Assignment 4 – Languages of light

This is a condensed blog post for assessment. Please refer to the original posts for more information if needed.

“The light emanating from a red phone box in the evening was once a symbol of refuge, a beacon and a place of connection to the world.” (Heathcote, 2016).

The phone box light is part of its identity. For many of us the boxes are landmarks in our personal landscapes as well as our environments. They act as mini-landscapes, often colonised by mosses, insects, plants. They’ve seen us join Europe and now witness our departure, they survived the de-nationalisation of British Telecom and the massive proliferation of mobile phones, yet they live on, albeit in dwindling number.

Nick Turpin was my over-arching influence; I was entranced by his candid, bus-lit passenger portraits  (BBC London Radio, 2017). I loved the glow of people behind the windows, and the way the glass was often fogged by condensation and/or rain drops. I wanted to try to capture those same qualities, but without the people. I wanted to show the experience of being inside and outside a red phone box at night in the same way that Turpin captures that night bus reality, both inside and out. Here are my original images.


My tutor was very positive about the work. She felt that my photograph first research later approach, combined with my use of peer feedback via my blog and the OCA discussion worked well for me. She extracted more from the work – referring me to Barthes Punctum and Proust’s Involuntary Memory, both of which I have read into a little. She recommended visiting Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate and Deutsche Borse at The Photographers’ Gallery, both of which I subsequently visited. We discussed Catherine Yass and Stephen Gill, and how if I wished I could follow a similar approach by returning my prints to phone boxes.

Actual rework has been minimal. I chose to remove one image – 6199 – as I wasn’t as happy with the focus and alignment. One of the phone boxes has now been removed by BT, I wondered about removing those images from the set. I do quite like the idea of pinning a photo where the box used to be..


In reflection, an assignment that I was quite nervous about turned out very well. I am pleased with this work. It feels delicate, understated, original and effective, and it starts conversations.  It took me out of my comfort zone – it felt odd to be dealing with fixed structures in the landscape and a whole new set of environmental constraints, plus photographing only at night and finding and interviewing phone box experts. I learned to have confidence in my creative hunches, and I now think that maybe the Landscape L2 course isn’t entirely out of my reach.

References and external links

Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings – Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, UK. (2017). Special collections. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017]. (2017). OCA Discuss. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Heathcote, E. (2016). British by design: the red phone box. The Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Turpin, N. (2016). On the night bus. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Hoxton Mini Press.

Turpin, N. (2017). Through A Glass Darkly | NICK TURPIN. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017]

YouTube. (2017). Nick Turpin BBC Radio London 2016. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].




A4 Tutor feedback

I had a Skype call yesterday and written notes arrived today. Feedback is attached Kate_Aston_513940_Assignment_4_Feedback

I need to say first that the system of Skype call + written notes works very well for me. It is good to have the chance to ask questions or request clarification face to face.

I am thrilled with this feedback. I did take some risks on this work, from researching after starting shooting rather than before, to working with a subject that I couldn’t move, rearrange or change in any way and taking a completely different approach whilst still hoping to render the work recognisable and to stimulate memories and discussion. It started out as an exercise that gained critique feedback from the cautiously positive to the downright interesting. Thanks to further helpful feedback it evolved into work of which I am genuinely proud, even though sometimes I still can’t believe that I made it.

As it is now time for a G&T on a very sunny Friday afternoon I shall wrap this here and return to it over the weekend to add in details. I will then revisit it over time with updates. I feel the need to mention that no re-work is needed on this one, although there is a pathway for me to explore should I wish to do so. Many thanks to everyone who was a part of this work – from suggesting boxes, offering encouragement, offering critique and sending me mobile images of boxes that they saw.

A few days on…

I remain thrilled about this feedback, not just because it’s reassuring and complimentary but also because of the doors that it opens to other avenues of exploration and the opportunities that it gives me, through rework of other assignments, to close the loops between starting the course and finishing the course.

Genuinely thrilled with comments such as “strong and cohesive series of images” and “the edit is held together through its tonality and inside-out exploration”. It is great to realise that the ambitions I had for this work translated into reality via all those dark wet evenings photographing phone boxes.

Thinking about rework, Action I am going to get all the images printed and decide at that point which, if any, need to edited or reshot. Moira made some interesting suggestions about ways I could develop the work further. These are around returning the prints to their source to see how they are changed by their environment. This idea reminded me of Stephen Gill’s work Hackney Marshes, and Moira told me about Catherine Yass, who returned her work to the canal and let the water alter it. I had wondered about making prints or postcards of the work and leaving them in the phone boxes. I know this would be interesting but I had two main reservations. The first was whether I would be taking a work that is fine in its current form and turning it to something more creative but less accomplished and the second the rather more prosaic fact that I would be moving away from the darkness and into daylight, and hence away from the brief. There are also practical concerns, ranging from would the photos simply disappear to the probably more likely scenario that they would just sit in the box untouched. I do wonder though, about printing them as postcards, adding a PO box and stamp, and leaving them in the boxes… Action: learn more about Catherine Yass’ work and write a blog post. Action: look into PO Box set up and costs.

It was interesting to read Moira’s notes “Barthes notion of the Punctum is relevant here, and Proust’s Involuntary Memory.” I had been reading about Punctum in a thread on the OCA discussion board about whether a photographer could wilfully manipulate a viewer into seeing a particular punctum. One point made was that you can’t do this, since by definition the punctum is specific to each viewer and their reading of the image. I have done some quick research around Proust’s Involuntary Memory, which I hadn’t encountered before. It seems to be about how a memory can arise unbidden, often triggered by a taste, a smell, a word, for example. I liked this because I think that phone boxes are part of memory for so many of us, even if we don’t consciously realise it. Action: read and blog about Proust’s Involuntary Memory.

Research: action Set up a trip to London to see Wolfgagng Tillman and Deutsche Borse.

Learning log. I was very happy that my two decisions to work slightly differently both paid off. I felt slightly exposed with both choices – firstly because I had far less research upfront before starting and secondly because I opened the work to peer review right from the start. I will follow these approaches. I think that less research upfront meant more creative license for me.

Suggested reading/viewing – Catherine Yass (see above) and action watch Peter Greenaway’s Dear Phone. I haven’t found it yet but hope it will be on Amazon as a rental.

Pointers for next assignment – this was so exciting! I had two ideas for A5 and my tutor has been positive about them both. I’ve decided to work with altered instant prints. Action – write blog post on my choices. I was very inspired by Moira’s ide of using the physical prints themselves as pages in a photo book action read up on the Manchester Metropolitan University special collections. Action – revisit Walter Benjamin’s idea of the Aura, first encountered in my A3 tutor feedback. Action – learn about the Mobius strip, including Elizabeth Grosz Volatile Bodies . Moira mentioned this in relation to my Polaroid plans, but as soon as she said it I thought of A2 heads and my feminist reading of pressure on children to smile in photos. I don’t know if the concept will port successfully from a feminist/sexuality reading to photobooth strips of children’s photos… but there’s a way to find out. It might work better with women rather than children, however the inside/outside nature of the Mobius strip fits perfectly with my work.

Reflection against assessment criteria

A4 self-review

Once again I feel as if it’s my technical skills holding me back.  Composition and focus are two I need to pay more mind too. I’m happy with how I realised the work, it did what I wanted and didn’t look like a generic set of phone boxes in villages. It felt like a set and I’m happy with that, the colours and the light were consistent.

I am happy with the way my creative skills are developing, I’m learning to explore ideas with test shoots and just to keep on exploring until I find an area that works for me.

For context I took a slightly different approach on research, based on the feeling that I already had enough, and the curiousity as to how my work would turn out when it was informed by curiousity rather than scrabbling down the back of the internet. In a way this feels slightly as if I didn’t do enough… but I don’t know… what else would I have added?

A4 Contact sheets of all images

These may take a few moments to download. Click to open full size. Contacts were made from Lightroom then annotated on my tablet and saved as jpgs. I tried a variety of approaches when shooting – boxes in the wider landscape, interference with boxes, intentional camera movement and documenting the phone itself.


A4 draft for peer review

I put these images on the OCA Critiques for review. Link is here for OCA students and staff. The thread covers from initial attempts onwards. As it is a closed forum I am not reproducing replies here.

I am including the same set of draft images here and would value comments. Thank you. I have chosen the brief “The beauty of artificial light”.


Following Simon’s comment below, here is the unedited version of the ceiling shot to show the colours as the camera captured them. I desaturated the yellow and orange channels and made small adjustments to the tone curve to return the colours to closer to how I saw them inside the phone box.

testset2alt ceiling-6232