Assignment 4 – Languages of light

This is a summary post for assessment. Original posts can be referenced via the Assignment menu.

“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

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.

A5 scanning Polaroids

One of my tutor’s suggestions for reworking A5 was to look at alternate camera technologies such as scanners and old digital cameras. As my old digital camera seems to have been thrown out, I investigated scanning on our basic HP inkjet.

It’s definitely a promising approach in that it gives me something in between the sheer physicality of the Polaroid and the modernity of the macro shots taken with my DSLR . Unlike the Polaroid, it’s digital so I can use it in other ways. I’m thinking more about a photobook, with a modern photo on one half of the spread and a scan on the other, probably offset, possibly with the two images both relating to the same original Polaroid. I could attach an actual Polaroid inside the front or back covers, using either Velcro dots or transparent cd wallets, to allow the photographs to be removed and handled.

On the scanned Polaroids I like the inverted images – it ties in with Fox Talbot’s invention of the negative. More to follow…

A5 – post Skype and pre written feedback initial thoughts

I need to do more on this work, neither me nor my tutor is exactly sure what that “more” is.

I think the content is ok, I don’t think I need to shoot more Polaroids.

My tutor suggested the following:

  • several practitioners to research (this was very helpful in freeing up my creativity once again)
  • looking at “time” as an aspect of the work and investigating making lower-res digital copies of the polaroids (backs I think) using either a scanner or an early digital camera. She observed that this would develop the idea of photographing Fox Talbot’s home with a camera that’s out of modern production. Thinking about it, I have the macro jpgs to represent the current technology.
  • thinking about a “perfect bound” book rather than my current loosely associated pages
  • She said that the fronts of the polaroids (ie the normal side) were rather less important to her on viewing than the altered backs. This allows me to explore other forms of presentation where the front is harder to access.
  • She liked the acrylic blocks and the way that one of them allowed the objects inside to move slightly. One option is to explore making use of more blocks.
  • More contextualisation. Her suggestions will help here, particularly the VR artist Mat Collishaw’s installation of a FT exhibition.
  • She kindly offered more feedback in the summer before I start putting everything together for assessment.

So where next? I have updated my post on the OCA forum. I will do a test scan and see if I can source a very basic digital camera. I need to decide how important the actual physical polaroid is to me in the presentation of this work. Am I happy to dispense with them and present for example scans, using the two acrylic objects to show the physical traces, in their almost museum context of being preserved in “glass”? I am wondering about a photobook, on thick paper, with one side printed with an image and the opposite side holding a polaroid that’s secured to the paper in some way (either removably or not). There’s the potential to match polaroids with the macro shot of the same back.

I need to pull the work together a bit more. I don’t necessarily want it to feel “resolved” but I do want it to feel unified.

Homage photographs from my archive

Both images below are from my Foundation blog

G&T, after Fischli & Weiss who made improbably balanced towers and models.



Katebook 6x6 grid collapsed layers
katebook in homage to Penelope Umbrico’s Many Leonards not Natman . Mine is a collection of Facebook profile pictures from people called Kate, hers is a set of portraits of people called Leonard who weren’t Leonard Natman.

Die-cutting school photos and considering shapes

Drizzly Easter holiday day, so I promised the girl the rare treat of an afternoon in my den with her pick of pens, die-shapes, and a selected pick of papers. This forced me to sit down with the die-cutting machine and try out a couple of ideas that have been on my mind.

I wanted to work with a rephotograph of an old school photo of me and do some die-cutting, manipulating the cutouts.  I’ve recently sadly decided that for the purposes of working with photographs, the most versatile dies to use are not the detailed asymmetric ones of particular objects (manuscript writing, kitschy hearts, fairies, flowers) but the comparatively boring ones of plain shapes. For a woman who is essentially all about the bling, this was a hard fact to accept. But, recent readings  and playings around Mobius strips, toroses and klein bottles have got me thinking about the deceptively simple nature of these shapes, and seeing more of the beauty and the potential in the simple. So multipacks of circles, ovals and yes, symmetrical hearts arrived today. I think I need to add in rectangles and squares too. The beauty of these shapes is that you can flip the cut-out shape over and re-insert it in the gap, thus reversing part of the image from front to back and vice versa. Circles and squares add the extra possibility of rotation, which I was keen to explore. I like the idea of an image cut into concentrate circles with the image staggering outwards, though I didn’t get quite as far as that today.

Ovals excite me tremendously, they have such a heritage with the whole vignette thing, the delicately painted miniatures, lockets, and even landscapes – Stefan Schaffeld told me about the landscapes made with the aid of a dark glass mirror and these were sometimes presented as ovals. So I think that will be next.

This is another area that I want to explore. School photos manage to combine the qualities of being both sacrosanct and ubiquitous. I’m going to pick some up from ebay and charity shops and continue my explorations with photos of people other than me. I am still mesmerised by the possibility of presenting both sides of a photograph on a single plane. On the middle photo you can see the Fuji branding on the shapes. It will be interesting to combine cuts from a photograph with for example cuts from a second photograph or other materials (thinking particularly of my atlas here, or combining portraits of myself and my daughter, as I briefly tried a while back, see below…)

Speaking of which, does anyone know the name for the 2d shape that looks like an off-centred polo mint? Would it be an off-centred circular frame?

Another thing to try arising from this work is to try it with Polaroids and seeing if there is any scope to include it in A5. The problem is getting the picture to hold together.

Photography by Stephen Bull, Routledge 2010

Edit – this unfinished book review ran away with itself. I’m posting it to show that I have read the book however as a review it’s unsatisfactory.

This book was recommended by my tutor as part of my A1 feedback. It is an introduction to critical theory for photography. It has found its way into my standard reference set but I would benefit from reading it again.

Once I got past the introduction/Chapter 1 I found it dense but readable, looking back through it I have gained a lot from reading it. There’s a lot of helpful definition and explanation, then into the later chapters I started getting ideas as to how I can apply this reading to my work. The following summarise my notes chapter by chapter.

Chapter 2 The Identity of Photography

  • The difference between nature and culture and how photography has interacted with them (beginning and end of the chapter)
  • John Szarkowski’s  five characteristics that form the essence of a photograph: thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point (p11)
  • Postmodernism – context over content. I found this helpful as I’m still trying to find my way with the characteristics of postmodern work.
  • Indexicality – the idea of a photograph as showing reality
  • Categories of signs Indexical (eg weathercock showing wind direction), Iconic (looks like but not caused by), Symbolic (does not look like and is not caused by).
  • Emblaming the instant (Bazin), “cloying melancholia”, a visual only device to either preserve life or remember a life that has passed.
  • Some images need spectators to exist, such as stereographs, daguerreotypes (need to be viewed from a particular angle). Also, you can’t see yourself in a camera obscura. Digital images are dematerialised – can’t be seen or even exist without appropriate technology
  • movement from fixed to transient images

Chapter 3 The meanings of photographs

  • Semiotics, signs, signifiers and signifieds – Saussure – signs make up meaning of language, it’s with signs that the communication of meaning happens.
  • Hjelmslev: denotation describes how signs communicate at the language level, connotation refers to the cultural specifics associated with that communication.
  • Photographs used in ads have to be very specific in meaning.
  • Anchor & relay text (anchor tells us the obvious, relay adds more detail that couldn’t be inferred from each component separately). Discourse is like a new, overarching context.
  • The gaze – gendered expectation of active male and passive female. Multiple looks supported in a single image.

Chapter 4 Photography for Sale

  • Much imagery is now to present an ambience rather than a product (contrast with early advertising which was all about the product). selling an idea without showing the product.
  • About 70% of everyday advertising uses stock images. Just a handful of companies eg Getty and Corbis own the rights to most stock images and many famous images.
  • Stock images show a harmonised, abstract (sanitised?) world view. Contrast to EBay which has much more traditional product photography. Personally I think this is because returns are harder on ebay so people are more explicit about showing their products caveat emptor.
  • image messages not always decoded as planned – may be dominant/preferred (understood as intended), negotiated (some meaning accepted, some questioned), oppositional (message rejected).
  • West – snapshots are the ultimate commodity “possessing the aura of the unique whilst also being infinitely reproducible”.


“no-one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget” One Hour Photo

Instagram is starting to pick up some of the categories that Kenyon says are usually missed out. Instagram is starting to show funerals, including images from funeral directors (my comment not from the book).

People tend to take the same snapshots. and they tend to be limited to the positive.

Chalfen – the decisive 30 seconds (the time it would take to take 3000 snapshots at average shutter speed of 1/100sec.  Personally I think there would be more than 3000 images per person now.

It’s not a true representation, how can it be?

Kodak culture – the company shaped what, where and who we photograph. The Kodak girl was the early prototype of the mother recording the family (?my reading). The Kodak moment gave way to the Nokia moment. Instagram seems outside the scope of this book, I would venture that the Instagram moment supersedes both  – the shared image is completely agnostic of the device used to make it and the filter presets standardise all images further. Tags allow the sorting and retrieval of images on a global scale. If it’s not on Instagram it didn’t happen” is disconcertingly similar to the Kodak line “A vacation without a Kodak is a vacation wasted.”

The Victorians said “prunes” rather than “cheese” to get a smaller mouth (worth trying?)