Assignment 5: Ideas/Notes/Reflections

Self directed project

Develop a project around the theme of Self or Other, or a blurring of the two. For example, this could be a performative work of self-portraiture, or perhaps a documentary story combining portraits, objects and spaces to describe Others.

This is your chance to find and articulate your personal voice in relation to the context defined throughout this course. This will only be realised through an iterative process of experimentation, reflection, analysis, editing and research. Each iteration should lead you to the next until you reach a point where you feel ready to gain feedback, from your tutor. Following tutor feedback, you should rework your project.

The first iteration should involve sketching out possible ideas. Add this to your learning log. Then, try out one or a number of these ideas. Add these early experiments to your learning log. You should then have a look at your most successful images in relation to your developing idea and take the work forward – experiment, reflect, analyse, edit, research and continue to do this until you are at a point where you would like to receive feedback from your tutor, submit your work by whatever means you both agree.

Assignment five is a project in progress. It is not expected to be fully resolved, visually coherent or a clearly contextualised submission. As well as visual material (contact sheets, work prints, etc., depending on the nature of your practice and your project) you should include a short text (around 500 words) setting out:

  • The specific themes your work is addressing or what your work is attempting to communicate
  • A list of the practitioners you’ve looked at in relation to this assignment
  • A bibliography
  • A brief self-evaluation

    You may wish to consider requesting an audio/visual tutorial for feedback on this assignment. Your tutor will give you guidance on how to develop and/or resolve and most appropriately present your project.

Leading on from everything I’ve been looking at in this project – i.e. how do we define the terms self and other in light of an evolving relationship with language, how we construct language, how we construct concepts?

SKEUOMORPH – See Page 17 Posthuman book

The term skeuomorph is compounded from Greek skéuos (σκεῦος), meaning ‘container or tool’, and morphḗ (μορφή), meaning ‘shape’. It has been applied to material objects since 1890[6] and is now also used to describe computer and mobile interfaces.[7] (Wikipedia) 

Relate the above to pattern and randomness/presence and absence

Also – consider in relation to Douglas Crimp’s essay, The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism  – see more here:

…“the withering away of the aura is inevitable fact of our time, then equally  inevitable are all those projects to recuperate it, to pretend that the original and the unique are still possible and desirable. ….no where more apparent than in the field of photography… culprit of reproduction

Pattern and randomness – Images are  a recognisable pattern (signifier) but with fewer or different sets of possibilities (entropy) depending on medium – solid image, digital image – perhaps leads to a dilution of presence. A solid image feels more present than a digital one but has limited possibilities?

In Catherine’s own A4 feedback from Wendy for her work  – “Polish photographer Bownik, Ruth Van Beek as well as buying the current issue of Foam magazine, Back to the Future. The 19thCentury in the 21st Century which looks at the ways in which the artists appearing there are using contemporary, digital techniques whilst interpreting techniques, ideas etc from the 19th Century.”

Some early experiments -taking old family photographs (own archive) and overlaying them with proprietary animation available on apps anyone can access on their phones

A relative and her friends #filter #photography #technology #oca #self&other

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My great grandmother #filter #photography #self&other #technology #OCA

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Excercise 3.3: The act we act

Create a series of photographs or short filmed piece where you become someone else. This can follow Rosy Martin’s example and be someone who has shaped your sense of self, or it can be an invention. What is important is the transformation

Using my phone and an app I became a teenage girl with the click of a few buttons – I show the transformation by posting me – nearly 47 – and then a series of selfies taken in Snapchat. I have only used Snapchat filters  – nothing else beyond that.  The text I’ve used is lifted from the images I looked in my ‘research’ (Thanks to my son for his brilliant help with this, although he did also say “You’re actually spying on my friends, Mum!”)

Although there are signs of my age in them, mostly those signs have been bleached and filtered out by technology. If I were playing a teen on stage or in a film my age would show through makeup too as it has done in these pictures around my neck, and by my lips in the penultimate one. But perhaps the Snapchat filters has succeeded far beyond anything makeup alone could do – my boys were certainly quite taken aback by the impression. A middle-aged actor played a young Karen Blixen in a stage performance I went to see recently, and in fact, the youth was in her acting rather than any mask she put on – which wouldn’t have worked anyway for her as she had to switch to the older version constantly.

These apps make it very easy for anyone who wants to, to put on a digital mask. When you work with actual masks, one way of doing it is to put the mask on and then look in the mirror and allow what you see to transform your physicality. It’s very powerful and effective. Thinking about that and how people look at their digital masks makes me think about how we adjust our behaviour according to the proprietary masks we look at in our selfies online.

The code behind the app, driven by the motivation of the commercial network, is what shapes and dictates the ‘ideal’ for many young people nowadays.  I was worried that these pictures might have seemed judgemental but the truth is the culture we live in shapes all of us, which means although I am unlikely to post these images as renditions of self or signs of my own identity, the fact I am able to make them at all suggests the culture is in me and I am of it.




A3: Screens and filters – digital

I have been swirling around for a while with various ideas about how to make 6 images that show different selves, thinking about voice, death, age, family/friends/various people in one’s life – relationships which make us who we are, the interconnectedness of a self, the illusion of self, ergo the illusion of other, reality, networks etc. All very big topics and I need to find a simple and direct way to move forward, and which can act as a containing idea.

‘What makes me Me, what makes you You?’ is the ongoing inquiry I’ve been exploring since I started reading about cross-cultural child rearing practice when my eldest son was about 8 months old. He’s now nearly 14. Since doing so I have learned a lot about culture and how it acts as a reality filter.

Looking at what I’ve been playing with recently:

  • I felt the proprietary filter in iMovie was probably a bit crass
  • It may be, but it also may be exactly what I am exploring in this exercise. I’m going to learn Premier Pro later this week and that may afford more options but I quite like the simplicity of iMovie.
  • I’ve been looking at filters and screens for a while and perhaps began most notably with the image below

Exploring filters and screens (c)SJField 2017

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  • I then, influenced by Bryan Eccleshall’s Digital Rain series, started playing with slicing up filters as follows;
  • In an interview/video of Pipilotti Rist about her work, she discusses a generalised fear of colour in art and describes why she opts for quite a vivid colour palette which is in some way manipulated and enhanced. By doing this she rejects the perceived sophistication one finds in art. It used to be that mono or black and white signalled art and colour advertising – although certain photographers started breaking with that tradition as far back as the 50s and 60s, namely Saul Leiter and William Eggleston. (I got a lot from this interview in fact)
  • My friend, Jenny Baylis, in her Film Studies MA thesis (2001) which is titled Cinematic Chromophobia: The Case Against Colour, looks at David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, arguing this fear was at the time “manifest in both slow and troubled history of colour film processes, their adoption by the industry, as well as traditional film theory”. (Baylis; intro) Both Jenny and Rist link this fear in some way to racism and feminism, and ultimately to a fear of “the fall of culture”. (Baylis; 8)
  • However, as far as I can tell, digital photography has changed this to some degree although the majority of art photography has a certain ‘tasteful’ relationship with colour. Now colour is acceptable, even preferred by many photographers, and black and white might be ‘acceptable’ but only if shot ‘authentically’ on film. Maybe this is because black and white might be seen by some non-academic photographers as ‘artistic’ as well as by commercially minded clients and makers of photography; hence some photographers can revel in a sense of superiority when working in colour now. The culturally loaded, fetishised value judgments people (even clever ones) like to espouse have shifted somewhat. Nowadays black and white is a little bit gauche (unless shot on film – just about – by some). In photography, it would seem, colour film, and therefore not overly altered or manipulated digitally (or seemingly not) is cherished. Indeed, I once read someone refer to digital conversion to mono as ‘perverse’.
  • Film itself is, by some, considered the superior medium despite the fact – as discussed by former OCA student John Umney in a piece he was writing “…the vast majority of major project work at degree show is digital. Most work at exhibition by contemporary artists is digital. Artists, like Collins and Townsend (and there are many more besides), have found that the aesthetics around analogue serve their narrative demands not because it provides some loftier agency.” (Umney 2017; personal email)
  • Filters – oh, the culturally loaded value judgments here! (I criticise but I am part of the culture in which I exist and hold them too.) To use an Instagram filter is considered by some, or many, a faux pas or at any rate somewhat naive. To emulate film stock, a trick only for advertising and commercial work. And yet, all of culture is indeed a filter. We humans exist only through culture and the filters which shape our reality, and which often tell us what is ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of unpleasant images about with heavy filters on them (not least of which are some of mine). To rely on a proprietary PS filter is considered by some ‘unpleasant’  – and indeed they can be quite ugly, it’s true.
  • I played with some filters that create patterns and animated them together. I didn’t much like the end result after all, they seemed pretty ugly to me – and have ditched the idea of using them. But I may return if I think they can offer something in the direction I am heading.
  • I have been looking at the Snapchat filters for a while wondering what one might do with them – and how/if I might use them in this course, even as I was finishing off UVC. When I was taking these images earlier this year, I thought wow, this app is like the pool in the Narcissus story. It is designed to appeal to our most vulnerable inner vanity, fear, frailties, and it captivates us, traps us into to looking for the lost self, which moves further and further out of reach as we do – because a self is a process and perhaps the process benefits from direct contact with the other and not from contact via a cold, digital information system, one that only shows us our socially/commercially imposed ideals. (Mirror, mirror on the wall….)

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  • Last night I chatted with my nearly 14-year-old son about the sort of images he and friends post online and about some of the academic assumptions in the course folder. Does his generation feel these images are an authentic reality, an enshrined moment? Not according to him (perhaps this social habit serves to undermine anyone’s ability to trust and believe what they see rather than convincing us of truth….) This morning in an article in the Guardian, we are told that social media “is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other,’” and “ripping society apart” according to former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya (Wong 2017) This subject is BIG and extremely complex.
  • So – I think I’m going to focus on Filters and Screens as my main containing topic. The work will ultimately contain a great deal more besides but I am going to try and just stick with this container as much as possible.
  • I’m going to use whatever garish, tasteless, gauche and naive filter I think necessitates being used.
  • I’m not going to write much more now, except where required (well, I’ll attempt not to). I will work through the exercises, probably not in the right order as it’s easier/quicker to work alone than it is to find and spend time with others so I may simply get on with the self ones first.
  • Finally, before I go – there was an article shared in the FB OCA Photography group recently which pertained to be “A deep analysis of Melania Trump’s social media photos,” it really isn’t, and which “reveals a woman in hiding from the world” (Imbach, 2017). And I don’t like to give energy to the revolting shitshow by reposting or even discussing that family, but I was quite amazed by the assumption which underpinned Imbach’s argument, which is that it is healthy and normal to be on show. No, it isn’t! The images in the article were quite horrible as images go, and at first, I assumed that they were childlike in their rendering. However, looking through my son’s feed I see that while there are plenty of images with way too much structure, sharpening, vignetting, and saturation for my own tastes, in fact, a good deal of images made by 13/14-year-olds are far more sophisticated than the ones made by said wife locked up in those towers. Who knows I may emulate some of what they are doing for a few Section 3 exercises? What I did notice is that the girls, many ‘seemingly’ feigning horror at the idea of being on show whilst also inviting it and fishing for compliments as young girls do – is that they are hiding. Literally. They are feining their desire to hide as well as being compelled to do so. It’s such a lot of conflicting turmoil to live with. They make images with their faces covered by hands, fast food bags and digital drawing. The Snapchat filters hide them too. And no wonder! It is awful to be on show. And this generation is under pressure to be on show at all times. Of course, they want to hide. We use screens to protect ourselves. It’s about self-preservation in a world that pressurises you to be on show always.,
  • One last thing – Grotowski knew theatre could not compete with film and TV, so he eschewed all technicalities and any tricks of production. He sought to utilise the actor’s main tool – the body alone.  Being a digital photographer, I will embrace what digital can do in this assignment and not try to compete with film at all.


Baylis, J. 2001 Cinematic Chromophobia: The Case Against Colour, University of Westminster 2001 Thesis for Film & Television Studies

Umney, J. 2017 Personal email addressed to me

Rist, P. 2016 Colour is Dangerous YouTube [Accessed 11 December 2017]

A deep analysis of Melania Trump’s social media photos reveals a woman in hiding from the world

Exercise 3.1: Reflection

We are asked in the notes if we used a filter, and if so how we felt about, if not, to do so and again say how we feel about it.

Jill Walker Rattberg, author of Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, is quoted (2014:27) – “seeing ourselves through a  filter allows us to see ourselves anew. Selfies can be raw and revealing. They can feel too authentic, too honest. Perhaps running them through a filter to boost the colours, overexpose the skin to hide imperfections or give them a retro tinge is sometimes the only way we can bear to share these images of ourselves”.

How refreshing to read an empathetic view of how people present themselves online. I’m so sick of reading harsh moral judgment projected onto something as inane as a filter from those that are just too cool for school. Yes, perhaps Instagram or other app filters risk rendering pictures a little ersatz; they may be crass, and gauche; they may be a blunt instrument but not everyone wants to put all their flaws online for everyone to see – in fact very few people do, aside from artists who are doing so for a myriad of reasons which they may or may not understand. And some people will be glad of the shorthand afforded by a filter. That isn’t to say one might not be critical of a society which drives individuals to cope with becoming more and more narcissistic. But that is another thing altogether. And one might criticise a society without picking on individuals.

Besides, a filter is merely doing the same thing certain films were chosen to do, or lighting can do, or make-up. We all see the world through filters, be they literal or more figurative. We simply don’t look at life without imaginary and symbolic filters. Nor do we walk around baring our souls to all and sundry in real life at all times, and if and when we see people doing so, it might very well be down to the fact they are having a nervous breakdown at the time. An Instagram filter does not contain a moral imperative. It is nothing more than digital make-up. Granted some people choose to wear rather a lot of the stuff and we might want to question why, we might not like it personally; and we might simply get on with our own lives and stop worrying about how others find ways to cope with being human. (My eldest son, incidentally, is very anti filter. I think he’s chosen to be on the side of the ‘arch, sophisticated, look down on everyone else’ team in life for now. It’s a nihilistic generation that must deal with some incredibly intrusive ways of being, due to smartphones and 24-hour access to the outside world. But I wonder if his demeanour is as much as filter as anything we might use on Instagram to achieve a certain look.) And the whole fetishisation of film is just as ludicrous as the anti-filter rhetoric, but perhaps that’s another post. The other thing is, we can see all action as filtering – once again, another post to explain this further might be necessary, but a decision to only post selfies that block one’s face is a way of constructing and stage-managing an image of self, and hence sending out a message about who one is, just like using a filter.

I find myself in a difficult place because I am constantly trying to navigate my way through this photography journey with two quite different and separate motivations. I am a commercial photographer who must sell my ability to take beautiful images of people who will be happy looking at my pictures of themselves; they want to see the ideal (which for family shots is often ‘lovely natural outdoor shots of the children’, taken with wide apertures and adjusted in Lightroom and perhaps Photoshop to construct an idea of a ‘natural’ look). But I am also trying to find what is termed ‘an artistic voice’, which in some artistic circles might eschew all that stuff (although not always – sometimes the mere presence of film allows something to be ‘acceptable’ and highly revered). I know Wendy has asked me to use video to try to disrupt my habitual way of working. She suggested I move away from studio lighting although I should add I don’t use studio setups very often, and not if I can help it. Instead, I have learned to make the most of natural light, and very much enjoy exploiting it to create emotive images. I have looked a lot at other photographers who make use of light such as Jennifer McClure whose beautiful work I fell in love with when I first came across it – from what I understand she does use lights very effectively though. Perhaps I’m quite wrong, but I sense that Wendy is asking me to stand back from aiming to make work that is ‘beautiful’ for a moment, to worry less about its aesthetics, certainly she has said I need to worry less about creating a finished product. I envisage something quite anti-commoditised perhaps although I might be misreading, but that will be hard for me. I think she is right to push me that way, however. Trying to balance this aim with an internal need to be seen as a commercial photographer by potential clients feels tricky through and there is quite a lot of opposing tension going on within me. Answering client’s needs to make them look as close to their ideal as I can is probably quite important if I’m to continue studying as it pays for the ability to do so.

Some old selfies where I’ve used filters of one form or another, including actions – not the Photoshop kind (but interesting they should be called as such) but the real-life sequence of choices I make consciously and unconsciously.

(c)SJField 2015-2016