempt to pull out relevant strands for myself.

We’ve been able to follow John’s developmental thinking on how to create “open” work along the lines of Umberto Eco’s thinking– his strategies. My understanding is that this begins from knowing what you want to say but leaving the work ‘open’ for people to read their own story within it. My concern is that, if the artists knows what they want to say but leaves people to impute/infer a meaning, then this could be termed as playing mind-games. There needs to be some ‘clues’ not to lead a viewer/reader but to provide some ‘anchoring’. The theme of his images was “Marks and Traces”.  beautiful to the eye with much that could be described as marks and traces. In the second set, John added words in his own handwriting (themselves marks), asking how they fitted. He had also paired the images so we could investigate how they fitted together and with the words. To me the words didn’t always fit and yet that didn’t seem to matter as the handwriting together with the images provided such an intimate feel, drawing me in closer to the images. The word interrogate keeps coming in to mind – I’ve heard this said before in relation to analysing photographs – but to my mind it’s more like a dialogue; questioning and teasing out meaning from the object which is a photograph. Being able to hold and touch; that materiality of being, adds so much more; invites one, in whereas a digital image withholds some of itself behind the screen. I am beginning to wonder whether an open work in a photographic sense does require the presence of physical prints and will keep this in mind.

Keith continues his quest to find the right way of combining image with text in his East London work  and contextualising it also in relation to Eco. He talked further of Eco and also Roland Barthes and the use of text as either anchoring an image or opening up a discourse. We looked at some of his prints and how he is using the text in relation to these dramatic images where people are present through their absence, and ‘actors’ from our imagination can slot into them.

We further discussed Stephen and Martin’s efforts to make assignments interesting and Richard’s work to produce single images that each tell a story whilst being linked within a theme.

I shared efforts I am making to get myself out of my ‘stuck’ phase by doing some writing around my fascination with the woods. I’ve written separately about this here . It was such a helpful session for me and I do feel more enthusiastic which is a relief.

More on Strategies and Presentation

I have found the two books Context and Narrative (M. Short 2011) and Behind the Image (A. Fox & N. Caruana, 2012) very illuminating. I haven’t found many other books by photographers where they outline their strategies, although Peter Marlow’s The English Cathedral (2012)was enlightening in this respect as he includes a Technical Note at the end describing how he set about making the photographs..

Listening to other students talk about their work and following their blogs brings the process of creating a project very much alive for me. Step by step experimentation; re-doing something; changing direction slightly; searching for the ‘right’ way to achieve a result. There’s also the amount of research – background information, history, Art, how other photographers have approached subjects. I know this can seem overwhelming at times and almost undoable, but I also find the process itself exciting and invigorating.



Fox, A & Caruana, N (2012) Behind the Image, Ava Publishing, SA
Marlow, P. (2012) The English Cathedral, Merrell Publishers Ltd, London
Short, M. (2011) Context and Narrative, Ava Publishing, SA.