A2.CS: Literature review update

Some housekeeping on my blog, as I prepare for assessment.

When I first wrote my literature review, I was uncomfortable with setting out a defined set of research resources as I knew that the breadth of research I was exploring would most likely take me in new or different directions. The literature review concept felt like it belong to another time, when resources would be limited to what once could access through a library rather than the vast breadth of material now available online. However, as I researched ‘research’ and benefitted from the Zoom discussions hosted by Dr Ariadne, I came to understand the literature review as something that would most likely evolve with one’s research. Something I did not glean from the OCA course materials and threw me off the scent of its purpose. The literature review became something meaningful to me – a way of sharing more information about important research resources used in building the dissertation; a discussion that sits between the references appended to the dissertation and the body of the dissertation itself. I some academic papers, I’ve noted that it is placed in the text as part of the introductory materials.

I completed the final update of my literature review in November after completing my dissertation. It is this update that I will submit as part of the assessment process.

A5.BoW: tutor feedback

Yesterday, I had my final audio/video feedback session with my tutor – assignment submission here. I was delighted with how it went and the positive comments both on the progress during the module and the final outcome. She also kindly read my A5 CS reworked essay and aside from a couple of small things to tidy up, was also positive about that.

One point I do need to investigate is the streaming quality of the video – I think diminished as we viewed via Zoom, so that would have applied its own compression. However, I need to check it is as good as it can possibly be when streaming direct from Vimeo. I recently upgraded to a paid account, so there may be higher quality upload options. As part of SYP, I’ll be looking at methods of ‘showing’ the video to groups of online audiences, followed by a discussion; I’m hoping to tap into fresh aural histories.

We spent sometime talking through the approach to preparing assessment materials and how to link to the learning outcomes, which I found very useful. Key recommendations were to keep reflective summaries for each section short (around 100-150 words – economic and effective) to avoid overwhelming assessors before they have a chance to look at the work; also that a pdf format with links is the most convenient for review, rather than something directly on the blog. She kindly offered to look over the pdf for me once done.

This is most likely my final blog entry as assessment content will be in pdf format and uploaded to the shared drive.

BoW.A5 Tutor submission

For my last assignment, I submit an introduction to my body of work, the body of work itself and an evaluation of the body of work that reflects on the whole of this module.

Introduction

I have written this introduction in the third person, on the basis that it will be taken forward to SYP as a starting point for describing and promoting my body of work.

Leeds and Liverpool is a poignant short film by Andrew Fitzgibbon featuring photographs made over two years, while walking the 127 mile Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The film’s story reflects upon the canal as a marginal but enthralling space trampled with the burden of deindustrialisation and reinvented as a site of leisure. Absent of people, the film shows the marks of humanity left by those who have claimed the water as their own. The narration is voiced by Yorkshire born actor Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty). An immersive soundtrack features layers of ambient sounds recorded from the canal, and samples of sound effects from historic archives, as well as oral histories from those who once worked the canal.

Although the canal is promoted as a place of leisure, it holds deeper interest as a complex space of many different interests: from ruins and heritage, to edgelands and urban gentrification. There are fascinating incongruities, with human culture working at the landscape and marking possession, use and abuse. Andrew sees this as the meeting of worlds within a world; the fluid world of the canal and its banks.

Body of work

For the optimum experience, please view this film in full-screen mode using headphones to enjoy the stereo soundscape. Viewing on mobile devices is not recommended.

Evaluation of body of work

I wish acknowledge the work of both my BoW and CS tutors in providing the insights, suggestions and encouragement that enabled me to reach this point. They have been an enormous support. Credit is also given in the end titles to the film.

I use the same categories of assessment criteria contained in my course materials and that I have used to self-assess my own progress throughout this module.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

 – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

The foundation of this work is photographic image-making based upon my observations during many walks along different stretches of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. In the beginning, the project was envisaged very differently to how it was finally realised; it was intended to be a work of portraits showing how people interact with the place of the canal over a specific 29 mile stretch between the town of Skipton and Leeds. This was revisited when I found that the idea of the canal inside my head as a populous place (like the urban city canals to which I was more accustomed) proved to be a fallacy. This is a mistake I describe in the context of my dissertation. Then, the idea was completely abandoned with the Covid epidemic, which has hit hard the former industrial towns of Northern England along the canal. The project was reimagined as a landscape work that showed the marks of socialisation along the entire 127 mile length of the canal. My CS research focused increasingly on social spatialisation, deindustrialisation and the power plays in shaping space in the context of the canal. This in turn was reflected in my image making. I believe that I have succeeded in making well composed, visually impactful images that show the canal as more meaningful than a simple place of leisure, as it is popularly represented. Also, that I have demonstrated a flexible and creative approach to the changing circumstances around the work.

The images themselves have gone through many edits to arrive at the end selection. There was a balancing act between choosing images with visual impact and choosing those that also fitted the story I wanted to tell. After many iterations, the level was found; my sequencing and editing skills and toolkit improved significantly during the process. I’m a photographer who works with RAW images rather than jpgs, so a great deal of work happens in Photoshop’s digital darkroom. Many of the images have been ‘printed’ several times to arrive at a rendering that fitted the mood of the canal and also highlighted the reflective qualities of water, to add a sense of contemplation to the images. Without going into technical details, my approach to working with images in Photoshop has become clearly defined during this module, with a set of riffs I can call upon to help images sing the song in my head.

The approach to dissemination of the images has gone through a number of iterations throughout the module. One decision I made early on was that I wanted to find an approach that would work for digital assessment and for digital sharing in the Covid world. Given a photograph is not tied to a single output medium, it appealed to make use of this characteristic. The work has evolved through straight digital prints, through a simple ebook, to an interactive ebook and finally to a film.

Enormous effort has gone into the different iterations and final version of the film, beyond the photographs upon which it is based. A narrative was written and initially voiced by myself before a chance collaboration with professional actor Paul Butterworth, who is also an OCA student. Paul visited me and we recorded his take of my narrative. Images were resequenced to echo the words of the narrative. The pace of slides and transitions was experimented with, so they beat to the slow drum of the canal. The narrative was sliced and mixed to the pace of the images. Ambient sounds were recorded on the canal and sampled from archives. I was delighted to locate the aural history recordings that feature in the film. I then practiced and learned new sound mixing skills to post-process the sounds and place them into a stereo mix. I’ve refined a whole skill set in realising this dissemination, and one that will be valuable in future projects, and allows me to combine my love of sound and photography.

Quality of outcome

 – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas

I feel that the final film is a high quality output. One cannot judge one’s own work but I’m please to have also received some enthusiastic feedback from viewers so far, including the poet Ian McMillan who’s words are quoted in the narrative. The film conveys the story I want to tell of the canal described in my introduction, and has the quality of a meditative wander along the canal. The images, narrative and soundtrack all come together to carry the narrative and reveal layers of meaning through sight and sound. It shows that the canal is far richer in meaning than the place of leisure commonly portrayed. I hope it will encourage people to reflect upon broader meanings of space when by the water.

For the presentation to evolve during SYP, I am considering two main areas:

  • Fully developing the website that I’ve already started for SYP as a vehicle to share the film and related work. This seems to a practical way of sharing work in what looks like will be a reduced-touch world until at least mid-2021. The website is www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk. I have already started to use this as a platform for viewers who enjoy the film to donate to my local food bank if they can afford to; I hope that this will allow the work to do some tangible good as well as being enjoyed.
  • I would like to produce a book of the work, using the text from narrative that accompanies the film, ideally in conjunction with one of the small alternative-placed focused publishers that I’m following on line, or through a publish-on-demand service. However, I will have to see how this plays out with costs et cetera.

Within my timeframes, I suspect it is unrealistic to run a small physical exhibition of the work given lockdown and social distancing requirements. However, there could be the possibility of a physical presence that points to the film through a QR code. For example, fliers or posters in places near the canal.

Demonstration of creativity

 – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

Over the course of this module, the work has gone through many different iterations and experiments; some of which I’ve described above. For sometime, I’ve been interested in work that comments on space and people’s interaction with that space. With my CS research, I now also strongly connect that to meaning and how meaning determines who belongs and who doesn’t in a place; the boundaries put on place. What I have come to accept and embrace is the aestheticisation of subject matter to draw attention to it and the voice of its story.

Context

 – reflection, research, critical thinking

There is significant research that informs this body of work in my dissertation, which is presented separately. In that, I conclude with the same words used in my film narrative, so they act as a portal between the textual research and the visual work. Below, I talk about the research specifically targeted at the creation of the visual.

While I am not enthusiastic about the term psychogeography because of its general obscurity to the majority of people, my work is situated in that genre both in terms of its making through wandering and its dissemination through a film that is a wander with a contemplative narrative. Patrick Keiller’s London is an influence, even if I just appreciate rather than enjoy that work. However, a more significant influence in terms of photography as a video production is the work of Laura El-Tantawy, the Deutsche Börse Prize shortlisted photographer. La Jetée opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be achieved with still images in film but is beyond my capability and perhaps requires the resources of a feature film.

I of course have many photographic influences but I found in making this work Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary and Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi inspiring in the way they photographed banal, marginal places, and in the quietness of their images. The quietness in images is important to me as it seems to allow more space for a viewer to reflect and find their own meaning. I also took some encouragement from the way in which Nadav Kandar works with his image files in Photoshop; when it seems only the use of film is a worthy discussion point among practitioners and critics.

Conclusion

Part-time study inevitably means a very long learning journey. Yesterday, as I finished the final rework of my dissertation, the realisation came that the journey is ending. This sometimes background and sometimes persistent, but constant pressure of effort will be no more. When I began, I had no idea of how much the learning would change the way in I see photography and the world.

Once one realises that photography is a tool that can be used in many different ways and accepts that there is not necessarily a good way or a bad way, but a way that is right for you, one’s own voice can be discovered and expressed. For me, I have learned that photography is closer to literature and music than the other visual arts. At its best, it expresses a story or emotion through a sequence of images. This is an important lesson to me, though I of course could not make successful images without the many image making, editing and post-processing skills learned along the way.

Perhaps even more important is the realisation that photography is mostly about seeing, and seeing-well requires a breadth of understanding. I have found the insights gained of different ways of thinking about the world enlightening and fascinating. The ideas of visual culture, cultural geography, and sociology have taught me how to unpick and understand meanings imposed on both people and place. These and other disciplines have become new friends.

Finally, I have learned what it takes to make a body of work; the dedication, persistence, repeated iterations and perseverance necessary. Importantly, that there is also consistent collaboration, even if not always visible, through the support, advice and suggestions of those around me.

BoW.A4 Formative Feedback

This is a summary of the formative feedback received on A4 during a an audio/video tutorial on 1 October. The assignment submission is documented here.

Very pleasing feedback, with my tutor commenting on impressive progress and enjoying having seen the evolution of the work. Main points to consider in refining further for A5 are noted below, along with how I addressed them:

  • Work further on edit to aim for a series of images that are all as strong as possible. Even go back to contact sheets to look for images that may now better fit within the overall series. This I have done a number of images being removed (including the old bridge, allotment, doll and discarded safe) and a few added in (including the pub and an old blue mini parked by the canal).
  • work on the pacing so that both the slide transitions and narrative sync with the slowness of the canal. I thought of the canal as the beat to a piece of music and experimented with the timing of transitions to arrive at a new pace; slower and with more time to absorb the images. I listen back now to A4 and it seems to be racing along in comparison to the updated version for A5.
  • re-sequence the images so there is a more consistent fit with the narrative. I commented that any alignment is currently coincidental. This I have done by using a storyboard approach to sequencing the images to the narrative.
  • Think about how / whether to create a sense of drift/flow in the viewing experience. As well as the change of pace in the slide transitions, I’ve worked extensively on the sound track to achieve this (documented here). In summary this involved working with the stereo movement of sound (through both panning and volume) and sourcing additional ambient sounds to fill out the soundscape. The soundtrack is transformed in A5.
  • Think about the lead image. My tutor enjoyed the iconic images of the rooftops/chimney. I thought carefully about this and decided I wanted to leave an atmosphere of wandering in the film – of gradually discovery, rather than directly meeting the most powerful images. Therefore, I have made some adjustments to the sequencing of the opening images (as part of the overall resquencing), but left the most iconic images to later in the film.

My tutor commented that as long as the finished work comes in under 15 minutes there would be the opportunity to present it to open calls for short film festivals etc.

CS.A5 Rework

A few months have past since I submitted A5, at the beginning of June. I made a note of the feedback here and have followed the suggestion of letting the work breathe before making the final push. In the meantime, I have completed by BoW and am also about to submit A5 for that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have worked again on the dissertation. It has changed significantly, although no additional research has been incorporated. I note here the main areas of change:

  • Completing my BoW and working with the idea that the dissertation should in some way help me to better explain / articulate that work (though not describe it) has been a help in restructuring the argument and flow of the dissertation. It was previously focused on an argument around ‘meaning’. However, it is now focused on an argument for the representation of the canal as a post-industrial landscape that is not merely pastoral, as seen in many contemporary images but a representation that both reflects social spatialisation and the continuing effects of deindustrialisation. This both places the canal at the centre of the argument and allows me to explain why I have chosen to include the images I have in my body of work. It has completely changed the flow of the work.
  • In the update, I have removed any of the antagonism towards the Canal & River Trust (CRT) that had creeped in as I researched their treatment of those on the margins of society, hoping to make do on the canal, with a boat as a main residence. The issues are still stated but in a way that also comments on the CRT’s perspective – this way they are presented as another layer to the canal’s story, rather than an attack on CRT.
  • The bulk of my time working on this iteration has been fine-tuning the wording. Adjusting or removing any phrases that jarred against the flow of the argument or the ear. Trying out different words. Removing unnecessary repetition, and so on. This was an iterative process, until I reached the point that nothing seemed out of place – at least to me.
  • I have concluded the dissertation with the same words I have used in my BoW short film. I see these acting as a portal between the written and the visual. It is also pleasing to see how my academic research is reflected in the prose of these words.

I’ve been remined that this kind of writing is hard work. It is no different to writing and learning to play a long musical piece for an audience. It requires practice and many revisits. There is perhaps something deceptive about writing – because writing in general is common place, what it takes to make very good writing is underestimated.

Voice over recording session

It was a great pleasure to host Paul Butterworth (OCA painting student and actor) for headshots in exchange for a voice recording of my Leeds and Liverpool narrative. He’s pictured above in the cellar under my house – used as a sound insulated space for making loud music and sound recording.

Photography

While not directly relevant to my body of work, working on the actor headshots was an interesting experience with some specific formal requirements needed to serve up an actor’s face in a small box to get the attention of casting directors. In many ways counter to the type of portrait work I prefer but at the same time hugely enjoyable. The environmental context became the face around the eyes, rather than the place around the person. We talked about what Paul was wanting to convey in his image and worked at shaping that through iterations of shooting, viewing and discussion. At the time of writing we’re working on the final select of 9 images from some 120 images and I’ll then shape those in post-production for viewing by Paul’s agent, who will ultimately decide on whether he wants to use the images.

For my own photography practice, I asked Paul to pose ‘the many faces of Paul Butterworth’. I enjoyed suggesting a range of emotions to convey – the difference between drunkenness and being high were interesting! There are some great images and I’ll work these into a series / possibly a small photo book once I’m clear of this course module.

Voice recording and mixing

I’d set the recording up with a condenser microphone going through an Focusrite recording interface into a MacBook Pro. I used GarageBand as a DAW (digital audio workstation) – it’s impossible to beat for simple and even slightly more complex recording. My plan was to use a separate track for each take and then work on the edit later.

I was perhaps a little in awe of Paul’s vocal performance – whereas my earlier recording had been a painfully slow process, with many retakes of each verse, Paul made it seem effortless (though I know there is always a lot of work over years to make it seem so). I didn’t feel in a position to direct Paul’s performance beyond saying that it needed to have a melancholic feel; the expert use of the spoken word is beyond my experience.

We did three takes – once all the way through, once verse by verse (with a pause in between each) as Paul suggested the rhythm would have a different feel like that, and finally with Paul watching a muted version of my Leeds and Liverpool video – jamming to the feel of images rather than trying to match the original placement of words to images. The first two takes will be useful for promoting the video (eg clips on social media). However, the take with the images really hit the spot with the melancholy. Paul commented afterwards that the images made him feel sad – a space that was once a thriving work place now empty.

Paul’s vocal interpretation is much different to mine and draws out the narrative, making my writing sound poetic. The delivery is also much clearer, which will address the comments on my earlier version that not all the words could be understood clearly.

After Paul left, I spent several hours on post production. This involved applying appropriate compression, EQ and ambience to the voice and then splicing and arranging it to fit to the video. Breaths between verses were edited out and fades in and out were applied to avoid clipping at the cuts. I extended the time for the last shot in the video to fit Paul’s rallentando as the narrative concluded. I think this works really well!

I also made other adjustments to the sound balance in the video and think it is as goods as it can be now. I’ll let it sit for a few days and listen again with fresh ears before putting it out for feedback. I’m feeling excited to find out what people think to the work, with a professional Yorkshire voicing.

Learnings

I intend to make sound recording an ongoing part of my photographic practice and I won’t always have a pro actor to bail me out when it comes to voice overs! Though we did wonder if there might be a commercial application to our collaboration. One simple lesson I learn was that Paul was very familiar with the words (he didn’t need to read them) – while I’ll never have Paul’s vocal prowess, practicing before sitting down to record would help. I would rarely think of doing that for a musical piece and the voice is just another instrument that I am complacent about because of frequent and everyday use.

I also think listening to more expertly spoken word (without visuals) would help me improve, as well as practicing speaking written words out loud.

I feel that I’m nearly done.

Video voice-over with local actor

I’d been thinking about having the voice-over to my video spoken by someone with a Northern English accent, ideally an actor or someone else used to speaking into a microphone. In the draft, I speak and it is clearly not a northern voice and a little imperfect in places, which some have kindly commented adds an authenticity to the work.

By chance Paul Butterworth (https://www.paulbutterworthactor.com), who is an OCA painting student posted on Discuss, looking for a photographer to take fresh headshots in return for a modelling session. I commented on his post that it’s a shame he’s so far away (Cambridge) as I’d love to do the headshots in exchange for a voice over.

After some discussion, and Paul looking at some of my work, he’s visiting Yorkshire (where he is from originally) for a short break and we’ll be doing the headshots and voice recording in my home-studio. I commented when talking to Paul that this closes a circle for me as I’d originally conceived of the canal project as mainly portrait focused – but the absence of people of interest (I didn’t want joggers or walkers in outdoor clothing) and Covid had changed its focus to a landscape based work.

Brief notes on process:

  • I’ll send across a model release form that will refer to the use of photographs in exchange for voice over services. If Paul’s agent approves the photos, they’ll be used on his public profiles and credit to me.
  • We’ll shoot some headshots under studio lighting and some outdoors on the land around my property. He’s also offered to model for some general shots for my portfolio. We talked about what he is looking for in the shots, which are suitable for his actor profile and I’ve also done a little research on this. In essence the face is the context for the eyes in this kind of shot – context beyond that is an unwanted distraction.
  • For the recording, we’ll do several takes with various feels on different tracks. I can then pick and mix if needed. Once done I’ll split the voice-over in Garageband to align it to the video.
  • I talked briefly about SYP and how having a known actor doing the voice over would be a big help when publicising the work. Paul is happy to be mentioned in this context.

This is unexpected and pleasant twist towards the end of this work and I’m very much looking forwards to it. I just now hope that the Covid-demons stay clear!

Website and still images update

A4 prints spread on my floor

Alongside updating my short film, I’ve also been working on the small selection of images to include as still images on the microsite / make available as prints. This I did by printing possible images at A4 size and then narrowing the selection to ten (those above) that seem to make a coherent group with a variety of subjects.

I’ve also updated the microsite to reflect some useful feedback I received on the previous version. The main changes are:

  • Moving all text to a single page
  • Changing page heading ‘ten prints’ to ‘still images’ – this works better alongside the main ‘video’ page.
  • Changing the selection of still images and their presentation. I previously bemoaned the lack of any choice of lightbox options in Adobe’s Portfolio. However, the option I used of embedding a Google slideshow lacked interactivity and viewers felt they would have liked to view the images full screen. I’ve reverted to Portfolio’s standard display to allow this.
  • Added a direct link to my photography website (under development) in the menu of the microsite.

The updated site is at www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk.

Video edit for student feedback

I put my updated edit of the video out for comment through the level 3 email list and on OCA Discuss. Subject to a voice-over with a Yorkshire accent (I’m hoping to work with a painting student, Paul Butterworth, who’s also a professional actor) I feel that the video is approaching completion. However, there is often something missed when close to a work, so I value the input of fellow students.

I have one go per week at uploading the video to my free Vimeo account because of its size. I first watched it carefully a few times to identify and correct any obvious issues (this is now quite time consuming at 10 minutes per sitting!).

Edit 4 of video

Comments received by email and on Discuss were hugely encouraging. Unlike on previous edits, there were differing views on what might be changed or what were difficulties, and I didn’t feel a real need to address any of these as important. I think that this is a sign that the work is near done and likes/dislikes are just coming down to personal preferences. I note a few points for reference:

  • A couple of people commented on the differing aspect ratios of the images on the screen and that it might be jarring. This is just down to me being a photographer who crops and is the same situation when I produce a book. However, I can understand that this situation is not usual in the film media. It is part of the photographic nature of the work.
  • There were a couple of comments regarding specific sounds being too loud or that the timing could be shifted a little. In the end I’m happy with the sound volumes and it will be so variable depending on the quality of the audio device playing back the sound.

One astute observer did comment that the ‘over-lap’ of text in the end titles was distracting. I agree with this as they use the same ‘fade’ transition as the image slides, which isn’t appropriate for text. I’ll address this in the edit I submit for tutor feedback.

Sound track works

Having re-sequenced my video and extended the transition time on each image, it reached around 10 minutes in length including the end-titles/information. I adjusted the placement of the voice-over segments so that they associated with the images (process described here). Following this there was a lot more space in the sound track and it felt like more was needed. This was confirmed during feedback from a professional film-maker (see SYP blog post).

Although some relevant sounds were available on from the BBC sound effects archive (http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk), I searched for other sources and discovered a site that collected and shared traditional music from the canal (http://www.waterwaysongs.info/index.html). It was here that I found a 1969 recording ‘Narrow Boats’, released on an LP and digitised on the site. This included some fascinating oral histories from the canal, from which I sampled for my soundtrack (appropriate credit added to the video).

I worked at the mixing of the soundtrack to give an improved stereo effect that also helps with a sense of movement in the film. This was achieved envisaging the movement through and across images and recreating that in the soundscape. For example movement across, or from centre and then off by panning the sound across the stereo field; or a sense of distance/depth through volume fade-in/out. There was also considerable effort in balancing the volume levels across the various tracks now in my Garageband file (20 at current count). Throughout this process, I was reminded of what the Beatles managed to achieve with their mere 4 tracks for earlier recordings!

The sound track can be heard in the latest edit of the video.

Resequencing images to narrative

One suggestion (significant) from my A4 tutorial was to re-sequence the images so their timeline in the film synchronised more with the words in the narrative. Although any previous synchronisation was by luck rather than design (as the images were sequenced visually), my tutor pointed out that once it is seen, there is an expectation that it will recur and a distraction when it does not. This was a good observation, even if it means all the time previously spent on sequencing images is effectively undone!

After some reflection, I came up with the idea of a halfway storyboard – saving the narrative to pdf with large line spacing and scribbling key images against the end of phrases. This would then act as a map to direct the re-sequencing.

A copy of my pdf is attached for the record.

Leeds-and-Liverpool-storyboard

A4.BoW: assignment submission

Introduction

This assignment is a multi-faceted submission. The main work is in the form of a narrated video of photographs, featuring ambient sounds from the canal. This is accompanied by a selection of 10 prints (represented on a website for the purposes of this assignment). The psychogeographic narrative that accompanies the video is a supporting work. Finally, I developed a website that houses the different facets of the submission.

The submission can be viewed online here: https://leedsandliverpool.co.uk. Please use this link to view the work.

Snapshot of contents at time of assignment

As the website and content is likely to evolve as I progress to A5, a record of the main components at the time of this submission is below. This is for the record and the website’s presentation cannot be recreated in this post.

Video

Prints

Chimney

Image 1 of 10

Prose

A locked in flow moves through memories, land and time.
A world connects with a space inside my head, where thoughts wander freely.
Stumbling upon experiences real and imagined.
Layers of histories and hopes, some owned and some borrowed.

Two hundred years of time are trampled
and worn into the paths along this watery route.
The heritage of a grand project and as a dead poet from God’s own country said, ‘a gloomy memorial of place. The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution that had flown’.

It is a hotchpotch of a space.
There are shipshape gardens and drowned shopping trolleys.
Lovers’ graffiti and the anger of the disillusioned.
Those living the grey dream, afloat 50 footers.
Those subsisting on the margins. 

There are no celebrities on barges,  and no café culture along these banks.
But there are ‘stories and songs that hang in that space between memory and water.’
There are doors that once were, land cut with shovels, relics of industry and bird song.
There are makeshift shelters, and childhood memories encrusted in rusty bicycles.

Whoever shouts the loudest claims a space. The water calmly reflects. 
It’s from Leeds to Liverpool where my mind wanders.
Through worlds within a world. Between presence and memory. 

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Quotes from poets, in order of appearance. Ted Hughes from Stubbing Wharf . Ian McMillan from Canal Life.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

I’ve swapped from an ebook presentation in the previous assignment to a video presentation in this one. My rationale for the change and experiments in video are documented in my learning log: Experiments in film making #1 and Experiments in film making #2: Sound; in summary the change is down to the medium specificity of video better fitting the inclusion of sound with work.

For the video, I researched various tools that would enable the video production and in the end settled on a simple solution that used Apple’s Keynote to create a video-slide of the images and then added layers of sound within Apple’s Garageband. In the past I’ve used Adobe Premiere Pro, but it is over-specified for making a simple video from photographs and the tools I used offer a simpler and streamlined workflow. Decisions on tools are documented here, Prose and exploring Apple Keynote. I obtained feeback from fellow students on the video draft, which I’ve noted for discussion in my tutorial, A4.BoW: Video draft for feedback.

The production of the video involved creative challenges and decisions in several areas. Including the selection of images for a video flow, the pace and overall timescale of the video, the timing and sound processing of ambient sounds and narrative added to the images, the development of a narrative script. The script was a significant additional work and I blogged on my approach here, Narrative – rough draft and discussion.

In addition to the video, I produced a website to disseminate the work. This was made using Adobe Portfolio by customising one of the standard themes to project and industrial/canal vibe through the typeface and colour scheme. Details are discussed here, A4.BoW: website draft for feedback, along with a summary of feedback from fellow students. I describe my technical work around to Portfolio’s poor lightbox options here, Google slide show embed.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

I believe this is a significant step from A3. Moving from the ebook format to the video format for digital dissemination has been transformational and also allowed me to indirectly introduce my own reading of the photography work with the inclusion of a narrative. I enjoyed revisiting my passion for sound and recognise that this should become a habitual aspect of my practice, which I’ve noted in my reflective journal, Thoughts at BoW A4 – sound. I feel that the website brings the content together in a clean coherent place.

There are a number of points to consider when refining the work for A5. The timing of the images / overall duration – a number of observers have commented that they would have liked longer to view the images and found themselves rewatching to take more in. If I were to extend the timing it would allow longer and also more time for quiet observation between the narrative. However, the work is already 6 minutes long and I’m not sure about extending it further. A couple of fixes will be to split the end titles onto separate slides so they are easier to follow, and to shift the narration to avoid clashes with slide transitions. Something, I’m more certain of is to work on the selection of prints presented on the website – I discuss the decision making here, A4.BoW: Ten Prints workings, but feel I need to revisit a broader range of shots to consider which might be of interest for display on walls (versus series in video or photobook).

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

This assignment is a continuation of refining a digital dissemination of a work that in pre-Covid times would have most likely taken the form of a book – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m likely to revisit the book format during SYP. However, looking for an alternative solution and eventually ending up with a video has provide a specific output that stands in its own right, without just being a record of a physical object for digital sharing. Video, I conclude can be a useful way of both showing the work and expressing my intent for it through a narrative in quite an indirect way.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Lot’s of activity on my blog that can be skimmed through here. Two pieces or research that strongly influenced the video production are British psychogeographic cinema and Video — LAURA EL-TANTAWY. My work sits firmly in the psychogeographic genre and examining this helped shape my own output. At one extreme is the rambling production in Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins and at the other is Laura El Tantawy’s short and fast moving videos. The former, I’ve noted is not to my taste.

A4.BoW: Ten Prints workings

During my last tutorial, we discussed the idea of a multifaceted presentation to the BoW. My tutor suggested the idea of a small number of prints to accompany the video. I liked this idea but it has proven to be surprisingly challenging to realise.

The difficulty is that the work is not conceived to include the types of images that one might want to display on a living room wall. I realise that is not the only use of prints but in this context, I feel it should be kept in mind as a possibility. Especially if I ask people to consider buying prints.

After experimenting with a range of different possibilities, I decided on the images below at this point. I feel that using diptychs in some images helps add something of the series to the representation and that added dimension makes them more wall-worthy. There are number of images that I could use in this way from the large number I have collected (ie beyond those featured in the video) and I’ll continue to experiment with these and print, up to the completion of A5.

I’ve blogged separately about presenting ‘prints’ on the web. Having not been a big user of LR print module in the past, I found it very useful for quickly working up different layouts and exporting as web-ready jpgs. I wrote about sizing of these on my website post.

The gallery view of the images is against black for a similar experience to the website allowing the white framing to be visible. On scroll below the spacing appears off because the white framing is not visible.

Click image for gallery view

A4.BoW: website draft for feedback

Click on image to visit website

While waiting for feedback on my draft video, I’ve been working on finishing the draft of the microsite for the body of work. I’ve been experimenting with Adobe Portfolio for a while now, so this is not new to me. It offers a quick way to create websites based on standard templates and without the full functionality and opportunities for tailoring of a WordPress site, for example. It is suitable for microsites and portfolio sites (its design purpose) but not sites requiring CRM, e-commerce, blogs and community interaction. Different templates offer slightly different layout capabilities and it takes some experimentation to become familiar with the layout elements.

I’ve created a simple site and used the custom domain name www.leedsandliverpool.co.uk. It uses the ‘industrial’ typeface I’d chosen to work with during the ebook experiments and a simple black and white layout – to echo the colours of the canal’s equipment and machinery, to provide a backdrop to the video work, and to allow framing of ‘prints’ against a contrasting background.

Contents are fronted by a full page landing page featuring a full-bleed image. There are then pages for the video, ‘prints’, video transcript, book (intended to be worked upon during SYP), canal information, and an about/contact page. It deals only with my BoW material. A separate full website will be (re)developed during SYP also.

For now, I’ve not initiated SEO or submitted the site for search engine referencing. I’ll wait until everything is complete to do that.


Conclusion

There were some helpful suggestions received on my blog, by email and through OCA Discuss. The version of the website linked above now reflects those. Main changes were:

  • Avoid use of significant areas of white on black text by alternating the webpages between black backgrounds and white backgrounds. This allowed for black behind the video and prints for contrast. It also further develops the black/white theme of the website, which echoes the traditional colours of the canal architecture.
  • Changed button to enter website from ‘HERE’ to ‘WAY IN’ – someone rightly observed ‘HERE’ sounded a little abrupt!
  • Resized picture elements and text width to ensure it sits well on mobile devices and tablets. I find this a drawback of working on a large monitor that is not the typical viewing platform. Next time I work on a website, I should undock my MacBook Pro and work on that screen.
  • Reduced image file sizes to speed up loading time over 4G and slower internet connections. Now at 1500px on the long side. This leads to a compromise in quality when images are viewed on very large monitors but I think better that than a potentially laggy loading experience on the Ten Prints page.
  • I’ve gone through various iterations on the ‘prints’ selection and blog about that separately.

A4.BoW: Video draft for feedback

I’ve spent too many hours experimenting, tinkering, listening, watching, recording and repeating the cycle. It’s now time to put it out to a limited audience of fellow students and friends.

The finished video will be included in a microsite that will also include a selection of still images and some text.

Best enjoyed with headphones © 2020 Andrew Fitzgibbon

The work is an evolution of the ebook format I was previously working on and I have explained the reasons for the change in output medium on my blog. Some of the feedback I received on the ebook has been used to shape the format of the video, in particular for those wanting to know more about the canal information is included in the end titles.

The technical process for making the video is noted in contextual practice and research section of this learning log. It used Apple’s Keynote and Garageband. Ambient sound recordings were made either on iPhone or Roland R-05 recorder (more effective than iPhone). Voice over recording was made using a condenser mic, interfaced into Garageband.

More information on the narrative, including the poets quoted is here.

Please leave any comments and suggestions below.


Update – summary of feedback

I felt very appreciative of the encouraging feedback received (recorded on the blog and by email). Thank you!

Here, I note some points to take to discussion with my tutor and potentially address in A5.

  • Timing of transitions. A few people commented that they would have liked longer to view images or certain images. As currently configured some images have longer on screen than others – mainly the ones that are more complex. However, only longer by a few seconds. I see the video as part of a broader dissemination presented through a microsite that allows other ways of interacting with the work. I’m not convinced that increasing the viewing time would benefit the work – I enjoy the transitory experience of video and feel it part of the specificity of the medium. It leaves me with an appetite for more, in contrast with the long film stills in Robinson in Ruins that left me feeling like I’d sat through 1 1/2 hours of 7 minute guitar solos.
  • End titles. A mix of comments between the inclusion of too much information and not enough time to read the information. I deliberately placed this at the end as I’m aware that some people welcome this sort of context and others can do without. Those who don’t want it can then simply stop the video. People read at very different paces and I timed the transition at a slow read for me. I’ve also included further information on the website, so I’m not minded to make changes to the end titles.
  • Image processing. One comment suggested that they found too much red in the images. In a number of images, I have enhanced colour because to my personal taste it was lacking (a product of often overcast skies in northern England). This is a subjective area but one to sound out with my tutor.
  • Timing of narrative. One person felt distracted when the start of narrative phrases coincided with slide transitions. I didn’t notice this myself but can understand it being a distraction and will address it in the next iteration. Obviously any question about the timing of slides and transitions needs to first be resolved to avoid tail chasing.

A4.BoW: Prose final draft

The challenge with multi-faceted works is that they require multiples of work in addition to the work of photography. The time needed then seems to grow exponentially.

I’ve gone through several iterations of the prose to accompany my video and also had another exchange of thoughts with my writer friend, James Wall. The process of recording the narrative also highlighted areas that sounded fine when read inside one’s head but awkward when articulated on a recording – sometimes the combination of word-sounds or rhythms, other times the realisation that the meaning wasn’t coming across. As I worked, there are a few things that seemed increasingly important:

  • Clarity, without over-explanation.
  • Ambiguity, without confusion.
  • Simplicity without emptiness.
  • Overall, something that wouldn’t distract the viewer from the images when watching the video but would also add to the experience.

This has proven to be a difficult thing to attain, and a reminder that we don’t ‘just add another facet to our work’ – it is another work in itself to achieve anything approaching worthwhile.

A locked in flow moves through memories, land and time.
A world connects with a space inside my head, where thoughts wander freely.
Stumbling upon experiences real and imagined.
Layers of histories and hopes, some owned and some borrowed.

Two hundred years of time are trampled
and worn into the paths along this watery route.
The heritage of a grand project and as a dead poet from God’s own country said, ‘a gloomy memorial of place. The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution that had flown’.

It is a hotchpotch of a space.
There are shipshape gardens and drowned shopping trolleys.
Lovers’ graffiti and the anger of the disillusioned.
Those living the grey dream, afloat 50 footers.
Those subsisting on the margins. 

There are no celebrities on barges,  and no café culture along these banks.
But there are ‘stories and songs that hang in that space between memory and water.’
There are doors that once were, land cut with shovels, relics of industry and bird song.
There are makeshift shelters, and childhood memories encrusted in rusty bicycles.

Whoever shouts the loudest claims a space. The water calmly reflects. 
It’s from Leeds to Liverpool where my mind wanders.
Through worlds within a world. Between presence and memory. 

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Quotes from poets, in order of appearance. Ted Hughes from Stubbing Wharf . Ian McMillan from Canal Life.

Narrative – rough draft and discussion

I want to add a narrative to the sound of my video that conveys something of my experience of the canal, including the psychogeographic. I was awake early one morning and started writing, quickly getting something down, to make a start. I made a few quick edits afterwards but didn’t spend time thinking to much about what was there. I also recorded the draft narrative and added it to my video and ambient sound to get a feel for how it sounded and fitted with the rest of my work. I felt there was enough to continue with analysis and improvement. I dropped a text to a writer friend, James Wall, and asked if he would read and give some input to help me move the draft forward. The rough draft is attached at the foot of this post (more as a record of work and progress than anything else). I spoke with James for about an hour about the words and video and this triggered some very useful ideas on how to take the narrative forward. The main points from my written notes are:

  • Use objects to evoke meaning and connect to the images – for example, instead of ‘neglect’ use rusty bikes.
  • Use a constant throughout the stanzas, for example the journey (place and history) or slow, still water.
  • James commented on the idea of ‘time lapse’ in photography and wondered if this might be used as a metaphor. I had considered using time lapse photography at an earlier stage of the project. I think a verbal reference to it without any inclusion of a time-lapse could be confusing?
  • A couple of places where the narrative became muddled because of a change in voice or expressions that were unclear. Including ‘trampled’ in connection with water, without mentioning the tow path. Also the only place where there was a very direct reference to an image re the Yorkshireman – didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the narrative.
  • Noted the double meaning of ‘reflection’ and how that could be used. Also of the work ‘lock’ – the physical locks on the canal and the idea of being locked in time and place.
  • Suggestion that each stanza could reflect different stages of the journey (physical, metaphorical, or psychological).

The discussion left me with lots to think about. However the narrative is concluded, it should remain in the shadows of the images – I think this is achieved by allowing plenty of space around the spoken words.

A3.BoW Tutor Feedback

Another fruitful discussion with my tutor with some encouraging feedback. Details are in the feedback form but I summarise the main points that will shape my ongoing work.

  • The discussion helped me realise why I was finding it difficult to settle on an ebook format for the work. My tutor mentioned the ‘specificity’ of the media and thinking about this, what I am aiming to produce is more suitable for a video format. I considered specificity more here. I am going to shift my efforts towards making a video for the BoW, which will be accompanied by a website to allow viewers to pause on images.
  • Conceptually, my tutor observed the psychogeographic aspects of my work and encouraged me to expand my research in this area to ensure my own work is set solidly in context. She also suggested I reflect further on the metaphorical theme of my work – the ‘constancy and change‘ that a channel of water represents.
  • In terms of dissemination of the work, it was recommended that I consider how the more compelling of the images might be separated out, pursuing a ‘multifaceted approach‘ to the BoW.
  • Usefully, it was suggested building up a ‘lexicon’ and quotes and words that resonate as my work continues and that might be used to shape the statements around the work.

I realise that the BoW is significantly different to the assignments in previous levels in terms of possibilities for dissemination. This adds a whole layer of additional work and thinking to the project and it becomes a core part of the process of realising the work. It is a great deal of work and sustained effort beyond the making and editing of photographs.

CS.A5 | Tutor Feedback

My tutor’s feedback on A5 has been sitting in my inbox, while I’ve been focusing on my BoW. Here I summarise the aspects of the feedback help with further refinement before I submit the work for assessment.

Overall a good draft with lots of ‘really engaging stuff’ with the potential to be improved by further editing. Key points are:

  • Further attention to flow of the work and cutting out some passages that may not be essential. ‘Don’t be sentimental’. At the same time ensure that which remains is fully unpacked. I’ve been conscious of the word count limit throughout and weeding out some areas would allow the remainder to grow.
  • Introduction needs to be more engaging and give the feeling to the reader they are in safe hands. This is partly related to the current structure and argument around meaning. I’ve since been considering the notion of heterotopia, which would centre work around the canal and allow the work on meaning to become part of the analysis, rather than introduce the work.
  • Need add more nuance to the depiction of the Canal & River Trust and check substance in areas that are retained in the final work.
  • Watch out for areas that are being lead by assumptions and either reframe them / look for evidence to support if they are important to the argument, or leave them out if not.
  • Make sure each section is meticulously argued and evidenced.

When I spoke with my tutor, he recommended to leave submitting for assessment for as long as possible – let the work breathe and keep refining it as more things come to mind, including through the BoW. For me, this would mean submitting in January 2021. This makes sense to me and I’m in no rush to finish, so will wait until then.

I’ll have a last catch up with my tutor prior to the final push towards assessment.

A3.BoW: assignment submission

Introduction

I’ve made good progress since A2. Following up on the useful suggestions from my tutor here. I’ve reworked the theme of the work, which is explained in the foreword to my ephotobook; in summary, it is based around the canal as a world within a world, drawing on Michael Foucault’s concept of heterotopia. I discuss this in more detail here. I’ve gone on three further half-day shoots in new locations as I’ve expanded my outlook to the whole of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, rather than the stretch between Skipton and Leeds. The contacts for potential keepers from these shoots and previous shoots are here. I’ve also explored and worked at an ephotobook as a means of dissemination in the contactless world that we will suffer for the foreseeable future. I’ve written about the challenges and opportunities of the format a number of posts under my practice-based research menu. I’m interested the possibility of using multimedia in this format, which will hopefully compensate in someway for its missing materiality.

The Work

Below is a link to an online version of my current edit of the ephotobook. Depending on internet connection, there can be a lag. However, I can provide a link to a downloadable ePub if anyone wishing to view the draft is experiencing difficulties. The book is configured for viewing on a monitor (16:9) rather than a tablet device but should be readable in the browser of a tablet also.

Next Steps

I’ll continue to shoot with an eye for the ‘world within a world’. I have a second trip into Leeds already planned and have in mind a trip to the top of the Pennines where the canal flows through high open moorland. Other options under consideration are Liverpool (with some trepidation as I’m reliably informed the canal flows through rough areas and has become a no-go zone for boaters) and Wigan (of the famous Road to Wigan Pier, which was a wharf for the canal).

I’ve had several ideas for the multimedia content of the ebook. A microsite linked from the ebook (probably created in Adobe’s Portfolio application) – I have the domain name airlandwater.co.uk, so would use this. As well as images the site could include multimedia content. For example sound and video collected on iPhone as I photograph (Adobe’s Media Converter allows iPhone files to be converted to a useable format for Indesign and website use), an interview with the artist (me), some conceptual content around the ‘world within a world’, which would draw on my dissertation. Some of this multimedia content could be included directly in the next iteration of the ephotobook but I want to avoid it becoming too busy and distracting from the sense of quiet and calm I’m conveying through the photos.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

Ebooks are not entirely new to me, but there have been significant technical obstacles to overcome in even getting to this stage. These centre around multimedia content and the deprecation of Flash Player which, not obviously, is used in some of InDesign’s tool set without it being clear they are legacy.

I’m pleased with the additional photographs included in this edit of the project and have some clear ideas about locations for upcoming shoots, including for street portraits in areas less likely to be dominated by lycra and blue-green outdoor clothing. I believe the photos are well observed and worked in postproduction.

The layout of my initial draft that I posted for student feedback was a little more experimental but given the quiet nature of this work, I’ve settled on a something easier on the eye. The draft also allowed me to iron out some technical difficulties with the publication that were not apparent on my own computer.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

Following A2, I’ve rethought the theme of the work. The main header Air Land Water is general but has a specific link to graffiti featured on the last image in the book – bookends. I bought the domain name for £1.20 so will used this for the microsite to be developed in the next phase of the project. The subtitle a canal as a world within a world reflects my experience of the canal and relates to Michael Foucault’s concept of heterotopia (discussed on my blog). The sense of the canal as an enclosed watery microcosm set apart from the world around it has given my work a stronger sense of direction. I think this is beginning to come through in the draft book and will be built on in upcoming shoots. The idea of heterotopia could also be the link I was looking for in CS to allow the concepts of socially constructed and contested spaces to be pushed to the background while the substance of the canal is foregrounded.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

In different times, I would have made a paper book of this project without giving much thought to a multimedia ebook. For this project, I’m experimenting with the form (and will continue to) and embracing the touchless world, rather than making something physical and then having to represent it virtually. An approach this is more possible with photography than other disciplines. At some point in the future, I may make a physical book also.

I believe how I experience the canal and my personal interest in the canal is showing through in the work. There is a bleak beauty in the landscape and urban environments of the Leeds & Liverpool canal – it is different to many of the canals represented on popular television – and I am drawn to this and not representing it as an idealised place of leisure.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Lot’s of activity on my blog that can be skimmed through here. This includes reflection on the direction of the project, research on other photographers working with water, and the practical technicalities of working with ebooks.

A3: Draft ebook (for student feedback)

I’ve spend so long in front of this, that it seems a good time to ask for some feedback from my fellow students. I’m posting it here with little explanation to see how it stands ups for itself. It includes photos from additional shoots as well as some old friends that have stayed with me – others have fallen out of favour for now. Shooting continues in other locations, so the content will continue to evolve.

Click to open and select option to view full screen

Conclusions

Main issue is a technical one of viewing and display on different devices – I describe this here, along with addition research and a potential solution. This has probably affected the feedback to some extent as in some cases, won’t be on the work as I see it on my display (eg multimedia content not working).

A few people left feedback (email/here/on OCA Discuss), which was generally positive and offered some useful ideas for development of the next edit. In summary:

  • Some layouts were confusing to viewers – I need to reconsider how I create variety in the layout, without obstructing the viewing experience.
  • Some people said they wanted to know more about the work (eg how it was made, where, the experience of being on the canal). I think this could be something for the video of the interview with photographer that I will make and include in the afterword (though not for A3).
  • Some confusion about the title and subtitle but divided opinions here. Air Land Water – mixed between likes and dislikes. I’m sticking with it for now, because I’m keen on the reference to the closing graffiti image. A canal as a world within a world – this is my reference to Foucault’s heterotopia, which I plan to use in shaping my dissertation to be more canal-centric rather that build around the concept of meaning and social spacialisation. So, I think it important as a bridge between the dissertation and the BoW, as well as being a reflection of how I experience the canal.
  • A general sense of the work moving in a positive direction

A3.BoW: Contacts

As well as editing my 3 shoots since A2, I’ve been back through previous images to create a long-list of potential shots for A3. I now have a total of somewhere over 1,000 images (and I don’t use burst mode). I’ve made a long list of 54 images and as I’ve tweaked the processing, it’s already become clear that a number of them are not suitable. However, I’ve included all here to help with discussions on A3.

I’ll pause further shooting for now to see what comes out of my long-list sort. After eliminating non-starters, I’ll make some small low quality prints to shuffle.

Click to view larger size

A2.BoW: tutor feedback

The feedback on this assignment was useful and thought provoking and has resulted in a change from a conceptually oriented work towards a more poetic direction, which I’ll discuss in my self-reflection.

I felt that this assignment was almost like a restart on BoW after so long away from making images and in the meantime, while working on CS, my thinking about the canal has been heavily conceptual and textual. I’d used the assignment to try out an idea and kick back into BoW. However, a criticism was that the concept didn’t feel sufficiently substantial and clear to support a full project and that I hadn’t treated the assignment as a staging post in developing a BoW but more as trying out a discrete idea (perhaps like the assignments in L2).

While there was encouraging feedback on some of the images, a stumbling block was the concept of showing the banal as a counterpoint to the picturesque. This was considered too binary and also that it is likely a mute point on which side of the divide individual images would sit. I can see this, now I’ve let go of my attachment to the concept. I think this a risk when spending time thinking conceptually – it often needs a flexible interpretation in practice. I’m reminded that one can’t improvise on a musical instrument by simply using scales – there is a pushing of theory to the subconscious and creation of something spontaneous.

My tutor had some useful suggestions in approach a rethink of direction:

  • Consider what draws me to the canal personally and what makes it distinctive from the places around it. What aspect enthuses me?
  • Consider whether it is really about a specific stretch of waterway or something more universal.
  • Suggested making some small (cheap) prints of possible images and exploring how they might work together / inform further shooting. Also making larger / quality prints of key images.

Some ideas for contextual research were recommended; some writings of Walter Benjamin and other photographers working with waterways (Alec Soth, Frank Watson and Nadav Kandar).

While the assignment itself may not have jump started my staggering project, the dialogue around it has. As in so many things, it is the journey or working through a process that help understanding.

A2.BoW: The same place, a different perspective

Assignment two of B0W comes an eternity after A1 – last year a business project made it near impossible for me to visit the canal. This year, the first few months were a washout then, as I was about to restart, Covid-19 lockdown. It’s not all been wasted time, as I’ve completed the contextual studies module and have my final tutorial tomorrow. This has filled my head with ideas for taking the BoW forward, which is what A2 is about.

This assignment submission includes, seven composite images, a draft artist’s statement and self-reflection.

The images

Click to view images in full screen

A2 -1

Image 1 of 7

Artist statement (v1)

The same place, a different perspective

The canal was quieter than I’d imagined, short of people. They’d sometimes jog by in go-faster lycra or race past with bell-less bicycles, claiming towpath territory with their speed and metal. Those on boats are in private spaces, floating living rooms or holiday homes; a space where gongoozlers are suspected as if  strangers lurking in front gardens. But the 200 year old waterway carries signs of culture as it joins people, places  and times along its watery flow. De-industrialisation and ruins, relics of the UK as the ‘workshop of the world’ preserved as heritage, the signs of making-do in an absent “knowledge economy”; the sprawl of bland mass development bloating the commuter belt. Most visible of all, is the normalisation and regulation of the canal as a place of leisure.

In my photographs, I have used a series of pictures-in-pictures to disturb linear perspectives of space and to consider how the canal is shaped and contested through culture. The photographs are not objective, they contain exaggerated elements that counter popular (mis)representations of the canal as a pastoral leisure space.

Self-reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (30%)

Use of PS techniques to isolate image elements by adding contrast and intensifying colours – particularly to the non-picturesque images. Use of PS techniques to exaggerate the picturesque in the pastoral-like images, including bringing out reflections in water.

Use of picture-in-picture design to break linear perspective (what I’d referred to as the ‘tyranny of linear perspective’ in my dissertation) and draw out conflicting narratives in the landscape. Attention to design layout to ensure consistency across image series.

Quality of outcome – content , application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

This assignment is a stage in BoW, therefore a work in progress. I’m happy with how I’m starting to visually interpret the concepts explored in my dissertation. Presentation is only images on a blog at this stage, but I’m also printing the work so I can begin to think about presentation as the work evolves.

Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (30%)

While away from working on the canal, I’ve been making images with an iPhone and manipulating them with apps. This has acted as a point of departure from straight photography towards using it to express an interpretation of subjects without being overly mindful of the referent. I’m embracing the possibility of photography’s creation of a ‘new and distinct reality’.

Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

Much detailed research and contextual thinking has been a part of my dissertation work (final draft emailed separately to BoW tutor). I’m now beginning to assimilate that into the visual and package some of it into a brief artist’s statement.

CS A5 | Self-reflection

A5 is a significant refinement of A4 – I don’t like to think about hours work input to this, but with Covid-19 lockdown at least time has been more on my side than normal. I had planned to get out shooting for BoW put after some deliberation decided to wait out lockdown until I can return to the canal, rather than reimagine the BoW. I think that is now going to be okay.

I’ve submitted A5 for tutor feedback and have a meeting scheduled for next week to discuss. I’m slightly over word count plus 10%, but will address that after discussion. I’m pleased with A5 (and hope I still am next week!). The organisation and flow has been reworked and the theme tightened. I read it with a sense of being more or less done, in contrast to A4 which I felt was a good start but needed more work.

I need to update my literature review to reflect the final direction of the dissertation and the works I ended up placing more emphasis on. I think some of the original review contents perhaps didn’t make it into the final draft of the dissertation – a sign of how far the work as evolved. I’ll do this after next week’s feedback, so it is all still relatively fresh.

The self-reflection is below – a bit odd since it become reflection upon reflection upon draft upon draft. To help me understand the progress, I’ve just updated A4 comments with red text.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding – Broad and comparative understanding of subject content; knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts (25%).

Additional research was carried out around the narratives of crime, death and regeneration, which sat outside the narratives covered in A4 – odd befellows in a liminal space! I also tracked down a reasonable priced copy of Rob Shield’s Places on the Margin and read that. It provided not fresh put additional impetus to existing content. What I found more personally rewarding was additional research on de-industrialisation and its impact. This generated interesting parallels with navvies and counterpoints with industrial heritage.

My research folder contains over 200 references to various books and other media that have all been considered in the dissertation. While academic materials in relation to cultural geography were readily available, canal specific materials were challenging to find – other than engineering based ones. However, with some determination, I did track down a PhD dissertation based around living on a boat as a main dwelling; research into social / health concerns of travelling communities (including boatees); and a book of essays concerned with ‘thinking with water’. I’ve also drawn in broader cultural references to illustrate the difficulties in locating meaning.

Demonstration of research skills – Information retrieval and organisation; use of IT to assist research; ability to evaluate IT sources; the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual) (25%).

Not much more to add here – I’ve become very comfortable with research tools and using them to help my assimilation and analysis. This is a long way from when I first started, when I felt slightly overwhelmed by the huge amounts of disparate information on a wide range of subjects. The pain of photography being about everything! I’m also grateful for the automation this allows when creating citations and a bibliography in Word!

I continued using Zotero to organise and retrieve information. However, I took some time to restructure my folders to fit the various framed narratives in my work; eg canal, visual culture, industrial heritage (originally around essay chapters, which enforced a linearity to thinking and blocked creativity). I also, increased the level of tagging of material to aid retrieval and came up with the idea of ‘meta-tagging’ to flag items that might be included as quotes for example. Zotero has also acted as a store for my reading notes.

Because it is such a large element of my academic activity, I’ve reintroduced a separate page about my research folder to this blog.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – Engagement with concepts, values and debates; evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries (25%). 

The focus has been tightened and refined significantly in A5. It has evolved to link the culture in visual to the culture in geography and reflect upon the source of polysemy in images. I think doing the additional research and then letting things sit for a while helped me. I came back with fresh eyes and energy. One acid test is that my wife said she found it very interesting (being from Lancashire, being blunt rather than nice is her default mode). The second acid test comes from the Evertonian next week.

The dissertation is critiques hegemonic perspectives on space and how power is used to shape meanings. It evaluates representation and the filters at work when meaning is attached to place. I believe it brings in relevant cultural and sociological materials concerning the specific us of a canal as space, but these also have a wider application.

Communication – The ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills (25%).

I think that the formal presentation will remain in writing. However, it is interesting to begin to think how snapshots of it might be brought into spoken communication, alongside the photography perhaps.

Assignment is in draft written form. I have yet considered how this might be formally presented – something to start thinking during A5 work.

Dissertation – and next, preparing for A5

Having received positive feedback for A4 (the dissertation 1st draft), I’ve continued reflecting on the next steps in my process, what I found challenging and what I might do differently for the next draft.

While I’m used to reporting writing and editing in a business context, the experience beyond the basic skills of written language, seems of limited use when it comes to an academic dissertation. The dissertation is a creative, messy, open process that requires synthesis of different ideas and the expression on my own voice, while substantiating what I say with references, without drowning out what I have to say.

Here’s my 10 step route map:

  1. Collect additional reference material (areas suggested worth further research in my tutorial)
  2. Update PPS&Q (problem purpose statements & research questions) – a useful technique I came across online (https://cecilebadenhorst.wordpress.com/carnegie-african-diaspora-workshops/problempurpose-statements-ppsqs/) – I’ll make a fresh mindmap based on my first draft for this.
  3. Refresh outline of essay (mind map)
  4. Work through next edit of dissertation in one sitting and avoid editing at this stage – I realise that I wasted time editing draft 1 as I went along, which interrupted my flow and also gave time to areas ultimately dropped.
  5. Leave rework of introduction until after main body – most difficult part and since it needs to sign-post direction of work, makes more sense leaving it.
  6. Let sit for a while
  7. Hard critical edit
  8. Write conclusions
  9. Hard critical edit 2
  10. Proof reading and submission (in advance of 9th June tutorial)

A4 | Tutor Feedback

Here I note a few thoughts and actions from my tutorial this morning (1st draft of dissertation). There was positive feedback on the work as a draft and some useful development ideas to work on for the final draft (tutorial scheduled for early June). My tutor’s written feedback will come in due course, but this post is to flag general points to keep in mind as the work further progresses.

  • Make a start on next draft immediately – use momentum. Then let it sit for a while before revisiting and sending for feedback.
  • Work needed on structuring now that the bulk of the ideas are down. Sections need to be more clearly demarked as chapters and direction more clearly mapped out. In the introduction, be mindful of the technical aspects re mapping out the dissertation etc.
  • Think about a chapter (background) that discusses the canal as a contested space/conflicted representation self-contained and in advance of theoretical content. Consider broader representations of the canal (eg Canal Street / Amsterdam redlight). Hold back on the theory relating to ‘meaning’ until scene thoroughly set.
  • Think about what is essential to the work – for example, the idea that the space has transitioned from one thing to another and remains unsettled. Then decide which aspects might be downsized after letting it sit for a while. Beware of window dressing / forcing in quotations.
  • In some parts there is a loss of own voice that gets lost in enthusiasm to quote sources. Example given, was reference to Berger / Barthes – while relevant, are these generally over used? Consider cutting back weight given to them, while still pointing to awareness of their work. Don’t feel pressure to ‘name-drop’.
  • Some areas need more expansive thinking – clarify what is meant and avoid leaving reader wondering. Consider whether more material is needed on deindustrialisation. Unpick the CaRT images further
  • Consider the idea of ‘conspicuous leisure’ versus ‘enforced leisure’.

Finally – as I work up the next draft, print regularly (in whole or part) and mark up with areas to work on / move around / delete.

A4 | Self-reflection

‘no man sees what things are, that knows what they ought to be’ (Gombrich, 1996:10) is the quote I used to entitle assignment 1 – a short diagnostic essay, but a theme that has carried through to the current draft dissertation of 5,000 words. Part-time studying over a long duration, means there is the challenge of remembering the ground previously covered, in this module or earlier ones. I’ve noted here a short chronology:

  • A1 – diagnostic essay, but concerned with my misreading of the canal and semiotics. Gombrich’s aphorism is echoed in A4, superseded by Berger’s ‘the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. The framing narrative for the dissertation evolved into the attachment of meanings to place and how even banal locations ‘conspire to avoid simple definition and understanding’. I highlighted important advice from my tutor’s A1 feedback – ‘... at this point you should focus on unpacking and making sense of canals as distinct physical spaces that provide sites for an array of cultural practices.‘ I believe my dissertation has achieved this.
  • A2 – this was a literature review. I struggled a little with the linearity of the process set out in the course from this point. My research folder (Zotero) was bulging with ideas, but I hadn’t shaped them in to dissertation but only a loose set of ideas to explore creatively once I began writing. Yet, I was asked to write about the main literature used in the essay, before writing the essay. I later found that good practice for literature reviews is to treat them as a work in progress that would evolve with the essay itself. This how I’m treating it, with ongoing rework – this way I can make sense of the process.
  • A3 – essay plan. The concept of the required written essay plan didn’t fit with my way of working. My approach was to mindmap some ideas and directions and then work through creatively while writing the dissertation. I did refer to the ideas in my written plan, but its flow carried little resemblance to the dissertation I ended up writing. My intention is to rework this assignment as a mindmap of the structure, ideas and key references of the dissertation. I think this will help me internalise what I have written and may also help shape A5.

And to A4 itself. I’ve not appended the work itself to avoid any complications in relation to plagiarism/self-plagiarism that I mentioned in a previous post.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding – Broad and comparative understanding of subject content; knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts (25%).

My research folder contains over 200 references to various books and other media that have all been considered in the dissertation. While academic materials in relation to cultural geography were readily available, canal specific materials were challenging to find – other than engineering based ones. However, with some determination, I did track down a PhD dissertation based around living on a boat as a main dwelling; research into social / health concerns of travelling communities (including boatees); and a book of essays concerned with ‘thinking with water’. I’ve also drawn in broader cultural references to illustrate the difficulties in locating meaning.

Demonstration of research skills – Information retrieval and organisation; use of IT to assist research; ability to evaluate IT sources; the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual) (25%).

I continued using Zotero to organise and retrieve information. However, I took some time to restructure my folders to fit the various framed narratives in my work; eg canal, visual culture, industrial heritage (originally around essay chapters, which enforced a linearity to thinking and blocked creativity). I also, increased the level of tagging of material to aid retrieval and came up with the idea of ‘meta-tagging’ to flag items that might be included as quotes for example. Zotero has also acted as a store for my reading notes.

Because it is such a large element of my academic activity, I’ve reintroduced a separate page about my research folder to this blog.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – Engagement with concepts, values and debates; evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries (25%). 

The dissertation is critiques hegemonic perspectives on space and how power is used to shape meanings. It evaluates representation and the filters at work when meaning is attached to place. I believe it brings in relevant cultural and sociological materials concerning the specific us of a canal as space, but these also have a wider application.

Communication – The ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills (25%).

Assignment is in draft written form. I have yet considered how this might be formally presented – something to start thinking during A5 work.

A3.CS Formative Feedback

I’m not sure if ‘formative feedback’ is the correct term in the context of an essay plan – it feels more like an ongoing dialogue with my tutor on my evolving thoughts in the run up to A4, which is a draft of the essay itself. As with previous CS assignments, I’m not publishing the work itself on the blog to avoid and complications around self-plagiarism/citation of my own work. Or, less-likely, other researchers coming across the work on this blog.

I wrote my 1000 word plan as a framework for the essay, with the idea that it is likely to change as the writing itself begins. I suppose a general direction. I’ve avoided formulating a conclusion at this stage as I want the research and writing to lead me to that. This may make the essay plan appear unclear in some respects – I don’t find it helpful to be certain at this point. The most important thing to me is to use these preliminary assignments in a way that is useful to me.

The main learnings from my video discussion and points from written feedback are summarised here:

  • My tutor found the plan as a document/work in its own right a bit ‘bitty’, though acknowledged my intention. I’m conscious that it may receive some attention as assessment (so even though a draft, it is not just for me), so will refresh it as my work progresses. This will assist me in refining the direction of the essay as well as providing something more digestible for others reading it.
  • Observed that some areas of the plan came across as a little abstract and not easy to make sense of – I just need to be mindful that this is avoided in the writing itself.
  • Noted that references to Eastern philosophy would need to be clearly explained / referenced if used. I’ve reflected on this and think I will leave these are personal thoughts, rather than include in the essay.
  • Noted that 5,000 words is not lengthy and what I leave out will be as important as what I put in. As photography can be about everything, I intend to apply a strong filter as the work progresses.

As usual, my tutor offered some useful suggestion for further reading:
– Guy Julier, Economies of Design
– Places on the margin: alternative geographies of modernity, Rob Shields.
– ‘After-images of steel: Dortmund’, Dan Swanson
– ‘Space’ is the primary theme here, but canals also seem to be about ‘time’ in lots of ways. Take a look at Tim Edensor’s essay ‘Reconsidering National Temporalities’ and see if this gives you any ideas. He’s a cultural geographer, so plenty of his other writing is also worth a look. nb, his Industrial Ruins might also have its uses. Although we’ve not discussed canals in such a way, they can definitely be read in this context.

A3.CS Essay Plan – process

The course material outlines the requirements of this assignment:

  • It requires a plan for the extended written project (around 500 words) detailing the separate chapter headings and their content, and how the 5,000 words of your project will be distributed.
  • It should include a 500–1,000 word sample text. This could be a draft introduction or any other part of your extended written project that you’re able to write at this stage.
  • It should also include details of when each section will be written and set a realistic deadline for your first draft (Assignment Four)
  • It also mentions that research interests should have been outlined in the literature review, so focus should be on the mapping of the extended project.

I’m beginning to build a routine for this type of work and outline it here for later reference.

In preparing for this assignment, I have done research on research in the context of visual practice; I am intending for the extended written project inform by BoW and visa versa – is not a requirement of the OCA course for one aspect to support the other, but I see value in this as part of my practice.

My literature review is not included on this blog to avoid any complications with plagiarism / self-plagiarism by publishing it. I’ve decided that this should be a living document supporting my written project, so will be updated to reflect additional contextual information as the work progresses. This seems to be good academic practice.

I’ve updated my digital research folder so the contents are grouped by subject area (initially I was following the course structure/outline) for ease of reference and I also started to add research notes directly into the folder, along with tags for content. I’m using Zotero as a tool.

I will use a mind mapping tool to shape my outline plan as I find the visual approach helpful in organising and adjusting structures.

Finally, I’ve again referred to Gilda William’s book for advice on writing about contemporary art – specifically academic essays.

Reference

Williams, G. (2014) How to Write about Contemporary Art. (s.l.): Thames & Hudson.

A1.BoW: tutor feedback

A belated update to my blog on my tutor’s feedback from the diagnostic assignment 1. A pdf is linked below. This feedback was on work made earlier in the year and while I’ve made some progress on the contextual studies aspect of the course, I’ve since had little time for making photographs.

I make notes on the feedback now, as I see it within the current context of my work:

  • The canal (water) as a connecting theme remains important. I’m now exploring ways of seeing it through the lens of cultural geography; how different users of the canal attach meanings to it. Overlaying this, through my more recent research, is how ways of seeing might be influenced by the traditional geography binaries of city / country.
  • The sense of making-do and improvisation in areas relative poverty is one aspect I intend to explore further. Including subcultures that kick against the hegemonic representation of the canal (presented by the Canal & River Trust).
  • Lost skills and new skills around the de-industrialised canal is another aspect I intend to explore – people and their interaction with space to forge meanings.
  • I have a long-standing interest in contemplative photography – in my research there is a theme of ideologies and binary interpretations of space hindering the process of seeing and understanding. There may be some connection between a contemplative approach and the unravelling of habitual binary thinking.

Some useful suggestions for further research were offered, including the idea of film-works and incorporating sound into my own work. These are noted in the feedback, which I’ll follow up on later.

https://oca3.fitzgibbonphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/BoW1_Andrew_Fitzgibbon-tutor-feedback.pdf

A2.CS tutor feedback

For the first time, I am writing about feedback received without sharing the work itself on my blog. Following discussions in a photography 3 hangout, some long-standing students pointed out the risk of plagiarism and self-plagiarism when publishing writing that might form the basis of a future essay submitted for formal assessment. The irony of conscientiously maintaining a study blog, only to be undone by it at a later date!

A2 was a literature review – an overview of literature that will shape the direction of my L3 essay, but without yet taking a critical position. Overall, encouraging feedback was received; that the work has moved on and is developing much more focus and confidence. In this short post, I note areas of attention for upcoming work.

  1. Continue to keep intros clear and to the point.
  2. Open up the discussion of things / events that may have changed the meanings of canals; ‘de-industrialised’ them.
  3. Good to expand the use of texts beyond the non-academic, but be sure to make the most of them in the essay.
  4. A couple of journal articles shared by my tutor concerning ‘nature’ and ways of thinking about the imagined and the constructed. I’ll read and reflect on these separately.

We discussed A3, which is an essay plan for the substantial essay. This potentially becomes an anchor-point for further substantial writing and research. It is something I’ll move onto quickly to allow time for refinement before moving forward – I presently have very little time for photography, but significant commuting time that I can use for reading and note taking. I’m targeting the end of October for my A3 tutorial.

A1.CS Tutor feedback

My own notes are included in the tutor feedback – pdf is linked below. I won’t replicate what is said in here, but note points for upcoming research and work.

  • Research the concepts of cultural heritage and cultural politics. Look widely to draw inspiration and consider the role of the CRT as a key stakeholder in respect of canals in the UK.
  • Look at tourism (including the tourists’ gaze) as one of the key uses of canals in the 21st century. Even if I’m not immediately drawn to this aspect as subject matter for images, the research could draw out something beyond the obvious.
  • ‘ Canals as an industrial artefact that are subsumed in the tourist gaze and the urban-pastoral? ‘ My own description of how I’m begin to see the canals. Remember this as a potential theme during research. Look at other photographic works taking this as a theme (ie beyond the canal) – the High Line and Petrochemical America (Mishrach) for example.
  •  Look at for signs of subcultures around the canal – visit at different times of the day.
  • Read into ‘geography of heritage’ and look at Rob Shields’ Places on the Margin: an alternative geography of modernity. Examine the changing use of the canal / peripheral industries that support the tourist industry for example.

I quote my tutor’s closing advice, as a reminder to self:

... at this point you should focus on unpacking and making sense of canals as distinct physical spaces that provide sites for an array of cultural practices. With this, I’m confident that you’ll have more than enough to go on.

I was feeling more optimistic about making some headway this morning during my long daily commute … until I lost internet connection and the words! Perhaps drafting should be in Word during train journeys.

PDF of feedback.

A1.CS: Diagnostic for tutor feedback

Introduction

This diagnostic assignment requires an essay that relates my current work to an aspect of visual culture discussed in Part One of the course material . My essay is based around the post-modernist notion that plays against the modernist idea of objective truths and grand narratives. I’ve used the tools of semiotics to unpick my preconceived meaning of the stretch of canal that is the basis for my body of work.

My research for the essay draws on general reading during part 1 of the course as well as specific texts dealing with semiotics. During my research, I outlined a structure of the essay in a mindmap:

Click to view full screen

Texts of particular influence were Chandler’s Semiotics, the basics for its insights into the complexity of how meanings are made from signs; E.H. Gombrich’s Art & Illusion for its insights into the psychology of representation; and The Changing Landscape of Britain, for its variety of perspectives on landscape (all referenced in the essay).

The Essay

A pdf of the essay sent to my tutor for feedback is attached:

Self-reflection

My final essay of level 2 dealt with what I see as problematic postmodern thinking in relating to photography and how some writers held the medium itself responsible for the meanings attributed to photographs. In this essay, I’ve directed similar ways of thinking in a different direction – at my own forming of subjective meaning; the destination of the message, rather than the photographic source.

Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understandingBroad and comparative understanding of subject content; knowledge of the appropriate historical, intellectual, cultural or institutional contexts (25%).

For this short essay, I’ve focused on understanding semiotics and the psychology of perception. In the space allowed there seemed limited possibility of exploring broader contexts, though I have briefly mentioned historical and publicity image contexts for the canal.

Demonstration of research skillsInformation retrieval and organisation; use of IT to assist research; ability to evaluate IT sources; the ability to design and carry out a research project, locate and evaluate evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources (visual, oral, aural or textual) (25%).

I’ve been using the Zotero tool to track my reading and research in an online research folder. This is best viewed through Zotero’s online site and access is available to tutors on request. However, given limited tutorial time available, both tutors have indicated a preference to be directed to references of specific relevance. For this assignment, they are provided in the essay bibliography.

A high level overview of the Zotero contents is provided on the ‘research folder’ page.

Demonstration of critical and evaluation skillsEngagement with concepts, values and debates; evidence of analysis, reflection, critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation in relation to relevant issues and enquiries (25%).

My main interest in this essay has been in the psychology of perception and semiotics. These are influences in postmodern thought. I have come to experience these as critical tools that can be applied in different ways. In this case I have found them invaluable in making sense of how meaning has been made. This contrast to my previous experience in my final L2 essay, where I saw them used destructively to devalue the use of the media by holding the photograph itself responsible for the creation of meaning (reference Susan Sontag and others).

CommunicationThe ability to communicate ideas and knowledge in written and spoken form, including presentation skills (25%).

I hope the essay is clearly written and includes useful examples of images, from the current project, my archive and other sources.

A1.BoW: Diagnostic assignment for tutor feedback

Background

The brief for this assignment is to make some experimental images that are broadly focused – to discover something about the chosen theme and arrive at some ideas to try next.

The idea for my work is to follow the 29 mile canal route from Skipton to Leeds as a journey to discover the people and places along it. The route is shown here. For my preliminary meeting with my tutor, I prepared notes on my thoughts for the project.

For the diagnostic, I agreed that I would work through a large number of images with my tutor, rather than refine too far before her input – to allow a broader discussion about initial ideas. The images were discussed by using LR in screen-share. I write this post after our meeting but it reflects the chronology of the work done.

Process

I was keen to do a number of shoots to become more familiar with the canal and the range of places it passes through. I chose 4 different departure points for walks of several hours, that would take in the urban and rural aspects of the canal, including Skipton at one end and Leeds at the other.

I travelled light with a mirrorless camera, wide and standard prime lenses, spare batteries and cleaning kit (and a flask of tea and snacks). All carried in a black backpack. I mostly prefer to remain inconspicuous and mobile when making this kind of work.

Contact sheets, including notes against each image are here. The final selection of images below, reflects my thinking after the discussion I had with my tutor – this seemed a better way to work for the purposes of a diagnostic.

The images

click to view in lightbox

A1-1

Image 1 of 21

Self-reflection

A different kind of reflection is needed on experimental work that is not intended as a realised piece. I someways it is more difficult; reflecting upon something that is only just beginning to take form and could well morph into something completely different in due course. So I reflect more on the journey than the outcome here. I’ll include my intended next steps along with my tutor’s feedback that will be recorded separately.

I’ve located my work in the genre of psychogeography – concerned with the feeling and atmosphere of a place and have summarised my thoughts on part 1 of the BoW course here. Exercises can be for the course work can be found here. I have an interest in also making images of people and their interaction with the environment. However, this aspect proved problematic during assignment 1:

  • The stretch of water I’m dealing with is mostly without people (apart from lycra wearing cyclists and runners). This surprised me, but it was a mistake to understand it in the same way as canals in major cities (eg Amsterdam or London) – it was built like an industrial-age motorway for the purposes of trading goods, not transporting people. It passes through the backs / hidden places in towns (canals were built on the cheapest land) and ways of gaining access to the canal are limited (similar to a motorway).
  • Engaging people will require a formal approach of locating and targeting specific groups of interest. Not something that can be achieved during a ‘just go out and make photos without overthinking’ assignment.

Technical and visual skills – I think the photos are well executed as straight digital images. However, as I mentioned at the outset of the course, I’m interested in also making work that is tactile. This is a strand that I now need to work on alongside developing ideas for work further.

Quality of outcome – I’m not sure that this is easy to apply to an experimental assignment. I do feel like I’ve got a lot of value from the work in terms of potential directions that will be noted in the post for tutor feedback.

Demonstration of creativity – I feel that I’m very much still forming ideas at this stage of the work.

Context – good progress in the learning log – see here. In particular I’ve been reading about modernity and the postmodern and grounding myself in an overview of philosophical thinkers (frequently referred to in critical review without further explanation). There maybe parallels in the theory to the visual work: the bland disposable housing that is being built along the canal banks in the ‘information age’ in contrast to crumbling, but still standing buildings of the industrial age – showing strength of purpose in their design. While I’ve photographed many of the new buildings, I’ve not selected them. They have little visual appeal and feel more like ‘information’. Or perhaps I’m already guilty of ‘nostalgia’ for a time I did not even know? It is now time to press ahead with the contextual studies work, having put feelers out for the direction of this project.