Category Archives: Reflections and tutor reports

Final Thoughts on IAP

I have now come to the end of Identity and Place. I have added my selection of work to the G-Drive. I have written up all the meetings I have attended while doing this course. While doing IAP I have thought long and hard about my identity and how it can be shown. I have thought about where I live, who my family is and my genetic background. Oddly enough I feel more settled in myself for doing this.

I have learnt some new techniques. How to make a video (although only a very basic one so far). How to upload to Vimeo and YouTube. How to search family archives and choose some out of a plethora of possibilities.

I have learnt something about how to approach people to ask to take their photograph, when it is ethical and fair to do so, and, just as important – when it is not. I know I am not good at directing people, but I am getting better at engaging with them to make an image that says something about their personality. Giving them (and me) time to relax works well, listening to their stories tells me what is important to them.

Am I a better photographer for this? That may depend on your definition of better. I am certainly more thoughtful. I actually take less images than before I started this whole pathway. I definitely take different ones.

I have read a lot. I have found I enjoy reading biographies of photographers. I also enjoy learning about art history and especially contemporary practice. Work that I would have previously looked at and thought “What on earth?” I now give more time. I may still not like/appreciate it but at least I have given it a chance. Slow looking. Experiencing the work not just glancing at it.

Most of IAP has been done under the restrictions of Covid and lockdown. This has undoubtedly limited my opportunities to go places, talk to people and visit galleries. It has increased my reading and thinking time. It has allowed me to see exhibitions on-line that I would never have seen, to listen to people talking about their work, to engage with my peers via zoom. To look at some of the work done by others during their time of isolation. Some positive outcomes to balance against the difficulties.

I will move on to Digital Image and Culture. Hopefully, I will take some of these lessons forward. With thanks to my tutor Chris Coekin – who pushed me well out of my comfort zone and the support of many of the other students at OCA – without which I would have probably given up

Reflections on IAP

Identity and Place is aimed at making you think; about who a person is, what they are, where they are, and how these three things link together. Then how it can be shown by photography. The images might stand alone or be associated with words (yours or that of others) or recordings. When I started IAP I was extremely apprehensive about taking images of people as I had never taken many portrait images in the past. This was despite my eventual goal to to take images of people with autism and tell their story.

I have thought about this at some length, below is a description of the work and some of my thoughts, with the main learning points bulleted and illustrated.

The first part involved taking pictures of people who were unaware of you and also of of aware strangers. I experimented with taking pictures of ‘the unaware’ by going to the Edinburgh Festival and walking the streets. Most people were so involved with what they were doing that they simply did not notice me.  Although the exercise was successful, I do have ongoing concerns about the ethics as in that situation it was impossible to gain model releases. I went on to approach strangers in my street and asked them to allow me to take images.

  • I need to take more control of a photo shoot without losing spontaneity.
  • Think about ethics – how much is the story worth; how can you get model releases.
Edinburgh Festival – totally unaware of anthing other than her phone – nomodel release – an ethical dilemma
The Social Worker – a stranger who gave her time to help me, shows my lack of control over my model

For part two I worked with two sets of people with autism. In the first set I tried to take more control of the people I was photographing – but this had the downside of leading to some stiff and unnatural images. The other session where I simply chatted and took images when they, and I , were relaxed was much more successful.

  • Engagement with people makes for a better image, allowing me to come up with images that are more personal and tell more about them.
Reflective Sam – the individual image worked – but the series lacked coherency. The background is too complicayed and does not add anything
Rich – still looking away – but a much mproved take on his personality

In part three I looked at narrative, telling stories of people and groups. I joined a group of people at a club over 3 months, the individual images were successful and the people at the club loved them – but the final story did not hang together well.  I also spent some time with friends who run a guest house and who are immensely proud of their garden. This went together much better and I produced a newspaper for them.

  • Think about narrative, and plan what images you need – in a long-term project you have time.
  • Think about alternative ways of showing things, a single print, a book, a newspaper.

By parts 4 and 5 lockdown was in full swing so I started to work with archives. My mother had recently died, and I had a huge number of her images, keepsakes and writing to look at, all unsorted. I experimented with using images of her put into small, still life set-ups to tell her story.  For this I had to work on how to re-photograph old images, removing them from glassed frames and picking items that complemented the images. I also started experimenting with video, using some of her recorded words and initially putting them with my own images to express both what she was saying and my emotional response to those words and then combining her archival images and keepsakes with her words.

  • Video work is a completely different skill set from photography and takes a long time.
  • Working with archives is fascinating but can take an emotional toll.
Choosing the words give an underlying pattern to the final images

Initial video – using my images to show the emotions i felt ta hearing her words


Overall, this was a fascinating course.

  • I did a massive amount of research into other photographers, old and new, well known and less so. I love research into how other people tell stories – but am easily led down ‘rabbit holes’ and can spend too much time on this. I need to learn to use the research to better inform my own photography.
  • I discovered that taking pictures of people is not as frightening as I thought it would be but relaxing and putting them at ease is crucial. My directorial skill needs improvement.

I found two quotes to take forward – ‘You’ve got to take responsibility for yourself, the way you see yourself, and the way you see the world. That’s a tantilizing and scary thing, but that’s what identifies people as artists’(Heiferman and Perez, 2020) and ‘The archive is one of the spaces…. where the living go to encounter the dead’ (Laing, 2020). This is what I need to remember.

I have now finished IAP, written up all the meetings and put some final thoughts together with thanks to people for support. This can be seen at:


Heiferman, M. and Perez, E. (2020) ‘The Original Ballad’ In: aperture 239 p.56.

Laing, O. (2020) ‘A Fold in Time’ In: aperture 239 p.95

Assignment 3 – Redo

I have just received by tutor’s report on A3. Some was positive, some less so.

He was positive about the research and my coursework which is helpful as it suggests I am going along the correct lines here.

The main problem was with the photographic series I submitted for A3. He gave a long analysis of it. The bottom line, although phrased much more kindly, was that it was boring and bland!

‘Your images feel just like a document of a time and a place, I think that the audience want to feel something, know a little more about you. I think that you have been too restrained when producing the images. I think that there is room for more creativity and experimentation.’

‘The other aspect of working with a traditional narrative is the type of images we use in-order to create the story. Much like films, narratives will be built upon using a variety of types of shots such as the establishing shot, mid shot, close up and detail.’

‘The bottom line that I’d like you to take away is that although I feel that your critical input is strong, very relevant and it’s very important for the assessment criteria it’s distracting you from the actual production and process of your work. I get the impression that you are holding back. I think that you have the potential to produce stronger, more engaging (remember you have to gain the viewers interest) images. Let your guard down a little, work from intuition and be prepared to experiment with your images, think about more contemporary photographic approaches.’

Taking that on board, I have gone through the images I took and selected a different cut that hopefully is a little more interesting. I have also tried to arrange them more in a traditional narrative format, moving though the scene from distance to close up/detail for each set of images. Unfortunately, due to the present circumstances, it is not possible to go back and take any new images to make a more interesting set. It may well be several months before DWARF reopens.

I am very aware that I tend to go for the ‘safe’ images. In spite of having taken photographs for many years I have only just started taking pictures of people and do hold back from trying new things or experimenting with viewpoints. I find I like to please the subject – and in most cases my portraits do – but this is probably because they are safe and are what people expect of a photo of them. Unfortunately, this sort of image could be taken by anybody and shows nothing special – so I need to be more adventurous and experimental.

My tutor also gave me links to two photographers:

  • Donigan Cummings – who took his disturbing and graphic images of people in 1990 (published in 1991) and said “If you leave unsettled and afterwards don’t look at photographs the same way, the next time perhaps you won’t approach them with the same shallowness” (Reznik, 2014)
  • Boris Mikhailov – who took images of the poverty in Kharkov in 1887/98. Again, these are disturbing images that force you to think (Respini, 2011)

Neither of these artists could be considered safe, boring, or bland – I will look at them both in more detail for inspiration.


Dwarf Trial 2.pptx


Respini, E. (2011) Boris Mikhailov: Case History | MoMA. At: (Accessed 03/06/2020).

Reznik, E. (2014) The Stage: Donigan Cumming’s Photography of the Absurd | At: (Accessed 03/06/2020).

Assignment 2 – Response to tutor’s report

I have now received a very comprehensive formal review on assignment 2 from my tutor. Usually I find a face-to-face feedback (via hangout or similar) more helpful, but that was not possible this time, however the amount of information given was extensive.

Overall, he seemed pleased, but with some caveats.

The tutor’s comments are blue, my responses black

The assignment:

  • However, (taking sentiment out) I do feel that better planning and a more considered use of the set-up would have resulted in a more consistent series of images.
    • I totally agree with this. I ended up taking the images in a rush, partly because of the endless delays on the shoot due to illness and weather, partly because Sam was clearly getting bored. I had planned on trying to redo them, but again this was delayed and then became impossible
  • I know it isn’t your assignment submission but I feel that the project you also worked upon with the autistic couple and baby is really interesting and shows great potential. I’m not sure how much you have shot (70?) and you decided against inclusion as assignment due to the studio brief but personally I find these images (potentially as I can only see 12) stronger and more engaging. They feel like they are born out of a more collaborative process and less intrusive, there is empathy but also distance and rawness to the images
    • I also felt that these images were stronger, I had a good, but not too close, relationship with the family. I didn’t use them initially in the assignment as I was trying to keep to the ‘studio’ part of the brief. I will have another look at them and work them up as a set.


  • A positive response here. Helpful to know that the ‘regular reflections’ make sense.

Learning log:

  • My only concern is that there is so much of it in different folders and the future assessment team would have difficultly viewing it all. Make sure that the more relevant folders such as research are kept up to date with the most relevant information
    • I struggle with this. Maybe everything that is directly related to the assignments should go in the ‘research’ folder, and everything else divided up.

Suggested reading:

  • Lots of useful links given here. More reading!

Thanks to my tutor for his helpful advice.

Initial reflection on Assignment 2

Assessment Criteria

 Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

  • The images are sharp and stand out against the backdrop
  • I was looking for a range of expressions on Sam’s face whiich I obtained – but it was limited by what he was prepared to do
  • I considered both black and white and colour images
    • I have gone for colour; but I am concerned that the faces can get lost against the highly coloured background and am still wondering about the advantage of black and white to minimise this effect

Quality of outcome:

  • There are a range of images taken of a difficult subject
  • The images do tell a story about Sam although somewhat limited

Demonstration of creativity:

  • I spent considerable time planning this exercise both in organising the shoot and the necessary pre-work
  • These are fairly straightforward portrait shots and I don’t think I have been overly creative in the actual pictures


Assignment 2 – Initial Thoughts (and problems)

For some reason this assignment has been one of the hardest I have tackled so far. Part of the reason has been outside issues – the weather, health, family deaths. However, part has been pure procrastination on my part.

I initially planned to use some images that I had taken when doing exercise 2.3  – Exercise 2.3 – Same model, different background using some of the other images of Martin and his wife, either inside the house or more close up portraits in the garden – however it didn’t really fit the brief. I did make it into a newspaper, which I am moderately pleased with, and which was an interesting experiment. See Newspaper trial

I then decided to try and take some images of an autistic boy (Sam). This got delayed over and over for practical reasons, and I couldn’t seem to get past it.  I then took some separate images of another autistic family – which seemed to work well.

But still I was stuck!

I finally decided to just do it, work up both sets of images and see what happened.

Learning points:

  • Read the brief carefully
  • Get on and take the photographs
  • Have a backup plan
  • Take risks – it might not be perfect (in fact, won’t be) – but just do it.
  • Spending too much time reading and researching the possibilities is only useful if you have infinite time

Assignment 1 – Response to Tutorial

I had an interesting Skype tutorial with my tutor which was, on the whole, positive. He reminded me that, as the photographer, I should be in control, rather than my subjects being in control. A piece of advice I have tried to take on board, although, so far, with limited success. It is difficult to tell your daughter how to pose without being told that she will do it how she wants!

Assignment 1:

He suggested trying different edits of the images which I have done. I definitely prefer one of the edits he suggested – the deadpan look. This made me really think about the need to consider exactly what you are attempting to show rather than taking the simplest option. Assignment 1 – Rethink


He also gave me several fascinating photographers to research. Bettina von Zwehl, Joel Sternfeld and Paul Graham.

Chandler says ‘ our received understanding is that a portrait should be a kind of penetrating analysis, and , furthermore, that the most effective and enduring portraits are those that are the result of some connection, or even chemistry, having existed between the artist and the sitter’ (Chandler and Von Zwehl, 2014).

Von Zwehl, Sternfeld and Graham all use portraiture as a way of describing their world. Of showing what is important. However, they are very different. Von Zwehl uses minimalistic images, sometimes just a silhouette with little or no visible background. The images are often black and white, or, if colour, muted. Her recent work is small and relies on the series to tell the story, which is more about the feeling and emotion rather than the individual person. Chandler says ‘the profile is a form of distilled representation – the rendering of some emblematic essence of the person depicted …. both accurate and unsentimental’ (Chandler and Von Zwehl, 2014).

Sternfeld’s images in Stranger Passing are large scale. They tell a story about that person in that time and at that place (although it is an imagined story and someone else’s interpretation might be different). In this case Sternfeld took images of strangers who he met while travelling – they remain penetrating studies of the person – so this raises the question of how rapidly you can make a connection with someone to be able to take a valid portrait. This may well be a skill that can be acquired, but I suspect to acquire it one needs an interest in people that goes beyond the superficial who, what and where. Why – is probably the most important question of all.

Graham’s recent book Mother shows pictures of his own mother towards the end of her life. Like Von Zwehl in Made Up Love Song he is concentrating on one person (his mother) using images taken in the same place (her retirement home). However, unlike Von Zwehl he starts the series with a close relationship (child to parent) and the images are reflecting on how this relationship has altered with time. It is a very personal piece of work, haunting in nature as one is aware that these are likely to be some of the last images he will take of her.

In Sontag’s work Regarding the Pain of Others (Sontag, 2003) she makes several statements that are relevant in the context of portraiture –‘‌a portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertently, in the cult of celebrity that has fuelled an insatiable appetite for the opposite sort of photograph: to grant only the famous their names demotes the rest to representative instances of their occupations, their ethnicities, their plights’ and ‘Photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed. And photographs are a species of alchemy, for all that they are prized as a transparent account of reality.’ She also talks about memory and mourning and how photographs help with memory, how they can ‘haunt us’. She says ‘Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans’ – Sontag is discussing this in the context of images of war, terrorism and similar acts of violence but it also applies to memory of those near to us, friends, relatives, those we know.

Reference list

Chandler, D. and von Zwehl, B. (2014). Made up love song. London: V & A Publishing.

Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Picador.


Assignment 1 – Initial Thoughts

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

  • The portraits are well composed and central in the frame, with enough space around them to not look cramped
  • I considered cutting them to a square format, and bringing them much closer in to concentrate more on the faces – I am still not sure whether this would be a better option as it removes the distraction element of the background
  • There were alternative images for each person – some of them looking serious, some pulling silly faces or laughing but I deliberately chose a set where the expressions were similar to focus on the similarities of people rather than their mood at the time of taking the image.
  • I tried to put the people at their ease by chatting (and offering cake) – I feel this has come across in the portraits as they all seem relaxed, in spite of having a photograph taken by a stranger with minimal warning.

 Quality of outcome:

  • The images are of a reasonable quality, sharp and stand out from the background
    • It might have been better to take the people standing further away from the trees so that I could put the trees more out of focus, but the positioning was limited by the width of the pavement
      • I could have chosen a better photographic place to allow for the above point – but then I wouldn’t have been able to take the people on my street

 Demonstration of creativity:

  • I extended a previous piece of work The Square Mile as the basis of the assignment
  • The work was loosely based on Sander’s typology – with each person titled by their role rather than name, but the background does not give any additional information


  • The whole assignment was based on the work done in part 1 and as such I did not reference any additional research into portraiture
  • The work was based on the theory of typologies, although the group was chosen by place rather than role.
  • More explanation could be put into the written accompanying piece, but it might be repetitive
    • Could deal with this by linking better to earlier pieces of work in part 1.

Overall, I am happy with this piece of work – although I am still not very confident about taking pictures of strangers. It is definitely a skill that needs practice.