Assessment results

A very solid 68%. It’s exactly the same as my EYV result, however I’m resisting the temptation to view this as a lack of progress as they are two different courses. I do find myself wondering, once again, if I am on the best pathway for me – if the Fine Arts degree had a photography stream I would be there in a heartbeat. I need to have faith I think that the photography stream can accommodate me and the way I use photography. In the meantime I am enjoying this result – I have wanted to do the Context & Narrative course for some time now and it feels as if I have done the course, and myself, justice.

Screen shots below.

Hello Assessors

Welcome to my blog. Hopefully you won’t need to spend too much time here because everything is provided as prints or objects. I’ve tried to make things easy to find. There’s a quick text summary of each assignment and rework under the Assessment Summaries menus. There are more detailed posts for each stage of each assignment under the Assignments menu, if you want to view the original tutor submission or the contextualisation post, for example. Thank you.

Considering C&N in the light of EYV Assessment feedback

It has been on my mind for a while that I should be revisiting my EYV feedback. Of course I should really have been considering it from day 1, but it’s never too late to take a chance to learn.

There was one sentence in the feedback that really made me think.

There are several techniques at play within the work here and greater understanding of why you’re using them and how they relate to the subject matter is required.

I am confident that my research on C&N has been both broader and in greater depth. I thought it would be interesting to consider each assignment in the light of the comment above, as there has again been a broad range of techniques involved in this body of work.

Assignment 1 was I think one of my more traditional pieces of work. I used a digital SLR to make the images and they are presented as plain vanilla prints. This decision was made because it seemed to be the best one for the work – it’s a diagnostic, introductory assignment and there seemed to be neither need nor benefit in making a more complicated presentation.

The main presentation for Assignment 2 is a Viewmaster, chosen for a variety of reasons. It makes the invisible visible – the tiny transparencies are hard to read until you put them in a magic viewer, and then they are visible to you alone for that moment – no-one can look over your shoulder at the same time. So the invisible becomes visible but is still private. The toy reference ties in with childhood and the childhood gaze. It takes us back to a childhood without phones, without internet, with levers to press rather than screens to scroll. The images were made using a child’s toy torch, and are viewed with another toy. On a practical level, pointing the ViewMaster at a light source provides an element of backlighting to the images which helps to lift them from the ambient darkness. This was the case when seeing the images on screen and it was useful to find a viewing device that retained that backlighting. Most of the images were made on my iPhone for two reasons – firstly I was working in confined spaces in the dark and the iPhone handled this far more conveniently than my dslr, and secondly because if the Cottingley Fairies were to be made today, teenage girls would be more likely to photograph using their phone rather than a camera. This is also why I opted for the square format – those fairies would end up on Instagram today.

Assignment 3 was another new technique for me. iPhone self portraits, layered with personal data from my period tracking app Clue. So we have selfies – which tend towards the public, combined with highly personal information that we regard as private but which is aggregated (anonymously) on an industrial scale and shared or sold in accordance with the Clue privacy policy. Menstrual cycles, on the whole, are not largely visible and art about them tends to be confined to the period itself rather than any of the other parts of the cycle. I wanted to explore the whole thing and combining selfies and data went some way towards blending the subjective and the objective. As well as the three individual prints I made a large grid showing images from the entire 26 day cycle. This showed not only the scale of the work but also how my menstrual cycle overlays the normal calendar.

Assignment 4 was the essay. My tutor’s comments allowed me to open my research and thinking further still, and find answers to my questions. Approaching the research and the writing turned out to be far more creative than I expected.

Assignment 5 was probably the most traditional work I’ve ever made, in that it’s photograms made in a dark room, but the subject matter was not traditional at all. Lace and Fox Talbot have never been far from my mind since A5 EYV. The photographic heritage of lace is fascinating, beginning with Fox Talbot’s salt prints. Lace, not withstanding male dalliances with kerchiefs and shirt ruffles over the centuries, remains a predominantly female fabric closely associated with underwear and intimacy. I wanted to make this feminine baseline mesh with the Fox Talbot photographic baseline. I felt that the use of photograms lets me “strip” out all extraneous detail – from colour to location to brand to size. The design of lace often fits with the representations of flora in early photography and natural history illustration. I wanted to work at life size too, in the same way that Anna Atkins and Fox Talbot showed their plants and objects at life size.

Concluding reflections

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

I find “comfortable” an odd word here, I didn’t find any of them comfortable. Inspiring, challenging, frustrating, rewarding… but really none of them felt “comfortable” at all. Nor would I have wanted them to feel comfortable. I think I’d have learned less if the course had felt more familiar.

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

Again, pretty much everything was new to me. I really enjoyed exploring the artists referenced in the self portrait section of the course, Anne Noggle was a huge inspiration to me. My photoshop skills continue to evolve and I was very happy to work increasingly with alternate formats to my dslr – including I-phone, film and photogram. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed putting the essay together and hope that this enthusiasm will continue into UVC.

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

I’m fortunate in that my personal voice is well on its way – I look at the familiar, the forgotten, the domestic, from an essentially feminine and feminist perspective. This voice allowed me to do each assignment with a consistency of approach and as such as I was able to tweak my response to each assignment so that they all fitted with my approach and nascent voice.

“Which area seemed furthest away from who you want to be as a photographer?”

Part 2 was the part where I managed to miss the most exercises off my blog. But then again I was very engaged with the assignment right from the start of that part. Part 1 produced probably the most disappointing/least rewarding assignment, but my A5 would never have happened without that step on the ladder, so I’m reluctant to dismiss it. Besides which, it hit the brief and that was all it was required to do.

“What were the main things you learnt? Were there any epiphany moments?”

Although I am grateful for the steady learning on this course, I think three of the biggest learnings were outside of the course notes. The first one was choosing, buying and using a printer. I have a Canon Pr0-10S and am insanely proud that every single print that went in for assessment was made by me either on that printer or in the dark room. I can’t even start to list everything that I had to learn from paper to profile to soft proofing, but now I can make my own prints, straight away. I had a lot of help from the OCA discussion board during this process and I am very grateful for that. The second one was continuing and expanding my commitment to interaction with other students. I started a small peer group with the aim of mutual support and challenge with the plan to build connections that will endure outside of the academic framework. This year we have added accountability to that too and I look forward to seeing how we grow both individually and as a group. I participate in the Forum Live fortnightly hangouts and am a regular host, as well as taking part in the photography reading group hangouts (though I’ve been slack in documenting those). As well as participating in the regional Thames Valley Group I have also been welcomed into the South West regional group. The third learning came directly out of my small peer group – when discussing the imbalance across genders in big exhibitions such as Arles, one member commented that it would only change if women like us started routinely submitting work for exhibitions, to deal with the oft quoted return “there weren’t enough submissions from women artists”. That lit a fire under me, and I am proud to have entered and shown work at OCA Showcase, the SW OCA Osmosis exhibition and the forthcoming Open Art Collective at Woking in February. I tried, and failed for Format, but at least I tried. Each time is a learning curve.

“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?”

Most definitely. Assignment 3 has run its course because of my impending surgery, but I’d like to explore the concept into the menopause, somehow. Assignment 5 will continue – the lace photograms will be a side project for me through UVC, I have some plans already. The initial A5 (the pink images) will I believe be resurrected on Digital Image & Culture, there’s definitely something there.

A2 Contextualisation

*part of this post is cut and pasted from elsewhere on this blog to provide easy access to contextualisation*

Context was the big surprise here. There was an absolute raft of useful material out there, but I really had to think about what I was looking for and where I was looking for it.

I started by learning everything I could about the Cottingley Fairies, up to and including fairly recent Antiques Roadshow footage. I read about housework, who does it, how long does it take, what are the attitudes towards it, how do attitudes change across different countries. See below. But there was still something missing.

I read about Disney which has a long tradition of showing fairies doing housework. I put the work up for peer review and was instantly pointed towards Martha Rosler’s video work “The semiotics of the kitchen”. I’d seen parts of this work once before, at the Avant Garde Feminism exhibition, but it hadn’t come to mind on this fairy work. Yet when you watch it you can see similarities in the isolation of features of the domestic, and the lack of smiles and joy in the subject (everyone in Disney does the housework with a smile whereas Rosler identifies and demonstrates the articles with a degree of detached violence). There’s a feeling of trappedness to both, and to my mind, resentment. This was useful, but it didn’t help me with contextualising the original work. Why would these fairy images, made a good 30 years before even Fantasia was released, have had such immediate and enduring appeal?

I found a 1973 paper by the president of the Folklore Society, considering the authenticity of the Cottingley Fairies (Sanderson, 1973), and I watched “Fairytale: A true story” (Fairytale: A true story, 1997) which despite its multiple divergences from the truth provided a fantastic amount of context and was pretty much the key to understanding more about the original work. We can look all we want at how the images were made, the way the two girls refused every opportunity to “come clean”, but that doesn’t tell us why their work seized the public imagination and commanded the time of luminaries of culture and the photographic industry.

The film reminds us of what else was going on in 1917 and onwards in Britain. The absolute horrors of WW1, households either bereaved of their loved ones or waiting anxiously to see if, when and in what state they would return. It shows us a society shown warmly welcoming distraction, escape (literally, in the form of Harry Houdini), fairy stories in the form of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan novel and play. A society where the spiritual and paranormal groups gained popularity as people sought to find comfort in the face of the losses and insanity of war. A society that welcomed the ideas of the innocence and peace of childhood, triumph over impossible odds and the dream that everything would be alright in the end. Conan Doyle, who I think was largely responsible for raising the profile of the girls’ work and hence the fame of the girls themselves, had himself lost a son in the war. When we look at all of this, the impact and appeal of the Cottingley Fairies becomes far more understandable. A hundred years on and our perception of fairies and fairy tales is formed and coloured by Disney, by the toy world feeding our children fairies and unicorns.

Contextually, there is something to dig into with the housework. My Grandmothers and their mothers would have laughed roundly at me complaining about housework, given that I have machines that do so much of it, a small family that was entirely of my choosing and timing, and I am currently in the fortunate position of being a most-of-the-time student and some-of-the-time amateur musician whilst my young daughter is at school. I have a partner who’s happy to share some of the load, particularly cooking. My two northern grannies would have looked at the flashing LEDs and jingles on the various appliances and pointed out that I have no need of fairies.

The fairies are unseen, but so is much of the housework done in the UK – often by women who are working full time plus jobs as well as looking after shopping, cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, often for more than one household. A quick online search suggests that the Daily Mail believes women are now doing less housework than ever and that those women who do more housework will live longer. Other sources (eg the Guardian article below) are quoting weekly workloads of thirteen hours a week or more, on top of other paid work. In Sweden, you can deduct half the cost of services such as cleaning, cooking, gardening from your tax return, a policy that has created many thousands of new jobs.

Housework is invisible – we do it when the house is empty, it’s something that we have to get out of the way before we can do the other stuff. It’s always there. Even now, women are judged for the quality of their housework, by people who have never seen the homes in question. Who remembers Godfrey Bloom of UKIP, telling a group of female politicians that they were “sluts” because they admitted to not cleaning  behind their fridges?  The increase in aging populations and ill-health has resulted in a huge increase of male carers, child carers, all with housework responsibilities as well as personal caring.

My tutor feedback highlighted the feminist component of the work which I had alluded to but not really developed. Embarassingly, despite regarding myself as a feminist practitioner, I often need to have the feminist content of my work pointed out to me. Here’s part of my response, taken from the self-assessment on this blog.

I still have a mental block with seeing my work as clearly feminist work. I keep reading feminist books and books about feminist work and hope that the connection and context will become apparent soon. In the meantime I came across Fliss Quick’s work Home-Maker which isolates domestic tasks, and labels her home museum style. Her work takes a different approach – whereas mine elevates the chores to fantasy, hers shows the routine as performance art in her own home, museum-style caption capture the activity, the frequency, the little failures to live up to our own expectations.

In a moment of inspiration I looked at the mini catalogue from the show “Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s” which I saw at The Photographers’ Gallery a couple of years ago. There are, obviously, any number of appropriate contextual references. Marcella Campagnano’s self portraits showing herself in a range of roles including a cleaning lady, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, Renate Eisenegger’s sisyphean ironing of a linoleum floor, Birgit Juergenssen’s womens who are both metaphorically and literally tied to the home, Leticia Parente’s Task 1 video subverting ironing. I can see now why my tutor highlighted the feminist aspect to the work.


Sanderson, S. (1973). The Cottingley Fairy Photographs: A Re-Appraisal of the Evidence. Folklore, 84(2), pp.89-103.

Fairytale: A true story. (1997). [DVD] Directed by C. Sturridge. UK: Icon Productions.

A1 Contextualisation

*part of this post is cut and pasted from elsewhere on this blog to provide easy access to contextualisation*

Contextualisation is proving difficult. I keep leaning towards to photographers who have worked with windows, despite this work having no windows in its final version. I think it’s the net curtain that provides a strong suggestion of looking into a private space through a window. Sharon’s Boothroyd’s work “The Glass between Us” provides portraits taken at dusk, of strangers in their homes, taken through unobscured windows with their consent (Cotton, 2014). A peer, Holly Woodward, commented that my work made her think of Nigel Shafran’s Washing-up series. This is a set of still lifes of his kitchen sink and the adjacent window. His work doesn’t look staged however (Cotton, 2014) but mine was staged. His work is taken inside with the window suggesting the outside, whereas most work that I’ve seen with windows is taken from the outside, looking in. But both are about domesticity, the small glimpses of domestic detail, and I feel as if that chimes with what I’ve tried to show in my work. Other window work that I considered as relevant was Shizuka Yokomizo’s Strangers (also residents photographed through their windows in the dark) and Jennifer Bolande’s Globe, where she photographs globes that she saw on windowsills, from the outside and often from a very long distance away making the globe tiny in the frame in the same way that the earth is tiny in the solar system. I wonder if perhaps I should be looking at still life work, or absented self portraiture, to complete the contextual puzzle where my work will fit.

My tutor feedback provided some interesting perspective on contextualisation:

The​ ​section​ ​in​ ​your​ ​texts​ ​which​ ​covered​ ​research​ ​reveals​ ​that​ ​you​ ​centered​ ​yourself​ ​on  windows​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​for​ ​artists​ ​working​ ​with​ ​this​ ​form​ ​and​ ​related​ ​debate​ ​in​ ​this​ ​area.  Windows​ ​as​ ​a​ ​form​ ​is​ ​one​ ​route,​ ​but​ ​others​ ​could​ ​have​ ​been:​ ​semiology​ ​generally  (particularly​ ​when​ ​your​ ​work​ ​requires​ ​messages​ ​to​ ​be​ ​decoded);​ ​self-portraiture​ ​from​ ​the  feminist​ ​perspective;​ ​decoding​ ​and​ ​advertising​ ​that​ ​shares​ ​similar​ ​territory.

Coming back to this I’m taken by the prescience of Andy’s suggestions of self-portraiture from a feminist view decoding and advertising as these seem to be direct forerunners of my A3 self portraits around my menstrual cycle, and my A4 about the advert featuring and taken by Juergen Teller. I have a sneaking feeling that the I&P assignment on windows and mirrors woud point me towards some more windows references, but I haven’t done that course.  A1 eventually led me to A5 and that had a completely different contextualisation.

Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha, Jodie Taylor

Final catch up post, though at least I have some notes to go from on this one.

All three of these practitioners use their camera as a tool. It’s not about making stereotypically beautifully images, more about using the camera to investigate what matters to them in the same way that you might choose to write about something or tell a story. I found that all three resonated with me but for different reasons – the very personal honesty of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha’s systematic exploration of a ring road in an unfamiliar place and Jodie Taylor’s record of the features of her childhool area, and their appropriate presentation. I had also come across this work on the Foundation course. This time round it is Peter’s work that resonates the most though – his images tell his story. There are no grand vistas, but a record of his everyday, of the tiny details that differentiate his life. He learned about himself whilst enabling others to learn about his life too.

The second part of this exercise is to consider how I feel about the loss of authorial control that occurs once the images are seen by others outside of my own context. On the whole I am positive and excited about it. Other viewers can and will take a far larger range of meaning and significance from my work than I provided to it as input. The feedback that arises can then feed into my work, informing future work. With the benefit of writing this at the end of the course I can see instances of where my work triggered unexpected observations – the reading of A5 as sexual for example, whereas it was intended in more of a still life/historical way. I am learning however to embrace and consider all feedback as obectively as I can manage (which sometimes is not very obectively at all).

Duane Michals

Another catch up post. I think I must have spent most of my time on Part 2 photographing fairies, no wonder my tutor said there were gaps in my blog.

I can’t quite believe that I’ve been ignorant of this work. There’s a delicacy to it. I know from experience that handwriting and photographs are a hard combination to get right but these images are perfect. They manage to give you more information without shutting down your readings. I actually forgot about the exercise (again…) and got lost in the work.

So the question is, is the image proof of a happy liason or is that what we choose to see? I think the answer can be whatever we want. We know that photographs are not proof. If we’re lucky, they might be “proof” of whatever was in front of the camera at the time that the image was made. It feels to me as if the image and its caption is about trying to convince himself that the relationship was indeed happy, at least at that time. It makes me think of how we use words on photos to reassure ourselves, to try to extract a truth from the image that might not actually be there.

As I have the luxury of writing this long after I thought Part 2 was finished, I think of how my Part 3 Self Portrait assignment combines text (via period tracker app screenshots) with mobile phone self portraits. The data was personal to me and allowed the images to carry more meaning, they carried their own context like a hermit crab carries its home.

Part 2 Kaylyn Deveney and Karen Knorr

On checking my blog for assessment I found that some work was missing from Part 2. I add it here. I had viewed the work but for some reason not written it up.

Kaylynn Deveney’s series The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings achieves something remarkable. The images are gentle and thoughtful but it’s not just that – it’s the way that she’s closed the loop by asking Alfred to caption them. Sharon Boothroyd does something similar with the Polaroid “I’d get my feet in” shown in the course notes, and of course Gillian Wearing’s “Signs that say what you want them to say…”  I wonder what would happen if you worked the other way around with the subject taking the picture and the photographer captionning them. It certainly makes me realise that when the same person has control of both the image and the text, there’s a lack of input from anyone else and the possible readings of the work are tightened.

Karen Knorr is someone whose work I still struggle to engage with fully despite the fact that it makes strong points very eloquently. I think it feels very polished, a little cold at the edges, and I know that this is probably the point of the Gentlemen series. Her combination of images and text shows how ingrained the patriarchy was at the time of the work – I know that things have changed a bit since then but I wonder how much. I very much like the method that she has used here and I would be interested to learn more about where the text came from. When I look at this work it reminds me of the Channel 4 documentary when Grayson Perry met Chris Huhne and made a vase that featured patterns inclding Huhne’s head, speed cameras and a penis. It struck me on the documentary that Huhne was quite pleased to be honoured in a pot rather than humbled or pausing to think on his actions. This view is suggested by Perry in a Radio Times piece. (Radio Times 22.10.14)

Grayson laughs. “No, that confidence! I don’t think he has uncertainties. He’s Teflon!” He had wanted this subject particularly because “making the series, from the word go we were looking for differences of race, religion, sex. But I said that I was also interested in the people in charge: middle-class, middle-aged, male – they’re a group too. They hide in a suit and they don’t think they’re an ethnic group but they are. It’s like people who speak RP and think they have no accent. I needed a guy who is all those things but then has a big disrupted moment. Prison!”

I think that Karen shows this approach too – she’s making this “invisible in plain sight” group visible, and her use of text shows how entrenched that group and its attitudes are (or were at the time).



Looking back on this course

I have wanted to do Context & Narrative since I was on the Foundation course and came across Rob Townsend’s C&N blog. I loved the wide open creative spaces conjured by the assignment briefs. I still think that C&N has far more kinship with FiP than with EYV.

It has been a magical course for me, on the whole. The first assignment felt clunky and out of step with the others. I tried repeatedly to rework it, and hey presto, the phoenix of my A5 arose from my A1 problem child as the net curtains in A1 led to the lace underwear of A5. I think where I have drawn the most benefit is in realising that the “narrative” in the course title does not refer solely to the narrative of an individual image, or even a series, but to the continuing arc of my own development. From A1 to A5 certainly, but now, with three courses under my belt, I can see the stepping stones of my own work leading from FiP to now, and to some extent from now into the future. I can see how my light painted portraits for FiP A2, in a pitch dark derelict dairy, led to my Nick Turpin inspired night time red telephone boxes for EYV A4, which then led to my after dark housework fairies for A2 and most recently to the darkroom for the underwear photograms. I can trace my passion for the everyday but unacknowledged from FiP through to C&N, particularly in regard to the  social and sexual aspects of being female – from miscarriage in FiP to pregnancy tests in EYV through to underwear, periods and peri-menopause in C&N. As I write this I can finally concede that my tutor had a point when he commented, on my A5, that the work had a sexual aspect to it.

I have learned more about persistence and patience, about how work evolves over time rather than just popping into existence over a couple of shoots. I’ve learned that I need to spend time scrabbling around in the tiny details to make the big breakthroughs. The essay, for A4, was an example – although the first pass that went to my tutor was perfectly serviceable, it was in following up his pointers on how he would he have done it that I was able to make the links that made it all make so much more sense, and that actually made me think that perhaps Understanding Visual Culture was a feasible choice for my next course. A3 (self portraits) was the only assignment that did not evolve significantly conceptually but did require images to be made every day for an entire menstrual cycle; and taking plenty of them each day has afforded a generous set of images from which I can tweak the edit even now. A3 also saw me picking up pencils, charcoal and markers and sketching an apple every day for a month as the diary exercise – something that took me far more out of my comfort zone than writing would have done. It terrified and intrigued me in equal measure and I am falteringly continuing with occasional sketching because I know that there is something there for me, even though I don’t know what it is yet.

The course did not turn out how I expected in terms of technical skill development. I used my DSLR for A1 only – A2 and A3 used my iPhone, A4 is the essay and A5 is photograms made in the darkroom with no camera involved at all. That said, my Photoshop skills have come on significantly as assignments 1, 2 and 3 all required some post processing. I have definitely done far more in Photoshop than Light Room this year. A huge developmental win for me has been buying my own printer (Canon Pro-10 S) and learning to use it, opening up the worlds of soft proofing, screen calibrating, printer profiles, setting borders within images, resizing and resampling images and working with different paper sizes up to A3+. I was very happy to be able to print all my own photographs for assessment, for the first time. I feel far more in control of how my work is presented. I am very happy with how my darkroom skills are progressing, I enjoy working in the dark.

I have developed in my interactions with other students too. I have always been active on the OCA forum but have extended this to regularly hosting the Forum Live Sunday hangouts. I participate in Emma’s monthly photography reading group but see that I have been lax in transferring my notes to my blog. I take part in the Thames Valley Group and OCA South West regional groups and have also set up a small peer collective which provides mutual support and challenge.  I have also benefitted significantly from the support and challenge provided by readers of this blog, and am very grateful for their time and comments. I also have relationships developing with Fotospeed who are fairly local to me, Devizes Darkroom and a local vintage/antique clothing store.

I have attended workshops including darkroom skills, handmade books and alternative darkroom techniques and feel as if I have a broader and more secure technical and creative footing than at the start of C&N. I suspect that I am less a photographer than a wannabe Fine Artist using lens based media as a tool, but as long as I’m making work I’m happy.

After resolving to start exhibiting my work I have shown work in the OCA Showcase exhibition and the OCA SW regional exhibition. I also have work showing in the Thames Valley Group Open Art Collective show next February. Each of these exhibitions has required different preparation and I have learned a good deal. I submitted work for Format 19 and was unsurprisingly unsuccessful, but again it was a worthwhile exercise.

Going forward, I am enrolled on UVC for my next course as I very much want to acquire a bigger context for my work, a broader range of inputs and a wider understanding of work and improved critical thinking skills. I will however be continuing work on the photograms through UVC. My work on archive photographs including pink (my original path for A5) will I think be resumed on Digital Image & Culture as it still has plenty to give. I am very happy to be at the end of C&N and very excited about the as yet unknown future work that will build on my work here.