Notes for hangout 2/12/18

My main issue is with my A2 Photographing the Unseen, final presentation thereof for assessment. I photographed projections of fairies and unicorns in a domestic setting – title is currently “the Housework Fairies” although I know my tutor thought I could improve on this. The thing I need to consider is the feminist aspect of the work – although I presented it as about fairies there is a substantial aspect to the work too which can be strengthened without becoming didactic. Tutor feedback is provided at the end of this post.

I have been following a two-pronged approach for presentation. First off was prints. I’ve made these on 8 inch square lustre paper, the actual images are 5 inches square so there’s a deep border all around. I’m very happy with how they are turning out. The second prong was presenting images as a viewmaster reel in a viewmaster machine (it’s a contemporary version labelled Retro-View). I understood from a question posted on the OCA board that it was ok to submit both as long as it was clear which was the primary.

Un-bordered print
Contemporary version of View-Master

However, I preferred the prints to the viewmaster. They seem to carry a surprising amount of authenticity as documents., surprising given that they are not authentic documents. I think they must inherit that authenticity because they are prints. They carry detail, the Retro-View images carry novelty, a toy like quality. The prints referenced the Cottingley Fairies. The Viewmaster felt shiny and temporaneously confused by comparison.  I think both approaches are valid but neither can tell the complete story on its own. I wondered about the prints as family vernacular archive, and though about how we present the archive, and ended up with a 1950s biscuit tin.


So we have prints in a biscuit tin, but that’s not adding a lot to the feminist reading. Then I looked at the tin and its foregrounding of choirboys, with women tiny in the background. I looked on ebay at vintage View-Masters, saw this image and for the first time appreciated the gendering implicit in the name, reinforced by the packaging.

ebay viewmaster
Vintage View-Master, image credit @timewarp14 on

From there it was a short mental leap to Berger’s comments “Men look at women . Women watch themselves being looked at.” But then I wonder if I’ve added 2 and 2 and made 5, or if I’ve simply identified the male gaze in very clunky terms. Then I think of that common female experience of being watched doing the housework and I see how the open feminist loop can be closed here.

Moving back to the practical, I can put the prints in the biscuit box along with a vintage View-Master and a modern reel perhaps in an original sleeve. I can pack the box with tissue paper, and pages from old women’s magazines. We then have three elements – fairies, feminism/the male gaze and the family archive, that hopefully will feel less constructed in real life than describing it does. I’m still not sure though, I think I might just have to assemble the whole thing and see how it works in practice. Whatever I put together will have to work in the cold light of a Barnsley day at assessment next March, and anything more than a simple set of prints will have to justify itself.

Tutor feedback on this assignment : Kate Aston assignment 2 feedback.doc

A2 Photographing the Unseen – Away with the fairies



I was inspired by the Cottingley Fairies, photographed in 1917 by cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. When asked by Conan Doyle to comment on the authenticity of the images, photography expert Harold Snelling said  “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time” .  I find it so interesting that you can have a photograph of “whatever was in front of the camera at the time” without necessarily asserting that whatever was in front of the camera was the truth.

This led me to the housework fairies. Discussing the concept with friends I was intrigued by the level of engagement shown by grown adults. Everyone would love proof that they exist. They’re almost like the grown version of the tooth fairy. Where do we get this idea from, and why do we keep it beyond childhood? I blame Disney. From Fantasia, to Sleeping Beauty, to Enchanted, we’re indoctrinated in our early years with the idea that if we’re lucky enough some mythical being or magic creature/animated object will do our cleaning with a song in their heart and a twinkle in their eye and absolutely no being asked twice. Even Mary Poppins, that stern disciplinarian, was not averse to a bit of magic to help with the tidying up.
My work is photographs of projections of illustrations in a domestic setting. Each step a remove further from the mythological original.  My fairies are even less real than the cardboard Cottingley cutouts because they are a simple trick of the light from a child’s torch.  Yet they are still intriguing and there are as many readings as there are fairies. The contrast between the mundane and the magic, the power of our imaginations, the countless hours lost to housework, feminism, how much we take for granted, or a simple revisit and tribute to a 101 year old hoax which was not formally debunked until the 1980s.
Haot, G. (2018). The Mystery Of The Cottingley Fairies. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Feb. 2018].

Test edit Photographing the unseen – the housework fairies feedback welcome

This has not been straight forward. I’m thinking about presenting a mix of video and images, all will be on Instagram with a (currently) unique hashtag but also on my blog as jpg/mov files. There is still a bit of work to do in that the power point image needs reshooting and one of the videos needs a couple of seconds trimming from the length. A couple could do with a little tweak in PS too but on the whole no major changes planned.

For video, I need two of the three below – the boats  and one of the washing machine ones. I think my preference is for the blue fairy and the way she becomes visible/invisible depending on whether the laundry is there to define her or not. The sequencing will start with the power socket, then the video of the boats I think, jpgs as shown below with a llaundry video to follow the laundry dial shot.



For the jpgs, I have listed them below and indicated where I need to make a choice between different versions of the same shot.


A2 Photographing the unseen

Having restarted working after a break I was surprised to see that I was just one exercise away from A2. I had encountered the Cottingley Fairies once again over Christmas – that hoax made by two young cousins in 1917 (one of whom worked for a photographer). The photographs sparked the attention of Conan Doyle, and the girls made further work using cameras given to them. The work was submitted to various technical experts for feedback, and one of the photographic companies commented that it was indeed a true record of whatever was in front of the camera at the time. Following on from Two Sides of the Story, this really made me think. The work was a true record of what was in front of the camera at the time, but that may or may have been fairies.

Like many others I would like for the reputed Housework Fairies to be a reality. I had worked on FiP with a child’s torch that projected images of the solar system, and was intrigued to find that there was a pink (obviously) version that projected images of unicorns and fairies. I tried it out at Imber at Christmas, but at minus 4 degrees it was too cold for my brain to work out how to focus it. Back in a centrally heated house, I started to play. There are the projections, but there’s also the possibility of using fairy lights within domestic appliances.

There are some challenges – the work has to be done in low light, for the images to show. So I need a tripod for the camera and a stand for the torch, as I can’t hold it still enough for the longer exposures. Problem 1 – finding a stand that can do the job without intruding either directly or via shadow into the photographs. Problem 2 – composing in the dark. Problem 3 – getting the exposure right so that the context to the fairies is visible too despite being in the dark (I think I need to run bracketed exposures for this and then merge them in PS). I ran the idea past an OCA open hangout and the result was generally positive with the proviso that I needed to improve the quality of the images, and that I should also consider a less neat and clean background otherwise it is simply a domestic shot.

Again, thanks to OCA input I have ordered a couple of flexible “arms” with clamps/clips that will allow me more flexibility in positioning and stabilising the torch, and hence the tripod, especially in smaller spaces.

Contextually, there is something to dig into here. 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 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 three female politicians that they were “sluts” because they admitted to not cleaning  behind their fridges? Hillary Clinton, more recently,  was told to get out of the public eye and back to her knitting. We’re held to impossible standards of cleanliness, freshness, sterility, minimalism against a barrage of products aimed to fill our homes, handbags and time. Woman, know thy place.

Below a few of the trial images, some are from my mobile. Shooting will start once the clamps are here but I’ll continue with test shots in the meantime and work out what and how I want to photograph.


11/1 Update

This is not one of the assignments that cheerfully almost does itself while I chase behind with the camera. It’s Thursday, study day, and once again I’m struggling to get up and off the kitchen chair. There are images on the camera from a bit of work last night, the new clamps are working well and it’s work that although undoubtedly not great at the moment has a lot of potential. It’s a theme that resonates with and is relevant to so many others, so why is it so hard? Answer, I think, is that I’m photographing things that I’d rather not be looking at, and that certainly I’m uncomfortable with sharing. Yesterday I found my nine year old furiously pointing out a trail of cat poo nuggets up the stairs  topped by one of those unidentifiable cat fluid stains – our 17 year old cat is poorly – and I was caught between the need to clean up and disinfect immediately and the slightly creepy and disconcerting desire to leave it another hour til dusk so I could photograph it with a fairy.

Anyway, now that’s out of the way  (I compromised – cleaned up the poo and left the fluid which may or not have been cat sick for later) – it’s time to make a coffee, put on some music and crack on with photographing more of the things that I’d rather weren’t seen…

Note – there’s a feeling of trappedness coming through here – of something that was in the dark being forced into the light. Fits nicely with the Photographing The Unseen, but rather more discomforting than I expected. #houseworkfairiesofinstagram ?