Exercise – Project 3 Self-absented portraiture: Nigel Shafran “Washing Up”

Exercise: Review Shafran’s work and consider the following:
• Did it surprise you that Washing Up was taken by a man?
• In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
• What does this series achieve by not including people?
• Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

Nigel Shafran (1964-) lives and works in London and has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. He trained in New York as a commercial photographer but his own projects are altogether more personal, particular and focused on the everyday. His subject matter draws on aspects of his life that are close to hand and familiar. Washing Up 2000 is an extensive series of 170 images taken in various domestic settings but mainly at his home. They were taken in available light using a medium format camera.

I imagine the thinking behind the question of the photographer’s gender is that the content of Washing Up 2000 is a very domestic subject and therefore more likely to be the product of a female photographer than a male. I can honestly say it was not something I thought about when I saw the images, I was intrigued by what was on the drainers and realised it has been a long time since I had done the washing up like that. In other words I went to what resonated rather than who the photographer was. I was also struck by the quality of the image and how beautiful the lighting was. I am inclined to agree with Phillips that there is little to be gained in trying to determine a particularly ‘female’ or ‘male’ photography.

“There certainly is a clichéd female style of photography. And there’s a clichéd tech dude who has 2,700 cameras and only talks about depth of field,” says Cara Phillips. “But within photography, there are so many people that fit and defy stereotypes, that going there doesn’t get you anywhere. Ultimately I really don’t think that it’s important.”  In Mitchell, 2009

That is not to say that there are not a combination of cultural, political and social influences on the nature of the images we take, but my sense is that gender is one part of a wider network of psychosocial elements. It is undoubtedly the case that gender may have an affect on access both to opportunities and subjects/contexts and the way others respond to us as ‘gendered’ photographers.

But pictures aren’t taken in a vacuum. The sex of the photographer matters because subjects react to men and women differently. This doesn’t have anything to do with how the photographer perceives the scene, but it can still have a huge effect on the resulting photograph.  Mitchell, 2009

The reaction of others can influence how and if a photographer can gain access and how they behave as subjects in front of the camera but I am not convinced that gender is the sole influence on what a photographer chooses to take, after all there are men and women working in all genres of photography.

In terms of Shafran’s Washing Up 2000 series I think the absence of people allows for a more open reading and potential connection. The inclusion of people in an image can lead to comparison, are these people like me and what do they have to tell me about my own life. This can mean a point of connection or disconnection dependent on your response. In using a still life approach I think the images become more phenomenological, that is they evoke something of the everyday experience that lends itself to interpretation. In conversation with Charlotte Cotton, I think Shafran is speaking of his work as dealing with the phenomena of lived experience and is mindful of not letting too much conscious thought get in the way.

It’s all around us. I think they can be expressions of everything that’s us: how we’ve been brought up, taught or learnt determines how we do things from cutting a load of bread to painting a wall. I think that might strength is in this and if I start questioning it or thinking too much about it, then it’s difficult for me to find my way back to what inspired me.
Nigel Shafran

I find myself remembering my grandparent’s sink and noticing how unlike my own washing up routine (thanks to a dishwasher) this is. I also find myself wondering about the people who have participated in the meals. This is left to my imagination and a phenomenological reading of everyday lived experience. This interpretation would have changed (I can’t say if this would have been and improvement or not because they would have been a different set of photographs) with the presence of people in the images.

An instant photograph can only acquire meaning insofar as the viewer can read into it a duration extending beyond itself. When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future. Berger & Mohr, 1982: 89

As a result of the above ‘reading’ of the photographs I do find them interesting compositions. They give me a wide scope for interpretation and each time I look at them I see something different. There is something beautiful and almost sculptural in their ‘everydayness.’ This is not a subject matter I might have considered yet it is something recognisable and personal, exposing a small detail of everyday life that others seldom see. It sits clearly within a still life genre.

As in traditional still life painting, in which specific objects such as the hour-glass and human skulls were introduced to symbolise mortality and the brevity of life, here the recurrence and disappearance of certain motifs and changing atmospheric conditions within the series suggest the passage of time and the contingencies of daily life. Brett Rogers review of Washing Up 2000


Berger, J., & Mohr, J. (1982). Another way of telling. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative Society.




Exercise Project 2 Masquerades: Childhood memories

three pcitures one of two nail varnishes, one of a teddy bear close up and one of some strawberries with sugar

Childhood Memories

Title: Childhood Memories

Exercise: Recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. Approach the task in any way you wish but consider carefully the memory you choose and how it will be represented.

I approached this exercise by simply scanning some of the things around me and seeing if anything sparked any particular memories. I also looked at some family albums and it was this that elicited the ‘Bear’ and thoughts of my Mum and my Nan. After various attempts to capture something, possibly incorporating the old photographs, I decided on a more straightforward still life type representation. I had chosen not to include myself in the photograph partly because I was already thinking about the self-portraiture assignment and I wanted to keep that separate from this exercise.

I also used the exercise to try my first attempt at creating a triptych in Photoshop, it took a little experimenting but in the end I did manage to stitch the three images together on a single canvas.

Once I started the process a whole host of memories started tumbling to the surface; events at school, adventures with my brother and thoughts of people who are no longer with me. In my late twenties and thirties a large number of my closest relatives died and many of the pictures and objects I was exploring took me back to memories of them and their place in my childhood. Two of the images are about people who are still with me and one is in memory of my Nan – Nanny Osborne (known as Nanny Oz in the family).

Now I look at the images they are both about childhood and about growing up and leaving things behind. The nail varnish is concerned with my memory of biting my nails as a child. My Mum always had beautiful nails and I remember being envious of them as a small girl as they stood in sharp contrast to my own stubby finger tops. My ambition was to be able to see my nails over the top of my fingers when I looked at my hands from the back. The image includes the first ever manicure set I was given. I am pleased to say I achieved my ambition and now have my own extensive collection of nail varnishes. It was perhaps one of my earliest remembered experiences of goal setting.

The Bear was given to me by my Uncle and has always held a special place in my memory both as something I cherished and an early experience of change. It was given to me when I was three or four years old and I had a memory of it being huge, the biggest bear I had ever seen. At the age of five we moved to Australia for a number of years and when I returned, through some curious event, my beloved Bear had shrunk! I was growing up and it was a little painful to see that my recollection of the bear no longer matched my reality. I chose to shoot him close up to emphasise my memory of his size.

Finally, I have included the strawberries. They come from memories of hot summer days in my Nanny Oz’s long garden and picking the strawberries from beds caressed with straw. Nanny Oz had a cut glass sugar shaker with a silver top (long since gone I fear) and we were allowed to shake sugar on our plates bite the strawberries and dip them in the sugar (something that would surely be frowned upon today but I still occasionally do if no-one is looking!). We ended up with plates of mushy sugar streaked pink from the juice of the strawberries. The strawberries make me smile, and think of sunny days and laughter, and people I love and miss.

Evaluation & Synthesis:
As with many of the exercises the finishing point is never as I imagined from the beginning, it has echoes of those early thoughts but has evolved and developed in ways I might not have imagined. It is interesting to explore how many of my memories are bitter sweet; laughter and loss often intertwined. While I remember them fondly they are connected in some ways with grieving too. Something to consider for other aspects of the course.

I was pleased to have achieved the technical aspect of the triptych although it is not perfect and now I understand the process better I might reorder them with the strawberries on the left. I also underestimated the size of the file it would create so that is something to keep in mind in future. It might have been quicker just to upload the three images side by side in WordPress!

Exercise: Project 2 Masquerades – Trish Morrissey

Exercise: would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day on the beach with your family? If not, why not? Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven Years and The Failed Realist. Make notes on these projects in your learning log.

Trish Morrissey’s (1967-) photographs, like Nikki S. Lee, also include elements of performativity and blur boundaries of identity, reality and fiction. “Front” is a series of twelve images of friends and family groups at the English seaside (one was also shot in Melbourne). They seem to have a domestic vernacular, a family album appearance. Yet, when you look closely you notice that there is a face that is common to each of the images, someone who reappears in each of the different groupings but in different guises.

In constructing “Front” Morrissey was interested in identity but also boundaries, the beach being a metaphor for a liminal space between the chaos of nature as represented by the sea and the relative stability of the land behind. She also chose the beach because it is a space where it is common for groups to arrive and delineate their space, marking out a territory with towels, windbreaks, chairs and other objects denoting temporary ownership. The beach is a space where there can be new norms of behaviour and given that most people are partially clothed the beach goers are both voyeurs and exhibitionists at the same time.

These are collaborative photographs where Morrissey approached groups at the seafront and asked if she could stand in for one of the women in the group. She exchanged clothes with them and they took the photograph (Morrissey having set up the shot). In replacing a member of the group Morrissey breaches both a psychological and a physical boundary, stepping into someone else’s shoes physically and metaphorically.

She created the shots in dialogue with the groups and they were told about how the images would be used. Participants were informed the photographs would be part of an exhibition and a book. Like Lee she decided not to use model release forms. There was also a reciprocity built into the process because in exchange for their participation they were given a family or group photograph taken by Morrissey. In order to gain access she wandered the beach researching who she might approach, she also carried clothes with her to change into so she could appear part of the tribe before making her request.

As complicit participants the authorship of the work becomes shared.

It might have been interesting for Morrissey to contrast the photos of the original group with those showing her as the cuckoo in the nest to be able to really explore the changing identities and dynamics in the groups.

Would I have agreed to participating? Initially, I thought probably not. If I had been out for the day I might not have wanted to have been disturbed by this stranger with her camera. But on consideration I would have hoped I would have agreed not least to have been able to explore the differences I mention above – what would my family group have looked like with me replaced by someone else? How is my identity influenced by my social groups and what would have happened in replacing me by someone else in my clothing? Someone who would at the same time look familiar yet be unfamiliar. Would I have a sense of my own demise and departure from the group?

In terms of her other self-portraiture projects “Seven Years” also addresses the notion of the family album and to me continues the phototherapy/re-enactment photography (Spence & Martin, 1985) influences found in Morrissey’s earlier work in her parental home. In her review Flannery referred to it as autofiction:

Morrissey’s work is…extremely self-reflective. Not only is she examining the everyday fruits of her own chosen art medium in the hands of the layperson and the covert significance of these images, but Seven Years and the accompanying two video pieces imitate and deconstruct the parameters of her own family life as she saw it growing up. For this reason ‘autofiction’, a term normally associated with literature, seems appropriate.
Flannery, Circa Art Magazine, 2005

The Failed Realist feels very different in tone and shows Morrissey directly addressing the camera in her own right. The series was created some years after both Seven Years and Front. It is named after a psychological concept in child development coined by Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) and refers to the stage where a child’s desire to represent their world visually is limited by their physical and cognitive capabilities. The series was made with Morrissey’s daughter, who between the ages of four and five enjoyed face painting but preferred painting her Mum over having her own face painted.

Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream. Beyond the innocence of the child’s intention, more sinister themes such as clowns, carnival and the grotesque are evoked by these mask like paintings.

The face painting does evoke the sense of a mask with echoes perhaps of Morrissey’s earlier influence of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. As Morrissey states they are unusual motifs for the more familiar playfulness of face painting. Once again boundaries are being tested and shifted between mother and daughter (the latter painting the former rather than vice versa), between subject and camera, between reality and fantasy.


Spence, J., & Martin, R. (1985). New portraits for old: the use of the camera in therapy. Feminist Review, 19, 66-92.


Trish Morrissey, Seven Years, Gallery of Photography, Dublin, 4 March to 3 April 2005

Project 2 Masquerades: Exercise – Nikki S. Lee


Exercise: Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

Nikki S Lee was born Lee Seung-Hee in Korea in 1970, she adopted her new name in America in 1994 when she arrived in New York. Shifting identities has been a core part of her personal experience and practice. On first reading about and seeing Lee’s work I was curious about her motives and approach not least because in ‘Projects’ (1997-2001) she did appear to be working with some very particular subcultures or cultural groups. But these are not documentary photographs in the traditional sense because Lee was putting herself directly in the frame with each of the groups she was exploring. In fact she was not taking the photographs but giving compact cameras to friends or group members in order to create a particular vernacular. This allowed her to perform each of the identities she was assuming and in doing so to appear to be a part of the group she was with.

At the core of her work seems to be the notion of performativity, which for me makes the photographs one element of a larger ‘performance’ of identity and takes them beyond the consideration of her own personal identity. Although Lee does not seem to refer to a specific theoretical framework for her performativity her work suggests that it is being used in the sociological sense like that outlined by Goffman.

…the self [is] a performed character… not an organic thing that has specific location … [the performer and] his body merely provide the peg on which something of a collaborative manufacture will be hung for a time. (Goffman, 1956: 252-253)

The ‘Project’ performances unfolded over four-month periods where she spent three months researching the group and one month making the photographs. In creating this body of work Lee speaks of exploring the fluidity of identity between Eastern and Western cultures and also considering how the identities of those around us interrelate and influence our own identity. As she points out being Korean meant she was already an outsider to the wider American culture in which she was working.

In terms of her practice she says she did not direct or stage the photographs, they were taken in a snapshot mode as the group went about its usual activities. Lee concentrated on the emotional tone of the group in what she describes as an almost shamanic form. All the groups were aware she was an artist and of the work she was doing, they also had a choice about participating. She went back to the groups and shared the edited selections and says that everyone was receptive to the work. She even talks about one group giving her suggestions for the next group she should think about joining.

It seems to me that the question of whether Lee was being exploitative or even voyeuristic hinges on two things – the nature of the consent given by the participants in her projects and the way they are represented. Concerns about exploitation are nothing new to photography and have ranged from Winogrand and Arbus to Parr and Ballen. Lee talks about having considered the use of model release forms and in fact only used them with the Exotic Dancers Project because of the nudity element.

This selective use is linked to becoming part of the various groups and the disruptive nature of introducing the consent form after ‘hanging out’ with the group and forming relationships over a period of time. It demonstrates for me that she was not using the groups in a deliberately selfish or exploitative sense. Yes, they were ultimately for her work as an artist but the groups were in a position to refuse their participation. That does however surface the issue of informed consent which is something I will pick up in another post.

Lee speaks of working with cliché and using a compositional style that could be regarded as familiar to the viewer (i.e., family album and selfies) but it is also a multi-layered commentary on identity should you choose to look more deeply. I think it is this familiarity of form that contributes to a sense that they are not exploitative images – they could be images from the albums of the participants themselves, they just happen to include Lee as the ‘punctum’ (Barthes, 1999) or disruptive element.

In the true sense of voyeurism I am clear these images were neither overtly or covertly taken for sexual gratification. Nor do they seem to be based on some sordid fascination with sensational objects or subjects. The project on exotic dancers might be utilised by others in a voyeuristic sense which in some ways heightens the multiple meanings available through Lee’s images. Lee’s work does highlight that there is a fine line between exploration and exploitation and as photographers we need to be constantly mindful of these boundaries.

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. (Sontag, 1979: 15)


Are There Any Ethics in Street Photography?

Barthes, R. (1999). Camera Lucida. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc.
Goffman, I. (1956). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.
Sontag, S. (1979). On Photography. London: Penguin.

Elina Brotherus Self-portraits

Three nude portraits by Degas, Bonnard & Elina Bortherus

Left to right:
1. Degas, Woman Bathing in a Shallow tub, 1885
2. Bonnard, Bathing Woman seen from the back, c.1919
3. Brotherus Model Study 5, 2004

Exercise: Project 1 Autobiographical Self-Portraiture

Reflections: Brotherus’ self-portraits

Elina Brotherus (b.1972, Finland) lives and works in Paris and Helsinki. She works in still photography and video and much of her imagery explores perspectives and points of view. She often reflects on the relationship between the individual (frequently herself) and space either in domestic type settings or the wider natural landscape.

When I first saw Brotherus’ work it made me a little uncomfortable, maybe that was because the two images included in the course materials show her naked. It was more than her nakedness though; the images seem to me to have a mood that accentuates her exposure and vulnerability. On looking more at Model Study 5 I felt it had a familiarity, a very painterly quality that put me in mind of Bonnard and Degas, a softening of edges. It was interesting to read later that this was indeed part of the influence for her work.

There is no direct gaze to camera, it feels like a private moment I have intruded upon it could signify anything from giving way to an intense grief, (the curved body and dropped head) to the mundanity of a dropped contact lens. Whatever the moment she seems lost in her own thoughts and I feel I should not be there. I am however aware that this is a self-portrait and as such I assume Brotherus has had agency in selecting the pose she is using to represent herself.

I also find it interesting that the image is in some way mediated through a mirror. Although she is also not looking into the mirror, through the camera lens we are seeing a reflection of a reflection. For me this reinforces the privacy of the moment that sits in contradictoion to its public viewing.

In looking at the Model Studies as shot indoors there appears to be a narrative from clothed (also starting with her back to the camera) through nudity and back to clothed – in only one of the seven shots does she look towards the lens.

It all leaves me wondering what this moment is about, where is the camera and how has it been arranged so there is no reflection in the mirror, why has she chosen to be nude, is there a reason beyond references to impressionist/post-impressionist painting? It is posed and therefore I am assuming deliberateness, Ewing seems to suggest that the nudity is indeed symbolic.

I also wonder how many shots were taken before she chose this as part of the set.

…Brotherus isn’t really giving us a nude at all, but rather a self-portrait, a confession and admission of vulnerability rather than an image of titillation.  W.A. Ewing

Putting ourselves in the frame: self-portraiture

Title: Project 1 Autobiographical Self Portraiture

Exercise: Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project and do some further research of your own.


The moment when a man comes to paint himself – he may do it only two or three times in a lifetime, perhaps never – has in the nature of things a special significance. Lawrence Gowing, 1962

It seems the reasons for creating self-portraits are many and varied, but most have in common a desire to share the human condition. Self-portraits can explore politics, issues of representation, personal trauma, or celebration. Sometimes the images make me uncomfortable, I feel voyeuristic; the act of looking at people I don’t know who seem to be sharing their deepest vulnerabilities sits uneasily. This may in part be influenced by the fact that I am deeply uncomfortable about being on the other side of the viewfinder. Sometimes I connect in a way I could not have imagined, the image speaks to me of myself as much as of someone else.

Narcissism: self-admiration; sensual gratification found in one’s own body, whether as a normal stage of development or a pathological condition. The Chambers Dictionary, 9th Ed.

In the research I have done on various photographers’ self-portraits I don’t think they are narcissistic in the pathological sense (although that may be hard to say without having met them in person), yes they may be regarded as self-absorbed in that they are exploring something of personal importance to the photographer or artist. In many cases their self-absorption is giving the viewer something to reflect on or learn from. One set of images was particularly arresting and Laura Hospes is very articulate about her motives.

At first, I made this complete series for myself, to deal with the difficulties and express my feelings, … After that, I want to inspire people who are or have been in a psychiatric hospital. I want them to see my pictures and recognize themselves in it. I hope they feel taken seriously, less crazy and less alone.  Hospes

I find Hospes images incredibly arresting and troubling. I wonder how a young woman finds herself in such circumstances, and then has the capacity to record her experience. It reminds me of the stories I read when doing assignment one on Brookwood Asylum and contemporary attitudes to issues of mental health. From Hospes’ willingness to share her personal story I am connected to a world of wider stories. I am grateful to her for putting the images in the public domain – I am not sure it is something I could ever do.

In their summer exhibition Turner Contemporary posed an interesting question about self-portraiture, noting in particular the growth of the ‘selfy’ phenonmenon.

In a world where ‘selfies’ have become everyday expressions and ‘Britishness’ is being redefined, what is the role of self-portraiture and how has it shifted through the history of art to the present day? Turner Contemporary: Self, image and identity

Sadly, I didn’t get to see the exhibition but the range of works from Van Dyck to Yinka Shonibare suggests a dynamic genre that shows no sign of abating. The review headline in the Guardian speaks of ‘bagginess’ rather than dynamism and its title suggests a perhaps stark view of the point of self-portraiture but by the end of the piece I think the potential power in the works is acknowledged.

Me me meme: artists’ selfies paint the full spectrum of self-obsession

Ode to Ironing Review

Ut pictura poesis (“As is painting, so is poetry,” Horace, Ars Poetica)

The final image I chose for this exercise is a digital photograph showing three grey pebbles on a grey marble background, with pink wool laid across the stones. Two of the pebbles are relatively flat and smooth the third has more of a texture and is egg shaped. The pebbles were found some years ago and the marble is a manufactured floor tile.

Having chosen this poem it was initially difficult to move away from thinking literally – images of waves crashing, hands spread out, and bolts of cloth or even an ironing board. In a sense it was as if my mind needed to clear these ideas out before I could move on to a deeper level of reflection.

As mentioned in a previous post I then started to brainstorm my responses to the poem and read different analyses of it online. This began to conjure up a focus on texture, connections, interdependencies, the nature of the world we are living in and the challenges we face. I was particularly struck by the last line ‘chastity returns out of the foam’, as if somehow the balance in the system could or would be restored. It felt like I was moving into a more metaphorical and connotative frame for the image I wanted to create.

This led me to thinking about textures and I knew I wanted to develop something that highlighted the notion of connection, but that this connection was not formal or organised, it was soft, gentle and fragile. I started to look for a range of objects that might work, which was when I came across the pebbles. This led me to thinking about contrasting the signs of the natural stones with more overtly man made materials, also exploring textures and surfaces.

As with assignment one I also went on to experiment with different filters and techniques.

This was a table top image shot in natural light with the use of one white reflector.

The image is intended to be interpretative rather than illustrative and is built on the themes I took from Neruda’s poem. Looking in depth at the poem:

• It starts by talking about the purity of poetry
• I took the reference to ‘wrinkles and gathers’ as the impacts humankind is having on the earth
• Ironing signifies the desire to smooth things out, perhaps to move towards a more peaceful and balance ecology
• “…and out of light a dove is born: chastity returns from the foam.” This final section speaks to me of optimism, out of our struggles some form of healing peace is achieved

These interpretations led me to a focus on natural and man-made materials and how they might be linked. The stones are natural yet shaped by their previous environments, they have a history, two smooth and one pitted. The soft but vibrantly pink wool wraps and weaves between them, perhaps suggesting a confusion of both the man-made and the natural. It sits gently on and around the stones – a signifier of bonds or perhaps trickling water. I have deliberately left the colours muted other than the wool and placed the stones in relation to each other to show different textures and volumes, some degree of shadow is used to emphasise their qualities as objects but I wanted to keep the overall effect quite soft.

The intention is to leave the viewer with questions and the space to create their own interpretations.

When I showed the image to an archaeologist friend she came up with a new interpretation and spoke of how large, flat, heated stones were once used for smoothing cloth, a precursor to ironing as we know it, this was a symbolism I was not aware of but delighted to discover!

Evaluation & synthesis
This was an interesting exercise in a semiotic sense because it was taking one ‘text’, the poem, and creating a new text in a different form in response to it. I was making a personal translation of what was signified by the poem and creating a new set of signifiers in response. I cannot say what Neruda meant to signify by the poem but for me the image was intending to signify – connections, the natural world, and fragile relationships.

Overall, I was pleased with the final result, if I were to change anything technically it might be to change the depth of field, to bring more of the pebbles into focus. Otherwise, I hope at least some of the intended meanings are clearly communicated.

Nikon D600: FL – 70mm, 1/500s, f/4.5. ISO – 400.

Further analysis of Windows

Photography students’ critical analysis of their own images traditionally occurs in written self-evaluations and ‘critiques’ where their photographs are viewed and discussed. Analysis is thus often understood to be a physically remote conceptual process that takes place in the realm of language, beyond the doing of photography.

Autographic Photographic, University of Brighton

Following my tutor’s feedback from assignment one I have been researching different approaches to evaluating and critiquing my own work, and the work of others. I have found a range of useful resources from using Bloom’s Taxonomy (familiar to me through my professional work) to semiotics. These all seemed helpful in different ways for creating a written analysis but while they were useful in developing an intellectual and conceptual response they felt lacking in some inexplicable way.

I then found Autographic Photographic and for me the elements I felt were missing emerged. This gave me a more embodied approach that involved working directly on and in the image, it also slowed down the process encouraging me to look and work deeper than I might have before. I used a number of techniques: Linear/Vector drawing (based on Whiteread laboured reflection), reproduction through physical copying/drawing, and different Photoshop filters (edges & mezzotint). Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to some of the printmaking methods suggested but felt the approaches I used gave me a similar sense of physically being in dialogue with an image.

I chose to work on the window image because I think it was one of the more problematic shots of the hospital set for assignment one, yet it also had something that kept drawing me back to it. It felt like it had more to offer that I hadn’t quite captured – Cotton’s notion of being an ‘itchy/scratchy’ image.

I had included it in the initial set because for me the windows signified something about ‘windows on the soul’, a metaphorical link to mental health and how it might be represented. I was struck by their reflective nature that meant you couldn’t actually see through the windows but could only imagine what might lie on the other side.

The mark making in particular highlighted the compositional deficiencies, it showed how central the window and its shadows were and an overall grid like, structure, which was less than interesting. Completing the linear/vector drawing was actually quite depressing as I really started to see the deficiencies and blandness of the image. I think it also reinforced my own sense of not being a natural street photographer. While I did take a considerable number of images for this assignment I know I took many of them quickly, such was my discomfort in being in other peoples’ spaces. It felt intrusive and I felt like an intruder.

Where I thought the shadows in the window were enough to create interest I could see that it was not enough to hold the image together compositionally. In looking at it more deeply in many ways it was obvious this was the case but in the heat of preparing for the assignment I hadn’t recognised it. This has shown me something about the need to slow down and live with the images over time, to work into them and explore their form and content further. In many ways the core of the image emerged as the reflections of the chapel in the window and all that signified in terms of the history and narrative of Brookwood Hospital. (Image: Window shadows)

Close up of reflections of a church in a window at an angle

Window shadows


University of Brighton (2012), ‘Autographic Photographic: developing critical analysis through slow doing and embodied thinking’. Issue 16 [accessed: 4th May 2015] http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/projects/networks/issue-16-january-2012/autographic-photographic-developing-critical-analysis-through-slow-doing-and-embodied-thinking

Cotton, C The Itchy Scratchy Exhibition http://www.permanentgallery.com/wp/?page_id=171

Whiteread, R (2010) ‘The process of drawing is like writing a diary: it’s a nice way of thinking about time passing’ [accessed: 4th May 2015]

Ode to Ironing

Ode_IroningPoetry is white:
it comes from water swathed in drops,
it wrinkles and gathers,
this planet’s skin has to spread out,
the sea’s whiteness has to be ironed out,
and the hands keep moving,
the sacred surfaces get smoothed,
and things are done this way:
the hands make the world every day,
fire conjoins with steel,
linen, canvas, and cotton arrive
from the scuffles in the laundries,
and from light a dove is born:
chastity returns out of the foam.

Pablo Neruda

Ode to Ironing – Pablo Neruda

Poetry Exercise

Title: Ode to Ironing.

Poetry is white:
it comes from water swathed in drops,
it wrinkles and gathers,
this planet’s skin has to spread out,
the sea’s whiteness has to be ironed out,
and the hands keep moving,
the sacred surfaces get smoothed,
and things are done this way:
the hands make the world every day,
fire conjoins with steel,
linen, canvas, and cotton arrive
from the scuffles in the laundries,
and from light a dove is born:
chastity returns out of the foam.
Pablo Neruda

Approach: I was really excited about doing this exercise. It gave me a wonderful afternoon revisiting some old favourite poems and thinking about how I might work with them visually. To begin with it was hard not think purely illustratively about them, taking the words literally and creating an image that fits.

I also had a challenge with selecting the poem I wanted to work with. I went through Stevie Smith, Seamus Heaney, Julia Darling, Anne Sexton and Pablo Neruda. In the end I narrowed it down to Julia Darling’s “Manifesto for Tyneside” and Pablo Neruda’s “Don’t go far off” and “Ode to Ironing.” I printed the three of them and carried them around for a week or so, reading and re-reading as I sat on trains or had a moment free.

While I dearly love “Manifesto for Tyneside” it felt a bit overwhelming in terms of the photography I might create and it was hard to move away from being too literal. In the end I decided on “Ode to Ironing.” For some reason I can’t easily explain it resonated and was something I wanted to work with. Having made my choice more re-reading followed; images in my mind’s eye of water droplets and wrinkled fabric, of litter, recycling banks, heathlands, the sea, forests, cars and children in a park.

In the end I simplified the idea and decided to use the pebbles with a variety of backgrounds, the notion of natural and manmade being at the core of my ideas. The poem speaks to me of the earth we inhabit, its beauties and perils, our systemic relationships and the point in its evolution we have come to. It put mein mind of Gregory Bateson, ecologies, systems, Gaia, Mother Earth.

It also gave me a strong sense of the need for textures as a way of being in dialogue with the poem – smooth, soft, wrinkled, hard.