Assignment 5: Tutor feedback reflections

In reflecting on this fifth, and final, assignment feedback from my tutor I find I am thinking about both my latest submission and my progress throughout Context and Narrative. It has felt very different to my first course (The Art of Photography) and while it has been a bit of a roller coaster it has stretched me in ways I might not have imagined at the beginning.

When I set out to develop Assignment 5 I knew that ‘Plastic Vanitas’ was going to have a strong influence I just wasn’t sure of the direction it would take. As the research process developed and I talked with fellow students the concept became clearer in my mind, I even did a quick sketch in my notebook. My challenge then became how to execute it technically. This took a lot of refining, practice and trial and error but by the end I was very pleased with the result. It was gratifying to have the outcome endorsed by my tutor.

Very competent technical and visual skills…The images are constructed so seamlessly that they could almost be a still life and not a constructed image, really well done for making the work so flawless.

Initially I was thinking of producing one image but after feedback from the Thames Valley Photography group I decided to go for three, each working with a different set of symbols. In each I wanted to acknowledge the early tradition of Vanitas and build on it with personal and contemporary references. I was pleased to read that the thought I felt I had put into each image was observable by others.

There is a fascinating mixture of traditional symbols, personal symbols and conceptual symbols in your work, it really shows you have thought a lot about every single element of the image and they are all the more fascinating when you read the ideas behind them.

This, of all my C&N assignments, definitely felt like the biggest leap forward in terms of developing my own style and voice. Once I had got past the fear of whether I had the skills to achieve what I was looking for I felt able to develop each of the images. It did feel like I was taking a risk both in terms of the kind of work I was producing and whether composite was acceptable as ‘constructed’ in terms of the assignment brief. I appreciate that my tutor recognised I had been experimental and that what was produced was something distinctive.

You have definitely been imaginative, experimental and shown a strong development of a personal voice in this assignment…The work has been so carefully considered that nobody else could possibly have come up with the same ideas, it is very personal indeed.

Throughout C&N I have expanded the scope of my research, built my knowledge of the work of other photographers (many of whom I had not come across before), and really thought about how I want to build my practice as a photographer. I have increasingly turned to my sketchbook and tested a range of ideas which I think is reflected in the development of A5.

Very personal and reflective as well as being thorough analysis of where you were at each stage. It really feels like looking through a digital sketchbook which is great.

In the feedback my tutor did raise an interesting point about possibly developing this work, which I have thought long and hard about and talked to other students about.

I think looking at combining text with your images as a diptych might really work for this piece.

My challenge is that the images are quite dense with connotations and were not conceived of with additional text. I am not sure what text would be appropriate and as a result at this point in time I have chosen not to rework them as image/text diptychs.

Tutor feedback reflections: Assignment 4

It took some time for me to select the photograph I wanted to focus on because I knew it needed to be a strong image that I would want to spend some time reviewing. I was pleased to find Dara Scully’s work and knew immediately I wanted to look at one of her images, they seemed so multi layered. The choice of the image was noted in my Tutor Feedback.

…you have chosen a really interesting image for this and explored it and other appropriate images in an informative and interesting way.

I looked at a range of advice on reviewing visual arts and photographs and worked through a number of drafts to shape the final version, while the comparative work came later in the process I found it particularly helpful in focussing on why I had selected this particular image. I am pleased my Tutor felt this approach was appropriate.

…an interesting piece of writing relating to this image and similar and indeed very different representations of childhood in photography. Very competent technical and visual skills

I am grateful to the other OCA photography students for their feedback during the drafting process, which helped me refine my thoughts and writing. I think this really helped strengthen my writing and I am glad it came across.

Your work has shown an application of knowledge in terms of both your research and your own interpretation of this image and what it shows. … Highly effective work presented in a professional way, showing strong judgement.

In initial feedback from other OCA photography students there was some debate about the appropriate balance between personal voice and the views of others in the field. I wanted to include an auto-ethnographic element as I felt it was pertinent to both my selection of and response to the image. I took a risk in leaving in my reflective comments and my tutor acknowledged them positively.

…strong evidence of personal voice. Your own opinions on this image stand out as well as using references from other theorists to provide a grounding to your essay.

This was not an easy assignment to achieve within the word count, there was so much I could have said about this image and throughout I had a concern about whether I was pursuing my points clearly. I was very pleased that my tutor felt the review was of an appropriate standard and quality.

Very articulate and self aware, very well researched, demonstrating a developed intellectual understanding

I found this process incredibly valuable in both looking at the work of others and in taking a more critically reflective approach to my own work.



Assignment Four Reflections

Title: A picture is worth a thousand words

Having looked at a number of submissions for assignment four by other OCA students I have adopted slightly amended self-assessment criteria that provide more scope for reflecting on my essay.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding

This assignment has helped develop my subject knowledge around visual analysis and really exploring some of the basics of semiotics in particular. My understanding of semiotics has increased although with that has come a questioning of some of its underlying assumptions (see my entry In Search of Semiotics). In completing this essay I also acquired insights into the work of a single photographer and gained an experiential understanding of how I might apply the process I used to my own work and other photographers going forward.

My initial concern that the image might not have been regarded as having enough content has long since been dispelled. I still regard it as a powerful image that offers a depth of meaning (some of my fellow students have also had a similar response on seeing the photograph). Taking the work of an emerging photographer about whom there is not a large established body of knowledge also allowed me to develop my own responses without being unduly influenced by the reviews of others.

I think overall I have demonstrated a grasp of the review process and an understanding of the work of Dara Scully (although I know she would not write about her own work in this academic form).

Demonstration of research skills

I enjoyed the research activity for the essay, which took a number of forms:

  • Gaining more insight into Dara Scully’s photography, her background and her body of work
  • Other relevant photographers/photographs – either similar or different approaches to representing childhood and coming of age
  • Semiotics
  • Reading photographic images – other analysis approaches
  • Psychoanalysis and object relations
  • Theories around childhood and its meaning as a concept

This took longer than I had anticipated but its breadth provided a useful sensitising framework (Bruner, 1996) from which I could develop the depth of my own reading of The Cut. On initial reading of the image I thought I would be using concepts from psychoanalysis and objects relations such as the Mirror Stage (Lacan, 1949)   or Paranoid-Schizoid position (Klein, 1986) or possibly the plait as a transitional object  (Winnicott, 1951) but as my research progressed it was the interpretation of ‘childhood innocence’ that came to the fore.

The research took a process I am familiar with involving cycles of divergent and convergent thinking until my analysis was complete. It also followed a series of iterative stages: data collection, synthesising, analysis, and conclusions.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills

I think I have worked through a clear process of critical review and was open to the process taking me in a direction I might not have initially anticipated. I created a framework for the essay that was intended to highlight the interpretative nature of the exercise. The structure for the essay aimed to have a logical flow:

  • Personal reasons for selecting the image
  • Background to the photographer
  • Comparisons
  • Theoretical exploration of the childhood theme
  • Conclusions including a personal reflection

Feedback from other OCA students helped refine the structure and content, although I am not sure this intended structure was evident to all. It felt particularly important to draw out intertexuality as part of the evaluation by highlighting my personal responses to the image as well as considering where it might be placed within the wider field of representing childhood (both in visual and written texts). If I understand the concept correctly this has taken more of a social semiotic approach.

During the process I came across this quote from Chandler (2002):

Semiotic analysis often shows a tendency to downplay the affective domain – though the study of connotations ought to include the sensitive exploration of highly variable and subjective emotional nuances. (Chandler, 2002)

I found this to be an important distinction for me in evaluative terms as the affective domain (i.e. my emotional response) was the foundation for selecting the image in the first place and relates closely to this being an interpretative piece of research rather than an empirical natural science experiment.


Given the complexity of some of the concepts and the depth I could have gone into in relation to the photograph I did find the 1,000-word limit quite challenging. While I am satisfied with the result I know there was more I could have drawn out and explored. That said the word limit was a useful discipline in terms of tightening my language and trying to be clear about the structure. Sharing earlier drafts with some of my fellow students was a useful way of checking how some of the concepts were received by others, and inevitability there were elements I thought I was communicating well that were not clear to others. I am grateful to everyone who spent time to read the essay and comment.

My thanks to Steve Middlehurst for sharing his self-assessment criteria for the essay.

References & citations

BRUNER, E., M 1996. My Life in an Ashram. In: PATTON, M., Q. (ed.) Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods. 3 ed. London: Sage Publications.

CHANDLER, D. 2002. Semiotics for Beginners. Criticisms of Semiotic Analysis [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 16th May 2016].

KLEIN, M. 1986. Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. In: DU GAY, P., EVANS, J. & REDMAN, P. (eds.) Identity: A Reader. London: Sage Publications.

LACAN, J. 1949. The Mirror Stage. In: DU GAY, P., EVANS, J. & REDMAN, P. (eds.) Identity: A Reader. London: Sage Publications.

WINNICOTT, D. W. 1951. Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena. In: WINNICOTT, D. (ed.) Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis. London: Tavistock.