Category Archives: Constructed realities (part 5)

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.

Leonard and Dunye: The Fae Richards photo Archive

The Fae Richards photo Archive

Fae Richards is a fictional actress in the 1996 film ‘Watermelon Woman’ by filmmaker Cheryl Dunye. Zoe Leonard, a photographer portrayed Richard’s fictional life in a series of 78 images which provide the props for use in the film. The images tell the story of the fictional actress (who was identified in a film as just ‘The Watermelon Woman’) through a collection of ‘glamour shots, stills from movie sets, photobooth portraits, family snapshots, and typewritten captions’ (Aperture Foundation NY, 2018).

In many early films, black women were omitted from the film credits, effectively dismissing them as too unimportant to have a name; making them invisible. This fictional life aims to represent all those forgotten black actresses in all those films where they were missed from the credits or given minor stereotypical roles.

I cant help but think of literature again. The Wide Sargasso Sea effectively took the fictional character of Bertha Mason from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and gave her a history. Bertha’s history is entirely fictional like Fae Richard’s is but they are both believable and both inform how we read future texts or see future films or photographs. I read Jane Eyre differently now that I know something of the history of the ‘mad woman in the attic’.

In summary, ‘the photographs were taken by Zoe Leonard, based on a character conceived by Cheryl Dunye, and they are used in Cheryl Dunye’s film “The Watermelon Woman” (, 2018). Similarly Wide Sargasso Sea written by Jean Rhys was based on a character created by Charlotte Bronte.

Sometimes, by likening photography to literature in this way, I can relate and engage more easily with the concepts under discussion.


Do you have any archives that you could have access to? Might you be able to use it for the beginnings of a project?

I have quite a few old black and white family photographs taken in the 50s and 60s that I started arranging in an album several years ago but never completed. For this I needed to ask older relatives if they could identify some of the people and to a large extent I was successful in getting all the information I needed and could then label them with names and dates.

It would be nice to return to these images later.



Aperture Foundation NY. (2018). Kristen Lubben on The Fae Richards Photo Archive. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Mar. 2018]. (2018). The Fae Richards Photo Archive – Zoe Leonard, Cheryl Dunye. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Mar. 2018].

Broomberg and Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots)

link to the Installation

My first thoughts were about the title and how cryptic it was. I can now see it as part of a long narrative showing the multitude of happenings taking place to give a fragmented feel of life at the time.

This series was made as a result of a request to interpret the archives ‘of over 14,000 contact sheets taken in Northern Ireland during The Troubles’  (photoparley, 2018). When particular images were chosen a dot was stuck on the contact sheet to identify them from the others. The parts of the images obscured by the dots form the basis of the work. These snippets offer ‘a self contained universe’ all of their own (ibid).

The circular photographs have been framed in rectangular frames with the circle in the centre, looking almost like a peep hole onto the wider scene, leaving us to wonder what was outside the frame.



People in trouble laughing pushed to the ground – photobook

People In Trouble Laughing Pushed To The Ground

People in trouble laughing pushed to the ground. Soldiers leaning, pointing, reaching. Woman sweeping. Balloons escaping. Coffin descending. Boys standing. Grieving. Chair balancing. Children smoking. Embracing. Creatures barking. Cars burning. Helicopters hovering. Faces. Human figures. Shapes. Birds. Structures left standing and falling…

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin




photoparley. (2018). Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin Interview. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018].

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

Sherman’s work challenges identities constructed by society (Boothroyd, 2014)

‘Sherman works in series, typically photographing herself in a range of costumes’ (, 2018)

Untitled film stills

This is a series of 69 black and white images where Sherman ‘uses herself in the images to comment on social phenomena, especially how society views women’ (ibid). The female subjects of her images were mainly those who had rejected traditional lives of marriage and children.

Sherman is the subject in all the images and she poses in different guises using clothes, wigs and makeup to portray a ‘feminine type’ (Cotton, 2015) showing that ‘femininity can be put on and performed, changed and mimicked by one actor’ (ibid). We see a stereotypical  lonely housewife, a career girl  ‘in a trim new suit on her first day in the big city’ (The Museum of Modern Art, 2018), a ‘luscious librarian’ and a ‘chic starlet’ (ibid).


This is ‘a series based on images from pornography magazines and their objectification of women’ (ibid). Here she highlights how women are stereotyped by the media industries. All the subjects in Sherman’s images are wearing clothes; her images are not pornographic. Her intention was to shock the male viewer into reconsidering his approach to the female body, by presenting something he was not expecting to see.

Society portraits

A series comprising ‘constructed self portraits about women of a certain wealth and age in America’ (ibid) highlighting society’s obsession with youth. These representations of older women shows how they have approached ageing by replacing their ‘youthful attractiveness’ (Phaidon, 2018) with a display of their ‘status and sophistication’ (ibid). The images however, with the subjects’ staged confident stances, their immaculate hair and make up and their ‘dress to impress’ clothes give a disturbing feel when shown against an elaborate but empty room setting (untitled #475). Are their lives as empty as their surroundings?

Society Portraits



Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts.

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Phaidon. (2018). The truth about Cindy Sherman’s society portraits | Art | Agenda | Phaidon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2018). Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #21. 1978 | MoMA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018]. (2018). Cindy Sherman. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2018].

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia: Hustlers


A mix between documentary and theatre staged photography

(Oscar Quine, 2018)

DiCorcia paid male prostitutes to pose for him. The photographer created the location setting and the went out to find the subject for his image; and paid the prostitute the amount he would have earned for sex. Each image, whether in a motel room or on a street corner would show the subjects age, name, and the price he paid.


Eddie Anderson, 21 years old; Houston, Texas; $20
Philip-Lorca diCorcia

This series depicts ‘real people in contrived situations, the pictures occupy an ambiguous territory between fact and fiction, a gray zone’ (Lubow, 2018)

The ordinary items; the burger, the coffee and the jukebox are on one side of the window and the subject on the other. Is he just another item that can be bought?


Charlotte Cotton says of the image above ‘there is a mixed message here: his youthful physique is powerful and available to hire, but at the same time he is literally without a shirt on his back’. (Cotton, 2015). Cotton goes on to say that ‘the image is set at twilight, a time that signifies a turning point between the safety and normality of daytime and the covert, potentially threatening time of night’ (ibid).

The lighting is dramatic and adds to the feeling that this image could be a film still which could guide us to consider this image as a mix between fact and fiction.



Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Lubow, A. (2018). Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ Return to New York. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Mar. 2018].

Oscar Quine, D. (2018). Philip-Lorca diCorcia interview: ‘My Hustlers series was not. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 7 Mar. 2018].

Taryn Simon: The Innocents

The Innocents

This series by Taryn Simon shows people who have served prison sentences for crimes they were innocent of. Each innocent person was taken to the scene of the crime or the trial.

Through this work, Simon is questioning ‘photography’s function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice’ as ‘the primary cause of wrongful conviction is mistaken identification'(, 2018).  The series highlights ‘photography’s role, even complicity, in the wrongful convictions, most of which were often obtained through the police’s use of photographs’ (Hagan, 2018) and so is ‘very much about the use and misuse of photography’ (ibid).



‘It was Hell, a nightmare’. (1.15)

(YouTube, 2018)

The film that accompanies the series gives the innocent people a voice to redress the wrongs committed against them. It is distressing to watch.


Bibliography (2018). Taryn Simon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].

Hagan, S. (2018). Taryn Simon: the woman in the picture. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].

YouTube. (2018). “The Innocents” (2003), a film by Taryn Simon, part 1. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].

Tom Hunter: Living in Hell

Tom Hunter

A London photographer ‘who draws upon painting and documentary in his photographic approach’ (Boothroyd, 2014).

Hunter’s work ‘revolves around real people and their stories – but he portrays them through fiction’ (ibid). Taking news stories as his inspiration, Hunter creates staged images showing the types of people ‘the paper was sensationalising’ (ibid). His work also often rethinks classical paintings in their style and depicts issues around Hackney, London.

Painting, by Johannes Vermeer

Girl reading a letter at an open window by Johannes Vermeer

(Image from wikipedia)

Photograph, by Tom Hunter

Woman reading a possession order by Tom Hunter

(Gallery, 2018)

Sensationalist news headlines are a large part of newspaper culture and seemingly have to become more and more sensational as we become more and more desensitised. I think I may start to collect headlines to see where this may take me.


Living in Hell and other stories

I was very interested to learn that this series was ‘inspired by Thomas Hardy and the way he interwove newspaper articles from his local paper into his novels’ (, 2018). Hunter, similarly joined the ‘headlines from the Hackney Gazette with classical paintings to produce images that create a lasting social commentary (ibid).

The image below is of a 71 year old woman living in an infested house.

Living in Hell by Tom Hunter, Inspired by the representation of peasant life in  ‘Four Figures at a Table by The Le Nain Brothers

Four Figures at a Table by The Le Nain Brothers

(, 2018)

I have really engaged with this idea and how Hunter’s images are influenced by art in their composition and technique but are equally inspired by current news.

Living in Hell and Other Stories


Boothroyd, S (2014) Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts. (2018).

Gallery, S. (2018). Tom Hunter – Woman Reading Possession Order – Contemporary Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018]. (2018). The Le Nain Brothers | Four Figures at a Table | NG3879 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018]. (2018). Gallery | Tom Hunter. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].

Hannah Starkey: Self portrait 2

Hannah Starkey: self portrait 2, May 2010

Image by Hannah Starkey

Hannah Starkey’s influence for her self portrait was Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott

Tennyson’s poem is about the Lady of Shalott who has been cursed and has to spend her life weaving, non stop, while only being able to view the outside world as it is reflected in a mirror. If she stops weaving and looks out to Camelot she will be cursed.

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay*
To look down to Camelot.
(*stay in this context means stop)

‘Hannah Starkey (born 1971) is a British photographer who specializes in staged settings of women in city environments’ (Tate, 2018). Her work has included staged settings such as inside a pub or in a public toilet in order to show everyday experiences from a woman’s point of view.

I was very interested to read this mini interview with Starkey, 5 Questions with Hannah Starkey where she says ‘I also think of my language as photography, its how I communicate best’ (ibid).

Starkey’s self portrait

When looking at the self portrait image above I couldn’t easily tell if the photographer was positioned outside or inside; I couldn’t say which side of the window she was on; though I now think she is on the inside looking out. Or is it a mirror with her looking towards it? This would be more relevant to the poem wouldn’t it? Perhaps this is intentional confusion to allow the viewer to reflect on the confusion between the real and the reflected where ‘shadows of the world appear’.



ELEPHANT. (2018). 5 Questions with Hannah Starkey – ELEPHANT. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].
Tate. (2018). Hannah Starkey born 1971 | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].

Jeff Wall: After ‘Invisible Man’

Jeff Wall

Many of Wall’s images are staged as he creates scenes using locations, props and costumes to create a specific setting in order to tell a story. For my learning on another of Wall’s staged images ‘Insomnia’ you can see my post here

Insomnia by Jeff Wall


After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, Jeff Wall

The image below is also a staged photograph by Jeff Wall. The video below shows an interview with the photographer where he discusses the image and its conception.

After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, Jeff Wall

(, 2018)

The main character in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man inhabits a cellar and covers the ceiling with light bulbs to protest against his own social invisibility as a black man and was the ‘trigger for a kind of  image (Wall) had never made before’. The book tells us what is in the room and Wall had to visualise it himself, build and furnish it and use appropriate fittings and objects to provide authenticity for the time.

Wall is another photographer that represents a character’s psychological state (like Francesca Woodman, and Dulcie Wagstaff) and which I find very interesting.

Wall hung each ight bulb individually and created the scene with intricate detail which is amazing in its complexity. From the light bulbs of course, to the photographs, the clothes, the furnishings, the rugs, the crockery, the books and all other minutia of life. This takes ‘staging’ to a whole new level.

Wall is ensuring that this unnamed protagonist of Ellison’s novel is given light enough to make him visible at last.

Way back, in my pre-degree life, I remember thinking that photography wasn’t ‘right’ if it was staged. How wrong was I?

Bibliography (2018). MoMA | Jeff Wall. After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue. 1999–2000, printed 2001. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].