Assignment 2 – Tutor’s Response and My Reflections

Last Friday Garry (my tutor) and I had a marathon google hangout lasting about an hour and a half (about the time it took for the battery on my phone to run itself down from the low nineties to one percent). So there’s another unit of time for consideration.

The comments here are extracted from the written up version of the tutorial made from his notes on what we talked about and said, by Garry which I received yesterday. The overall tone of this feedback (and of the tutorial itself) was very positive indeed:

A really strong sampling of visual languages and approaches exploring the unseen. Your development of approach: dealing with personal events but also alluding to the complex relationship that photography has with time is well formed. In addition, your research and  application of the various themes in photography is notable (still life, typologies etc).

I’m glad of this. I liked the pictures submitted (with some reservations, which I’ll go into later) and it is always nice to know that you’re not barking up all sorts of wrong trees. More surprising was the second part of Garry’s intro:

The leaning Log is extremely clear and what you have been most successful in is summarising your ‘reflective learning’ journey, then contextualising this with examples of work and reflections on text and image combinations. More of this with links to research to sum up in assessment would be useful.

I have felt appallingly conscious throughout this module that I am failing to write (or at any rate to publish) more than half of the posts I ought to be putting up here. I have a massive backlog of three-quarter finished sets of exhibition notes, thoughts on photographer’s covered in the course book and places where I have said I will do some further writing up, but haven’t. So, the idea that I wasn’t overwriting my log was expected, although the fact that this was perceived as a good thing wasn’t!

There were pointers for more detail too, of course:

Provide links to the original material if you can. Make more of this as it is true reflective learning. Summarise the key points referring to the main research. Use more visuals.

So, by way of putting down a marker for part 3: the day before the tutorial, I think I had a breakthrough in terms of how to treat the researchy parts of this log. I was reading the bit in Bate’s chapter on The Portrait where he talks about sfumato and the Mona Lisa, opening up a space for projection on the part of the spectator; I think this is what the exercises in the coursebook are there for; certainly this is how I’m going to try and treat them for Putting Yourself into the Picture.

For example, the bit of part three, project one that deals with Francesca Woodman explicitly asks:

‘What evidence can you find for Bright’s analysis? (“It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.” – Context and Narrative Coursebook, P74

…which ties in rather neatly with the bit of The Ongoing Moment where Dyer talks about looking for anticipatory evidence of Diane Arbus’s suicide in a picture of her working a beauty pageant an the bit where John Berger discusses in Ways of Seeing the way the meaning of a van Gogh changes when you add a caption saying it was the last picture he painted before blowing his brains out.

So, I’ll try, going forward to make more of a combined narrative out of the way that the course book combines with the reading (and the further suggestions for reading made by Garry as I go along). I’m already a good way into part three; I’ll start writing it up properly, here, once I’ve posted this. I will aim to have the assignment handed in to Garry well before the 22nd of July deadline he’s set…

And then, onto the pictures at the heart of Assignment 2, Photographing the Invisible.

I had already identified the last two pictures in the set submitted for the assignment (a lifetime and an eternity) as being the one’s that were least successful at the time I was tidying everything up for submission. Garry agreed with me:

‘A Lifetime’ doesn’t quite fit he series as it’s far too illustrative. Revising this but also recognising that it’s not wasted; as there are some ideas that provide a springboard to, future alternative images (such as the colour registration motif and use of newspaper clippings we discussed).

Lifetime is a much more straight depiction of the relevant bit of a newspaper obituary, which doesn’t fit the “pack shot” aesthetic of the other pictures. I’d thought about other ways of dealing with a lifetime – a close up of the dates on a gravestone, rejected because it was totally unlike the other more constructed images in the series and some vague thoughts around something that would end up as an ascent-of-man type of thing going from infancy to old age, but couldn’t see a way of doing this without again busting the form through either using archival pictures or images appropriated for the purpose –  as I prepared to shoot the pictures, but this seemed to be the most practical way to both depict a longer period of time without further holding up my progress through the module. The obituary used wasn’t chosen for anything more specific than that it’s position on the page allowed the inclusion of the printer’s colour registration strip.

But this opens up space for further possible treatments, culling archive material found online or elsewhere about the life obituarised. This could then be treated using the registration strip colours, so one image could be two-tone white and cyan and another two-tone black and magenta (say). They could be placed within frames in the manner of Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII and become a depiction of a whole lifetime…

I was impressed by the two parts of A Living Man Declared Dead in Time Conflict Photography at Tate Modern last year – Chapter VII (a Bosnian family some of whom survived the massacre in Mitrovica) and Chapter XI (the descendants of Robert Frank, Nazi Germany’s governor in  occupied Poland) – and like this idea a lot.

As I do the other way in to a reworking of lifetime, given in the feedback. This was through the pictures of Eadweard Muybridge, which is equally interesting and could be applied fairly straightforwardly to a seven stage picture based on Jaques’ The Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It. I’d need to get six models, though and the finished work would smack horribly of the sort of respectability-currying stuff that Victorian pictorialists were so fond of.

So probably, in reworking the assignment for assessment (March ’17, I think is most realistic) I won’t expand on lifetime as it would fit even less well with the other pictures in the series than it does now (although it possibly could become a full series in itself, as would the Muybridge idea discussed briefly – and dismissed – above).

Similarly, the reason Eternity is less successful is, I think, simply because it is a different type of picture: while constructed, and with a flat white background, it contains an interior narrative – the pot sat on a lit stove, the shadow indicating a watching presence – while the others depict objects as still lives (the strips of pills, the bottles) and create narrative through their association with ways of thinking about time.

So, any revision that I’ll do is most likely to involve a degree of reshooting -It would be good to try reshooting the beer bottles, maybe using two bottles the same (not sure why I didn’t in the first place) and trying to get the lighting better – and to expand two of the current pairs of pictures to create a larger set of ideas around time and products. This is made even more likely by the reading I’m doing at the moment – most notably the chapter in Bate on The Still Life – which seems to be relating the blank backdrop of the pack shot (and which I have used for the first 6 pictures in the series) with infinity or even death, with the featured object standing between the viewer and their eventual fate. All of which ties in nicely with the ideas of time and health which are at the heart of my submission.

More prosaically, there is scope here for another couple (at least) of day/week images could be constructed from the pill strips and for two or three other pictures in the alchohol/day part of the series: a picture captioned 1 day – Female – before and one for after; probably a couple of glasses of wine, maybe a nice rose; and a picture of a binge, although that isn’t a unit of time, so maybe 5 bottles of beer captioned “The lost weekend,” say.

But then, the new pictures would only be called 1Day – Female or The Lost Weekend if I didn’t need to rethink the titling scheme for the whole set. While I’d expected the last two pictures to pick up the bulk of the criticism, I was much more surprised by Garry identifying the use of hand-written captions as being a general weakness in the set. I’d included captions that indicated the unit of time I was attempting to describe, thinking that this would work as a relay – wrong-footing the spectator and opening a space between title and what was depicted; Garry saw it as instead anchoring the images and being prescriptive about their meaning.

Thinking about it, this makes total sense. The captions tie the image above them into being a specific thing to the same extent that the name of the person in the photograph under their picture in the paper closes off possible ambiguities rather than leaving space for them to open up and spark new meanings for each spectator.

Probably, titling the set “Units of Time” and then titling the pictures One Elephant, Two Units of Alcohol, Take Three a Day after Meals etc would have worked better, through forcing the viewer to pause and think why. I need to do a lot more thinking about this whole interaction between words and pictures thing, I fear…

So, where am I at, as I move onto part three of the course? I remain pleased with the pictures I am making at the moment. It feels stretching to be working with lighting in my improvised studio in the attic, rather than stalking the streets looking for images to capture. I like the fact that the work I’m producing is getting positive feedback both int he context of the course and also from people who either read my log or are accosted by me, ancient mariner style and shown my work in progress for comment.

And then in the more theoretical areas examined in the course work, I have found the opening up of the idea of narrative from simple story telling into something more allusive really interesting. The non-photographic references in Dyer, say, are as often as not to poets (Wordsworth, Larkin etc) and much talk about narrative in writings on photography are to do with the accumulation of “rhyming” details. I can see this becoming an area I go on to explore more, both here and in later modules.


  1. Ways of Seeing – John Berger (British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books Ltd; 1972)
  2. The Ongoing Moment – Geoff Dyer (Abacus, 2007)
  3. Photography – The Key Concepts – David Bate (Bloomsbury, 2012)
  4. Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII – (accessed 5/6/16)

1 thought on “Assignment 2 – Tutor’s Response and My Reflections

  1. Pingback: Assignment 3: Life During Wartime | Simon Chirgwin's Learning Log

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