Tutor Feedback on Assignment 3

I was very pleased with the feedback on my last assignment which was generally very positive.

The main area of contention was the fact that I used face masks for the self-portraits, with my tutor feeling that they didn’t entirely ‘work’. He particularly didn’t like the F, H and S written on the masks.

I agree with his point about F, H and S as it did make it all look a bit amateurish. However I do still feel strongly that the masks were used for a very good purpose. The thing that struck me about the diary I had kept for this exercise was how the entries all seemed to divide into one of the three roles of father, husband or son. This is the aspect that I wanted to explore in the self-portrait, not what I looked like or my facial expression. I felt that the masks would require the viewer to look more at what the image was saying about my role rather than about me. I realise the distinction between me and my roles is a fine one, everyone is a function of their role. if I had kept that diary at any other time I may not have got that same feeling about my 3 roles and this is what I wanted to investigate . I still believe the masks helped me to do that in these images.

One other point of feedback was that although it looked as though I had carefully planned the images, I had said nothing about this. In fact I had originally planned the set-up for the images and props in a notebook beforehand. They did change a bit once I started shooting (I soon realised I couldn’t get the table and chairs in the second image!). However you can see my initial thoughts in thew attached scans of my notebook.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Finally, I should add that I used a software programme – Control My Nikon – for this exercise. It was invaluable as I was shooting on my own. It enabled me to connect my camera to a laptop and to preview the scene, as well as controlling the camera from the laptop. I couldn’t have achieved these images without it – yet I had never heard of it before starting this course!!

Self Portrait – Renaissance to Contemporary: Anthony Bond & Joanna Woodall

In their book on self-portraits, Bond and Woodall consider on p11 “the intense outward gaze that is a consistent feature of self-portraiture from Van Eyck to Warhol.” This made me think more about self-portraits and question whether the statement were true or not.

It is easy to remember the self-portraits that fit this mode – Rembrandt, Durer, Velazquez, Frida Kahlo, but it is also true that some self-portraits do not have this, but it seems to be when the artist is portrayed in some form of action e.g.Artemisia Gentileschi, Courbet and Magritte.

I wondered if the same would be true for photographs, and it did seem to follow suit: Sam Taylor-Wood, Robert Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin and others have all produced self portraits with the ‘intense outward gaze’. The exceptions seemed to be when the photographer was being playful? such as Lee Friedlander, or when taking a more oblique approach e.g Bill Brandt’s mirrors.

It would seem that with both painted and photographic portraits the ‘intense outward gaze’ forms an arresting part of the image.


BOND, A and WOODALL, J. (2005) Self Portrait; Renaissance to Contemporary. London: National Gallery Publications

A Face to the World – Laura Cumming

In her book on self portraiture ‘A Face to the World’ Cumming discusses the Vasari corridor at the Uffizi gallery in Florence (which houses a collection of Self-portraits by many famous artists). On p67 she describes many of the self-portraits as “Formal to a fault, but rigorously avoiding anything personal, they end up in opposition to everything that makes self-portraiture interesting: no sense of self, or negotiation between the self and the world, no implied milieu, no distinctive stance, gesture, expression, intellectual or conceptual ideas, just a conformity to type.”

It is interesting that some of the worlds most famous painters, when commissioned to produce a portrait for the corridor, have produced work which, according to this author, has so little to recommend it. Perhaps in this case the context within which the painting will be displayed, the Vasari Corridor, has determined the approach taken by each artist – i.e. a stiff formal pose in deference to the suggested importance of the gallery. It is somewhat paradoxical that a gallery devoted to displaying the finest art has had the effect of squeezing the interest out of a self-portrait.

I think the quote also gives a really good guide to what an interesting self-portrait (or indeed a portrait) should contain

  • a sense of self,
  • a negotiation between the self and the world,
  • an implied milieu,
  • a distinctive stance, gesture, expression,
  • intellectual or conceptual ideas


CUMMING, L. (2009) A face to the world: On self portraits. London: Harper Press

Assignment 3

Triptych: Father, Husband, Son

A brief introduction for my tutor is given in the linked document, Tutor commentary Assignment 3, full details of the assignment are given below.

As required in the brief for this assignment I kept a diary for a few weeks. When I came to read through it at the end of the period, to help develop my self-portrait, I was intrigued that the vast number of entries were about my role as a person – a father, a husband, a son.

I thought that I would like to explore this concept of me in my separate, different roles as opposed to a composite of all that makes me an individual. By splitting out this aspect of me in a specific role I thought that I could go into a lot more detail for each individual role so I came up with the idea of a triptych – Father, Husband, Son. This approach was noted by BRIGHT (2010, p25) who stated that photographic diaries “can just as easily reveal a variety of different versions of the self. “.

What is a portrait? BRILLIANT (1997, p14-15) believes that an artist must respond to the demands of the subjects wish to endure “The nature of that response is affected by three questions whose answers may be neither consistent nor complementary:

What do I (you, he, she, we, or they) look like?

What am I (you, she, he, etc.) like?

Who am I (you, etc.)?”


My response to this assignment is heavily focussed on the Who am I and What am I Like. There is nothing in the following images that will answer the question ‘What do I Look like?’ I decided to wear a mask for each of the three photos because, in a somewhat contrary way, I wanted to depersonalise my self-portrait. By this I mean that I wanted all the attention to be on me in my roles and not on a facial likeness. I think that using the mask forces the viewer to look at what else is in the image rather than what I look like, concentrating on me in my role rather than considering whether the photo is a likeness of me or not. I realise that this has been done many times before, writing in FRIEDLANDER (2005) John Szarkowski writes: “It was clear that Pop Art was not at ease with the self portrait, except as parody, or fat joke, because Pop Art’s best, defining artists were sick to death of the egocentric perspectives of the several varieties of expressionism and wanted to do something that was finally again impersonal.”

I recognise that the mask is the traditional symbol of deceit HALL (2008, p210) but I do not think that my images would be inherently more truthful just because my facial features could be seen.

I have tried to construct an image for each of the three roles that includes symbols to tell the story of how I am currently feeling within the particular role. I also tried to give a sense of season within each image by the inclusion of spring and summer flowers and autumn leaves. In addition I have tried to add a sense of colour within the background

Green for spring in Father
Orange for summer in Husband
Blue for autumn/winter in Son

I think that I was influenced in creating these images by the research I did beforehand, in particular an image I first saw in Self Portraits by Liz RIDEAL (2005) of “Self-portrait with hare” by Sam Taylor-Wood. This gave me the idea of using the full length figure with props as symbols to convey a message.

These are my interpretations of what currently preoccupies me as a Father, a Husband and a Son.

The story for each image is as follows.


Our daughter is currently 17, studying for A levels and applying to University to start a degree in 2015. My wife and I are keenly aware of how our life will change when our daughter leaves home and what that move to independence will mean for her.

The egg in the image is a symbol of creation – the birth of our daughter. The flowers are symbolic of spring – the start of an independent life for her. I tried to add to the sense of spring by adding a greenish tinge to part of the background.

The grapes and vine are symbolic of our daughter coming of age, the symbol of Bacchus and of wine (although I recognise there is a bit of a conflict here as they can also be symbolic of autumn). The clock represents time passing and the suitcase signifies the fact that she will soon be leaving home.


This represents my role as a husband and illustrates the many interests and issues I share with my wife. There are references here to our joint interest in art, literature, theatre, music and cinema. The sheaf of corn is a symbol of Concord HALL (2008, p76) the strength that comes from unity. HALL (2008, p31, p329) states that the apple and red roses are attributes sacred to Venus the goddess of love. The ring symbolises our union.

The butterfly represents our daughter developing into an adult and about to leave home.

The orange light to the background is intended to be a signifier of summer.


My mother had her 90th birthday this year but was also diagnosed with Dementia. I have had to assume a much more formal role in helping her to manage her affairs and going through the legal process to obtain a power of attorney.

The sand timer is symbolic of the passing of time – her reaching the age of 90. A symbolic power of attorney is held in my other hand. The leaves indicate autumn as does the colder blue light tinge to the background. My clothes represent the very formal approach to obtain the power of attorney.


I am pleased with the original concept of producing this triptych, I think it works well. I am still wondering whether I should have worn the masks or not, in the end I think it was the right decision, it achieves my aim of depersonalising the photo and therefore emphasises the role rather than the person.

Looking back on the images I am quite surprised by the stark and formal nature of the Son image, perhaps reflective of a more difficult year.

Technically I am quite pleased with the images – I certainly feel that each of them is in focus, something my tutor commented on for my last assignment. I developed a keen interest in studio lighting during my Art of Photography course so it was good to be able to use the equipment in this assignment. I did find the lighting more difficult to achieve than I had originally anticipated. I wanted to achieve a more even, flat type of lighting to each image so I used a couple of lights with softboxes from straight in front and a third light to give the background colour.


Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Brilliant, R. (1991) Portraiture (Essays in Art and Culture). London: Reaktion Books

Friedlander, L. (2005) Self Portrait. New York: The Museum of Modern Art

Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (revised 2nd edition). Colorado: Westview Press

Rideal, L. (2005) Self-Portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications

Exercise: Nigel Shafran

Nigel Shafran’s series is the only one in this part of the course to be taken by a man – did this surprise me?

The subject matter – washing up – is one which past gender stereotypes would suggest being taken by a woman. But in this case the subject matter is not who did the washing up but, just as importantly the content of the narrative that accompanies each piece. In which case why would anyone be surprised if it was taken by a man or a woman? Does the question itself not suggest a level of sexism – are you surprised that a photograph of washing up was taken by a man?

Does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

I find this a difficult question to answer as in general I think it is more down to the personality and interests of the individual artist rather than their gender. However are there some subject areas such as emotions or personalities that are more frequently explored by women rather than men? Perhaps gender soesn’t contribute to how an image is constructed but may contribute to the initial choice of subject to make an image from.

What does the series achieve by not including people?

I guess that this adds an aspect of mystery to the image, the viewer begins to wonder what the different people named in the title look like, by excluding them this makes you concentrate more on what the image is conveying both pictorially and from its title.

Are they interesting still life compositions?

I must admit I was not initially attracted to the images as a series, I guess that the photos are the complete opposite of the Dutch Pronkstilleven paintings from the 17th Century. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I prefer the Dutch ‘ostentatious still life’ to the images presented by Shafran. While I acknowledge that he has an interesting concept and the idea of tying in the images with the narrative is a good one, I don’t find the images visually appealing.

Exercise: Masquerades

Nikki S. Lee

Is her work voyeuristic or even exploitative?

There is a sense, perhaps, that whenever other people are being used (not paid models) then there is a form of intrusion involved This is the same with Trish Morrissey. Other people are being used by the artist – models are employed, but these people aren’t models, they are ordinary people used by the artist. Is informed consent (as opposed to a simple yes/no) being given by those taking part – do they know how the photos will be used and to what purpose?

To me what the work of all three of these photographers is doing is challenging the notion of ‘the camera never lies’ and a questioning of notions of identity. Apart from that I’m not sure that it tells me much more about the artists or what they are trying to say.


Would I agree to a request by Trish Morrisey to swap places?

This is very difficult to answer as it may well come down to how persuasive Morrisey was in explaining her concept for the photo. This raises an interesting question – when you are not using paid models but trying to persuade ordinary people in the street (or on the beach) to be part of a scene then the ability to ‘sell’ your idea is just as much a key skill for the photographer as the initial imaginative concept or possession of technical skills. The photographer as salesperson?


Trish Morrisey

Seven Years is interesting work. Morrisey appears to have taken several key pints or episodes from seven years of her life and recreated them. Each image simply has a date as a title. It requires the viewer to deconstruct the image to see what the different episodes are and how each of them may be important to the artist.

I didn’t find The Failed to be as compelling as Seven Years. In the failed a number of head and shoulders self-portraits are taken from exactly the same position and with identical lighting. The only diferences are that Morrisey has used face paint to paint a different pattern on her face each time and each image has a different title. The overall effect being that each image is a ‘failed’ attempt to portray the title e.g. ‘superhero’ or ‘ladybird’. To me it didn’t really work as I could see no relationship between the painted pattern on the face and the title of the photo.


Exercise: Autobiographical self-portraiture

Reflections on the work outlined in the Project 1 of Part 3 – Putting yourself in the picture.


How do the images make me feel?

I think that the images of Francesca Woodman and Elina Brotherus are completely honest and revealing whereas, to me, Gillian Wearing’s images in Album conceal more than they reveal.

  • Francesca Woodman is opening her mind to the viewer, you can almost feel what she is going through and the sense of vulnerability and constriction that she must be feeling.
  • Elina Brotherus – it helps to know the background of the IVF treatment – once this is clear then we share her world and her concerns. The sense of frustration and disappointment in the images is palpable.
  • Gillian Wearing’s work is a very clever artifice that is immaculately achieved. But does it really tell us anything about her? – to me it is more concealing than revealing – she hasn’t given herself to the viewer in the way that Woodman and Brotherus have – her work is more challenging to the viewer of relating who and what she is to the superficial appearance of her relatives. Can photographs reveal this inner person?


Is there an element of Narcissism?

I don’t personally see any element of narcissism in the photos. Narcissus faded away because he was enchanted by the beauty of his own reflection in a pol of water. This isn’t the case with these artists, they are each sharing their own viewpoint with the viewer. In their case it is about the artist’s state of mind that is being projected, not how they look.


Brotherus’ Nakedness

I think that Elina Brotherus’ nakedness is an indication of her vulnerability – it emphasises her femininity and the traditional child-bearing role of the woman – but removes all protection from her, leaving her at the mercy of the elements.


Accompanying text.

Can the images work without the accompanying text? All the images ‘work’ when they stand alone but they are far less powerful than when the text explains the background and they are displayed as a series.


Wider issues

Each of the artists is addressing wider issues but through their personal experience of it e.g. Francesca Woodman’s images reveal her state of mind but then provoke wider questions around mental health and society. Equally Elina Brotherus’ series is about her reaction to IVF but this is an issue faced by many thousands of people.


Feedback on Second Assignment

The feedback from my tutor on Assignment 2 was critical but fair. The assignment was praised for its interesting approach to the topic, but a number of technical issues were raised, in particular;

  • motion blur in some images and others out of focus
  • washed out highlights in some photos

I submitted this assignment as prints (the first time I have done this for OCA) so I was keen to receive his views on them. I am pleased that he thought they were ‘essentially fine’ and he also gave some good pointers to YouTube videos on inkjet printing.


Essentially I need to be more practiced at street photo style images to cope with the moving subjects, exposure, focusing etc. This is all fair comment as it is not a genre I have spent a lot of time on and do not enjoy greatly, nevertheless the assignment proved a key learning experience.


On my next trips to London I will try to take some more photos to replace the ones which are blurred.

Assignment 2: The Sociology of Shopping

The concept for this assignment led on directly from the work I did in considering how to use props to tell a story. I thought that I could take photographs of shoppers outside very different shops to tell a story of social status and differences.


I wanted to build on the street photography work that I had done in the first part of the course. I am normally very reticent at taking photographs in the street and I wanted to push myself more to do this. I used my Canon S95 compact camera for this assignment. I feel much more comfortable using it in the street and it seems less obtrusive and I think that people are less conscious of being photographed. It is a well specified camera which I can operate in manual or automatic mode. For these photos I set it to shutter priority and a speed of 1/125sec to allow for movement in the street.


It also saves files in RAW format which was important on this assignment as one of the comments made by my tutor last time was that I needed to pay more attention to my post capture processing of images. This is something that I have given a lot more thought to this time.


I listed a number of shops, of various types, that I would go to and photograph shoppers as they passed. The only constraint being that someone in the image should be wearing a white shirt.


The shops I listed to go to were:

  • Harrods
  • Harvey Nichols
  • Sloane Street shops
  • Bond Street shops
  • Savile Row shops
  • Fortnum and Mason
  • Burlington Arcade shops
  • Carnaby Street Shops
  • Libertys
  • Selfridges
  • Bishopsgate shops
  • Gap
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Debenhams
  • BHS
  • Sports Direct
  • Primark


I spent a day in London and visited all of these shops taking photos outside. Waiting for someone in a white shirt to come past was rather frustrating as

  1. It was wet and chilly at times so you could not see if people were wearing a white shirt or not
  2. Some shopping areas wee rather quiet (Sloane Street for example)
  3. Just photographing people going past a shop does not necessarily make an interesting photo


Nevertheless I persevered and took somewhere around 200 photos over the course of the day with people wearing a white shirt somewhere in the image. Obviously it was not be the same shirt each time, but there were many types of white shirt being worn – tee shirts, blouses, check shirts with white in them. I managed to include one such shirt in each photo.


Whilst it was difficult to find an image with a white shirt each time I do think it has worked as a great leveler, no matter what the shop of the people outside they all have one thing in common – the white shirt and I think that this is important to the overall narrative – we are all the same.


I decided to include the name of the shops as part of the final image as I think that this adds to the story and explains the purpose behind the images. I wasn’t possible to include the actual shop in each of the images and therefore the text sets the tone for the story.


What have I learnt from this exercise?

I gave a lot of thought to this assignment and learnt to think of all the different ways in which I could try to produce a story. It doesn’t have to be a linear story it can build up an overall picture which I think I have done in this case.


I have put the photos in a particular order, but I don’t think that they have to be viewed in that order to get the story, the narrative would be the same whatever order they were viewed in. Some of this is down to the inclusion of the shop names as part of the image. Before starting this course I doubt that I would have considered text to be part of an image, but now I can see how it will add to the narrative.


I have given a lot more attention to the post capture processing of these images as this was a comment made by my tutor last time. As I have submitted prints for this assignment I have also learned to try to match the image on my screen to that produced on photographic paper -they weren’t the same and I had to produce a different image to get the same tone and colour rendition when printing.


Another comment made by my tutor last time was that one of the series of photos I produced was a bit weaker. This time I have tried to make sure that each of the photos is of interest by itself as well as being part of a narrative series.


The Sociology of Shopping


Assignment 2 – Using Props – First Thoughts

How to create a series of photos that tells a story but that uses a white shirt or a handkerchief as a prop in each photo.

White Handkerchief
A series of photos illustrating the countryside and the freedoms and restrictions imposed on people wishing to use it.
For example the handkerchief could be used spread out over signs that are restricting access to the countryside, e.g., No Admittance or Private Property signs.
The handkerchief could be knotted (traditional sign of remembering) and placed in landscapes where access is unrestricted  – as a symbol to remember and cherish the freedoms.

White shirt
Would it be possible to look at the nature of prejudice or interconnected world using the prop of a white tee shirt?

  • White tee shirt and black tee shirt
    White tee shirt and globe
    White tee shirt and mixture of foods from different cultures
    White tee shirt worn by people of different cultures


I didn’t choose any of these topics in the end, but the last one, tee shirts on people of different cultures led indirectly to the approach that I did settle on.

What did I learn from this exercise?
I found this incredibly difficult to come up with ideas for, much harder than portraying the unphotographable. I could think of many themes to explorer, but couldn’t work out how to include the prop in each of the shots.
Nevertheless I persevered and ironically it was from this part of the exercise that the inspiration came for the approach I adopted for the assignment.