Finishing C&N: Final reflections

Out of all the topics in this course, which felt most comfortable to you? Why?

Narrative was the area that felt most comfortable, probably because in many ways it felt the most familiar both in terms of my photography and my consultancy work. It was also the reason for taking this particular course. My food photography is all about telling stories so it was an approach I am used to developing. Research suggests we are naturally storytelling animals so it is probably no surprise that this feels like a more instinctive approach.

Did you discover anything completely new to you? What was it?

There were several areas that were completely new for me. The primary one being the big development in my Photoshop skills that has happened as a result of the module. I now feel much more confident with Ps and while there is lots more to explore I feel I now have a good grounding.

The other area that was new was my exploration of Vanitas Still life; while I was very familiar with traditional still life and Nature Morte I had not really come across the Vanitas tradition before. It was particularly interesting to explore its cultural, political and social influences.

Within this I came across a number of female painters and photographers that I had not encountered before and I really enjoyed researching their lives and the social and artistic contexts they were part of.

Which area enabled you to come closest to finding your personal voice?

Surprisingly for me it was the constructed realities and fabricated images area that I felt started facilitating my voice and personal approach. In some ways the seeds were sown with the rework of the first assignment and it then developed as I become more familiar with Ps and had a clearer view of what I was trying to say. It has been very important for me to work through a process of development and deliberation with each assignment.

By the time I got to the Vanitas series I knew when I started that my initial ideas were unlikely to form the final assignment but I had to work through them to get to the right set of images.

Which areas seemed furthest away from who you want to be as a photographer? Why?

In some ways it feels too early to answer this question having only done two courses so far. The areas I am least comfortable with are probably portraiture and street photography and as such they are not approaches I have been developing.

I did not enjoy A1 in terms of shooting in public spaces and looking back I think that was because I wanted more than I could shoot in a straight documentary style (which I completely accept may be a weakness in my work). Once I started manipulating the images and adding text I felt I started to get closer to what I wanted to say.

What were the main things you learnt?

  • Applying my research skills to my creative work as much as my ‘day job’
  • Not being afraid to try things out – I think they now call it ‘failing well’
  • Keeping working on a project if I don’t think I have quite resolved the outcome, i.e. not to settle on a solution too early
  • The value of constantly looking at the work of other students and photographers
  • The sub genres of still life
  • The historic gender inequalities in art and design and the fact that it still remains an issue

Were there any epiphany moments?

Seeing Plastic Vanitas was certainly and inspirational moment, while I didn’t want to do something that was obviously derivative I knew it was a direction I wanted to explore. Another important moment was doing an online Photoshop tutorial that showed me how to create images that played around with the image frame. That was the point at which my A5 became a possibility.

Overall, I think my development during C&N was more slow burn than epiphany.

Will you return to any of the assignments from this course at a later date? Did you feel as if you were on the cusp of anything?

I think it is highly likely that I will return to the issues and ideas raised in assignment two and five. It is possible I may do more around self-portraiture using assignment three as a starting point. I definitely enjoy creating the more conceptual work and I imagine as my technical skills improve I will see new ways of developing the work.

In my mind the three Vanitas images could easily be part of a larger set that I would like to develop. I do think that composite and collage work has opened up a new way of approaching my photography to the point where I have been wondering if I am moving towards becoming more of a digital artist than a photographer (if in fact there is such a distinction).


Thank you Context and Narrative, you have at times been infuriating, but there is no doubt you have helped me develop my practice.


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.