Final Thoughts

The course is now finished and  I’ve now started my next course, History of Art 2.

I’ve just finished putting everything together to send off for assessment, which really brought home to me the progress I have made over the course of the last year and a bit. I do think I have made considerable progress in that time.

So here are my final thoughts on Photography 1: Context and Narrative.

I have learned to think more about what the image will convey. When I took the Art of Photography module I learned about making rather than taking photos. This has now been taken on to the next level where I will be looking to produce images that tell a story.

Before I started the course I would never have envisaged being able to produce an image such as the one I submitted for my final assignment. Now I have ther confidence to try and make a photo such as that.

Street photography is still a weakness for me, I tend to snatch at the shot resulting in unacceptable levels of blur or out of focus shots. I am much better when I have time to think about aperture, shutter speed, ISO etc. etc. I’m also still somewhat self-conscious about it, but it is good that I have given it a go and I think I will make myself do more of this type of work in order to get better at it.

At the end of the Art of Photography I said that I had developed an interest in studio lighting and photography and this course has helped me to develp more in this area.

I am pleased that I am taking the Creative Arts degree pathway. I think that the History of Art modules are really informing my photography. I noticed this in the section on self-portraits. I was going back to my History of Art notes where I also studied portraits and self-portraiture. It also gave me the inspiration for the final assignment.

The material has been sent off for assessment now, it was an encouraging experience putting together the images from all the assignments, I felt there had been considerable progress over the duration of the course.

Assignment 5: Tutor Feedback

I received feedback from my tutor very quickly for this assignment. Generally speaking his comments were positive.

He wasn’t sure about the way in which the newspaper background was portrayed. He made the point that the original Hogarth engraving had a plain background which concentrated the mind on the subject. He also thought that the fact that newspapers were the background could be taken as a comment on ‘old media’, i.e.newspapers, being superceded by ‘new media’ of phone or tablet. I can see the point he is making, but what I was trying to portraywas the all-enveloping nature of media coverage, both old media and new. This is why I continued the newspapers onto the floor so that the politician was surrounded by them as well as being preoccupied withthe new media of his phone and tablet. Whilst I recognise the comment about old media being in the background I do still think that the image conveys the impression of being surrounded by the media.

The main concern my tutor expressed concerned the placards to the right of the politician. He thought that the message here was just too direct. In comparison with the more complexsymbolism of the fire bucket on the left, the placards had no depth of meaning. I have to say that, thinking about it, he has a very valid point here. While I was trying to convey the point of broken promises, compared to the rest of the imagethis was too direct.

Consequently I have changed the image. I tried two versions – one where the placards are left blank, and a second where the wording of the placards was blurred out. The concept behind the blank placards was that they were ’empty messages’ and so had no worth. The idea behind the blurred out messages was that it would be symbolic of meaningless messages.

I quite liked both ideas and spent a lot of time debating which to use for this final assessment. Some days I would prefer on and the next day the other. In the end I decided to go with the blurred messages – both versions have similar meanings, but I just think that the blurred messages on the placards give a slightly better final image.

Assignment 5; The Politician 2015

This is my fifth and final assignment. I had quite a bit of fun putting this together!

The notes for my tutor can be found here Assignment 5 Tutors notes

The longer description of how I produced the image can be found here Assignment 5

So with all due gratitude to the inspiration provided by William Hogarth:

The Politician 2015 Web

Image copyright Bob Coe 2015

Exercise; Question for Seller

Does their presence on a gallery wall give the images an elevated status? The very fact of their display on the gallery wall will change their status. Previously they were “unwanted” photos that nobody was interested in purchasing – now they are part of an exhibition and this context will change their status. Whereas previously nobody was looking at them, now they are subject to scrutiny from many visitors.
Their meaning will now have a dual source – the original meaning, which was a family portrait but also now a second meaning which derives from its presence as part of an exhibition. Their second meaning will be drawn from the intention of the artist – collection of a certain type of portrait. Further meaning will also come from the accompanying text.


It is quite possible that their value, as part of an ‘art exhibition’ will be increased. Previously they were of no value – nobody had bid for them on eBay – now, because of their forming part of a work of art, they may well have greater value. The greatest value, I would have thought, would have been if the archive had been sold as a complete collection.

Research Point; Gregory Crewdson

The construction of these pictures is very complicated. Crewdson himself talks about his pictures being “involved with that moment between before and after” the “in between moment”. I think that this is key to understanding how, for me, his photographs go beyond being just “aesthetic beauty”.

It is this element that makes the images ‘psychological’. They cause you to study them and think “what is happening here” rather than “that is a beautiful image”. It is that questioning that I think adds the psychological element. There is great aesthetic beauty to his work, but the photographs go way beyond that. I like his use of the phrase “the in between moment” as when you look at the photos you want to know what led up to the scene you are viewing and what happened afterwards.
What is my main goal in making pictures? To convey a message. Is there anything wrong with making beauty my main goal? No if it fits with the overall point I am trying to make. It would be wrong if it conflicted with the overall aim but very appropriate if it contributed to achieving it.

Exercise: Scene from Goodfellas

What does the scene tell you about the main character?

The scene really emphasises how important a person the main character is – he is someone everyone  else acknowledges and to who they defer. He is a person of some power and considerable standing within the community he is living in.


How does it do this? List the clues:

  • His poise, stance and confidence
  • The car he drives
  • the secret entrance to the club/queue jumping/special treatment
  • greetings from other characters
  • table and drinks brought out for him
  • sitting in the best position

Assignment 4 Feedback

The feedback from my tutor on the fourth assignment was generally positive.

The main areas of comment included how I had structured the essay, not a good thing to use bullet points, and a lot of one sentence paragraphs. So I will amend the essay to take these points on board.

My discussion on the composition of the photograph was not well received.I agree with the points being made about where I was talking about ‘harmonious composition’ and I will rewrite this section to focus more on the narrative aspect. The diagrams I included were described as ‘tedious’ and ‘banal’ so I will remove them from the final version of the assignment.

I will post the revised version of the essay here when I’ve finalised the amendments.


Assignment 4

I learned a great deal from studying this photograph – and not just about photography.

I chose to analyse this particular image as I had seen it in the ‘Seduced by Art’ exhibition & catalogue. I was attracted to the visual appeal of the image and that there seemed to to be a deeper meaning to it. I recognised the setting for the photograph, the Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum (one of the exercises from my previous OCA Art History course had been to visit a Cast Court, so I had already been there). So I knew I could visit the scene to see how the image had been constructed.

Having chosen the image, little did I know of the journey it would take me through Ancient Greece, the Italian Renaissance, the run-up to the second world war to the present day!

Had I known this in advance I might have hesitated in my choosing this image. I found out so much about the background to it that my first draft of the assignment came out at almost four times the specified word count for the essay.

My main concern with the assignment is that I have skated over some aspects of the image in order to keep the essay to a proper length. For example I have restricted my comment on the visual structure of the image to a single drawing and a sentence or two. I think this conveys the main essence of the composition, but I could have written a lot more about it.

Similarly this is one image from a large series called Connoisseurs. There is a lot I could have written about other photographs in the series and the placement of this image among them. there are very strong links between this image and ‘Looking at The Great Works of Art’ and ‘Analysis of Beauty’. Again with the restriction on the size of the essay I felt it best to concentrate on the specific image under consideration.

In researching this photograph I found out more about Raphael’s fresco, Michelangelo’s sculptures and read ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical reproduction’ for the first time – I must confess I had not heard of Walter Benjamin before I researched the assignment. So this one image has added to my knowledge on so many fronts.

My main, photographic, learning point from this exercise has been the interaction between text and image. This photograph (and this exercise) has taken my appreciation and understanding of that link to a new level.

I have two regrets concerning this exercise. The first is that I was unable to attend the OCA study tour to see the Karen Knorr exhibition at the Tate. I had booked a place but thanks to Network Rail’s inability to sort out points and signalling problems at Ely I couldn’t get there in time. This was a real shame as I like to attend the study visits when I can and this one was particularly relevant. I intend to go by myself, but you don’t get as much out of it as you do with the organised visit.

My other regret is having chosen to study a photograph with such a long title. Writing it out once only uses up 1% of your overall word count straight away!!

You can see a copy of Assignment 4 here, but images have been removed for copyright reasons.

Jeff Wall: Insomnia

I enjoyed reading Sharon’s interpretation of this image at

She says “The cold colours of the cupboards and the starkness of the scene, the harsh lighting and the hotspots, give a kind of eerie feel. It connotes a place of discomfort; of coldness and unease which we can sense even though we cannot actually be in that kitchen. This information has been delivered to us via a series of signs and signifiers carefully selected and utilised by the photographer.”

This is a great description of the eerieness of the scene, but for me there are other aspects that make it appear uncomfortable and edgy, for example

  • the vertical and horizontal surfaces are not truly vertical/horizontal, this gives an unsettling feel
  • the position of the man under the table, he cannot have fallen there, why is he in such a position?
  • the positioning of the tables and chairs leading the eye of the viewer into the picture, the chairs turn theit back on the viewer
  • the claustrophobic feel to the scene due to the positioning of tables and chairs

The unnatural sense of the image and composition to me relates to the unnatural feelings aroused by severe insomnia.

Diane Arbus

Two things stand out for me in the photograph and essay by Liz Jobey in Howarth (2005).

Firstly the stance/pose of the family looks very uncomfortable, to me best summed up by Jobey calling it “a contemporary metaphor; the unhappy family snapshot”. At a time when most people smile or pose extravagantly for the camera, this photo stands out. A very detailed analysis of the photo is provided by Jobey, but I was intrigued by what Arbus was trying to portray – does she try to portray the ‘unhappy family’, has she tried to provoke it or has she spotted what was already there and is emphasising it?

Again this is summed up when Jobey said that this photo ‘raised questions, not often raised so worriedly in photography, about the nature of the encounter and the motivation of the person behind it’. To what degree are the family exploited by Arbus’ desire to produce an arresting image, is this how they would normally pose for such a photo or were they instructed in how to pose? To what extent is this a true portrayal of their family circumstances or are they just unpaid models carrying out the instructions of the photographer? Is this an attempt by the photographer to portray how she saw a scene before her or is it an attempt to construct a scene to produce an image already in the mind of the photographer?


The second point that interested me was the interaction between text and image.

Talking about the family, Arbus said “They were undeniably close, in a painful sort of way”.

Later the Deputy Editor of the magazine wrote of the family “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is undeniably close in a painful, heartrending sort of way”.

Depending on which of these two texts accompanies the image, one’s reading of it can differ considerably. As Jobey states for the second text