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Context and Narrative Reflection

Out of all the topics covered in this course, which felt most comfortable to you?

If I am totally honest, the area I found most ‘comfortable’ was researching and writing the essay for assignment four. I guess this is because I’ve been using this form of written communication for a long time, where as visual communication is still a relatively new thing for me and I’m still learning about it. I find writing comes quite naturally, however if I were asked to give a speech, that would be a totally different thing altogether!

Did you discover anything completely new to you? What was it?

The idea of exploring the self and self portraiture was something I have never done before and I found that really interesting; to turn the camera around on myself and reflect on the self. At points I feel I may have taken it a little bit further than I would have liked, maybe said too much with out keeping a safe distance from my work. I guess what I’m saying is I am learning about personal boundaries and having some degree of detachment or separation from my work, if that makes sense?

I have learnt to be humble, especially when learning. I know I’m not the best photographer in the world and I have so very much to learn with theory, practice and technique. There will always be something new to learn. The more I learn the more I want to find out and I think that passion is what keeps me going in the tough times of self doubt.

Learning more about staged photography and ‘constructed realities’ in part 5 of the unit has been enlightening. I love it. There have been a couple of times where I wasn’t sure I could do this, some contemporary art photography really isn’t my cup of tea. Then you see some work by a photographer and you immediately connect with it, this then reignites your flame and your interest. I think the whole degree is a voyage of discovery.

I have liked getting suggestions from my tutor about photographers to check out.

Which area enabled you to come closest to finding your personal voice?

I would probably say assignment three. I felt I really started to explore something bigger than snapshots. I felt I was digging deep into something inside. I wouldn’t say I perfected it but I learnt a lot from getting out there and just trying out something new.

I found the 2 week diary was fascinating. Having researched some other photographers and artists I know when they do their own projects they keep journals or diaries. I can see how this can give more depth to your photographic work. I like the idea of further exploring the idea of connecting my photography with the written word.

Which area seemed furthest away from who you want to be as a photographer?

With out a doubt the part of the course I really wasn’t keen on was Street photography. Even now it makes me feel uncomfortable thinking about it. Having said that I gave it a good go and I think I did it in my own way. I just don’t like the idea of getting in someones grill with a camera or taking photographs of people in the street covertly. It just feels weird to me. I appreciate it maybe other photographers ‘thing’ and that’s totally fine, it’s just not for me. I have seen some amazing street photography in my research. I watched a great documentary/movie called ‘Everybody Street’. Some amazing street photography and I definitely get it a lot more than I did before, there is a bit of a buzz to street photography. Linking it back into my music studies it reminds me a little bit of improvisation or ad-lib in theatre studies. However, I always preferred a well prepared, practised set or a well rehearsed performance. Having said that it can be different if I’m photographing animals. Landscape photography its a similar deal for me, preparation is key, you can however be pleasantly surprised. Maybe this is why I have enjoyed the staged photography so much.

There were a couple of other moments where I saw some photographs or photographers work and I just thought…nope this isn’t for me, it doesn’t resonate with my soul. I think that’s totally fine though and I’m learning to take more of a balanced and objective view about art that I’m not that keen on.

What were the main things you learnt? Were there any epiphany moments?

Its ok to admit you don’t like something but you need to question why so you can learn from it.

Storytelling and documentary photograph was a massive new thing for me. I have so much to learn about storytelling I appreciate that but I love the possibilities, whether that’s from a fictional or non-fictional storytelling perspective. A lot of the photography I have done in the past has been single images but over the past couple of years I have enjoyed pulling together stories through my photography, even on just a personal basis sharing images on Facebook with friends, I think how can I tell the story to my viewers/friends of my adventures and the treks I go on.

Will you return to any of the assignments from this course at a later date? Did you
feel as if you were on the cusp of anything?

I really enjoyed the aspects of exploring the self and psychology, psychological tension either in my own work or observations of other photographers work.

I liked the idea I was exploring in assignment three with thinking of the woods like the mind. I would like to explore this more in the future and come back to it. The woods, nature and the environment are a massive part of who I am and something I am really passionate about so I want to explore this a lot more in the future.

I have really enjoyed Context and Narrative. I would say more than the first unit I studied with the OCA. Part of this is down to the first year being a real shell-shock to the system. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about different photographers, storytelling and learning to read photographs. I feel I have made mistakes along the way but I have learnt from them, it’s all part of developing as an artist.

The unit has been as much about developing as an individual, as it has been about photography, maybe more so. I have made some massive personal achievements, which may seem insignificant to others but it has helped me grow as a person which I think will in turn help me develop as a photographer. I have seen some amazing exhibitions over the past year in London and I’m so happy that I managed to get along to these, overcoming some personal barriers in the process. I have done a lot of reading over the unit as well and viewing as much photography as I possibly can.

I have some apprehension and anxieties about my next unit ‘Identity and Place’ in particular about photographing people/portraits but I’m sure with the help and support of my next tutor and the OCA I will be in good hands.





Assignment Four: “A picture is worth a thousand words”

Write an essay of 1,000 words on an image of your choice.

The image can be anything you like, from a famous art photograph to a family snapshot, but please make sure that your chosen image has scope for you to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

If you choose a well-known photograph, take time to research its context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc. Add all this information into your essay to enable you to draw a conclusion from your own interpretation of the facts.

It’s not enough to write an entirely descriptive or historical account of your chosen image. You must use the facts as a means to draw your own conclusions about what the picture means to you. You may wish to apply what you’ve learned in Part Four regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc., but be sure you get the definitions correct.

Follow thought associations and other images that relate to the discussion, directly or indirectly. Look at the broader context of the image and its background and specific narrative as well as your personal interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for you. Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way. Allow yourself to enjoy the process!

There are many good examples of writing about single images (e.g. Sophie Howarth’s Singular Images), which you may find helpful to read before attempting your own. Take note of the level of critical analysis and aim for a similar approach in your own writing. You may write about personal connections but ensure you express yourself in a formally analytical and reflective manner.

Gregory Crewdson – ‘Ophelia’


*Untitled (Ophelia) 2001 by Gregory Crewdson b. 1962

I was first introduced to the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson as a recommendation by my tutor, whilst studying ‘Expressing Your Vision’. I picked up a copy of the book ‘Twilight’. I put some of my thoughts on the Twilight series in a blog post here. I have decided to pick the photograph ‘Untitled 2001 (also known as Ophelia)’ from the Twilight series to critically analyse.

Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962) is an American photographer, best known for his tableau/staged photographic work, often portraying tense psychological scenes that wouldn’t go a miss as a still from a science fiction movie by Spielberg or an episode of Chris Carter’s X-files. Crewdson links a lot of his influence to over hearing the sessions his father would have in the family home as a Psychoanalyst, sowing the seed of interest in the unconscious mind. Other influences on Crewdson include the art of American realist painter Edward Hopper, Crewdson relating a ‘similar emptiness’ in Hoppers work to his own. The American Photographer Walter Evans is another influence, in ‘Capturing a Movie Frame ‘ Crewdson speaks of Walter Evans’  ‘interest in the American vernacular of ordinary life…of indigenous architecture…’ going on to say ‘I feel in my work I have a similar thing that’s kind of controlling aesthetic, to make a perfect façade and then then..sort of…the deep undercurrent of that, what exists beneath the surface.’

In 1998 Crewdson started his work on the Twilight series. This would be a shift from his earlier work, moving into more of a directorial role, working with a large team, akin to a film crew for a major movie. The series has a powerful psychological narrative throughout, often depicting dramatic paranormal scenarios, in many ways the photographs are left open to interpretation by the spectator. The series was shot on a large format Sinar F1 8 x10 Camera with a mix of 300mm and 210mm lenses.

The question I find myself asking with this work is, despite knowing it is staged, is it meant to portray a version of reality, the truth or is this some form of dreamlike, otherworldly interpretation on reality, is this a snapshot of the unconscious mind?

The image Untitled (Ophelia) 2001 from the series Twilight shows the scene of a flooded ground floor, it looks like a living room/lounge. Central within the image is a woman in a night gown, she is floating on her back on the surface of the dark, murky water. Her skins is pale blue, she looks dead, cold to the touch. Her eyes are open but she looks vacant in a transcendent state of mind.

The photograph is influenced by Ophelia from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, found dead in a brook “incapable of her own distress” following the death of her father Polonius and a love denied. In ‘Photography the whole story’ Juliet Hacking references the 1851-1852 painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais as an example of this reoccurrence in art of the woman in the water.

As I deconstruct the image I can see to the left of the woman a coffee table with a glass of water, a bottle of pills, a romantic novel by Nora Robert titled Inner Harbour (1999), there is an ashtray with cigarette butts and what looks like a glass ornament in the shape of a lotus flower. Could this be a suicide or an accidental overdose? Perhaps these pills are sedatives and this isn’t reality, she is dreaming, weightless, motionless upon the water. The sofa behind looks disrupted, a blanket and a couple of pillows lie on the sofa as if someone has been sleeping there or reading a romantic novel wrapped up under a nice warm blanket.

Moving through the scene my eye is then drawn to the clock on the bookcase behind, the time seems to indicate 5:05, my eyes are then immediately drawn over to the right to the windows, is this 5am or 5pm? Then I’m reminded of the title of the series, Twilight so my assumption is this is 5pm but it could just as easily be 5am. A catastrophic event has happened here. The room is flooded so how are the lights still on? Why have they not short circuited? Upon the book case are a selection of books but I can’t see the titles of the books from the print I have, there’s a record player with a selection of vinyl. Upon the top of the book case is a wedding photograph, could this be the love lost?

From the book case I move through the scene in a clockwise manor and I’m presented with the stair case, to which my eye leads me down the steps. It’s at this point I observe the mould and decay on the back wall below the stairs, has this water been here a while? How long has this lady been lying here? Why has no one found her yet? Does she have any friends or relatives that care for her?

Above the stair case is a series of 3 photographs; 2 of women and 1 of a man, placed centrally. The image of the man seems to bear stronger significance, it looks illuminated, is this a father or a husband perhaps? Could this be a reference to Polonius from Hamlet? Moving down the stairwell I see a pink dressing gown draped over the banister, a window above is bathed in golden light, a side cabinet lies on the landing of the stairs, a red torch sits on top of it. Why would the lady need a torch if the lights are on? On the step below is a slipper, followed by the second slipper on the step below that.

To the right of the stair case there appears to be a lampshade in the water. I wonder if this could this be the source of the ladies demise. Did the lampshade drop into the water, did she get electrocuted upon entering the water? There is an open window above, the wind may have knocked the lampshade over. Or is this just a red herring? There are a series of coats on the wall to the right and the windows of the front door again show golden light shining through.,

Coming full circle I am drawn to the old telephone and battered armchair, half submerged in water then back to the motionless woman on top of the water.

Reflection plays a primary role within the whole construction of the image. The water acts as a psychological mirror, its dark blackness gives a sinister emptiness to the entire shot. The water could have been clear or clean to signify purity but the darkness feels intentional, lucid, the blackness of the soul. For me, this is what stings me, this is what Roland Barthes calls the Punctum. The dark reflecting water acts as a means of self reflection, looking deeply inwards at the soul, it draws me back to the image to ponder my own existence.

With such an image as this it is hard to find a definitive conclusion to the storytelling within the image, there is an underlying mystery which I think asks the spectator to form their own conclusions rather than have the photographer (‘the operator’) provide all of the answers within the image. Having watched various interviews with Crewdson this seems a likely conclusion, he likes to put clues within the frame but leave the mystery of the solution to the viewer and to interpretation.  For me it poses more questions than it answers, partly this infuriates me but for the most part I absolutely love it for this very reason. I think it’s this emotional conflict or tension that makes this such a fascinating image.

This draws me back to my original query, dream or reality? I am split on how to interpret the image. On the one hand, like a detective I can see the clues/signs within the image to make me come to the conclusion this could be an accidental death or a suicide. However, I prefer the idea that she is dreaming. She walked down the stairs and kicked off her slippers, took some sleeping pills and started to read a book, huddled up under a blanket on the sofa she slowly drifted off. What we are seeing is a mix of reality and her subconscious mind, trapped between the spaces of reality and another dimension.

Word Count: 1396

Craig Sinclair



Twilight Photographs by Gregory Crewdson my thoughts whilst studying the OCA Unit ‘Expressing Your Vision’:


  • Barthes, R, 1980. Camera Lucida.
  • Cotton, C, 2014. The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art). 3. Thames & Hudson.
  • Hacking, J, 2012. Photography: The Whole Story. 0. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Higgins, J, 2013. Why it Does Not Have to be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained. Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Howarth, S. 2005. Singular images: essays on remarkable photographs. 1st Ed. Tate Publishing.
  • Kirstein, L, 2012. Walker Evans: American Photographs: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition. Anv. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  • Moody, R, 2002. Twilight: Photographs by Gregory Crewdson. First. Harry N. Abrams.
  • Shakespeare, W, 1997. Hamlet (Wordsworth Classics). Annotated edition. Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Web research:

*Image of Untitled (Ophelia) 2001 by Gregory Crewdson b. 1962 reproduced for academic purposes. Copyright belongs to the respective owner.

Project 1 The language of photography

Before you read any further, look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes
about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured
this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure
contribute to this meaning?

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974. Copyright Elliott Erwitt

**Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974. Copyright Elliott Erwitt

The subject matter is placed centrally within the frame of the image with a low viewpoint, suggesting the photographer was either crouched at the height of the little dog or that the original image was larger and has been cropped. There are 3 subjects within the frame but we only see the face of the small dog, which gives visual weight to this particular subject; its importance is more significant. 3 is kind of a magic number in photography, a so called ‘rule of odds’; 1, 3, 5, 7. It is more visually pleasing to the eye.

All of the subjects are placed in the bottom third of the image with the small dog sitting perfectly on the bottom right hand side following the ‘rule of thirds’ or earlier known as ‘the golden section’. So if you were to draw the rule of thirds over the image, the image would sit snugly into the three distinct sections. The visual weight of the image is in the central third of the image.

On first glance at the image I assumed it was 2 people and a little dog but on closer inspection you I noticed it was a dog and I assumed that the 2nd larger dog may be on 2 legs. My final thought is that the larger dog is only partly in the frame with the front legs in the image and the rear legs off to the left of the image, as you are looking at it.

The image did make me laugh the first time I saw it, what’s with the little hat on the dog as well?! Its funny and a bit daft! I was then drawn to the significance of this little dog as the main character within the frame. We can’t see the face or body of the owner (assumed through the lead on the dog leading out of the frame) or the other larger dog. If they had been included within the frame the smaller dog would not have played the staring role in this image but as it stand it does. It is essentially, physically,  the smallest subject but the framing and composition of the image makes it the most important part.

John Berger makes some interesting observations about our fascination with looking at animals in his book ‘Ways of Looking‘ which I feel are relevant:

‘With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.’  (Chapter 1 ‘Why look at animals?’ from Ways of Looking’)

On viewing the picture of the dog we would like to assume what the dog is thinking, ‘did she really drag me out of the house wearing this ridiculous hat?’ but we can only assume to know. The owner has almost tried to humanise the dog by dressing it up in clothing but it’s essentially an animal and we can’t ever know what its thinking.


**Featured image: Elliot Erwitt New York 1974


Exhibition Visit – Gillian Wearing 4th May 2017 National Portrait Gallery, London


Rain on the window from our hotel room


We also went to see Les Mis on the Wednesday. It was amazing!

We arrived at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday afternoon. I was excited to visit, I had never been before. We didn’t have lots of time on this visit so decided to check in our bags and go straight to the Gillian Wearing expedition, we paid for our tickets and headed to the exhibition.

In the entrance we saw the newly acquired portrait of Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson. I’m not a big fan personally, I don’t particularity dislike him either but my wife likes his music. I must admit the portrait is incredible.



Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson

As we entered the exhibition I was in high spirits, ready to document my visit for the learning blog on C & N. Unfortunately as I started to take some snapshots as a record for my blog I was rudely approached by a member of staff and told something along the lines of ‘there is no photography in the photography exhibition’ I must admit I was taken aback initially and also contemplated the irony of the statement. I tried to explain I was a student but before I could say anything else, I was told it didn’t matter and I wasn’t allowed to take shots on my i-Phone. For the entire remainder of our visit around the Gillian Wearing exhibition we were followed and observed by staff from the gallery, making us both feel really uncomfortable. I’m not that great socially at the best of times and it took a lot of effort and courage for me just to get to the exhibition in London with so many people but it just made me feel horrible and not welcome in the slightest. I also find when I get anxious I struggle to remember things so the snapshots usually help. The whole experience left me with a bit of a foul taste in my mouth but I tried to take in some of the photographs on display as best I could.

The bad experience had me contemplating what the artist would have thought, what her position would have been and also what my own thoughts would be if I were displaying my work in an exhibition and someone was taking snapshots. I mean, I wasn’t looking to steal the artists work….all of the images are available to view on line anyway if I really wanted to, there are countless images of the exhibition online elsewhere under the hash-tag #wearingcahun. I only wanted to document my visit visually.  Was I asked permission to be filmed whilst I was attending the gallery? No, however I was…should I have protested being filmed without my consent? I have now visited a number of exhibitions and I’ve never had a problem with taking shots for my learning log. Some probably think I am making a big deal about this but I feel it’s a really important issue.


I have no other images to support the visit. I viewed the work by Claude Cahun but I was more interested in the images by Gillian Wearing, I was interested to see some of her work as it has been covered in this unit of my degree, ‘Context and Narrative‘.

I enjoyed seeing the Family portraits series Album in large scale print, they just make more sense in person seeing them so big on a wall rather than in my study books. I find the use of masks quite creepy and unsettling but its a really inventive way of doing self portraits. It’s amazing how she takes on the role of the other family members. It questions identity, gender and roles within families but also the links that connect the family chain. My wife observed how the faces looked different yet you can see the link of the same person through the eyes (my wife didn’t initially know about the masks but she spotted the eyes) she said ‘these eyes look like a younger persons eyes’ when looking at the image of Wearings father. There was also a fascinating series of Polaroid shots of Wearing taken over a number of years starting from the 1980’s up to 2005, all compiled together in one display, I found it was good to see the visual development of the artist over a long period of time, they are essentially all ‘selfies’. There were also images Wearing had ‘recreated’ of some of her ‘idols’ again using masks.

I must admit I went into the gallery not really being a fan of the artists work but I left feeling I had a better understanding, appreciation and respect for her work.

There were also some great portrait images on display at the gallery by David Gwinnutt ‘Before we were Men’.



Trying to collect my thoughts after the gallery visit


Experimenting with the 360 panoramic feature on the i-Phone

Its definitely worth a visit to see this exhibition, its on until 29th May 2017. I hope next time its a more enjoyable experience.


National Portrait Gallery London

Part 3 – Project 3 Self-absented portraiture


Go to the artist’s website and look at the other images in Shafran’s series.

You may have noticed that Washing-up is the only piece of work in Part Three
created by a man. It is also the only one with no human figures in it, although family members are referred to in the captions.

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?

I had observed earlier in part three of C & N that the images presented were all taken by women.

No it didn’t surprise me in the slightest that these photographs were taken by a man. I am married to a Chef, she uses every possible utensil in our kitchen when she cooks, so I feel the pain!  I want a dish washer. I am of the belief that it’s an outdated and other generation perspective that women do the washing up and men don’t.

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

Perhaps gender can affect the way you see things in the world around you but it’s just like a whole bunch of different factors and possibilities. Your background, cultural beliefs, political thoughts, sexuality, religious or non-religious beliefs, etc, etc. It’s a melting pot of different things, for me it’s not one isolated factor, that is unless you intentionally want to make it an important factor with in your work, its part of your message.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

I think the exclusion of people within the images, leaves the viewer open to interpret the lives of the people we are peering into, through the objects which are included within the frame. I question the relationship, if there is one, how many people live in this household? Are they a couple? Are they married? Why don’t they buy a dishwasher? My OCD inclinations want the dishes washed up and put away. So I guess in one way the images are creating tension for me.

The images do give you a sense of time and place. A meal is being created, or has taken place, shirts are being washed in the sink, the recurring placement of a paint brush, some images imply multiple people have had a meal whilst others suggest only one solitary diner.  There are suggestions of seasonal shifts in time throughout the images, through the different ‘props’.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

No on the surface layer I think they are really very boring to be honest, it’s not really my cup of tea, I can’t say I’m that interested in them at all.

If I try to delve deeper to interpret the images I can draw some interest from them as an observer. I don’t find them visually or compositionally stunning or interesting, although they do use lines to lead the viewer through the image and the use of some bold colourful objects in a rather drab background. The blurb at the start of this exercise mentions captions to the photographs but I can’t see any captions on the photographers website accompanying the images when I looked, maybe that would have helped.

The interest for me comes from trying to understand the story behind the images and through the absence of people, use the objects placed within the images to pull that story together.


Nigel Shafran Website – ‘Washing Up’ Series

Assignment Three: Initial thoughts and planning ahead

I am making a start on section 3 now and I have kept a diary for 2 weeks with some of my daily activities and my thoughts. It has been a cathartic experience. I am considering reflecting on the life of me as an introvert. Perhaps relating images directly back to the daily activities within my diary is an idea i.e. a shot to summarise the day but that would leave me with 14 shots….which may not be a bad thing and I have already started to capture some shots around this.

Another idea I had was to explore my life through 1st person perspective, a little bit like a first person computer game (if that makes sense), so the camera directly becomes my eyes, the viewer would be seeing through my eyes.

A third idea was spinning off the back of the introvert idea and creating a set of images, i.e. just a single day in the life of an introvert.

These are all ideas and my brain is still doing some sub-conscious processing that I need to jot down on paper and spider diagram.

Assignment Two: Tutor Feedback and my thoughts

Tutor Report Assignment-2-cn-formative-feedback-craig-sinclair-515221

It was a great idea to meet with my tutor face to face on Google Hangouts. It definitely makes it feel more real and I am very grateful for the feedback from my tutor, sometimes the difficult part for me is to know what to do with the feedback constructively afterwards. My negative chimp brain sometimes takes over. I tend to need time to process feedback and I know I am a thinker; better at writing down my thoughts than speaking them aloud but I’m better when I get to know/trust someone.

Good point, I will go back and update my referencing for the assignment.

I’m quite happy with the shift in tempo for the series, the 3/5 balance, it illustrates the shift in thought process for the character but I will give it some thought, I appreciate it is balanced heavy towards the ‘act’ itself. The strongest image for me in the set was also the face in the cereal bowl image so I was interested to hear the same from my tutor. It took a lot of different angles, drinking of milk and attempts to get that shot right! It was fun despite the subject matter!

I take on board the good points raised from my tutor about the lighting and experimenting with the flash. I may go back and reconsider the lighting for the 1st photograph with the character on the bed. I was looking to expose for the lamp on the bed side cabinet, which I initially blew out on previous shots.  So I have a nicely exposed lamp but poorly exposed/lit character; the trousers are dark and the shirt very light so need to find a balance. I’m happy to experiment with flash. I find one of the challenges with open learning is it would sometimes be nice to have a teacher/tutor there in person to say, try this or that, have you considered this, etc. I don’t have a plethora of photography friends at the moment to lean on but I do reach out to other students, books and of course You Tube on occasion.

I feel happy with the composition of the shots and the concept/idea behind the set. Overall I was looking for a really plain/drab colour palette but I take on board my tutor’s comments about the images needing to be ‘visually strong, even extreme’. I will work on this. Again it’s about finding a balance with the subject matter and delivering that visually in a way I think is honest to me. I take on the valid point that your work needs to stand out against the sea of other photographs out there.

Good point about the London visit, reflecting on the different spaces. I will go back and add some thoughts on that.