PHO701: Research – Contextual

Write-up responses to what you have seen, read or watched
Reading list: Photography Changes Everything


So really here, some notes to self in ramping up this area of the CRJ. The discussion below leads to a diagrammatic representation when capturing context.

Leaving behind the Positions and Practice Module and moving forward into the second module, Sustainable Prospects, I need to develop this area of the blog.

I had begun with notes I kept in word-processed files and that were made purely for my own interest and as such they were not of a publishable standard without further work. I’ve used the first module to setup a blog and get used to it’s structure and operation which we were allowed to do as the CRJ was not initially a marked assignment where now it is becoming so.

My moving from a scientific and management background into arts education will and has required a period of adaption especially as a number of the terms are unfamiliar, not only as definitions of the scope of what we need to write about, but also as a practice, these are areas that seemed unfamiliar to me, until I stopped to think through what the purpose might be.

I guess in my earlier design work with systems and processes, there is a way of working that entails the creation of a Context Diagram (CORE is an example although it was used for capturing COmmon REquirements). Perhaps at a philosophical level, the thinking approach is not too different between system thinking and the arts? If I proceed with the concepts I know and build on or adapt them for this course as required. It is a way of starting, meaning I can offer something forward and it can be reasonably structured and give Tutors or others scope to decide if my approach satisfies what is normally expected, without my going overboard.

PHO701: Week 12 Proposal and Audience in Practice Tutorials Submit Proposal and Portfolio

Week 12

I didn’t think I’d catch-up by this point (with technical circumstances previously mentioned).

Well, I’d never have planned it this way. Working up to the 11th hour to get my project proposal assignment completed and then with little time to spare assembling a work in progress portfolio. 

Positions and Practice Research Project v1_Redacted

(no project dates and costs)

Developmental Portfolio

(work in progress portfolio assignment)

The work was quite challenging, but there again, I suppose it is meant to be. It can be quite a balancing act, trying to get some decent resolution images together within a file size constraint. If I did this again, which am sure I will do shortly, I would allocate time for image sizing.

Well, there we are, it’s down to experience, that’s something we certainly gain in abundance.

For the project proposal, the most extraordinary thing for me was managing to summarise the bulk of the work in just 600 words when there was a 1500 word allocation. Of course, when I looked through my notes and mind map, there was still plenty to add, and I got there.

In retrospect, you’d think that starting early and building in contingency would solve the deadline problem. However, the information we gain in support is progressively administered to us. First attempts can be added to with each passing week.

My planned project ideas seemed so confident at the beginning, but then my plans were shaken from the foundations. I seriously began to doubt my choice. In my own terms, the Academic worth needed to be apparent. What sustained the original was a degree of preparation combined with a planned commemoration in Perth Scotland. I had considered project ideas that were totally different, but something in my soul took me back to the Commemorative Historical work. I thought more and more seriously about what would be needed to make it work.

A breakthrough came with the introduction of genetic analysis that has enabled me to bridge between the present generations and those who took part in a significant world event, over 100 years ago. The original commemorative history I’d focused on, has been retained, but for reasons of story. The DNA side has caused several changes not least, shifting emphasis to my maternal line on learning how mitochondrial DNA and X-chromosomes pass between generations. The focus remained on the same world event. I’m aware still that the whole thing could be thrown up in the air as I progress through the course and I steep myself in photographic theory and art.

Quite a revelation for me in terms of my approach was the example set through an, in conversation, interview with Ian Walker, surrealist and academic critic. Ian is a seasoned critic and demonstrated, by Guest Lecture, how I needed to strengthen my own analysis and critique. Ian can discern what is surreal from what only looks surreal. Also, not all of the work of a particular surrealist may be to one’s taste giving room to express a personal view. Ian also demonstrated how fairly everyday settings, containing the right elements, introduce the surreal. For me, surrealism had been simply an example of artists freedom of expression while pushing the boundaries of public acceptance.

PHO701: Week 9 Introducing Critical Theory Submit Oral Presentation

Well here we are Week 9 and the Oral Presentation has been submitted (redirects to my portfolio site).

Fingers crossed for good luck. Best wishes to fellow students. This is our first assessment. There are two more during August (which begins tomorrow. Where does the time go when you are engaged in something like this).

I’ve been catching up with the Guest Presentations on research theory and abstract photography. In the first Welby’s presentation challenged my thinking as of course I thought I already knew plenty on the subject.

Welby presented a broad range of methods. broader than the formal methods I’d previously learned.

He focussed on methodologies appropraite to the arts. Thank you, Welby.

I have been working through the course in reverse order while catching up from being away on my project.

I was quietly provoked by the Finnish Abstract work presented by Laura Nissenen. The student audience had been given direction earlier in the course to find something meaningful in Abstract if they were going to continue with it. In a sense this put them off continuing. Laura’s advice was to go ahead anyway and follow one’s path. In my case I’m on an
earlier module. Did I want to be hammering out the argument in favour of abstract work in the future modules? While work should continue to evolve (and intuitively is the word on the street following Sian’s recent lecture), then I probably need to be applying constraints at the soonest.
Maybe Abstract, in my case, is self-involved and what I do needs to reach out more. I intend to run Abstract and Close-up photography side by side on my proposed project. These methods are creative and stand-in for not being able to recreate large scale scenes from France and Flanders and as a research question and benchmark these methods on a defined narrative project already researched. I know at the outset, the outcome cannot be definitive, but it seems increasing more so with the time that it is my destiny, after all, to do this work. I would hope any failings would not be critical. and that to make findings more widely definitive continuation of this research would need to take place in a variety of other contexts than my historical, anthropological one.

PHO701: Week 8 Contexts and Strategies in Practice

So my last week shoot took place at the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) Association Castle and Museum in Perth. Thank you to all the accommodating staff who gave access to the archives and more particularly put up with me popping up with my camera all throughout my time there. Although the volunteers are not necessarily connected to the former regiment, their welcoming ways, and how they took time out to talk with me was outstanding.

There was a quiet, moving ceremony for the Black Watch soldiers that fell on that day 100 years earlier. Eight thousand crosses had already been laid and 1,000 more remained and for only three months of war. I represented my family and laid a simple wooden cross with a poppy in memory of Adam Cosh. The cross was laid alongside three others on that day. It was quite apt. Adam’s elder sister is my great grandmother Helen. As permitted under Scottish Law, as a child, I laid laid her body to rest in the cemetery on the hill between Gelston and Castle Douglas.

In the soldiers’ prayer is the line, “To fight and not to heed the wounds”. This was quite moving when read out as both Adam and his brother Richard were wounded, time and time again and continued to fight to the end. As perhaps the last of a group of true warriors, repeatedly returned to battle until finally the price was paid.

In the case of Adam, he perished in the last battle before the opposing army consolidated and retreated, abandoning their lines and the tide of the war began to turn towards its conclusion.

Others families I listened to during the visit, had impactful stories of their own to tell. In one case the family had only a few words, merely naming and identifying their family member. They reached out to help make links. Another with an interest in nursing, rightly represented the efforts of nurses and also recalled how women stood in the streets of Dundee, wailing at the loss of a whole generation of able-bodied young men. The current generations combine in being the last to retain the connection with people from this historical past.

Royal patronage continues — the castle and museum displays marker stones to this effect.

PHO701: Week 6 Draft Oral Presentations (live presentations for formative feedback)

Draft Version of my Oral Presentation

At last, my draft presentation is ready to view and is available here:: Oral Presentation

Further refinement is necessary to shorten the play length by 40 seconds and to rebuild the file with lower resolution photographs to get the filesize down.

The present draft shows an audio symbol throughout and serves to mark this for me as an early draft.

Beginnings – I came back to photography later on

Experimenting with media, a TEST ONLY file Beginnings been made ahead of the review presentations and serves to explain how I was gripped by photography.

Love is Real Not Fade AwayGreiving

IMG_0852The following link Taster is an end to end production TEST ONLY at this early stage, ahead of the review of our presentations.


Some media have been combined that provide a 30s clip relating to the project. Now I’ve tested out the tools on desktop and have worked out the linkages and controls I can now focus on incorporating salient content.
I was asked to write a related piece, a conversation recalled from many years ago about the subject of my new project. I place the text here alongside the Taster video. The length of text means it will be excluded from the Oral.

I wrote this:

Scottish Roll of Honour, Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle
circa 1976. On the return home and now with my Father, and him talking about the visit I’d just made there. The Memorial is a great outpouring of the Scottish people for the many relatives lost in the War.

Did you see the book?
Their names are listed there.
I went with my Mother when I was just a young boy. We looked through so many pages. And found both their names, Richard Cosh death 29 Nov 1914 The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) Pte, and Adam Cosh death 19 Jul 1918 The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) A/Sgt.
It was a long time ago and I didn’t know them. We’d never met.
I’d only heard my Mother talk about the boys. The Brothers that died in the War.
I went back once to see them again. It was with your Mother.
The book was still there and we found them. We saw their names.

… about Richard and Adam Cosh, The Black Watch Regiment (Royal Highlanders).
“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

PHO701: Project Development

Project Development    

Although this has been a difficult aspect of the course for me to hone, it is clear now that the project would need to meet the course requirement but specifically enable me to work week by week adding more work to the portfolio, shooting, editing and generally developing the work whilst creating engaging work to a very good standard.

I say this given my first selection of project which initially was deemed to imply multiple location visits, many more than would be practical to conduct within economic and other constraints. Being prepared to explore and research a wider range of possibilities, yes something much more local and accessible had to have a great deal of practical appeal yet maybe the possibilities lacked the initial motivation and engagement and may be produce lower levels of viewer interest.

So far then, I relate to a very personal family story, 100 years on from the loss of two brothers from southern Scotland who died on the battlefields along the Belgian and French border in 1914 and in 1918. I felt this had such deep-seated and personal impact at first that this had to be the wrong choice for a project that required wider acceptance. But going back over it there is a genuine level of engagement and a sense of authenticity, that I would hope other families remembering their lost ones may perhaps relate to. I’ll return to this further on after a look at the reserve option. Yes two projects, each in competition with the other whilst I determine the true feasibility of them.

My more local option of contrasting a town in Metro land with its Old Town, compared with another town close by that also has an Old Town. These are not to be confused with areas that implement government strategy for new town development. These are towns that have old towns. An experimental shoot seemed quickly to draw out comparison so potentially not a large enough body of work here. Originality was a challenge because further research showed the work of a professional freelance journalist had already taken place nearby and so the kind of template design I wish to work to I saw had already been used.

When looking at this as a potential cluster project, a series of smaller projects taken together, another option emerged relating to a UK wide charity with workshops and a shop in the area and for which I was predisposed to engage with having loosely researched the topic over a two-year timeframe. I’d once made contact and would need to re-establish this to determine if I could be embedded as a photographer at their location, whilst also trying to assess the value of the work that could be made and whether this would be strong enough. As smoothly as I would wish this to go, there is a challenge already apparent. Within the area I had stumbled across one of their meetings with a thriving audience and professional presentation setup, whilst I also noted promotional aspects displayed locally, and saw their presence again, this time on the web where they employed a storytelling approach. Finally, they turned up in a feature within a local village publication. Summing these observations indicates a strong publicity element is already present and indeed this is essential to their continued operation. So perhaps less scope existed than I originally thought to make a valued contribution through image making and narrative. Also, the work would involve a documentary or photojournalistic approach and for me these might end the project with less creative work than I’d wish and that would be needed to satisfy our postgraduate degree level requirement.

What I’ve resolved to do is as indicated, hedge my bets and take both the centenary and the charity options forward into a feasibility assessment and decide on a more focused and singular direction based on further interaction with the subjects including trialling the image making at a practical level.

As noted, here is some further evolution of the centenary project. The first intention is to create art from photographic practice, through image manipulation, and handpainting on layers. This from practice efforts had already and quite obviously proven to be time-consuming and I regularly find myself quoting a success or hit rate of let’s say one in 20 photographs which prove to be amenable to such processing given that a good result is needed. I now take this as part of the centenary project and liken the proposed art to chapter divider pages although at one stage mistakenly I compared the introduction of these images to be somehow equivalent to illuminated texts where the initial page character is in fact a drawing, but this was going a stretch too far. However, another likening occurred to me from the filmmaking world and film shorts that led me to a photographic theme that could run parallel within the centenary project. No nothing to do with actually making a film, but just a lesson learned from watching shorts. Stay with this and I’ll explain. There are common visual constraints shared. If I were to photograph artefacts representing pieces from a century ago I’m likely to be scuppered by the background present whether that be a museum environment or even studio. The film I’m thinking of not unlike others I’d seen chose a post-apocalyptic theme. Well of course this handily masks the background as trees and shadows and an element of mist quite obviously save the student filmmaker the cost of implementing a more extensive backdrop. In my case I decided on working close-up. The effect is similar, it’s just that here I’m eliminating distracting backgrounds. This can be done by hard cropping although I plan to use a high quality macro lens for close-ups.

Whilst this is all very convenient and actually quite practical, there has to be more to it and this is what I envisaged and seems to fit. When we’re placed in a wide-open environment whether it be the fields of France or the fields of Galloway my take is that our minds cut out those wonderful landscapes and our attention is drawn to the detail. In the context of an army fighting in WW I these details would be many, so many as to provide almost endless material. It could be the rifling of a barrel from an artillery piece, spokes from its wheels, even the eyelets and laces of a soldier’s boots. This is more than a mere convenience it is how we focus, that thumbnail sized area at arms length. That’s how much we really see and what we see and what they saw on this scale are the things that really matter, visual images that define their world. I’ve taken some initial photographs as proof of concept and hope this supplementary work will in fact become additive to any art produced and hopefully I can exhibit my own style of picture taking  and create interest for the image viewer or indeed book reader.

Getting to this point has not been easy at all. Having received a jolt from shortened timescales and clashing priorities of a location shoot in Scotland and the re-planning that has been necessary, I feel now that I have a plan even if I have hedged, and the next challenge is the oral assessment. More of that elsewhere. I know the project element is perhaps only a one third part of the assessment but for me there was a conflict in priorities which first had to be resolved. I now believe I can explain with a certain coherence my development in digital photography, its influences and now an onward progression into the project discussion.

PHO701: Week 5 Power and Responsibilities

I have learned to use the triangle approach in assessing aspects of photography, such as power and impact.

Also, I’ve become aware of objectification of the subject and amongst other gazes, the male gaze. I’ve taken on board aspects relating to minors amongst other vulnerable groups, including people of disability. I’ve taken on board how the photographic supply chain runs through various parties from photographer/sponsor to end-users along with an element of repurposing of the original intent.

I also read (or re-read) the AOP Publication Beyond the Lens, which in a sense although a realistic portrayal of photographic practice does invite a slightly cynical view of the economics of the profession. Remuneration is very much in decline for the individual photographer.

PHO701: Week 4 Collaboration (group project)

Already Week 4 and collaboration is underway.

Looking For Derges

I joined a group just in time. The other two members had established a framework for exchanging images of place and other places with the intent of creating an imaginary third place from these.
The lead for the idea had been impressed by the camera-less work of artist Susan Derges. Moreover, it was necessary to catch up with the artist’s work. Fortunately, the group had done the artist research, and so we settled and watched two feature videos.
We met online as a collaboration group and soon after the practical work was started outside in dappled sunlight. Soon a set of images were created and contributed to the group.

In a broader introductory exercise, everyone had contributed a single image with accompanying text/sentence. I’d chosen loneliness, an epidemic of the current age in which the lonely and the rest of society seem destined to drive themselves apart.
So back in the dappled light, I picked single petals of a daisy, buttercup and violet along with a single strand of grass and tip of a fern frond. Somehow I felt I’d managed to incorporate the loneliness theme. I took my version of a petri dish, in this case, an inverted cake tin lid, from Betty’s, the contents of which had been rather good I recall. I’d wanted to include water and pick up surface tension effects on edges, reflections and texture from the tin and shadow in the water. Ultimately I flooded the dish and watched for the natural elements to group together. I tried to force this I suppose and only served to start to clean the canvas as it were, so ultimately images homed in on single elements.
So I had set up a macro lens and was soon photographing. Initially, I started with single water droplets on the tin and looked for the observer in the reflection (from Derges the observer observed) but the droplets soon dried out. Another droplet was placed almost directly on top of the water stain. As I worked in the outdoors, dust and pollen fell onto the miniature set. A couple of reasonably deep themes emerged, signs of things past, now replaced and dust as a metaphor for our mortality and pollen as a metaphor for renewal and replacement.
At this stage, I was shooting images with layering in mind. All contributors did this. We then layered the layers where each image was two layers in its own right.
Probably the effect was busier than the more simplified images captured by Derges, but with a more extended project, we could have worked to simplify.
Here is an image from the collaboration in which I was mindful of Derges work, e.g. of Gibbous Moon and Ash (trees). In the following, one photographer’s image with marigolds, a more subtle background from another photographer’s image of rock texture, layered with my photograph based on water droplets.

The collaboration had been seamless as we synchronised our efforts, and as a postgraduate group, we adapted easily to the need to cooperate and help each other. We recognised and adhered to deadlines. We attended three webinar meetings, including the final presentation with other groups and our module tutor. We received a reasonably warm reception for the final work, which was viewed as an ultimate collaboration in stills photography.