All posts by bookworm23b

Results day!

Results day, 31 July 2018

Year 2, Context and narrative

I have been expecting an email for a day or two and it arrived today and my percentage is exactly the same as last year (Year 1, Expressing your vision).


The feedback surrounding  visual and technical skills pleased me as there was an extra one (but vital) word: VERY. The comment that there was ‘development of VERY good visual and technical skills’ was, seriously, very rewarding as it shows an improvement from last year.

I will admit that I had hoped for those few extra marks to push me over the 60% bracket but I remind myself that I started this course without even knowing where the on/off button was on my camera, and I am really not joking!

For last year’s blog (Expressing your vision) see the link below

Expressing your vision from May 2016

For my next years blog (Identity and Place) see the link below

Identity and Place from May 2018

I am motivated to do better next year and am still thoroughly enjoying the challenge.


A perfect end


Mahbub Jokhio: In the City of Lost Times
Exhibition at The Tetley, Leeds

In April I visited The Tetley, Leeds, to see Mahbub Jokhio’s exhibition; a link to the post I wrote after my visit is here.

This evening, six weeks later, I was very surprised to see a comment on my blog  from Mahbub himself about my post which said that he had enjoyed it and thanked me for my comments. What a lovely man to have taken the time to comment on my blog.

I came away from Mahbub’s exhibition thinking around graveyards and loss and potential projects and I printed different images of them from the Internet because it felt as though I may be on the cusp of something for the future; Mahbub’s work had interested and inspired me.

Receiving this comment has made me feel really engaged with photography as a community where everyone can learn and share even if the distance between people is as much as 5,000 miles away in Lahore. I felt honoured actually.

It is interesting that my very first ‘Square Mile’ assignment in my first year (Expressing your vision) included a graveyard image.

Like Mahbub, I don’t see graveyards as ‘being very scary places’ (YouTube, 2018 1.42). I see them as places that communicate history and respect. Also like Mahbub where ‘this  exhibition is the second one in which Mahbub has explored graveyards and he admits he’s not done with them yet’, I may also revisit them in the future. (Vulture, 2018).

Interestingly, Mahbub has a literature background, as do I. Mahbub is often influenced by ‘literary themes that he reads’ (YouTube, 2018 1.08) and I can also relate to this. A particular favourite exercise of mine was to chose a poem and interpret it through images. I chose Coleridge’s Kubla Khan shown here and often look for literary inspiration when considering photography.


Vulture, A. (2018). ‘In the city of lost times’ and ‘These silences are all the words’ – Two new art exhibitions at The Tetley, Leeds as part of #NewNorthSouth – Asian Culture Vulture. [online] Asian Culture Vulture. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2018].

YouTube. (2018). Three Exhibitions at the Tetley: February – April 2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2018].

It’s a learning curve – colour problems and printing

Colour and printing problems

As assessment gets nearer I have started sending my images for printing via an online service. I have always been very pleased with their printing and their service but one image from my very first assignment (two sides of the story) came back very grey.

This is the image as it shows on my blog:

However, when it came back from the printing lab it seemed much more washed out and lacking in clarity and contrast. This is where I have a lot to learn. I have noticed that the dpi for this image is only 118 and not the 300 of my other images. I haven’t cropped this image so I have no idea whatsoever what has caused this or indeed whether it is this to blame.

I am aware of colour calibration and it may be something to do with this. I am also aware that to prepare this image in black and white I merely removed the saturation from a colour raw image and I now know that this is not perhaps the best way to achieve a good result.

Another thought is that I should perhaps have used exposure compensation to prevent the camera from interpreting the dark scene as mid tone grey. I have a great deal to learn regarding colour and calibration so intend to make sure I am informed before I start my next module.

Actually I think that making mistakes is the quickest way to learn.

Assignment 5 (reworked)

Following my tutor’s feedback I have cropped my final image in order to improve its composition.

This is my reworked image:

This was my original image:

Cropping the top of the image and removing the bus stop sign has made the whole idea of waiting more subtle. Removing some of the branches has solved the problem of their light competing with other light and made the tree less of a presence in the image. The subjects are now positioned using the rule of thirds and the image is more balanced.

Assignment five (tutor feedback and my response)

Tutor feedback and my response

My feedback to assignment 5 was by hangout and as always there were some good points and some not so good.

The good 

My idea was good, the image was well constructed and I made good use of lighting.

The ‘before’ and ‘after’ images showing the location in daylight and then again with the final staged image at night were well received and showed how much input there was to produce the final construction.

The connection between aspects of the play (visually and metaphorically) was also good as was the inspiration for the constructed scene.

Technically the image was great with one exception. The branches were too bright, drawing the eye from the main subjects.

The colour balance was good with the orange background being a nice contrast with the main subjects.

The camera to subject distance was good being close enough to the people to see them clearly while still providing a feeling of space.

My response

What’s not to like?

The not so good

We talked about the composition and how it may be improved by cropping the top to remove the actual bus stop sign. The decision was a little uncertain though as improved composition would mean losing some of the significance.

The branches of the tree are a little too bright as they compete with the light from the mobile phones.

My writing should be more concise and I should explain my decisions rather than merely describe them.

My response

I have cropped the image to remove the bus stop which in turn removed some of the over bright branches. Removing the bus stop makes the whole idea of waiting more subtle and makes the tree less of a presence. In retrospect it was almost like a third subject and is improved by still remaining significant but by taking up less space in the image. I was happy that cropping had eliminated most of the too bright branches which reduced the way that the light on the tree competed with the other light.

Regarding my written work, I have revisited my posts to ensure that I have explained the reasons for my decisions. For example, instead of saying that I didn’t want light trails from passing cars, I have explained that light trails would not allow me to portray a deserted lane so I wanted to avoid them.

Initial image, below.

Reworked image, below.

I can see now how the tree monopolised the image and the bus stop sign was perhaps a little too obvious. Derek liked the composition in the cropped image and referred to the triangular shape formed by branches and the background trees. I must admit that I had never really noticed it but now I can’t  avoid seeing it. It does provide a frame for the subjects and the blackness of it provides a contrast to the lighted areas and keeps the eye on the subjects.

How one image is inspired by another


Reinterpreting previous works

While working on assignment five I learned that Samuel Becket was inspired by Caspar David Friedrich when writing his play Waiting for Godot. I was very interested in how one image can inspire another image, or another art form, and how the cycle continues as different practitioners develop and reinterpret previous work.

‘Samuel Beckett’s biographer, James Knowlson, has revealed that the playwright claimed he had used Two Men Contemplating the Moon as visual inspiration for his ground-breaking first play, Waiting for Godot (1953)… the first visual connection between Friedrich’s composition and Waiting for Godot is suggested by the play’s iconic opening scene setting:
A country road. A tree. Evening. (The British Library, 2018).

… and these three ‘props’ are the ones that I wanted to transfer to my own image.

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

and to this …


My image


The British Library. (2018). Two Men Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

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. Overall, I am very pleased to have ‘transformed’ this image, taken at my chosen location,

from this…

to this …



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 as I wanted to infer a deserted area.

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 am pleased with my final image, not only because I feel that I have produced an interesting image inspired by another art form but that the message of the meaningless of life, that is evident on Beckett’s play has been interpreted using a topic that is relevant to a modern audience and is current topic of discussion, that of how social media can sabotage real communication.

Interestingly, in the news recently, 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).


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.



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

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

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.