Category Archives: Narrative (part 2)

Learning outcomes (end of part two)

My tutor will be keen to see that I am progressing towards the course outcomes. I have therefore provided this self reflection to explain how I feel that I have developed so far:

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

When I first started studying photography about eighteen months ago my main worry was that I couldn’t use my camera instinctively and I was concerned about shutter speed and aperture and ISO and so on and being ‘quick’ enough with all the buttons. I then became worried about composition and exposure. Now, although I am still not intuitive I am much more concerned about having something to say than being super fluent in my camera. I feel that this fluency will come with practice.

My greatest move forward regarding the appropriate use of techniques was with the poem exercise where I chose to represent the dream like quality that I feel when reading Kubla Khan. I knew what I wanted to ‘say’ and made sure that I chose the right outdoor conditions and purposely chose a sunny day (well in advance of my deadline, in case I didn’t get another sunny opportunity.) and a location that felt right in representing the ‘stately pleasure dome’. It was my intention throughout to join two images and amend the opacity to give a hint of both scenes so I ensured that I took images that I felt would work together well.


I also knew that I wanted the final image of the series to be a ‘hint’ of a feeling as the poem slipped from Coleridge’s mind; here the colour was more important than the subject, to depict a hazy dream line trance. I always ‘felt’ this poem to be green!


My assignment submission on Illiteracy was very well received by my tutor but he commented that my exposures needed some attention. I will lighten my images for assessment and be more aware of histograms at the taking stage in future and I will try to be more objective when looking at my final images. I think I took my eye off the ball and concentrated more on the message that my images were giving and didn’t notice the under exposure. I do now though.

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

As stated above, I particularly liked the poem exercise for its non literal interpretation and learned a lot from this. I have also become aware of different practitioners and their approaches to narrative in photography and am particularly interested in story telling with relay narrative. I also realise that to be successful I need to create images within areas that I feel passionate about. I feel that I have many interests: gender, stereotyping, mental health, women’s issues, literacy etc. I am keen to look at the work of others and use these as a springboard for my own ideas. I found Kaylyn Deveney’s’  The Day to Day Life of Alfred Hastings especially engaging and as influenced by this in my illiteracy assignment to use everyday situations and colloquial language in relay narrative. Below is an image from Deveney’s series and below that, one of my own images that resulted from my research.


Image above by Kaylyn Deveney

7 pm ‘It’s too late for a story tonight’

In my last assignment on the Dark Arches in Leeds I used an outdoor setting and the first series of images were presented in black and white. Here I chose a domestic  location as a deliberate choice to convey ordinary life in homes across the country and how that life may be affected by low reading ability.

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

I have studied works of all the practitioners in this section of the course and feel that I have engaged and learned from their approaches. ‘Photographing the unseen’ and the research that I did regarding Peter Mansell’s work, showing how he lives with his disability, and Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project as well as Deveney’s Alfred Hastings directly influenced my work on assignment two. I have developed in my approach by looking at the work of these photographers. I was influenced to chose a domestic approach to reflect a subject that can affect any one of us and to use relay narrative to add to the meaning of the series. I couldn’t have produced the images for my assignment without developing from the learning around these subjects. I look back to my Square Mile images which show ‘things’ connected to my home village and the mining industry, they are ‘of’ things and not ‘about’ them and I can feel that I have moved on in my development and my approach is not the same as it was.

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

I particularly liked Campbell’s’ series, The Dad Project and Smith’s Country Doctor for how they tell a story and I can relate their traditional linear storytelling approach ( think Jane Eyre) and how the post modern approach challenged all this (think Wuthering Heights … or Virginia Woolf). I can see how by looking at the work of others (some I engage with and others that I don’t) I am starting to think about my personal voice. I am thinking about concentrating on subjects that interest me which may be the starting point for future work.

Another development

What has pleased me the most however is the way that I am thinking more creatively and having more ideas. Part of the preliminary work surrounding assignment two was to think of eight or so ideas relating to ‘photographing the unseen’. I surprised myself by having several ideas for he one project. My tutor commented on this and said that he liked the way that I ‘had lots of ideas and thought them through’.


Uta Barth

Uta Barth

As part of his formative feedback on Assignment two, my tutor suggested that I look at the work of Uta Barth who uses photography to photograph light, shade, pattern and shapes. Derek suggested that taking a step away from subject matter is a good way of developing my ‘seeing eye’.

This is a short video of Uta Barth talking about her work which is primarily about perception. Her images are not ‘of’ something but of the actual act of seeing. This reminds me of the recent assignment where the brief was to ‘photograph the unseen’.


Barth says that her photographs ‘look different to most’ and whereas other practitioners may produce images where the subject and the content are one and the same thing, her images are ‘first and foremost about perception’ (YouTube,2017). Most of her images are taken in her own home where she may use curtains and blinds for example to manipulate light to create lines and shapes and curves. The result of her work is that people view it and walk away paying more attention to light and the act of looking. See here Uta Barth

My analysis of one of Barth’s images

In the image below right there is not really a subject in its most obvious sense. It isn’t even showing a specific room that can be identified like a kitchen or a bedroom. Instead, there is a mood and a sense of something familiar that we know about but don’t overtly acknowledge very often. To me, this is a house closed for the day while the family is sleeping, but a single light is kept on so its not too dark. We have all experienced this. So, it is familiar without being familiar. It is the use of light that conjures memories for me. The porch light from outside, or a street lamp, and the landing light left on. It is a feeling from my childhood.


Photographs by Uta Barth


Last year I took this image, below, which is of no real subject except a neighbour’s conservatory. However, I feel that there is a lot to look at and a viewer has to actually pay attention to looking. And, it evokes an atmosphere (hopefully) of cosy nights in together with a sense of menace perhaps (which I can also sense in Barth’s image above). In both images, the inclusion of a person can be imagined as the ‘missing’ subject. Instead, we ‘see’ memories and feelings.



Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson. (2017). uta barth | the official website. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Conceptual Photographer Uta Barth: 2012 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

Andreas Feininger (lighting and perspective)


Andreas Feininger, ‘light is everything’

As part of his formative feedback on Assignment two my tutor suggested that I look at an interview with Andreas Feininger for insights into lighting and the way that perspectives change with the different ‘camera to subject’ distance afforded by different focal lengths.

Feininger was born in Paris in 1906 and when he was two years old he moved with his family to Berlin.  He was trained in architecture but gave up architecture and moved to Sweden in 1936 where he concentrated on photography. He remained interested in architecture and captured the structure of buildings in his photography.  Feininger moved to the United States where he started working for ‘Life’ magazine.

Feininger took many images of New York; its skyscrapers, bridges, cityscapes, wharfs and boulevards. Other subjects included bones and shells where he used lighting to emphasise lines, patterns and structures that would normally go unnoticed.

The YouTube video of the interview is shown below:


What an interesting video and such an interesting man. This 35 minute video is well worth watching. Here is a summary of what I have learned:

  • The video starts with Andreas Feininger being asked the question, do you think the eye is superior to the camera? Feininger replies by saying yes, and no. With the eye the focal length is fixed (I assume this is the length from the cornea at the front to the retina at the back) and because of this, we always see the same scale. With a camera we can get any degree of scale or magnification we want by using different focal lengths. I found this comparison very useful as I had not really thought about the eye as having a focal length before. Now it seems obvious.
  • We then see Feininger arranging a small shell in a box of sand. The shell is not that much to look at really. However, when it is photographed its structure and form become striking. Light at an angle is used to bring out relief and texture with the result that the shell looks like a piece of art. Feininger has taken the photograph to get the strongest visual effect from the shell and to make it larger than life.
  • Feininger took city images (Stockholm and New York) and used telephoto lenses to maintain scale and perspective. The Empire State Building was photographed from seven miles away. The further away, the more monumental the building looks as it is obscured by other buildings and so on, if you go too close. ‘Long focal lengths allowed Feininger to photograph the tallest skyscrapers, like the Empire State building ‘with an undistorted perspective and a balanced size-ratio’ (LUMAS, 2017)
  • Feininger used telephoto lenses to capture scenes of massive crowds. With a standard lens you would need to get physically close to the scene and in the end you would perhaps only see a dozen or so people in the foreground. The distortion in scale would also be evident. People nearly would be much too large, and people further away much too small.  Feininger ‘built four customized telephoto lenses and three close-up cameras, which allowed him to represent landscapes and city scenes in a distortion-free monumental perspective, and to show small subjects in startling sizes, thereby revealing unknown aspects’. (International Center of Photography, 2017). He also used this technique to capture the crowded feeling of traffic in the New York rush hour.
  • Feininger says that he is always aware of composition and that photographs always have to have structure and interest and a graphically interesting design.
  • Light is everything. Feininger talked about waiting for just the right light and how he is very aware of the position of the sun. He explained how shadows give depth and create mood and how a raking side light creates texture.
  • Photography is a way to communicate and Feininger says that he uses pictures to communicate but he expects the viewer to have to make some effort to understand and interpret his images.
  • Regarding technique, Feininger sees it as a ‘means to an end’. He uses technique rather like a writer uses words and grammar.
  • Regarding photographs of people, Feininger says that he has taken a few but they are rarely portraits; they are mainly of professional people doing something. He has taken images of a doctor(with a mirror in from of his face), a photographer (with a camera in front of his face), a diamond cutter, a sculptor with a blow torch. These are representations of professions, not portraits.
  • Finally, Feininger talked about his black and white images and how he can control his images and make stronger statements in black and white and create the contrast that is so important in his work.

(YouTube, 2017)


International Center of Photography. (2017). Andreas Feininger. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Nov. 2017].

LUMAS. (2017). Andreas Feininger | Pictures and Photos from LUMAS ✓. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017]. (2017). Andreas Feininger. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Andreas Feininger BBC Master Photographers (1983). [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Nov. 2017].


Jodie Taylor (Memories of Childhood)

Narrative photography and photographing the unseen

We have been guided to look at the work of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha and Jodie Taylor as examples of the use of narrative with photography. All these practitioners are/were OCA Level 3 students; something to aspire to.

Jodie Taylor

Jodie Taylor considers nostalgia in her work by revisiting the area she remembers as a child. Below is a link to her work.

Jodie Taylor and Memories of Childhood

These pictures of ordinary, ugly things are captivating and I have been trying to work out why. I think it is because many of us can relate to the areas depicted; I certainly have memories of similar areas, garages where we would meet up and play kick out can, throughways we would explore for potential dens, down the side of a garage where I stood on a rusty nail and my dad taking me for a tetanus injection.

In this series we are not just ‘looking’ at Jodie’s memories but our own as well. My past, from decades ago has been brought back to life. The fact that Jodie has taken these images of seemingly unimportant areas, actually makes these areas important; and they are, they are the areas that have shaped us and where we learned to be independent, where we made friends and where we were young.

Peter Mansell (Paralysis)

Narrative photography and photographing the unseen

We have been guided to look at the work of Peter Mansell, Dewald Botha and Jodie Taylor as examples of the use of narrative with photography. All these practitioners are/were OCA Level 3 students; something to aspire to.

Peter Mansell

Peter had a traffic accident aged 20 and as a result he has lived most of his life with paralysis. His work focuses on how his injury has affected his life. Mansell describes how he ‘became attracted to speaking visually about things that were important to me’ (Boothroyd, S. 2014, p63) and I can see this now as being integral to using photography as ‘a means of personal expression’ (ibid, page 64). The subject has to really matter to you. It is important to have something to say, or explore. Photography can be a form of expression.


I like the idea of Mansell’s ‘table of contents’ in his work ‘Paralysis’ and the titles ‘my health’ and ‘my kit’ etc. Below is a narrative entry in the photobook ‘Paralysis’ which comes under the ‘my community’ chapter to show  related ideas and thoughts in relation to Peter’s project. I can relate to this random record of ideas as a catalyst for initiating thought and consideration of the topics raised.

Image 1  by Peter Mansell

In preparation for assignment two (photographing the unseen) I have been considering potential topics and potential ways of including narrative. Currently I am considering masculinity (and the way that gender identity is culturally determined) as a possible subject for the assignment. I have very quickly drafted a narrative idea, in the same vein as Mansell’s, for inclusion in this project if I choose to go down this route. See below.

I am still considering this as a narrative format for my assignment but whether I include it or not, I am inspired by Mansell’s use of narrative, as this is something that I  would like to progress further.


List of illustrations

Image 1. (, 2017)



Boothroyd, S. (2014) Narrative: Context and Narrative, Open College of the Arts (2017). Blurb Books | Blurb Books UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Oct. 2017].

Duane Michals (This Photograph is my Proof)

Duane Michals ‘This Photograph is my Proof’ (2017)b

Duane Michals is an American photographer who incorporates text in his work to add additional meaning to his images. The text is often on top of, or close by, his photographs. and is frequently hand written.

The text underneath the image adds emotion. Without the text we see a happy(ish) couple but the text tells us that this happiness was in the past and that picture proves that they were happy once, if not now.

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

The image alone is contradictory to the image with text. One is happy, the other sad, but both together give the viewer a fuller picture of the circumstances. Because broken relationships are part of most people’s lives at some point we can feel sorry that theirs didn’t last. There is a melancholy and regret about the wording that appeals to empathy and leaves the viewer thoughtful. 

However, my overriding response is regarding the setting of the image and that they don’t look that happy. Perhaps Michaels wanted to portray dramatic irony where the viewer sees a different situation to the ‘subject’. The man in the image says they were happy that afternoon but the viewer remains unconvinced.

Bibliography (2017) a. Duane Michals – Artists – DC Moore Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017]. (2017) b. Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals – Museum Exhibitions – DC Moore Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017]. (2017). Duane Michals, “This Photograph Is My Proof”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017].

Stephanie D’Hubert (Presence of Absence)

What Remains

Part two of Context and Narrative,  begins, in the course binder, with a photograph by OCA student Stephanie D’Hubert. It is titled ‘Three unsmoked cigars in a box’ from Stephanie’s ‘Presence of Absence’ series.

The link below is to a short video of Sharon Boothroyd talking about Stephanie’s work and how the assignment submission was presented as much more than images and accompanying text. Images and narrative are combined and produced as  a very well executed book titled ‘What Remains’. Stephanie has taken photographs from her family collection and used them together with narrative to create a dedication to her late mother.

Sharon says that Stephanie’s use of space and text is as important as her images. Often there is a lot of blank space and this contributes to a feeling of emptiness and stillness which is complimentary to the feelings of respect and absence. Sharon considers that Stephanie’s use of text to add more to the images and to guide the viewer is very well executed. Stephanie’s narrative that says ‘three rings, the shape of her fingers’ is an example. We immediately get a sense that these rings actually belonged to someone, that they were worn and cherished by a real person. I can relate to this as I also have my late mother’s rings and can imagine her alive and wearing them. Like I can with my own mother, Stephanie’s’ images and narrative enable a stranger to similarly engage with this lady’s physicality and individuality.

This work has helped me to understand narrative further and to notice the difference between anchor and relay. Regarding Stephanie’s inclusion of her mother’s student card photograph, an anchor would probably have said something like ‘mother’s student card, age 16’. The fact that Stephanie adds the following narrative:

There is also as student card. In which she claims to have green eyes

gives the viewer an additional piece of information allowing us to engage with her mother as an individual. I can also relate this to my literature days of learning about ‘showing’ not ‘telling’. The ‘narrator’ doesn’t just say ‘my mother had green eyes’ but instead she lets us image her mother saying that she had. Again, bringing her personality to life a little for someone who never knew her.

I continue to be intrigued by the ability of photography to show ‘a portrait without a face’ and I liked the work of Hayley Leonard (Nan’s Hands, 2004) that I considered last year in Expressing your vison. See my post here

I was interested to pursue this idea further and took images in a similar vein to capture my husband’s portrait without a face, here


Please see the link below to Sharon Boothroyd’s discussion of Stephanie D’Hubert work

Roland Barthes (Death of the Author, Studium, Punctum, Anchor and Relay)

Death of the Author

Barthes’ essay ‘Death of the Author’ in 1967 suggested that far from the author being in control of any text, a text’s interpretation relies on the reader. Effectively, the reader ‘rewrites the text with every reading'(Goring, Hawthorn and Mitchell, 2006) . Barthes’ quotation that ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author’ makes this complex argument a little easier to understand (ibid). The essay suggested that a reader should be less passive and should have to work harder to interpret texts.

We generally think of an author (or a photographer) as creating something original; something new. However, Barthes is suggesting that every idea is sourced from somewhere else or from something else that the author has seen or experienced before. Any practitioner is aware of previous texts and every word that s/he writes has been written before. In photography, the whole World has been photographed already.

Barthes is saying that the author become irrelevant; it is not possible to know exactly what the author intended and it is the reader that decides what a text or image means.

Camera Lucida

While researching the concept of ‘Death of the Author’ I came across this additional work by Barthes. Regarding photography, Barthes, in his book ‘Camera Lucida’, introduces two concepts:


The studium is the broad sense of what the image is about (the where, when and what, of the image). The term relates to the overall interest the photograph has for a viewer and its attractiveness regarding lighting, subject matter, composition and so on. An image of a little girl in a pretty dress eating an ice cream may be a pleasant image to attract our attention.


The punctum is distinct point of interest that jumps out at the viewer. A photograph may be perfectly ‘good’ without a punctum but it is the small unexpected detail that makes the photograph more effective and interesting. The punctum may be different for different viewers as it can be personal to the viewer depending on what resonates with him or her the most. More usually though the punctum will be obvious, the spider on the hem of the little girl’s dress etc.

Barthes was ‘sensitive to the subtle nuances of photographic visual language’ (Short, 2011) and his concepts of studium and punctum have shown me how one small detail can transform an image from something that a viewer may ‘like’ in to one that he may ‘love’.

I have recently attended the Impressions Gallery, Bradford and saw a display of images celebrating the shared history of the UK with Pakistan. I saw the image below and as I had been recently studying studium and punctum I was aware of this in this particular image. It is always good to apply my learning to images that I see. Forgive the reflection of my hand in the image.

The inclusion of the boy’s face at the right hand side was an ‘extra’ detail that was unexpected. The image would have been successful without it but it made the image more interesting. I considered this to be the punctum of the image.


Rhetoric of the Image

Sharon Boothroyd in the OCA course notes says that ‘picture essays were often printed with heavy text accompaniments, placed there to enhance the story and give extra factual information about the pictures’ (Boothroyd, 2014, p55).

Smith used text in Country Doctor such as ‘Thomas Mitchell, who has gangreen in his foot, being operated on by Dr. Ceriani’ and Campbell used text in The Dad Project when she stated ‘sitting in the garden became an event, then a days activity, and eventually a strain that he endured only to comfort us. Or was it to comfort himself? I wondered endlessly, but really there was no difference’.

Both these narratives provide additional context. Smith provides brief additional factual details such as a patients age and the medical event. When we learn the details of Thomas Mitchell’s illness and can empathise with the seriousness of the operation he is about to endure and consider the skill of the doctor as a surgeon. Campbell’s narrative is lengthier and very personal and adds feeling and emotion to the image along with a sense of time passing.

Barthes’ in his essay Rhetoric of the Image’ identified two terms that describe different ways of using narrative with photographs.


Text used as an anchor, fixes the meaning of an image so that it cannot be misinterpreted. Examples could be titles or labels.


Text used as a relay is characteristic of a post modern approach and together with the image itself provides additional information that is not found in the image alone and can change the meaning of the photograph. The image and the text each bring something to the meaning.



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

Goring, P., Hawthorn, J. and Mitchell, D. (2006). Studying literature. London: Arnold.

Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative (Basics Creative Photography). AVA Publishing.

Postmodern narrative

Modernism and postmodernism are difficult concepts and subjects in their own right, but with having a literature background I feel (almost) on home territory. Both movements rejected previous emphasis on external realism and instead concentrated on internal consciousness.

The modernists of the first half of the twentieth century rejected the idea of ‘Victorianism’. Virginia Woolf famously said, in 1910, that ‘human character changed’ (Sutherland, 2014, p188). There was an emphasis on irrationality, the unconscious and experimentation and a concentration on techniques, such as stream of consciousness, in an attempt at making sense of the changing World.

The post modernists, after the Second World War, thought that it was impossible to be original and that everything has been done time and again; I have heard a saying that there are only about five different stories in the World and every novel is just a variation of one of these. The post modern idea was to experiment with original ideas, mix things up a bit, enjoy the messiness and be more laid back.

The course binder refers to Virginia Woolf as being experimental in challenging the traditional linear approach to prose writing. Linear narratives have a chronological time frame, they start at the beginning and have a middle and then an end. Consider Bronte’s Jane Eyre and how the protagonist’s life is followed from Gateshead Hall to Lowood School to Thornfield Hall and to Moor House as the story progresses chronologically. A non linear text challenges this by perhaps starting in the middle and perhaps using flashbacks and flash forwards, more in keeping with how people think, flitting from one idea to the next.

Virginia Woolf challenged the idea of linear narrative and experimented with the stream of consciousness technique which mimics the jumble of a character’s thoughts just as they come to mind. Her writing is by no means easy; it is certainly a challenge and in some cases I have found it impossible. It is often difficult in her novels to determine which character is speaking or whether the character is speaking, thinking or dreaming. The plots are usually not very interesting really, in that not a lot happens, but we see ‘inside’ a characters mind, how they interpret an event, what they think and so on.

I admit that I have been beaten by some of Woolf’s novels but I am so interested in Virginia Woolf that before I started this course I blogged about her, her life and works and, if you are interested you can see my blog here. Adele’s blog on Virginia Woolf. There is something about Virginia Woolf that fascinates me, my interest in her is almost tangible and I particularly enjoy learning when the paths of photography and literature merge together.

The works that we have just studied on this course (Campbell’s The Dad Project and Smith’s Country Doctor are examples of linear narrative in that they tell a story chronologically. I will look next at Robert Frank’s The Americans, as an example of a photographer who approached his series in a non linear way.

I would like to take images in a stream of consciousness format but  it feels so far from my capabilities at the moment and actually, I don’t even know what I mean yet! It is just a feeling at the moment but one I hope to articulate somehow later in my studies.


Sutherland, J. (2014). A little history of literature. Yale University Press.


Briony Campbell (The Dad Project)

Briony Campbell’s series The Dad Project is photo essay documenting the final weeks of her father’s life. Below is a link to Campbell’s project:

The images document life for Briony and her Dad through a very difficult time and shows an intimacy that we only really see within our own families. The images present a very similar situation to one that me and my husband have just lived through, with my father in law, and show an aspect of life that cannot really be explained just in words. I could tell you how we slept at the hospital, tried to get him to eat jelly, I could describe his room in the care home and the crash mats at the side of the bed, but without images, it relies on someone to have had a similar experience to really empathise.

I also took a photograph of my father in law, about two weeks before he died. It is funny that I also wanted to capture a last image of him. I had an urgent feeling that I would be glad that I had taken it, especially for my husband’s sake.

For my analysis of this project and Smith’s Country Doctor please see this post where I compare the two projects.