Category Archives: Assignments

assignment 5 – notes for the assessors

The tutor’s report for the assignment is Here.

All Related Posts for the assignment can be found either Here or by using the link nested beneath the heading Identity and Place in the blog’s top navigation.

File versions of the twelve A4 prints contained in the physical submission can be found on the assessment G: Drive.


There has been too little time between the tutorial and the deadline for assessment submission for any real revision to be carried out, but I have tweaked the statement that accompanies the pictures.

As I did not send prints to Robert for this assignment, I have gone over the finished picture files and struck proofs before sending them off for printing along with the other assignments’ pictures.

I have also tried to make sure that the intended text will always be associated with the pictures as the seeming absence of titles was one of the areas of discussion at the tutorial.



assignment 4: words and pictures – notes for the assessors

The tutor’s report for the assignment is Here.

All Related Posts for the assignment can be found either Here or by using the link nested beneath the heading Identity and Place in the blog’s top navigation.

File versions of the thirteen prints contained in the physical submission can be found on the assessment G: Drive.


The tutorial for this assignment was so positive that there was very little that needed to change before submission. I have made a final pass to correct the finish of the pictures and had them reprinted and slightly rewritten the accompanying statement.  Other than that, my assessment submission is identical to what was submitted to my tutor.



assignment 3: mirrors and windows – notes for the assessors

The tutor’s report for the assignment is Here.

All Related Posts for the assignment can be found either Here or by using the link nested beneath the heading Identity and Place in the blog’s top navigation.

File versions of the fifteen A4 prints contained in the physical submission can be found on the assessment G: Drive.



The two main criticisms of this assignment during its tutorial were that it had not been edited vigorously enough and that there were significant technical shortcomings of some of the pictures that had been included.  So, when revising this assignment for assessment, I have concentrated on making a more rigorous edit and preparing the picture files with more care both for printing as part of the physical submission and for online display, as shown here:

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I have reduced the original twenty five photographs to a more manageable fifteen. In doing so, I have moved completely away from my original idea of providing an insider’s guide to changing lines at Oxford Circus station, removing the book-end images (the Victoria Line shots as we entered the station and the thinning throng on the west-bound Central Line platform) and also the weaker (or most technically compromised) pictures taken on the platform itself; the subjective picture looking out from the central line train as it left the station also has been removed to maintain the unity of point-of-view shown by other remaining pictures.

The result is a straightforward and – I think – successful narrative, which repeats itself every couple of minutes during rush-hour. It is structured around a series of ‘looks’: a woman looks up at a specific point on the station wall; another woman looks left and then right; the crowd becomes more crowded and a man looks off to the left attracted by the sound of… a train bursting into the station; the train races past a succession of people looking back along its direction of travel; the people on the platform stand back to let passengers get off, and then board the train themselves; the doors shut as people on the platform stream past; and the train departs the station.



assignment 2: vice versa – notes for the assessors

The tutor’s report for the assignment is Here.

All Related Posts for the assignment can be found either Here or by using the link nested beneath the heading Identity and Place in the blog’s top navigation.

File versions of the five A4 prints contained in the physical submission can be found on the assessment G: Drive as can a revised artist’s statement.


Assignment 2 – Revised for Assessment

In its original form, this assignment was not well received by my tutor, who described it as just a selection of my holiday pictures. Which in a way it was.

What I had been trying to do was to take posed, photographs in uncontrolled places (beaches, on the windy upper deck of the ferry north) at times when the lighting seemed suitable, and to take unposed observational pictures in more controllable conditions indoors. As Robert pointed out, I was probably over-thinking things.

fig.1 – looking for america (alice on skaill beach)

However, the phrase ‘holiday photos’ started me thinking about the differences between vernacular uses of photography and the more rarefied designation of some photographs as ‘art’. Rather than submitting a set of varied portraits of James for assessment – a suggestion made during the online tutorial – I have instead taken Grayson Perry’s definition of art being anything that an artist says it is from Playing to the Gallery and run with it!

The physical submission for this assignment consists of two observational photographs from the original submission for the assignment, one portrait of my son taken after visiting the Ruff retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery and two constructed ‘installation views’ featuring my pictures, elevated to art status on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery (replacing two of the Ruffs) and – at the top of this post – the Photographer’s Gallery (in the frames for three of Wim Wenders’ polaroids).

In the end, I think this assignment examines my twin identities as a parent with a camera and (vice versa!) as a photographer (an artist, even?) who is also a parent…



assignment 1: the non-familiar – notes for the assessors

The tutor’s report for the assignment is Here.

All Related Posts for the assignment can be found either Here or by using the link nested beneath the heading Identity and Place in the blog’s top navigation.

File versions of the six A4 prints contained in the physical submission can be found on the assessment G: Drive.


Assignment 1  –  Revised  for Assessment

The original set of photographs consisted of pictures taken at a training centre in east London of the people attending a re-certification course for the programme management methodology, MSP. I was also there for the course and it seemed a good moment to get pictures of people I had just met outside of their normal environment. They would not be wearing their professional armour and might let their guard down a bit.

When I arrived at the venue, I realised that there were marvelously vacuous, motivational statements printed in big letters on the walls. I used some of them as backgrounds for this initial set of pictures and hoped that the whole thing would hang together nicely while commenting on the whole professional certification racket. My tutor’s response seemed to indicate that this hadn’t really come across and that rather than ‘unguarded’ most of the pictures’ subjects came across simply as uncomfortable being photographed. Some were also smiling; it would appear that this is not generally viewed as a good thing if one wishes to be serious about portraiture.

Then, a few months later, I attended another professional certification course which took place at another training centre about a hundred yards away from the first. Again I took pictures of my course-mates during breaks.

In the time between the two courses, I think I had reached a better understanding of how to settle people and take good, non-awkward pictures of them. Four of the pictures in this revised set were taken at that second course. The two from earlier have been re-edited to make them all fit together as a coherent set; the one included in my original set – fig.4 –  has been cropped to remove the text on the wall with a corresponding increase in the impact of the subject.


assignment 5 – tutorial and formative feedback

We had a short and quite relaxed online, voice-only tutorial which divided pretty evenly between the assignment itself and my plans for level two.

I had received Robert’s initial notes the day before and had time to think about them before the tutorial itself. This way of working – we did the same for Assignment 4 in April – seems to work well as the tutorial is not spent establishing what your tutor thinks about the work in general, while you deal with your reaction to the criticism regardless of whether it is good or bad. Here it was mostly good: Robert was glad I had returned to a typology which hung ‘together well, especially in the grid format’ with ‘no room for confusion about the subject, as [I had] singled it out and repeated it so consistently.’

The rest of the notes concerned a lack of a discernible motive behind the making of the pictures or tools to extract further meaning from them, beyond simple pictures of feet. This was a bit disconcerting but I was able to argue my case – that it is as hard to tell who someone is from their footwear alone as it is from their unadorned face –  during the tutorial, as well as discussing various things about meaning – of feet, of hands, of tattoos, of shoes –  and appearance.

Gradually, it became apparent that I had only captioned the pictures (ie ‘woman, 20’s; relaxed after being cramped by people standing in aisle’) on the post that ran through them as a slideshow on my blog, and Robert – apart from viewing the layout image on the main blog post with the artist’s statement – had been looking at them as the full-size files that I had made available on my g:drive which had only identifying file names (ie metrosynecdoche-06.jpg).

So, the main thing I take from this assignment is that I should never assume that anyone will look at all the versions that I make available of an assignment; greater consistency in the surrounding, meta-photographic information (particularly if it is something like a title that is intended to act in the manner a relay) is something to aim for when submitting the pictures for assessment. That said, it is a fairly light piece of work (particularly when juxtaposed with my assignment 4) and does as such not bear too much analysis.

We then – as this is the last assignment for the module – went on to talk about my progress over the course of this module which Robert felt had been gathering momentum from assignment 3 onwards after a very uncertain start, leading to consistent, self-confident and self-assured work – and to look forward to level two.

I intend to move onto Digital Image and Culture next – we talked about the need for me to carry on taking the sort of pictures I have been producing during IaP alongside the more theory-focussed work of DIaC. I shall do – it’s become a habit to have a camera with me and to photograph things that catch my eye – but also want to examine further the ‘still life with context removed’ pictures that I have started experimenting with during this section of Identity and Place.

As my second level two course, Robert has strongly recommended that I try Self and Other as this strikes him to be a logical continuation of the work I have been doing here and the slightly detached point of view I have been working from. This is an interesting idea as up until now, I have always intended to do the landscape course as part of level two and have come to a point where I’d like to try and apply the learnings of DIaC to the depiction of place, rather than identity (inasmuch as the two can be separated).

I have eighteen months or so to make up my mind as to which way to go. A lot can change in that time so we shall see…



assignment 4 – tutorial and formative feedback

What a contrast with the tutorials for assignments one and two! The email Robert sent in response to my you’ll-be-getting-some-prints-in-the-post-and-the-online-stuff-is-here communique said that his initial impression was that it was ‘very strong’. And it got better. The OCA has specified that hangout tutorials should be proceeded by the tutor’s notes on the work presented. These turned up the day before and I sat reading them with a daft grin on my face.

At the end of the feedback document, the ‘Strengths’  column had three bullets:

  •  Excellent, strong work.
  •  Powerful connection of photo and text.
  •  Topical and meaningful research.

While the ‘Areas for development’ column was left blank.

This was proceeded by the suggestion that I should get the photographs exhibited as they are and much enthusiastic writing about ‘finding my voice’.  This set the tone for a tutorial the next day which was similarly upbeat.

Amongst all the positive feedback, there was still room for improvement:

There’s nothing I don’t like about this work…except the paper you’ve printed it on! This is
well researched, thoughtful and authentic work. Try Calumet’s Brilliant range of archival
papers, but avoid all papers that have a plastic finish because they ruin the natural contrast
of your darks. Fig 9 is a bit dark.

Further to this (mild) criticism, I’d noticed that some of the reds (the ‘red man’ in the ‘dark’ fig.9 was particularly bad)  were seriously over-saturated. I will have the assignment reprinted on Fuji Velvet Archive when the time comes for assessment, after a soft proofing session in Lightroom.

Beyond that we had an interesting discussion about the way that Grenfell Tower has taken on the role of a public punctum – certainly my inadvertent (or possibly unconscious) timing in submitting the assignment in the run up to the opening of the public inquiry meant that its resonance seemed to be maximised. As I type this, preparing for assessment in November, there has just been a lot of media attention on the testimony to the enquiry of the London fire brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton (eg Guardian, 27/09/18). Grenfell is not going to go away  and – while nothing is ever certain – I hope the pictures – and the associated words – will retain a considerable part of their impact even after the passage of time.

Further to this, Robert suggested that I should try to get the set of pictures exhibited; for some reason I didn’t feel particularly comfortable about this and did not pursue it. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that everything that is said in the sequence will come out during the enquiry and that stepping in with an exhibition – however ‘not about me’ I would try to be  –  would feel a bit invasive.

I will probably have a go at turning them into a (short) book on blurb though. I also will take some further images from the same viewpoints as thee pictures shown here, both now with the tower fully shrouded and once it has been demolished. These could potentially be combined with further texts taken from the papers and council records and added to the seven diptychs that comprised the assignment. Perhaps they can be used to expand the work contained in a book. We’ll see.

I was left with a warm glow of satisfaction, but also the question of how could I avoid the next assignment being anything other than a colossal let down?

assignment 5 – reflection

portrait of the artist in London, in battered, red converse (august 2018)

1: Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Compositionally my submission for this final assignment consists of  a  set of images that are consistent both compositionally and in terms of subject matter.  These are competent, engaging pictures that work well as a set while displaying a good variety of individual subjects.

Running through my work for this module, there is a strand of pictures taken in low, irregularly coloured light, usually without the option of using flash to balance things out; these represent my best response to these difficult conditions to date, I think. I have been able to maintain a constant colour palette for each of the two underground lines’ trains; the pictures are sharp and display control of focus to concentrate on the picture’s subject matter.

I find that the pictures hold my attention (and that of others) – I am drawn in and think about what it is that I’m looking at. It is not an overly-serious body of work, but I find I can look at the individual pictures and wonder about what the rest of the person looks like for longer than I thought I would as I was taking the pictures and editing them down to a final set.


2: Quality of outcome

The assignment brief ends: ‘The only stipulation is that the final outcome must represent a notion of identity and place that you are personally inspired by. Make sure that your work is visually consistent, relevant to the subject matter you choose and holds together well as a set, both visually and conceptually‘ (IaP coursebook, p.115). I think I have achieved this.

Before Christmas last year, tutor Clive White said the first of two things about typologies that I found helpful enough to bookmark. It dealt with some of the technical work involved in making typologies:

‘…it helps if the images have the accuracy of a technical drawing; each with the same aspect ratio and size and perspective corrected. It emphasises that they’re all intended to belong to a class, the class of radiator‘ [the discussion was prompted by six grid-presented pictures of iron radiators by fellow student Stefan J Schaffeld]. ‘You can make those corrections in Photoshop

…which is pretty much what I did when it came to this work. As I took the pictures, I had a firm image of what the finished images would look like and I was able to achieve this using the tools at my disposal, although I used Photoshop’s younger cousin, Lightroom, for corrections rather than Photoshop itself.


3: Demonstration of creativity

The second bookmarked quote came from a discussion thread in April this year (Formalism and the Bechers)  and was to do with the mindset behind making typologies:

‘The Becher’s focussed on typologies; like collecting cigarette and tea cards back in the day or football stickers these days.’

I collected Brooke Bond tea cards (and sent off for the albums to keep them in) when I was a boy; I am currently collecting the Lego cards that are being given away at Sainsbury’s. This seems to be something deeply embedded in my make-up.

There was a period when I was travelling to and from Moscow quite often, early this century. Waiting for the flight out from London (or for the flight home), I became aware that the people who lived in the Russian Federation almost all had square-toed shoes, while the fashion in shoes in the UK was for rounded. What you had on your feet could be used to locate you. At the same time, I was often slightly startled by the way people in shops or restaurants would greet me in English without my having given myself away with my heavily accented Russian. I assumed it was something to do with one of the things Bate categorises – the face, the pose, the clothes; maybe it was my round-toed shoes…

This is a project I can repeat, making variations on a theme. I still travel a fair bit, and many of the places I travel to have an underground (or a metro or a subway). I try to use public transport rather than taxis wherever I am. The next time I’m in Paris (possible), Berlin (scheduled for October) Kyiv (likely at some point)  Sao Paulo (much less likely)  or Glasgow (inevitable), I could spend some time photographing my fellow traveller’s feet, producing further partial portraits of particular places, at particular moments in time. I could also take further sets of pictures in London as the seasons change. The difficulty would be to keep it fresh rather than taking the pictures becoming just another thing that I do when I arrive somewhere with an underground railway.

What this assignment continues is my habit of taking photographs on the move as I go about my day-to-day life. I hope they also demonstrate curiosity.


4: Context

The shoe project draws from all the sections of this course module: the bit of work from part one that stood out for my tutor was my typology of smokers; much of my reading for part two was concentrated on photographs taken on metros and subways and the London underground; my third assignment featured a tube journey and began the examination of myself as a city-dwelling public-transport user that continues here; the captioning of the individual pictures ties in with part four even if it does not draw on the fourth assignment itself.

It is harder to see how it relates to the final section on Removing the Figure, although there are no faces to be seen. I have however found a lot to think about and use in future projects during this section of the course; I think still lifes will play a significant part in my work for my next course. My original idea for this last assignment (dropped for boringly practical reasons) was to identify playground furniture with childhood and park benches with being a parent and would probably have been a better fit, but since we are instructed to draw on all parts of the module, I think this is alright!

Where it does draw on part five is its use of a figure of speech – synecdoche, rather than metaphor, as in research point 1 – as a structuring principle. The danger with synecdoche is that – in reducing a whole person to a specific part or function – there is always a danger of objectification. ‘Farm hands’ are likely to seem less rounded as a person than the farmer who hire; a woman described as ‘a nice piece of ass’ is not going to be asked about her views on Wittgenstein by the person doing the describing.

I did not intend the people who’s feet I had taken pictures of to be reduced by the process or to be seen as ‘other’. I firmly fit into the same category or class – commuters – as they do. Perhaps I should have included a picture taken after asking someone sitting opposite me to take a picture my feet as well and included it in the set but I couldn’t summon up the courage to commission someone to do so in the course of my daily trips to and from work. By way of partial recompense for this, I include a self portrait at the top of this post. The feet point the other way, but they still show me, there on the tube with all the others…



assignment 3 – reflection and formative feedback

I appear to have managed neither to publish a reflection nor a tutorial post for this assignment; as I can’t find drafts either, I will try to combine them into this single post, written at the end of the module as I prepare it for assessment.

First though, some context. As I was handing in this assignment, I was also arranging an extension of the deadline for completing my three level one courses in more than the four years allowed. The OCA agreed to this, but any time used for this purpose (I estimated five months) would be subtracted from my level two allocation; there will be no facility to ‘borrow’ time from the level three courses, so I will need to crack on in the autumn to try and make up the time.

Part of the reason for my exceeding the four-year allowance for the level had been small delays in my previous two courses; however I had also pretty much ground to a halt towards the end of 2017, publishing only a handful of posts between September and Christmas. Now, in March, having rejected several ideas for the assignment before settling on this final one, I liked the pictures I had submitted, but mainly I was pleased simply to be getting going again.

With this assignment, my tutor didn’t seem to be having to try quite so hard digging through my pictures to find something he liked to balance criticisms during the tutorial.

This is a lot more focused and subject oriented than your last assignment. Immediately that gives the impression of maturity in content and approach. Clearly a ‘window’ perspective on your commuting community.’

The bulk of the tutorial was spent talking about the twenty five pictures (too many – ‘you need to edit more rigorously’) I had submitted on my G:Drive: there were possible redundancies among the three introductory pictures, taken as a Victoria line train slid into Oxford Circus; the first four pictures (of two women, one in a red coat and the other in black) were ‘strong‘ despite pushing the limits of acceptability in terms of focus and grain; the three shots of people looking out of the left of the frame as a train whizzed past them into the station formed ‘another really good series […] probably the best shots here;’ there were good portraits among the swirl of people disembarking and embarking; the last three pictures ‘really do give the impression of thinning platform crowd.

The last three pictures had been dropped from the assignment after posting them on my G:Drive and having prints made and sent to Robert, but before the assignment posts themselves had been finalised; I’ll include them here both for completeness and because I like them too:

We talked about how I had gone about taking the pictures and Robert was able to concede that the quality of the images was better in the slide-show version than in the shared folder on my g:drive which had been his main source for the tutorial. Later I checked the settings of my saved lightroom export and discovered I had seriously overdone the jpeg compression of the pictures for this assignment. The problem was not as serious as it first appeared but still could have been bolder with setting high ISOs on my camera. I went on to try this out while taking photographs in similarly gloomy conditions on the underground for assignment five.

But back to March 2018: crisis over, it was time to get on with finishing the last two assignments of the module in time for assessment in November…




towards assignment 5: synecdoche and metonymy

On the morning of the anniversary of the Grenfell fire, as I walked to work, I saw a man walking in the opposite direction. He was wearing a t-shirt with ‘Grenfell = Auschwitz’ written on it. (Annoyingly I didn’t have my camera out at the time, so I don’t have a photo to use here)  While the statement may have been intended as a metaphor, its impact on me is better described by another figure of speech – hyperbole: an exaggerated claim or statement that is not meant to be taken literally. Grenfell Tower was neither built nor maintained in order to exterminate its residents and the fire was nothing to do with genocide. However, the statement was strong enough for me to remember it now and to have thought about it off and on since the man’s t-shirt caught my eye that morning.

It also has acted as a spur for me to start thinking about other rhetorical figures that might be used to underpin my work: in particular metonymy (where a thing or a concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept) and synecdoche (where a specific part of something is used to refer to the whole).

It is, incidentally an example of metonymy to use Auschwitz as a stand in for The Holocaust. More pertinently, the photographs I intended to make for this this assignment, taken in playparks and using the slides and climbing frames found there to stand in  as signifiers of childhood and parenthood are likewise using Metonymy to make their point. And if they had been used to make a statement along the lines of ‘life is a playgound’ they would have been metaphors. And then if I had used the swings and roundabouts so that that they signified as part of their wider context (the playground), they would have been examples of synecdoche.

Synecdoche – generally seen as a subset of Metonymy – is the one I’m going to concentrate on here as it is the figure of speech at the heart of my fifth assignment for Identity and Place…

At the beginning of part 3, I wrote about using St Basil’s Cathedral as a lazy shorthand for ‘Moscow’; now, here is another cliché of a photo:

untitled, 2017

If I give this untitled photograph the title ‘The Eiffel Tower’ it could possibly be read as a metaphor (and if I title it ‘Ce n’est pas la tour Eiffel‘ I am arguably drawing attention to this in a knowing, slightly smart-arse way).  But if I title it ‘Paris‘ , then the title acts as a synecdoche, where a component part (the tower) stands for a larger whole (the city it is in).

By using pictures of pairs of feet to stand (no pun – another figure of speech – intended) in for whole commuters, I am doing something similar to people referring to workers as ‘hands.’

Simplifying a complex whole  – the whole person who turns up to do work in your factory – into the part that is of use to you can easily be seen as demeaning. Their hands are going to do the work and generate value for you; you are not interested in their hopes, aspirations or anyhting else related to their lives outside their work. Indeed classical rhetoric ties directly into the concept of oratory which tends to be done from a position of power, associated with right wing/conservative types such as Boris Johnston. Perhaps the left (a synecdoche taken from the seating arrangements in the French revolutionary assembly, and now I think of it, so is ‘the right’) tends more to the forms of non-conformist preaching in the UK or its Southern Baptist equivalent in the US(?)

But I digress. In calling my assignment Metrosynecdoche, I was not trying to reduce my fellow commuters to just their feet. Their feet and their footwear are intended to stand in for their complete selves. Perhaps I should have included a photograph of my own feet, or better still, got someone sitting opposite me to do so. Certainly I am no different to the other people on the tube. I live in the city and need to get around to get to work and to go and experience things outside my job. Perhaps I should have called it Metrometonymy instead, with the commuters (or the commute) standing in for the related concept of ‘London’.

fig.1 – portrait of the artist as a commuter


I have looked at a lot of pages of the Wikipedia, getting my head around the – quite complex – concept of figures of speech. Here are a couple of them:

There are many more. You could do worse than to click on some of the cross referencing links in the pieces identified above.