Category Archives: Coursework

March 2016 Assessment Results

I am pleased to report that I have passed the Photography 2 Documentary Course with a score of 63%. My Formal Assessment Report is pasted here:


I am pleased with this report but although I have made good progress during the course I still need to work on my creativity. I think I need to find out more about “risk taking” and imaginative outcomes. These are issues that seem to come up at every assessment.


Assignment 6 – Preparing for assessment – 05/01/2016

I have re-read the Tutor Reports for Assignments 1-5 and detailed  below the the changes I have made in response to my tutor’s comments. The Dropbox links to each Assignment that I have modified are found below.

Assignment 1: Local communities I made a note of my tutor’s comment about submitting notes with the prints. If I decide to submit the prints for assessment rather than uploading the files, I will include the notes from my learning log. I decided not to reprint this assignment.

Assignment 2: Single image narratives I re-photographed the WW2 Graffiti image as the original was shot with ambient light and somewhat blurred. At the time I only had direct on-camera flash and the wall is protected behind perspex. I returned with a speedlight that allowed me to bounce flash off the ceiling. I increased the contrast and adjusted the colour balance during post processing. The Memorial Seat Old Portsmouth and Charles Leonard 1904 – 1984 images have been reprocessed. Guildhall Square image has been cropped and I have changed the order of the Memorial Seat Image  to that suggested by my tutor,  grouped with the personal/civilian memorials. The original brief was to display the series on a web page. The link for the first submission to my tutor is here:

 In line with the modified submission guidelines for assessment, I have produced a PDF document to  submit electronically.

Dropbox Link:

Assignment 3: Visual storytelling I continued to shoot and edit this assignment after I received my tutor’s feedback. I also showed the assignment to the Thames Valley Study group with tutor Jesse Alexander and received valuable insights from him and my fellow students. In summary, I edited to restrict the story to Kelly’s home life, performance and studio work. I attended another studio session and shot some more images with her producer bearing in mind my tutor’s comments about showing Kelly’s interactions. A comment was made at the TV study group questioning my use of captions and if they were really necessary. My response was to remove them. I had to draw a line under this ongoing story which I did in August with a picture of Kelly celebrating the release of her first single.

I have gone back to my blog and rewritten  my reflections on this assignment which respond to the new edit and my tutor’s comments on what is expected when reflecting on the assessment criteria. I must say that I find it very difficult to run the check list so I have summarised what I think I have done to makes the project work.

Dropbox Link:

Assignment 4: Critical review While my tutor gave me useful guidance on how my review could  be improved I only changed a couple of things related to the layout, checked my paraphrasing and citations and added some more references to the bibliography. Had I started to change the breadth and scope of the essay, I would have ended up rewriting the whole thing. I think it was a good first effort and the feedback will help me when I come to write my next review/essay.

Dropbox Link:

Assignment 5: Personal Project I light of my tutor’s comments and those of my fellow students from the TV study Group, I decided to simplify the scope of  the project to my personal recollections and leave out written references to my families historical associations with the sites photographed. I have included quotes from “Down Outings” where my route coincided with a particular visit (i.e. 9th September 1956). There is probably a whole project on each of the branches of my family tree. I have also changed the first three images to give more interest. I adjusted the tone of the Sidlesham Quay image (the Sea Purslane does have a bluish tone to it and is covered at high tide, receiving a greyish film of  sediment). Goosehill Camp is very difficult to find and to photograph because the earthwork is overgrown with yews. The image required a very long exposure on a dull overcast day. I chose this one for its dark and mysterious feel.

The hand made book is coming along well although not without some difficulties. I am currently working on an A4 landscape version. The difficulties have involved the weight of paper and the strength of the glue binding single sheets to the spine. I am hoping that the latest version of the binding will hold the pages together. In case it doesn’t, I am also preparing an A5 version with folded, thread bound pages which will definitely hold together. Unfortunately I am restricted to printing at A3 so a folded A4 version in landscape is not possible.

Dropbox Link:

Note added 18 January 2016: The A4 version of the book, although stronger has started to come apart so I have produced the A5 version detailed above for submission. I also chose a lighter weight paper (210g as opposed to 290g) although this was only available  in matte finish. Bookbinding is a difficult skill to master and takes practice. The latest version is an improvement on my first effort and although not perfect, I think I have achieved  my goal of making something reminiscent of our original ‘Down Outings’ journal.

Project: The documentary project

Photovoice is an organisation that gives a voice to disadvantaged and marginalised communities through photography at home and abroad. The New Londoners project is an interesting example of what community based projects can achieve. Through the publication of a book to carry the message that immigration can be a positive and rewarding experience, they have managed to humanise their experience beyond the mere statistics and negativity that we are used to seeing. The images that the photographers chose to show reflected a wide variety of interpretations of what being in a new home meant to them.

Kingsmead Eyes It seems that the link given in the course notes goes somewhere completely different. The link above goes to the project web page. I suspect the original and the new page have merged.

The idea behind the project reinforces the concept of collaborative projects involving the whole community, children and parents. As a lesson in communication amongst a diverse ethnic group appears to have been successful with the involvement of renowned photographers and teachers giving the children a real sense of purpose. The main project is presented as a video with an audio commentary by the children themselves. some reading poems they have written about their favourite photograph. As well as the children’s work, a group of parents became involved and presented their own video and audio showing the process involved in teaching the parents and children to use the cameras.

Crowd Funding: The link to the BJP and a search of the site did not find the article “With a little helps from my friends”. A Google search brought up several links, all back to the BJP site and a null result. A search for UK sites brought this:  and this:  which links to the Artquest site and contains a podcast by photographer Marc Wilson describing his successful experiences with crowd funding and in a video Sophie Giblin talks about her experiences. There are also a lot of links to crowd funding websites and helpful advice. Jose gave an interesting overview in this article for WeAreOCA and although the resulting discussion is now 4 years old, it is still relevant. It was good to read opinions of my current Tutor, Derek Trillo.

Contemplating documentary

Exercise: Reading the article ‘The judgement seat of photography’

In summary, Christopher Phillips (I tried to identify him but his name is too common among authors and lecturers for me to be sure exactly who he is – I make the assumption that he is American) tracked the way Art Photography has been viewed during the history of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and its various directors of photography.  I read the article with some difficulty.  Like many specialist writers, brevity and concision elude him and from the list of over eighty references I was unable to see any key research materials that would be useful beyond what I have read elsewhere. His viewpoint does seem to be “metro centric” concentrating on New York and the USA and his article was published in 1992. Much has happened in photography in the intervening 23 years which has had a great deal of influence an the way we perceive documentary photography. However this was a useful illustration on how museums and their directors can influence the direction of photography.

Post documentary art

Open See. Jim Goldberg’s exhibition video gave a clear indication that he was actively engaging his audience with innovative folding books to tell a story. The Open See exhibition website showed a slowly scrolling matrix of  exhibition images from which it was clear to see the extent of his work but not necessarily the detail. I found the presentation of his images with texts written by his subject engaging and powerful. As a documentary project in the gallery it seemed to have worked although there is of course no substitute for seeing the exhibition itself to make an informed judgement.

Post Documentary Photography, Art and Ethics by Ine Gevers

Summary of key points:

  • The boundaries between documentary and art photography have become indistinct and a new term  for the ‘documentary as art’, may have to be found.
  • There is a perceived conflict between the ethics of the objectivity of documentary photography and the aesthetics of art photography. Can a documentary image be beautiful and can a beautiful image be a document?
  • Historically, the objectivity of documentary photography has always been questioned, especially in the west when looking at the way governments have used photography to reinforce dominant ideologies. Photography has been seen as a servant of repression and as propaganda and indoctrination. Any medium which can be used for goodwill always be used oppressively by those with extreme ideas to communicate. The writer is talking about  representation being in crisis but hasn’t this always been the case at one time or another throughout modern history?
  • The writer cites examples of use and misuse of the photographic image giving the the examples of Rosler and Sekula. In attempts to explain how documentary can be of value especially if  the people themselves are involved in the expression of their problems – to report, rather than be the object of the report by a third party.
  • On ethics and aesthetics, the writer quoted philosophers and ideas with which I was not familiar and found too complex to understand (within the time constraints of this course anyway) but the final paragraph was understandable. It was about autonomy and as such, the right of the photographer to express himself and to allow the viewer to interpret that expression in their own way.


Part 5 New forums for documentary – The real in the 20th century photograph

Project: Documentary in the gallery space

Exercise: Reading the Cruel and Tender brochure and listening to interviews with Rineke Dijkstra and Fazal Sheikh.

Rather than the feared demise in the volume and value of Documentary photography which was anticipated at the turn of the millennium as the print media’s funds and circulation declined, it would appear that Documentary as a genre is thriving.

Cruel and Tender, Tate Modern’s first photographic exhibition shown in 2003 pointed the the way forward, moving documentary decisively  into the gallery space. It seems (with such a large selection of work) as if there was a definite intention to reintroduce documentary, historical and contemporary to a new audience, or at least to an audience that had shifted from print media to the gallery and the internet.

Rineke Dijkstra made several interesting points in her interview. The first was how she thought that the sitter’s reaction to the camera had changed over time. She said that she thought people were more relaxed in front of the camera in past times because they were not aware of the how powerful the images could be. Contemporary sitters will almost certainly aware of what the camera could tell about them and maybe were on edge or could ‘play’ to the camera. She explained that is why she felt she had to isolate her subjects, not only to remove distractions from the sitter but also to isolate the situation to make it easier for the viewer to identify with it. She also talked about her intentions on the showing of the two series, Bullfighters and Mothers saying that originally she didn’t think about displaying the aggressive and nurturing traits in men and women together explaining that she thought it was a cliché. However it was my thought that perhaps, given the intention of the gallery to widen the appeal of Documentary as Art, perhaps they used this cliché to good effect.

Fazal Sheikh also referred to the importance of isolating his sitters as portrait subjects, but also that they remain in the context of their situation. His motivation for revisiting the area over several years was to correct what he saw as the misrepresentation  of their situation i.e. the portrayal of the Somali refugees as starving malnourished communities in desert camps. He was also keen to explain the importance of using text with his images to explain the complexities of their situations and that sometimes text and image together had a greater value than either in isolation. This extended form of documentary which gets to tell a complete story over time is a valuable means of communication, especially in the gallery space where there is room to display the work effectively and in which the audience is already actively engaged by wanting to  be there and spend time immersed in the story.

Project – Post-colonial ethnography

Exercise: Browse through the “Tribal Portraits” catalogue and write a reflective commentary.

I browsed through the catalogue and something didn’t feel right. The images that I identified as anthropological studies weren’t bothering me. This was such a disparate collection that there was no coherence to it. A cynic would notice the price tags and realise that despite being shown “…in this new and exciting context…”  this was just a clever bit of marketing to bump up the value of rare objects while providing a platform for contemporary photographers and dealers to show their wares.

I knew the work of Mirella Ricciardi as I have her book “African Visions” so at least I could view her images in some sort of context. I recognised the pictures of Lake Turkana and remembered Rankin’s images of the same region that I researched for the “Imaging Famine” topic. I added the total price for her five images and realised the source of my discomfort….

Research Primitive Typologies

I’m not sure I understand “primitivism” as a real thing. Is it just something made up to justify acquisition?

Peter Lavery’s portraits, although diverse I wasn’t able to put them in any sort of context. (only 17 images are available on his webpage) What Lavery claims to have done is to remove himself from the photograph which seems at odds with what I think of as portraiture in which you (the photographer) engage with the sitter in order that they show something of themselves in their reaction to you. In “removing himself” from the picture and providing no context or titles, he has reduced his subjects to stereotypes. Perhaps that was his intention. David Bruce’s images from the Kalahari do show more humanity, the people are real , they are reacting to the photographer. Where he has taken them in their natural environment he has documented the people as they are living their lives. I could not find Alvaro Leyva’s work, perhaps not speaking Spanish hindered me. Echvierra’s work suffers from the same problems as Lavery’s.

Project: Documents of conflict and suffering

Exercise: Don McCullin  “Shaped by War”   See also: BBC Imagine 2013

I listened and watched these two items with interest. What impressed me most was  was the thoughtful and sensitive nature of McCullin’s reflections on  his life’s work. In his voice you car hear it and you can see in his eyes that his experiences have profoundly effected him. The most telling part is, of course that he seems to be saying although his photographs have informed us, they have changed nothing.

Exercise: Max Houghton “Walk the Line”, Jonathan Kaplan “Imaging War”. My reactions to the author’s arguments are as follows:

Both pieces consider the justification for the decision to publish (or not) images of the results of horrifying violence. Kaplan asks “where are the limits on what we might wish to be shown?” and agrees with exclusion of documentary images of surgical procedure from a photographic book about landmines, citing the designer’s argument that they may put some viewers off purchasing it, losing the value of the rest of the images. I this case, I agree. He mentions earlier in the article “medical pornography”. I think this is a prime example and would have had no place in the book.

In her piece, Max Houghton makes the point (via a quote from  the picture editor Sophie Batterbury) that pictures of gore are a knee jerk distraction from any emotional impact of other images picturing the tragedy. She also alludes to a double standard, citing a comparison between the “falling man” image from 9/11 and Luc Delahaye’s “Taliban soldier”, whose family (presumably) had no say in whether the image was shown. The Observer spread from the conflict in Kenya appears to have been justified by the picture editor and although I found the black and white version less disturbing, I can understand how expanding the story and humanising its impact is necessary for a fuller understanding of the situation.

Both articles are about journalists using their own sense of what should or shouldn’t be shown. This seems to work up to a point as long as they remain independent and their choices and justifications are  ethical. Self regulation in a free press where editors have to be aware of the impact that poor choices have on readership and advertising revenues have worked so far. What is concerning is the use of social media (presumably why locals photograph the aftermath of suicide bombings) to disseminate such images. Only yesterday (25th June 2015) I read in a tabloid newspaper a report of TFL staff telling onlookers to stop taking photographs of the bodies of suicides as they lay on the tracks. I cannot see any justification for such action as a thinking, feeling human being, let alone as a photographer.

Exercise: Imaging famine

I started my research by looking at the website . It is now three decades since the Amin/Buerke report on Ethiopia and although the blog has since been closed, the posts made interesting reading.

David Campbell proposes that critique of the imaging will help but as this updated thread (August 2011) shows, the issue is a complex one.

Within David Campbell’s blog was this link to post by Barry Malone which is a sad reflection on how very little things seem to change. 

with a second link here to the resulting  Reuters article:                 

During my reading of the article “Imaging Famine” I made the following bullet point list of what I thought were the issues highlighted and searched to see if I could detect change.

  • Images with cultural and racial stereotypes
  • Negative and positive imaging – does the end justify the means
  • Captions and text – don’t always reflect the context experienced by the photographer
  • Is contemporary photographic practice post colonial?
  • Is there any data supporting the effectiveness of alternative images
  • Will still photography gain a renewed importance as TV neglects the world beyond our tabloid concerns?
  • Has the photographer chosen to use established aesthetic traditions?
  • What about using local photographers for immediacy?
  • What is the responsibility of the photographers/journalists present?

As I searched, I felt I was going around in circles so I have briefly summarised my impressions.

The Imaging Famine exhibition obviously highlighted issues with the reporting of suffering and disaster. The media were aware of the problems and it’s clear from what has been reported since, that things have changed. Barry Malone’s piece, for me sums up what a reasonable report should be. He acknowledges the context and writes his piece accordingly. Beyond that, what is to be done? There are more questions than answers here. Have the media been over sensitive to criticism in the past? Is it the hard hitting graphic image that gets the response and if so can it be justified if it has the desired effect? Has the media indulged in navel gazing just once too often and can no longer see its feet? The next exercise which looks at images taken in 2012 in the Horn of Africa and marks a distinct departure from those images we are familiar with from the 1980’s.

Exercise: WeareOCA blog post “The ethics of aesthetics”

This is my response to this thread as part of the Documentary course Project “Documents of conflict and suffering”. The ethics of aesthetics form part of this discussion.

The thread is about the work that Alejandro Chaskielberg has done in the area of Turkana in the Horn of Africa. He has pictured families who have received help from Oxfam in order that the effects of the ongoing drought can be mitigated. His style for these images is unusual in that they are beautifully (if unusually) lit and presented with saturated colours reminiscent of advertising photographs. This is where the aesthetic appears to conflict with the ethical consideration. The question was asked, “Are Chaskielberg’s images too beautiful? Given that we heard from Jo Harrison of Oxfam that “our images must depict hope, dignity and a realisation that change can happen”; I think it is perfectly proper that the aesthetics in this case be allowed to show the positive work that Oxfam are doing to try to prevent another famine. It is not just images of starving children that raise funds and it has been suggested that as a western society, we are inured to such images. There has to be some demonstration of positive outcomes for donors to want to keep giving. They are saying “This is how we are spending your money. Please continue to support us.”

Comparisons were drawn between Chaskielberg’s images and those of  Rankin and Stoddard. We need to consider the context in which these images are taken and their ultimate use.

Rankin’s images are no less beautiful and have a more direct impact on the viewer, they are quickly understood and assimilated. Another plus for the communication of the idea that these people are facing hardship and need our help. The same message but more direct. The photographer used his images to illustrate a blog for Oxfam Blog Action Day which put the images firmly in context.

Stoddard’s images of  famine in Sudan are of a completely different order. They symbolise what the western world thinks a famine in Africa looks like. They are strong, uncompromising and disturbing, exactly what I would expect from one of the world’s leading photojournalists. Are these the kind of images to which we have become inured? I suspect they are.

Exercise: To print or not to print

Had it been my decision I would have edited the photograph, being sensitive to the relatives of the victims. We need no reminder of the horrific effects of explosions no matter how they are caused. The context of the photograph was unaltered.