BOW assignment 5

The final assignment for this course was submitted to my tutor at the end of December. I included the following text in a document and also sent a PDF of the proposed layout for a book which I have uploaded to google documents here.  I will be posting changes following the feedback from my tutor shortly.



I realise that it has taken a considerable amount of time for me to complete this final assignment.  This in part is due to having to juggle looking after my son with all my other duties.  I no longer have unlimited time to induege my navel gazing!  In addition to this moving to France for the winter has not proven the most conducive to working and studying as the house is open plan and therefore it is difficult to find time alone to work.

With my excuses given I can now move on to the matter at hand.  At the beginning of my stay here I was waiting on hearing back from the various individuals who I had sent assignment 1 of SYP to for feedback.  The feedback which I received was both encouraging and also made me reconsider how I might present this work in the future.  The first piece of feedback was from Linda Shevlin who is the curator of Roscommon arts centre.  It was received by email and although brief it was very useful.  From Ms Shevlin’s e-mail I particularly take 3 points:

  • “I feel there are some strong images in this collection and others that compositionally need a little work”.

This is similar to feedback which I received from my second source, also a curator.  I am not particularly concerned about any implied criticism of the aesthetics of my images but more that when submitting an abstract of the work I may have chosen strong single images that do not work cohesively as a set.

  • “If you are going to show the less Utopian representation of the west then I think you need to push the aesthetic a little more, make it more garish, more crass, more vulgar if you dare”!

This piece of feedback however did make me sit up and take notice.  It is not my intention to show the less utopian representation of the west and I wondered how I might have given the impression that it was.  Eventually after some time reflecting on my submission I have come to the conclusion that the text that accompanied my images was leading the viewer too much, leading them up the wrong path so to speak.

So I decided to go back to square one and re-examine both the images and the text that accompanied them.  I now believe that the text that I had chosen was based on what I saw within the work at the time that I wrote it.  However for a viewer other than myself, who has not had the same experience, read the same critical theory and does not share my cultural background it is unlikely that they will share my perspective so any text that accompanies the images must also cater for this.  It, I believe must also allow enough latitude for the images to read differently by different viewers as well as allowing the same viewer to read the same work differently over time.  I decided too go back to the course notes and re-read the section on image and text.  From doing so and also re-examining my own text which has accompanied the images previously it appears to me that it tells the viewer what the work is about rather than showing them the work and allowing them to engage with it freely on their own terms.  The text has the affect of leaving insufficient space within the work for a viewer to have their imagination to be stimulated and to bring as much of their own personal interpretation to the reading as might be possible.

I also returned to your report from assignment 4 and noted that you had in particular stated that the remarks I made regarding my own personal journey had stood out to you and been key to your reading of the work itself and I began to think about this.  I mentioned in particular the fact that I had never felt at home anywhere and that when making this work I felt like a rural flânuer and I spent sometime investigating the origins of the flânuer and psychogeography.  While the flânuer may be traditionally understood as an urban dweller who strolls or wanders the streets of the city, one of the defining aspects, I believe, of the flânuer is a sense of detachment and isolation from his or her surroundings.  Previously in assignment 4 I stated that I had never felt at home anywhere and that these images were an attempt to come to terms with the place that I now call home, you stated in your report “I think the flaneur idea is also about searching for something unspecified that one won’t recognise until one finds it”.  This has proved to be a significant sentence to me with regard to the changes I have made.  Early on in this course I toyed with the idea of investigating psychogeography but dismissed it as everything that I encountered that referenced it seemed to dwell on method, on systemising how the images were made in conjunction with a map or some other form of representation.  It isn’t that I find this idea abhorrent but that it didn’t fit the way I had begun to work.  Psychogeography itself is an ambiguous term and can mean many things to different readers.  Guy Debord defined it as “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not on the emotions and the behaviours of individuals” and although it has mainly been applied to the urban environment due to the comparatively recent growth of the city and urban space, the rural geographical environment has its own effect on the emotions and behaviours of individuals.  Both of these concepts helped inform this final presentation of the work for this course.

Finally just a couple of notes regarding the text that accompanies this final edit which I am presenting to you in book/ PDF form.  I have added captions to the images.  I did this for no other reason than I found that when I did this for the document that I made for SYP assignment 1 it just felt right.  The images are preceded by a short piece of text which I composed myself, I have been editing and tweaking this for the past number of weeks and am finally ready to leave it alone:


Home.  A small word.

Full of hope and promise.  Comfort.

Where you store your stuff.

The place you inhabit.

Belonging.  A country to return to.

To search for something.

I feel that there is enough information about the work to set it in context and allow the viewer to have their imagination sparked by the images themselves without explaining what the work is about.


have also included an afterword:

This body of work is a personal exploration of an idealised place we, as individuals or in groups, construct within ourselves called home.

In constructing a mental image of home we create a landscape in the mind.  Landscape, normally considered a noun, is better understood as a verb; “to landscape” (Mitchell,1994).

Landscaping is a process whereby we seek a sense of reassurance and the certainty that we habitually require during times of turmoil, incomprehension and change.  To impose order and coherence where they may seem lacking.  To create place out of space.

Again I am hoping that this also helps to contextualise the images without explaining or telling the viewer what the work is about while also providing food for thought.  I feel that both pieces of text avoid being perceived as didactic which previous versions may have strayed into unintentionally.  I am interested now to hear how other viewers respond to this and look forward to receiving your report in due course!


BOW Assignment 5 evaluation

This is the evaluation of my progress as submitted to my tutor as part of assignment 5.  I am placing it here as part of my preparation for assessment.  Also as I have been away – deliberately –from course work since submitting assignment 5 this is the beginning of reconnecting, picking up the threads of where I last left off.

Where have I come from?

I suppose I have come from the perspective of being heavily influenced and excited by images in movies and magazines.  I had definite notions of what made a ‘good’ photograph which have changed considerably over this course.  I have come from the place, as a viewer, where I felt I needed to figure out what an artist was trying to say rather than what a piece of work meant to me and what my own personal response to it was.  This realisation is a recent one.  It seems to me that sometimes there is a never ending supply of commentary available in books and magazines on photography that is based not on the writers response but on the author’s intention.  I am now more concerned with my own response to the work of others and also how others respond to my work.

What have you learned?

  • That what matters most is the viewers response to the work, this is not too say that my intention is not important but rather that whatever I may be trying to say or articulate, any reading of the work is based on what a viewer brings to it and so the meaning within the work is beyond my control once I publish it.  Therefore I must take this into account when considering my intention for the work.
  • That its better to pose questions with the work rather than try to answer them.
  • Didacticism is the death of a good idea – it is better to present an idea rather than force it on someone.
  • It takes a lot longer to complete something than you think!
  • I need to work in small chunks rather than try to complete it all in one go.  This works better for me.
  • Once the work is published any meaning within it is out of my hands.
  • The best work I have seen, whether photography, painting, film etc. is work that continues to play in my head after I have seen it.
  • Focus on process, not outcomes.  Focus on the next step not on the final destination.
  • Feedback from others is a vital part of the process.
  • Photographs are, as Barthes says, polysemous and possess so many different potential meanings that on their own they, for all intents and purposes, are practically meaningless.  They need some sort of contextualisation in order for the reader to be able to ascribe any sort of meaning to them.  Without context the viewer is seduced purely by the aesthetics of the image.
  • All art is metaphorical in that it always refers to something other than itself, this is its strength.  In order to allow this to happen though the author must not try to control the process.


What mistakes did you make?

too many to note them all but among them:

  • Overthinking things is a mistake.
  • I went through a period that I stopped writing and noting my thoughts down, Its best to keep on reflecting, sometimes you have an important idea (good or bad)  that you’re not aware of but that is influencing your decisions.
  • Focusing on the outcome rather than the process.  It feels to me like I have had a succession of decisions to make throughout this course.  Decisions that do not have a right or wrong answer to them.  The type of decisions that are not conveniently solvable. So much of the outcome is beyond my control.  Will the assessors think the work is worth a good mark?  Will a curator want to show my work?  Will people like my work?  Paying too much attention to these aspects of making and showing my work are beyond my control and focusing on questions like these saps confidence and belief.  Focusing on the process means focusing on the next step and learning to love the journey rather than becoming obsessed with the destination.
  • I lost sight of the reality that because I can see a certain meaning within the image – chiefly based on my contextual research – this does not mean that someone else will see the same meaning.
  • Not realising the power that text has to direct or misdirect a viewer and using text that was too directional.

What were the low points? High points? Who influenced you?

I think the low point was around assignment 4, I began to feel like I was stuck because I was focusing on the big vision too much.  I felt I should be finished and I began to feel overwhelmed.  I got back on track by focusing on the next small step.  The high point is now, near the end.  I can see the outline shape of what the final output will probably be and I am happy with it.

The biggest influences on me where my fellow students John Umney and Stan Dickinson.  We have a regular Google hangout where we meet and chat about work.  John and Stan do not do drama, they are honest and helpful with their opinions and they work hard.

How are you critically positioned within photography as a result of your work on this course?

I think this is a really difficult question to answer.  I guess it would be nice to able to say that the work positions me with the broad canon of work which John Taylor, in A dream of England  terms oppositional photography.  Oppositional photography examines and questions the dominant narrative established by the representation of place typically put forward by the tourist and heritage industries.  To me, one aspect that most interests me is how representation of place in turn materially affects that place itself, how representation creates a certain reality.  I find the work of Paul Graham especially influential.  As well as producing images that have an impact he allows the viewer to grow into the work over time and repeatedly come back to the same work but experience it in a different way, to see different meaning within it.  I have drawn on his work throughout this course too.  I would say the same about Alec Soth.  Both draw on the everyday, what might be considered the mundane and I find this inspiring.

How might what you’ve produced impact on your future projects?


Having thought about this a lot recently I believe the first way it might impact future projects is by the structure of my approach.  Here I began by going out into the countryside around me to take photographs, these in turn became source material for analysis and inquiry.  These inquiries in turn influenced the image making process and the choice of subject.

It has already impacted on the way I feel and look at my surroundings.  This might sound obvious but I am not necessarily referring to critical engagement.  What I am talking about is more related to the way that I no longer feel a compulsive need to take photographs.  I see more possibilities now.

I believe too that during this project I have come across other avenues of inquiry that could be pursued at a later time to create more work.  This has resulted in a long list of new ideas.

I don’t see this as a finished project yet, I see that where I am now is at the beginning of more enquiry that has been raised by the work itself.  I have during the last few months played around with presenting the work in 3 different ways with 3 different titles and 3 different introductory texts, all of which are plausible.  I am fascinated by the idea of the empty signifier: “An ’empty’ or ‘floating signifier’ is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non-existent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to different people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean”. (Chandler. D.  2007)

Landscape itself could be regarded as an empty signifier.  I sometimes wonder if a signifier has so many different potential meanings then perhaps it is actually meaningless.

I see where I am as a jumping off point for a deeper and wider enquiry into these ideas.  For instance, a few months ago I was at Fanad head in Donegal and I found myself enthralled, watching the hurried arrival of a group of photographers who were earnestly going about the business of capturing the picturesque scene on camera.  Here is an example:

I am not standing in judgement of these photographers, I have also spent hours, days, weeks waiting for the right conditions to make a nice picture.  What I found myself thinking though was that I would like to interview different photographers at locations and ask them about their impressions, their vision of Ireland and of the West as my own perception of what the landscape of the West signifies has changed and continues to change.

I had an idea for a series with the working title Postcards from Ireland where I visited different picturesque locations in the West but rather than photograph the typical view I would choose to point my camera in a different direction such as this scene from Fanad Head:


My idea was to create a series of postcards.

I want to explore the jigsaw as a form of presentation too and I am very interested in how text and image operate together.  I see research and reading as a vital part of making work now and that is as a result of this course and contextual studies.

Have you found a personal voice that you’d like to develop?

The concept of a personal voice is, I believe hard to define yet it seems so obvious.  If I try to explain it in a literal sense then I find it impossible.  My idea of a personal voice is something like this:  For years I have been taking images that I found interesting but that I didn’t share, I knew there was something in them but I felt people wouldn’t like them.  They seemed less aesthetically pleasing.  The more mainstream, aesthetically pleasing images that I could make easily, that were popular, were no longer interesting me, they felt formulaic and repetitive.  These were, perhaps, just nice pictures.  The images that I was more interested in seemed to address subjects beyond the frame.

So yes I feel that I have a personal voice that I would like to explore and develop further.

How did your technical decisions impact on or impair the final outcome? Were you true to your artistic intentions?

I never felt that I had any technical issues in terms of taking the images, in fact the biggest thing I did was just to go out and look, sometimes without a camera and then go back with just a camera, no tripod, no filters no nothing.  I worked to get the capture right technically as well as the content of the image.  Any post processing was minimal.  Perhaps this affects the look of the images?  Perhaps they might be considered authentic?

I now have a ton of gear I never use anymore, as time has gone by I find I need less and less equipment.

Artistic intentions…..If by that what is meant is did I produce what I produced with some sort of integrity then I think the answer is yes.

Also in terms of the final outcome – what is the final outcome? Will it be a book?  An exhibition?  I don’t think I have reached the final outcome yet.

What did you learn from the editing process?

Photography itself is a process of editing and weeding out, the photographer chooses to edit the world with the camera, to distill it down and explore a certain aspect under the microscope of the frame.  Editing down such a large body of work was difficult for me.  I needed to put it on the walls and live with it for a while.  There were combinations of images that I discovered during the editing, images that I had never thought were in any way related until I saw them hung on the wall, physically side by side.  So I learnt that I need to work with prints.  The editing process is a chance to try out ideas in my head, to experiment. And I am still editing.  Thinking about how the work might be presented is an editing process too.

There are endless combinations and permutations when it comes to sequencing images and eventually you just have to pick your preferred one and go with it.  Its good too, once you have a potential edit to have someone who can view it and give you feedback.

What are the main lessons you will take away as a result of this course

looking forward?

You can’t always see the end at the beginning.  And I am still not there!  Keep working, keep reading, keep reflecting.  Also I think that its a good strategy to print and hang work on the wall as I work so that I can see it often.  The importance of research and theory and the importance of having a peer group to meet with regularly and show work to and discuss.

How would you like your audience to experience your body of work? Do you have any ideas for venues or production formats?

I would to show this work in two ways.  First as a photo book and also as an exhibition.  I would like to attempt to create a digital maquette of an imaginary exhibition space to experiment with layout and also to try combinations of images etc.  Thinking about exhibition location I would like to think that I have a chance of having this shown as part of the Photo festival in Dublin next year or some other venue that might ensure some critical engagement with the work.

What do you need to do for this to happen?

Among the steps needed are:  I need to create a proposal that I can approach these different people with.  I need to identify galleries that would be suitable and do a little research on each one to make a pitch.  I need to start by re-approaching some of the people who have expressed interest already.


Do you need to make any changes to your portfolio?

I don’t think I would be able to present this many images at a portfolio review, I would need to offer an abridged version as a taster and perhaps have a digital PDF available as a follow up?  I think when it comes to presenting a sample of the full work I would need to ensure that the sample images work together and are not just a selection of single images.

Thoughts on Landscape and place

This body of work is a personal exploration of the idealised place we construct within ourselves called home.  In constructing a mental map of home we create a landscape of it in the mind.  Landscape, normally considered a noun, is better understood as a verb; “to landscape” (Mitchell,1994).

To landscape is to impose order and coherence where they may seem lacking.   To create place out of space.  Landscaping is a process whereby we seek a sense of reassurance and the certainty that we habitually require during times of turmoil, incomprehension and change.

Home thoughts

Home.  A small word full of hope and promise.  A memory providing comfort, belonging.  A country to return to to make sense of yourself when amongst strangers.  A place you can never find again not matter how longingly you look.  Once you leave you can never return.


Towards Assignment 5.

I am slowly drawing to the end of Body of Work.  In truth however nothing here is truly finished and I will be continuing to explore the questions that the work I have created here has raised for me in SYP.  I have already completed the first assignment of SYP which involved sending out a sample of the work and an artists statement to some curators.  I sent it out to three in total and have had feedback from two of those.  The feedback was extremely useful and as I am putting together assignment 5 I want to reflect on it and also to incorporate my reaction to it in this assignment.  The first piece of feedback was by email from a curator of an arts centre in the midlands.  I will with hold the name but print the feedback:

My apologies. It’s been a very busy time for me and I just didn’t get the chance to respond to you. I don’t generally do unsolicited feedback as I genuinely find it difficult to respond to work I haven’t seen by an artist I don’t know so again, my apologies as I wasn’t sure how to approach this.
I feel there are some strong images in this collection and others that compositionally need a little work. Again, without seeing them printed and what format they’ll be presented in, it’s hard to tell what the finished product will look like. 
Conceptually, you’re working in similar territory to a number of photographers and could try to find a way of setting yourself apart from them in some way. If you are going to show the less Utopian representation of the west then I think you need to push the aesthetic a little more, make it more garish, more crass, more vulgar if you dare!
If you do show them somewhere let me know and I’ll be able to make a more informed response to the work. But in the mean time I hope that’s useful!
At first when I read this I began to think that I needed to start again or that perhaps I had photographed the wrong subjects.  Basically I began to doubt myself and the work.  After a while of sitting with it I began to focus in on the two lines that I have highlighted.  It is not that the rest of the e-mail is irrelevant but more that these two sentences are the ones that are most relevant to me personally.
“I feel there are some strong image”  When I selected the images to send I deliberately chose the stronger images and took them out of context.  Now I feel that this was a mistake and emphasises the single image(s) rather than a coherent narrative trough a series of images.  I received similar feedback from my second curator.
“If you are going to show the less Utopian representation of the west then I think you need to push the aesthetic a little more”.  This line made me sit up and take notice.  All through this work I have thought about making more strident images and I experimented with that for a while.  But when I came to complete the final edit I weeded these out as, based on the feedback I received from earlier renderings, I felt that they were too didactic, too directional.  I feel now that this piece of feedback highlights the accompanying text that I sent with the images and that I need to pare this back.  Again I received similar comments from the second curator.  I think that my text has lead the viewer up a path that I do not want them to necessarily go down.  Thinking about my accompanying text now I feel it is almost too explanatory and that one fault with this is that it leads to speculation about what the author is trying to say rather than allowing the viewer to focus on the work itself.

Bertolt Brecht


Following the feedback I received from assignment 1 I decided to go back to the drawing board and look at aspects of this project again in detail.  I wanted to examine narrative, not just in this work but also to look at different ideas around narrative structure.  I also want to relook ate the text that contextualises and accompanies the work but will leave that aside for now.  As a result of a very useful conversation last week on the Student forums I  have been looking at the theories of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, in particular verfremdung or distancing or alienation effect.  I owe my tutor Clive and my fellow students Stan and Stephanie thanks for pointing me in the right direction here during our conversation.  I am basing much of these notes on Stephanie’s blog post and have followed up the various links from that post and translated…

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