CRJ week 9 – Critical Theory

The topic this week of Critical Theory has been really stimulating and interesting, and has required me to look far more critically at my own work.  This has allowed me to refocus and given me new inspiration for what I’m going to do over the next three modules; which is a very good thing as I was feeling a little ‘stuck’.

The presentations I have watched and the articles I’ve read have given me much to think about,  and I have been a) considering where I stand in relation to various theories, and b) looking at my own practice, trying to decide where it sits theoretically, and what I can improve in this respect as I develop my future research and output.

Despite the fact that Francis Hodgson (2012, Quality Matters) stated he didn’t believe that photography to be elitist; what he was saying was, in my view, just that. If we are able to create and share a common language when describing quality, that immediately devalues the opinion of anyone who does not have the same vernacular. Additionally, can a set of ‘rules’ define quality, when creativity and invention are not static?  There can be no new valued style, form, interpretation or theory unless the definition of quality is refined alongside these progressions.

Reading the newspaper articles by Sally Mann , (in the New York Times, 2015)  and Tierney Gearon  (in the Guardian, 2001), I was struck by the naivety of the women, who both seemed surprised by the reaction the photographs of their nude children received. Their intentions had been quite different, wishing to capture childhood innocence in family life.  However, once the photographs reached the public domain the interpretation altered, allowing the viewer to reach their own conclusions.

In this week’s online forum we were asked to post a picture and describe two different interpretations of it.

This was my contribition:


Photographer Cezar Dezfuli recently won the Taylor Wessing prize for this photograph of a migrant named Sumaila, taken off the Libyan coast last year. He took pictures of all the 118 refugees who had been rescued by a German boat. Dezfuli didn’t realise the poignancy of the expression on Sumaila’s face until he looked back at them all later. He said “There was something about the way he looked into the camera and something in the clothes he was wearing that gave the photo a texture. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it just summed up the story I was trying to tell really well.”

My interpretation 1 – the Guardian’s text over the photo says ‘ Who is the man in the photograph?’

Who is he? Where is he from? Why is he looking so intensely at the camera? What has happened to him? Where is he going? Who is he with ?

My interpretation 2 – the composition of the photograph. The man looks as if has quite literally come straight out of the water, and the way the eyes sit just above the horizon is powerful. The shadow of his head tells us where the sun was. His collar bone is protruding, is he under nourished? He is not smiling. His clothing is dishevelled and dirty. The sea is calm.

The first interpretation questions; the second is factually based, with the composition leading the viewer towards understanding the greater context of the photograph.

In my own practice, my pictures tend to be about something, rather than of something. The difficulty lies in how to allow the viewer to read the picture in the way I have intended; as the meanings I try to embody are not usually transparent. As my work develops, this is something that will need consideration and resolving.


For instance, the above image is one of a series. They are an account of the deconstructions and reconstructions of an old photograph in a frame which I bought last weekend at a flea market for £2. It is not my intention for the viewer to think that this is a photograph of the sum of its parts; but rather what is symbolised by this act of destruction. This small piece of family history was discarded, with responsibility passing to a third party, a stranger, to dispose of. Note the duplicity here –  I am at the same time destroying and recreating.

This topic has given me much to think about and has already changed the way I work.

CRJ week 7


This week we were asked to work in pairs and set each other a micro project . Mine was set by Jo:

Produce 6 images of aspects of one local park.
Must be clear specific elements of the park – objects or people, not large landscape shots. 
No trees or flowers as the main focus. 
Format etc up to you. 

Immediately I knew that I would go to Wicksteed Park as it’s right on my doorstep and beautiful at this time of year. I was pleased that the brief didn’t ask for landscape photography, as I like to go for shots that are a little different .

Firstly I planned to take the six in a square format, and arrange together  them in one larger image . However I  soon changed my mind, as I wanted to be more creative with their arrangement. My second plan was to take the photographs on my Sony camera, then print them on my Fujifilm Instax printer, allowing me to arrange the prints in a way that would join lines, shapes or colours that I had chosen.

Unfortunately I encountered a problem with this, as I was unable to power my mini printer, despite many attempts throughout the week to source a power cable or batteries. This was overly complicated and after 5 days of trying I decided to opt for plan C instead. Luckily I have hopefully got batteries arriving soon so I’ll be able to use it again.

Back to the park…walking through it in the hour before it closed, as the light began to leave, I looked for different angles and perspectives.  Sometimes I shot upwards (such as placing the camera underneath a sign), sometimes I shot downwards (onto a gate), and sometimes I keyed in a slow shutter setting and put it behind my back as I walked along. The photo in the header for this post was again taken on a slow shutter speed as I turned round, trying to keep the hand held camera horizontal.

The six I chose all have a common theme of either circles, posts or lines.  Some of them are edited afterwards, mostly subtly.

I chose to present them as a slideshow, so that the chosen contours move through into one another, connecting them all together in some way.  Although the brief specified no trees or flowers, it was almost impossible not to have one or two in the background.



“Bear with me, I’m having an earthquake…” CRJ week Two.

It’s a strange title for a post I know, but this is a sentence spoken by my tutor during our webinar this morning as his surrounding book shelves wobbled just a little bit. Just one small part of the (massive) learning curve that I’m currently experiencing as I’m immersed in this cross – continental, interdisciplinary, flexible learning degree – that the architecture in Tokyo is built to a high specification to withstand these tremors.

That aside, I picked this as a title for my latest post as it seemed to sum up quite nicely some of my brain activity this week, as I grappled with new concepts, tried to critically evaluate some of my work and that of others; and to understand how I am, and am not, interdisciplinary in my work. I had to turn my thinking on its head, experiment with new ideas, research other work and figure out if and how my own had any contextual relevance to the content in this week’s tutor presentations.

As I looked more critically at my own work, I saw just how much evidence there was of the human psyche. Psychology has always fascinated me, having studied it during my Combined Honours BA. Since then my work within the educational sector has included liaising with mental health professionals; volunteering for an organisation which searches for missing despondents; as well as learning how to improve and maintain my own well-being as I’ve got older and more savvy about matters of the brain.  I hadn’t really summed all this up previously and put it conveniently into a box labelled ‘psychology’, but the more I think about it, the more I realise this is what I have been doing.

One genre which also interests me is the use of found objects / collage / montage / embroidery within the photographic image.  I looked at the creative work of John Stezaker, Ingrid Karlsson, Julie Cockburn and other examples of montage; and a scientific study by Ekman et al starting in the late 1960s. Ekman’s study led to the development of a set of facial photographs which represented the recognition of basic human emotions. I found this interesting and considered the links between this and the modern day selfie and emoji.

In my work, I often rework and reuse part of one of my images (such as the boat seen below on the left, taken in the Gulf of Mexico).


In the collage, top right, the body of the boat has been cut out from a book of idioms, the idiom being “all at sea” and its meaning (lost, confused). This is one of my more overt examples of an interdisciplinary approach between photography, psychology and other art forms which rely on layering.  A bold approach to colour deliberately exaggerates the intent.

I spent so long this week thinking critically about my own work, and reading, that I left myself short of time to create something new.  However, although my new images may be a little clumsy, they are something I can work with and hope to develop further:



Here, I have cut out the face of the girl in the vintage postcard, then placed it on top of a photograph by Tom Stoddart entitled ‘Young mother and child awaiting evacuation from Sarajevo’. The mother is anxious and tearful, not knowing whether she will be able to take her child away from the constant fear of living in a town under siege. This contrasts heavily with the photograph on the left (incidentally the message written on the reverse said ‘Ivy, with love and best wishes for your birthday, from Dad and Mother’). Two different times, different lives, different hopes from mothers to their child.

My tutor suggested that I look at the work of John Goto, which is now on my list of things to do during the coming week.

It’s been a good week.

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CRJ: Positions and Practice week one

Week One. September 29th 2017

For me, this week has been exciting, stimulating and a bit fraught too as I began to get used to new learning tools, especially finding my way around Canvas, the place where all our module details, reading material, discussion areas, links to webinar sign-ups, student support, tutorials, etc are kept.  As I navigated the site I was constantly discovering new areas and information that I needed to know yesterday – so it felt like I was on the back foot for some of the time.  However, hopefully I now have got my head around it and will start week two having a better understanding of how it all works, and will rearrange my schedule for MA work accordingly!

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced this week is being able to physically put into words the thoughts and ideas surrounding my work. Being a teacher I am confident when talking to others, however talking about my own work is more difficult –  and something that I’m going to have to improve on. I guess this is where this journal will help – by writing about what I’ve learned and the resulting impact on my own work should enable me to critically evaluate it using both written, and verbal mediums.

The topic of the week was Positions & Practice – the Global image, culminating with a practical activity and then discussing it in a webinar. It was interesting to see other students’ work and noticing how many varied interpretations there were of the task. I enjoyed seeing them and listening to our course director Jesse’s feedback.

So, the project was this:

Having reflected on the content discussed in this week’s presentations, ‘re-make’ an image of your choice. You may wish to re-make an image from one of the presentations, or a completely different image of your choice…Post your pair of images to the forum below (you will need to post before you can see any of the work of your peers) along with a few lines explaining your thinking here, in terms of your choice of image and how you feel it relates to theme.  

Here is my contribution:

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My first photograph is of a postcard sent to me from Marrakesh around twenty years ago. Its composition interests me – not only in its triangular structure, but more specifically the different ways the subject matter can be interpreted, without the knowledge or perception of the characters within it. The two people in the scene are looking away from the camera, with a single object facing it – an oud- like traditional instrument from the region.  In the distance, the second person (unseen) is (presumably) sheltering from the sun underneath a black umbrella; which as we know, is unlikely to be very cooling. The private, closed language of the photo has been made public.

The second photograph has the oud player superimposed on a snap I took on a rainy day in Paris this year.  Three tourists with umbrellas, again oblivious to the camera, face towards it; their umbrellas enabling them to continue their sight  seeing. Why so oblivious? In such a place where everybody has a camera or smart phone out, tourists  automatically step into a plethora of footage.

With the comparative ease of global travel this century and the mass production and circulation of images, cultural boundaries can blur. The umbrella is an object of protection and I find their designs and colours question my interpretation and understanding of what they represent. In this picture, I wanted to replace one umbrella with another and see how it can change our perception of reality. Without his instrument the oud player is no longer the focus of the image. Instead, the young boy is centrepiece as he explores and points. The man in his traditional clothing would not have looked out of place in a cosmopolitan European city, and his original solitary pensive gesture becomes lost here.

However, for me the resulting image is not a political statement, nor necessarily a cultural one. It’s more about the way the characters are looking – away, or towards; mirror or window. In answer to one of the questions asked this week, I usually see my own work as more reflective of the ‘within’, rather than a window on the world.

In my feedback, Jesse suggested that I might cut up some of my images, to make a more tangible montage – so I will be giving that a go at some point, as well as looking at the work of John Stezaker as suggested.




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