Exercise – Childhood memory

This exercise was left til after I’d finished the assignment, because I needed time to shop for a prop,  a dry sunny afternoon and time to process my thinking. The win here for me was not so much about re-creating the memory, but about thinking about photography and memory. I’ll explore this more below.


I was about six or seven years old and in the back garden of our Coventry semi on a sunny summer afternoon. My mum was there too, drinking tea with one of her friends, surprisingly neither of my sisters were there. I was playing with my knitted doll, and noticed that somehow the yarn had broken on her chest and a few loops and an end were visible. My (undiagnosed as yet) shortsighted vision reduced still further to the disruption erupting amongst the ordered stitching. My curiosity about the destructive possibilities (what happens if I pull the loose end?) was in direct conflict to my distress that my doll was unravelling. Eventually I interrupted the adult conversation, pointed out my problem, and my mother presented me with a needle and thread which gave rise to a whole new set of problems in the short term and ultimately a lifetime of hand-sewn, knitted and crocheted blankets and quilts for my own household.

This image was made in a different garden, a different place, a different time, with a different doll and a different blanket. Looking at the set in my back garden though made me think of Madeleine L’Engles “A Wrinkle in Time” – the idea that something as simple as a fold in the fabric of time could bring two disparate moments together.

I started thinking about how I remember my past.  Some of my memories are triggered by photos of the exact same event. There are no photos of this event, but there are countless photos of that garden, at that time. It was the early 1970s, the photos are in colour. When I remember, do I remember the colours as they were in life, the colours as they were in the film prints of that time, the colours as they are in those film prints in the album now, or do I create some mental misty Instagram-style filter never actually seen in real life but universally acknowledged as denoting the past?



I wondered about the type of photograph dictates the colour, the context. Our pictures at the time would have been on a 126 format Kodak camera, 110 cameras were yet to go main-stream. While doing this exercise I got out my Polaroid, which was loaded with black and white film, and photographed the doll on the blanket. Then I used my phone to photograph the doll with the Polaroid.  Procam tilt and shift filter, Instagram, instant context of a rose-tinted moment in my childhood revisited. Absolutely none of it accurate – not my doll, not my garden, there may not have even been a blanket and we didn’t have a Polaroid. But this image sets up a convincing case for the possibility of accuracy, it would be better if the Polaroid was a bit older or in colour. The hand-knitted doll (not by me) is on a hand-crocheted blanket that I made for my daughter, often with  me working on it whilst sat on it in this same garden with my toddler daughter dozing on my lap. Somehow that hurts my head thinking about it.


Pass it through an Instagram filter and remove it still further from fact…


I’d love to shoot the Polaroid in colour, but I still have three black and white exposures left in the camera and don’t want to use any more of them on this work. Then I remembered that I have the Gudak app on my phone – a strange little thing that simulates an old Kodak film camera to the point that you have to wait three days for “processing” after finishing the allocated 24 exposures before any of the images become visible on the camera roll. So I finished off my  Gudak “roll” with photographs of the doll, and will update this post on Tuesday evening when the authentically light-leaked images appear on my phone.

72 hours before I can see the Gudak images. We’d have waited about a week in the 70s.

I also thought about using my OM-1 and processing the prints myself… that might still be an option for this afternoon if I can bring myself to explain to my daughter why I cut a knitted doll that I had only just bought from her friend’s granny’s shop.

This exercise desperately makes me want to use memories as a starting point for exploration. Domestic textiles are of interest to me in my work, and I have some plans for developing this further. It makes me wonder how the Instagram/retro phenomenon will change how our children view photographs, photographs of them often now imply a nostalgia, a golden age of a childhood which for them was literally yesterday. How will their photos age, or as mainly digital JPGs will they be perpetually in an un-aging attic?

In some ways, the photo is absolutely accurate – give or take the doll being slightly larger in a different colourway, the hair is the same, the skin rather pinker. I doubt that this is a memory that my mum still has and in a way I cherish its intimacy, it was a bigger moment for me than for anyone else there.

Other images:



Wrinkle in Time Trailer – a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points (around 1 min 16 to one minute 1 minute 40)


A3 Contact sheets

These are a little incomplete as many images were finished in Photoshop rather than Lightroom. I should also say that some images were deleted. Without disregarding the value of the archive, there were many selfies that the world doesn’t need to see.

I still don’t completely have the knack of the contact sheet process. Lightroom (and Bridge) make it very straightforward to use tags, labels and other selection tools to gradually whittle down images, but they don’t make it so easy to show those processes via the contact sheets. So I often end up returning to my contact sheets after the fact of selection, which is not really the point.

Self assessment A3

self assessment

Following my A2 format of more detailed writing under each heading as this was well received by my tutor and provides a more central record for me.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I worked with my iPhone SE again for this assignment as it fitted best with the “selfie” element of the work and the use of screenshots from the Clue phone app. I used the square format once again, I’m slightly ambivalent about this decision but decided on the square format as selfies are often presented to the world via the ubiquitous square format of Instagram.  Instagram itself has this weird tension from the intimacy of the images shared via the public, global  nature of the platform, and I thought this echoed what I was doing with my work – making something deeply personal almost open access.  It also allowed me to explore the diary element via daily postings of the work to Instagram and did encourage accountability on the days when it all seemed too much of a poor idea. Format was an issue as the Clue screenshots were in a very different form to either square or standard IPhone photos, they were tall and very narrow.

I ended up working with square images, 960pixels on each side. I used the selfie camera which although I think the most appropriate camera for the work, was of quite limited quality especially in lower light and when some overlay modes were used. I tried to make all images against a light coloured background thus giving consistency without restricting me to a single location. Images were imported to Lightroom, then I opened them in Photoshop to layer the images with the corresponding Clue screen shot and make any edits. I think this is another “low-tech” piece of work, the images are not as polished as they would be from my DSLR on a tripod, but I wanted to keep an “everywoman” feel to the work too.

This assignment gave me the opportunity to use Adobe Bridge, which has only just become legible on my hi-res monitor. Bridge gave me more options to play with for layout and actually made putting the final work together more straightforward, even though it had no input on the individual images. It has also made me think harder about getting my own printer as it outputs to a PDF and Loxley don’t print PDFs.

Quality of Outcome

I am quite proud of this work.  I’m not sure that it is “finished” in terms of presentation, but the contact sheet format displays my entire cycle on one A3 sheet and somehow that feels like an appropriate presentation. There are some 5 x5 prints too, all prints made by Loxley. It’s at a good intermediate point I think. This course has often made me look at things differently, but I’ve never looked at my identity over the course of one cycle in anywhere near as much detail. Personally, it’s driven me to seek medical advice in the hope of improving a few days each month.

I presented the work as a grid containing one image taken and made on each day of my cycle. I wanted to present as a 7column 4 row grid to mimic a standard calendar grid of 28 days, but that particular cycle only ran to 26 days so I was two days short. I did consider picking out a handful of images and presenting just those, but I think part of what I liked about this work was showing the whole cycle as a series. I didn’t start the series until day 6 of that cycle so I had to chose between starting the grid at day 6 and cycling around to finish at day 5; or using days 1-5 out of sequence to show a series running from 1-26. I chose the latter but am still not 100% at ease with that decision. I really liked a peer’s (Nic Hallam) suggestion of presenting the work as slides in a Kodak carousel to convey the “repeat til broke” nature of my cycles, but that’s not a realistic option for assessment as there may not be a projector available. Also the images are small and square and may not convert to slides successfully. All that said I’m going to try it anyway and see if there’s potential there.

Demonstration of creativity

I enjoyed the creative sandpit afforded by doing the same thing every day, this gave me space to learn, experiment and play because I had the best part of a month to make this work. You can follow different explorations throughout the grid as I started to become more playful and curious about the frame and the possibilities that it offered.

I was intrigued by the possibilities offered by my Pro cam app, and even more so by the way that my phone would remember the haziest of outlines of an untaken photograph if I switched to another app before taking a picture and then returned to the phone app. I could then scan through open apps and do a screen grab of that hazy outline. I’d love to do more with this.

feb 22 blur darker colour 22 opacity
Feb 22

I’m not much of a selfie taker and this work felt very personal indeed, well outside my comfort zone. It’s common to so many of us though and I hoped that people would recognise aspects of their lives in my work. I was very interested and also very happy to see another OCA student, Sarah Scott,  exploring the idea on her blog too after seeing some of my images on Instagram. One of her posts about it is here, scroll down to the end. It was fascinating to see her take on the idea and I agree with her comments about the discomfort of sharing something so private. It’s a great feeling to see someone whose work and writing I find engaging being inspired by something I made. So that feels like a creative success to me because my work is inspiring more work as well as recognition and empathy.

Combining a basic biological function with a high-tech app provides some consideration about neoliberal measuring of women’s lives (thank you to a former tutor for pointing out the neoliberal measuring), and there is much to think about here. Exactly who gets to know the details of my cycle once I upload the data? How many organisations would seek to exploit this data, whether for medical research or commercial gain? Would WHSmith want to be able to target their magazine and chocolate cross-selling more precisely?  Add this to the Facebook data breaches that broke recently and there is considerable scope for more work.

There’s not much work out there about the menstrual cycle in relation to the whole person – and what there is tends to focus on either the visibility of the monthly bleeding or the results of conception. I thought it was creative to take a wider view of the entire cycle.

It was hard to work out how obvious I wanted the work to be. It’s difficult to take a candid selfie after all. Did I want to show awareness, or did I want to be as “out there” as Echeverri? I’m still not sure what the answer is to that one.

I ended up finding far more context for this work than I thought I would, and it is documented in its own post here. I think it sits within post-feminist work. It’s autobiographical, but also documentary because it includes app screenshots and encourages consideration of what happens to the personal  data uploaded to that app.

I think it’s the context section of this work that has carried the most learning for me. Not just in terms of artist context, but also in terms of establishing where my work sits with regards to feminism. I always regarded myself as a feminist, but A2 feedback showed me that it is far more apparent in my work than I imagined. For this work, I couldn’t even consider that it’s not feminist. I somehow thought that I could choose whether or not I made feminist work, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Ditto, the way that I emphatically told myself “ok, it’s definitely feminist but it’s not about menstrual activism” is probably wrong too. I suspect you can still have work that’s about menstrual activism without seeing the blood, or perhaps that should be menopausal activism. It’s the context section for each assignment in this course that is really making me question what motivates and informs my work, how I’m making and presenting it, and where I imagine it sitting in the world of contemporary work.




Contextualising A3

I ended up finding more context for this work than I thought I would. At a very basic level it can be contextualised within (a) self portraits and (b) feminist/post-feminist work around the entire menstrual cycle. I didn’t find much work encompassing both of these contexts. There are many more contexts that this work touches upon though and I will consider some of these below. Some of the links at the end of this post are not safe for work.

Films – I was directed by Russell Squires on the OCA discussion forum to the film “Stranger than Fiction” where the lead character is shown with his own GUI, rather like the Cumberbatch Sherlock episodes with text-style captions showing thoughts or text messages, hashtags etc. I saw how text and photographs can work together, giving extra insight to both.


sherlock lives bbc
Copyright BBC


From Stranger than Fiction I moved to “Groundhog Day”, considering the implications and possibilities of doing the same activity every day, for ever. Both films move the character’s destiny out of the their own hands. This helped me to realise that just because I was taking a self portrait every day, it didn’t have to be the same self portrait every day; there was space to play, to evolve.

My over-riding inspiration was Roni Horn’s “You are the weather” series, where a series of portraits of a woman in an outdoor swimming pool subtly indicate, via changing facial expressions, the different external weather. I wanted to see if my face and body language could indicate my changing internal hormonal climate, over the course of one cycle. In the event my changes are far less subtle than those that Roni captured. I was also inspired by Juan Pablo Echeverri’s various series of photobooth self portraits. These are very much performance based, but encouraged me that it was possible to make a series of multiple self portraits without it being boring, something that mattered when the motivation faded after the first few days.

On the self-portrait side, I was interested in older women working in the self-portrait area to counter-balance the raft of younger women in the selfie arena. Jo Spence was an obvious reference here, but there are others. I was engaged by the work Outrageous Agers by Rosy Martin and Kay Goodridge, where they photographed themselves trying on clothes in TopShop. They look squished, confined into tight lycra in tiny spaces. This contrasts with Anna Noggle’s naked self portraits, where she occupies her space and her identity proudly.

We then move into a very tangled context of feminist and post-feminist work, menstrual activism, mobile phone apps concern over data security and selfies. There doesn’t seem to be a category for menopausal activism which is probably where I’m heading. Much of the work out there is associated with menstrual activism, specifically the bleeding. There is not much creative attention paid to the 3 weeks of every 4 when we’re not bleeding, but doing so much other remarkable stuff. We can start with Judy Chicago’s Red Flag and move onto Sarah Levy’s portrait of President Trump made with her period blood, Rupi Kaur’s Instagram work and Yurie Nagashima (both of whom show blood on the shower floor), the Hong Kong based Menstruaction group on Facebook. Chris Bobel’s book New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation focuses on menstruation (as per the title) and the way that consecutive waves of feminists have chosen to engage with or disengage from the politics and provision of  san pro products and their safety.  The mood does seem to be changing to a more holistic view of the entire cycle and the move into the menopause. In the mainstream press, Eva Wiseman considers the existence, funding and use of period tracking apps and there is much of interest here (including the venture capitalist who agreed to invest but on condition of anonymity, we can only assume that he was male). There’s an interesting conflict there between the vast size of the market presented by tracking menstrual cycles and the reluctance of the patriarchy to accept, fund and profit from a high-tech app created by a woman for people who menstruate.

The best context for the diary based work was Mary Kelly’s work Post Partum. This is a diary format work over 6 years, starting with stained nappy liners and baby vests and moving through feeding charts to the starting of writing. The feeding charts especially chimed with me for this work, the recording of facts in conjunction with a daily diary. My sister in law had her first child in Japan where pretty much everything that goes into and comes out of an infant is recorded in detail. Another similarity for me is the sense of loss, as the child grows from an entirely dependent baby to a child starting to express himself in writing as well as vocally. Much to my confusion, the prospect of menopause triggers feelings of loss at the end of my fertile years as well as joy and confusion at the idea of no more periods (what will I feel like every day? Will every day feel the same?). My diary is only over 26 days so this may not be apparent, compared to the six years that Mary Kelly’s work covers, but I am one cycle closer to the unknown now.

I found one piece of work that considered the entire cycle from a self portrait perspective. It is Casey Jenkins’ “Casting off my womb” and is performance art recorded each day during one of her cycles. She used a centre pull ball of yarn (one where the yarn feeds from the centre rather than the outside), inserted it like a tampon and videoed herself knitting it into an extended scarf every day for 28 days. Although the reported focus of the work is (inevitably) on what happens during her period, she does consider aspects of the other days too, how the experience changed from day to day. She received such aggressive feedback about this work via social media that she made more work responding to the criticism.

I found that where I was in my cycle affected my attitude to the work, and this is something that will stay with me. Critiquing my own work in the premenstrual days didn’t go well – I was unhappy with the project, the images, and I ended up in a negative feedback loop. I think back to EYV A5 when I soaked a Polaroid emulsion lift off an acrylic block and washed it down the kitchen sink, and I start to suspect I was premenstrual that day. I will definitely check where I am in my cycle before making major creative decisions from now on.

It would be an omission not to consider selfies as part of the context for this work. Society can be very judgemental of those who take selfies, particularly women and girls. It is true that there are valid concerns over pressure for perfection and achieving impossible filtered “norms”, but selfies also give people control over how they appear in images and how they distribute those images, at least in the first instance, and the ability to push back against those who would tell them how they should appear in photographs. Anne Burns’ work on her blog and her dissertation is very interesting.

References (some are not safe for work)

Arnot, C. (2018). Cellulite for sore eyes. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/feb/03/artsfeatures2 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

BBC (2018). Sherlock Series 3 announced. [image] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01mj92g/p01mj8yt [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Bobel, C. (2010). New blood. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto focus. London: Thames and Hudson, p.80.

Burns, A. (2018). The Carceral Net. [online] The Carceral Net. Available at: https://thecarceralnet.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Casey Jenkins. (2018). Casting Off My Womb. [online] Available at: http://casey-jenkins.com/works/casting-off-my-womb/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Groundhog Day. (1993). [film] Directed by H. Ramis. US: Columbia.

Hauserwirth.com. (2018). Artists — Roni Horn — Images and clips — You are the Weather — Hauser & Wirth. [online] Available at: https://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/images-clips-view/?artist_id=14&a=roni-horn&p=104 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Jospence.org. (2018). Jo Spence: The Picture of Health. [online] Available at: http://jospence.org/picture_of_health/picture_of_health_thumbs.html [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Juanpabloecheverri.com. (2018). SUPERSONAS • JUAN PABLO ECHEVERRI. [online] Available at: http://juanpabloecheverri.com/supersonas/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Judychicago.com. (2018). Selected work « Judy Chicago. [online] Available at: http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-feminist/ef-artwork/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Marykellyartist.com. (2018). Post-Partum Document. [online] Available at: http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Mocp.org. (2018). Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.mocp.org/detail.phpt=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Noggle%2C+Anne&record=76 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Rupikaur.com. (2018). period | rupi kaur. [online] Available at: https://rupikaur.com/period/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Sarah Levy Art. (2018). Art. [online] Available at: https://www.sarahlevyart.com/#/bloodytrump/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Stranger than Fiction. (2006). [film] Directed by M. Forster. US: Colombia.

Wiseman, E. (2018). Breaking the cycle: women are learning to love their hormones. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/25/breaking-the-cycle-women-learning-to-love-their-hormones [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].



Assignment 3 Self Portrait

My self portrait work is autobiographical but I hope that others will recognise the spirit of the work.  Inspired by drawing an apple each day for a month, I wondered what it would be like to document my menstrual cycle. My cycle is one of the main influences on my identity. It’s generally invisible to the wider world except to those closest to me. My periods started when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and are now becoming erratic with Theresa May as PM. I thought it could be interesting to explore a cycle while they’re still here.

Outside of pregnancy, the art world’s representation of the menstrual cycle is generally limited to the period itself, the housekeeping part of the cycle (cf Judy Chicago’s Red Flag). The cycle’s about far more than that though. We don’t mark those exuberant mid-cycle days or the days of calmness and strength.  I was inspired by Roni Horn’s I am the weather series, where the expression of a woman in an outdoor swimming pool changes according to the weather. I wondered if a series of self portraits throughout my cycle could show the effects of my changing internal hormonal climate, juxtaposed with more objective data from Clue, a period tracking app.

I used my phone to take selfies every morning and Clue screen captures later that day to prevent the data affecting the selfie. I combined the two in Photoshop each evening.  Presentation options included a calendar-style grid, spiral bound prints, Mobius loops with the images printed as photobooth style strips, carousel style hand-made book or a carousel of slides. Choices were limited by the very small size of the selfie camera images from my phone (960pixels on the shortest side).

I took selfies and screenshots each day of my Feb/March cycle which encompassed Valentines Day, International Women’s Day and the general run-up to Easter. Images were made from Day 6 of one cycle through to day 5 of the next.

Judychicago.com. (2018). Selected work « Judy Chicago. [online] Available at: http://www.judychicago.com/gallery/early-feminist/ef-artwork/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018]. Not safe for work.

Hauserwirth.com. (2018). Artists — Roni Horn — Images and clips — You are the Weather — Hauser & Wirth. [online] Available at: https://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/images-clips-view/?artist_id=14&a=roni-horn&p=104 [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Darkroom course 7th/8th April

The course was at Bristol Folk House and I attended it with Holly Woodward. Many thanks to Holly for letting me know about the course. I can recommend the venue, they run a variety of very reasonably priced photography courses and are located in central Bristol a few doors from an excellent bookshop that sells most of its books for £3 each.

There were six students and one tutor, we worked in the dedicated dark room which is based in a cellar with an adjoining small room for inspecting prints and negatives. The cellar had six enlargers (all donated and of different types!) and a very large ceramic sink that could take three large trays and a water bath. There was also a small length of counter with a paper safe and a print dryer.

On day 1 we spent the morning learning to get the undeveloped film wound onto the reels in the dark.  Even when successful this still felt a bit unsuccessful, it’s definitely something I need to practise whilst watching tv. The actual processing mechanics were fine, we used the Ilford rinsing method which uses less water. The developer has to be within half a degree of 20 C, any warmer or cooler required changes to the length of time that the film was developed for. Getting the processed film off the reel was a surprising challenge considering that it was done in full light, 36 exposures is slightly too long for intuitive handling and I think I may have got some dust on Holly’s film.

In the afternoon we made contact prints, which involved making a test print first. This is done with a strip of paper placed diagonally across the neg holder, and then another wider strip of card is used black side down to mask off sections of the photopaper. Each section was exposed for 5 seconds. Some of us then ended up working with 10 second exposures depending on how well the first one came out (I increased my intervals in this way). Once a satisfactory test print was obtained we inspected the residuals (the black bits between images) to identify the point where the residuals showed true black, and from that position on the strip we calculated the cumulative exposure needed.

Day 2 was about making prints. The neg goes into the holder in the enlarger and any filter changes applied. In red light, the image is projected onto the easel and the enlarger adjusted to get the desired image onto the desired size paper; this is done with the enlarger opened up two stops to give a bright image. Then the image is focused using the enlarger control first, then a manual focusing tube that allows you to inspect the grain of the projected image. After this you stop back down two stops and get paper for a test strip, then you make a test strip again.

Once the test strip is exposed you use consecutive baths of developer (2min), stopper (30 sec) and fixer (about two minutes). Don’t dip the tongs in the wrong tanks. That moment when you see your image start to appear in the dev tank really does feel like magic. It did make me wonder if I should shoot my fairies on film. After those three baths the print went into a tank with running water for 2-4 minutes before going through the dryer (you can also hang them to dry). This time, the test strip is inspected for the exposure that is just starting to show detail in non-specular highlights, and the exposure is calculated on that basis. Then a sheet of paper goes into the easel and you make the full print.

We were shown how to dodge and burn. Despite learning the technicalities of doing this in PS/Lightroom on the Foundation course, seeing it done on paper really helped my understanding of how and why you would do these processes.

Lots of learning for me over the weekend, and not just the obvious stuff. It’s tempting to look at a test strip with the same logic of looking at a digital histogram, but that doesn’t work. In digital, an overexposed pixel is white (blown) and underexposed is black. Whereas the shorter exposures on paper were whiter because the paper had less chance to react to the light and longer exposures were darker. I kept trying to read my test strip back to front on Saturday until I realised.

I loved the printing process – it’s very iterative, which I liked, but also it needs to be very precise and that continues to be a bit of a challenge to me. You need to be accurate in measuring fluids, in measuring timings, in squaring up paper in the easel, in focussing…  I am definitely going to do more. A friend has some old dark room gear that she is happy to lend to me, though the siting of the enlarger presents a couple of challenges. There is also a local private darkroom literally moments from my home and there is some availability to work there. Developing film at home and then printing at the darkroom might be a suitable compromise. I would love to work with layered objects and fabrics on the paper during exposure, I would have to see if that could be done in a commercial setting.

I find it amusing that after months of saving and toing and froing over buying a digital printer that my first prints are analogue. They are not perfect, even to my uneducated eye I can see issues with them, and focus is an issue too as they were my first prints from my Olympus OM-1 and I am definitely struggling with the manual focus on that. I did love the process though, enough to continue exploring.

My final prints:


My photos were taken on an Olympus OM-1 camera that was given to me by an OCA student last year. It’s been serviced, and these were the first prints that I’ve seen from it. I am undoubtedly at the start of a substantial learning curve re manual focus and manual exposure.

Film used was Ilford HP5, as requested in the course materials.

Paper was Ilford Multigrade, and we used the enlarger filter settings to adjust contrast/tonality.

I used f4.8 (I think, couldn’t really read it in the dark) when setting up and focussing the enlarger, f8 when making the prints.



This is a long way out of sequence but these images from my various attempts at A1 have been on my mind and I need them all in one place. Lace and Lacock fascinate me. Some of Fox Talbot’s first images were of lace, and I saw them in virtual reality at Mat Collishaw’s exhibition at Lacock Abbey. Over 100 years later lace is widely used in the windows of the Lacock village homes, as they try to manage the inherent conflicts of a 21st century life in a listed village whose sole income is from the tourism generated by Fox Talbot’s home and the associated museum.

The first nets images, taken at Lacock as part of the street photography exercise. I then went back and added in some more. There’s still something about the curtain, the glimpses through it and the occasional reflection.

I realised that I could buy short lengths of many of the nets that I’d seen. I did so, and tried a domestic shoot at home.

I was still finding the problem of how to use the lace to show two sides to the same story (the actual assignment brief). I left Lacock behind and decided to work with domestic double standards, or the differences between what you think you should be doing and what you’re actually doing.

For A1, which isn’t formally assessed, it’s ok, and I have some good feedback on how to develop it. I still feel as if I’m not getting the most from the lace , the first two sets are less resolved and I think there’s more to do. I have a number of options:

  1. go back and shoot more
  2. shoot the lace panels against a blank wall and then layer the image with the view that the corresponding houses in Lacock (the ones with each particular lace) look out on
  3. I have some white and blue calotype paper and could try making prints of each net. Perhaps that could be layered with something.
  4. Self portrait of me through each lace.
  5. Build more context (feminist context, Helen Sear)




Blog admin – Likes

Basic admin post. After picking up about 10 spam comment likes from usernames all pointing to porn sites (from a bot I suspect as they were within minutes of each other) I’ve finally and reluctantly put the time into disabling Comment likes and switching off a whole bunch of other Like functionality. Next up is seeing if I can delete those comments. Apologies if you tend to use the like button on my blog.

update – switching off the ability to Like comments has made them all disappear. Apologies to anyone who’s received notification of a Like on their comment from a dodgy source.

Project 3 Self-absented portraiture

Another piece of coursework that made me think and made me revisit previous ideas.

The photograph by Maria Kapajeva (Nhung) in the course notes hadn’t really engaged me and I was a bit underwhelmed at the idea of looking at more of her work. I did, anyway, because generally there’s always something to learn from doing so. The work shown came alive for me as part of the sequence, and when seen a bit larger on screen. The series is a set of her peers, all women, all immigrants. To me the series works when I consider the relationship between Maria and the women that she’s photographing. There’s a candidness, an open-ness, a trust. The portraits are situated in different settings, I think of them as the women’s own spaces but I don’t know for sure. I really like the use of colour, the feeling that Maria has respectfully reproduced each woman’s colour palette. As a photographer she feels unobtrusive to me in this series, yet I’m aware that every women photographed is looking at her.

Reading the Photoparley interview with her I was both amused and relieved to read her answer to the question “What is you main aim with this work?” Maria replied:

I honestly don’t know the aim of this work. I just felt like taking portraits of women I have met in my life who I admire as individuals and professionals in whatever they specialize. It just happened that they are all my peers and they are all immigrants as I am. It might be some sort of reflection on my long-lasting connection with the ideas in ‘Russian brides’.

I think this relatively simple motivation resulted in a very strong series of work, possibly more so than if she’d explicitly set out to photograph herself via women she knew in similar circumstances. I think there’s always an element of self-portrait in everyone’s work, it’s hard not to give away something of yourself in what you choose to photograph and how you photograph and present it.

I was excited by Maria’s work involving patchwork and cross-stitching. I enjoy work that takes traditionally feminine pursuits and occupations and builds them into contemporary work within a feminist context. It’s interesting that she collaborated with her mother on the Double-wedding ring quilt. Named I am Usual Woman, it features images from how-to websites on the best images to use to attract a mate.

I have enjoyed Sophie Calle’s work since FiP. Something about Take Care of Yourself makes me want to pull up a chair and settle in for the evening. I think part of it is the universal subject matter – who hasn’t received a poorly phrased dumping letter/email/text message? My own history of responding to these is not one I’m particularly proud of, yet has always been creative. In this way I identify with, and to a certain guilty extent delight in, Sophie’s extensive, careful, considered and completely compliant response to the phrase “take care of yourself”. She takes the obsession from herself, the recipient, and amplifies it across a Greek Chorus of 107 women (including a parrot if I remember correctly). A multitude of shades of meaning and a multitude of responses are extracted from a private email and put into the public domain. I love that it ended up as film, photography and text; when her story with him should have been over (he wanted it to be over) she ensured that it had the longevity and pizazz of a broadway musical.

Nigel Shafran is another photographer whose work feels as if it’s been with me since day 1 of my EYV learning. To address the points in the coursework.

No, it didn’t surprise me that it was taken by a man. FiP also introduced me to Fischli & Weiss’s surreal domestic tableaux, with kitchen implements balanced surrealy atop one another. I don’t feel at ease with the idea of masculine and feminine photography and try not to apply that thinking to my work or my research. This might be me in denial, in the same way that I don’t always see my own work as as feminist as others see it. I don’t think gendering work is helpful though (see my write up  Exhibition – Tribe at the Fox Talbot Museum for more on this).

I don’t think gender contributes as much to an image as experience does. Sadly,  many of our experiences are dictated or at the least influenced by our gender, so there probably is an indirect link.

Not including people gives a bit of a sense of intrigue, presumably they are off somewhere working or having fun whilst the dishes dry. For me, the N and R lettering (Nigel and Ruth presumably) behind the taps brings me back to the people, and wondering which of them runs hot and which runs cold. Not having people tells us nothing about their physical appearance, we can tell that they cook their meals but don’t enjoy the camaraderie of working out who washes and who dries, since the dishes are left to drain.

For me, they do count as still life compositions even though they don’t show anything that was once alive. Some of Laura Letinsky’s work though hovers between photo collage and still life.

I would really like to write about Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diary but the truth is that it makes me feel a bit queasy and trying to find a full version online isn’t helping with the queasiness. I think this is one that would benefit from being seen in its intended format -one book containing facsimiles of Anna’s diary pages and one with the photographs. The mix of text pages and images on the website is frustrating as nothing is quite big enough and you can’t follow the narrative. It makes me think of the things that happen in houses that strain relationships – often, but not always, insect related. We can deal with people but we can’t always deal with insects.





Project 2 Masquerades

Surprisingly, I found this section very engaging and it was rewarding to see the links with other reading and study visits from the FiP and EYV courses. I find it so interesting to see how and why photographers portray themselves as others , there is always so much to read and so much to think about. So for this writing I am working from my notes written in my course notes.

Nikki S Lee has made a wide variety of work within the self portrait genres. There is Layers, which I talked about previously – fascinating work where she layers street portraits on translucent paper. Then she does the same thing in a different city and/or continent. I think this is clever because she’s juxtaposing identity and place, and showing herself through the sketches of inhabitants of those places. I also looked briefly at some of her “fake documentary” work where she constructed an hour long film of fake Nikkis,  (I have not watched the film yet). This made me think of Sophie Calle, for example when Sophie asks her mother to hire a private detective to tail her and record her actions. I was therefore quite curious to have a look at the Projects series.

In this series Lee joins various groups, working to fit in visually, and has a group photograph taken either by a member of the group or by a passer by. The camera used is a basic point and shoot. Some of the work left me quite uncomfortable and I think it could be considered voyeuristic or exploitative. This is interesting, because I don’t think I don’t think she takes on a specific identity,  she takes on the generic trappings and mannerisms of a group identity, but not an actual named person. Compare this to Trish Morrisey’s beach portraits in Front, where she substitutes herself for an actual family member, or Hans Eijkelboom’s With My Family where he rang random doorbells during the working day and asked to have his photograph taken with the partner and children who were at home, substituting himself for the father in these diverse families . These are actual people, with partners, children and postcodes, and yet I find it less troubling than Lee’s projects.

I think the thing with Lee’s work is firstly that some of it (eg Hispanic Project and HipHop Project) opens her up to comments of  using “brown face”. We are fairly comfortable with the idea of taking on another gender, or another identity, but taking on another ethnicity is fraught with the potential for different interpretations than that intended by the artist. I looked at the work of other photographers I’ve encountered who’ve done this. Cindy Sherman made black face work for her Bus Riders series, and has since commented that she was very young when she made the work and unaware of potential offense. Martha Wilson, a white woman,  made work where she was half made up as Michelle Obama in Martha Meets Michelle Halfway.

In an interview Wilson said : I’ll wear a girdle—that’s for damn sure! And I’m hiring a make-up artist who is going to make me up. Clifford and I had discussions about blackface. We’re not going to do blackface, but I’m going to try to wear Michelle’s skin tone.” Elsewhere, on the Contemptorary website, there is a post discussing Nikki S Lee’s Projects (change in font not intentional):Darkening one’s skin to pose for a series of photographs in a community one has no affinity with, does not belong to, and as an entertainment project with ongoing profit plan—this is not an interpretation of blackface. It’s blackface.”  

So is there a difference, effectively, between  Cindy Sherman’s blackface and an employed makeup artist who is reproducing a known woman’s skin tone? That blog post is a very interesting one to read, it describes  how Lee’s work is about the visible surface, not the underlying structures. Lee talks about the changes that she makes to acquire the patina of a new identity (tanning salons, prosthetics, make-up, dance classes….) and we don’t really learn anything about the people she is photographed with, the ones who have that identity to their core. Who’s the woman that Lee is kissing in The Lesbian Project? What’s the story of the older women in The Senior Project?

Perhaps in this instance we are moving into areas of gaze and privilege, which I haven’t really learned much about yet. Personally I struggle with it – I’m trying to imagine the Twitter response if a photographer of colour were to use “whiteface” to represent a First Lady such as Melania Trump. Martha Wilson has made photographs and performance pieces about herself as various first ladies.  Stepping briefly away from self portrait work, Maxine Helfman, a white photographer, put black women in blackface then photographed them dressed as Geishas.  Then I find myself wondering what sort of work men have made in this area and I realise that this is probably an investigation to follow another day. There’s such a complicated chain of meaning as we move through ethnicities from that of the person who conceives the work, the person in the work (actual ethnicity and depicted ethnicity) and the people who are viewing the work. I do think that this series of Lee’s is not so much about what she is as what she isn’t, and somehow that leaves me feeling slightly hollow after viewing the work. It’s very much about the outer surface, about “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be….”

Trish Morrisey’s work I have always found interesting. I was absolutely spell-bound by her Ten People in a Suitcase series, where she responded to the archive of a Finnish paper mill town. I don’t know what it is about this series that draws me in every single time. I can mostly tell that it’s Trish, she leans between genders easily enough. She brings the town to life by reconstructing events and people from its 30,000 image archive, it’s almost as if she is channeling an entire town over decades of its existence.

Seven Years engaged me too, I hadn’t seen it before yet the images are so familiar to me – the family photograph album filled with 60s 70s 80s and 90s portraits of me and my four siblings, the way that the images honestly tell how well we were getting on at that particular moment. The images of my parents holding precious new babies as we kept on turning up. Even as full-size grown ups I swear we still see each other in our handmade dresses on Cornish beaches. I think she must have a very accommodating sister to work with her portraying so many different identities. It made me think a bit of Gilllian Wearing’s work where she uses masks to show other members of her family, whereas in Morrisey’s she and her sister are unmasked but still manage to portray the family member through costume choice, mannerism and actions/scenarios rather than Wearing’s formal portraits.

Failed Realist made me laugh. I suppose it’s that moment of recognition of something that you do with a small child on a rainy afternoon, remembering a friend of mine who answered the door to the DPD man in Princess Leia facepaint applied by her six year old.   I think the work is about her daughter rather than about her. I’d never really thought about how small children see identity and this work made me think about that. I didn’t find it as compelling as her other works.

I would probably decline an invitation for Trish to replace me in a beach-side portrait and I know for sure that my husband would. I would be curious though. I did an exercise for FiP where I removed my shoes from the family shoe rack and photographed it with all the gaps, and it was actually quite disturbing to see my absence from such a familiar scene.

Despite writing so much I haven’t yet mentioned some of my favourite self portrait masquerade – the Roberta Breitmore Series by Lynne Hershman Leeson, made from 1974 to 1978. In this series, Lynne not only constructs an entire new identity with make up etc but this identity actually exists via an issued credit card, a driving license, letters, dental records, an apartment…. I saw some of this work at the Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s show at the Photographers Gallery. It really made me think about identity – how do we know what is true, what is constructed? The constructed can acquire all the trappings of the true. Perhaps we think of a photograph as true, despite everything we know about manipulation, but identity verification now is based on other things as well as photographs – from copies of utility bills to biometric data taken from our passport photographs. The actual photographs and personal appearances of Roberta Breitmore were almost just the icing on the cake, her identity was rooted in far more than the constructed photographs.