Assignment 1: Further development

I have been thinking about developing Assignment 1 further over the summer weeks – sort of letting it percolate at the back of everything else that has been going on (thinking about Oxford House, reading and enjoying the summer with my kids). As well, I have been influenced by OCA tutor and artist, Bryan Eccelshall’s Digital Rain images which I have been watching emerge on Twitter for a few months. After he posted a video of how he puts these together I started experimenting with some of his methods using my own images. These are a couple of results from that experimentation.


This evening I looked at one of the images I’d chosen from the A1 booklet I made – #82. Trudi who had modelled for me had access to the description devised from the survey I’d created and this was her ‘early rehearsal’ improvised rendition of the person she was ‘playing’, which I used in the book. It contains a sketch by OCA student Stefan Schaffeld, one of the artists I’d asked to collaborate on this journey.


I took the mood she’d absorbed from the description and did a quick selfie on my phone and then combined it with another collaborator’s work, Lottie Ellis, who’s drawings I think I will probably stick with if I go this route because of the abstract nature of how she works and what she presented to me. Recall, I asked artists to take the descriptions I’d created using the surveys and make some ‘marks’ that they felt were their own representations of the descriptions. I then combined the selfie and Lottie’s image and played around using the same sort of process I’d been exploring with the experiments above, influenced by Bryan Eccleshall.

And here is a series of images which led to the final result below. I have not included the text here other than the sequential number of the respondent as the input is less important I think than the output. Perhaps it is enough to know I created an image based on a personal description given to me by a stranger about their life, and that at each stage that description is used by the collaborators – in this image, Lottie, Trudi and me as well as the original person who gave me the story. In the feedback I was asked about the type of information I requested, and it was suggested it was quite substantial and may have been better if I’d asked for less. However, the working process of creating a character requires me to gather as much info as possible and then to allow it to be absorbed and transform me in some way. It is perhaps enough to know at the end that the final result is a character created using a variety of forms and through a collaboration to create a representation. I’m going to think about these some more and will return to them perhaps at the end of the holiday period.


#82 (c)Sarah-Jane Field & Lottie Ellis 2017


Eccleshall, B. 2017 Video describing Digital Rain Process, YouTube, Accessed 30 August 2017

Ecclelshall, B. 201, Twitter, Digital Rain Images, Accessed 30 August 2017


Feedback: A1

A week ago Wendy and I had a chat via Skype about A1. She confirmed my concerns that the assignment was overly convoluted but said there were lots of very strong ideas and my picture-making skills good (reassuring!) Her advice was to simplify it either by re-editing or even reshooting using myself as the model acting out each of the 6 people. I totally agree with simplifying but I am having a think about whether to use me in this work or return to one of the models I used and and getting them to ‘perform’ all of the characters. I favour using Lottie and her masks if possible if I go down that route but will need to revisit as I only photographed her with three of the people/masks in her garden – a conversation I need to have with Lottie. Wendy also said she really liked the surreal quality of the cover photo with the chicken and the cat which pleased me as that is the direction I hope to head in – somewhat odd, ‘oneiric’ images.

Here are my notes from our meeting:

A1 Tutorial Feedback 4/8/2017 

Main take-home message

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself
  • Keep it simple
  • Be clear
  • Be economical

Interests that emerge from the work are shifting identity and multiple personality (My clarification for my own understanding – not in the sense of ‘madness’ e.g. Sybil but rather how we all have various masks in different situations and in particular how social media and technology impacts on that).

Survey – the data set was very broad (because I didn’t really know what I was looking for)

Narrow the frame of inquiry – what is it you are trying to say?

Look at Natasha Caruna’s ‘Coup de Foudre’:

Also Claude Cahun and Gillian Wearing again

Gillian Wearing’s ‘Confess All on Video’:

Return to Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne:

We discussed using my self in the work and I recalled thinking about it, indeed being asked by a fellow student from my UVC group if I would ‘do a Cindy Sherman”. Although I thought about it I was concerned I’d already done so much of this in TAOP and felt I should avoid going down that route immediately again. Wendy suggested I should in fact go for it and perhaps reshoot the series with this in mind. S

There was another work Wendy suggested I look at reshooting for the 21st century for A2 using myself (I think some early work bHans Eijkelboom was mentioned but I am not sure exactly which work it was)

Gideon Mendal’s DZHANGAL was also suggested. (Brief. initial look at this is so exciting to see as I did not know it before.)

Key points extracted from feedback document: 

“You mention in your ‘thoughts at the end of the process’ that you feel frustrated by the limits of traditional documentary and portraiture photography. Good! This questioning is all very useful and it is this aspect of photography and portraiture that indeed you are exploring in this assignment.”

“I think the key thing to ask yourself is ‘what and why’. What do you want to say? How are you going to go about this and Why are you using your chosen methods or medium? If you ask your self honestly these three simple questions, things may become clearer. It does seem to me that the role of technology (ie. the internet) plays a rather large part in your ideas, as that is the vehicle that often allows us to assume multiple identities at the click of a button.” It seems odd to still be influenced by my acting training as it was so long ago now but the way I learned to work creatively seems so different from this. The most influential director whose methods I truly loved encouraged us to discover what, who , why over time rather than start with it. In a rehearsal process we would not try to be ‘good’ at the beginning of it. In fact, some super ‘bad’ (whatever that means) broad brush strokes to help get you going are useful early on and over the course of the exploratory period we would begin to find what I thought of as flags which we could put in key places to guide us. Perhaps the director had to consider ‘what and why’ at the beginning and in the sort of photography work I am aiming for I am both the director and the performer (even when I am using others, who let’s face it very often represent me in some way). In my current work outside of the OCA (although I may use it to save myself some precious time and, more importantly, my sanity for A2) I have taken Wendy’s advice and tried hard to think of one sentence that sums up what I am trying to say with the work. I have also made a short list of words that communicate what the work is aiming to encapsulate. 


See main body of the text


Excellent research and reflection

Learning Log

Very well laid out log

Suggested reading/viewing

See main body of the text

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

Don’t over work things – keep it simple and build from each assignment.”


The feedback was very encouraging and useful, constructive but without being patronising, for which I was grateful.



Reflection: The word ‘collaboration’

It seems appropriate to discuss the word ‘collaboration’ here’ to question and unpick its meaning in light of the process I have explored in A1. It seems it is a ‘trendy’ word that many artists and photographers use nowadays, and there are times when it almost feels as if it’s being used simply because it’s what’s ‘in’.

(It is interesting to note the word collaboration has not always had positive connotations and, for example, has been used to refer to people and groups who colluded with the Nazi’s for instance. For example, the Vichy government are referred to in history books as collaborators. As such, each time I use the word I am reminded of those negative ideas surrounding the word and one can’t help but notice that appropriation too is a word that was used by marauding powers who travelled the world ravaging people and land during Empire building years. It is perhaps worth noting how art picks up on these words and then co-opts them into its own language.)

In particular with portrait photography, but also with other forms of portraiture, one cannot make portraits without some form of collaboration, or what might have simply been referred to in the past as ‘working with someone’. (Even if you’re photographing a baby, one who is awake at any rate, you do your best to interact with her and entice her into an interaction between the two of you, thereby collaborating albeit, perhaps, non-verbally). And in fact, artists and subjects have always collaborated. As have theatre practitioners and film makers and many other art makers who don’t work solely on their own. Those that do still often require others to be involved in the selling, exhibiting, critiquing of their work. You could play a game of semantics and say street photographers collaborate with the public, but in the public’s case they are unwitting participants. Perhaps though, here, you could say photographers are appropriating others’ images, and that collaboration by definition has at its essence a pre-agreed decision by both parties to work together in some capacity.

What underlies the current trend, other than it is a contemporary word to use, is to do with the desire to see shifts of power, as discussed in the interview with Ellen Mara de Watcher when asked about why collaborative work is undervalued still, and why we are still very much attached to lone artist figures, “Some are sociological, or have to do with the way power is distributed and the way that artists have historically been commissioned by people in power.” (Abrahms, 2017) Collabration is a challenge to the idea of master narrators and fixed authors; it undermines the pivotal ego figure we have been used to.

The desire to move away from systems of ownership, and questioning the way people in power operate and rule has been a key concern for artists –  and from Dada onwards it seems to have been explored expontentially. The work I looked at in UVC or A4, by Isabelle Mège and a number of photographers whom she collaborated with, turns usual power structure on its head as she, the subject rather than the photographer, approaches image makers to create an image of her rather than the other way round as it so usually has been. I end the essay asking the following:

“However, in Mège’s collection the usually passive Other drives the process, and is active alongside her fellow authors. She invites what we previously might have thought of as the Hegelian master into an atypical photographer/subject relationship, deconstructing what was for so long the norm especially in the proliferation of nudes. It might be viewed as an embodiment of Power Within instead of Power-Over-the-Other. On the other hand the language looks the same as it ever did, even though it may have a different authorship style.” (Field, 2016:14)

Does a different authorship style necessarily mean a shift in power structures between the people making an image? I’m not sure it always does and sometimes it may be that it’s simply about the surface, about the vessels (words) into which we pour meaning or a lack of meaning. You can say you’re collaborating all you like, but if the person you’re photographing brings, for whatever reasons, very little to the process other than their face to appear in the photograph, i.e no ideas, thoughts, suggestions, then is it really a collaboration? And if an artist approaches others/potential subjects/participants and says, I’d like you to give me something in a collaborative process but I am likely to benefit from making the work in some way, either with money, reputation or educational status, but you (the subject) on the other hand will simply have benefited from giving me something to work with, then is that really collaboration?

Wachter answers in her interview that the Guerrilla Girls are truly working together, and explains why: “I would cite Guerrilla Girls as the oldest collective in the book that is still practicing. They’re so strident about that and that’s their whole mission. Their agenda is anti-patriarchal. It’s a strong, feminist agenda. It’s anti-hierarchical. It’s really a democratic kind of group in which everybody has a voice. They use anonymity to facilitate that, and they hide behind masks. They paraphrase Oscar Wilde in saying that you’d be surprised by what comes out of people’s mouths when you give them a mask. That’s a liberating tool for them. I think they’re very much anti-systemic in that sense, and also very critical of the dominant trends in the art world, the market values, and so on.” (Abrahms, 2017)

Having come from ensemble based theatre training, it feels a perfectly natural way to work ‘with’ others rather than for or above them.  Nevertheless, real collaborative work, I have learned in my experiment for A1, is hard work and is not always simpler or easier, despite having more ideas to hand. As I said before it can be frustrating and I don’t feel that all or much of the work is very ‘me’ (of course – that’s the point, heh?) This is echoed in the interview. “I’m not sure that every artist in this book would agree with you that more people equals that many times more capacity to make work, because in a lot of cases, more people means you can make less work because it’s more difficult to make work together.”

Educators across a variety of subjects nowadays are keen to get people to work together since the future of work is likely to be more about problem solving than production as technology takes over the grunt work. This is probably as it should be. However, that doesn’t change the fact that some people are simply more suited to working alone (One of my sons is just such a person and thankfully his teacher this year appreciated that fact and allowed him to write at his own desk rather than in a group). People who work better alone may become distracted or begin to feel disconnected when faced with people in numbers, so despite the trend to encourage group learning, we should be wary of fashionable trends and not dismiss lone working, because as mentioned earlier and in the de Watcher interview, co-operation with others is often necessary anyway but in other forms.

Are artists, such as William Kentridge and Roger Ballen collaborating or working in the same vein as producers and directors do in theatre and film? Kentridge says in a short film on the Whitechapel site that if he has talent, then it is to secure good collaborators. (2016) I’m not sure he is really working collaboratively as the The Guerrilla Girls are though, however, nor do I dismiss or undervalue what he does. He is one of my very favourite artists. What he in fact does, is enable a co-operative production, which leads to grand work with his name in the headline.

I have worked with each person in my A1 project separately, so it has not the been the group work I hoped to do at the start (it quickly became clear that would take too long to organise). And I have not worked collaboratively with everyone although I have aimed to. But in the end I am the main driver of the piece and so am still quite far from working as collectively as is possible.



Peer feedback: A1 S&O1

  1. Response to contact sheet and some of the background posts:

Catherine: Without knowing the brief, the ones on the contact sheet that worked best for me were 1463 ,1491 and 1507 – the pose, form and colour, plus with 1507 the half-open door added narrative possibilities. 1723 of course and 2622, 2635 and 2668 – the mask has an almost human quality which is very evident in these. Also made me think of music and the savage beast (Interesting to note, Catherine has not chosen any from the first shoot at all – Lottie’s)

Doug:  With regard to your contact sheet I have the following general comments.  I think the ‘Lottie’ images are overall the better ones.  I do not like the ones with the scarf around the neck and over the team – too suicidal.  The poses in the dancer often feel too posed.  There are one or two of her that I think are good.  The guitarist and the mask have some that I would select.  Of course make-up is also a mask and I suspect that is what you were getting to. Of course there are many ways of suggesting masks, which are something we must all wear. Arbus’ focus on masks and Meatyard’s explores this – we are all freaks but some hide it better than others. Are the grotesque masks more or less frightening than the ones that look nice but hide what exists in all of us? 

As we discussed you are now into the second order effect of ‘other’ and that makes them quite different although it may be difficult to arrive at this from all the images.

2. Following a draft/approximation of A1:RepresentationofOther being sent out to request feedback:

My email  – Hi, this is a PDF of A1. Please be aware it is a draft, there is no content on the Contents Page for instance, and there may be typos, I’d be grateful if you can point them out to me (there is not a typo alert on Blurb online books and I struggle without one in other programmes as it is!)* The PDF should be simpler to look at, rather than wading through my many notes online – which I appreciate can get quite overwhelming. 

1. Looking through as it is, I will likely present 8 images in sequence rather than lay it out as it is now so that the collaborative end result is the main bulk of the book. I will only have one image per two pages so viewers are not distracted by anything.
2. I played with a video format but felt that since written word was such an essential part of the process a book would suit it better. 
3. These may not be the final images, I’ve not edited yet. A couple seem rather noisy after I’ve played around with them so much  – I’m seeing what works and/or doesn’t at the moment.
4. I am photographing one more person on Saturday morning and will use that time to ensure I capture two of the ‘people’ that are not captured out of the 6 final ones I honed in on. ( – incidentally, I cancelled the shoot last Tuesday for several reasons and found a different person to work with). Stefan, your sketches will be included in the images I shoot on Saturday
5. I do not see this as a complete end piece of work but rather a work in progress which aims to explore different approaches. If this were not A1 I might hone in on 2 images per performer/artist and go and shoot them again but I don’t think at this point that will be a valuable use of my time.
Thanks to any of you who have already written to me with comments about previous stages. I will reply individually shortly. John, I have cc’d you but I know you are exceptionally busy, and have indeed left! If you have time, great, if not, your comments (if you have any) will be gratefully received in person next time we meet up in OH/BG. The fact you are seeing this with entirely fresh eyes makes you a handy person.
Any further comments gratefully received,

I also made a very short video sequence which I abandoned when I felt a book would be better. (Password same as ever for this section of the module).

Lottie: I do love your images of your dancer – powerful postures and lighting. Having read your blog I believe there is so much thought packed into this that your tutor will gain an excellent perspective on your thinking as well as your technical skills.

Michael (first response): Was just having a quick look, will look closer when I have more time later….but anything that quotes Mark E. Smith right at the beginning can’t be bad!!!

Kate: One rookie question, you’ve indexed each of the sketches to each of the characters, but not the photographs of the performers – we work these out ourselves? I really am in two minds about this. My second draft has the description beside each image for now, however, I wonder if this detracts from the images. There is a great deal to consider within the concept so perhaps leaving people in the dark about which image pertains to which description is a bridge too far in terms of disorienting viewers at this juncture. 

The descriptions of the characters somehow put me in mind of character cards, like the ones in Monopoly or role playing games. I almost want to have the cards in my hands whilst looking at the images so I can consider correlations. I rather liked this idea for about 15 minutes. Then I felt it would risk being ‘gimmicky’ and detracting from the ideas – too ‘cute’ but good to have these types of ideas that challenge how we receive formats.

Madalina: I find interesting the way you challenge the influence of language in the formation of the self. There is a certain affective dimension in your photos and a cinematic feeling related to the use of light, pose and composition which I like very much.

I find intriguing the connection you make between the performativity of your sitters and how they see the other. The performative nature of the work is of course salient to it – we are all actors, performing most of the time, even to ourselves (perhaps nothing original in that concept, I admit!)   It is interesting how by starting from a story they hear they’ve created different pictures in their minds and they represented those through their artistic language.

You certainly put the question if art is a way of freeing us from the preconceptions that are related to our use of language. I wonder how much we can challenge our history in the visual images we create. I think this depends on how the work is done. I have written about a play where actors represented people with Motor Neurone Disease and I found the play lacked any true connection to the issues. But anything can be ‘tasteless’ whether you’re using substitutes to tell the story or not. The French/Algerian war is a good example of where films and books challenge official French historical text books taught in schools – and they were banned for many years. I think we should be in the habit of challenging such history. I was taught in South Africa school that the Zulus and the Dutch arrived in SA at the same time, one group by land and the other by sea. This was the official justification for years of wrong doing on behalf of the Europeans who obliterated and appropriated the land. 

You were arguing about the failure of language in representing the self and I want to ask you how important is language in your work at the moment. How do you negotiate your relation to language and other modes of representation in your work? I am truly fascinated by language and how it shapes our reality and reflects our ever-changing state. I suppose this has emerged mostly from the experience of my marriage breakdown. There was so much dissonance between what was said and what was actually happening, what was going on inside of me, how each of us involved in that process had different views of reality, expressed in language. I also struggled to speak throughout the horrible last few months, I could never get my words out. I hated not being able to say what I wanted to say. I was left feeling without any power over anything. Also, I began to see very clearly how much power access to language gave a person or group. The legal system is a mass of impenetrable words that beffudles anyone not versed in it – it’s beyond monolithic, that system, but also crumbling with lack of funding, although the ones in power make an absolute fortune out of people who get caught up in its vortex. I have written about language and its developing importance in my work here.

I agree with you that the book format suits better because it allows to go back and forward and create comparisons and connections.


Strong conceptual approach – from the initial idea and questionnaires through to the final images.

Collaboration with the artists/subjects in the images is a major strength and demonstrates your confidence in working this way. I have had plenty of doubts along the way!

Love the Mark E. Smith quote! I always appreciate something like this being included which is insightful and also not from an academic perspective. I like to mix it up – as you know.

The images themselves are strong and work well as a set. The inclusion of the artwork adds something extra, I kept thinking about Rorsach tests.

The opening statement underpins some serious ideas and thinking.

The design works well, is stylish without seeming over egged – colours, image sizes, alignment.

Ideas and comments:

Is the balance between theory and practice right in the opening statement? The genesis of the project is something I find interesting and could perhaps be featured more strongly in the text. I agree with the concerns here – and as soon as I’d printed the PDF of draft 1 felt that the intro needed a bit more to it. I have rewritten it. But I did not want to overdo it by explaining the work too much. I am not sure I have the balance right yet….

Would the captions/questionnaire responses work better alongside the images? That is how I have edited it in draft 2…. 

I love the artwork accompanying the photographs, these work best for me in accompaniment with the photographs rather than the ‘thumbnails’ included at the end. Perhaps that would work well in an exhibition setting. I felt it would be too much clutter on the page and as Madalina says you can turn back and forth if you want to with a book. I think this gives people an opportunity to if they wish. 

I was struck that you reference semiotics rather than psychoanalysis, especially since this is something I know interests you. Of course the reference is totally relevant and well made, self perception and the perception of others are such a strong aspect of the work that psychoanalysis seems to fit closer? Perhaps psychoanalysis is so deeply embedded in my thinking after roughly 10 years of having been in therapy (with a few breaks) that I don’t see it has having to be mentioned. A therapist will pick up on words and phrases you use and interpret them in ways that reveal all sorts of things you didn’t know you were hiding, not only from her/him but from yourself. Their job is to help you bring something of your pre-concious world into a verbal narrative, one that is helpful to you rather than unhelpful. Semiotics and analysis seem deeply intertwined. So I’m not sure one is closer than the other to the work….


How I see it:
1. appropriation of visual and verbal information received – like the first step for all
2. a multilayered perspective on self (i.e. several images together) – like what you are doing at the moment – the multilayered way we exist is what interest me, you can always peel away another layer it seems
3. a next step? My idea is to incorporate somehow your photos in a next round of my drawings/,paintings. Similar perhaps to how I approached my theme of absence, presence –  I have seen some early examples of this and think these have the potential to be very interesting. I love that this work is being used this way by you. 
a) collaged images => that’s my ‘self’ (my intimate sketches, your photos with Lottie, and the one you send me with the head scarf)
b) ’tearing apart’ – or as you relate to – deconstructing the collage => that’s the others
Stefan has written a comprehensive blog post about his part in this work and I will link it here when he has published it. 
The PDF downloaded without any problem for me and what a good idea to separate it all out from the background contextual information.  I think this is important (especially as there is so much contextual info – no person should have to wade through all of that). I do not like work that feels it must be explained. I think lots left to the viewer and they should have questions, and work I like is when the brain has to figure things out. In fact I wonder if I’ve given too much in the brief intro but the initial concept should be stated as I hope I have done. 

What I mean by that is that the images stand-out on their own  without the need for additional information.  I’m noticing more and more that, if I look at images on their own,  they can often appear as ‘just’ portraits ‘or landscapes’ etc and really need all the written material to provide a frame for the images. Hope I’m making sense. You are – but I wonder is sometimes there is too much information given. We don’t want to see the back office at work always – although sometimes that is the interesting part too. 

The images on pp 11, 12 and 17 seem on the dark side to me and the first two have a slight pink tinge. I’ve re-profiled my screen (Color-Munki) but it looks the same.  I have noticed that I have to increase brightness when I’m uploading for web because of the backlighting effect. Have you been able to run off a small print to compare? All the different formats require different edits! Small screens seem to benefit from greater contrast in some cases or less in others, big screens benefit from different crops, images, colours… it’s a flipping nightmare. 

Overall it’s a very vibrant piece of work and I like your image choices so far – want to keep looking at them. I’m slightly confused as to what you mean re the sequencing – numbers 1 through to 86 of the responders: the software numbers them. Since they were anonymous this became their identifier, rather than the name. Do you mean your photographs will be separate from the drawings/painting? Guess there’s a difference between the requirements of the Assignment itself in terms of image requirements and the holistic approach of the collaboration – photographer, subjects, responses and the collaborative ideal dancing together. Correct me if I’m wrong though. I was worried that the work would not have my voice – but after completing edit 2 of the book I feel it does and that I am the creator of the work and that feels right for this particular stage/study/point in time. I have discussed the various shades on collaboration here

I think you’re right  re note 5 as this first Assignment is meant to be the beginning of a dialogue between you and your tutor (who is your tutor by the way? Wendy).  Even so, you’re laying the groundwork for how you want to be as an artist .


  • *I should not have asked people to correct these typos at this stage – what a waste of their time! It was a first draft and in future please just accept there will be errors and often lots of them. There were soooooo many here as I type too fast and there is a very high chance I am dyslexic (the real test is too expensive but the short one indicates about 80% likelihood). Because of that I am nervous about typos but I am capable of doing a proper check myself at that stage and have lived with this issue all my life so have lots of ways to highlight things. But I do miss spelling mistakes and typos as you must have noticed normally, so I am grateful for everyone’s help. But a first draft is never a good time to ask people to check as I will invariably rewrite several times anyway. Sorry for wasting people’s valuable time. 
  • I do note that people are all mostly terribly kind – there are things to say about this but I shall do elsewhere. (perhaps reflection) 

Following these comments and thoughts of my own I have made the following book which is likely to be the version (with some minor changes perhaps) that I’ll submit shortly.




S&O1 from Sarah-Jane Field on Vimeo.

Experiment: A1

S&OA1 SJF 512666-8855-2

#83 Female, Welsh, lives in Saudi Arabia. Wears full-length black abaya, with shorts, vest and flip-flops underneath. Home is considered a ‘beautiful bay in Pembrokeshire’ – misses it very much and compares where she is now unfavourably. Was a highly qualified professional when lived in the UK, no longer allowed to work. She writes she is best signified by a pair of designer sunglasses.

Lottie Ellis is an artist and teacher who created inner typographies of the survey descriptions. She said of the work “I tried to imagine what it was like to be inside the other. Not as me inside them, but what it really felt to be living in their existence. I wondered how they might move and feel and what colour their inner language would translate into. I wonder how that language might be written on their very inner surface. I suppose the works are internal projections? Therefore, to be wearing them was impactful. I was putting on the inside of someone else as my outside. It felt like I was able to hide behind someone else and yet show the inside of someone else as my outside”

(I suspect I ought to play with video, in fact, bringing all these aspects together)

Image (c)Lottie Ellis & Sarah-Jane Field 2017

A1 Preparatory supporting documents and

The following are documents that I sent people I was working with to describe the process I hoped to explore with them

Two months ago I created a survey which can be found here. I describe my rationale for doing so here:

I was not sure if I would use the results for the exercises or the assignment or both. In the end they influenced all the work but it is only obviously visible in the assignment work.

I received 86 replies to the survey. I chose 6 to work with. I condensed their words into short descriptions of people. See below.

I wanted to work with artists, performers, and anyone whose work was related to representing others. I devised two separate release forms. In the end I used the artist’s one for all the performers and contributors to the assignment. I used a usual model release for the exercises as people were less involved. I sent the documents below to artists.

  1. Characters for performersFor some artists I reduced each chapter to a single sign
  2. each-character-is-reduced-to-a-single-symbol
  3. Characters for artists
  4. Release and Agreement Form for Collaborating Artists for S&O1

The final assignment images are photographs of artists from different disciplines who worked with me to a greater or lesser extent on creating work that represented the descriptions I derived from the 6 surveys.

Notes and background thoughts: S&O A1

Background notes for Assignment – Self & Other A1

 Create a short series (6-10) of environmental portraits of people in places that provide the context for us to understand them. Pose and details are important. Look again at examples from the history of photography as well as the contemporary practitioners listed (in the course document). Think carefully about whether you want to photograph people close to you or subjects who are distinctly other to you.

 These are background notes that support the work I have been doing. I will write a 500-word statement and bullet point list of steps taken during the process to accompany the actual work, which will be in the assignment post.

  • English/UK class focus vs. universal themes (power structures in cultures), others

Hannah Hoch reportedly said “… the purpose of art is not to ‘decorate’ or to replicate reality through ‘naturalistic little flowers, a still life or a nude, but to act as a document of the ‘spirit’ and the changing value of a generation.”(Hudson, 2014) The S&O course has so far felt incredibly restrictive and deeply focused in one relatively narrow direction – UK class structure. It has felt frustrating because the terms ‘self & other’ are universal, and I have had to constantly question what I am doing, and am plagued with feelings of uncertainty. Nevertheless, I have explored a collaborative working process, which has been a deliberate attempt to look at the structural way in which we understand the binary distinction between a self and an other. In an article titled, “The Only Solace We Get Is From Each Other”: Ellen Mara De Wachter on How Collaborative Artists Show the Way to a Better Society” by Lony Abrams for Artspace, we are told that working collaboratively is a way of deconstructing old systems of power. And attempting to forge a world that might be less glued to the Hegelian master/slave paradigm. De Watcher is quoted: “I would cite Guerrilla Girls as the oldest collective in the book that is still practicing. They’re so strident about that ([exploring a] declarative way to go against the system that values the individual genius?) and that’s their whole mission. Their agenda is anti-patriarchal. It’s a strong, feminist agenda. It’s anti-hierarchical. It’s really a democratic kind of group in which everybody has a voice. They use anonymity to facilitate that, and they hide behind masks. They paraphrase Oscar Wilde in saying that you’d be surprised by what comes out of people’s mouths when you give them a mask. That’s a liberating tool for them. I think they’re very much anti-systemic in that sense, and also very critical of the dominant trends in the art world, the market values, and so on.” (2017) (I refer to masks further down)

Working this way has at times been extremely rewarding, but it has also been annoying and awkward. Finding people to collaborate with is not easy or simple. Finding the right people to work with is also tricky. I have been lucky in the main and I am grateful to all the people who were involved including the anonymous responders to the initial survey and the artists who agreed to join me on this mini experiment. Perhaps, as with most study, we should be careful of implying moral judgement and merely note the cost/benefit ratios in various scenarios.

I believe I wrote to one co-partcipant, Stefan Schaffeld, that the reason I was exploring working this way because I wanted to look at the nebulous distinction between self and other. (I am also deeply interested in how the younger generation and many in my own are seemingly irritated by the increasingly apparent rejection of fixed signs.) Is there really a nebulous distinction? Victims of acute mental abuse might be able to explain how personalities can become enmeshed. In fact, it is probably fair to say that any in long standing relationship each party has significant influence and impact on the other, and boundaries between selves become blurred.

It is also probably accurate to suggest that when relationships break down this is usually down (in part) to a realisation that significant others have little to do with a fantasy we each construct in our minds about whom they might be. Once the fantasy shatters, we are left with a true other and must either accept, forgive and move on together or reject the reality and separate.

  • Masks handed to individual’s by society manifested through language

It may be that all relationships and understandings of others work in this way to a greater or lesser extent. We pick up on signs that are imbued with meaning, reached collectively by our community (macro and micro) and then construct a variety of masks which society hands to individuals. Growing up with these, we must find a way to make ourselves fit or risk being accused of deviancy or madness. At times this might seem unreasonable, such as when ethnic groups or a particular gender are placed in restrictive positions. At other times, a distrust of certain deviancy seems obvious and absolute by society. In some instances, behaviours outside of the norm are less worrying to society (such as vegetarianism in Victorian times for instance). More impactful, attitudes towards same gender sexual relationships have changed over time (although there is still room for a great deal more acceptance and an extremely worrying backward stepping trend in some quarters). Additionally, there are some individuals who exist on the very fringes of normative behaviour who take no heed of collective morality and make up their own, believing they have every right to do so. Here, it is worth exploring, what role has society had in this construction? And does it deal with the consequences appropriately or effectively.

I did not set out to work with masks. Initially, I was simply incensed by the suggestion that we should identify others and also groups of people we might feel an affinity towards. This way of looking at the world has caused me a great deal of distress in my lifetime. Although we are wired to identify our group and our social status within the group, we should always try to override this imperative, rather than pander to it. I hate it when people make up their minds about me based on the sound of my voice, where I come from, or that fact I happen to be divorced for instance. And although I am human and cannot help but jump to conclusions about people at times, I think it behoves us to do our utmost to look beyond the masks society constructs, to look beyond the words that spring to mind when we come across people in person or online – words such as old, fat, black, white, student, Brexiteer/Remoaner (what a couple of absolutely awful words!) rich, poor, on benefits, disabled, child etc. These words all help us to situate someone but when we stop at the very first sign and don’t look beyond we are preventing ourselves from potential experience and richness. Often non-verbal, unspoken language tells us a great deal too and as a society we seem to have a complex relationship with that aspect of communication in terms of the lack of it online.

  • The internet adds a new layer to the way we construct others and ourselves

The survey, which started this exercise, was only accessed online. I deliberately used an online community because this modern somewhat haphazard but highly curated expression of self and interaction of other has added a whole new layer of constructed persona and communication skills to deal with. The way we communicate online is fraught with contradiction. We might interact minus any of the filters we have evolved over millions of years, and it is not unusual to see even highly accomplished and clever people reducing themselves to the level of 7 year olds arguing in the playground. Recently an article claimed trolls were likely to be sadistic and/or psychopaths (Sest, 2017). This is hardly surprising but in fact the trend goes right across the spectrum of social media users to greater or lesser extent. Either we’re all sadists and psychopaths or that kind of behaviour is filtering through society and sadists are unduly influencing us, as argued in Will Black’s book, Psychopathic Cultures. (2015) Additionally, we have no way of knowing who is telling the truth about themselves online and must trust or not that we are dealing with real people when we interact online. There are plenty of stories about frauds and scams. The Internet has been described as the wild west of today. We now communicate without the benefit of non-verbal language – emoticons are used in an attempt to circumvent that absence, however they are effective in a limited way.

  • Brecht – representation, reporting rather than emoting

Finally, I have found that emotive acting in photography is not effective, although I can imagine that documenting acting the activity would be interesting. I have essentially asked all the participants to report rather than act.



Earlier notes I made along the way, some of which may seem random …..

  • Oneiric images

Oneiric is dreamlike and allows us to access a different reality – despite referring to Wilson throughout the section, I had not realised I was looking at pre-language, pre-conscious realities

This reality is just as important as the external one according to Jung

These images aim to give a disrupt the illusions of a stable reality

  • Sensitivity and responsibility to subjects

One of the things about reality TV which I find utterly unacceptable is how children are exposed to the public perhaps due to society’s skewed relationship with celebrity and the way in which such icons are so highly valued. This work as been all about finding ways to tell stories and represent ideas and people without resorting to scooping out anyone’s entrails and putting them on show for others to view. The writer of the course does as much with success and sensitivity as he photographs the banal but telling objects in his subject’s lives in Relative Poverty. It was certainly what I attempted to when I photographed objects and fragments of space in Calais and Dunkirk.

  • Questioning the photographic image

I have been wondering what my work is really about. On one level I have resisted taking images of people that look would like so many other images of people we see. I wanted to explore different ways of doing things, ways that I had not explored before. And I have done that. On another level I am beginning to wonder if what is coming through work is a criticism of photography itself, of the terrible trust we people have in images, in portraits. Portraits convince us that we are looking at a whole real person, but we never can be, since it is only ever a moment, a fragment, a tiny slither of time and the same person can look entirely different from moment to moment, frame to frame. And a whole real person is argubaly an illusion anyway.

  • Self & Other 

“Self and other give birth to each-other” (Conley, 1984: 32) Language solidifies these distinctions, and so do photographs. The ‘hard question’, asked by philosophers and neuroscientists, “what is consciousness”, i.e. what makes a self seems fraught with all sort of arguments from various quarters. Philosophers and scientists tell us the self in an illusion and spiritualists and religious people tell us the self is a soul, a little bit of spiritual essence, which links us to a celestial being/world. Despite these positions seeming irreconcilable human beings form groups and Edward O Wilson likens human groups to super-brains, operating as a single entity. He also explores how Group A might work to protect itself and guard against Group B impinging on its space. However, individuals within each group are often faced with a conflict of interest, to serve the group or self the self. Wilson says, “Much of culture, including especially the content of the creative arts, has arisen from the inevitable clash of individual selection and group selection.” (2012, Kindle 17%)

Wilson’s words together with the Lacanian view that a cohesive self is an illusion perhaps leads to many feeling threatened in the world today as old structures are dismantled.

  • Masks

I notice the use of masks in the first shoot links to Greek Tragedy and perhaps therefore speaks of something deeply human and reaches back into very early ritual behaviour. If you’ve ever worked with masks you will know of the profound and magical transformation they can affect. Actors who might be shy and awkward suddenly find they can perform in a way that is unfathomable without the mask. In the chapter titled Masking the Subject in Family Frames, Mariane Hirsh describes Lacan’s mirror stage, when she relays, “the subject first apprehends him- or herself as a coherent image, a misrecognition which disguises the profound incongruities and disjunctions on which identity is necessarily based” The sense of a cohesive self which an infant begins to internalise is a welcome relief, says Hirsh as the mirror self is ideal (Hirsh, 2012:101) She then asserts that looking is a complicated process, and introduces the camera as metaphorical or mechanical looking. Again, she refers to Lacan. She quotes, “In the scopic field the gaze is outside. I am looked at, that is to say, I am a picture […] what determines me, at the most profound level, in the visible, is the gaze that is outside”. Having worked with masks, I can say based on experience that it is profoundly interesting how one you completely transform when wearing one.

When we look into an individual’s personal tragedy what are we doing and how does it serve anyone? Other that being voyeuristic? If we are going to feed off someone’s pain perhaps there must be some benefit to that person or society in order to make the trade-off viable. Or else we are simply wild animals vying for meat. Even in nature there is a trade off to the ecosystem when vultures peck the dead flesh from an animal. By doing so they clean up potential bacterial hotspots that could go on to infest rivers and streams. If we aren’t contributing to the ecosystem in some way then it behoves us to find a different way to express our interest and explore pain. See William Kentridge, See Roger Ballan, See Sontag On the Pain….

Abrams, L. (2017) “The Only Solace We Get Is From Each Other”: Ellen Mara De Wachter on How Collaborative Artists Show the Way to a Better Society, Artspace. Available at: [Accessed 8 July 2017]

Black, W. (2015). Psychopathic cultures and toxic empires. 1st ed. London: Frontline Noir.

Conley VA, 1984, Helene Cisoux, Writing the Feminine, Uni. Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London

Hirsch, M. (1997). Family frames. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, p.103.

Hudson, M. (2014). Hannah-Hoch-The-woman-that-art-history-forgot. The Telegraph. [online] Available at: art-history-forgot.html [Accessed 9 Feb. 2017].

Sest, N. (2017) Constructing the cyber-troll: Psychopathy, sadism, and empathy. Science Direct. Available at: [Accessed 8 Juley 2017]

The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward O. Wilson, Liveright Publishing Corporation, Publish April 9 2012, Kindle Edition, 17%