This blog post is a summary for assessment. Please see the original blog posts under the Assignment menu if you need more information.
This assignment was something of a problem child. I had already made and reworked a version of this assignment for my Foundations course so was hesitant about what I could bring to another iteration. I remembered that many photographers remake the same work over and over for years, so decided to persevere.
I chose to photograph my 8 year old daughter in her square mile. Apart from school, I am wherever she is, her mile is my mile. I reviewed the practitioners recommended in both the Foundation and EYV courses as well as those I had encountered independently. The ones that influenced me the most were Penny Watson, Charlie Murrell, Mimi Mollica, Sian Davey and Evgenia Arbugaeva. I was interested in images that showed the character of the children, and that showed a balance or a tension between the child and their surroundings. I didn’t want a “background” so much as a context that added information.
My tutor generously commented that I had made “a good start with lots of potential for development”. To summarise further comments:
the edit isn’t right
“the work could be enhanced through further conceptual enquiry”
I needed to bring myself, or something of myself into the work
I could add more layers by “gesturing towards historical characters” eg Alice.
She went on to explain which images worked and why, and suggesting other images from my contacts that might work. It was great feedback, which makes me sad that I have done so little with it (see below). I did follow up on all the reading suggestions. including Girls! Girls! Girls! Ed Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman. This blew me away. It was clearly written and gave me a broad perspective on photography and arts about female adolesence, by women.
I decided to make an Alice-themed reshoot. My model, now nine, thought not. The photographs we made together didn’t work, the magic wasn’t there. I discussed the problems with my tutor, she agreed with my suggestion that I make a refreshed edit from my archive and accept that my daughter has moved on.
So I made a refreshed edit…. but it concerned me that abandoning this work wasn’t representative of how I work. I scrapped the new edit, went out and photographed something that had been on my mind – the couple of dozen blue ribbons for Charlie Gard that had appeared in the town centre earlier this summer. I was intrigued by the impact that a London family had on my Wiltshire home town, via the tendrils of social media. As the campaign reached and passed its tragic end, the ribbons too began to enter a new phase of their existence – still there, but worn, dirty, fallen – acting as a memorial to Charlie rather than as a call to build support for his parents cause. I sought feedback on the OCA critique board and made the decision to submit this work without my tutor’s input. Influences were Kim Kirkpatrick and Gianluca Cosci, from the second part of the course.
It’s been quiet on the blog of late. I’ve been reworking assignments 2-5 and writing summary posts for assessment. They are still tucked up in Drafts at the moment. I also need to write reflective posts on Assignment 5, Part 5 and the entire course, and all of this is coinciding with the school summer holiday.
Assignments 2 through 5 were straightforward to rework. I agreed with my tutor’s comments and it is simply a case of implementing them. Assignment 1 was harder. It was the square mile one, featuring my daughter in her square mile, which because she was 8, was my square mile too. Except a year on, she has more of an opinion in how and where she’s photographed, and what she wears when I’m photographing her. Bang went my tutor’s suggestion of an Alice themed wardrobe. Bang went pretty much everything really. We gave the rework a go, and it didn’t work. No magic, just a scowling child. I discussed this with my tutor who suggested simply refreshing the edit from my archive. The archive isn’t that good though. I know that this is the “calibration” assignment, the one that doesn’t count, but the more I looked at it the more I felt that as it was it didn’t really say much about my approach to work, my willingness to rework to make it better, and how I like to work and what I like to photograph. I started to think about completely redoing the work with a different subject.
The first idea was photographing tins of peaches in different shops in the square mile. We’ll never know how well that would work (well we might I suppose if I ever have to do Square mile again). Then I looked again at the blue ribbons tied on street furniture in Devizes, for Charlie Gard. They met my preference for photographing multiple instances of the same thing, the same but different. They showed how a social media campaign can manifest itself physical in a small town many miles from the issue that it highlights. They represent transience – the ribbons won’t be there for good – and show how the symbolism has changed from a sign of awareness and hope to a memorial. The ribbons, shiny and new not so long ago are being ripped, tampered with, worn and dirty. Yet they are still there, as much a part of my daily landscape as the shops, the streetlights, the bollards, the phone boxes and the post boxes. They reminded me of the pregnancy tests that I photographed for A3 with the pale blue lines denoting life. They reminded me of the miscarriages that I documented on my Foundation course – and the Foundling hospital brass tokens set into the pavement near by, making loss tangible.
So I went into town last Friday evening, on an evening that had that stormy light, with my 50mm prime lens and a fresh battery. I walked around the car parks, the roads, the pedestrian alleys, and I photographed all the ribbons I saw. There are too many to include in their entirety but the contact sheets are below. I photographed close in and far out. I wondered about context versus detail. I put a selection onto the OCA critique board and considered the responses that people were kind enough to post.
Here’s my first draft set. This set will be edited slightly before submission, but not by much.
Here is the tutor feedback for Assignment 1 (click link to open Word file) kate_aston_513940_assignment_1_feedback. I will return to this post and add my responses when I am back from holiday. In brief I am very happy with it and especially with the solid pointers provided on how I can improve it.
Returning to this, I am happy with the feedback and excited about the creative possibilities going forward with this work. It’s impossible to do everything suggested right now so this post will be a first marker that I can refer back to as I work through the feedback over time. I have gone through each section of the feedback below. Actions for me are highlighted in blue. Update 12/1 in italicised blue text.
I am encouraged by the positivity of the feedback and the level of detail that has been applied to the feedback. I have followed the link about what to do with tutor feedback. I have had experience in following up feedback following the Foundations work but there were still some new pointers in the OCA How to use your tutor reports link provided.
Yes, I will be submitting my work for assessment.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity
Yes, once I got over my initial reluctance about doing the same assignment twice it was interesting to do the same assignment again, but in a different way. This might be worth a blog post in its own right, as I believe the Square Mile concept occurs in later points during the course as well as in FiP and EYV.
I’m happy that I have a solid starting point in this collaboration. I agree with Moira’s comments on the edit – I often feel as if the edit is far harder than making the images. Interesting point about bringing myself into the work. I think the way that I am happiest with (and undeniably the more convenient way) is to view my daughter’s square mile as an extension of mine; whenever she is somewhere it is generally the case that it is me who took her there (with the exception of a martial arts class and cinema when I am out for the day). However, I am also interested in meshing her childhood square mile with mine (from the FiP rework), however this would massively change the shape, feel and physical texture of the work and is something I need to test out.
I agree with the Alice parallel to the point where I can’t quite see how I missed it. I had looked briefly at Anna Gaskell’s work and decided that it was a far darker dimension and direction than I wished to take. I did however like the way the shots were styled and will return to her work in more detail especially in light of Moira’s comments about needing to review outfit/colour palette choices in some shots. I am very happy that my work contrasts so explicitly to Anna’s. I am happy with “ambiguity, subtlety and gesture”.
The scooter image was a favourite for me too, something about it was so very Blythe.
The climbing photograph should be reworkable, with an outfit change as suggested. I like the idea of using the scooter shot colours for inspiration. I will also revisit Anna Gaskell’s work. I am intrigued by researching Alice, and have bought a second hand copy of the version illustrated by Mervyn Peake. There was also a British Library exhibition on Alice earlier this year which I will research too. There will be another blog post about Alice research.
Ball shot – I like the idea of reworking the tonal range. I was also stopped short by the idea of “..what does the image look like if it doesn’t feature grass?” I am tempted to reshoot this one on the school playground, to provide a plainer space.
Boots photograph – I think I can reshoot this one too, I just need to borrow some different coloured boots and ask B to wear some different coloured trousers of leggings.
“There are some interesting photographs in your contact sheets…”
This was another eye-opener for me. I need to think so much more widely when making selections for coursework, especially as I think versions of these photographs made various versions of the cut before losing their place. _mg_3180 was actually on my final shortlist, it shows B at the Leisure Centre after swimming. I think I will look at putting some of these into the series, although they may need reshooting as B has had a substantial haircut since these photographs were taken. For reference I include these seven images below.
“You should take comfort from your solid start”. Yes, thanks to the Foundations course I was not too nervous about starting FiP EYV.
“Now you can analyse what you’ve done and develop the work before assessment. Do keep in mind that project development is an iterative process of practice, theory and analysis. Each iteration should lead you to the next until you reach a point where the project feels finalised.” I need to seek more guidance on what is meant by “practice, theory and analysis.” (done, it’s researching, reworking and reviewing the work until I feel it’s ready for submission).
Now it’s January and I’m starting to think hard about how I want to rework this work, to prepare it for assessment later this year. I think the Alice theme is a good one, and I have picked up a couple of dolls house props that I can use within the square mile context. I still need to pick up some striped leggings for her. I used some of the images from this assignment in a blurb photobook, and am currently experimenting with a second softback copy, with the aim of die-cutting some of the pages. I think it might be interesting to present A1 as a book, given the literary Alice influence, I’m not sure if die-cutting would feature or not.
I will continue as at present.
I’m happy that I’m on the right tracks with my research. I will take the following points for action:
keep research up to date, add to blog posts to shoe how I have focussed post-feedback
add thumbnails of all the artists discussed (I will use thumbnails of their work where possible, thumbnails of them if not)
when uploading research “have a go at relating what you are looking at/analysing to your own work” – yes, this makes a lot of sense
Again, happy to be on the right track. Action points:
in research section add more images supporting your analysis
add my working process – ideas for assignments, edits, thumbnails, experiments, research et
add my assignments and reworkings (yes, I will keep the menu structure up to date to allow easy access)
Susan Bright’s Art Photography Now – yes, I have this one and would not be without it. I did use it as a research source but I don’t think I referenced it clearly. You can see my notes on the book on my Foundations blog here.
Stephen Bull Photography and ed Grant & Waxman Girls! Girls! Girls!– thank you, I have ordered both books and will put notes on my blog once I’ve read them. They both look interesting and relevant. Updating this. Stephen Bull I read, took extensive notes on, I think it may have influenced how I write, not so much how I photograph. It was very interesting but I think I’m struggling slightly to connect it with my other learnings, although I do recall that the chapter on advertising was particularly interesting. I think this will improve though as I do more theoretical reading and build a context, it may even be more meaningful if I returned to it now. I need to return to my notes and get them onto my blog. Girls! Girls! Girls! I have found to be very engaging, I am only an essay or two off finishing, and it has provided me with some strong work and photographers to research, some compelling ideas and enthusiasm for doing more work in this area myself.
Photomonitor and Lens Culture – thank you, both followed online, plenty of interest there.
Source, Photoworks –thank you, subscribed and joined respectively.
Pointers for the next assignment/assessment
Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads – yes! Have done some reading around this and really like the theatricality of it, theatrical head-shots for normal people. One of my favourites is the woman in the yellow souwester, where you have light, wet, texture and portrait all in one.
Andreas Gursky (yes, I really like his images that again give a sense of theatre to many people in massive spaces, you can see the people interacting with the place)
“Are you interested in developing a feminist photographic practice?”
Another question that stopped me in my tracks. I can’t imagine viewing the world, or raising my daughter, without a firm belief in the ongoing need for feminism. I had never considered making it a “destination” in its own right rather than part of my intrinsic belief system. That said, I feel there is an imbalance in how we portray girls and young women and I am very interested in (and committed to) finding different, stronger and more respectful ways of doing so. At the moment, I don’t know exactly which direction my practice will take. I would however like to use this module to explore photography of girls and women and to build my knowledge of practitioners in this area.
Thank you for such helpful and stimulating feedback.
Initially I wondered how to make this different to my initial work (and rework) to the same brief as part of the Foundations course. I decided to document my 8 year-old daughter’s square mile rather than doing mine again. We collaborated on a list of her favourite places, and agreed that I would photograph her at each one. I secured permissions where needed.
I reviewed the practitioners recommended in both the Foundation and EYV courses as well as those I had encountered independently. I had read Family Photography Now (Howarth and McLaren, 2016) which helped via the diversity of families and photographic approaches included. The ones that influenced me the most were Penny Watson, Charlie Murrell, Mini Mollica (erratum – Mimi Mollica), Sian Davey and Evgenia Arbugaeva (the rather more extensive research post is here). I was interested in images that showed the character of the children, and that showed a balance or a tension between the child and their surroundings. I didn’t want a “background” so much as a context that added information to the photograph. I also wanted to convey how she physically interacted with the places, influenced by the works of Tom Hunter and Venetia Dearden.
My technical approach was hand-held (largely due to non-tripod-friendly environments), as low an ISO as I could work with, manual mode. Most images are taken with a 50mm prime lens, a couple with a 24mm prime where I needed a wider view, and one with a 100mm macro which I have found to work well for photographing children at a distance. I worked with as wide an aperture as possible, in the interest of minimising the shutter speed. For post-processing I applied lens correction to all images and corrected for shadows and highlights. I did not use any cloning or magic brush but have cropped a few images following peer feedback that several images tended towards a central positioning of my daughter. Final processing includes sharpening and adjusting clarity.
I feel rather close to the work to be making objective comments. I would like to improve the after-concert image, it is hampered by the lack of light but I wanted to convey the idea of her isolation, as the set was dismantled around her; I would also like more depth of field on the shop and You-tube images. I want to learn how to improve portraits where the person is at a much smaller scale than their surroundings. I like the sense of disconnect, of tension, between people and places (eg Rineke Dijsksta’s beach portraits and Mimi Mollica’s Norah There), but my composition isn’t there yet. Peer feedback was generally positive and I have changed the selection/the crop on some images as a result as well as noting suggestions for further work.
Going forward, I have these ideas for developing this series;
A series emphasising how her hands and feet interact with her spaces
A series where she is at a smaller scale, possibly all with her centre image
Contrasting her square mile photographs with my square mile photographs
Contrasting another aspect of her childhood – the fairies, princesses, media influences; possibly via collage/mixed media album.
Exploring the domestic textures and artefacts of her childhood (see Marc Rees)
530 words. Please see here for initial thoughts, here for contact sheets, here for research, here for peer review). Thank you.
A short postscript – I asked my daughter to choose her favourites. The set was identical, except for an uncropped version of the comic shop shot.
Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. (2016) Family photography now. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.
Contact sheets are provided below, doubleclick to view at full-size.
I am not really making full use of contact sheets. I tend to view images online as a grid in Lightroom, but on looking at the actual contact sheets I can see images that I think I can do more with, and I need to build this step into my workflow far earlier in the process and start marking up the contact sheets. Looking at these, for example, I very much like the sequence of hoop images at the bottom of sheet #2 and the relationships between them, that wasn’t apparent from viewing them in Lightroom. Some images are missing from the contact sheets – typically those with identifiable other children where I don’t have permission, or those where I’m unhappy to include the image.
This is my third iteration of the Square Mile assignment, having done it here and reworked it here. This time I wanted to look at my 8 year old daughter’s square mile. She is at the age of crystallising her favourite places, making the memories of places and activities that will stay with her for life. Her “mile” differs to mine in more ways than geography. Growing up in a family with two cars, no siblings and with a raft of extra-curricular activities, her range of familiar and favourite places is far wider than mine was at the same age with no car and four younger siblings. Growing up with the internet, and online gaming, her square mile extends into a virtual world too. I’m pretty sure she spends less time outside than I did, more traffic and living in a built-up area have restricted her choices in a way that mine weren’t. We formulated the list of places to include together. Thinking about square miles got me thinking about how we interact with it – often with our feet and hands – and about how we have not just physical landmarks but also event landmarks. She often conflates memories of places and the events that happened there. Geographically, we’re quite a bit over the mile, but her world feels like an equivalent size connected by car, no doubt also a function of two cars as well as the way leisure activities seem concentrated in larger conurbations. When I grew up so much more was closer, accessible by foot whereas a mile doesn’t even get my daughter to her local school (and it’s the closest school to us). Some of these favourite places are (relatively) on our doorsteps, some, like the climbing wall, are in the next big town yet she still knows each place inside out. Mindful of my tutor’s comments first time around, I wanted to make a set that was about her as much as it was about her immediate geography.
Having identified the places, the next issue to consider was how to add meaning by including the girl in each image. Thinking about child photography, and the tropes of Instagram and other online media, I was keen to show authentic portraits, well as authentic as I can given my obvious bias. I wanted to include the gauche, the grace, the geek, the strong, the playful, the thoughtful; without succumbing to the coy, the clichéd, the filtered. I wanted to include images that are both staged and unstaged, I wanted to include her direct gaze and her focus to show that she was complicit in the work, that she had an element of control in how she was depicted. I wanted to include an idea of the extent of her physical interaction with her world – hands, feet, taste, moving herself.
I have kept the processing deliberately simple; there is lens correction, auto-toning, shadow/highlight fixing; there is some cropping but no cloning out. I aimed to include enough of each place to give context and to show how she interacted with it. I saw a photograph by Margaret Cameron at the V&A Photography Gallery, showing a small child asleep on a sofa, and it struck me how Instagram bulges with similar images. Granted, sleeping babies are a staple of photography, but I wonder if they say more about the relief of a tired parent than the character of the child.
I still wonder about how to show the other side of my daughter’s life – the fairy/princess/stereotyped/media elements that are always there and that we try so hard to balance. This has left me wanting to include a counterpoint to each image, probably using textures and cut images. I may however leave this to the rework and keep this version simple.
Photographers from those that I researched and who influenced me include Sian Davey Looking for Alice, Evgenia Arbugaeva Tiksi, Charley Murrell’s Constructed Childhoods, OCA student Penny Watson’s Where have all the children gone? and Mimi Mollica’s Norah There. My full research post containing all researched photographers can be viewed here. All of these practitioners offered me a different way to see childhood – from curiosity and physical interaction (Davey), independence and wonder (Arbugaeva), self-image (Murrell) and the outdoor nature of childhood (Watson). The huge spanner in my research work was Marc Rees, whose attention to the smallest details of the Square Mile concept had me wondering if I should instead make a series on the domestic textures and textiles that my daughter is growing up with. That’s one for the ideas catalogue.
I was fortunate enough to also research this subject for my Foundation course, it’s documented here but here follows a brief extract.
Tom Hunter and Dan Holdsworth introduced me to the diversity possible in the brief – from Holdsworth’s vast unpopulated buildings and spaces to Hunter’s intimate photographs of people interacting with their environments and telling their stories. Wanting to read further, I found the research brief for the same assignment in Express Your Vision. Gawain Barnard inspired me with his words “The landscape of youth is laden with memories” (Boredom to Burn) and showed a convincing adolescent world, part dark underpasses, part open grasslands. Like Hunter, Venetia Dearden (Somerset Stories Fivepenny Dreams) shows a powerful physical interaction between her subjects and their environments. Her use of bridges echoed Gawain Barnard’s underpasses and made me think of different ways of showing the bridge landmarks of my home. Jodie Taylor’s Memories of Childhood was very inspiring. Her photographs were an intimate account of where she played in her childhood. Her landscape seemed familiar even though my childhood landscape was very different. I wanted my photos to be empty of people, and Jodie showed that it was possible to do this.
Coming back to the same brief but with a year of learning under my belt, my first thought was to identify those photographers I’ve encountered over that year that I thought would fit with the Square Mile concept. I also considered those photographers whose work didn’t really chime with me the first time around, and re-visited those. I stayed with Dearden and Hunter, as I was inspired by the physical interaction in their images and wanted to include interaction in mine too. I ended up with a mind-map of potential photographers to explore. The right hand side contains photographers suggested as research by the Foundation and EYV versions of this assignment, the left hand side is photographers I have encountered as part of my independent learning or via comments from my Foundation tutor.
The book Family Photography Now (Howarth and McLaren, 2016) was very interesting and provided several points of engagement – especially Mimi Mollica’s “Nora there” series which documents his young daughter in familiar places but with complete strangers. I was looking for work that combined portraiture and location, preferably familiar locations fulfilling the Square Mile element.
Here are my notes on the photographers that I researched, via books and internet.
Hannah Starkey. Cinematic, stylised reconstructions of moments from the everyday. They have a detachment, a sense of disconnect which I like.
Anna Gaskell “Wonderland”. A dark retelling of the classic story.
Evgenia Arbugaeva “Tiksi”. A series exploring her own childhood in the Russian Arctic. Colour palette ranges from the domestic through fairy tales to sci-fi and she shows a young girl confidently and comfortably exploring an environment of vast frozen land and seascapes and snug domestic spaces. Documented further in study visit here.
Penny Watson “Where have all the children gone?” Level 3 OCA student Penny shows images that also have that disconnect. She takes found images from Victorian postcards and works them into contemporary rural landscapes, neatly illustrating the lack of children in our landscapes today. I found this one interesting because it became obvious early on that most of my daughter’s favourite places are indoors; her favourite places are rather more indoors than mine were at the same age.
Stephen Gill “Hackney Kisses” “Hackney Flowers” and “Hackney Wick”. I wrote in more detail about these series here. He has a literally organic approach to working and photographing in his locality. He works with collage, found objects, buried photographs and images transformed organically by inserting matter into the camera. It’s not the approach I need for this assignment as I need to work more on straight digital images, but I find it fascinating and inspiring.
Charley Murrell “Constructed Childhoods”. Charley’s images are of constructed versions of the childrens ideal selves. I liked how the images were hard-wired into the child’s physical environment, making these hopes and illusions palpable. This was the photographer that gave me the most inspiration for my reworked previous Square Mile, along with Peter Kane and Parick McCoy as suggested by my tutor.
Sian Davey “Looking for Alice”. All of Sian’s family work engages me, it is so very current. “Looking for Alice” has an interesting use of space and place, somehow conveying the idea of this tiny girl absolutely owning the spaces that she’s in.
Roni Horn “You are the weather”. This was one of the photographers that I struggled to engage with first time around. Returning to the work, I’m touched by the effective simplicity of it – the way that the woman is showing her response to the weather (and hence reflecting the weather) in every shot. It’s simple recursiveness reminds me of John Hillier’s Camera Recording Its Own Condition.
Marc Rees. Another artist that I struggled with at any level, from the website structure onwards. Now his work makes far more sense and the way he works with the most banal and mundane artefacts of childhood to construct meaningful art (such as Supper set site). I also realise now that you (I) can keep returning to the same Square Mile brief over and over and there is no reason for the work to be repetitive even when covering the same mile repeatedly. Looking at his work has left me with a desire to photograph my daughter’s square mile via the domestic textiles and artefacts that she encounters.
“It’s good to return to the familiarity of my square mile: the intimate landscape and décor of my upbringing and it’s amazing how much material can be continuously drawn from that very simple notion, it is indeed an inexhaustible source of inspiration.” (http://www.theatre-wales.co.uk/news/newsdetail.asp?newsID=2962)
Peter Mansell. Another OCA student, this series shows landscape from a wheel-chair owner’s perspective. It shows the physical interactions between the chair and the environment, the different perspective, and gives the idea of a different type of mobility.
Sarah Jane Field. Another OCA student, who I know via various social media channels. Her photographs of children always engage me with their directness and use of colour. She is working on a series about girlhood, which I cannot wait to see more of. You can see one of the images here. She shows children as people, as individuals, which sounds such an obvious thing but which is actually not that common on Instagram.