Assignment One: Reflections on my tutor’s feedback

Overall comments

Starting a new course always feels like a step into another territory. It might look familiar but you never quite know what you’re going to find. Coming from my last level 1 course, Graphic Design One, I am particularly interested to see how my photographic work develops from here. I am keen to keep experimenting and working in cross-disciplinary forms. I am hopeful that Digital Image and Culture will allow me to do that. My tutor’s feedback seems to confirm this will be the case.

This is a very good submission.  You draw inspiration from a range of sources, photography, fine art, poetry, psychology, and researching that wider context, different forms, historical and theoretical, will always open up our ideas during the development stages of any project.

Feedback on assignment

As I mentioned in my learning log, I think my GD1 experience has helped me find a way of working that allows me to explore ideas and not fix my approach too soon. I have found this quite liberating because I no longer worry about whether I have found the ‘right’ idea. Now I just try something out and see what happens, if it works great, if not I move on. This has been recognised by my tutor.

This is a very good set of images, one that meets the aims of the brief, but more importantly reveals your sense of exploration and tenacity in finding a way to articulate your initial concept… It would have been enough for some, perhaps to finish their exploration at this point, but you decided to push this further reworking the images to look for something ‘simpler and cleaner’ with a stronger emotional connection, one that reflected your original concept.  This worked very well, with eight, less figurative and more graphic abstracts.

My tutor’s observations about the difference between the final set of physical and digital collages are very helpful, particularly his comment that the combination of image and title may not be read in the way I had intended.

…it might be hard for a viewer to relate the emotional interpretation in the title to the image

He does suggest a large scale print might offer a more immersive experience that could relate to the emotional impact I was looking for. I did wonder whether they should have titles or just be numbered, but numbers felt too distant and abstract. There is also something to consider in having made two of them more sculptural, I am not sure they translated well to an image on screen as you lose the physical effect of the overlaid ripple.

I wrestled a little to start with about how the digital images would be different from the physical collages, I wanted them to build on but be distinctive from the initial set. I was very pleased to read that my tutor felt this set worked on a different level.

The following three, ‘Serenity, Peace, and Insight’ offer something different, a subtle rendition of the subject matter and a greater fusion of the individual elements to bring a dream-like quality to the images. The desaturation of the individual layers is held together by the superimposition of the natural elements, not quite a reflection, but something intangible as though it’s a moment between two images – like a transition in a film.

It is helpful to read his suggestion to look further at enhancing the idea and impression/illusion of depth which I will explore further. I also like the notion of moments between frames, something I’d also like to work on more.  The feedback has introduced me to Daisuke Yokota and Haruki Sugimoto both of which are photographers I had not come across before and I am very intrigued by.

Coursework, research & learning log

I am pleased that my coursework and learning log have been well received and that I am working along the right lines. It is also good to know the structure of the learning log is straightforward. I will look at why the thumbnails on the visual diary aren’t showing. I also note the suggestion to engage with the OCA forum. I do look from time to time but often have to wrestle browser issues in accessing it for some reason. I do regularly engage with the various OCA photography and visual communications Facebook Groups so I am engaging with wider groups than just TVG.

I note the guidance for my next assignment and am already looking at family archives. I am going to discuss a theme further with my tutor as I have some ideas I want to explore based on my childhood travels to Australia.

Assignment One: Combined Image

Produce a series of four to six landscape-based images based on your immediate surroundings. Use traditional ‘cut and paste’ techniques to produce a series of photomontages using elements from two to five original or found photographs. Re-photograph the finished piece.

Using digital montage techniques produce a digital montage using elements from a minimum of two and a maximum of five digital files. Use components you have shot yourself.


Water is something that humanity has cherished since the beginning of history, and it means something different to everyone. (Fagan, 2011)

Water is the commonest symbol for the unconscious. The lake in the valley is the unconscious, which lies, as it were, underneath consciousness, so that it is often referred to as the ‘subconscious.’ Carl Jung

A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable. William Wordsworth

I decided quickly that I wanted to take the landscape option. I mourn the loss of summer every year but find that getting out with my camera in autumn can help the transition into the colder seasons. Instinctively I was drawn to local areas of water, we are fortunate to have an accessible canal network and a lake locally. I decided to work on a series inspired by the local lake, I didn’t necessarily want it to be about the lake but wanted to use that as the catalyst and see what developed.

I took photographs over a number of days.  I did not want to limit myself to a particular perspective so they were quite wide-ranging in scope from points of detail to the lake itself, from the houses around the lake to the carpark that provides access to the playing fields. The lake is a very popular public space; it has an active angling club, is concerned with wildfowl and conservation and is a two minute walk from the local small retail park.

Initially, I thought I might pick up a theme about the creation of the lake itself and the housing estate in which it is located. It is an entirely human made lake created to manage the water drainage for the estate. Originally the land that the estate and lake were built on was a plant nursery, particularly known for its Rhododendrons. My mum used to work there when we were children and it was a huge change to the area when the land was sold for development. I wondered about the politics of such changes and the tensions between perceived need and environmental impact. Not to mention the money that has been generated, the small retail area recently changed hands for £16.6m.

I wasn’t sure this was a direction I wanted to take and instead I became more interested in why I was attracted to the water, what was it that made it such an obvious choice for this assignment? I had been doing a project of my own around ripples and here I was again turning to the water. I started to do some research about the connection between humanity and water and came across ‘Blue Mind’ (Nichols, 2017).

Nicholls (2017) talks about the difference between Blue Mind and Red Mind, and that our red minds are toxic, over-stretched and overstimulated. This helped me decide what I wanted to do was create a series that worked with my emotional response to the water rather than a representational landscape.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. Albert Einstein

I then mind-mapped some word association about the lake to try and understand my connection to this body of water:

  • Space
  • Movement
  • Grand vista
  • Blueness
  • Symbol of: change, purity, life and wisdom
  • Calm
  • Reflection/s
  • Subconscious
  • Emotions
  • Transformation and change
  • Tranquillity
  • Peace
  • Happiness

I started by experimenting with different images and introducing water into the actual production process, soaking and bleaching the photographs. Folding, shaping and bending to echo the shapes of the water. Printing on acetate to create layers. Having researched other photographers working with constructed images I also thought I might build the collages rather than flat cutting and gluing. I started by just overlaying the different images.

After reviewing Corinne Vionnet’s layered work I also wondered about the images of lakes that others take and whether we have an archetypal view of a lake. I collected a range of images from royalty free sites and created a contact sheet.

Twenty small lake/landscape photographs

Lake views

It was fascinating to see that just in this small collection there are lots of parallels – the big vista, leading lines, a specific vanishing point, strong horizons and lots of blue! I also noticed that they are mostly composed of triangles and used that to create a series of four collages. It was interested to note that even though I broke up and subverted sky and water my eyes were still making sense of them of lakescapes.

As I finished this I noticed piles of the offcuts I hadn’t used in the above set and liked the abstracts they suggested. I also played with some digital versions.

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.  Henry David Thoreau

While I was quite pleased with the results they felt emotionally distant and weren’t as evocative as I was looking for so I went back to my original images and decided I would go for a much simpler and cleaner approach that concentrated on the water rather than a ‘lakescape.’ Jung believed the archetypal nature of water was a reflection of the emotions and the unconscious. Water represents the often unknowable depths of our inner life. It can both sustain life and be a threat to it when it rages out of control. I decided on using the background ripples as a strip rather than using the whole page as it spoke to me of panoramas and horizons. The different overlays are used to convey a range of emotions and give a feel for the water.

I then took the same ripples into a digital process to create the final image.

I shared my process and the images at a Thames Valley Group meeting and got a positive response as well as some suggestions, like creating a physical ripple with an acetate print (instead of on paper). Group members talked about the final set evoking a sense of peace, of wondering what was beneath the surface, and liking the physical ripples. We talked about what water meant to us and one member described his experience of being a sailor and the importance of coming on deck in the morning and seeing the horizon, a moment that created a sense of calm and reassurance.

Preferences for the digital versions varied across the group. My preference is for serenity as the final image. From my perspective it speaks of the benefits of connecting to water  and nature as well as acknowledging we all have hidden depths we don’t, or can’t always access.

Digital collage of blue ripples and leaves

Serenity

References:

Fagan, B. (2011). Elixir: a human history of water: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Nichols, W. J. (2017). Blue mind: Macro Edizioni.