Assignment 5: Photography Is Simple

“What is it about?”

In short… legacy.

Life is short, and I’ve watched family and friends pass away, while new ones have come into the world.

I have no children, and intend never to have any. However, this leaves me with something of a hole in my existence. I have no genetic legacy. When I die, what will be left on this Earth to say I ever existed?

It has struck me that physical objects can act as a legacy. When you or I see a thing, created by a person, we may not know who that person was, just as I don’t know who my ancestors were, but we know they existed.

Some of the oldest man-made physical structures in this country are the many Norman churches and cathedrals. The religious aspect of them is of no interest to me, but the fact that they have stood through many centuries.

The Priory Church, Worksop, was initially founded in 1103, with developments and extensions continuing through into the 20th Century. When I look at this building, especially when viewed from the adjoining graveyard, I get a feeling of the people who existed here over the centuries, who built this place, and are buried here.  It’s possible to know some of their names, though this is not in itself important to this project.

It’s the physical marker that states “someone was here” that interests me.

These images are black and white, because what is more black and white than the fact that death follows life?

I have captured motion blur, where I can, to represent the passage of time. Time touches some things more than others.

Clearly, I will not build churches, but I hope that some of my photos may survive me, to say “someone was here”.

(Word Count: 301)

This is a reworking of my original assignment following tutor feedback. My tutor suggested I reshoot the whole assignment, but I felt he had misunderstood the concept I was trying to represent, as he was focusing on the (irrelevant) religious aspect of the setting. I have rewritten my explanation, while leaving the images unchanged.

The original piece is at https://photosthingsandstuff.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/assignment-5-photography-is-simple/

 

Legacy

 

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Image #10

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Contact Sheets

 

Contact Sheet #1

Contact Sheet #2

Contact Sheet #3

Contact Sheet #4

 

Link to Exercise  5.2

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Assignment 5: My Response to Tutor Feedback.

 

I was interested to read about the connection between a genetic legacy and a specific religious building. Whilst at first it seems that these two concepts are not necessarily that connected, it is a really interesting proposition to make a case for this juxtaposition through research and presentation of a focused final outcome. When looking at the research and reflection section of your blog, I was expecting to see detailed research that touches on the various cultural, political, religious, historical, aesthetic ideas that are present within this concept. If this work had been done then I think that your final set of images would be much more focused.’ 

‘For example, I would say (and of course different people will have their own conceptual interpretation of these difficult ideas and it is important for you to develop your own through rigorous study) that the central issue when juxtaposing genetic legacy and religion could be focused on the debate between biologists and the church surrounding the idea of evolution (I will include a couple of examples of people you could look at in relation to these ideas). How could you photograph the church with these ideas in the background.’

There is a misconception from the very beginning of this piece of feedback. That the building was a religious place is not relevant. The idea that I have tried to convey is not an attempt to create any connection between genetic legacy and any aspect of religion. It’s about the building… how old it is, how it has lasted through the centuries, and how people can see it, and know that people created it. The religious aspect holds no interest for me and is not in any way relevant to my concept.

I have done no research on cultural, political, religious or historical aspects, because they aren’t relevant. The concept is entirely personal.

I will have no children. I need to leave something physical (art) behind.

These photos show something physical that was left behind, long ago, by other people. This is self-evident and needs no research. As the title of the assignment states ‘Photography Is Simple’… and for this particular assignment, that’s exactly what it is. It’s all about a gut feeling, or primal urge. Research would be a nonsense. The concept that my tutor describes is exactly the kind of thing I am opposed to in art. To use his own words ‘You have a healthy and positive cynical approach‘… Yes… for exactly that kind of concept. I find the very idea objectionable.

 

‘I am not really sure what you are trying to communicate about through your images? Also, do you have a rationale for choosing to remove the colour? Looking at your contact sheets, I can not see a reason for this.’

What I am trying to communicate through my images is explained in my assignment notes… it’s what I just described above.  I suspect my tutor has not appreciated what my images are trying to convey, because of his misconception regarding some non-existent religious aspect.

The images are black and white for a couple of reasons… though why it would be expected that those reasons could be found in a set of contact sheets is beyond me.

That life is followed by death is a given. It’s not negotiable. Quite simply, it’s black and white.  Then, on a purely aesthetic level, the use of black and white is stark, chilling, and a bit scary. That’s how the subject itself makes me feel. The idea that I will die, and in no time, be forgotten, fills me with horror.

 

‘In the written part of your submission, you say, ‘When I look at this building, especially when viewed from the adjoining graveyard, I get a very strong feeling of the people who existed here over the centuries, who built this place, who worshipped here, and are buried here.’ Now, this is a potentially interesting idea (particularly related to your idea of a personal genetic legacy) the problem is that I am not getting any sense of this through the pictures. In order to communicate the idea of the people who are buried there, could you have focused on the names of the graves? Could the differing shapes of the grave stones be presented as individual ‘personalities’? ‘

No.  The concept I’m trying to put across is not about specific people. It’s not about individuals (other than myself). It’s about the idea that there were people in this place. That you can identify some of them is of interest, but they are not the focus. What I’m trying to depict is how solid objects can show that people existed. The names of those people don’t matter for this work. They would in fact distract from the idea. The viewer could potentially start pondering “who is this Bob Smith (or whoever), whose name I see on this gravestone? Where does he fit into all of this and what is his relevance?” No. That’s not what I’m trying to achieve at all. These photos are not about Bob Smith (or whoever).

 

‘In terms of the worshippers, could you photograph the people who still worship there (dwindling congregations are an interesting cultural issue)? Could you interview the local priest about this? The more information that you can collect, the more rich your final outcome will be.’

This has nothing to do with what I’m trying to achieve with this work.

 

‘Looking forward to the assessment, I would strongly advise you to strengthen your research and rework this series of images and re-shoot so that the finished set functions better as a coherent series of images that are communicating (NOT ILLUSTRATING) more specific ideas.’

‘To be clear, for assessment, I am not suggesting that you simply create a re-edit of your series and include these two examples, rather you should use your strong visual abilities to reshoot and focus on a more conceptually concise series.’

No. I feel my ideas are quite specific enough.

As I mentioned earlier, I feel that my tutor has misconstrued what it is I’m trying to represent with this piece of work. (This is further evidenced by his suggestion that I read materials regarding science / religion). That being the case, I can see how he would think my images don’t effectively convey the idea he has in mind.  But what he is thinking is not what I am thinking, and this assignment is about MY ideas…. not my tutors.

I think what I actually need to do is take another look at my written piece of the assignment, to see if I have unintentionally placed more of an emphasis on the religious aspect of the setting than I had intended.

I have an interest in Norman cathedrals and churches, as I said, but not because of any religious aspect. It’s because they are, largely, the oldest standing man-made structures that are still in use.  It’s about their age, not their purpose.

 

 

‘I hope that you understand this rather critical final feedback and take it in the positive way that it is intended. You have a strong visual base and some interesting ideas that will lead to some great work if you can increase the volume and specificity of your research methodology.’

I understand the purpose, and if I felt that my tutor had understood my concept, and wasn’t criticising me for not better representing what he thought I intended, rather than what I actually intended, I would take it as good advice.

Based on what I feel to be past and present misapprehensions regarding my ideas and concepts, my approach has been largely to ignore my tutor’s advice, and plough my own furrow. This may be a big mistake, but it’s mine to make.

Regarding research… I have a concern on this matter. I feel there is a disconnect between the level and detail of research that my tutor expects, when compared with the level that the course material has been pitched at.  I may seek advice regarding this when I come to apply for my next modules.

It’s fair to say that if the level of research conducted before shooting is a factor in the final mark, then I should expect to achieve a poor mark for this piece. But the fact is, I simply didn’t know what kind of research I could do that would inform, enhance or improve the project. I didn’t want to study the work of other photographers, and be influenced by them, as there is always the pressure to ‘find your own voice’. I couldn’t see how studying historic details, or having discussions with the local vicar, would have any impact on the photographs that I took, as the concept was such a personal thing. It’s not about history, or religion. It’s about how I feel. So unless someone has done a detailed study on how I feel about not having children, and the things it makes me think about… research seems pointless.

 

I have read quite a few posts, on various forums, by students describing similar situations, where they disagree with the views expressed by their OCA tutors. Various opinions were expressed, some perhaps more valid than others, but one that I find most useful is that, regardless of the actual content or validity of the criticism, what such situations allow, is for students to practice defending their work.

Though maybe when I say ‘defending’, I mean ‘explaining more effectively’.

Art, by its nature, attracts critics, some more qualified than others. But if we are passionate about our work, at some point, we will need to defend or explain it. Not with a simple “You’re wrong!” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about”… but with a clear and considered argument.

I believe in the concept I was trying to represent in this assignment, and it would be wrong of me to alter it, based on feedback that I feel doesn’t show an appreciation of what I was trying to do. If I changed my assignment, it would not be art. It would just be a set of nice looking photos that I didn’t believe in.

If believing in (or respecting) myself as an artist means taking a lower mark, I’ll take it. These photos will be submitted as they stand.

 

I should stress (if I haven’t been clear enough) that I am not ignoring my tutor’s advice because I believe I know better than him. That would be ridiculous. It’s that his feedback gives me the impression that what he believes my work is about, is something other than what it is intended to be about. To alter it, in line with what he thinks it’s about, would not enhance the work in line with my actual intentions or purpose.

Assignment 5: Tutor Feedback

Original Feedback Document

Overall Comments

Well done Steve, you have made some good progress through this unit. There is much to be encouraged by the way that you approach your studies and your thinking in general. You have a healthy and positive cynical approach that could be enhanced and utilized further as you move forward. You clearly have some interesting ideas but you need to build on this by employing a much more in depth and rigorous research process both in terms of the things that you are looking at as well as your work.

 

The reflection that you make about other practitioner’s work is good but you need to take this further by being much more analytical. For example, I am glad that you looked at Kersten’s work in relation to the photographic series but as well as talking about the technical aspects of the work, try to talk about what the artist and the images themselves are trying to communicate. Whatever work that you advised to look at or that you discover yourself, perform this kind of high level of visual and conceptual analysis in your learning log.

 

In your written description of this project, I was interested to read about the connection between a genetic legacy and a specific religious building. Whilst at first it seems that these two concepts are not necessarily that connected, it is a really interesting proposition to make a case for this juxtaposition through research and presentation of a focused final outcome. When looking at the research and reflection section of your blog, I was expecting to see detailed research that touches on the various cultural, political, religious, historical, aesthetic ideas that are present within this concept. If this work had been done then I think that your final set of images would be much more focused.

 

For example, I would say (and of course different people will have their own conceptual interpretation of these difficult ideas and it is important for you to develop your own through rigorous study) that the central issue when juxtaposing genetic legacy and religion could be focused on the debate between biologists and the church surrounding the idea of evolution (I will include a couple of examples of people you could look at in relation to these ideas). How could you photograph the church with these ideas in the background.

 

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Technically your final selection is ok and your contact sheets show that you are experimenting with your visual technique. While there is evidence of a visual survey of this place, I am not really sure what you are trying to communicate about through your images? Also, do you have a rationale for choosing to remove the colour? Looking at your contact sheets, I can not see a reason for this.

 

In the written part of your submission, you say, ‘When I look at this building, especially when viewed from the adjoining graveyard, I get a very strong feeling of the people who existed here over the centuries, who built this place, who worshipped here, and are buried here.’ Now, this is a potentially interesting idea (particularly related to your idea of a personal genetic legacy) the problem is that I am not getting any sense of this through the pictures. In order to communicate the idea of the people who are buried there, could you have focused on the names of the graves? Could the differing shapes of the grave stones be presented as individual ‘personalities’? In terms of the worshippers, could you photograph the people who still worship there (dwindling congregations are an interesting cultural issue)? Could you interview the local priest about this? The more information that you can collect, the more rich your final outcome will be.

 

Looking forward to the assessment, I would strongly advise you to strengthen your research and rework this series of images and re-shoot so that the finished set functions better as a coherent series of images that are communicating (NOT ILLUSTRATING) more specific ideas.

 

To illustrate the points that I am trying to make and to help you to create more of a direction for the reworked images that you submit, I will talk about some of the images from your contact sheet that perhaps present your ideas (and potentially others) better than your final submission.

Capture1

2982 – This image would perhaps be an interesting selection if you were to make your series more about the dwindling congregations. It is visually interesting (although needs some post-production –straightening, contrast etc.) and the (heavenly?) pools of light falling on empty chairs is poignant because it highlights the human emptiness of these vast spaces.

 

Capture2

2974 – I was drawn to this image because, visually, it is a view of this kind of building that I have not seen before. Also, because you have presented an image that gives more importance to the trees rather than the church, conceptually this asks us to consider the importance of these kinds of building (and the doctrines associated with them) in contemporary culture.

 

To be clear, for assessment, I am not suggesting that you simply create a re-edit of your series and include these two examples, rather you should use your strong visual abilities to reshoot and focus on a more conceptually concise series.

 

I hope that you understand this rather critical final feedback and take it in the positive way that it is intended. You have a strong visual base and some interesting ideas that will lead to some great work if you can increase the volume and specificity of your research methodology.

 

 

Coursework

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

Your coursework is good Steve, keep it up. In terms of your comments about the difficulties that you sometimes have with understanding the academic language of the handbooks, a couple of things to suggest. Firstly, have you contacted head office about this? We have a specific email address for this kind of correspondence. learnersupport@oca.ac.uk. Also in terms of the specifics of the brief, if you have an interesting take on empathy, maybe you could make this the subject of your work if you can! It would be interesting for people to think about the way that you look at the world.

 

Research

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

I have covered this in the main text.

 

Learning Log

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

I have covered this in the main text.

 

Suggested reading/viewing

Context

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene – in relation to the debate between genetic legacy and religious doctrine. You should also look at some of the criticism of this work – for example, http://www.beliefnet.com/news/science-religion/2006/07/the-fallacy-of-the-selfish-gene.aspx or http://www.cmf.org.uk/resources/publications/content/?context=article&id=552

Daniel Dennett – Breaking the Spell – This is about the taboo of a scientific analysis of religion.

 

Good luck with your assessment!!!

Reflection following Part 5, and Assignment 5

I feel drained.

All of the previous parts of this course have been largely technical. Learn a skill, and demonstrate it. Understand a concept, and demonstrate it.

Part 5 has been much more personal. Show how you look at things, show how you see things… show who you are.

Now, I’m a very self aware person, with complexities, dark corners, and some pretty uncomfortable limitations.  This part of the course made me examine those aspects of myself… (something I’m not unaccustomed to doing)… and present them in photographs (again, something I’m not unaccustomed to doing), and then explain them. It’s this explaining part that I have found draining.

It’s an easy thing to take photos that, in their conception, say “I feel isolated from this world”, but it’s not easy to explain that.

It’s an easy thing to take photos that say “I’m going to die, I have no genetic legacy, and the idea of being forgotten, or no-one having an inkling that I existed, fills me with horror”… but putting it in words… I don’t like it.

At best, it seems self indulgent. At worst, it reads like a mid life crisis, or worse, teenage angst in a middle aged man.

Taking the photos is cathartic. Explaining them is not.

Assignment 5: Photography Is Simple

While the title of this assignment is ‘Photography Is Simple’, the title of this series of photos is Legacy.

Having reached a certain age, I’ve seen friends and family pass away and I’ve seen new family coming into the world.

In watching this process, I’ve pondered life, its shortness, and why we even go through it, knowing we’re going to die anyway. For many, their purpose is fulfilled by bringing more life into the world… by having children. They have a genetic legacy.

For me, the idea of parenthood has always been objectionable, so this has left me with something of a hole in my existence. I’m not going to further the species, so what am I going to do? When I’m dead, what’s going to be left on this planet to say I was ever here?

I’ve often been struck by the permanence of some man-made constructions. You can look at them, and know someone did that. Maybe many people. Sometimes you know who, sometimes you don’t. But there’s this object that says ‘someone was here’.

Some of the greatest such structures are the Norman churches and cathedrals that scatter our land, and one such church happens to be situated in the town where I live.

The Priory Church, Worksop, was initially founded in 1103, with developments and extensions continuing through into the 20th Century. When I look at this building, especially when viewed from the adjoining graveyard, I get a very strong feeling of the people who existed here over the centuries, who built this place, who worshipped here, and are buried here.

Now, I’m not going to build churches, but I can take photos, and in one form or another, I’d like them to say “I was here.”

(Word Count: 299)

 

Legacy

 

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Contact Sheets

 

Contact Sheet #1

Contact Sheet #2

Contact Sheet #3

Contact Sheet #4

 

Link to Exercise  5.2

 

Note to my tutor: I will be submitting my work for formal assessment, so am looking for feedback with this in mind. I prefer feedback in written form, as opposed to live video chat.

 

 

Assignment 5: Preliminary

Brief

‘Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph
must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new
information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention
to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There
should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.’

Assignment Notes

‘In your assignment notes explore why you chose this particular subject by answering
the question ‘What is it about?’ Write about 300 words. Your response to the question
doesn’t have to be complicated; it might be quite simple (but if you can answer in one
word then you will have to imaginatively interpret your photographs for the remaining
299!)’

 

For this assignment, I will be going back to the location of the work I abandoned in Assignment 2 – The Priory Church in Worksop.

I will do this for  several of reasons:

1: As stated in the Assignment 5 text ‘…you should just feel comfortable with your subject. It should say something about you and, in the end, you like it!’  I like this location, and it has felt like unfinished business since I abandoned it as my subject matter in Assignment 2.

2: This setting is the perfect example of the kind of subject I like to photograph. Old buildings in a modern world, how they fit in, and how, in some cases, they have been adapted. I like to take these photos partly as a form of documentary, so that in the future, they will show how things have changed (or not).

3: Again, these photos represent an example of why I like to shoot a certain type of subject. They’re also a way of saying ‘I was here’. Not like a ‘happy snaps’ holiday shot, or selfie. I won’t be in them, and they’re not about me. But the very fact that they exist says ‘someone was in this place, at this time, to take this shot.’ The viewer most likely won’t know who took the shot, but in the same way… I can’t trace my family line back further than my great grandparents… but by my very being here, I know that they existed.

 

Method

I will be shooting in daylight, and wish to use a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field, but also wish to capture movement as a way of representing the passage of time. This will necessitate the use of long(ish) exposure, which, with the wide aperture will cause overexposure of the shots.

To compensate, I will be using a GOBE ND 1000 filter. This filter has a slightly violet tone to it, which can create something of an unnatural tone in colour shot, but this should not be a problem, as I will be converting all images to black and white.

I will be shooting in Aperture Priority mode using a 24mm prime lens on my cropped sensor Canon EOS 1300D, mounted on a tripod for all shots (due to the long exposure times).