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.


A5 Big girls’ pants – rework

The physical photograms are the submitted work. The prints below are a tighter crop than the originals.

This has not felt so much like rework as like evolution. My tutor feedback was terrifically useful, when I viewed it in conjunction with other peer and hangout feedback I had a clear way forward, the most pressing feedback was to investigate making the work on larger paper than the original work. I decided to go back to the darkroom and remake the work on larger paper. I had used 12×16 Ilford RC Satin before, I talked to the darkroom owner and he kindly reset the darkroom with larger trays and a modified washer so that I could use 16×20 paper. He also ordered in larger paper so that he could make some larger prints too and I could benefit from the bulk price that he gets. We also had to mark up the enlarger table for correct paper positioning and ensure the head was correctly positioned. The reason for using larger paper was to give the images space to breathe on the paper. There is a tension in the smaller images as image and border fight, it’s not necessarily bad but I was curious to see what would happen if I used larger paper. I also wanted to ensure a greater consistency of background blacks across the photograms (or at least a narrower range of inconsistency). The differing blacks arise because photograms of much finer lace require less light in order to get a detailed image but you still need a long enough exposure length (the paper needs at least 10 seconds as a rule) without getting too much light, so you use a much narrower aperture and increase the magenta filter setting to boost contrast. This can result in a slightly lighter background black though, because of less light. I therefore worked with 25 second exposure at f22 and m=100 for the most delicate garments. The images are not perfect, there are still a couple of marks inherited from the process, and a tiny white spot where I think there was a fleck of something on the enlarger lens. At this point, assessment, I have to let this go and acknowledge that the work isn’t perfect, but it’s on the way and is far better than the first iterations. Taking the image out that I am least happy with would unbalance the set.

I worked with a smaller subset of garments, mainly ones that fitted well within the paper. They worked well on the larger paper, I loved the sense of isolation of the items on their velvety dark backgrounds. It did introduce the issue of centring the item on the paper, which hadn’t been an issue beforehand. One pair of pants could do with being more centred, but it was time to stop. I was then able to review my images with a peer to help identify a strong edit. At this point, I was happy with the idea of getting the numbers down. The prints are big, and will be a hassle at assessment if they don’t all contribute to the work. Looking at the work with Holly we omitted a stocking image and also the two bra images – this did hurt a bit as I loved the English Rose bra print. This meant that the set came down to four images of pants, which sit nicely in a (giant) grid. It also means that I have the opportunity to return to the original name for the work – Big Girls’ Pants – which works both in a literal and figurative sense.

The title has been something of a struggle. Here are the various titles that the work has had:

Big Girls’ Pants (this wasn’t liked by Jesse Alexander, who suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”). It’s been well accepted by many viewers of the work, including women who tend to have very positive reactions to the phrase and who don’t see it as overtly sexual.

From Fox Talbot to Fetish – it took me a while to work out why I was uncomfortable with this title. It introduces the idea of the lace always being looked at and I think implies being looked at sexually probably by a man. I know that fetish has a wider meaning than underwear, but I think it’s hard to separate the two in this context. When I started the work I was inspired by Fox Talbot’s images of lace, but also by the real-world nature of underwear, that for women it’s a fact of life and a practical obect first and foremost that is rarely seen at life size. Introducing other people’s underwear to the work has muddied this intention – not for me, but for the viewer.

Smalls (this was the title for the handmade book that I showed at OCA Showcase and is also the series title for the two framed images that I’m showing at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019). People understood the title, with its reference to underwear, and it seemed appropriate for the small test strips in the book and the large matted and framed images for TVG.

A variety of other titles were considered – Full disclosure, Exposed, Over exposed.

Although this work was resolved by making the photograms bigger, the overruling direction has been to simplify. I took out the initial border and replaced it with a larger piece of glass. I took out the separate adornments. I stopped cutting the pants in half and the gussets out of the pants. I stopped using the glass, as suggested by early feedback. I only presented pants.

I am continuing with this work through my next course, UVC. I would like to print some of the work on silk or satin and perhaps sew that into handkerchiefs, silk scarves or even underwear. I’m intrigued by the idea of a coffee table book as suggested by Clive White on the forum, but I dont know if the images are now too large for that or not. I am excited by the idea of framing more of the work – pants and bra images that are individually framed and hung one above the other could really work. I also like the idea of showing the images at life size on a large screen and allowing viewers to interact by swiping across to see the next/previous image and by zooming into the detail with their fingertips. I don’t really know where this work wants to go next but it’s definitely not done and I look forward to exploring it further.

More smalls, and the project that won’t stop.

I found that one of the antiques shops in town has a vintage clothing section at the back including a box of underwear, and much more offsite. Pricewise it is better than eBay and there may be an option to rent and return.

The vintage garments are different. Oddly – there is less lace. The fabrics are worn with time and generally more transparent. Pre lycra, so much less stretch. They are often repaired too which should make for interesting detail. I bought some vintage silk stockings too which are proving a challenge to photogram but should prove rewarding. Again, one of these is darned, over a delicate woven pattern. I don’t think that would happen often today.

So I bought underwear and went back to the darkroom. I talked to the owner about how to get clean edges and ended up removing the whole framing/positioning mechanism and working on the base plate, and then I taped a ruler and a paper guide to the base to help me position the paper correctly in the dark. This worked, and I only ended up with two photograms with edge marks.

As I write this my submitted work is with my tutor. I am still making the work because it’s not done yet. Two framed photograms will go to Woking for the OCA Thames Valley Group exhibition – at the moment I am not sure which two. The frames are made though, with temporary photograms inside them, and they look great. Holly (who’s on the Digital Image & Culture course) came over last night before we went to a private view at Lacock and picked out two prints from my reject pile. They are less obviously underwear than the others, but definitely lace, and in that way are closer to the Fox Talbot original. The one of the slip needs remaking at higher contrast so the lace is more white and ideally the background more black, though that can be harder with the finer fabrics.

Another interesting comment from Holly is that I might have been making these upside-down. When I include both sides of an object, such as a pair of pants or a bra with the back hooks closed, I’ve been placing the item back-first onto the paper. Whereas it probably needs to be front-down, back up so that the photogram shows the front and back the right way around. It might not work with the lightest of fabrics but is worth a try. It seems obvious now! Then I think about and wonder if it’s more to do with the relative opacity of the front and back – the more opaque the fabric the whiter the image produced beneath it, and the white will always suggest foreground rather than background.

A2 Photographing the unseen

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

I was inspired by the photograph in the course notes about the Cottingley Fairies, photographed in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffifths. I researched more about this work and the wider context in which it was made. It’s very poignant that one of the responses to the horrors of World War 1 was to seek comfort in the spiritual, the fantastical via Peter Pan and the Cottingley Fairies, and literal escape via Harry Houdini. Britain was in need of a happy ending.

I wondered what would happen if the Cottingley Fairies was made today. Thanks to Disney, we know that fairies love housework, thanks to teenage girls and the internet we know that the images would be taken on a mobile phone and shown on Instagram in a square format. So I worked in the dark, with my mobile, capturing these creatures as they cracked on with the housework that I’d missed.

I was happy with the results. It’s quiet work that carries a resonance with anyone who’s ever considered the existence of fairies, however fleetingly. I didn’t enjoy making it – photographing the grubby details of my home and it was extremely awkward with the variety of stands needed to secure the projections and the confined spaces. This work was printed as 6×6 squares by my local lab, these are not images that can be printed particularly large and their darkness led to some challenges too. I also submitted a couple of short videos. People engaged with the work and several of the reject shots are framed on my friends’ walls.

The elephant in the room with this work was its feminist credentials. I had largely ignored this as unintended and politely rebuffed my peers who pointed out that the work was as much about feminism as about fairies. My tutor pointed this out in the second paragraph of his comments and it was a bit of a wakeup call to realise that making feminist work is not something that I can turn on and off. The tutor feedback was very positive again with several concrete and achievable suggestions for developing the work which are responded to in the feedback blog post.

I decided not to progress the video work – although it’s interesting it’s not really tangible enough for me. I continue to follow up on feminist reading and context (please see the contextualisation post). I simplified my selection and presented them as a Viewmaster reel in a vintage viewer. This places the idea of women doing the housework firmly in the past, or alternatively views contemporary women through a lens of the past; as well as referencing the childhood nature of fairies and the embryonic male gaze. It also places the fairies, and housework, back in the world of the unseen again, only visible through a dedicated viewer. It once again entrenches stereotypes about housework into a child’s toy, especially interesting when you consider the nascent male gaze shown on the View Master packaging. It allows for backlighting, thus lifting the images slightly from the darkness. I used a refreshed selection of images bearing my tutor’s comments in mind and also produced a set of reference prints – square format to reference Instagram.

This work was a gentle game changer for me. I learned that feminism will out and that’s not a bad thing. I had to work over many sessions and ask many favours to get the setups working for each image. I could reference the past, the feminist, the familiar and working in the dark, all favourite explorations of mine. I am happy with how this work turned out, it has so much more to it than I first expected.


A3 Self portrait

This post is a summary for assessment, full details can be found under the relevant assignment menu item.

I thought of this assignment as a vehicle for exploration. I enjoyed the diary aspect of it. I drew an apple every day for a month- I’m uncomfortable drawing so it seemed a good place to start. The symbolism of the apple and the month duration led me to my daily activity of entering my menstrual data into my period tracker app. I decided to take a self-portrait on my mobile each day of my menstrual cycle and layer it with a screen from my tracker app from that day. I was conscious that in my fifties I might not have that many cycles left so it seemed pertinent to document one of them. I was interested in the very personal data uploaded to the cloud by such apps.

This was an engaging assignment and the results provoked much interest. My only aim was to make a set of images over an entire cycle so I felt relatively unpressured apart from the obvious requirement to get an image every day, which did get old fairly quickly. There were technical challenges because of the small pixel count of both the selfie camera and the screenshots. I enjoyed the range of presentation options that having a relatively large set of images afforded. I enjoyed being able to see an entire cycle’s worth of images in one grid. My main reference was Roni Horn’s You are the Weather although this was a far more formal series of portraits than mine. In retrospect, a more appropriate reference might be Juan Pablo Echeverri’s photobooth series as these are performative self portraits whereas You are the Weather is not self portraiture thought it does attempt to show how a person reflects an external influence (in my case it’s an internal influence). I submitted ten images and a grid of the whole cycle to my tutor.

My tutor’s comments were very positive. He asked if the work showed an external reflection of the inner cycle, which was interesting. To a degree it does though it’s definitely helped along by the screenshots. Did I have any favourites? Absolutely yes. He raised the question of formal photographic portraits in contrast to the spontaneity of mobile “selfies” and the pros and cons of each approach. I chose the mobile approach because it chimed with the period tracker app but I can see the benefits of both. I also wonder about making a sequence with my DSLR on a tripod with no data, a “You are your cycle” type exercise.

I have not reshot the work, but I did “remix” some of the rejected images, always keeping to the images taken for the day being shown. I have been on HRT since September, awaiting my hysterectomy so the work cannot be re-made. I think it stands as a record as it is. I explored other ways of presenting the work and considered calendars, wrapping paper, photobooth style strips made into Mobius loops and hand-made books, and made prototypes of some of these ideas. I finally chose to submit an A3 print of the entire cycle for context and 3 8 inch square prints for assessment.

Reflecting on this work I think the most telling and most unexpected outcome is the hysterectomy that is now being scheduled for January 2019. I am used to photography providing a different perspective on my past and present but this is the first time that it’s clearly signposted a different (and better) future.

Notes on personal archives

I find archives very interesting especially the way that we get to engage in either aspects of one life/family unit in depth or the way that we can see a shallow cross section across a broader sample. For example, Stephen Gill’s “Hackney Kisses”, an archive from a wedding photographer of first kisses taken in the 1950s in London. The Chambre Hardman archive is another professional archive, including portraits taken over many years by a studio photographer, including multiple time-separated sittings of the same sitter. Julie Cockburn works with found images and alters them with stitching, giving a surreal touch, almost of 1950s sci fi weirdness to old portraits.

The interesting thing about family archives is that most of us have access to them. I could probably fill multiple albums with images that I’ve been tagged in on social media without having to do so much as take the lid off a biscuit tin. Prints that used to lie dormant in albums are seeing new life by being rephotographed on a phone or scanned and circulated anew. Equally, this ease of photography and cloud based storage brings its own issues – will the images disappear when we do, or will they already be making their own @ and # way around the internet, independent of whoever initially shared the image?

A frequent source of prints for albums is the school photograph. My daughter brought the order form for her photo home yesterday, she wants a 6×4 in a “glitter frame” I am tempted by the “single copy-right free image” download option. I wonder if they really mean “copyright-free”? I shall be taking them at their word, anyway.

I’ve worked with my personal archive since the Foundation course. Reworking my square mile, I superimposed album photographs onto more current images of the town where I grew up.

Then, after acquiring a die-cutting machine on EYV, I worked with rephotographed school photographs of me and photobooth images of my daughter, and worked with embossing, cutting, bringing them into 3 dimensions and combining elements of both of us into a single image.

Talking to my climbing partner I was lucky enough to be allowed to rephotograph some of her family school photographs which I then layered with die-cut map pages and rephotographed. This is someone else’s archive but I can bring person and relevant place together.

At my Uncle David’s funeral nearly two years ago my cousin asked for every one to “go away and do something silly, he’d like that”. Hence my ongoing project of photobooth images with my Uncle David, he is present via his Order of Service. The first one was taken at the photobooth at the station on the way home after the funeral. They are some taken with other cameras too, depending on location. He’s been to London, Greece, Manchester, Sainsbury’s (to help me post my EYV for assessment). The pictures live in a biscuit box.

All of these are ideas that are still ongoing and ripe for further development. I am saving them for either whatever my next L1 course is, or for Digital Image & Culture. Holly Woodward has explored altering the materiality of family archive prints over on her blog for DI &C.






Back to the darkroom (possibly not safe for work)

I was hoping that I might wrap A5 up yesterday, but it wasn’t to be. I’ve switched to working with two layers of garment rather than one resulting in less simple exposures, but equally giving results with more depth. I was keen to explore some ideas generated by feedback from the OCA South West group.

Working without the glass wasn’t successful – too much definition was lost, and also the frame that the edges of the glass provided wasn’t there, and somehow that frame adds to the image for me.  The two layers of fabric added more depth though and I was keen to try things out. I had a mixture of garments, some from home and some from ebay.

Some garments were harder to work with than others. The diaphanous net pants almost disappeared on a standard exposure and required a mix of narrower aperture and darker magenta filter settings to actually show up on the photogram. Gussets are inevitably thicker than the rest of the garment, as are bra straps. Although I had trimmed out the linings from these in my first pass at work, I decided that I was uncomfortable with removing them and decided just to remove the opaque foam from bra cups rather than any of the fabric that was skinside. A very frilled pair of pants was too opaque, though I will try again with a longer exposure as there was detail starting to emerge on a longer exposure and this one might work as a contact photogram (see below).

The work remaining for me:

  • remake the photograms that have unexposed white strips at the edges. To do this I need to make card templates to allow more accurate positioning of the glass on the paper (as I won’t be using the marks on the enlarger frames.
  • remake the image that has a mark from the glass
  • remake the image that needs to be higher on the paper
  • make photograms with the garments that I didn’t get to on Tuesday. I am still waiting for one ebay purchase to arrive but that is so late now that I don’t actually expect it to arrive.

I would like to try making contact photograms from these too, which should result in a black on white image rather than white on black. The dark room owner had tried this process on one of his images and it looked very striking. So I will need another day at the darkroom.

I am wondering again about presentation. I love the images at life size, so many people are surprised by the size of a relatively small female bottom in two dimensions. I am also wondering about scanning them and taking them smaller, to present in a small handmade book with a tactile cover and a ribbon tie. Or perhaps keeping the size the same and presenting in a black portfolio.

Here are phone images of the photograms that I made. I will also add in some of the test photograms once I’ve photographed them.



Feedback on my A5 photograms at OCA South West

I took my photograms with me to my first visit to an OCA South West study day. I was fortunate enough to receive some very helpful feedback in time for my next darkroom session this week. It’s invaluable to receive honest critique and I am very grateful to everyone for their thoughts. Feedback is summarised below. Please feel free to add more in the comments – I have not remembered all the names and may have missed some of the ideas.

What’s the title? (Jesse Alexander). Jesse thought that my working title of “Big girls’ pants” could be refined to better reflect the Fox Talbot inspiration to the work. He suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish” which I think has a lot going for it. It reflects the inspiration, and it also suggests the underwear fetish and I think also alludes to the fetishizing of the photographic print, the precious object. His use of the word “fetish” really made me approach the work anew – am I photographing fetish objects? Well yes, especially as everything photographed is underwear and has been worn. Buying used underwear is a “thing”, in Japan there are vending machines for used pants, in the UK we have carefully worded Ebay descriptions (“I have only worn these at the gym and will launder on request”). Am I making work that’s approaching soft porn, or is that a function of the perspective and proclivity of the viewer? Perhaps there’s a social context to this work that I haven’t really looked into yet. It’s probably not actually possible to present a set of these images in an entirely documentary asexual manner – underwear and used underwear carries too much meaning for that and perhaps I should acknowledge that in the work and its title.

It’s very flat (Jesse). Jesse said that my specimen-style photograms were missing the shadows, the dimensionality that makes photograms interesting. This made me think. I used the glass because I liked the feel of a “specimen”, but also because it minimises the places where the lace lifts itself away from the paper, perhaps because of the cut (eg in bra cups) or because of the curves and stretch that it’s acquired from being worn. I have plenty of paper and can make photograms of each both flattened and unflattened. It will be interesting to see how the photograms turn out with less definition.

It needs to be bigger. (Jesse) The photograms are currently on 12×16 paper. I could go to 20×16 but wonder if this would be too big for assessment. I could make photograms on two adjacent sheets but I’m not sure how this would work… can try it out at the darkroom.  I think in the interests of expediency I can make the work on 12×16 and ask my tutor when I submit the work if I should make it on larger paper for assessment.

Can it be less arranged? (I can’t remember who asked this, apologies!) The garments are currently very flat and precise. What would happen if they were dropped onto the paper, as if they’d just been taken off? I think this would be interesting to try. Obviously, multiple layers of lace would increase opacity. Would it be less obvious what the garments are? If Fox Talbot was making the work everything would be flat, single layer. But how many Victorians made photograms or salt prints of women’s’ underwear? Do I want to play that true a tribute?

Could you make salt prints? (Jesse). I don’t know and I would love to. I would need to make negatives from the photograms, then make the prints. I think there are time (and possibly skill) constraints here, perhaps this is one for continuing the work outside of the assignment pathway. I would really want the work to look as precise as Fox Talbot’s lace prints.

Do they have to be black and white? (Liz Nunn). Liz suggested making lumen prints – setting the lace up on photographic paper and exposing it to sunlight for a longer exposure. This is intriguing, the paper turns pinky/purply (learned from the accidentally fogged scrap of paper that I put in my jeans pocket and removed a few days later). I could spray them silver too, but this is getting very close to Liz’s own current work and I also like the binary quality of black and white, the truth to Fox Talbot’s lace work. It is something that I shall try over the next few days though as I am curious. There’s also the issue that you can’t fix a lumen print without altering the colours. In theory, I embrace the idea of prints changing colour over time. In practice, I prefer the peace of mind of knowing what colour my work will be when the assessors take it out of its box several weeks after I last saw it.

Could they be presented in pairs – bra and pants, with the suggestion of a woman inside? (Liz). Quite possibly. I haven’t really considered the final presentation. It might be hampered by the fact that I don’t have any matching sets at present.

I like that it has the bows. Why does our underwear always have to have bows? (Liz). Absolutely brilliant and impassioned observation. I suppose the answer is the idea of gift wrapping, that the underwear is the final layer of wrapping before the concealment is removed and so on. Or the sugar/spice/all things nice version of femininity. Men have bow ties or bows in their shoe laces. Not on their pants.

The “size” logic works (Jesse) – pictures of women in underwear tend not to be at life size, either tiny on a screen or huge on a billboard. Feeds into the matters of perception of size and vanity sizing.

The little key works (Liz Nunn, I think).

It doesn’t have to be just pants. Changing the title would widen the scope for the set to beyond pants.


A5 change of direction

After thinking about it and seeking peer review I’ve decided to make A5 about the photograms. This scratches the itch that I’ve had about making work about both lace and Fox Talbot and has a neat third axis about feminism and the familiar.

Discussing the work on the forum live I was encouraged by the readings that people made of the work. I realised that I want to keep this simple. I want to keep it life size, this feels important in a world where so much is seen, and so many interactions made via devices that fit in the palm of our hands. Even a relatively small size 8 looks larger than expected when shown flat and life size. I don’t want to give any sizes of the underwear, I want to show it all at life size, move it away from our conceptions of a size 8 or a size 16 or whatever.

I want to keep the spirit of Fox Talbot’s salt prints of lace, that I saw at the Matt Collishaw VR exhibition and the normal exhibit at the Fox Talbot Museum. I always wonder where the lace came from.

I am keeping the glass panels, they give an idea of a microscope slide, a scientific specimen, something that is under analysis. I am however going to get a larger panel made so that I can make larger photograms across two contiguous 12×16 sheets of paper, thus exploring taking the image outside the frame too.

To move this forward I have collated various used underwear from ebay and other sources. It feels important that it should be used, even if only once. I’ve ordered 50 sheets of photographic paper and booked the darkroom. Once school starts I shall go to the glass showroom and buy the new panel.

My original photograms were of pants that had been cut to only show a single layer. I would like to try showing both layers where possible, I think this will work with a long enough exposure. The dark room now has a point light source which I can use to provide extra light to more opaque areas. Ditto with bras, I will do a test shot to see what happens if I leave the foam in the cups rather than cutting it out.

Because of the school holidays it’s now been about a fortnight since I made the first photograms and I’m starting to worry that it won’t work so well second time round. Even though a photogram in a dark room must be one of the most consistent scenarios to reproduce!

I also need to put some context together. A peer on Instagram kindly sent me links to some similar work made with different kinds of clothes and I will also revisit the Shadow Catchers Cameraless photography online (from the V&A) and also Man Ray’s photograms.

Karen Knorr Lacock Abbey

Taking children to an exhibition changes how you can respond to the work. It’s sometimes satisfying, often surprising, sometimes frustrating (rather like parenting in general). This time was surprising. I’ll have to return to this blog post with a proper response once I’ve had another look and read the essay that I found. These pictures though remind me that responding to images can be a much simpler, more immediate and visceral process than I tend to make it.