Assignment 2: Background

Produce a story with a social theme. Your project should combine portraits, objects and spaces to describe your subject matter. You should produce between 8 – 12 images to demonstrate an ethical practice.

I am submitting a project I was invited to be part of, and which is being exhibited from 10th to 29th November 2017. The overall project is called Oxford House, Nexus. My section in it is called Honor’s Dance with Oxford House. Nexus and Honor’s Dance have a social theme, but as an attendee who visited the opening said, my work bridges documentary and fine art traditions. (Good, I’m glad that came across.) My work does combine portraits, objects and spaces in various ways, especially and most obviously if one considers the way it is situated within the overall collaborative project it was made in, next to work by John Umney which is predominantly of objects and Keith Greenough’s of spaces – but perhaps I will need to justify the dominant focus on portraits in my section of the work as well as discuss its potential failings in this regard.

Critically, I needed to give a lot of thought to ethics when considering, planning and executing the work due to the fact I ended up working with a minor and my tendency to work with people. I may also have been unconsciously charged with the responsibility for covering representation in some form within a multi-cultural area.

Social theme  

The below statement describes the collaborative project’s social aspect. This statement was written collectively, prompted initially by Keith, who was the instigator of the project. I will discuss further social themes in more detail, and specifically in relation to my own work separately below after I’ve explored the ethical considerations.

Nexus: noun

  1. A central or focal point.
  2. A connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

Ever since Oxford House was founded in 1884 by Keble College, University of Oxford, it has been a nexus for the residents in and around Bethnal Green. Initially conceived to “alleviate or remove the impact of poverty to the local community”, its history is rich and fascinating, and its connections with the surrounding area remain as significant as ever today.

Oxford House Nexus is a photographic exhibition which explores social relationships between Oxford House and its dynamic community across time. It is a collaboration between Sarah-Jane Field, Keith Greenough and John Umney.

Sarah-Jane Field’s work celebrates social progression and explores underlying assumptions we may have about education in general.

Keith Greenough’s photographs are a quiet tribute to the historic public buildings in Bethnal Green including Oxford House which have helped to shape the community’s collective history for more than a century.

John Umney gathers traces and marks from within the confines of Keble College as evidence of a sense of purpose and re-habituates these within contemporary Oxford House.

The exhibition runs from 10th-29th November 2017. All proceeds from the sales of prints will go to Oxford House to help fund the restoration of its historic building.


Keith asked me to contribute because I am a portrait photographer which fitted well with his architectural interest and John’s tendency to work with memory, photographing objects and spaces to express his ideas. When Keith, John and I first discussed possibilities, along with John Ryan, director of Oxford House we thought about the people who use the centre. There is a wide range of activities for people from all walks of life, including dance classes for children, as well as for a much older generation, sports and exercise classes, religious meetings, and art projects. The building is populated by businesses and has visiting art, theatre, and dance productions. I could envisage the sort of documentary images we are used to seeing of pensioners who attend the dance classes and was quite drawn to that as a possibility. But I had no immediate connection and so such work might have ended up being patronising, voyeuristic, and perhaps rather unoriginal. A very big factor in all of this was time. I live nowhere near Bethnal Green, have a busy life bringing up three children on my own, am working and also studying; so had a limited amount of time to find an idea, make connections, and then make the work. I did not have the luxury of being able to embed myself with a group of people, get to know them properly, unearth their stories leading to such a style of work that avoided being potentially trite, superficial or derivative.

Ethical considerations when working with minors

Keith was quite keen on me working with the ballerinas he had seen when setting up an exhibition at Oxford House last year. The Lisa Gilbert Academy of Dance is based in Oxford House and Lisa runs classes there every day. She teaches herself and employs others too. I wrote to her and said in my email:

I wanted to let you know, I am accutely aware of child protection issues and have worked extensively with child refugees in recent months so my understanding of the issues surrounding imagery and children is fairly solid. As such if you were happy to take any of these ideas forward I would provide you with a set of clear documents such as something about me, a description of the project, and an agreement detailing my responsibilities between parents, children and me, as well as a release form. (28/4/17)

When Lisa and I met she expressed how pleased and reassured she was by the above. I am not sure she would have been so keen to help without it. We talked about the possibilities. She was not entirely comfortable with approaching parents of the youngest children and offered the advanced class where students were 13-15 years old. She also mentioned Honor who is officially ‘home-educated’ and attends a range of classes throughout the week as she has been encouraged to follow her ambition and dedicate her time to one passion. In fact, Honor is educated in reality by teachers at Lisa’s school and another in Bethnal Green, as well as by attending various workshops run by Rambert, Tring and the Northern School of Dance amongst others. The difference between her education and so many others’ is that hers is tailored.

Education Paradigms

I was immediately drawn to Honor’s story and her education as it contrasted so dramatically with a standardised state education (and private too); and because it was very different to the sort of Victorian education designed to produce able workers and soldiers during the industrial revolution. The following TedTalk by Ken Robinson describes changing educational paradigms and explores how Victorian economic needs dictated the model which we still see in our schools today. It also describes why this is no longer useful and in fact may be quite self-defeating for our society.

A longer version

What struck me about Honor was an obvious sense of intrinsic motivation, and I compared this to the way teachers in mainstream schools aim to motivate children extrinsically with bribes and rewards, which I suspect potentially turns learning into a chore rather than something to enjoy and even love. I wanted the questions I raised NOT to come across as a didactic celebration of home-schooling but rather a prompt to query the way we educate, about how we value economic needs which are changing dramatically with the need and possibilities in relation to living a good or meaningful life. My statement is very important in this regard.

Changing Economic Structures and Needs

At the same time as working on this, I have been developing an interest in the way our social environment is evolving, driven by economic development and in particular the advance of technology.  Some notes recorded on my phone:

At a time when the concept of reality is questioned at every level a new generation will self educate themselves via the network  that connects them. This work prompts questions about some of the assumptions we have about education. What economic structures do our educational patterns address and are they still relevant today? As we transition away from hierarchy, how should we foster advantageous behaviour in future generations? Does education in the UK in particular require a rethink? How will the younger generation, networked, self educated via an internet that isn’t always reliable or trustworthy, best be served by the institutions that dominate our society? OH is accessed by a wide variety of people from across the social divide. I chose to work with Honor because of the way her family have educated her and her siblings, and the contrast between that and the Victorian academic (batch) ideology which still informs the way schools are run today.

As I worked with Honor, I was reading Post Capitalism by Paul Mason and came across Frithjof Bergmann and his book New Work (not yet published in English but listen to a podcast here)

How will we humans continue to exist going forward, and what and how should we be teaching our young? Allan Grogan sums up the challenges in an article for the Leveller, “For the last 50 years our lives have continually adapted and improved with the advances of technology and automation. During the postwar years this advancement was mutually beneficial to labor and employer. The development of machinery led to higher production, which led to an increase in wages. Yet since shortly before the turn of the century, the advancement of technology has only helped to increase capital, while wages in real terms have fallen. There is now a very clear and present danger that automation and robotics will develop at such a rate that the Bank of England predicts machines may replace up to 50% of jobs in the UK and United States.[1]” (2017)

Mason discusses how young people educate themselves online in his book, and proposes there will be more time to devote to passion rather than donkey work (‘crap jobs’) in future. Frithjof Bergmann suggests working collectively to ensure homes and communities are kept safe and up to scratch, and devoting time to passions and interests too. Honor’s education has been structured so that she is able to devote much of her time to learning dance. Her passion is valued – but as her mother admits, it is a privileged position to be in. (Personal email, 2017) Nevertheless, society will need to address the way humans spend their time as automation does more and more of the grunt work. How will those in power treat the masses now that they are no longer required to make the factories operate? Frithjof and Bergmann envisage creativity and less work. (I am more skeptical and can’t imagine those in power facilitating that.)

When questioned about my thoughts on this by Keith who suggested people in non-western countries can barely survive, never mind pursue artistic endeavours, I wrote the following on my Sketchbook blog:

Mothers and Others, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy – page 162; The AKA tribe, both parents spend a lot of time with offspring, since AKA fathers are in camp often, they remain within eyesight of babies 88% of the time  – highest paternal figure for any human society -Hewlett 1998, Tables 16.4 and 16.6 – See also Konner 2005 for overview . Resulting in secure/safe relationships due to amount of time available through leisure = more time parenting, comparative minimal time devoted to ‘economic’ activity (2009)

See also Our Babies Ourselves for references on economic needs affecting social relationships. These references are in response to someone saying that a post capitalist society, where AI takes over the grunt work, leaving citizens to ‘work’ less and pursue passions, seems like a luxury for westerners only. While it is critical and right to be aware of how some non-western societies are struggling to survive, never mind pursue passions, there are two points to consider. Looking at pre-agrarian societies we see a long history of more equalised balance between economic and non-economic activities (in some cases). And also, we might think about the impact western governments, capitalist – based economic policies have had on poorer nations, effectively colonising them through the World Bank at times (Dialectics of Liberation, Verso, 2015)

Also, Frithjof Bergman whose talk I recorded here a few weeks ago, has worked with communities in Michigan, poor though, not rich  – people who suffer under capitalism. He has worked elsewhere in non-western countries, albeit societies that have been affected by western economic history -i.e. colonisation.  And importantly states he is thinking globally in New Work.  Available again here:

Alternative routes

I did not settle on working with Honor exclusively straight away. Practically it was the simplest solution to time and distance constraints but I looked at various options first. I photographed her whole class, minus the people who didn’t want to be included. After meeting the whole class I was concerned by representation or rather lack of it. I did not want to do work which focused only on a relatively privileged group of young women, effectively ignoring the wealth and breadth of cultural diversity that exists in Bethnal Green.  I had the idea of creating a performance on the street with Honor and photographing it, influenced by the work I’d seen by Eikoh Hosoe.  In fact, we spent an afternoon doing something akin to that but I didn’t think my underlying concept was clear enough and ultimately rejected the outside images, instead choosing to focus on inner images that took place in the building. I will include some of these alternative experiments in a link on the Assignment page. Of course, there are also ethical questions connected to such images where strangers appear in the images – two middle-class females from inside the centre ‘playing at art’ on the streets of Bethnal Green taking pictures of those outside, which include ‘others’ some of whom must work hard, with or without their knowledge might be rather lacking in sensitivity.

Self & Other, power dynamics

When I first saw this work on the wall just the other day, I was really struck by how narcissistic it seemed.  The intense exploration of a self, not physically mine, but certainly a proxy for mine; however, also I hope a proxy for all young women who have or who are aiming for something meaningful. So yes, it is narcissistic but in the Lacanian mirror stage sense, as an exploration of separate elements that we conceive of as a whole. I was reminded of a comment which I quoted in A4 of UVC made by Arnaud Claass, an artist who also teaches art history at l’École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, in Arles in an article about Isabelle Mège. “It is definitely a project of narcissism, and I do not use that word in a moral or pathological way. Some people have to explore that side of themselves more than others.” (Heyward, 2016) which I followed with “…we must dispense with a layman’s interpretation of ‘narcissism’ and comprehend it in its academic sense, which is about the development of ego and an ability to recognise the self as whole, as well as seeing (from) separate others” (Field, 2016) For women perhaps we might argue a developing state of presence and significance is emerging in our culture and the intense study of objects, parts of the self, is reflected in the work. Certainly, I intended as stated in the overall project’s statement to “celebrate social progression” in terms of women’s rights here in the west which, despite setbacks and struggle, we have witnessed during the last 60 to 100 years. And which one would very much hope to see continue apace.

If I were to make this work separate to John and Keith’s I would have thought about including images minus any person, only focused on objects and spaces in the final edit. It certainly would have seemed less narcissistic as described above. However, within the context of the whole project, their work covers these elements but I can envisage using inanimate objects to represent me in A3.

Honor, the young dancer in my images and I agreed to work collaboratively and I was immensely thankful for her and her mother’s contribution. But it is abundantly clear to me that I ’employed’ Honor in the way a director might cast actors to perform a specific role. That isn’t to say I behaved in an authoritarian way. I did not. But she was, is an actor in my ‘production’. I asked her for her skills and she generously provided them so that I could make use of her form to express something, a narrative I was aiming to find and tell. She is a significant contributor because it was her work that enabled the expression to take place. I did not have a grand plan. I did not foresee the end result. Without her contribution, I would not have made the work. But I drove the work and put her into situations I thought might result in images that said the things I wanted to say. Sometimes it worked, other times not. I was grateful for her risktaking and enthusiasm. Ethically, I was in a position of responsibility. I needed to be protective of my underage performer, assume the adult position, guide her, and own the work. I might have added her to the poster and indeed Keith asked me if I wanted to. But I felt this encroached on his and John’s position, and also potentially put Honor in a place that felt uncomfortable. I was in a more powerful position that she was and I hope I carried that in an appropriate and suitable manner. I do not think children do well when given too much to carry, as much as I also think sometimes adults don’t give children and young people enough credit. There is a balance to aim for and hopefully, I reached something approximating it here.

This way of working is a continuation of the way I began working in A1 and it is very much about exploring ways to combine my background as an actor, in performance with photography.


I have been struggling to work out if I should be studying photography. As I looked around at contemporary practice and at the sort of work we are directed towards so far in the coursework, I started to feel that perhaps photography was not going to provide a niche for me. Then I came across the following blog and saw that what I was trying to do was different to straight documentary photography, but nevertheless something that IS possible. Andre Lamut discusses the following book, recorded in a blog by Douglas Stockdale;

Nokturno is a result of my research on performative acts which construct the final artwork as a physical object. I believe that they are the complete opposite of straight photography. What generates meaning in these images are the performative actions made by the artist. This kind of actions have an impact or an effect on visual and physical appearance of the artwork. The essence of performative photography is not what is depicted on an image, but which acts were executed in the process of creating it. Furthermore, the final artwork itself becomes performative by having some sort of impact on the viewer.” From – . 

Although I don’t fully comprehend all that is being said in this quote, I know I should keep heading in this direction.


Honor’s Dance is presented formally in three Aristotlean acts. There are three larger images, 2 x A2 and 1 x A1, beneath of which are three supporting images all A3. Due to a typo, the larger images are a different aspect ratio to the smaller ones – however, I think this worked well, further differentiating the supporting A3 images. The use of three acts immediately demonstrates a link with history that stretches far back beyond the Industrial Revolution and provides a strict sense of containment inside of which are far less formal, perhaps even chaotic pictures (some but not all).  My statement tells viewers straight away, this is a performance and the dancer we see is, therefore, ‘representation’. Images in each act are distinctive from the other acts and presenting it in this way made it possible to bring differently toned images together in one work.  I focused on elements in the images that chimed with the other photographers’ work. For instance, in John’s work there is a focus on marks indicating age and so too, in images 9, 10 and 11, patches of paint which have fallen off the walls can be seen. John also focused on signs of history and one of the originators from Keble House who collectively started the Oxford House project, as have I, by including panels in the chapel that commemorate linked men from the past. Keith photographed the stairwell and the chapel in his images and these areas are both seen in my own images. Honor is deliberately situated in the space that is filled with signs of Victorian culture and the social habit of patronage that informed motivation behind Oxford House. In the key image, central to the work in meaning and literally as placed upon the walls, and larger than the rest of them, we no longer see these surrounding signs. Instead, there is only darkness and a blue light.


Here is a short paragraph for each of the adult contributors to the work below, and also the building, a significant (f)actor in the work. These paragraphs were provided in a press release as well as at the exhibition and in an accompanying handout.

About Oxford House

Oxford House is an arts, community and heritage centre in the heart of London’s East End. Established in 1884 Oxford House is a much loved local institution and has served the local community for over 130 years. Oxford House is a Grade II listed building and home to almost 30 charities, community organisations and social businesses. It is open 7 days a week with a range of classes and activities and provides an arts centre and volunteering opportunities. Oxford House is planning a major heritage project with support from Heritage Lottery Fund and Tower Hamlets to secure the future of this Grade II listed building currently on Buildings at Risk Register.

About Keith Greenough

Keith Greenough is a photographer based in South East England. He views his practice as conceptually based documentary. His work spans both portraiture and landscape and he has a particular interest in East London. His photographs have been exhibited in London, Oxford and Sheffield and are held in private collections and the archives at Toynbee Hall in East London. Keith has a degree in photography from the Open College of the Arts.

About John Umney

John has been a photographer for many years and is a graduate of UCA. He has been published in year books and periodicals as well as written on photography. John’s work has been exhibited in Oxford, Sheffield and Gloucester. His work investigates responses to the disjunctures of memory and the disruption of personal histories.

About Sarah-Jane Field

Sarah-Jane Field started studying photography in 2014 and works as commercial photographer in and around London. She recently exhibited her work, Portrait of a Pub, in South West London. In 2016 Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, a series documenting the refugee crisis was chosen as part of a member’s exhibition at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. Her images were used recently by The Open College of the Arts (OCA), where she is studying, as part of their advertising campaign.


Further background

As I was not aware I’d be submitting this work when I started it I kept a record of my development on the Sketchbook blog which is for non-OCA work. Much of my initial work can be accessed here along with ideas, thoughts, questions, and links.


My oldest friend came along to the opening and one of her comments as we discussed it afterward was, “A girl CAN dream…and achieve too”.  In the current climate of moral panic regarding male/female relations, I am glad my friend interpreted it as such.

Featured Image (c)SJField 2017

Oxford House, Nexus content reproduced here with consent from John Umney and Keith Greenough


Field, S. Greenough, K. Umney, J. 2017. Oxford House Nexus, (statement, press release and handout) Oxford House Nexus_Press Release

Oxford House Whats On [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

Robinson, K. 2000. Changing Education Paradigms Ted Talk [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

Field, S. 2017 Oxford House [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

Field, S. 2017 Eikoh Hosoe [Accessed 12 Nov.2017]

Stockdale, D. 2017Adrej Lamut – Nokturno Blog review [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

Field, S. 2016 Assignment 4 UVC [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].

Field, S. 2017 Email to Lisa Gilbert requesting a meeting and to work with her students,

Heyward, A. (2016). The Opposite of a Muse. The New Yorker. [online] Available at: of-a-muse [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017]. [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017]



i. Email sent to Lisa Gilbert of the Lisa Gilbert Academy on 28/4/2017

Dear Lisa,

I was given your details by John from Oxford House (eventually – he at first gave me another Lisa’s details and I spent some time talking with someone who had no idea what I was on about, hence the delay getting in touch with you.)

As you may know, I am one of three photographers who will be working on a project which will culminate in an exhibition at Oxford House in November. Any profits from sales of the work will go towards Oxford House renovation fund.

Each photographer will focus on a different aspect and my work has primarily been about people and in particular, I’ve looked at children, their development and the social landscape in which they grow up, and eventually become adults; and how their world influences who they might become one day. You can see an example of the sort of work I do here:

John said you were interested in possibly allowing me to work with you and your ballet school in some way. I wanted to let you know, I am accutely aware of child protection issues and have worked extensively with child refugees in recent months so my understanding of the issues surrounding imagery and children is fairly solid. As such if you were happy to take any of these ideas forward I would provide you with a set of clear documents such as something about me, a description of the project, and an agreement detailing my responsibilities between parents, children and me, as well as a release form.

I have several ideas that may worth taking forward. Here are a couple that would involve you.

1. Formal Portraits: My process is about children in their environment. In the past, I have gone to family’s homes and taken images of children. If you were to send out information to your class member’s parents they might choose to volunteer to be included, get in touch with me and I could arrange sessions with them directly. They would be able to purchase images from a selection and the profits would go to Oxford House. I would choose a limited selection t to exhibit in November at Oxford House.


2. Documentary: I document your classes or perhaps focus on just one class. Monday mornings may be the most practical because I could come up to Bethnal green from Wandsworth after dropping my children off.  (If I did this, it could even lead to the above idea too as I get to know the families and they become used to my presence ). This second idea may be my preferred option. But it would mean having me hang around regularly. I understand you would have to get permission from everyone in the class we focused on. It may help if you supplied information that links my project to some well-meaning aims (I do hope it has well-meaning aims) so I shall end the email with a couple of pointers that helps you to understand what I’m trying to do. Again people could buy the images and profits would got to Oxford House. Again, I would choose a limited selection for the exhibition.

Context – (draft and merely a starting point)

Oxford House was started with the ambition of helping people in the community by Victorian Christian men. Historically it was a place where local men and boys would be provided for. Over the years as changes to the way we live took hold Oxford House’s objectives have evolved. Today we live in a very different world and Oxford House continues to be a venue that provides space for the local community but in far more egalitarian way. Gender is irrelevant, as is religion, or the colour of one’s skin. The area in which Oxford House exists is a multi-cultural, and terrific example of people from all over the world, or may second and third generation residents living well together. At a time when the world is showing acute anxiety about boundaries, borders and changing definitions, Bethnal Green is a vibrant example of why we should not be afraid. By concentrating on children in this project I aim to explore the future and celebrate these children, who are growing up together, and look forward their positive contributions as adults.

Let me know what you think and if it would be useful to either Skype or I could come up next week and chat with you if you felt that was necessary. Or I could simply come along and observe a class and we could take it from there?

Best, SJ

ii Initial email to Honor’s mother sent 14/5/ 2017


I am a photographer. I work commercially and am studying with The Open College of Arts, moving towards a more conceptual practice using lenses and imagery as my medium. A long time ago, before I had my children, I was an actor and so often explore performance in my photography work, one way or another.

Recently I was approached by two other photographers who were asked by Oxford House to create some work for an exhibition in November. If any revenue is raised through print sales the proceeds will go to Oxford House’s renovation fund. Although we all work very differently and will create separate images, our project is collaborative. John Umney is looking at memory and has begun work at Keble House in Oxford, which is where the idea for Oxford House began in the late 1800s. Keith is looking at Victorian architecture and interiors in Bethnal Green, where Oxford House is based. I traditionally work with people and have focused on childhood a lot in various projects, including some documentary work in the Dunkirk Refugee Children’s Centre with a charity called Just Shelter. You can see some of my work at – look in the archive for older work not available on the main menu.

I approached Lisa Gilbert to see if there was any way I might document or work alongside one of her classes and she mentioned that your family may be very interested in being involved. When I thought about the links between home-schooling and unschooling and the ancient monolithic structure of Oxford University where Keble and the idea for Oxford House originated I became quite excited by the possibilities.

Finally, so as not to bombard you with too much information at this point, I am very interested in collaborative work, moving away from the idea of master narrators, and wondered if your daughter would be interested in working with me on a project that initially might be a document but may grow into something more. I am not sure at this point how much time we’d need or how the project might unfold and would work around you, but also need to factor in all the many other things in my life such as my children, studies and commercial work. So I suppose in the first instance, if you are interested please get in touch via email and we can take it from there. I’m interested in the imaginary way in which we construct images in our minds so may like to try and bring something of that into the work to begin with. Which is why an email first might be a good idea rather than a call or meeting in person (although of course I’d probably want to move towards that shortly afterwards).

I always work with agreements and would send you something defining boundaries if after some discussion we agreed to go ahead.

Thanks, Sarah-Jane




Reflection: TVG 16th September 2017

Yesterday I attended the OCA Thames Valley meeting for the first time in a while as I have generally been busy with work on previous dates. It was good to see old faces again and to meet new ones too. As always, there was a lot of incredibly creative work which was inspiring, and it also broadened my horizons. I’m going to talk about a few of the presentations although not all, and some only very briefly indeed, as well as the work I presented.

David Fletcher (I think that is his name! Apologies if it’s incorrect.) Technically, David’s image of his family in a pool room all absorbed in their own worlds with their screens, utterly separated from each other as we are all so accustomed to seeing people nowadays, is utterly incredible!  It’s really, really really good. I am envious of his skills. He clearly knows what he is doing with lighting and camera work. It is wide frame and captures a lot of detail, crisp as you can image and beautifully lit. The subject matter is interesting. It’s topical and relevant and worthy of study/art. It’s an amazing submission. However, and I hope I don’t offend David (which I may especially as I don’t even know if I’ve got his name right!!) this seems like Crewdson’s voice because it appears so closely mimicked. It is a flipping amazing homage to Crewdson and what’s more, David did it with a fraction of the budget Crewdson uses, making me question Crewdson’s methodology even more than I already have done. I think it is good to copy people. It’s a way to learn about what we want to do and say. It’s good to pick up skills and to stretch ourselves and realise we have access to this visual language too – and I think David will benefit enormously from this experiment. But if he is to find his own voice he will need to break free from merely copying work exceptionally well and, in much the same way I always need to, to take some risks that aren’t about emulating someone else really, really, impressively well. One thing that is different, Crewdson didn’t use people he knew until the latest exhibition which I discussed the other day. And Richard is focused on his family.  I think this is a useful place to remind myself of the difference between style and voice. The other work he showed was some documentary images about rounding up the ponies in the New Forest. The same old argument about colour vs. mono came up and he was visually irked by it but in my view these particular images were so beautiful in colour I asked why would anyone want to remove it? There seemed like lots of potential for a lovely tale about this very old tradition and showing it in colour further emphasises the fact there is so much history linked to the activity which continues today in our technologically advanced world, where colour photography is the norm.

Kate Aston – I will speak briefly about Kate’s work  – just to say it was a pleasure to see it in the flesh rather than just on-screen as it is so idiosyncratic and original. I know she has had some difficulties paring it down following feedback from her tutor but it is immensely interesting work that steps outside the box. I wish her the best with her submission.

Richard Down – I was just gobsmacked by how beautiful the books Richard had made for his landscape submission. One would need to consider the photography, as Richard himself said when we chatted via FB earlier, being it is that which will be marked in the main. And I did not look at it closely enough since we as a group felt it best not to hand the books around and risk damaging them or getting finger prints on the pages. However, from afar it is sublime in the greatest sense. Nevertheless, the presentation will have a big impact and Richard has done a truly beautiful and impressive job. He is submitting two books, both of which he has made himself from scratch. The first is a landscape black and white edition which details a walk that he made in honour of poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) across the countryside, and who wrote about the same landscape. Richard has included words from poems by Thomas on the left hand side of the facing page for each image. The images are beautifully printed and the result is touching and seems deeply contemplative. Richard told us during his presentation that he used to do the walk with his late wife and Jayne mentioned that this added a whole new level to his work, and I think she was implying he might have made something of that fact in the book (I’m not sure if he did or not). I wonder about this. Perhaps just in a dedication page, but any more than that would not have been Richard’s personality and while I see that students are often encouraged to scrape their emotional insides out for the sake of their work, I think there are times when it is effective and times when it isn’t. In this case the immense care and attention to detail tells us all we need to know, I think. It signifies there is something much deeper than pretty pictures of the woods and some words by a soldier some of us have not heard of, although I am reliably informed was quite famous and is according to Catherine Banks the epitome of talent wasted in war waged by old men utilising young men (2017), who died before his time, going on. All of these things together seem to me an obvious indication that the books has deeper meaning. Baring our souls in a more obvious way is the trend in culture , high and low, but it is just that – a trend. Richard’s second book is a record of Deception Island. Again it is just so beautifully made, the same binding as before but with overlays of maps indicating where the image was taken. Here I wonder if he could have made more of the semiotics surrounding the word deception to give it more depth, or is that too obvious? I wonder what secrets are held inside the making of the book, as I suspect they will be there, but would need more time with it. It’s a wonderful object regardless, and I really think that someone other than a few OCA tutors should take a look at it.

Dawn Langley – I am always interested in Dawn’s work since she is often highly creative and has presented some interesting projects in the past. I am intrigued by her Graphic Design module. Not only has the step away from photography influenced her image-making, she has also learned to use other software which seems infinitely useful. (I dipped into InDesign this morning and although managed to do the very simple thing I was attempting, it was a challenge.) Learning how to use as much technology as possible does seem like an advantageous route to take nowadays. Dawn had to create covers for a series of books about aspects of graphic design such as typology and colour. The pages she showed us were so interesting, I actually wanted to buy the book she was proposing. I am envious of her new-found design skills and wish I could do such a course too. Dawn, like me, wished she might change pathways but the options were not available for what she wanted to do.

Some thoughts about studying – Dawn’s predicament seems to be a common theme for adult learners I have chatted to with the OCA. I wonder if undergraduate degree pathways for people who have already done degrees and/or have quite a lot of experience in work might be a bit limiting? I’m not sure. On one hand perhaps I am being greedy wanting to learn everything I see and need to focus in one direction in order to have any hope of achieving the levels I wish to, on the other, I really feel under pressure to earn a proper living and panicked that I am currently incapable of doing so. I can’t help thinking having as many strings to my bow as possible would make that more likely. Although a scatter gun approach of course isn’t always that helpful. Dawn, unlike me who chose to concentrate on child-rearing until I divorced and was forced into making some decisions about being self-employed, already has a job though and has not been out of the workplace for 15 years. For me a ‘job’ feels like a foreign land, but I do from time to time think about trying to get one since the money I earn from photography is not enough, and is unreliable and unpredictable. Ideally I would be able to work as a photographer and have some more reliable, regular work to supplement it but then studies might have to take a back seat. I have some teaching experience and so it makes sense to aim for that in the medium to long term but I will only realise that goal if I stick at the studies and also try to move a bit faster. I digress but it is something that is on my mind a lot and yesterday when we were discussing the course fees I started to think about what it is I’m paying for. I need to balance out affordability with possible end results, sadly, as I wish I were in a position to focus on learning for the sake of learning. But as my youngest boy gets older, this all begins to seem like more and more of a luxury that I can’t afford unless I can be more certain it will lead to paid work. In which case, perhaps this method, protracted long distance learning, is not the best way forward.

Which leads me to my own presentation: 

I showed some images for the Nexus exhibition I am working on with John Umney and Keith Greenough. I took these images earlier this week and then did another shoot on Friday (which I’ll discuss in a moment.) I wanted to suss out two things – would this work be suitable for Self & Other? And did the images convey what I hoped they would.

Second question first – I foolishly read out the temporary/draft statement  I posted on my website at the end of presentation. Jayne said it was very helpful, implying I think it was hard her to make sense of the images without. You can read it here. In this case, context is therefore incredibly important (and I am not sure how I feel about that).

Some points that came from others including Keith who was there, which was helpful, and who showed his images too.

  • (Keith) How will I bring the images together as the colours are different in various rooms? I am thinking about grouping them and presenting them as acts – this is a performance after all.
  • (Keith again) The images where you can’t see Honor’s face make her figure more representative of her generation, rather than an individual. This is a good point. I am not sure if out of the many images I’ve taken we have enough but it is something I will consider as I edit. She is young and trained, through dance, to look out so I often said, don’t look at me and try not not smile all the time.
  • Kate said she could imagine Honor leaping from my images into Keith’s empty spaces, which I rather liked.
  • Jayne advised me to be very, very strict when editing and choose carefully, not allowing anything in that shouldn’t be there.  I hope I can grab another hour with Honor, before the end of the month when really I cannot take any more images, as there is one set up I want to repeat. Although I have as always taken too many images I don’t know at this point if I will have all I’m looking for. I was frustrated by my efforts on Friday. In my words, I’ve cocked up too many and need to think about what I do to correct that. I have some that will work from Monday for sure. I need to think about things and have very little time left. It’s scary.
  • Micheal thought Keith’s work and mine worked well together. John was not there but I have echoed his work too in mine so hopefully it will all fit.
  • People were generally positive. We will see …

Secondly Sue said yes, she thinks I could submit this work for A2 and I agree. It might be suitable due to the questions I ask with it. I am also planning (if there is time) to interview Honor and her mother and put the audio against the images in a sideshow with links to relevant thinkers on the subject of education. I’ve been keeping notes on my linked blog in case I wished to do this. But I am a bit wary. Wendy will obliged to tell me what to do to stretch it, by which time it will be too late to make changes for Oxford House which might make me feel truly hideous (not that that is a real reason to avoid doing so). I have had a response from the prison too which I was thinking about for this assignment but it may work for future one if that went ahead. For the record, A2 asks: Produce a story with a social theme. Your project should combine portraits, objects and spaces, to describe your subject matter. You should produce a between 8-12 images to demonstrate an ethical practice. The last sentence would have been the only sticking point since I had intended to include strangers in street images  – some of whom agreed to join and some who had no idea although they are mostly a blur. In fact there is only one such image I like or am comfortable with. I could always do a different edit though. In the meatime I must get on with the exercises which I have started to look at.

There was so much good stuff to see yesterday; Catherine’s experiments which she termed a “Catalogue of Disasters” may have led no-where for her but were inspiring for their risk taking and original approach. Holly’s urbex images were interesting and she has some super found images to begin exploring. Steven’s plans for his next course are influenced by Emily AllChurch and look fascinating. And seeing Micheal’s ongoing Body of Work looking at torture of the gay people in Nazi Germany was as impressive as ever.

Finally, my new mantra must be – use a smaller aperture, use a smaller aperture, use a smaller aperture. I must say this to myself as often as possible until it gets in to my thick skull!!! Aaaargh!



Banks, C, 2017. Private conversation on FB Messenger

Research: Art & Politics

An important and relevant article titled At Documenta, Blurred Lines Between Art and Politics on Aperture I want to retain:

“Throughout his career, Boas returned again and again to the notion that indigenous peoples, as the subjects of ethnographic study, had much to teach the anthropologists who all too often depicted them as primitive. According to the writer Claudia Roth Pierpont, who profiled Boas in The New Yorker in 2004, “he demolished the standard claim that Indian and Eskimo speakers used different sounds for the same word at different times, and showed that the purported vagueness of ‘primitive’ speech was actually a characteristic of the primitive ears of anthropologists, who transcribed different approximations of what they heard at different times.” (By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, 2017 – accessed 7/8/2017)



A2 Research: Links that may be of use

Shared economy – Uber/Deliveroo and AirB&B for instance (The Times on 2/8/17 publish an article about Uber driver ganging up to exploit passengers by collectively increasing fare-  small mention of the fact Uber drivers are exploited in the first instance and therefore forced into this position by their situation – )

Biggest information product in the world is Wikipedia – page xv (Postcapitalism)

Page 15 (PostCapitalism) David Graeber – anthropologist – who suggests ‘no evidence that early human societies used barter”….. instead trust


Silicon Valley and LSD Use

What comes after religion? School of Life links (History of religion – consequences of Heliocentrism, Strauss )

About Christopher Hitchens  – documentary (religion)

From Stephanie’s post on personal documentary  – –

  • “Morris claims his right to make his documentary as personal as fiction and depart from the traditional and  conventional frameworks and procedures considered the only ones certifying a reliable access to truth;
  • Morris explains that truth is neither guaranteed by style or expression, and leaving his imprint his not an obstacle in documentary, because truth is never guaranteed by anything anyway, even if it its still the receding goal of the documentary tradition;” (Dhubert, 2017)

Discuss position of ‘self’ in academia vs. other forms of expression  –

From Peter Haveland (Requested development from master/slave) (see page 217 onwards)

Below from page 219:

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 15.12.54

And see footnote on page 221

“…to what is most human in man: freedom” (222)

Transhumanism – What happens to concept of separate Self & Other when we are technologically linked to one another, who’s ability is all about serving the system (overall master)

“Troves of dossiers on the private lives and inner beings of ordinary people, collected over digital networks, are packaged into a new private form of elite money … It is a new kind of security the rich trade in, and the value is naturally driven up. It becomes a giant-scale levee inaccessible to ordinary people.”

From Catherine in repose to my question about master/slave dialectic;

” And I hate dogmatism. I think that nothing is as opposed to science and intellectual activity as dogmatism. The turn that we made in the mid-eighties, by creating a small group, which included people who had worked with Bourdieu, was an anti-dogmatic turn, not a political one.”

“In the mid-eighties, it was less that we thought that social classes were no longer relevant than that we concluded they were no longer interesting fields of research. When authors have dealt with an issue thoroughly—you find the same thing with novels—you have to move onto another topic.”

“Basically, we thought, very naively, that certain things could now be taken for granted politically and that, by the same token, we were freed from the tiresome task of having to repeat incessantly that capitalists exist, that inequalities exist, that domination exists, etc. For the left, it was a rather optimistic period, even if, after the fact, one might think that we were mistaken.” This is a precursor to sentiments many feel now (as seen on social media) that all the social advancements we witnessed over the last 50/100 years seem to be unravelling very, very quickly, and quite easily; their fragility not really understood or foreseen. (sexism, racism, anti-worker, protectionist choices etc)

“We live in a society with a broad middle class and a little fraction of the excluded who, out of charity, must be helped, and a little fraction on the top, composed of the rich, the too rich, who should be more mindful of the public good, of “living together,” etc.—in short, more moral, and whom we must try to make moral. This was the beginning of this moral society to which we still belong. I called our group the “Political and Moral Sociology Group” as an homage to Hirschman, but, personally, I don’t like moralism.” Interesting to note this was written in France, (massive player in EU, key figure in dragon up rights for workers which the UK has now rejected, and that it was written in 2012, several years ago)

Ethicists are more and more convinced we should no longer keep pets

Also – see Alfie Kohn’s thesis against behaviouralism training practices when dealing with children.

“Entrepreneurs of the self” – Foucault (as described in Paul Mason’s Post Capitalism)  Pg 24 (NB for dating apps work)

“Knowing that, you can go along with it, or resist — they have that covered too — but the possibility of jumping “out of the system”, if possible, would require a shift in concept of self and human nature, and expose you to a completely new set of risks.”

Also – see page 22 “All that would be needed to blow the whole ting apart os for one or more country to ‘head for the exit”, using protectionism, currency manipulation or debt default” published 2015 one yer before the EY referendum.

Rowan’s piece on networking  –

Again see Paul Mason – page xix struggle between the ‘network’ and hierarchy; also Twitter Mike Glasworthy re networks,

From Stefan, Dana Shultz, Open Casket, ICA,

The end of religion (Paywall)

About the recent riots


Great paragraph at start about how insubstantial a set of descriptions is when describing someone – relevant to A1 and onwards

Towards the end of this documentary, an ape is shown using printed signs to communicate and this allows him to control his impulses, i.e. separates emotion from reason – See chapter 2 of Over Her Dead Body about representation allowing for critical distance from emotion; and emotive vs formal anaysis/interpretation