Assignment 4 – Tutor’s Response

“Really well written descriptions and then interpretation of Cartier Bresson’s Alicante, Valencia Spain, 1933. The contextualisation with reference to surrealism […] is well formed […] the exploration of form and content which gives rise to these contextual meanings is well researched,  looking at gesture, formal signs as well as the ambiguity (gender) of the subject and the way the ‘returned gaze’ questions these assumptions […] is well grounded […] This is a quite comprehensive review and a nice discursive style (yet still retaining a critical analysis).”

– Formative Feedback to Assignment 4, Garry Clarkson, OCA Tutor

Garry’s feedback – both during another marathon google hangout and in its distilled written-down form – to my short essay on Cartier-Bresson’s photograph taken in Valencia in 1933 was gratifyingly positive. There were a few small areas where he felt a rewrite would improve things (mainly around definitions of terms – ‘direct gaze’, ‘decisive moment’ etc – and placing the Cartier-Bresson’s overall body of work within context of critical thoughts on documentary) and the suggestion of a paragraph to cut in order to make space for them. The changes made sense but – given how hard I’d found it to keep down the word count in the first place – slightly daunting to undertake (particularly given that the Cartier-Bresson quote Garry suggested as a definition for The Decisive Moment…

“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson in the introduction to The Decisive Moment  (New York; 1952)

…ran to 33 words while the paragraph to be replaced was only 64  words long. I had been hugely grateful that captions and references are not included in the count. It has been a struggle to reedit the essay and remain within the set limit (+ 10%) but now it’s here.

If I don’t try very hard I tend to write at length and have an almost W Eugene Smith-esque difficulty in just stopping and publishing. This has slowed down my progress through this module and the reason behind the backlog of unfinished drafts that has built up. Having looked through the course sample for the next course (Identity & Place) I have noted that most of the exercises have a fairly tight word count (usually 300-500 words) added. Hopefully this will help me curb my verbose tendencies, and crack on with getting level 1 of the BA finished…

The feedback also ranged from further reading – on key-wording photographs, the gaze and the art of the banal –   and included the notes both of us had written during (or immediately after) the tutorial hangout itself. This, aside from the information it included proved a useful opportunity to compare Garry’s perception of what we talked about with my own of the same conversation. My ideas were more fragmentary (and ranged over more of the hour or so we spent talking) – a contact sheet of a conversation perhaps; Garry’s were (quite naturally) concentrated upon the bits of the talk that did not appear in finished form in the other parts of the feedback document – an edit of the shoot, presented as finished prints.

It strikes me that while I have not managed to complete the exercise from part five where you record a conversation and compare your recollection of it afterwards with the recording, this could perhaps be a valid substiture. In my final tutorial, I’ll be a bit more prepared for note taking and will look forward to seeing how it compares to Garry’s write-up…


After the tutorial Garry used our conversations around this assignment as the starting point for a post he wrote for We Are OCA about his own experience of getting work as a documentary photographer. It was a nice example of how  – while we students inevitably feel that it’s all about us and our art, dammit! –  tutorials can cut both ways, helping the teacher develop their thoughts as well.

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