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.


Reflections on Part 5

Looking back through my blog I see that I started Part 5 in July, approximately 6 months ago. That makes sense though. There weren’t really any massive delays – the usual school holiday pause, a delay for feedback while my tutor was working outside the UK – this was simply a part of the course with exceptionally rich pickings for me and I was able to take the time to make the most of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the archive and found this part of the course very inspiring. There is something almost tangible in the archive, and it’s certainly very accessible. I especially like the idea of a constructed archive, like the Fae Richards archive – an exercise in making a different truth.

I had two passes at A5. I eventually paused the Pink work when it became apparent that my re-work attempts for A1 were getting big enough to be an assignment in their own right. The photogram work had significant potential and I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do both. I was confident that if the photogram work wasn’t successful I would be able to substitute the pink work instead. It was however very reassuring to read my tutor’s feedback on the pink work and I shall be returning to it. The photogram work was immensely satisfying on a number of levels. It allowed me to tie up my various mental loose ends about lace and Fox Talbot. I have learned a raft of new darkroom skills and am very grateful for the generosity and kindness of the darkroom owner who is terrifically helpful and supportive of my work.

A5 has felt like a culmination, so much has come together. My learning has been truly iterative, a step at a time both conceptually and practically, and I think that’s why it’s rarely felt overwhelming. I actively sought as much feedback as possible, via the blog, the OCA board, OCA Hangout, two regional groups, the collective that I’m part of, my climbing group… The feedback wasn’t always what I expected or wanted to hear, but the diversity of it once again made me realise that the work had merit and was worth persisting with.

Parallel with Part 5 has been preparation for three exhibitions, two of which have been held so far. I made a handmade book with test images from my photograms for the OCA Showcase exhibition at OXO London, and made some of my pink images into diptychs for the OCA South West exhibition in Bristol. I am also showing two framed 12×16 photograms at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019, the work is already framed and ready to go. It was a challenge balancing the exhibition prep with the coursework. I am happy that I did it though and satisfied with the results.

Part 3 Review and Reflections

I think this part of the course was pivotal for me but even a couple of months on I still feel too close to it to pick out some of the highlights and the whys. A lot of the learning is still on my mental back burner.

I thoroughly engaged with the research and reading around various self portraiture practitioners. There’s something about the independence of self-portraiture, about how you can just get on with it. I’m stunned by the diversity of interpretation possible, and by how some self portraits can tell you as much about yourself as about the person pictured. The way that some people can make such prolific self portraiture work makes me think of the breadth of self possible in all of us and the breadth of creativity in making all that work.

I’m still happy with the work that I made for that assignment, that I kept going for 26 days making an image each day. I didn’t just learn about self-portraiture, I learned about me, my menstrual cycle, and a few weeks on I’m in the early stages of identifying the best ways of making sure that I don’t have another month like that. It might take the form of a local procedure or it might be a keyhole hysterectomy, but I’m hopeful that things will be better quite soon. Documenting a cycle both laid it out for me in all its hormonal and messy highs and lows and also somehow recognised it, recorded it, and made it ok for me to seek a way to move on from it to something better.

The apple work for the diary was ground-breaking for me too. I have this nagging feeling that I have a drawing voice, but when I try to draw it is stymied by the certainty that I can’t draw. Whatever “can’t” means. I know now that I can pick up a pencil and draw an apple. That has to be a start.

This part of the course stayed with me though Part 4, which felt somewhat more academic and less emotional compared to Part 3.


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)





It has been close on a month since I updated this blog. I didn’t handle waiting for assessment results on EYV very well, ie the worry was always there for the last couple of weeks. Once the results came in; and I was very happy with them; we were into the Christmas and school holiday vortex. Nothing was picked up apart from a little bit of reading and a couple of experimental shoots.

When I started my studies nearly 3 years ago I earmarked two school days a week to them. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8:30 ish to 2:30 ish. Plus a little bit extra for reading. Over time that allocation has grown, and now I need to trim it back just a little bit to allow effort for other parts of life that need attention.  I’m returning to a thwarted dream to learn guitar, and have booked a couple of lessons in each month, taking a two or three hours out of my study time for a while.  Music is a good companion to photography and study and I need to trust that the two activities will help each other. A1 here took far too long, though again I am happy with the results, so A2 will be more focused. For that reason I deliberately haven’t dug far into A2 yet.

Looking forward into C&N, I have two or three shortlisted ideas for A2 that I’m happy to start work on in the next week, I have a fairly certain plan for A3, A4 is wide open and there’s a loose plan for A5. I don’t feel quite as stranded as I did in parts of EYV and nowhere near as lost as I did on C&N A1. I’d like to be finished here at some point in summer 2018, and that should be possible if I keep a focus.

Thank you to everyone who has read and supported me this far, all the best to you for 2018.

A1 Reflection

I have very mixed feelings about this work. I know it has further to go. On the plus side, the set is easy to construct so I can return to the work when I have a bit more separation from it. Imber opens again at Christmas and Easter so there is also the option to continue shooting there and see if I can get my original idea working better with a broader set of images to choose from. In reflection I gave myself too long on this work, I think with a tighter deadline I would have been more focused and efficient. However there is something that appeals in the submitted set and I am hopeful that it can form the basis of something better. It has shown me clearly where I need to improve. I knew when I started the course that this assignment would present a challenge, and it did. I am confident that producing the next two, at least, will be rather slicker. As it is, this work still feels not quite mine. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not, and I’m not sure which applies here.

A1 self assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills.

This has been something of a technical epiphany for me in terms of seeing where I need to improve. I finally worked out why my white balance has been out in every single shot for months, and fixed it. I learned properly about using a grey card to set white balance, which is something I hadn’t fully understood before. I learned more about manual focus, about the technical properties of lenses (eg deep depth of field is easier to achieve with a wider lens, and a longer lens brings elements at the back “forward”). I tried to do something in Photoshop that turned out to be much more simply achieved in Lightroom with the adjustment brush. I moved from my default 50mm lens to a 100mm macro and struggled with framing a bit as a result. This has shown me that I would very much like to learn more about the still life genre and how to construct stronger images. More prosaically I need to get more skilled in, and competent with, the technical side of images from learning my camera settings inside out to working in Photoshop and eventually printing my own work.

Quality of Outcome

The images are not as consistent as I would like, some pairs are better than others both in terms of execution and in terms of conveying meaning.  I’m happy that they don’t instantly serve up their meaning, but when people find the meaning they identify with the images (again some more than others). The idea of presented/actual self is a frequently clichéd meme on social media, and I wanted to avoid that banality if possible. The date night, shopping bag, and nit lotion sets all seemed to provoke recognition in those non-photographic peers who saw the images, indeed one woman exclaimed “date night!” on seeing just one of that pair.

Demonstration of creativity

Creativity was not in short supply, but judgement may have been. I identified and explored several different approaches to the brief, and then different ways of executing most approaches. My explorations incuded digital, Polaroid, solar prints and scanning. I decided to submit plain vanilla jpgs at this stage.


For all approaches I shot first and researched later. I have learned a bit about the tourist gaze, and more about Fox Talbot. For the final approach I have limited contextualisation – Nigel Shafran’s “Washing-up” series and Sharon Boothroyd’s “The glass between us”.