Category Archives: ASSIGNMENTS

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. Continue reading

Assignment 4 – Revised After Feedback from my Tutor

Three women, frozen in time, are looking out at me, doing… something.

SPAIN. Valencia Province. Alicante. 1933.

fig 1. Henri Cartier-Bresson; Spain –  Valencia Province. Alicante. 1933.

Each woman touches one of the others.  On the left –  wearing a pointy hat and a floral-patterned dress – a Mexican-looking woman has one hand on the back of the head of the woman next to her while her other hand stretches around her right shoulder holding – bang in the middle of the picture – a straight razor. On the right, a dark skinned – African? – woman leans back. Her hair is pushed from her temple by the central figure’s left hand. She raises her left hand defensively towards her face; its palm is either warding off a blow or trying to block the camera’s view. The fingertips of her other hand brush delicately over the strap of the slip crossing the central woman’s right shoulder. This figure leans in towards us wearing a marvellously neutral expression, emphasised by the light patch of out-of-focus plaster behind her and her head’s size within the frame.

I looked again and paused. Is the woman in the middle a man?  Her clothes are hard to read – is that slip actually a man’s vest? – the angle and the tangled arms mean you cannot see whether  she has breasts. Her face is quite masculine, and her eyebrows, while shaped, are thick. But the arms and face are hairless, too – the razor? Is it a woman being dressed up as a man? Continue reading

Assignment 5 – Reflection

scan of a print proof, made during my development of the final picture (post-poem, pre-guardian dimensions)

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Described simply, the work for this assignment takes two things – a picture based on a French advertisement and one of TFL’s poems on the underground – and combines them into a single whole, capable of multiple readings. I think the picture hangs together conceptually and aesthetically,  creating an image that is good to look at. Continue reading

Assignment 5 – Making it up

                                                                                                                             Orcadianicity Simon Chirgwin 2017

Three things feed into this image:

  1. Firstly, there is the poem itself (Like a Beacon, by Grace Nichols) which I first encountered as a Poem on the Underground on my way to work a little over a year ago
  2. Then there is Roland Barthes’ 1961 essay, Rhetoric of the Image which deals with the way an advertising photograph for Italian food products intentionally creates its meaning for a specific target audience.
  3. And finally, there is me.  Like Nichols I grew up on an island and now live in London; like Nichols, I haunt art galleries; and like Nichols, I sometimes long for a taste of foods that i grew up eating…

This third thing is what pierced me, drawing me to the poem. This is one of things i am trying to say with this picture. I think I am attempting to transfer a Barthesian punctum – or the literary equivalent of one – from one medium – a poem – to another – a photograph.

Of course, I am not a poet. I am a white European man, not a West Indian woman. My mother did not give me whisky with my tea and haggis is not particularly Orcadian. But I do like to eat it and clapshot is definitely Orcadian (and tasty too, if you add plenty of butter and pepper). Continue reading

Assignment 5 – The Idea

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme […] The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose. Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five. This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas.

– Context and Narrative Course Book (p. 122)

During part two, I wrote this in my post on using a poem (Like a Beacon by Grace Nichols) as the basis for a photograph:

“A constructed picture. A still life, along the lines of the” [Barthes/Panzani] “pasta ad!”

I even went so far as to make up a shopping list and reckoned that I might have made the resulting still life some time in March.

That was, of course, in March 2016… Continue reading

Constructed Realities: Rejected Ideas for Assignment 5

Each part of the course has thrown up ideas for this, final assignment; and each bit of course work has left something hanging, something that deserved a bit more attention than I was able to give it at the time:

Part 1 fed into thinking around the idea of just how ‘true’ a photograph isthat has been burbling along underneath all the other parts of the course; large chunks of my online tutorials have dealt with my increasingly conscious attempts to evade the indexicality (the direct correlation between thing photographed and the resulting image) of the photographic image. Also, this part of the course introduced the idea of constructing images rather than taking them. The idea of ‘truth’ became slipperier by the day…

Part 2 contained the revelatory idea (which I’d been circling round, without ever quite managing to sieze it ever since I first read The Ongoing Moment, some years ago now) that still photographs had more in common with poetry than with prose, when it came to the production of meaning. Narrative becomes more capable of alluding to things rather than telling a straight beginning-middle-end story.

Part 3 gave me the various sequences of diaristic photographs and allowed me to play with some of the ideas associated with conceptual art in the late sixties and early seventies as well as freeing up my inner surrealist a bit.

Part 4 allowed me to think about theory a bit and about the way that photographs produce meaning (or rather how viewers take the clues from within photographs and turn them into meanings) as well as reintroducing me to Cartier-Bresson and his contemporaries.

When my tutor suggested that I stage a street scene, constructing my own decisive moment rather than waiting for it to coalesce before me, my immediate reaction was to dismiss the idea out of hand. The amount of effort required – casting, storyboarding, taking the picture and on and on – was immense. And of course, I don’t have the time at the moment and I have set the clock ticking for getting C&N in for assessment by the end of April. And of course, somewhere there must be a bit of me that was horrified after absorbing all the tedious rules people set up around “street” – setting something up is cheating!

But then, soon after, I was walking home from Jubilee Park with Alice when I saw a great varied cluster of people at the bus stop outside the ex B&Q on the Lea Bridge Road. In a series of movements I got my camera out of my pocket, flipped open the ever-ready case (hah!) and brought my camera up to my eye just as a bus swished up and they all got on. Regardless, I still liked the shapes in the shot and took three pictures, stopping after a man positioned himself in the centre of the bus stop and started doing something with his phone.

Later,  when I got home and downloaded the pictures to my laptop, I realised that the framing was almost identical across the set and thought that maybe I could try collage-ing them into something by way of an exercise to try and answer some of my questions about seamless compositing and also to have a go at constructing a single moment from a number of indecisive ones.

Anyway, after about half an hour of messing around with layers, layer masks and the airbrush tool in Photoshop, I had welded the three pictures together, and could see where additional pictures could have been taken to add detail: something –  a cyclist heading right to left? a foregrounded pedestrian’s shoulder and the side of their head, waiting to cross the road? – in the bottom left corner of the picture, perhaps; maybe some more people at the bus stop.

Composite Picture

Even without the extra details, it isn’t bad I think, but for the assignment I think I’d want something a bit more planned, a bit more – well – meaningful somehow.

I had a better location for a constructed decisive moment, possibly one that referenced a picture roughly contemporary with the early work of Cartier-Bresson.

058/159-044 André Kertész Meudon, 1928 gelatin silver print 23.8 x 17.7 cm (9 3/8 x 6 15/16); 45.7 x 35.6 cm (18 x 14) Collection Soizic Audouard, Paris André Kertész photographs reproduced courtesy of the Estate of André Kertész and the Jeu de Paume/French Ministry for Culture and Communication

André Kertész Meudon, 1928

For the book that went with the TV series The Genius of Photography, Gerry Badger chose André Kertész’ 1928 picture Meudon as the first photograph he would look at in depth.

He writes (p.11): “This is clearly a ‘decisive moment’ picture, a particular instant in time when Kertész – probably looking for the train but also grateful for the man with the parcel – decided to press the shutter. […] But there could be another explanation behind the making of this photograph, Kertész may have known and posed the man with the parcel. […] We know that a day or two before making the picture Kertész made a ‘dry run’ or two. One of these shows the emptry scene, and in another there is the passing train.”

I have often thought about the possibilities offered by the view of Selborne Road in Walthamstow as you approach it down Vernon Road. Running across the back of likely frame there is a raised section of railway nd track as the overground approaches Walthamstow central. Trains pass every few minutes or so. People on foot and on bicycles and buses and cars, enter stage left pe stage right. And there on the right there is the spiral up to Sainsbury’s roof top carpark. I have never managed to  get all these elements to come together at a single time. Perhaps I could do this with a series of pictures, each one getting a single element right.

Simon Chirgwin Walthamstow 2017

Perhaps, I could also find someone to carry a picture across Vernon Road, between me and the junction…

But that would involve coordination, casting and waiting for a day when the southern sky wasn’t so bright, and the road so in the shade of the embankment that taking the pictures would be a technical battle against the contrasty light. I had another idea up my sleeve. One that would not involve anyone else. And one that would not involve leaving the house.


Badger G. (2007) The Genius of Photography – How Photography Has Changed Our Lives 1st Edition. London. Quadrille