Mahbub Jokhio: In the City of Lost Times

Mahbub Jokhio: In the City of Lost Times

Exhibition at The Tetley, Leeds

My husband had just popped into Leeds while I was home all day finishing my assignment so I was surprised when he phoned me half an hour later. He had just walked past The Tetley and was letting me know about a photo exhibition that was on that I might be interested in. I decided to go straight away as it is only 15 minutes away.

‘The Tetley’ is on the site of the original Brewery in Central Leeds and has a new purpose as a contemporary art space.The exhibition was ‘In the City of Lost Times’ by Pakistani artist Mahbub Jokhio. Jokhio’s work is concerned with the way that very private times are spent in public places. Specifically he has photographed graveyards in Pakistan suggesting that they should be places for both the living and the dead.

Some of the photographs showed people in activities, a new wife searching for her husband, a lady sewing, people having a party, playing chess and so on to convey the meaning that life can happen in in these locations and when juxtaposed with the theme of death only serves to make life appear vital and brighter. Here are a few of my snapshots taken with my phone camera.

An introduction to the exhibition

For the Love of Her

Below is a series of 99 images from a graveyard in Lahore. The number 99 is significant in Islam as it represents infinity and the 99 names of God. The punctum of the display is that 99th photograph.  Doesn’t it make you think of 99 and wonder why? I am not a Muslim and didn’t know this about the 99 names for God but it made me so interested to find out. Below is a link to those 99 names:

Names of God in Islam

Ninety nine images of gravestones were displayed in the Atrium of the Gallery.  Because I can only read English, I couldn’t read the inscriptions but it didn’t matter. The graves were all women’s graves and Jokhio is displaying his respect for the women of Pakistan.

I did wonder what the series would have been like if the inscriptions were written in English and I suspect that my visit would have taken much longer as there would be a compelling desire to read all the gravestones.

Ninety nine gravestones

Below is a closer view of some of the ninety nine images.

They were very simply held in place with small tacks rather like the ones in the Martin Parr Food Culture Exhibition at the Humber Street Gallery seen here and below.



This provided an informal feel to the display despite its rigid 14 x 7 (plus one) display format.

Gallery 1

In Gallery 1 Jokhio’s images show figures at the graveyard engaging in activity. Below a new bride is searching for her husband. Jokhio is showing the relationship between life and death and how they are ‘two sides of the same coin’ (Tetley Exhibition Guide).

Below, a lady is sewing an unknown garment.

Below, two gentlemen play a game of chess.

Below, a group is having  a party celebration

The exhibition I felt was very accessible, and powerful in its message of the ‘dualism between the city of the dead and the city of the living’ (ibid).


All images of the exhibition were taken with permission from the Gallery



The Tetley Exhibition Guide. Available from the Gallery.

Exhibition details

Jokhio, M (2018) In the City of Lost Times. Exhibition. The Tetley, Leeds (9 Feb 18- 22 April 18)



Below are links to Jokhio and his work–bio.html


Context and narrative: conclusion

Context and narrative 

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

Part 1 – The photograph as a document

This was perhaps the part of the course that resonated with me the least. Not all of it by any means as I was comfortable with and interested in the issues of compassion fatigue, street photography and socially driven photographers. Perhaps it was the subject matter of war that came up twice that swayed my opinion of this section. Roger Fenton’s battle scenes and Paul Seawright’s Hidden that captured images of Afghanistan were concepts that I really don’t engage with.

Part 2 –  Narrative 

Bryony Campbell’s The Dad Project and Kaylyn Devaney’s The Day to Day Life of Alfred Hastings particularly attracted my attention and I can see my work being drawn to the photo essay. My assignment on  photographing the unseen where I chose to show how I imagined life with limited reading and writing skills, was very well received by my tutor so is perhaps indicative of my interest in this area.

Part 3 – Putting yourself in the picture

After a nervous start about self portraiture I really engaged with this part of the course and felt comfortable with it. Particularly, Shafran’s Washing Up and Anna Fox’s Cockroach Diaries as examples of self absented portraiture. I chose self absented portraiture for my assignment to show how I have compartments in my life that all need to be ‘full’ in order for me to feel my best.

Part 4 – Reading photographs

I was comfortable with the learning surrounding semiotics and deconstruction and very much enjoyed analysing an image of my choice for assignment four. Essay writing is something I am comfortable with and find enjoyable and very rewarding.

Part 5 – Constructed realities

The part that I was initially very uncomfortable with. A quick flick through the course at the beginning alerted me to this final assignment and I wondered how I would approach it. As time passed and I worked through the course, it started to seem less daunting. A favourite part of the course was the link between photography and literature/painting and the work of Jeff Wall and Tom Hunter that was inspired by other art forms.


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

The idea of using diary extracts to inform a series of self portraiture (part three: putting yourself in the picture). This section really expanded my comfort zone both in its requiring me to be the subject of the project and in the presentation of it in diary form. It led me to research book making and to designing and making my own book in which to present my images and text.


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

I was particularly attracted to the work of Bryony Campbell (The Dad Project) and Kaylin Devaney (The Day to Day Life of Alfred Hastings) and my assignment on illiteracy, with a similar photo essay approach, was well received by my tutor. I was also very interested in Tom Hunter and his work that was inspired by old paintings. In addition, I came across Dulcie Wagstaff while researching for assignment four and immediately engaged with her work Familiar Gardens’. I am veering towards projects that relate to personal experiences of ordinary life.

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

Aftermath and insider reportage.

What were the main things you learnt? Where there any epiphany moments?

The whole course was hugely informative and how it slowly builds up a significant awareness of the canon of photography is a main learning point. Exposure to other people’s work is inspiring in showing the diversity and importance of different approaches.

Regarding epiphany moments? Learning about deconstruction  and semiotics really made me think of photography as a language and now I have had the epiphany I cannot ‘un-have’ it!  Oh, and punctum and studium also helped everything fall into place regarding finding the meaning in images.

Will you return to any of the assignments from this course at a later date? Did you feel as if you were on the cusp of anything?

I was encouraged by my illiteracy project and feel that I could consider other areas in which to develop a photo essay narrative; perhaps concentrating on female experience (I am thinking of Hannah Starkey) or mental health, or ordinary life or gender issues or the minutia of life that is important at the time but really not in the whole scheme of things.

Below are resources that I intend to return to:



and finally…

A great course and a great tutor. Many thanks to the OCA and many thanks to Derek Trillo for his very quick responses, his feedback, help and approachability. I couldn’t have asked for a better tutor.

Assignment five submission (‘Making it up’)

Waiting for an answer

Final image, Assignment 5

My work for this assignment has been inspired by Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot and particularly by the image below.

Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)
Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in Waiting for Godot
Image courtesy of Bing images: in the public domain



Inspired by Tom HunterHannah Starkey and Jeff Wall who have been influenced by literature or paintings in their works, I was drawn to Samuel Beckett’s existentialist play, Waiting for Godot, as inspiration for a contemporary interpretation of absurd communication and the seemingly pointless way in which we often fill the time.

Waiting for Godot has two main characters who wait by a tree on a country road for a third character, Godot, who never arrives. The protagonists become bored of waiting, they have nothing to do and nothing of any importance to say; they are just passing time. The play is typical of the Theatre of the Absurd which explores the idea that human existence doesn’t have any real purpose, life doesn’t make any sense and we are all increasingly alienated.

Since ‘most of the play is spent trying to find things to do to pass the time’,(, 2018) I considered how Becket might portray this waiting if he were writing his play today. I wanted to comment on our increasing reliance on ‘virtual lives’ where we have become absorbed in communication with ‘strangers’ and have ‘friends’ that we have never met. I can imagine Beckett’s characters, absorbed by their phones, looking up now and again to pass inane comment. My intention is to use Beckett’s play as an inspiration, both compositionally and conceptually to provide comment on modern life, the lack of meaningful communication and how we absurdly use technological devices in place of human interaction.

Evaluation of the process

How I found the location

In the opening scene of Beckett’s play the two main characters are waiting by a tree along a country lane in the dark. The tree is the main prop and it was essential that my staging included a leafless tree.

I decided on a bus stop location as I considered that this was synonymous with ‘waiting’. I paid attention to my local area for several days, pulling up in my car when I noticed a bus stop, to assess its potential as a suitable location. I then did a preliminary shoot which was a walk round the village to take snaps of my shortlisted locations to get an idea of whether they could work compositionally. Here are some of the locations that I considered:

I rejected the location above as I didn’t want housing in the image and the fencing was more garden than country lane, though the tree had potential. I gave it a try though, after dark, practising with just the mobile phone light at first (below).

I actually thought it had potential, as the houses were not too obvious in the dark,  but I needed more of a country lane feel.

I rejected bus shelters after I had seen them at night as they are too brightly lit with fluorescent lights in the ceiling and because a built structure was not in keeping with the play.

The location above was a possibility but I wasn’t happy with the bench. I had a reasonably successful initial test at this location though (below).

Above was just a quick test to determine whether the location had potential.

Above, I certainly didn’t want a hedge.

Above is my final location.

How I set up my work

It had to be dark. Since the clocks have gone forward this meant waiting until after 8pm. I wanted to use lighting in three ways. One, to light up the tree in a ‘Godot’ way with branches highlighted against a black sky. Two, to light up my subjects’ faces and three, to light the floor to give a staged look.

I initially hoped that car headlights would be enough to provide lighting for the tree but it quickly became clear that this wouldn’t work. The light was not high enough and positioning the car exactly as needed was impossible. I considered whether I would be better borrowing a generator to allow me to use indoor lighting equipment outdoors. However, I moved on to use two miner’s LED cap lamps as shown below.

These were ideal. They are battery operated and have a powerful directional light.

Above is how I managed the final lighting of the tree. At the base are the two miners’ cap lamps to light from below and a torch set on the wall to add light from mid height. The road is lit from street lights and the intention was to light the models’ faces from their phones.


How my direction went

Below is a more relaxed moment when my ‘models’ were waiting to be ‘directed’!

A short break

I knew what I wanted my image to look like beforehand. Black sky, stark branches, concentrating expressions, a couple engrossed in their individual lives, so I feel that compositionally I achieved my intention. Regarding lighting I was pleased with how I sourced the lamps and positioned them, and I was pleased with the location. My main personal achievement was in organising the ‘shoot’. I directed my models on where to stand, how to position themselves and where to hold their phones to direct the light and felt that I was in control and knew what I wanted.  

Regarding the success of my message I feel that the concept of waiting and the reference to the largely futile nature of modern communications has worked well, and I hope that Beckett’s play is evident to those who are familiar with it.

A word about props

Regarding props, I was insistent on a leafless tree that I could access with lamps. I also needed my subjects to hold mobile phones to provide light on their faces and to articulate the current obsession with phone technology. I wanted one of my subjects to be wearing ear phones to further convey a lack of interest in communicating with real people. A closer inspection shows the man wearing a hat and heavy boots, both significant props that are integral to Beckett’s play.

My models were my husband and twin sister and I hope that they conveyed a couple as opposed to two strangers at a bus stop. I considered two men, in keeping with the play, but thought that a mixed sex couple would more easily portray a relationship.  Their stance, nearly touching, was intended to communicate a closeness. If these were strangers they would be invading each others space. Casual clothing is also inspired by the play. In addition, the daffodils are not circumstantial; they are deliberate. I wanted to show how a couple, who are so intent on their phones, with their backs to the flowers, are missing the beauty of real life, at the expense of their virtual lives.

How did this process affect the final outcome

Trying different locations showed me what worked and what didn’t work and led me to considering different settings, rejecting them and searching for something better. This repeated consideration led me to choose an ideal setting. I wasn’t prepared to ‘make do’.

The trial and error with the lighting and the rejection of car headlights and weaker torches made me more aware of the effect I wanted to create and made me conscious of the different effects that different lighting had.

Constructing this image has made me more aware of composition, lighting and concept and I have learned a great deal about photography as a language with which I can convey  my ideas. More than that though, I have gained in confidence and am keen to articulate my ideas through photography.

Contact sheets

Contact sheets Assignment five (Making it up) annotated


e8bloggt. (2018). Waiting for Godot: Silence pours into the play….. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018]. (2018). Waiting for Godot Analysis of the Play. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018]

Studies, V. and Death, W. (2018). Waiting For Godot: Silence and Death Book Report/Review. [online] Studentshare. Available at: [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].

UKEssays. (2018). Waiting For Godot Essay | Analysis of Waiting for Godot. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Apr. 2018].

Learning outcomes (end of part five)

Learning outcomes end of part five (constructed realities and the fabricated image)

Part five has considered photography in terms of ‘setting the scene’ using a setting as a way of articulating a story or narrative. Just like in literature, where every word is there for a reason, likewise in photography, every prop, costume, location and detail is there for a reason. The learning from this part of the course has been around staged images and how they tell their story.

I have been particularly interested in how some practitioners (Hannah Starkey, Jeff Wall and Tom Hunter) are inspired by literature (poems and novels) and by paintings; this is something that I feel that I could engage with and pursue myself; having a literature background.


Creation of images that demonstrate a practical and conceptual understanding of the appropriate use of techniques

The single image for assignment five had to be staged using props, costume, models, location and lighting to contribute to the meaning of the image.

Practically, for assignment five I had to use models and an outdoor setting, in the dark. I had to liaise with my models to arrange times that suited all of us; my first ‘date’ was hampered by rain and had to be cancelled. I had to make sure the lamps were available on the arranged date and had to wait for it to be dark enough, before the shoot could begin. I knew I would need my tripod for a ight time image to avoid any movement blur with long exposures. Practically, I understood how I needed to work to produce the final image that I wanted and used lighting, positioning and staging, as well as camera settings in order to achieve it.

Conceptually, I knew that my one image had to convey my idea. I also knew that all my decisions regarding the image had to further that idea. Firstly, I wanted my image to actually resemble the Godot image in its night time setting, bare branches, black sky, two characters, bare setting etc. I feel that my staging and technical decisions achieved that. Secondly I wanted to infer Beckett’s themes of the absurdness of existence and its pointlessness by showing two subjects waiting while engrossed in their virtual lives.


Demonstration of an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into imagery

Consideration of the many practitioners that we have been introduced to in this part of the course has highlighted those photographers that are inspired by other forms of art (like Tom Hunter and Jeff Wall), those that consider real life (like Jeff Wall and DiCorcia) and those that consider the mis-use of photography (like Taryn Simon). These different uses of staged photography show how constructed work is used to further an artists message.

Regarding the staged image, I had a clear vison of how I wanted my image to look. I also knew what I wanted to say. Interestingly I have found it more difficult to articulate my message in words and for me, the picture ‘explains’ it all a little easier. However, I can appreciate that someone unfamiliar with the play might not appreciate my anguish in trying to articulate what it means to me but regardless, I think the image raises interesting questions in itself.

Conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised in this course

I have studied part five and have engaged with the work of many practitioners as a result and have understood the concept of the staged photograph and the importance of setting the scene. It seems funny now that before I started this course I would probably have commented that a staged image was ‘fake’ and as such not as worthy as a ‘real’ photograph. However, I can now see the error of my ways. In addition, I have found myself mentally deconstructing my own image by trying to imagine seeing it for the first time as a viewer would and interpreting it through its symbols. 

I hope that my final image for assignment five has showed how I have considered the themes raised in the course particularly in the way that images can be influenced by other art forms and in my case, by literature. 


Show a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical practice and theory

Tom Hunter’s work often rethinks classical paintings in their style while giving a modern day interpretation. See below for details on Hunters work ‘Living in Hell’ that has been influenced by an older painting.

Tom Hunter

My intention in Assignment five was similar to this. I took an image of a 1948 play and interpreted it to be relevant to 2018. I like the way that ideas are reinterpreted and used as inspiration to create new images. I feel that it is a bit like ‘Chinese Whispers’* where each successive image is different to the one previous and creates something new, but still connected.

I was interested in how Friedrich’s image was the inspiration for Beckett’s play and now Beckett’s play has been the inspiration for my image. See this post for more details;  an interesting point


Additional development

I think I am getting braver and more confident. With this final assignment I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and have created an image that has been influenced by literature  in order to comment on a contemporary issue.



  • Chinese Whispers. I have used this phrase with no intention of racism in the slightest. I have researched the origin of the phrase and am happy that it should not be considered as offensive in any way.

Assignment five (self assessment)

Making it up

Self assessment

This assignment was to construct a stand alone image of my choice. The aim of the assignment was to use props, costumes, models, location and lighting to contribute to the overall meaning of the image.

Demonstration of visual and technical skills 

I never thought that I would be confident enough to do this. Twelve months ago I flicked through to the end of the Context and Narrative course binder to check out the final assignment and thought that there was no way I would be able to stage a photograph; and here I am, I have done it.

Once I had decided on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as my inspiration there was no way I could get it out of my mind. I forced myself to think down other paths but every single time I returned to the image below from a scene in Beckett’s play. 

I had a good idea of what I wanted my image to look like before I started the final shoot.  I had taken inspiration from literature, specifically an image from a production of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, and wanted to interpret this by taking the image at night and by highlighting a leafless tree; the main prop in the play.

Below: a reminder of the image that inspired me.

Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)

Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in Waiting for Godot

Visual: I have used the black sky and the highlighted branches to link visually to the original image. The visual  connection allows my image to ‘borrow’ the themes of the play. Visually I placed the branches in the foreground where they both frame the subjects and keep the viewer’s eyes on  the models. I considered whether the right hand side of the image could be criticised for having too much negative space but the lights from the nearby bridge help to move the eye along the road and the space ensures that the scene is seen to be deserted as in the image of the play. I hoped it would portray a lonely road.

The positioning of the tree created leading lines to initially draw the eye upwards to acknowledge the bus stop sign where hopefully the association with ‘waiting’ would be formed. The viewer is then led downwards via the vertical post to rest on the subjects before being pulled towards the dot of light at the far right edge of the image and back to the subjects but along the road this time.



Throughout the shoot I used my wide angle lens (16-55mm), a manual setting and set an ISO of 400. I zoomed until my characters were a significant size in the composition but there was still sufficient space around them to suggest a deserted country road with no other activity taking place and no other people. I wanted to keep the context of the road and the background and using a longer focal length would have given less context.

A tripod was essential in low light to avoid movement during exposure. To help combat movement I also set my camera on a two second delay so that pressing the shutter would not add to the movement. My subjects were warned not to move from when I called out to them. I focused throughout on my subjects’ faces and an aperture of 5.6 in most cases ensured a deep enough depth of field where the whole image was in acceptable focus.

Usually I am hesitant in increasing ISO above 100 but in this instance I wanted to have a higher ISO to offset the shutter speed somewhat. The longer the exposure the more chance I would have of seeing movement from my models who could only keep perfectly still for a short time. Aperture was f/5.6 to ensure that enough of the scene was in focus behind and in front of my subjects while still giving me a fast enough exposure to avoid movement blur. The depth of field ensures the models are the main focus but that the flowers in the background and the branches in the foreground are clear enough. A smaller aperture would have give a deeper depth of field but the risk was unwanted evidence of movement.

Props: I used props inspired by the play; the tree, two characters, hat and boots. The mobile phones had a dual purpose; to highlight my models’ faces and to show how people are so engrossed in virtual lives that they miss out on real life. The earphones were to further show a lack of interest in real communication. I took advantage of the daffodils to show how preoccupied my subjects are in their phones that they are content to turn their backs on natural beauty.

Costumes: All I asked was that my models were dressed casually and in dark clothing. The only specifics I asked for were for the man to wear a dark beany hat and some heavy shoes as these are important items that recur again and again in the play.

Models: I wanted two models and considered whether to have two men (like the play has) or a man and a woman. Because I wanted a viewer to immediately recognise a ‘couple’ I chose male and female. The fact that there is a female there, who would probably not be there alone, gave a more certain ‘couple’ interpretation.

Location: The location had to be a bus stop to signify ‘waiting’. It had to have a leafless tree and had to be along a country road. All these mirror the play to help add the play’s meanings to the image. There were a few cars that passed by and some of my contact sheets images have captured light trails but I waited for them to pass and then retook the image. Light trails were not an option.

Lighting: I set myself a challenge with a night time image but was pleased with the way I managed to source the portable lighting, highlight the tree, use mobile phones as specific lighting for the faces and use ambient street lighting to add warmth and a staged appearance.

Quality of outcome

I was pleased, not only because I feel that I have produced an interesting image inspired by another form of art but that the message of the meaninglessness of life, that is evident in Beckett’s play, has been interpreted using a topic that effects a modern audience and is a contemporary topic of discussion; that of how social media can sabotage real communication.

Regarding the outcome, I was very pleased to have transformed this …

into this …

Demonstration of creativity

I have approached something very new in this assignment by staging something specifically to photograph. I feel that I have created something original and something that makes a comment on modern life. I was pleased with how I ‘directed’ the scene. I seemed to confidently tell my subjects how I wanted them to stand;  lifting and lowering their mobile phones until I captured the lighting that I wanted on their faces. I rearranged the lighting in the tree until I achieved the level of dark and light branches that I thought looked best.

I spent considerable time on choosing the right location assessing different bus stops in my local area and  ensuring that the final image portrayed  the unpopulated and lonely place that the play infers.

Regarding the overall creativity of the final image, I think it provides a unique interpretation of the play whilst keeping true to its main motifs and themes. I believe a viewer will wonder about it and be interested enough to try to interpret it. I feel that it is engaging and raises questions. Who are they? Where are they? Why? How long have they been there? Is there really a bus due during the night in the middle of nowhere? What are they looking at? What is so interesting? Have they nothing to talk about? How pointless is it all?


I see my image in the context of practitioners who have been inspired by other art forms and in particular by literature.

Jeff Wall was inspired by Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and  produced an image After invisible Man to make a previously hidden character visible. Hannah Starkey, inspired by Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott comments on the real world and the access of women to it. Tom Hunter has used paintings as inspiration to comment on real life situations. I hope that I have also used another form of art to inspire my comment on the often absurd meaning of life.



Itzkoff, D. (2018). The Right Way to Say ‘Godot’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].

Assignment five (how my ‘Waiting for Godot’ idea progressed)

How my ‘Waiting for Godot’ idea progressed

I have now decided how I want to progress with the stand alone image for this final assignment. I was originally inspired by the way that Jeff Wall and Hannah Starkey have used literature as inspiration for their works and by the way that Tom Hunter has been inspired by classic paintings. I am thoroughly enjoying the connections and links between the different arts, particularly literature.

Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot would not shift from my mind. I went to bed thinking of it, I spent my lunch breaks on the Internet about it, I searched my literature assignments for references to it and I was disappointed that I couldn’t find my copy of it. I knew that I wanted to use it in this assignment. I was particularly interested in the themes of pointless waiting and the lack of ‘proper’ communication as well as the ultimate concern regarding the meaning of life.

However, I wanted to create an image that is relevant to today and chose to capture a modern version of two people displaying traits of absurd communication and pointlessly filling their time. I chose to represent the way that people communicate digitally rather than vocally much more than they used to, as a result of social media, and how sometimes digital communication can all seem so pointless.  

Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)
Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in “Waiting for Godot,”

Image courtesy of Bing images: in the public domain

Waiting for Godot was written in 1948 and belongs to the genre of the Theatre of the Absurd which is concerned with the idea that there is little point to human existence. The two main characters in the play wait for a third character, Godot, who never arrives. The  main protagonists speak but make very little sense, their dialogue is absurd, they become bored of waiting and just exist by filling time until Godot arrives.

I wondered how Becket would have portrayed this pointless waiting if he was writing his play now in 2018. I must admit that if I am waiting (at the dentist’s, for a meeting to start, for a programme to come on television, etc) I turn to my mobile phone for something to do. A quick check on the news, have I got any texts? any emails? Shall I text ‘x’ to say what I am having for dinner or ‘tell’ him that there was a massive queue on the motorway? No, not really, but you get my point. This made me think of the hours and hours that we, as a nation, spend staring at our mobile phones, pressing buttons, ‘liking’ things and acquiring ‘friends’. We are interacting with real people less and less. It seems we are now happy to live in a virtual world with little actual conversation at the price of real human interaction.

This image below by Simon Roberts Motherland (Simon Roberts, 2018) caught my attention with the man waiting and alone. The title of the image may guide us, as viewers, to the buildings but for me the man waiting on the bench captured my interest for this assignment. It was the loneliness that it portrayed but I couldn’t help wondering if he was actually texting on his phone.


Image by Simon Roberts Motherland
A new development of luxury apartments, Moscow. Central Region, July 2005.
(Simon Roberts, 2018)

I hope that I have explained how my idea developed; from reading and researching the course notes and engaging with the some of the practitioner’s links with literature, to my immediate engagement with Godot, its modernisation in my mind to take into account the current obsession with virtual lives and how Godot’s pointless waiting in 1948 can translate into modern pointless activity today in 2018.

Interestingly, in the news today, Weatherspoon’s has decided to close its social media accounts. Wetherspoon’s Chairman, Tim Martin, has ‘told the BBC that society would be better off if people cut the amount of social media use’ (BBC News, 2018).



BBC News. (2018). Wetherspoon pub chain quits social media. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Apr. 2018].

Simon Roberts. (2018). Motherland – Simon Roberts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].

Assignment 5 (preliminary work)

Making it up: preliminary work

Having been inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to present the idea of  engaging in absurd communication while pointlessly passing the time (in the context of the Theatre of the Absurd which suggests that there is little meaning in life) I considered how I would visually articulate my meaning. Below is an insight into some of the thoughts I had.

This image was my initial inspiration:

Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)
Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in Waiting for Godot
Image courtesy of Bing images: in the public domain


Two rejected locations

In the opening scene of Beckett’s play the two main characters are waiting by a tree along a country lane in the  dark.  I wanted my subjects to be waiting for something and my first idea was to place them waiting at a road sign, not the bus stop that I eventually decided on. The Theatre of the Absurd is meant to be irrational and having people wait at a traffic sign would certainly be that. Below is a snapshot taken just to test my idea.

I briefly considering a cemetery as a location for my final image with the connotation of someone waiting for the end of life whilst engaging in meaningless activity during his wait. However, it was more removed from the play than I wanted as the play does have comedy moments. So, I moved on to a bus stop location, albeit with a little hesitation, as I thought the cemetery did have some potential. Here is a snapshot of a my rejected  cemetery location.

I preferred the idea of a bus stop though. The mental connection with a bus stop and ‘waiting’ is instinctive and I wanted the viewer to immediately think of the word ‘waiting’ when viewing my image in order to connect it to the play’s title, Waiting for Godot, in their mind.

But all bus stops are not created equal. Some bus stops had benches or walls and I  considered them as something for my subjects to sit on, but decided on standing as this is more often seen in the play. The characters sit on a rock now and again but I don’t recall a bench. I quite quickly rejected a bus shelter. Partly because the lighting was too bright as they have fluorescent strips in the ceiling but mainly because the scene was more suited to being free of a built construction.

My final location choice is shown below, in daylight.

I liked the country lane  and the stone wall and the fact there was no indication of housing estates or fences. I also knew that I could position the tree (bottom left) in the foreground, if I took a viewpoint to the left of it, and focus on the bus stop (where my subjects were going to stand) while still having some sense of space and depth.


I practiced in my own garden one night to check that the miners’ LED cap lamps would give the effect that I was looking for and was very pleased with the results as they lit up the tree with a cool direct light as I had hoped. My concerned neighbours however were worried as, from their front window, they thought someone was intruding in our garden and quickly came round to check all was ok.

Below is an image to show how I eventually managed the lighting of the tree at my final location. We did look very suspicious and a lady in a car actually slowed down and asked what we were doing. She was fine when we reassured her that I was an innocent photography student though.

Regarding lighting up my subjects’ faces I was optimistic about using the light from the mobile phones that were to be significant props in the final image. I was surprised by the amount of light that these provided and in some shots my models’ faces were too bright. I had practiced with these at one of my previously considered locations and was pleased that there was sufficient light to show my subject’s expression of concentration and oblivion as he concentrated on his phone.

Above – practice using mobile phone light.

The only other light that I needed was the ambient lighting from the street lights on the country lane. These added a warm light to the image and contributed significantly to the ‘staged’ effect that I wanted to achieve, especially how its effect was seen on the road surface in the final image.


An interesting point

I was interested in how Beckett was inspired by Friedrich, perhaps in the same way that I am now inspired by Beckett.

Apparently Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was inspired by this painting by Caspar David Friedrich,

From this:

Two Men Contemplating the Moon (1819/20)

Casper David Friedrich

To this:

Waiting for Godot (Itzkoff, 2018)
Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon in “Waiting for Godot,”
Image courtesy of Bing images: in the public domain

To this:

My image

Assignment five (first thoughts and ideas)

Making it up

The brief is to construct a stand alone image of my choice. The image must be controlled and directed by me for this purpose. Before making a final decision on how to approach the assignment I took some time to consider some of my different ideas.

Staged image (idea one)

The Bell Jar

Inspired by the links to literature that we have been introduced to on this course and in particular by Jeff Wall’s After Invisible Man and Hannah Starkey’s Self Portrait 2  inspired by Tennyson’s’ The Lady of Shalott,  I considered a staged image inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; a semi autobiographical novel showing the protagonist’s experiences with mental ill-health. The bell jar is a metaphor for the protagonist  feeling trapped as a woman and how she envies the freedom that men have in comparison.

I considered staging something to represent this confined feeling that Plath’s character, Esther, must have experienced, preferably by using glass as a closer representation of a bell jar than any other means of confinement (ropes, walls, fences, barbed wire, etc).

Photo courtesy of Bing images

I found the image above during my research and considered how it suggested confinement. The lady portrayed in the photograph represents a lady who (rather like the Lady of Shalott) can see the world but cannot take part in it.  I thought the image was a little straightforward conceptually though I liked the lighting and how the black and white could represent a loss of involvement in the ‘colour’ of life. This image prompted me to take some images with my face confined by a glass bowl to see what the effect would be.

Above, I liked the idea that the confinement was portrayed as a physical pressure against my face as though feeling trapped can have a physical effect as well as a mental one.

Above, I don’t think this image worked as well as the first one, as the shape of the bowl was more obvious. In its favour however, the downcast expression reflects a powerless and accepting  position and the glass is a physical barrier to the real world.

Even though I didn’t progress to using this idea for the assignment I found that spending time in considering it has made me more confident in trying different forms of expression and in taking risks.


Staged image (idea two)

News is to the mind what sugar is to the body

I have been getting sick and tired of reading and watching terrible news items. Everywhere I turn I am aware of the world and its murders, rapes, abuse, shootings, health scares, hate crimes and so on. Articles on terrible atrocities in our world that, according to Rolf Dobelli in the Guardian, can be ‘toxic’ to the mind and can result in mental ill health. Dobelli says that

‘news is to the mind what sugar is to the body’.

(the Guardian, 2018)

I became very interested in the idea of bad news being the same to our mental health as sugar is to our physical health and wondered if the two ideas could work together to highlight the negative effects of the daily barrage of bad news that we are exposed to.

Here are some of my thoughts around a possible staged image.

  • I thought about all the harmful sugar based foods that we are exposed to and considered showing them all served up and overflowing on expensive crockery, looking very attractive, to highlight not only the quantity of harmful foods that we eat but also acknowledging clever advertising that presents sugar as real food; cakes and buns and sweets and chocolates, etc. I remembered the advert deconstruction that we did on the Panzani advert and applied the learning from that to this potential project. I considered how attractive foods could imply a party, their overflowing positioning could suggest opulence, plenty, generosity and luxury.  However, I rejected this idea as being too clichéd, too overdone already and not very imaginative. That said, I do think there is a great deal to say about the food industry, and about the news industry, and will look forward to perhaps considering this, as a manipulation of society, further at a later stage.
  • I moved on to think about bad news making people ill and showing a ‘diet’ of murder, rape, war, etc. using guns, blood and headlines on plates instead of food. Again, I think this has been overdone and is simple in concept.
  •  I thought about a breakfast setting of sugar foods shown against horrendous headlines to represent the way we are manipulated (by the powers that be) to eat certain foods and to read certain articles. A bowl of sugary cereals against shocking headlines in the morning paper could show how we are virtually forced to start every day contributing to our own physical and mental ill health. After completing assignment three where we used diary excerpts to add narrative to a photo series, I thought of images of food displayed in a photobook with alternate pages of written headlines of bad news to show how big business contributes to poor physical and mental health.


Staged image (idea 3)


  • Emetophobia cropped up again. I had seen a post on a fellow students blog  that I felt was vey brave and successfully considered bulimia. I was inspired by this work  to revisit Emetophobia again as a staged image. However, I think there is such a lot to say about this condition that it would work better as a series.

Sick of Bulimia’ by a fellow student ‘photosociology’

A short while ago I did experiment with images around Emetophobia and this is one that I thought showed the distress quite well.

If I go on to consider this subject further I have ideas in my mind of what types of images would convey the reality of living with this phobia. I think of a handbag containing mints and antacid tablets; sell by dates on foods, overcooking food, throwing food away, having a stock of plain biscuits nearby, concentrating on the vegetarian options on the menu, cars pulled over at the side of the road with their indicators on, headlines about Norovirus, etc.

Staged image (idea four)

Waiting for Godot

I  returned to my literature passion and came across an image of a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I have always been interested in this play and am fascinated by the Theatre of the Absurd which considers the idea that human existence has no real meaning. It was clear to me that I wanted to work with this play for this assignment and I was like a dog with a  bone, refusing to let the idea go.

I considered how the majority of images relating to this play look ‘staged’ with high contrast and directional lighting and very few props, and I felt that this was something I would like to consider for this assignment.  One of the themes of Waiting for Godot is the consideration of the meaninglessness of life. The main protagonists speak and make very little sense, their dialogue is absurd, they became bored of waiting and just exist by filling time until Godot should arrive.

Image courtesy of Bing images (public domain)

I considered how I wanted to use Beckett’s themes of waiting and pointlessly filling time  and transfer them to an ordinary everyday situation. Please see my post on how I further developed this idea here.



HuffPost UK. (2018). What Constant Exposure To Negative News Is Doing To Our Mental Health. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].

The Guardian. (2018). News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].

Simon Roberts: Motherland

Simon Roberts: Motherland

In his feedback to assignment four, my tutor suggested that I research the photographer Simon Roberts and his project The Motherland.

‘Simon Roberts travelled across Russia between July 2004 and August 2005, making pictures in over 200 locations and creating one of the most extensive, comprehensive photographic accounts of this vast country by a Westerner’ (Simon Roberts, 2018).

In his series, Motherland we see ‘intimate and revealing portraits of contemporary Russians (that) show us a diverse people, united by a sense of common identity and connected by a shared love of ‘the Motherland’, while breathtaking landscapes reveal the complexity and uniqueness of the country’ (ibid).

There are certain images that I really like (the man sitting on the bench with his back to the camera and the market stalls and the meat counter) but on the whole its not really engaging me. I can see it as portraying a cross section of life and people but for me it is not showing the ‘bright eyed happiness’ (Groskop, 2018) that Viv Groskop refers to in her Guardian article here

Motherland images


Groskop, V. (2018). Review: Motherland by Simon Roberts. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Simon Roberts. (2018). Motherland monograph (pdf) – Simon Roberts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].


Charlie Crane: Welcome to Pyongyang

Charlie Crane: Welcome to Pyongyang

Welcome to Pyongyang

My tutor suggested that I research this photographer in his feedback to assignment four so I just searched online for this work and was immediately interested in what I saw. There is something so ordered and serene about these images. They are clear and ‘tidy’. There is an abundance of neatly arranged seats, chairs, desks and tables. Most images have just one human subject but there is one exception. The exception is an image with five people, but even then they are ‘neat’ and standing in an ordered line in matching clothes; all symmetrical and same height and build, adding to the neatness and order. My tutor described this work as having a ‘formal visual style’ that ‘moulds his work together as a single project’.

There is something captivating and compelling about this work that really appeals to me. It is peaceful in its representation of a dignified Korean way of life through its interiors and portraits. There is something hygienic about how this life is portrayed but also something a little bleak and lifeless; serious; not much fun.

Examined in the context of a Korean Dictatorship I can see now how this work is showing a desire for control and order but everything is so staged that we are left wondering what is going on behind the façade?



LensCulture, C. (2018). Welcome to Pyongyang – Photographs by Charlie Crane | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].