Exercise: Recorded conversation

My account of the conversation

The idea of this exercise is to record a conversation, then write my interpretation of the conversation before listening to it and noting the discrepancies.

This exercise was fun. I recorded a conversation between me and two work colleagues during a break. My colleagues didn’t know I was recording! I didn’t get the chance to jot down my interpretation of the conversation until much later that evening.  Even though the conversation felt fresh in my mind, I was amazed how hard it was to recall the detail of what had been said.

Listening back I realised just how much of the conversation I had misinterpreted or assumed. There was more talking than listening and talking over each other – really annoying! I discovered that the informal conversation was spontaneous and random whereas my written conversation was more organized and unstructured.

As a reflection, consider ‘the believability of re-enacted narratives and how this can be applied to constructed photography. What do you learn from the conversation recording process?
The recording process has reminded me how we hear what we want to hear – selective hearing, biased towards information that is of personal interest. I think this also applies to vision which could account for why art is subjective. It also links to memory. Memories are not totally reliable as evidence of truth, as Annette Kuhn states;  “Memories evoked by a photograph do not simply spring out of the image itself, but are generated in an intertext of discourses that shift between past and present, spectator and image, and between all these and cultural contexts, historical moments. In all this, the image figures largely as a trace, a clue: necessary, but not sufficient, to the activity of meaning-making; always signaling somewhere else. “

How can you transfer what you learned into making pictures?
Thinking about how I could transfer my conversation in to a photograph is visually challenging. Also to ensure accuracy of the original event would be extremely difficult. Therefore, as in my written translation of the recorded conversation, interpretation of the event is safer than an attempt to portray a true representation. Many books and films ‘based on a true story’ cover themselves with statements such as “The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this book/production are fictitious”. What I have learnt is that re-enacting a narrative in a constructed photograph doesn’t need to be totally believable, subtle hints and metaphors can be portrayed.



Exercise: Goodfellas


We are asked to watch this famous scene from the film Goodfellas (1990) by Martin Scorsese.

What does this scene tell me about the main character?
From the outset I see that he is a formidable man, renowned – but for what is unknown in this clip. He comes across as a bit of a James Bond, a Jack the Lad, keen to impress the lady! He appears easy-going and friendly to all. He gives the impression of being a wealthy businessman. The music accompanying the clip is upbeat and cheery. Yet all the time I watch the scene I have doubts as to how genuine this man is and anticipate something bad is about to happen.

List the ‘clues’ within the scene which point to the above information.

  • Expensive car.
  • Generous with tips.
  • Doesn’t queue for club entry, uses side door.
  • Familiar with behind the scenes layout of club – walks through corridors and the kitchen with confidence and ease.
  • Knows and acknowledges everyone en route.
  • Table is set up specially for him in a prominent position.
  • Champagne is bought for him by another guest.
  • Music is engaging and connects to the unfolding story (narrative).
  • Fast paced filming holds viewers attention.
  • Dark corridors, red club room, shots of faces and expressions suggest a sense of wariness or trouble ahead.

The film clip is constructed to hint at the narrative. This tells us that the viewer relies on what is in front of the camera – props, clothes, location and setting, also colour and sound (in film). So to tell a story in a single photograph is a complex process. In film this is known as ‘mise-en-scene’ literally ‘to put in the scene’.


Exercise: Question for Seller

Nicky Bird – Question for Seller




“Question for Seller originated from my interest in family photographs that appear on eBay. I purchased photographs that no-one else bid for, with the connotation that they were unwanted, and therefore with no significant value. The seller was approached with the question – How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Their replies, however brief, are as important as the photographs they are selling – sometimes alluding to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning”.

I struggle to understand and find it very sad that anyone would want to sell family photos on eBay, car boot sales or anywhere else for that matter. For me they are so personal and valuable. Maybe that is because I love old photos and family memories are very important for me (as you will have seen from my assignments). I do accept, that maybe the photographs are the result of a house clearance where no family members or relatives survive. Perhaps photographs are lost during house moves, or as happened to me, stolen during a burglary. The meanings behind the images along with the memories may be lost forever. Nicky Bird says “buying someone’s personal history on eBay raises questions for me”. 

Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
I’m not convinced the images gain an elevated status – as in rank or social standing. If the photographer is renowned then they will have added value. The subject matter may appeal to spectators if there is studium – cultural, historical or social interest. If the images trigger questions or emotions (punctum), then for that individual the images become more important. Whether this could be described as elevated is questionable. I feel it could actually weaken their significance, diluting any intimate familial links.

Where does their meaning come from?
The feeling of nostalgia is the common denominator for all the photographs. This makes for a cohesive series, the link being ‘unwanted’. The word ‘unwanted’ can be a powerful word in warming the hearts of the general public. The sellers were all asked the same question and then through her exhibition, Nicky Bird provided the photographs with an audience, their narrative became open for discussion, the images had a voice once again.

When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they are now ‘art’?
By auctioning the images – whether one calls them art or not – they become worth something because a (monetary) value has been placed on them. By re-introducing the photographs in an exhibition project, curiosity and interest is aroused. The images and albums were then sold again via an auction, but this time round it was not individual unknown images but whole series promoted by Nicky Bird which gained prominence. The value of the ‘artwork’ in this case was most likely determined by its uniqueness, the buyers of the images, post exhibition are not buying individual images but rather a story, a narrative about the ‘unwanted’. Therefore I feel the value would have increased in both monetary terms and importance.

http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller [accessed 4th December 2016]


Research point: Gregory Crewdson

The brief tells me that Gregory Crewdson’s work is deliberately cinematic in style and makes us lose our sense of reality and become absorbed with the alternative reality we’re faced with. Some regard this as an effective method of image-making, but for others it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work. What do I think?

Firstly I looked at Crewdson’s Twilight series (1998 – 2002). A large-scale tableaux exploring the relationship between the domestic and the fantastical. His images are dark and disturbing, reminding me of psychological thrillers. The London Evening Standard interpreted this series as “Put Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and David Lynch into a blender, add half a pint of water and the diluted swirl that emerges will approximate the photographs of Gregory Crewdson. [1]


Is there is more to his work than aesthetic beauty?
Crewdson’s work is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but not beautiful, more mysterious. It is the cinematic quality, scale and the underlying sense of unease it provokes. Every image appears to offer us a frozen moment of a film, enticing the viewer to consider what comes next, the bigger picture. Crewdson’s attention to detail and meticulous planning involves a huge number of dedicated assistants to set the scene.

Do I think Crewdson succeeds in making his work psychological? What does this mean?
I looked closely at his body of work Cathedral of the Pines (2013-2014). Every image that Crewdson created evokes a feeling that something has just happened or is about to happen. As in a psychological thriller, the lighting and colours add to the mood and atmosphere. This image reminds me of the surreal 1990 television series ‘Twin Peaks’.

crewdson-1So, yes, I do think he succeeds in making his work psychological. His work has no hint of action, his subjects pose stiffly like androids. Crewdson says he looks to produce the sense that there are dark undercurrents just beneath the surface of his images.  Clearly he is producing psychological work.

What is my main goal when making pictures?
I don’t have a single main goal, my goal depends on the style of photography I am working on at the time. Of course that isn’t to say I don’t look for aesthetics and beauty while out and about with my camera. What is important for me is that my images are sufficiently strong enough to cause a reaction and encourage discussion, for me and those viewing my work.

Do I think there is anything wrong with making beauty my main goal? Why or why not?
Whilst I don’t think there is anything wrong with beauty being the main focus in photography, I do think that “beauty” is subjective. I have to ask the question; What is beauty? Personally I find beauty in nature, the viewer may interpret my images differently. If there is a trend for a certain style of photography which has been labelled as aesthetically beautiful, then there is no reason why I would not attempt to emulate this – if only for the practice and experience. I would not make it my main goal because I feel it would restrict my learning and experimentation in the wider sense.

1. Crewdson, G. (2002) Gregory Crewdson: Twilight. Available from: http://www.standard.co.uk/showbiz/gregory-crewdson-twilight-6308808 [Accessed 10th December 2016]


Research point: Diane Arbus and Jeff Wall

Diane Arbus:


For this research point I am asked to read and reflect upon Liz Jobey’s essay, Diane Arbus: A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. (1966).

Jobey describes this image as a ‘contemporary metaphor: the unhappy family snapshot’. This photograph was first published in the London’s Sunday Times magazine and in her short write up on the image, Diane Arbus commented to the magazine’s editor that ‘they were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.’ Jobey questions Arbus’ comment stating that “undeniably’ has a patronising air, as if, in her judgement, under the circumstances, genuine closeness between the couple was impossible.” The magazine editor, changed the text to read ‘the family is undeniably close in a painful, heartrending sort of way’. We know that Arbus complained about this change to her text.

What Jobey sees is that all the family members look uncomfortable. Jobey goes on to denote the way the family looks, drawing our attention to their clothing and the contrasting personalities of the husband and wife, at the same time making some connotations from their stance, gesture and gazes. I denote that the husband is engaged with the photographer, he even manages a slight smile. His wife (I’m making an assumption here), appears disinterested or distracted. She carries the baby in front of her, showing her off to the camera? Their disabled little boy appears unsettled and is looking at something outside the frame – they are all looking in different directions, disconnected.

But does the photographer ever really know what is going on in the minds of their subjects? Arbus considers the following in her book, ‘An Aperture Monograph’; “Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you”…..”What I’m trying to describe is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s. And that’s what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own”.  The photographer may be more knowledgeable if they know the subject or has engaged in conversation with them. If there is text available to anchor the image, the viewer may well be persuaded to believe what they read, otherwise they reach their own conclusions, based on any number of influences – own experiences, emotions, prejudice or simply believe what they want to believe.

Jobey then offers a little background on Arbus’ photographic experiences, mentioning her ‘freak’ projects and the compositional ways she posed her subjects. She also mentions Arbus ’ struggle with depression and her eventual suicide.  All this information does cloud independent judgement.

Jeff Wall: Insomnia (1994)


As a research point, it is suggested that I read the article Beneath the Surface by OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd. In the article Boothroyd demonstrates how to use photographic theory to deconstruct an image. The image in question is Jeff Wall’s  Insomnia.

First the facts. For this image Boothroyd sees a kitchen, denoted by the cooker, fridge freezer and table and chairs. That much is communicated clearly, but this only tells us what is actually there. It doesn’t describe or suggest any possible meaning or emotion. That is down to the connotation, which is of course personal. Boothroyd picks out the cold colours of the cupboards and the starkness of the scene, the harsh lighting giving a kind of eerie feel.  It connotes a place of discomfort and unease which we can sense even though we cannot actually be in that kitchen. Boothroyd explains that this information has been delivered to us via a series of signs and signifiers carefully selected and utilised by the photographer. The design and composition of Wall’s setting leads the eye into and around the frame. The light and shadow create the drama.

My connotation: The gas stove is past its best, the lino on the kitchen floor has definitely seen better days too.  The light in the kitchen is a cold one and although the light is not visible, one would assume there is no shade, just a bare light bulb. The partly opened cupboard doors and the signs of disturbance around the kitchen indicate that the subject may have been searching for something – medication? Something that has been hidden away? Further evidence of this is the positioning of the two chairs, one in particular implies that it was used as a stepping stool to reach the higher cupboards and to check the top of the fridge (evidence of a brown paper bag being rummaged through). Why is the man lying on the cold floor?  He may have fallen or sought protection under the table.  His placement is totally unexpected – the punctum. He has a worried, disturbed look. He could be drunk, mentally ill or frightened.


Arbus, D. ( ). An Aperture Monograph.

Howarth, S. (2005). Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. Tate Publishing. London.  (Article: Diane Arbus: A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966’ by Jobey, Liz).


Exercise: Deconstruction of an advertising image.

Deconstruction of an advertising image.

We live in a consumer society and are surrounded by marketing, publicity and advertising. On television, in the media, billboards, online, pushed through letter boxes etc. All vying for our attention in the hope that we will be drawn in and captured under their spell. Judith Williamson says in the introduction of her book “Decoding Advertisements”;
“Advertisements’ role is to attach meanings to products, to create identities for the goods (and service providers) they promote: a process today described as branding”.  (p.13)

p1120946What is it? This was taken from the Daily Mail weekend supplement in early October.  It is a full-page advert for ‘Multiyork’ sofas and interiors. The advert is promoting “up to 40% off” and “order now for Christmas”.



First of all I looked closely at the image itself.  What draws me in is the simplistic styling with neutral hues that are easy on the eye. Then the roaring fire offers warmth as do the hints of gold, lighting and candles. The anchor is the 40% off message and the relay is quality furnishings, something new for Christmas. The picture shows a lounge set in what appears to be a period style house, maybe a listed building with its tall multi paned sash windows, marble fireplace, high ceiling. The floor is constructed of wide wooden boards, the walls are painted in neutral shades. Shades of grey dominate the sofa, chair and rug with coordinating soft furnishings. The room is adorned with expensive looking accessories and exclusive, on trend works of art. Next to the sofa is a small table with more decorative vases and candle holders. There is a gold coloured metal waste basket utilised as a newspaper/magazine rack. The ‘basket’ is resting on a collection of glossy ‘coffee table’ books, another book lies in juxtaposition on the sofa. Next to the chair is a tray holding a gold effect coffee pot and elegant cup and saucer – not something that would present in the average home!
Referring to Judith Williamson’s ideology  of connecting an object with an object; the golds all link together to form a triangle – coffee pot, basket, lamp and tray on the mantle piece. The golden glow of the fire ties it all together. The only links to our ordinary world are portrayed by the view through the window to the familiar nature of outside world and the comfort of the fire. We are transported into the ideal world of luxury as the eye picks up the gold tones and the comfort message from the furnishings and fireplace. The brand name lettering is also gold.
What does it say about the product? For me the image evokes opulence and quality. The artwork, ornaments and the gold coloured objects imply these products are for the discerning customer.  It speaks of cosiness, comfort and luxury. The wording at the bottom of the advert implies that it may be affordable thanks to the “up to” 40% off and tempts us with the opportunity to have a new sofa in time for Christmas.

Williamson, J. (2010). Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. Marion Boyars. London.





Exercise: Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”


Elliott Erwitt. New York. 1974. Felix, Gladys and Rover

  • How has Erwitt structured this image?
    This image was taken from a very low perspective showing a cropped view. The vertical design elements are strong – the three sets of legs, the little dog’s lead, the tree trunk. Cleverly composed to exclude the large dog’s hind legs, at first glance I assumed it was two humans and a dog. The angle captures the little dog’s gaze perfectly forcing the viewer to look at it and just in case you miss it the first time the dog lead directs the eye straight to it! Erwitt has centred the subjects and focused using a shallow depth of field to blur out the background, adding a sense of depth to the image. The effect is 3D. I note the contrast is very sharp, whether the scene is staged or found is unknown.
  • What do you think the image is saying?
    The image draws the viewer to the little dog sporting a hat, telling me this dog is important and saying “look at me!” Its an old dog with greying hair and gives a sense that it is much loved and protected – identified by the coat and hat. He is not just a dog, but a family member. I wonder whether the larger dog also wears a hat and coat? The fact that the majority of the person and the other dog are cropped out of the frame implies that they are secondary to the intent.  For me it says small is beautiful, or just because the other companions are big, it doesn’t mean they are the best. It could also imply attention seeking. The image tells me it is a wet day, autumn (leaves on the ground), possibly cold too – the dog’s hat and the person’s long boots and thick coat. The dog ‘owner’ may be walking the dogs because the background gives us enough to imply a countryside or park location.
  •  How does the structure contribute to the meaning?  The image initially creates confusion and doubt as to what we are looking at. It is very funny and poignant.  It arouses curiosity because one cannot see the bigger picture. The image also gives us a sense of the photographer’s liking for dogs, or perhaps just his sense of humour. It may say more about the photographer and his outlook on the world.

I enjoyed looking at this image, exploring and interpreting. Our local veterinary clinic has this book in the waiting area for others to enjoy.  In his book ‘DogDogs’ (1995), Erwitt explains his images “are not pictures of dogs but pictures with dogs in them”.



Exercise – Nikki S. Lee

This section points out that photography is not always a true depiction of who we are, we can shape and mould our identities to fit a certain image, which may then be recorded by a camera.

Nikki S. Lee
For her ‘Projects’ this artist would observe the style and attitude of almost every group or stereotype out there and then she would incorporate herself into the group by dressing and speaking like them.  By playing different roles, Lee questions her own identity by transforming herself into other people’s identities. In an interview with The Creators Project (1) she says; “there is a Buddhist saying “I can be someone else and that someone else can be me as well.” Thoughts like this one – thoughts that cause you to view yourself in other people’s shoes – were my main focus, so the people play a significant role.”

nikki-1   nikki-2

These photos are part of the ‘School girl project’, she dressed and actually went to school with these girls for a few days then she took the pictures.
I don’t get the sense that Lee is being voyeuristic or exploitative. More that she is inquisitive, curious to know what it’s like to be a part of another culture (Lee is an American of Korean origin).  She takes pictures of various groups of people that we see everyday and share our lives with, but we don’t really take the time to learn and experience that culture. Maybe it’s about being accepted whoever you are and where ever you hail from, she also proves the point that the camera does lie.

Tracey Moffat
Under the sign of Scorpio (2005)
“….at this stage I have told very few of the Scorpio women that I have included them in this photo series (I have met about eight of them). The last thing one should do is flatter a Scorpio; they immediately get suspicious, and depending on their mood, will hate your guts for it. It has taken me years to learn to graciously accept a compliment. Growing up in the rough-and-tumble Australian suburbs, I was often mocked for my escapes into fantasy.” 
I read this with intrigue. I am also interested in Astrology and studied the subject many years ago.  Moffatt, also a Scorpio, based herself in a simple studio at home and “dressed up” as other famous Scorpios. She makes it obvious that she is acting and her performance is intentionally very amateur. She says “In my portraits I have tried to capture their spirit and likeness, but only at a moment’s glance”.  She used informal poses and created a comic book quality by adding high-key supernatural coloured landscape backgrounds to the images in Photoshop. She chooses to represent her portraits as “pop figures” – she admired Andy Warhol – but with an air of the unexplained.

For a long time the Curie’s efforts failed, but Marie had a type of psychic vision and kept repeating “it’s got to be there, I know it is there”. Marie can be viewed as a sort of acceptable turn-of-the-century scientific witch. She helped to find something that had never been seen before because she somehow believed that it was ‘there’.

For a long time the Curie’s efforts failed, but Marie had a type of psychic vision and kept repeating “it’s got to be there, I know it is there”. Marie can be viewed as a sort of acceptable turn-of-the-century scientific witch. She helped to find something that had never been seen before because she somehow believed that it was ‘there’.

I particularly like the contact sheet presentations where the viewer is able to follow the progress of the “performance” before Moffatt selects a pose to use. The added colourful backgrounds of her images really do portray an astral feel.


In this series Moffat does not reveal anything of herself to the viewer. So for me the title Masquerades is relevant – masked to hide the true identity. These are self-portraits that can be used to examine cultural differences, identity, fantasy and the many ways in which a person can be (or wants to be) represented.

Nikki S. Lee http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/videos/nikki-s-lee [accessed 14th Sept 2016]
Tracey Moffatt http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/news/releases/2005/07/10/94/ [accessed 14th sept 2016]