The problem of word counting – Zotero and Word

I’ve just refreshed my literature review and am working on the final-final-final edit of my dissertation. I’ve also been double-checking my wordcounts, which are semi-automated. There was a slight glitch (nothing that is a game changer), so I’m making a note of the process that I finally found works. This is using MS Word and the Zotero plugin for referencing – if anyone reading this wants to reuse, please test it works with your set up before relying upon it.

A widely suggested idea is to create a separate ‘character style’ (not paragraph) called something like ‘references’ and change all citations and inline references to this style. This means they can be separately identified and counted by Word.

For the total word count, simply highlight all the text that needs to be included in the word count (ie exclude index, table of references etc) and see the total word count in Word’s display. Counting the citations and inline references that need to be deducted from the total is not so straightforward.

I initially imagined that I could just use Word’s styles pane to select-all ‘references’ (just highlight a piece of text that is styled ‘references’ and then select-all from the pane). But here’s the pothole. Although the Zotero inline references are marked up as ‘references’, they are not selected and counted. This is because as long as they are connected to Zotero, they are treated as updateable fields rather than text.

To get around this, save a separate copy of the document to work with (don’t mess up the original) and in the Zotero plugin, use the chain icon to unlink Zotero (there’s a warning that there will be no automatic updates in the document). Then follow the previous step to select ‘references’ and the correct number of words is returned to deduct from the total word count.

Paper selection

Yesterday, I ran through a test pack of paper to choose which one to order to print a selection of my photographs at A3 size. I’ll also keep the prints as reference for future paper orders.

Many of the canal images have a wide tonal range and include large areas of shadow – much of the canal is enclosed by trees and hedgerows. I usually print on a lustre paper as it has a larger DMAX than matt and doesn’t have the shine of gloss that seems more suitable for fashion-style images and glossy brochures. My test results weren’t surprising: the matt paper couldn’t sufficiently hold shadow details and the gloss held the shadows but seemed incongruous with the images. Included in the sample pack was a silk Baryta paper, with a slight sheen and warm white (top image above). This retained good shadow detail and its tone worked well with the subdued colours of the images.

With the second test sheet, I printed a different image for my wall.

Seeing the image on the wall (albeit only A4) made me think of putting up a small home exhibition and recording a video walk-about. Perhaps as a promotional resource for SYP.

Don McCullin at Tate Livepool

I was fortunate to visit the Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Liverpool in October on the weekend before the city went into pandemic lockdown. The Tate’s website features the exhibition –

The exhibition was vast and took me several hours to take in. The photographs were intense and oppressive; even the landscapes of Somerset where McCullin now lives and I grew up had the atmosphere of the Somme. It is sometimes said that photographs say as much about the photographer as the subject, and in the later landscape works I felt that might in fact say more about the photographer than the subject! When watching him interviewed, I’ve always felt the weight of McCullin’s war experiences cast a deep shadow over his identity.

iPhone snap of Don McCullin Berlin image

For a change, photography was allowed in the gallery. However, I didn’t feel like taking home McCullin’s horrific and tragic experiences; and I felt similarly about the books on display in the Tate’s shop. By intention, many of the images were almost too painful to see. McCullin has said he regrets that his images have changed little; there is still war and famine. I wondered whether if people had seen them on the scale possible on gallery walls, rather than newspaper magazines (or now on small screens), they would have had a greater impact, been impossible to ignore. The images viewed at this scale and in this volume certainly had a far greater effect on my own experience of them.

A section of McCullin’s work was directly relevant to my own project’s Northernness. He had spent time in Bradford, Liverpool and other Northern cities at a time when they were industrialised.

©Don McCullin source:

The images brought home how I was photographing a deindustrialised North, a sense of an aftermath that has been so long coming through a slow decline that the before is beginning to escape living memory. As a separate matter, I talk about the lasting effect of deindustrialisation on communities in my dissertation.

I felt the McCullin retrospective was a huge success – it disturbed and left me speechless for a while, which was McCullin’s intention when taking the photographs.

Songs & Poems of the inland waterways

As I’ve continued to work on my short film, I’ve be researching sound archives with the hope of finding some historic sounds to sample. What’s been particularly interesting is how these works reveal stories of everyday life on the canal that is scant in detail in official histories.

Songs of a navvy by MacGill, Patrick, 1890- , source:

The book Songs of a Navvy (Patrick MacGill (1911), Windsor) is available from ( and includes some poignant writing:

Another resource found was the website Songs of the Inland Waterways (, which includes the lyrics of many canal songs, along with some recordings. I wrote to the website owner, to thank him for the resource, in particular a 1975 recording by the BBC that includes some oral histories as well as songs and sounds from the canal when it was operated commercially.

I’ve sampled some of the sounds and added them to the next version of my film – this adds to the melancholy of the work but linking to the past and highlighting a place that once was an artery of the Industrial Revolution as a now marginal place. I hope that this will make viewers reflect on impermanence the acceptance of change.

Patrick Keiller’s London

In my recent tutorial I commented that I found Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins a hard watch. My tutor suggested that his ‘London’ (1994) was a more interesting one to watch. This I did on the BFI viewer.

An interview with Keiller and further information about the film is on the BFI’s website:

There is a melancholy in the work that carries from the sentiments in the narrative to the backing music. To me the atmosphere centres around difficulty in determining the identity of London – at one point Keiller suggests that it is absent. Perhaps the reason for a sense of absence is that there are many voices clamouring to state its identity and meaning, undermining any singular sense of identity. As clever and insightful as the narrative is, I found 1 hour 40 minutes of melancholy hard to digest.

I my own work, I’m thinking more about the sound as the images are now settled. I listened carefully to how the narrative was layered with the background sound, relative volumes play a part in the separation but the volume differences are not as pronounced as I’d expected. Separation in the stereo space is also important. On occasions it seems that additional ambient sound is added to reference a subject in the image – however, this is not done with a frequency that allow predictability. The ambient sound features throughout the film and is more present than in my own work; I’d already been thinking that there didn’t seem to be quite enough sound in the latest edit (v3).

I’ve learned more about effective use of ambient sound alongside narrative by watching this film.

Erik Knudsen – upcoming ‘portfolio’ discussion

RedEye network emailed members advanced notice of 30 minute portfolio discussions with renowned practitioners. Free for members. Erik Knudsen is one of those practitioners ( – a film maker and photographer and professor of digital culture at UClan (

From the Doubt Project ©Erik Knudsen, source:

I’ve been lucky to book one of the few available spots with Erik in early October and am using this post to note the preparation for the discussion, the discussion itself and the outcome.

  1. Erik’s own work. I spent time browsing his website this afternoon. What attracted me to having the discussion the focus of his photography and film on the ordinary, along with a feeling of psychological tension – perhaps the anticipation of change or the downtrodden acceptance of slow change. His work ‘Doubt Project’ is described in the context of doubt being part of his creative and spiritual development – something he has learned to recognise an embrace. There is always doubt in art, perhaps an equivalent to doubt or anxiety when putting one’s own children out into the world. I feel doubt, but I tend to brush it aside rather than embrace it.

This discussion is continued on my SYP blog

Dr Ariadne’s September Meet

Yesterday’s Zoom session was a general discussion about research, opened out to the group to raise discussion points. I note here areas of interest to me personally:

  • Methodology was mentioned at several points during the discussion. I observed that my dissertation was not so much about photographic representation but was interested to hear about another student who had started their research, focussing on images. She mentioned the reference – Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials by Gillian Rose . I’ve downloaded a copy from the OCA library to scan through – it sounds interesting / important enough to read through even if I don’t need more source material for my dissertation.
  • There were a number of helpful comments on the reasons for research and what makes for a good research document. I note some of these here as reminders to take inspiration from during my rewrite:
    • CS needs to allow one to better express one’s practice.
    • Research brings meaning into a world that already has meaning. It is the brining together of pieces of meaning to make something different through the lens and voice of the researcher.
    • Research involves ‘a conversation with your sources’. The interaction between two minds.
    • As one moves on to finalise the research, it becomes more of an internal conversation between the researcher as writer and the researcher as reader. The academic voice reflecting the way the researcher’s mind works.
  • On a practical point, there was a discussion of how much of CS material needs to appear on the blog. Much of mine is contained within Zotero, along with notes on various sources. Ariadne explained that its form didn’t really matter, as long as it was accessible, eg as a separate pdf document and clearly sign posted.

Another useful session to keep the CS fire burning!

Google slide show embed

One drawback of Adobe’s Portfolio site builder is it’s poor slide show options – to use a lightbox the individual images need to be included on the page (either as single images or as a grid), which takes away from the clean look I was aiming for.

However, Portfolio does support a number of different embeds through iframes. After some research, I found that Google slides are a good solution without additional cost. For it to work cleanly, the embed code from Google slides needs to be edited so the Google logo and viewer controls are not displayed. This is done by adding the code &rm=minimal after the delay time set for the slides. So my embed code looks like this:

<iframe src=";loop=true&amp;delayms=5000&amp;rm=minimal&amp;" frameborder="0" width="960" height="350"></iframe>

And here is the slide show now embedded on my Portfolio site (

A little experimentation is required with the pixel dimensions to avoid a thin line appearing inside the frame – however, this has not been entirely successful on the Portfolio website for reasons beyond my technical understanding!

The photographic print on the web

On my microsite, I am including a selection of 10 still images as a foil to the video and a space where viewers can linger on individual images. These images will also be made into physical prints. I thought about how to convey the impression of prints on the website and concluded that they should somehow be separated from the background with borders. The background on my website is black – partly to echo the traditional black and white colouring of the canal furniture (and also the buildings in the past) and partly as a suitable backdrop to the video that is included on the site

Lightroom’s print module (export to jpg) seemed an efficient way to manage this without resizing images individually in photoshop to fit on white backgrounds. It allows for multiple image to be output in one go.

One problem did take some working at – there is no specific setting for the pixel dimensions on the jpg export and it appears to default to around 900px on the long side. This is insufficient for large screens and I found it resulted in blurring of the images. I found that changing the ‘file resolution’ setting from the default 75 ppi increased the pixel dimensions for the exported file. 150 ppi gave me files of approaching 2000 px on the long side, which is enough.

This is a quick / neat solution to obtaining bordered jpgs where precise pixel dimensions are not important.

An afternoon of digital printing

© Andrew Fitzgibbon, 2016. Casablanca.

Technology and applications are continually evolving – Adobe seems to release significant application updates every 6 months or so! I thought I’d reassess my printing workflow, which has been from Photoshop. A few interesting points discovered during the afternoon:

  • Marrutt, the ink and paper supplier, posted a series of videos on output dpi for printing. They say this was based on discussions with printer technicians and industry experts (including Martin Evening, the multi-book Photoshop author). Until now I’ve been following advice in oldish books that there is little point in outputting at beyond 360dpi as it makes no difference to print quality. However, it seems that this was an arbitrary number, possibly from when computers and printers were slower, and best results (ie with clearest resolution) are obtain by outputting at the maximum possible dpi based on file size for the print size. The rationale being that this preserves the maximum actual camera-pixel information in the print, rather than digital approximations. A series of tests seem to prove this point. So, a change in my workflow will be to stop limiting my output dpi to 360 when I have pixels to spare.
  • Lightroom print module seems to have evolved since I last used it. It seems to be straightforward to create soft prints using ICC profiles and also save these versions as copy images. It seems to me a more efficient workflow doing this in LR rather than switching on/off additional layers in PS for different output formats. The PS version then remains a straight, print master. I’m swapping to LR for printing. I’ve also heard good things about LR’s AI output sharpening for prints – for my basic requirements, I think this should be more than sufficient.
  • Out of gamuts – this has been a source of frustration in the past, trying to fix OOG warnings in soft prints. An option is to ignore them and let the printer bring the areas back into gamut but this feels counter intuitive, given the manual work put into honing print master files. I experimented on one image that included significant shadow areas and saturated highlights as a test (the image above). I found best results by adjusting the black point to the paper by using a curves adjustment and leaving the printer to deal with the saturated highlights itself. The blacks adjustment is important on lustre paper to avoid the loss of shadow detail – there was a significant difference on my test prints; without correcting gamut the shadow areas were close to completely flat. Of course, the result will depend on the image. An advantage of printing at home is being able to make test prints and reprint if necessary. I’ll consider the OOG warnings critically and possibly ignore them depending on the specifics of the image.

Overall time well spent printing with an old image that I’m not as involved with as my current BoW – allowed for a dispassionate view! I’ll now put into practice with my BoW prints.

Experiments in film making #2: Sound

Garageband screenshot, with movie file uploaded as separate track

Having successfully sequenced, added transitions and exported a movie file from Keynote, I turned to Garageband to add sound and work around Keynote’s very limited sound capabilities.

I was already familiar with sound recording from forays into music recording but had previously used Logic Pro when Garageband was a much more basic tool. It has developed significantly over the years. After some experimentation I arrived at a method for putting sound to my movie.

The ambient sound clips I’d recorded on my iphone while walking the canal, were saved as files from the recording app on my phone and then simply dragged into GB, where they were automatically created as separate tracks. These were then cut to size and placed under the desired image frames. Automation of volume, panning and so on is possible for each track in GB – so I made adjustments to these.

To record the narrative, I used GB on my iPad – using a separate section for each verse to make it easier to do several takes without re-recording the whole narrative, and also to make it easy to place each verse separately against the movie frames. The track sections were then copy/pasted into the main GB file.

What wasn’t as easy to spot in GB was the overall sound mastering – it is perhaps a recent addition as some YouTube tutorials were suggesting bouncing the entire track down and then reimporting to master. However, there is a separate master track but it isn’t shown by default. Mastering allows the addition of overall compression, EQ, adjustment of stereo spacing, and limiting. This is important to bring the sound together in a coherent whole when building from different sources. One tip I found was to turn off the preference for automatic sound optimisation on output – this takes a cautious approach and reduces dynamic range and volume.

When done, it is easy to ‘export’ the movie with the sound added to the file with no loss of quality.

I found that this approach offers a way of creating movies from photos with simple transitions that allow the photos to remain centre stage. This was important to me – I wanted to used the movie format to show the photos to good advantage, rather than to use the photos to make a movie, in which they would be more like raw ingredients to be chopped and added to the mix. The workflow is also much quicker for me than using more complex tools like Premiere Pro.

Talking about work: Chris Killip

My tutor suggested that I think about how I talk about my work and recommended looking at Chris Killip introducing his work Skinningrove.

Oddly, I haven’t really thought much about talking about my work but rather showing it without the distraction of me talking. However, I do enjoy listening to photographers talking about their work and what it means to them. I suppose I’ve got into the habit during my time at the OCA of being ‘tutored’ and placing more importance on listening and learning, rather than talking myself. However, it’s time to move on from that. Perhaps I also think of the CS work as being the ‘talking part’ of this course.

Killip talks intimately about his images and stories connected with making them. In a similar way to how someone might talk enthusiastically about their holiday photographs. I have felt a growing intimacy with my selected photos as I’ve continued to work with them and in my mind is to revisit my CS work before submitting A4 BoW – testing where the two faces of the final year join. This would be a good opportunity to also consider how I might talk about my work.

Prose and exploring Apple Keynote

As little as I’m a fan of genres and labels, my work sits solidly in the domain of the pyschogeographic and I suppose that is a useful indicator for anyone who understands what that term means. As I’ve started to work on a video production to show my work, I have also thought about what that medium offers and how to distinguish a video comprising of still images from a straight photographic slide show. I see this as resting in the use of sound and the conveying of a narrative. For example in the work of Laura El-Tantawy explored in a previous couple post and in the Robinson series of films by Patrick Keiller.

Feeling some creative force this morning, I drafted my own psychogeographic prose to accompany my video. I’ve asked a writer friend to review and suggest edits to avoid working on sound recording only to find there are unseen flaws in my own prose.

Yesterday, I spent time with Apple’s Keynote application to gauge its suitability for my production. I was surprisingly encouraged with what I found. It is easy to manage the placement of images on the black screen space, has a number of suitably subtle transition options, control over individual image timings can be accessed and adjusted (though it was clearly not designed with this in mind as bulk editing isn’t supported). A weakness is in its management of sound, which are not editable as separate tracks but attached as files. However, I’ve found a simple way around this by not adding sound in Keynote but exporting the video and then importing to Logic Pro (or Garageband desktop) where sound can be added and managed in separate tracks. The finished production can then be exported as video and sound. It is completely unsuitable for more complex video production but for what will essentially be a slide-show, plus it is perfectly adequate when used with a separate sound application. It’s ability to export to html could also have other uses – for example, page turning of a book for a website. Premiere Pro cannot export to html, understandably.

British psychogeographic cinema

In my last tutorial, I was encouraged to revisit the genre of psychogeography. As I’m now planning to make a video of my work, I thought it would be interesting to focus on film. The British Film Institute (BFI) have a useful blog post: Your next obsession: the drifting explorations of psychogeographic filmmaking. (

I watched a few of the films mentioned. Curiosity drew me to Ringo Star’s wander around Camden during the film Hard Day’s Night (clip on YouTube : I also watched some of Peter Greenway’s A Walk through H (clip here: and rewatched my own copy of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins, part of the Robinson trilogy that the BFI consider defines British psychogeographic cinema.

All convey a strong sense wandering. The wander for wandering’s sake, with no specific purpose in mind, other than an intuitive response to the environment. I confess that I find Keiller’s work a hard watch – I think I would enjoy Robinson in Ruins more if it was 30 minutes long rather than 1.5 hours. The same fixed frame film shots are frequently revisited, cropped in or out. The narrative is deliberately unexpressive tonally.

All works make use of ambient sound to connect the auditory sense with the physical act of wandering. A signifier introduced through sound. This seems important in placing the works and is something I intend to incorporate into my video. The other strong attribute of the works in the sense of the ordinary or banal – there is zero chance of National Geographic featuring them. There is a a sensory revel in the everyday.

Where there is narrative present, it tends to deal with psychological response to what is seen, rather than a traditional plot. This too enhances the sense of ‘wandering’. I’m developing some prose to go with my own work and will keep this idea in mind. The words should not be descriptive of what is shown in the images but suggest a psychological response to the urban environment.


Video and multimedia works by Laura El-Tantawy.
— Read on

When Laura El-Tantawy published her In the Shadows of the Pyramids work, I was impressed by the video presentation, including the narrative in her own voice. I had a look at her website to see if there was new work.

I found the powerful piece, Beyond Here is Nothing. In this post, I’m concerned with the video production of the work. This wasn’t done entirely by the artist herself as the credits show other names for multimedia productions. A sign that this is not straightforward to make as a professional production.

The images pulse rhythmically on the screen, only present for a second or so. They are projections onto the black space of the screen – making no attempt to fill it but stand as photographic images projected onto a dark space. This works very well, conveying something that is photographic. It also doesn’t make me think ‘slide show’. Images appear in different positions in the dark space, creating a dynamic movement on the screen without panning or zooming. Some images appear side by side (they are mostly a portrait aspect) – there is consistency in their placement across the screen, so the comfort of knowing what to expect.

The sound track includes ambient sounds across the production space and Laura’s voice centered. ‘Best listened to with headphones’ indicates that care has been taken over the stereo placement of sounds. It is immersive but I found myself not listening to the words after a while, they became another part of the the overall sound scape. The sound of a voice rather than the meaning of words.

Watching this has particularly influenced me in the use of the black space as a screen for projection of images. As if within a darkened cinema. I suspect some may complain that the space is too dark and they would prefer white (like a photobook), however, the specificity of video involves darkness and shadow. The projection of whiteness from screen to eyes is a distraction from the image and uncomfortable to the eyes, like a blaze of light. In my next experiment, I’m going to embrace the darkness rather than try to mask it.

Slide show maker research

I concluded in my previous post that I needed to get over any deep rooted trauma about ‘slide shows’, both from childhood 35mm and many deaths by PowerPoint in a business context. This got me think about other technical solutions to production – Adobe Premiere Pro is after all over-engineered for slide show production and is aimed at professional movie making. Could I obtain what I need from a simpler tool without too much compromise and make a much quicker workflow?

I looked into a number of options.

  • There are a number of online applications, which I quickly discounted as I want something that can manage large photo files easily without uploading/downloading.
  • KeyNote – I’ve never used KeyNote but note that it has some useful output options, including as a movie format and as html that can be uploaded to websites. The latter is interesting as the output wouldn’t require hosting on Vimeo or YouTube and could be embedded directly. It also offers a record function for timing of slide movements (and voice over if needed), which seems to be adjustable manually. It’s free with Macs.
  • PowerPoint – One that I’ve suffered heavy trauma through tedious ppt shows. But have used extensively, if not for photos. It is essentially the Windows equivalent to KeyNote but also works on Mac. I have access included in my MS Office student membership.
  • Premiere Pro – it would be possible to use this in a simpler way without getting into all the fine tuning it offers; using it with a slide show in mind rather than movie from stills. This may not turn out to be an issue but Premiere Pro is a video tool so obviously does not export to html like KeyNote and PowerPoint.

For my next experiment in ‘film making’, I’m going to make slide shows. I’ll try both KeyNote and Premiere Pro. For KeyNote, I’ll also see whether exporting to html and embedding in a website is a advantage over pure video.

Experiments in film making #1


After discussing A3, I decided to make a ‘film’ of my photos to show them rather than an ‘interactive ebook’. My initial draft ebook was too busy / distracting in retrospect and I’ve already tried pulling it back towards something more paperbook-like. However, this felt like a pale imitation of the physical object. I may ultimately make a paper book (perhaps as part of SYP) but for now I’m working within the restraint of digital only assessment and how to show the work to the best effect.



My starting point was ‘how to make something more interesting than a slide show’. There are some interesting examples of people animating photographs using After Effects but this seems to be a major project in its own right. Oh to have the resources of U2 …

I looked into the basic technicalities of putting a simpler version of this together – separating the elements of each photo into layers, filling in holes in the background, and animating within After Effects. As well as the time required to do this for a large number of photographs, it became clear that shooting would have to be done with this end in mind – photographs would have to contain elements against clean backgrounds to allow effective animation.

A lower-tech solution is to make use of panning effects around photographs to suggest movement. The 1962 film La Jetée seems to be a reference piece in this kind of approach …

La Jetée (1962) [english subtitles] from D. Brion Ebey on Vimeo.

This is more than ‘showing photographs’ it is making a narrated film using photographs but I chose this as a starting inspiration for my first experiment.

Experiment #1

Tools – I looked at and quickly dismissed a number of tools for video making, mostly because they offered very little control over the movement or aimed at providing quick output for social media content: Photoshop, Adobe Spark Video, Adobe Premiere Rush, Lightroom slideshow. I have Premiere Pro as part of my Adobe subscription and have used it before, so I went with this.

Photo edit – when making this kind of series the edit changed from my preferred photos to something that would allow continuity of movement throughout the frames. This is the first hazard, it potentially becomes something other than showing the best photographs and more about making an ‘animated’ flow work.

Adding movement – after some trial and error, it is not difficult to add movement by panning and zooming using key-points, though it does seem to be very heavy on computer resources. Premiere Pro also offers a range of ‘transitions’ to move between stills. For this kind of approach, image files need to be large so that detail is retained when zooming.

The curse of aspect ratio – similar to the ebook the aspect ratio is dictated by standard screen dimensions and making the most of the display area, so 16:9. This raises challenges in respecting the original crop of the image, versus making the most of the screen. In experiment #1, mostly tried to make use of the full screen.

The outcome

It was unsuccessful because it was too much about movement and not enough about showing the photographs. This also meant a number of photos that were not my first choice were included. Lessons for the next experiment:

  • Stick with the best edit of the photos for the photos themselves, not for creating movement. It must be primarily about showing the best work.
  • Respect the crop of the photos to show them to best effect. This means finding a way of dealing with the black space in the frame around them. Leave it black or layer it with something textural / video – there will be a fine balance between creating visual interest and making distractions.
  • Movement quickly becomes tiring / annoying. The most successful clips were those with very little or no movement. For the next experiment I will avoid large experimental movements such as panning down an element and zoom through doors into the next frame!

In conclusion, I think I am in effect after something more akin to a slide show than a film and just need to make it as interesting as possible. Perhaps I’m still wounded through hours of sitting through slide show projections as a child and need to realise the form in a way that is contemporary with the benefit of new technology over 35mm colour slides.

Quick refs

New Territory Media blog –

Learn about Film blog –

LAB colour mode

I’ve been spending more time with my images and noticing things that require attention – either over-done or certain elements requiring further work. There is of course, a huge chunk of subjectivity in this. Unexpected, starting to use Instagram again and cropping images to output as 1:1 or 4:5 (so cropping to the main elements) has helped with seeing.

One of the challenges shooting in the generally subdued northern English light is that colours loose their intensity. Our human visual system seems to compensate for that as we give attention to elements that interest us. The camera cannot, unless light is artificially added or we return to locations again and again in the hope of brighter days.

In RGB processing mode, I’ve found that colour information is improved to a degree as the monochromatic contrast in images is adjusted. Sometimes this gives me enough, other times I would like still more colour. However, colour saturation adjustments, unless used sparingly, look too artificial and obscure texture details.

Raw neg and after post production. Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

The before and after above shows the RAW negative and image after production. It was a challenging shot, as I wanted to retain some detail in the brighter shadows that could be recovered in post and didn’t want to blow the sky completely. My RAW neg was reassuringly flat, suggesting to me that there would be some balance in the information across the image to work with. This is actually the upside of flat ambient light as in bright sunshine, it would have not been possible.

After my usual post production work, I still found the colours a little disappointing. So decided to revisit the LAB mode to add more colour intensity. In this mode the lightness (L) is completely separated from the colours. The ‘a’ channel is the green-red continuum and the ‘b’ channel is the blue-yellow one (for PS colour modes – This contrasts with RGB where the lightness is dealt with through the combined RGB channel (and therefore also affects colour).

I stamped a new visible layer in PS and duplicated it to another document, which I changed to LAB mode. By adding a curves adjustment, the colour intensity was increased without altering the contrast or saturation – it is effectively like adding light to the original scene. Extreme effects can be obtained in this way, so care is needed. However, I can see how this type of adjustment will become a regular riff in my bag of tricks for managing poor light.

Specificity of media

Emma Bee Berstein’s essay for the The Chicago School of Media Theory discusses medium-specificity in terms of the materiality and form in which are is made ( I’ve often thought of this in terms of physicality and form, for example the mark of an acrylic painter or the sounds of poetry. Photography has always been a chameleon in this respect because of its malleability and it being such a broad church. Berstein comments that it had difficult in establishing itself as an art form because it wasn’t treated by its proponents as a specific media but attempted to mimic painting for example. There are ‘artists working with photography’ who’s work is a hybrid of a traditional photograph and other mark-making. With digitisation the pixel has become the common media of digital art and photography and the blurring of boundaries stronger than in the past. With digitisation also comes the malleability of output – there is flexibility at the press of a few keys. This is the aspect I’m interested in for this post.

I’ve been wrestling with the form of an ebook for my body of work and while enjoyed experimenting with the possibilities it didn’t quite feel right – I couldn’t escape the idea of a paper photobook. Adding interactivity disrupted that quiet space that is a paper book, taking away the possibilities of interaction left a pale imitation of a photobook an its materiality. My tutor made an important observation as I ran through the ebook during our last meeting. She said, ‘I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at here; is it a book or a slide show’. We talked around this and I also commented that I was not enthusiastic about the ‘virtual degree’ shows I’d seen – they made it difficult to see the work and pretended to offer an experience akin to a gallery when in fact it was more like a virtual car show room on low budget tech. Perhaps an ephotobook is similar. My tutor suggested that a ‘film’ might be a better format. I’ve reflected a lot on this and agree – we understand the specificity of film and are not distracted by wondering what it is. One day, the same might be true of photo ebooks but that possibility needs a change in technology too.

All of this has encouraged me to think about specificity of other outputs for photography. I wrote about Instagram here but having worked a little with it, watched established photographers, galleries and publishers, I’ve changed by mind in some respects. I thought it was a good idea to maintain the original frame of the photograph, including it within a 1080×1080 or 1080×1350 pixel box if necessary. However, I now realise that the specificity of the output is a small mobile phone screen with limited pixel dimensions and format determined by the app. Unless the most is made of the 1:1 or 4:5 aspect’s space, viewing is not comfortable for many photographs. There is an incoherence with the specificity of the output.

I’ve deleted my Instagram feed (I don’t keep my photographic history there anyway so not a big deal) and will now only post 1:1 or 4:5 crops. I now think of media-specificity both in terms of input and output.

Print workflow: practice and adjustment / out of gamuts

In a previous post, I said that I would try out the approach of editing the ‘print proof’ in the same colour space as its intended output. The idea being that it would require little further adjustment when it came to printer output. I put this into practice with one print, using a proofing paper and three different test papers. I found that the approach didn’t work efficiently for me in practice. The main drawback was that I often output to different media (including screen and paper types) – this resulted in creating different PS proof files for the same image. This could make for unwieldily file management and complete reworking of adjustments for each colour space.

Print made ignoring OOG warnings for yellow butter cups dotted across the field. By Andrew Fitzgibbon.

After some experimentation, I’ve settled on an approach of developing the proof image in full Adobe RGB space and adding a group of layers for each set of adjustments for different colour spaces / papers. These can be activated/deactivated as needed.

I’ve battled with the out of gamut (OOG) warnings in PS (also LR) in the past having been convinced that they always need fixing to ensure a good print (no doubt through YouTube tutorials and Adobe’s own videos). It is a process that can be tortuous when small OOG areas pop up all over an image. Common print adjustments I tend to make are bringing up the brightness (to compensate for the brightness of the screen deceiving about the brightness of the printed image) and selectively raising blacks if needed (to stop them blocking out in print). Both these things make sense and help the print quality. Another thing that can trigger an OOG warning is heavily saturated colour – the image above was flashing all over with yellow buttercups. An option that I’ve not tried before is to ignore the OOG warning – if it relates to small areas where detail is not important this seems a sensible option. The conversion on printing does its best to bring OOG elements into gamut. This is obviously a very quick way of dealing with the warnings and resulted in the best print (above) after a couple of tries at desaturating yellows in selected areas, leaving the print looking flat and too cool.

For the print file itself, I stamp a layer from the proof file layers and copy that to a fresh file for resizing and sharpening before outputting. I envisage keeping this flat file separately for anything where making consistent print re-runs is important.

Reworking post-production

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d revisited my workflow and approach to post-production. After experimenting with a few less important images for Instagram posts, I worked on one of the more important images.

Below is a before and after, showing my previous edit and the current edit, under my updated approach.

Before & after post-production method change

I think the main things that have made a difference are:

  • Separating the preparation of a digital negative from preparing a print proof (I treat a digital print to sRGB as a proof also). I read Ansel Adams’ The Print yesterday (more on that in a separate post) and one take away was to treat the negative as full of possibilities for realising the end image (much in the same way as capturing the original photo). By optimising the negative (including recovering detail and balancing) as a separate step, without considering the finished output, there is a much stronger raw material.
  • Have a disciplined approach to adjusting broad areas of the image using rough masks (rather than fine selections) gives more subtle contrast throughout the image.
  • Making fine adjustments on a single layer using the history brush seems to encourage more effective evaluation of the image (without the distraction of masking etc). In the reworked image, attention is better drawn to the chimney, where I want it.
  • Editing the print proof in the relevant colour space (or print profile) – in this case sRGB. By viewing the gamut warnings in Photoshop before exporting this image, it was clear where the image would become blocked up in the shadows once converted to sRGB. I was therefore able to make a levels adjustment to some shadow areas and avoid the sRGB blocking.

Nairn Across Britain: reprise

I watched Ian Nairn’s 1972 trip on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal (BBC iPlayer – at the outset of my CS research. It was interesting to watch it again having covered the entire canal during my project. Nairn’s narrative is that of an architect and critic of town planning.

Putting aside the pleasure of time travel in watching this, I have a few observations:

  • Nairn hoped that the canal would be transformed into a leisure place with proper footpaths. It is encouraging that this has been largely achieved and a credit to the work of the Canal & River Trust and its predecessor.
  • The canal was empty of traffic on his journey apart from moored pleasure craft. I found it often empty too – what has changed is the lycra-clad cyclists and joggers; a look and activities that would have been rare in 1972.
  • Nairn expressed hopes for the redevelopment of the canal where it passed through towns – specifically Skipton and Leeds. This has been delivered in both towns’ canal basins. He also hoped that homes would be built along the canal, enjoying the water rather than ignoring it. This too has happened in some areas.
  • Importantly to my sense of the canal, he mentioned the feeling that it existed as a place apart from its surroundings (echoes of heterotopia again). In 1972 the canal was more open to its surroundings and not bordered by trees and hedgerows. I think I would have enjoyed it more how it was.

Post production workflow


Now I’ve more or less done collecting images, my thoughts again turn to getting the best results from files in post production. This isn’t a significant focus in the OCA courses which, in my view, are more focused on conceptualism than formalism. I realise it is an area I revisit towards the conclusion of each course as my approach evolves and I see others working in post (mostly on the internet) and revisit books on the subject. George DeWofle’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop is useful to me, even if dated. He was a student of Ansel Adams and Minor White, and uses Photoshop to continue the craft of print making in the digital age. Midway through his book (p160), he observes:

The key to this process is perception, not a technical trick. If you can’t see the problem – brightness, contrast, color, softness, sharpness, or whatever it is – then no technique in the world, will make your print better.

He describes six aesthetic qualities of a digital print (there is no concern with contextualism in his book) that need to be worked on to develop the form: cropping, contrast, brightness, colour, defects, and sharpness. And discusses at length why the order of work is important and his approach to that work in Photoshop (and some other tools).

Recently, while fine tuning images (after making image-wide adjustments), I’ve felt my process a little mechanical – with adjustments and layer masks to target the adjustments, using a mouse. I’ve been feeling the pull to draw on the fine adjustments. Using the hand and pencil with years of learned control is very different to using a mouse and somehow more satisfying. DeWolfe has such an approach in his practice, which I’m going to try in my workflow as I finalise my project’s images.

Image ‘printed’ to sRGB, by Andrew Fitzgibbon

Work flow

Here I describe my current work flow and how I plan to adjust/refine the approach. I do this mainly for my own record and to find clarity through having to write it down.

1) Input – negative and base copy (with broad adjustments)

I use Lightroom as file library. After importing a file, my current practice is to apply a tone preset (from the ‘film types’ available for Fujifilm cameras), make basic adjustments to exposure, add input sharpening, slight curves adjustment and image straightening if needed and sometimes cropping. So, the original file is adjusted non-destructively. This creatives complications if I want to rework the image later. In future, I’ll create a Photoshop copy and adjust using the camera RAW filter.

This will create two files that I’ll call negative (ie untouched apart from ‘film’ toning) and a Photoshop base copy (broad adjustments, white balance, and cropping if needed). DeWolfe emphasises the importance of first working on contrast and light (suggesting image is viewed in black and white to see this) before working on colour/colour balance – any changes in contrast and light also affect colour tones. I don’t always do this in order and find myself sometimes working circularly as a result. So, a discipline to introduce.

2) Optimising base copy – details and balance

DeWolfe uses a separate step in his workflow to optimise the base copy and retains this version separately from the version worked on for printing; more on that in the next step.

Optimising entails recovering any lost details in dng files and balancing the image (correcting broad areas that are either too bright or dark and adjusting contrast if necessary). To recover details DeWolfe uses external applications (eg nik sharpener) but technology has moved on since the book was published in 2006.

Lightroom now has an ‘enhance details’ option (takes around two minutes to process an image on my MBP) that can be used successfully on dngs from any camera. I also have Iridient X-transformer, which I bought when I was having problems with Fuji RAW conversion in previous versions of LR. I’ve not generally used either but could do so for selected and important images that contain significant details. I currently tend to balance later in my post processing process but now realise that this makes little sense as it disrupts any fine tuning of an image. From now on, I will enhance dng details where appropriate and always balance images in advance of detailed adjustments. I’ll check the Iridient vs built in LR options.

At this point one has a ‘base-copy’ image that has had broad exposure and contrast adjustments, has possibly been cropped, and has been optimised.

3) Proof – setup, overall contrast and colour balance

Contrary to common practice, DeWolfe recommends viewing the image in the correct proof set up at this point – otherwise it needs to be colour balanced again when printing. This is a bit of a revelation to me having spent time in the past wrestling with proof copies that required another lot of work before printing; it felt like going around in circles. It also occurs to me that if intending to output an image for screen (website, video, ebook) it perhaps makes sense to proof view in sRGB; I’ve noticed that some of my own images are not quite as satisfactory once converted on export and viewed in web browser. This would however make for an expansive workflow, given the steps that follow.

Levels adjustments are suggested to adjust overall contrast, brightness and colour balance. Any colour cast is corrected in a colour balance layer Local adjustments are made in the next step of the workflow. Once completed, an evaluation of a first print should be made before proceeding.

Working in this way would be a departure for me – proofing usually comes at that end and lead to no end of frustration.

4) Proof – local contrast and colour

This is the step where I’m dissatisfied with my current layers / mask approach. DeWolfe advocates using the ‘history brush tool’ to make marks (like an artist) and ‘move forward in a positive, courageous way’. It is the tool he uses for dodging, burning (through different blend modes); painting on local adjustments from snapshots of adjustments; and outlining to separate objects in detailed images; applying local hue/saturation adjustments. I’ll experiment with the techniques suggested but am wary of the time it could take when editing a number of images.

If subsequently printing on different paper profiles, the existing proof copy could be used as a base for a new proof copy and adjusted as necessary.

5) Final preparation for printing

This involves using a fresh copy of the image since it will be be resized and flattened for printing. I’ve never flatten my images prior to printing, but from what I can see online there are advantages in speed of printing and also output sharpening. It would also leave a final print file without layers – a print version that could be reprinted consistently.

DeWolfe first cleans up the image and then saves a flat version. He addresses any noise and sharpening. He doesn’t specifically address resizing images down (it was perhaps not a thing in 2006). However, there is a sound logic to applying sharpening after an image has been resized down, since its pixel dimension will have changed and the sharpening algorithms applied differently. His final steps are edge burning and final contrast tweaks using a gradient map (if he feels necessary).

6) Recap of files in workflow

  • Neg – unprocessed in LR apart from application of camera ‘film’ tone.
  • Base copy – cropped, broad contrast and colour adjustments, optimised detail, balanced image
  • Proof copy – viewed using output colour profile, contrast & colour corrected, local adjustments, and cleanup
  • Print – flattened, denoised, sharpened, final contrast adjustments, edge burning. Permanent record of a specific print.


A fellow student commented on a previous post about outputting to Instagram – observing that it sounded like a lot of work. They are partially correct but things perhaps always look longer when written than acted out. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to apply this kind of workflow to all images, just the ones destined for fine printing and large screen viewing. I’ll see how things turn out once I’ve worked through the process. I hope to arrive at a routine workflow that fits how I personally like to work with images before the end of the course!

Instagram workflow


I have a couple of Instagram accounts and have been active on neither for months. I’m now beginning to re-engage in a considered way. The few people I talked to on the canal sometimes asked if I had an IG account where they could see the work – I replied ‘no’ as I haven’t been using the accounts.

One account I use for experimenting with iPhone photos and apps (@snappedpixel) and the other is intended for more ‘serious’ photographs (@thephotofitz). For the former, I’ll just continue to upload direct from the iPhone without being too considered about formatting etc – as the name suggests, these are instant photos. For the latter, I need a more considered approach to resizing and formatting for the images to display well on IG. I don’t want IG auto-compressing and cropping images that I’ve spent some time working on.


Here’s what IG says about photo file formatting:

When you share a photo that has a width between 320 and 1080 pixels, we keep that photo at its original resolution as long as the photo’s aspect ratio is between 1.91:1 and 4:5 (a height between 566 and 1350 pixels with a width of 1080 pixels). If the aspect ratio of your photo isn’t supported, it will be cropped to fit a supported ratio. If you share a photo at a lower resolution, we enlarge it to a width of 320 pixels. If you share a photo at a higher resolution, we size it down to a width of 1080 pixels.

Considering what might an aspect ration between 1.91:1 and 4:5 mean in practice. The former is the optimum for landscape photos. My photos are 4:3 native, but the maximum IG ratio against 4, would be approximately 4:2. So the options are to either loose 1/3 of the image’s height (a lot!) or place the image in a 4:2 (3.82:2 to be exact) frame so a border is created. The choice needs to be a creative decision that will also affect the look of the IG grid. The later doesn’t optimise visible image space but perhaps gives a more considered look – the image not the frame takes priority. For portrait images the equivalent situation (for my native 3:4) is an IG maximum of 3:3.75, so much less of a crop and more likely to be manageable through cropping on many images. Once ratios are taken care of then the photo needs to be resized to a max of 1080 pixels wide, and maximum of 1350 tall. Or in ratios: landscape – 1080:565, and portrait: 1080:1350.

It is clear that IG favours the square or portrait image over the landscape. So, if making images specifically for IG (which I don’t) landscape might be better avoided.

In practice

I’ve set myself up a private IG account as a test site – perhaps a good idea to use one anyway to test ‘serious’ photos before putting a public space. I experimenting using a single portrait image that had already been processed in PS.

  • Cropped in LR, resized and converted to sRGB on export. Weakest result, cropping didn’t suit image content and colours were dull on IG. The LR automatic output sharpening also didn’t seem as effective as manual sharpening in PS.
  • Image reworked in PS by creating a duplicate of layers (presharpening), resizing image, turning PS background white (as IG), processing image by viewing at a similar size to iPhone. Sharpening applied to resized image. Then finishing / exporting in different ways:
    • Without cropping – IG cropped and form of image wrecked on upload, though full space on IG grid used.
    • Canvas size changed to IG 4:5 and margins left around 4:3 image. Full image retained on upload but looks squashed to top / bottom margins of IG frame.
    • Canvas size changed to IG 4:5 and image transformed to fit with border all around. This was my preferred result by a long margin but also the one that took more work.


This exercise was useful to me. In terms of my workflow:

  • If an image doesn’t look right cropped to IG ratios, then put it on an IG sized background and leave a border. Unfortunately this is going to be the case for most of my landscape work.
  • For screen try to recreate the end display environment when working on the image (eg IG is on white and image about the size of an iPhone).
  • Manual output sharpening in PS after resizing is much more effective than automatic LR export sharpening. This has implications for other outputs too, where I have tended to rely on LR for resizing and sharpening image on export. I’ll revisit the images in my BoW ebook, website, and slide show.
  • There are no shortcuts for optimum results.

Microsite: Adobe Portfolio

For the past couple of days, I’ve been working on a micro website to accompany the photobook I intend to produce for my BoW. I’d like this to serve a couple of main purposes – something to point people at when discussing my work, and supplement the book with multimedia content. I’d pulled back from including multimedia in the ePub as it was bloating the file size and it was creating a busyness to the book when, in this context, I wanted something more contemplative.

Microsite (work in progress) – front page. Click image to view site.

Adobe Portfolio is included with the Creative Cloud subscription so has no additional cost for me. It is used as a WYSIWIG web application, rather than desktop and all files are hosted on Adobe’s servers. It comes with an Adobe domain name based on the user account but it is easy enough to point an external DNS to it so a custom domain name can be used. Importantly, in the past I’ve found it reasonably straightforward and quick to tailor one of its preset templates to the look I was aiming for, including typefaces from Adobe Fonts. It does allow a direct interface with Lightroom Cloud but I prefer to upload images resized down for web viewing. It is possible to disable right-click of images (ie some guard against unauthorised download) but downsized images seem to be the best protection.

I needed a bit of reorientation after some time away from Portfolio but in the end arrived at a format that seems to work. A plus was that Portfolio now supports its own hosting of video and sound – there is no need to embed from Vimeo, so the branding that is present in free accounts is avoided.

The content of the microsite needs further thinking and work and will inevitably be updated as my BoW progesses. However, it is straightforward to update and the main work of layout is now mostly taken care of.

I haven’t yet worked out how best to distribute a book as an ePub, which is the next thing on my research list.

Vimeo vs YouTube?

I need to host a couple of videos for my BoW on a streaming service. My personal viewing of online videos is mostly around YouTube – for example if my lawnmower stops working, how do I clean the carburettor, or how do I do something technical in InDesign. I’m very much aware of Vimeo and notice that most creative content is hosted there, but have never really looked into the difference between the two platforms. As I’m about to start hosting, now is a good time.

Some good online comparisons are easily found and I settled on one from the excellent WPbeginner website (, since most of my videos will be embedded in WordPress. I decided to start working with Vimeo because:

  • It does not make money through advertising – YouTube (like the ‘free’ WordPress accounts) significantly disrupts communication with advertisements, over which there is no control. It makes no sense to me to spend hours refining creative output to only have ads obliterate the viewing experience.
  • Vimeo’s free account is limited in respect of uploads but sufficient for my needs for now. Also the first level premium account, should it be needed, is not expensive at £7 per month.
  • Video quality is better on Vimeo as its model focuses on quality over quantity and therefore doesn’t have to quickly process the huge volumes of video that YouTube deals with.
  • Vimeo’s user base is smaller but apparently more engaged creatively. The size of user base isn’t a concern for me.

Today’s task will be to get up and running on Vimeo.

Photo-video making

Today I’ve been working on a short video using a selection of my photographs and the piano music that was in the previous edit of my ephotobook but won’t appear in the simplified next edit. I’m planning to use the video on the project website.

The last time I made a video from photos I used Premiere Pro, which seemed a little like using a food processor to beat an egg. Since, Adobe have released Premiere Rush – a mobile and desktop app aimed at production for online sharing. I took a quick look at this and again thought it over-designed for what would essentially be a slide show to music. Though it does look like a useful tool for lightweight moving image production.

At some point while browsing Adobe’s site, I noticed that the Lightroom CC slide show (I’ve never used) now has the capacity to output in mp4. After initial attempts when the application kept crashing when rendering images from the LR library, I exported resized images and then reimported them to try again with the slide show. It worked! By importing images as graphics for the beginning and end slides and asking LR to automatically match the slide show during to the music, I have a clean and simple mp4 for the project. It will also be easy to swap in and out photos if I change my mind and re-export.

Always nice to find an unexpectedly simple but effective solution. Next step is to upload the video for display on a website for the project.

UPDATE – after working with this approach, I found the process of exporting and then reimporting to LR unsatisfactory; it would end up filling my LR catalogue with duplicate images at different file sizes. Not the clutter I want.

An alternative solution was found in Apple’s Keynote – Prose and exploring Apple Keynote

The anatomy of a photobook cover

I posted a draft of my photobook cover to the Discuss forum for comment and request for input from a graphic design perspective. No graphic design input at the time of writing this, but some willing suggestions from other students that were much appreciated (link here).

Original draft cover not quite hitting the spot for me. Photograph, Andrew Fitzgibbon.

The element I was struggling with was the placement of my name – disconnected from the rest of the title and a little lost in the sky. One suggestion was to use the dark bridge, which helped with visibility but not with my feeling of disconnection.

I made an online study of photobook covers (including Dewilewis’s back catalogue – and noted the following for photobooks that feature photographs on their covers:

  • Monochrome is more straightforward as there are more options for placing text that will stand out from the image, including the use of colour text.
  • Some books have images inset, which allows for a large border for placement of text. Importantly, the original aspect of the photograph can also be retained – this is a factor for my ebook cover, which is 16:9 for screen viewing, versus my native photo aspect ratio of 3:2 (or approx 16:10.6). Perhaps that is why I read these kind of covers as more photographic in form, rather than graphic design driven.
  • Some books have no text at all – possibly for famous photographers who’s work needs no introduction?
  • The covers featuring full-bleed colour photography that worked well for me were the ones where the text had been designed along with the image, creating a whole image/text. This invariably mean text placement over areas of a selected cover image that would allow the text to stand in contrast to the image. Some designs featured text that was coloured to fit with the image – a quieter effect than heavily contrasted white or red text for example. However, full-bleed is not attractive in my context of the difference in aspect ratios between screen and photo.
  • The movement of the eye across the page is affected by the arrangement of image and text. In western culture we are used to reading from left to right and also generally spend more time looking at text than images (since it very clearly needs to be decoded). Looking at various book covers, I notice the text is either placed centre (ie neutrally balanced) or to the right so the left-centre image has priority in reading. Where text is place to the left, unless it is lightweight, it tends to dominate the viewing and almost put a break on looking at the image.

Using these observations, I tried various new layouts and arrived at the cover below. I’ve now used a border all around to maintain the photo’s aspect ratio and placed the text to the right, vertically as this better fits the available margin space. I’ve retained the original font/colours for the heading but reversed the direction so it flows from top to bottom (taking the eye off the page to the next page). I’ve added my name under the header text so it is connected and differentiated it with a different colour (picked from the image’s sky).

I’m much happier with this but I’m sure others will have their own perspectives!

Or maybe this way around?

Text placement: ebook

Having decided to remove sound from my ebook, I wanted to try placing simple locational text alongside the images to see whether it encouraged a pause on the page, or would just be distracting in the context of my work and in ebook format.

Experiment with text placement, photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I placed text on all pages to take in the effect fully. While it encouraged a pause, it was also a distraction from the image – the form of an ebook is more closed than paper. This is a contrast to a small amount of text on the opposite spread of a paper book as something I find unobtrusive and even useful.

I will move the locational text to a separate page after the photos.

Dr Ariadne on Contextual Studies

I enjoyed a very useful tutor lead work group yesterday evening. The discussion focused on what makes a good CS submission, including making appropriate uses of supporting materials (ie theory and other references). It covered thinking that is absent from the CS course materials and possibly the OCA’s current approach to teaching research. Dr Ariadne Xenou is an OCA assessor and moderator amongst roles in other institutions. A sign that any advice is to be highly valued. While late in the day for me, it will still be useful as I work on the final adjustments to my CS work.

The most important points for me:

  • The ‘first and last things looked for in CS submissions are cohesion and coherence.’ That the work flows and is carried by a main thread, and that it makes sense.
  • The use and value of supporting materials was discussed at length. I have found it difficult at times to avoid the weight of supporting voices drowning out my own and I think this still needs further work in my final edit. A common issue in submissions is sources replacing the writer’s own voice. Whereas they should be used to amplify the voice by adding a chorus or making it stand out by offering a counterpoint; using an opposing voice to make one’s own point.
  • When using sources it was recommended to introduce the context and person, bring in the source and then analyse – this way the writer’s voice comes through. The same approach is suggested when using images – treat them as a different form of text.
  • Ensure that theory is not used to tick boxes – it should be part of the design of the argument.
  • Finally, I raised the question of bibliographies (so research examined but not referenced) as my current draft does not include a bibliography. No definitive answer was offered in the context of the OCA but their value through their influence on thinking was noted. Concluded that it is unlikely that one would be penalised for including one, and it could always be ignored by the assessor if they weren’t interested in it.

There was a slight diversion in to Literature reviews versus dissertations. Noted that key is to engage in why the resources are useful, but that it is not necessary to develop an argument around them.

Expert feedback on the canal as a heterotopia

I’m grateful to Peter Johnson (a leading expert in heterotopias) for sharing his thoughts on the canal as a heterotopia (original post here) . Peter replied through my question on his blog (, which I’ve quoted below.

He suggested that the barge might be more fruitful than the canal for a study of heterotopia, which I understand. I’m not necessarily interested in making a study of heterotopia and it’s enough for the ideas that underpin it to help with my thinking. But Peter’s comments are helpful in guiding me to avoid stretching the meaning of heterotopia to fit the canal and confirm my earlier doubts about using it directly as a reference.

Blog extract – Peter Johnson

Peter, thank you for maintaining this fantastic resource. I’m a very mature student in my final year BA (Hons) Photography and came across the word heterotopia in an article on a photography project, Fordlândia ( – from there I soon arrived at your website. My photographic body of work is concerned with the deindustrialised Leeds & Liverpool canal as a contested space and I’ve found the ideas in heterotopia helpful in articulating what draws me to the space. However, I’m interested to know whether you would consider the canal a heterotopia. I’ve put a short post on my study blog with my thoughts ( and if you are willing, I’d love to hear what you think.


 Andrew Fitzgibbon July 3, 2020 @ 1:55 pm

  •  Peter Johnson July 8, 2020 @ 10:39 amHi Andrew, thanks for getting in touch. Your project sounds very interesting. I will look at your blog, have a think and get back to you. PeterREPLY
  •  Peter Johnson July 13, 2020 @ 5:09 pmHi again The article by Diane Morgan might be helpful. It’s about the changing role of a barge on the Seine. think concentrating on canal boats rather than canals generally would be more productive in terms of heterotopia, although you cannot have one without the other! They have different uses (work, home, garden, play, shop …); they change use and appearance; they hide secrets perhaps. They are private but at same time they are often by public walking paths, cycle paths, very exposed. There is also a sense of freedom but at the same time you are part of a very rigid system. Certainly worth pursuing. best wishes PeterREPLY
    •  Andrew Fitzgibbon July 15, 2020 @ 12:12 pmHi and thanks Peter. The article was useful. I don’t find the boats interesting for image making and they are very difficult to access in these strange times! I see what you mean and how they would make an interesting heterotopic study for someone out there. Regardless, I’ve found some of the ideas of heterotopia useful in thinking about social constructed spaces more broadly. Best, Andrew.

Indesign: gallery view for facing images

InD learning has continued and I’m finally developing some familiarity areas that are difficult to penetrate. I’ve been working on simplifying the layout of my draft book by dropping the facing pages layout and adding the possibility of viewing facing images as full screen images on their own (like a gallery or close look into a physical book spread). Also some other cosmetic enhancements.

I went through various iterations of trying to get the gallery view working and when I eventually thought I had, it didn’t work when exported as an ePub or online using an iPad. It seems the touching requires a different design approach to mouse-clicking. After more trial and error, I found that a multi-state object containing the images and a separate button (I used simple text) to move the object through its states worked both with mouse and iPad (hopefully other tablets too). I persevered with this as I agreed with feedback that the smaller facing images were not always easy to view on screen. The gallery seems a good way of allowing certain images to interact, while also allowing the viewer a closer look.

Screen grab of gallery view in ePub

ePub file size and image optimisation


For A3 I simply resized images to target monitor viewing at full-size and didn’t experiment with jpg quality. The ePub file size quickly bloated and there was some evidence of lag when using Adobe’s online publish facility. I realised that this was something that would require further thought and I perhaps have a mental block when it comes to deliberately degrading image quality.

The target output is important – for the purposes of my ebook, I am initially focusing on monitor displays (as this will be the assessment platform). However, if I later produce a book for iPad (arguably the only mobile screen appropriate for viewing ephotobooks), I will also need to reconsider image optimisation.

From my research, there are two areas that require some practical research.

I currently use Lightroom user presets to export images to a size / quality and think this is probably adequate for online purposes. I use Photoshop when working with printed output. However, apparently Photoshop’s ‘export for web’ allows for the previewing and comparison of up to four different export settings. This is ideal for testing what Jpeg quality / file sizes are optimal for the ePub. I think they are currently over-specd. Something also important when I start to move images on to a microsite.

My image long-sides were targeted at just over 2000 px on the long-side. For iPads with retina displays, 2048 px on the long-sided is recommended by Apple (here – so this seems a good compromise for monitor and iPad that would avoid the need to generate fresh images for an iPad version of my book.

There is plenty to be going at here to optimise the viewing experience. With so many variables at the viewing end (including internet speed) I need to do some testing an make some changes in this area.


Screen grab – export for web from Photoshop

I found ‘export for web’ useful for comparing jpg quality with various settings, using a preview of the resized image. Having examined the whole of the image ’80 quality’ works well for me – less than half the file size of 100 and little discernible different (though I think a little subtlety is lost in the sky details).

For image resizing I chose ‘bicubic sharper’, which apparently retains sharpness when image sizes are reduced. However, when exporting from LR there is no user choice of resizing algorithm. I couldn’t locate official information on this but read ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom resampling is a hybrid Bicubic algorithm that interpolates between Bicubic and Bicubic Smoother for upsampling and Bicubic and Bicubic Sharper for downsampling.’ (from –, who seems to have had technical involvement with Adobe). In any case, a test export from LR at 80 jpeg quality resulted in similar file size to PS’s and a good quality image.

The final point I considered was pixel dimensions. If 2048 on the long side is recommended, there is also a maximum short size to fit on a 16:9 screen. A quick calculation determines this to be 1152. Depending on the dimension of the image, it should either be restricted to 2048 long side or 1152 short size to be optimised for full screen viewing on 16:9. I found with my uncropped images this turns out to be 1152, which gives a small additional reduction in file size. I’ve set all this up as a LR export preset for future exports for ePub purposes.

Quick references

Different file types / compression –

Optimising images for ebooks –

Indesign: interactive buttons

Having made an ePub with basic interactivity for A3, I’m researching other functionality that could be useful. A few people commenting on the draft mentioned they would prefer to see full size images, rather than images sharing a page. For some images, I want them displayed together because their interaction creates an additional meaning. However, I understand the frustration of not being able to easily look closer at an image – something we can do instinctively with physical materials.

A solution to this in an interactive ePub is the interactive button – the images are converted to buttons and actions programmed that are triggered when a user clicks on an image. Using different sized images on a page, converting them to buttons, and using the ‘hide until triggered’ option gives the possibility of a user clicking to view each of the adjacent images full screen. So the best of both types of view.

This is something I’ll incorporate in the next draft.

Photography & Racialisation

I attended this online event (9th July) hosted by the Open Eye Gallery – The background and speakers are introduced on OE’s website.

Image: Patrick Hutchinson carries the man now identified as Bryn Male to safety. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters, source:

Three images were presented and discussed by the speakers and the dialogue continued separately on another platform (I attended the presentation only).

I don’t summarise the whole discussion here, but note a couple of areas that interested me in particular.

  • The important difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ was discussed when unpicking the meaning and significance of images. In particular, not just looking at the image but seeing by looking into it and what is happening. I of course agree that this is important but it is difficult to escape our own cultural perspective when deciding upon meaning. For example, one of the speakers (person of colour) observed that the ‘white halo’ could be seen in the image above – as if the man being carried was an innocent. I remark that seemed racist in itself to me; a perspective based purely on skin colour. I saw calm black man carrying a white man with a thuggish appearance, who looked like he was injured. Even if we see, it is not easy to escape our cultural background but it is important to remain open to different perspectives and alternative meanings.
  • A different image was discussed along with the idea of ‘in making images, we make ourselves’. This of course relates to the well-trodden ideas of meaning that are part of the study of visual culture.

Aside from the subject matter itself, I’ve noticed that many people (including professionals in the field) seem to find it difficult to talk fluently about images. There often seem to be frequent ‘uums and ahhs’; perhaps it the challenge of translating the verbal into the visual, combined with a lack of rehearsal. Something to be aware of when I come to talk about my own work!

I really must look after my printer

I’ve been here before – spend a while away from printing for one reason or another and up with clogged print heads. Last time it happened, I promised myself I’d at least print something a couple of times a week but I’ve neglected it again.

After a few head cleans and print purges of the cyan, I’m still not getting a good print head test for that colour. I’ve spend the morning watching an reading about printer maintenance for an Epson SC P600 and note a few things I need to do regularly. Really should be part of professional practice, keeping tools well maintained and ready to go.

  • Pigment based ink jets dry out if they are not used regularly and ultimately clog. The ink sets on the print heads and even print head cleaning won’s shift it. Like my cyan this time. I’ve order a cleaning kit and will use the approach suggested by Marrutt (and others here – General advice seems to be to print at least twice a week, or if you’re unlikely to do this, don’t buy a printer in the first place.
  • Other parts of the printer also need maintenance and I’ve never done this – cleaning the paper feed mechanism, cleaning the printer’s head wiper blade, and cleaning the spill pads (used when printing full page images).

Marrutt provide rather dry videos on the subject but they are to the point. For a more conversational approach Jose Rodriguez’s YouTube channel is full of useful information, providing one has time to listen to the chitchat –

I’ll check in with myself monthly to see how I’m managing my printer discipline; reminder added to phone!

Update – eventually managed to clear print head blockage using cleaning fluid and jay cloth cut down to put on platen under print heads (1st thin strip soaked and left overnight, then folded strip used to physically wipe by moving print head over it). Now I need more ink and was shocked to find the Epson EOM inks are now over £200 for a set. Going to revert to trying Marrutt refillables that are on offer and £155 for almost three times the quantity of ink. I tried them unsuccessfully in the past but it could have just been my inexperience as they do seem to be very well reviewed.

Taking stock on epublishing

Frankly, this has been a bit of a nightmare! I previously wrote about my plan for exporting the ebook so it was readable on several platforms. It didn’t really work.

One problem is that multimedia PDF is not being supported beyond the end of 2020 (per Indesign warning on export) and doesn’t reliably enable reproduction. This seems to be connected with flash player based content – effectively a deprecated technology. ID includes other legacy functionality, but unless aware of this, it is easy to come unstuck. For example inserting audio using the simple media player and built in icons is also unstable – particularly on Windows. It took hours of messing around to find the problem and then finding out how to use button objects in InD.

However, the 16:9 format seems to work well enough in the web-browser of any device (even the tiny screen of the iPhone) – so publishing and hosting on Adobe’s servers for online viewing works. It can be laggy on slow internet connections but there’s little I can do about this apart from exporting at high (rather than highest) resolution settings – I don’t want to put low res files up.

To overcome the PDF issue (for a downloadable book), I’ve reverted to fixed layout ePub. I’ve successfully exported in 16:9 format, which is good for using ebook readers on a monitor. The limited interactivity I’ve used so far works (for me at least). This would be a backstop for any issues with internet connections when viewing online – ultimately, I’m thinking about assessment. Unfortunately, my efforts at using InD alternate layouts and targeting the 4:3 ipad format came to a grinding holt – my media buttons simply would not stay on screen, despite anchoring, grouping and swearing loudly. I’ll have another go now I’ve moved to button objects – perhaps in the next iteration of the project.

The ePub format seems necessary for offline viewing, with the demise of interactive PDFs. I’m reluctant to try other tools like Powerpoint as its layout and formatting possibilities are relatively limited and it’s not conceived as an online publishing tool – I hope to eventually become a competent InD user as I do have an interest in making books and photobooks. InD’s alternate layouts offer the possibility of efficiently turning an ebook into a paper book (and visa versa). However, the nice page turn effects are application/device dependent – so the iPad and Apple Books is effective. I’ve not seem similar effects on laptops – the ebook does end up looking disappointingly rather like an interactive slide show.

In conclusion, I’m sticking rigidly with 16:9 format for online publishing through Adobe and ePub for offline backup. For the next iteration I’ll revisit the iPad. It’s been a huge learning curve, including remembering things I once did without thinking – there’s little hope of just reviewing the book on a large photography monitor and expecting to get the font size right! Thankfully, I’m left with some appetite to explore further interactivity, but also mindful that I want the book to be a quiet experience. Perhaps other stuff might end up on the microsite, which is also in my next phase.

eBook sizing dilemma

When I put my draft ephotobook out for student feedback, a technical issue with displaying the online published version was identified. I’d tested it on my MBP and I’d tested the ePub download on a iPad, but the online version wasn’t displaying correctly on the iPad (not opening to fill the full screen and not good). I’d used ID’s own iPad Pro sizing for the book.


I’ve done some research on fixed flow ebook sizing and summarise here.

  • Different mobile devices have different screen dimensions and my own ebook will hopefully be viewed on a large computer screen more than a mobile device. Rather than sizing specifically using an iPad preset, it is better to size for 16:9 as a ratio that works better across different devices (including conventional laptop screens). For side by side pages, this becomes 8:9.
  • ‘You could be forgiven for assuming that setting your page to be the same size as an iPad screen or Kindle Fire screen is all you need to do. However in order to create files that retain quality and definition when the reader zooms in, both Amazon and Apple recommend that you produce pages larger than the actual screen size.’ (ebookpartnership). Glad I’m forgiven and surprised that ID’s presets didn’t allow for this. Apparently Amazon recommend double the pixel size of the device (to allow 2x zoom) and Apple 1.5x. Painfully, this also has implications for the sizing of my image files that were resized to an iPad’s pixel dimension. I need to find a compromise for laptop screens too (where I wouldn’t see a need for zooming in). The same guide recommends a long side of at least 3840 pixels. My ID preset has 2224!
  • Page numbering – I noticed that the device reader’s own page numbering is different to that I’ve put on the pages. I paged as I wanted the numbers displayed as a paper book – it is better to page as they will display in the ebook reader (ie cover is page 1). Another example of an ebook being a different animal.

I’ve also thought more about the format of the ebook. My original idea was to make it available as an ePub, but there may be disadvantages of using a fixed layout ePub against a PDF, given I’m not planning to sell the book online. The main one being that the ePub is device/application dependent for the viewing experience, whereas the PDF is not. This would seem to offer more control over the viewing experience. The other consideration is the use of ID’s online publishing – essentially this is a web-based viewing experience and if many people are going to simply view online, formatting for that space perhaps needs to take precedence. It does give the option of allowing the viewer to download a PDF directly from the online view, which could be a neat solution for my purposes.


Having researched and thought this through, I’m going to try the approach of sizing for online display at 16:9 with long-size pixel dimensions of 2560 as somewhere between HD and 4k. I’ll aim to create the illusion of a spread, so will split this into two 8:9 facing pages. I’ll then test how well ID exports from its web viewer to PDF (including multimedia) – viewers can then download if they wish to / I can include the PDF in the submission for the work (as an alternative on online viewing, which can be affected by poor internet connections).

The outcome / any adjustments will be included in my submission for A3.

Quick references

Tech sizing guide –

Pixel dimensions for screens –

Apple device pixel dimensions –

On monitor resolutions –

Note – other information is available online but it seems surprisingly sparse, with much of it based around self-promotion of own platforms.

Is the canal a heterotopia and is the label helpful?

Since reading JM Ramírez-Suassi: Fordlândia Interview – Heterotopia, I’ve been mulling over the concept of heterotopias and doing some further research. Academic, Peter Johnson’s website is an excellent resource, containing his own essays, critical reviews and signposts to Michel Foucault’s original writings and explanations of heterotopias.

My draft dissertation examines how meaning is formed in the context of space and the social importance of meaning. It uses various narratives of the canal to illustrate a contested space and how dominant narratives shape the understanding of it. However, I’m still wrestling a little with the structure of the essay. It is centred around a conceptual thesis relating to ‘meaning’, with the canal positioned to illustrate; the concept before the concrete perhaps. My CS tutor observed that it would be better centred around the canal and its specifics, with the conceptual trailing . As I’ve returned to my BoW and the materiality of the canal’s space, this suggestion feels more important than it did when my head was in books and theory. It would breath more life into the writing. It could be that the ideas in Foucault’s heterotopia help me bridge the gap between the concept of meaning and the materiality of space; laying the ground for a restructuring of the dissertation. It may also help articulate my feelings about my BoW and its relation to the dissertation.

From my reading of Foucault’s Of other Spaces and Peter Johnson’s materials, I consider heterotopia and the canal. Underlines denote Foucault’s characteristics of heterotopias:

Johnson observes that Foucault doesn’t closely define heterotopia and so it is open to interpretation (and misinterpretation). I’m only concerned with how the ideas might apply to the Leeds & Liverpool canal that is the basis of my photography body of work. That is, heterotopia as an ‘enacted utopia in which the real sites, … are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’ (Foucault). I understand this as discrete sites brought together in the place of heterotopia, which sits outside of society but reflects that society. To me, the canal brings together sites along its route, yet is obscured from society by its embankments and screening trees, with limited entry and exit points. Heterotopia has diverse forms; the example of a train as an ‘extraordinary bundle of [spacial] relations’ as something that one goes through, goes from one place to another, and also goes by. It is the strangeness of the spatial relations along the canal that draws me to it – its watery materiality carries us along its flow and moves us between sites. It is a deindustrialised highway of another time but has mutated and is represented as place of leisure where ‘life is better by the water’ and celebrities go barging. The materiality of the Leeds & Liverpool canal ‘juxtaposes in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible‘ (Foucault). Making-do in the aftermath of deindustrialisation, gentrification, second homes on boats, only homes due to unaffordability of conventional housing, a place of leisure, a place of work, a place of history, a place of heritage. And so on. At over 200 years old, the canal ‘encapsulate[s] temporal discontinuity [and] accumulation.’ Foucault outlines further characteristics that I’m unsure apply to the canal:a) ‘presuppose an ambivalent system of rituals related to opening/closing and entry/exit’ – arguably this applies to boaters and the locks, but I’m not so sure about general use of the canal. b) ‘function in relation to the remaining space, for example, as illusion or compensation’ – a place of leisure?

I wouldn’t presume to state the canal is a heterotopia, but the ideas seems to help unpick its meaning and interest as a place. I’m unsure that I would want to use the term in the context of my BoW as it wouldn’t be widely understood and therefore, its main purpose would be to add the weight of an academic reference. However, some of the thinking expressed could be useful in explaining the place of the canal.


Ephotobook suffering and progress

After many hours in front of Indesign and Photoshop, I’ve finally made progress with the first edit of my ephotobook and will share for comment before the end of the week. Here I reflect on the experience in the hope of less suffering next time around.

It’s probably over a year since I used Indesign having gone through a period of making zines and ezines. As for most things I haven’t used for a while, I feel a rustiness and a lack of fluidity. The technical stuff is important – if I don’t feel on top of it, it can frustrate the creative work. I’ve said it to myself before but I must use these tools regularly to avoid the pain of refreshing and relearning.

Just as a photograph is a new and separate reality from its referent, so a ephotobook is to a photobook. I was able to create more readily once I’d really understood this. For example:

  • While it has ‘spreads’ they are very different to pages in a paper book. With paper, we are sure of its form and its mechanics of use; pages are turned, spreads reveal, the gutters obscure. With an ebook, different reading applications give different viewing experiences (eg page turns or spread viewing). If your spread doesn’t open as a spread, your images won’t make sense. Eventually, I though of a ebook spread as a single page, but worked to create the illusion of a spread as a useful and familiar layout form.
  • Screen space (particularly on mobile devices, like iPads) is limited compared to a book. There is a temptation to make all images fill the screen so they can be clearly seen. Then the book just becomes like a slide-show, which lacks the visual nuances and rhythms through layouts. Once I’d let go of the significance of the gutter (it is just imaginary for an ebook), layout possibilities seemed to come more readily.
  • Attachment to photographs can hinder a good ebook layout – I’d spent time working the images within their frames and was attached to showing the whole of each image. After putting this aside, there were more options for how to place photos together and work the layout.
  • Attention to detail is vitally important and even that sometimes doesn’t save you from frustrating rework. With the book, the photos are the ingredients and if they are not quite right, it becomes clear when eating the cake. Looking a photos closely as a book develops and in context next to other photos reveals flaws. Despite looking closely at images before exporting for ID use, I found some problems later. It does suggest I need to be more rigorous when finishing photos in post. I won’t even get into the pain of cover design and text!
  • The multi-media possibilities of ebooks add a dimension that possibly compensates for their lack of physicality. There can be user interaction with that. So far I’ve added soundscapes that the viewer can activate, a piece of piano music for the canal, kindly composed and played by my son, and a map of the canal’s route. I also plan to add a video interview with myself (once the work has progressed further) and a link to a microsite for the project.

Next, I need to revisit what the work means to me after the additional shoots and spending time with the draft book. This will inform the brief foreword to the book.

The name again

You have to live with things a while before deciding whether they are a good fit. I decided to change the project name to Slow Water Tales when I re-engaged with my BoW. There was always a slight niggle that this would sound like a children’s book – often seem to be called ‘tales’ and of course there is Tales from along the River Bank! When out shooting last week, I came across some graffiti on the boards around a building site – ‘Air Land Water’. I think it’s a broad description of what the canal is about without being directional. It would perhaps need a subtitle. I have an image to include in the BoW with the graffiti and as a plus, the domain name was available and I bought in a LCN sale for £1.20.

The text in the header was extracted from the photo in photoshop. I’m going to live with this name for a while and see where it takes me.

Ephotobook ideas and experiment 1

For a while I’ve been thinking about making a book of my BoW. However, a significant part of the experience of viewing a book is tactile and with the OCA’s move to digital only assessment this would be missing. I can only assume that this approach will continue for the foreseeable future. If I made a paper book I would be left with videoing a page turn through it and probably also submitting a digital version in any case. At this time making a paper book for the purposes of OCA BoW assessment doesn’t feel like a worthwhile endeavour. While I will make one at some point, for now I’ll focus on making an ephotobook.

Online research offered nothing specifically about ephotobook design, though there is good information about photobook design and there are paper photobooks to view. The importance of space around the photos, and sequencing and pace are emphasised. The ideas of gestalt, using double page spreads to display two photos together are powerful. There is the tactile experience of holding the book and the choice of materials that helps to make that.

However, some of this ideas don’t translate as I expected to ephotobooks. I experimented making an ebook in Indesign. A key finding is that the ebook experience is device dependent – particularly problematic when working with spreads. A spread might work well when previewed in Indesign or uploaded to their online site and viewed through Adobe’s platform. However, it quickly falls apart when viewed on mobile devices (I tested on an iPad) where the spread might not display as a double page (reader app dependent) and if it does, the images are simply too small to read and it becomes an annoyance. Particularly, if a single image is place across two pages! I learned that spreads must be designed to also work as single pages for the ebook to be portable between platforms. Back to the drawing board for v2.

The ePub format has different qualities and some advantages over paper through its interactivity. It seems important to explore this and play with the ideas of an ebook being a different experience, rather than a compromised experience to a paper book. For example a link to an online map or inclusion of sound files could be tried. The sounds of the canal could make an interesting accompaniment to the images as it is its relative quiet and separation from its immediate environment that is important to the place’s ambience. There is even the possibility of including video.

From my first experiment, it has quickly become apparent that I need to think of an ebook as different to a paper book, not a simple replacement. Otherwise, the ebook just becomes a lesser paper book.

JM Ramírez-Suassi: Fordlândia Interview – Heterotopia

Fordlândia is a place I’ve previously not heard of – it reminded me of Saltaire (Titus Salt’s workers town situated on the canal) but in the Amazon forest and built to supply the Ford Motor Company with rubber. The experimental town was short-lived and unsuccessful. Ramírez-Suassi’s discussion with American Suburx is a good read (Read on, but I mention it here mainly because of the way he talks about place (and an old industrial place at that):

“The photobook is a balance, at least its the intention, between this utopia (or maybe call it heterotopia, a concept made up by Foucault) and a life experience…”

From Fordlândia ©JM Ramírez-Suassi, source:

Heterotopia is a new word for me and seems pivotal to the book which, like my work aims to, pulls together different perspectives and ideas of a place. The word isn’t defined during the interview but it is explored in academic papers, for example, Heterotopia and Actor-Network Theory: Visualizing the Normalization of Remediated Landscapes . The concept is apparently not easy to interpret from Foucault’s original words ( referenced as Of other Spaces, 1986) but is concerned with the idea of incongruity within a space and contested meanings ‘enabling an out-of-placeness‘. This would counter attempts to place order on space. Even at this late stage, it is something I will explore further within CS as it has the potential to act as a glue between my writing on the disparate narratives of the canal and the concepts of how meanings are formed.

For me, heterotopia is a word that explains how I feel about and perceive the canal. It has the potential to help in articulating both my BoW and dissertation.


Old school editing

I’ve been guilty of mostly editing on screen in the past – placing my images in a Lightroom collection, shuffling their order and flagging / unflagging as I went along. It was convenient when I was travelling and also saved ink and paper!

I now have a good number of photo resources for the project, so I’ve broken free of the screen and printed draft images to shuffle and get an in-one-take view of how things are looking. I’ve known that this is the best way to do it but it’s the first time I’ve printed lots of draft images. I set up LR print module (single image/contact sheet format) to print 4 images on an A4 sheet in ‘draft mode’ (whatever that does) and it runs through all selected images, renders and prints them in one go.

Even with draft prints, it is much easier to see which images don’t quite fit or need reordering. I’m a convert. I’ll also use the same prints to play with book layouts.

Landscape sharpening

Some of my images contain the level of detail that is typical of landscape photographs. It’s not an area I have focused on in the past and I’ve been struggling a little with selective sharpening in Photoshop – my default tool is the unsharp mask, but I’m not happy with the results for some of the landscape details; I see hints of haloing and then when backed off, the details are not as sharp as I’d like.

This morning I looked at the newer ‘smart sharpen’ filter and am happy with the results.

Screen grabs (unfortunately not the same size) that show the difference. I’ve learned that smart sharpen is better at detecting edges (based on lens blur) than the unsharp mask based on gaussian blur. The control over fading sharpening in shadow and highlight area helps in automatically refining the areas for sharpening.

I’ve found that using smart sharpening on a smart object layer, with a mask to hide sharpening on areas of the image (eg background) gives the selective clarity to the image I was looking for.

The deception of postproduction

I’ve been thinking conceptually about post-production partly because of my look at Nadav Kandar’s work and partly because I’m aware that some of my own work is taking the prints someway from what I saw. Helpful to my reflection were comments of fellow students by email and on the Discuss Form (discussion is here – A particular important concept mentioned was deception. We don’t like to be deceived unless we give permission, for example in the context of the arts like cinema. But the multiple and varied uses of photography can confuse the context for the viewer. As I approach the end of my studies, I feel it is important to succinctly articulate my own position on aspects of photography that can be contentious. Of course, these views may well continue to evolve. So, on postproduction:

Photography is a tool that can be used in a wide range of contexts. In some, such as news photography, being true to what is seen is important. The use of tools like Photoshop to alter images can be contentious but like photography itself, needs to be taken in context of its use. In some of my work, I use Photoshop to enhance images from beyond what I saw to what I imagined and felt. I rarely add new elements but emphasise or disguise certain parts of images. I might sometimes remove distracting elements.

Andrew Fitzgibbon

Postproduction and the Dark Line

My BoW tutor suggested I look at Nadav Kandar’s The Dark Line, as a contrasting interpretation of the same estuary as in Frank Watson’s work.

From The Dark Line ©Nadav Kandar, source:

Kandar’s project is shown on his website ( and Photoworks has an interesting interview with him about the work ( Whereas Watson’s interpretation of the estuary is quite literal, Kandar’s is more about the creation of atmosphere and the artist’s reworking of the referent to express something of himself.

It is this different approach to the process of photography that interests me in the comparison between the works. In the interview Kandar comments:

NK: It’s in my studio that the most decisive moment of this process takes place. You can’t make a great print without a good photograph but I must say that for me it’s not in the picture taking. There’s a lot of layering of colour and weight, and the editing and printing process is what takes these prints a further distance than the photograph itself.

This is particularly evident in some of Kandar’s works that take on a painterly quality. While he may not have artificially added new elements to the photos, they are worked to the extent that they possibly bear only a passing resemblance to the unprocessed image. Whereas the images in Kandar’s work on the Yangtze appear worked to a lesser extent, in interviews with Kandar, it is clear that he views his work as an expression of how he sees and feels, including in his portrait work.

There is an artistic decision in the extent to which postprocessing possibilities are used, and this has become more accessible with digital images and tools. I explored the possibility of working images when I was restricted to iPhone photography for a long period. I enjoyed this work and expressing how I felt about subjects. When I work now, I use Photoshop heavily after a period of abandoning it for Lightroom and very straight work.

An example of an unprocessed file and the processed output are below to illustrate.

Blue-green algae near Nelson ©Andrew Fitzgibbon

The colours and areas of focus have been worked to make the image visually compelling. Some might say that the resulting image doesn’t look like it did in reality. However, that is not relevant as my work is not intended to document reality but add my own interpretation and create visual interest.

What I’m still working on understanding is where the line falls in image enhancement. I suspect that there is no fixed line, but it is a combination of personal voice and appropriateness for the subject matter. Kandar’s more abstract estuary work seemed to allow him more licence than the Yangtze with its obvious human and man-made elements. It is clear that a similar treatment needs to be applied across a series if it is to maintain coherence. This has significant implications for workflow and decision making if extensive rework of individual images is to be avoided.

Soundings from the Estuary: a parallel universe?

My BoW tutor suggested that I might find Frank Watson’s Soundings from the Estuary (the Estuary) of interest. Watson shares images from the project on his website (

From Soundings from the Estuary, ©Frank Watson, source:

The Estuary shows expansive, bleak landscapes without people. Buildings tell the stories of past and present uses of the landscape, and detritus washed up on the shore are tales of property carelessly discarded. This is no beauty spot, but I am drawn to its uncommonly represented space. A fascinatingly ugly place embellished by the scars of human activity. It is almost monochrome antidote to oversaturated blues and greens. Looking at work that has similarities but has no personal connection, helps me articulate what I like in the canal. There is perhaps space for thoughts to breathe more easily.

A striking difference to the canal is the Estuary’s expansiveness. While shooting yesterday around an urban area, I thought about how enclosed the canal is; often screened by trees and hedges from the open landscape that surrounds it, sometimes constructed along the lower sides of hills and enclosed by terraced housing and old industrial buildings. One cannot easily leave the canal without following a formal pathway. There is a narrow, 2 meter wide towpath as the only route between mirky water and overgrown hedgerow; it could become oppressive in places. When it passes through open countryside, the vistas broaden and can become expansive. This contrast might be used in sequencing images.

There are ideas here for how I might articulate my own project and I’ll revisit these for A3.

Benjamin’s detritus

Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’ & photo of Walter Benjamin, source:

My BoW tutor suggested that I might find Walter Benjamin’s references to the ‘ragpicker’ and ‘the angel of history’ of interest in the context of my images showing the remains of the industrialisation along the canal.

The ragpicker, lived in rags and made a living from the discarded rags of consumer society, sitting at the foot of the material ladder. Benjamin suggested that the way to understand history, from the ‘refuse and ‘detritus’, through chance rather than the formality of a historian . He used the ragpicker as an analogy. I can see that this relates to how I’m photographing the canal, even if ragpickers no longer exist in the original C19th sense of the word. It’s not that there isn’t poverty, it’s that waste collection is highly organised as is recycling and charitable giving. The wandering ragpickers are also analogous to psychogeographers, who picking through the myths and histories of urban landscape. While it is a good analogy, it is an analogy from a different time, which reduces its currency.

Benjamin acquired Klee’s drawing Angelus Novus and considered it amongst his most precious possession, seemingly treating it as a muse. He referred to it during several writings but most profoundly in this passage from Theses on the Philosophy of History:

His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back his turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is what we call progress.

An interesting thing about the backwater of the canal is that the storm of progress does not erase traces of the past so thoroughly as in other urban environments that are built over – some canals have been filled-in but many remain, often sited away from the main routes through places. The industry has gone but the canals stand as monuments to deindustrialisation and accolades to making-do. The storm of progress comes to some places with the gentrification and privatisation of places along the canal banks.


Sandra & Alan : it’s in the words

I struck up a conversation with Sandra and Alan by commenting on a newly started greenfield housing development alongside the canal at Gargrave. They’ve lived on the canals for 34 years and are still in lockdown – The Canal & River Trust (CRT) have ordered that the locks should not be used during Covid lockdown and have also advised to minimise use of the canal towpaths by walkers. There are large numbers of moored boats where one might normally see very few.

I found out useful things through talking with them. They were careful to say that their experiences cover many years and things may have changed since they last visited places.

  • The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is generally quiet (not like some others they visit). I asked what about Liverpool end, as I’d not yet visited it. Apparently, until 5 years ago a police escort was required to take a boat into Liverpool, as vandals would throw bricks at the boats. This surprised me and I made a mental note to be cautious when I venture to that end.
  • It is difficult for boats to get on and off the canal – either the Aire and Calder Navigation, which is tidal and difficult for narrow boats that were not designed to be steered in fast currents. Or at Wigan, which I was told has a flight of locks that are painfully slow to pass through. I silently wondered if this is one reason it isn’t populous.
  • What about Rochdale Canal I asked (since it is within driving distance)? They don’t go there after an experience many years ago when they were threatened by drug dealers and advised by the police that it is best treated as a no-go zone. Another mental note to be careful if I venture onto that one!
  • I asked what they like about the canal, was it just the travelling? They have met some wonderful people over the years and enjoy the freedom of wandering. They don’t necessarily move everyday, but when the feeling takes them. It is difficult to move freely in the winter months as many locks are shut for repair. They tend to moor near Gargrave (where they have family) and find work for the winter.

Sandra and Alan’s appearance was similar to many along the canal, sporting ‘outdoor clothing’. However, their willingness to talk did make me think that even if I don’t manage to find people that are visually interesting, it might be that I can bring people into my work through their words.

Back to the Mississippi

My tutor suggested I revisit Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, unpick what makes it successful and see if there was anything I could draw from it for my own work.

The canal and the Mississippi are obviously two very different types of waterway, with ‘water’ perhaps being the only commonality. The latter dominates the landscape and shapes the places around it, providing and threatening life with its expansive waters. The canal is contained and calm, with people often oblivious to its existence – it can be easily overlooked.

I looked through Soth’s book several times over the weekend and a number of things struck me.

  • There are no signs of affluence in the photographs, but a sense of making-do and the make-shift. This is embraced in the work. The canal also flows through many areas that are not affluent but is also diverse, passing through picturesque open countryside and more affluent rural communities. There is a choice to be made here – a focus on the less represented margins or a more democratic view. One might be seen as a ‘broken Britain’, the other as a place of contrasts.
  • The portraits included are of ordinary people who seem to embrace distinctive identities or have characteristics that are out of the ordinary. This makes them visually interesting. They are connected by their connection to the river, which dominates the landscape. The canal does not form the same type of broader connections between people as it is not a dominant feature of place. Those that use and work the canal are mostly indistinctive – men and women dressed from the local ‘outdoor shops’, practical synthetic clothing to protect from the elements. I have struggled throughout to find a visual people angle that grabs my interest, but last week had the idea of drawing people in through their words, their tales.
  • While Soth’s theme is the river, he often looks away from it and water is absent from many images. For example, empty interiors, preachers, construction workers. They are held together by the overall sense of water in the book; the juxtaposition reminds me that there is water nearby, even though I don’t see it in the image. It occurred to me last week that I was restricting my images to those that included water, even when there are subjects looking away from the water that are visually interesting. This is an unnecessary constraint – as long as the overall series conveys a sense of the water, I can broaden the range of images. I don’t just see the canal, I see from the canal.
  • Soth’s editing and sequencing of the images creates a varied and interesting visual impact. One thing I particularly noticed was alternate warm and cooler mini-sequences within the overall work. That particular aspect is not necessarily relevant to my work, but the importance of visual variety is.

Jessa Fairbrother Snapshot

I listened in on a Redeye photography network hosted a 30 minute live ‘snapshot’ with Jessa Fairbrother (, an artist who embroiders her photographic prints. She talked about her work ‘conversations with my mother’ and demonstrated her stitching technique. It can take her up to 3 months to complete a single work and she works on a small scale (mostly A4 from what I understood).

Jessa Fairbrother on Vimeo

While I personally would have no interest in, or capability for such intricate work, it was enjoyable hearing her talk about her work and process. In particular Jessa mentioned she has rigorous intention for her work and mentioned the symbolic use of knot making; showing attachment and a private act. In contrast she has work where prints have been stabbed with needles to make patterns, which she sees as being detached. She also talked a little about the use of the photographic print being important to her as a referent to the subject.

What struck me is the conviction with which Jessa discussed her intention – that knots could have also suggested confusion or restrain didn’t matter. She was convincing in her interpretation because that is what it signified to her personally. Something I will keep in mind, once my intention finally settles down!

Unforeseen beauty in our shared landscape

BJP’s July 2019 issue looks at projects that ‘celebrate unforeseen beauty in our shared landscape’. I first read this as ‘unseen’, which I understood as unnoticed or disregarded, but ‘unforeseen’? I suppose surprising or unusual. The article features 3 projects with unusual takes on the landscape and perhaps a source of inspiration as I shape my own perspective on the landscape. I found all three interesting, including still lives built around objects collected by retracing London bus routes on foot and views of the Eiffel Tower from many different houses. But I look a little closer here at Caleb J Adam’s work on Menorca’s fiesta of San Joan (

From Sant Joan ©Caleb J Adams, source:

The work records the island’s spectacular horseback festival, but doesn’t just focus on the spectacular. Adams includes quieter moments away from the action, including indoor scenes that are completely removed from the action. This gives an expansive view of events and seems to break ‘the tyranny of linear perspective’. I suspect some viewers might find the work disjointed but really it is just ‘unforeseen’ – not what we have come to expect.

I have a number of quiet photographs, not over-looking the canal, that I’ve been wondering what to do with. In an earlier post I wrote about an idea for contrasting the banal landscapes with the picturesque but these moments seem to sit outside that contrast. Perhaps I could include them as occasional interludes, isolated on the page as they are in space.

Canal shop window ©Andrew Fitzgibbon

Obscured by the pastoral

I’ve done more thinking about Paul Graham’s visual signalling through overexposures ( For landscape, the banal is obscured by the picturesque in popular culture. For the canal, the water and its reflections connect to the pastoral as it flows through the open countryside. I could use water to obscure my images of the banal to mark them in stark contrast to the deliberately picturesque images, rather than A2’s picture in picture approach. It would be a visual play on them being unseen and obscured by the picturesque.

After some experimentation, my first attempt is below.

A number of similarly treated image would be interspersed with the picturesque. For example …

Then, borrowing from Paul Graham, the series would be concluded with a few fully visible banal photos. Hopefully drawing the viewer in to give them full attention.

American Nights | Unseen Landscapes

Since looking at Paul Graham’s American Night work again, I’ve been reflecting on my own approach to ‘disrupting linear perspective’ in assignment 2. I’ve not had a tutorial on this yet, but received some feedback from other students. Some liked the insets, others weren’t so sure.

Paul’s work makes the ignored divides in American society visible by using whited out (overexposed) images of the poor, interspersed with full colour images of affluent housing (without people). The whiting out asks a visual question and the full colour images drive home the answer. Towards the end of the work, street portraits of the poor in full colour add a second assault to the senses.

© Paul Graham, source:

There is a similar idea that I’m trying to convey in my BoW – marginal landscapes that are shaped by culture but not often represented in images of place, which tend to be more interested in the spectacular or the pastoral. A kind of denial or ignoring of their existence that misrepresents space and therefore culture. Making things seem brighter than they are – ignoring the darker corners. When shooting an old building yesterday, a passerby asked, ‘what’s over there then?’. When I explained, he jokingly commented ‘ah, each to his own with weird photography’.

Having sat with my ‘insets’ for a while, I have a number of concerns:

  • Scale is required for visibility – this is likely to be difficult to achieve in the world after lockdown and for any digital assessment of the work.
  • I thought that the insets were an effective way of disrupting the linear, having been unconvinced by using diptyches. However, Paul’s work successfully does this in a succession of images in a book, along with his over-exposure motif.
  • Condensing two images into one does not allow them to breath and perhaps hinders a viewer being able to reflect upon them – too much going on in one space.

Graham’s work has given me the cue to look at other options, including how I might work in book form, which also allows digital contactless sharing.

Quick refs

Photoshop x-book Zine

After the Zine workshop yesterday (, I made a Photoshop template by dividing a A4 blank document using guides, drawing squares for the pages and converting them to smart objects so images could be added to size later. I worked out the orientation for the numbers by making a blank x-book, numbering it, and then opening it out to see the numbering on a flat page; used this to add numbering/orientation in PS.

My xbook zine template in Photoshop

I made a quick x-book with some images from A2. It’s the featured image for this post. I wasn’t aiming for a high quality output, but something that I can keep to hand and reflect on the development of the work. It is already helping!

Red Eye – online Zine workshop

This week, I enjoyed an online Zine workshop hosted by the RedEye network and delivered by Shy Bairns (artist collaborative). Good to see a couple of other OCAers there too! It was a 30 minute demo of making a folded book. Similar to the one in the embed below.

I’ve made these in the past as well as bound books, so I learned nothing new. But it did remind me how much I enjoyed making these things and that one of my intentions when beginning BoW was to produce tangible items, rather than just digital images or straight prints.

I’ve dug out my reference books (making handmade books, Alisa Golden and Self Publish Be Happy, Bruno Ceschel) to read through on this wintery summer’s day and will be making something while the weather keeps me indoors!

Quick refs

Connective waters

The materiality of water was discussed in my dissertation – as a connecting flow between people and places and in terms of an existential relationship with humankind. I had the idea of using a picture-in-picture approach to connecting water visually to what I photograph on the canal. Water, becoming a connecting theme visually, as well as a connecting sociogeographic aspect.

An experiment involving Iron Bru is below.

The Bru trumps the pastoral. While reflective water is beautiful (as is a sunset), we perhaps don’t need more photos of it to remind us.
Bru as an aside to the pastoral. This way round, the less photographed are marginalised – I read as litter spoiling the view, rather than look at the litter (or other less beautiful object).

Perhaps this is an interesting way to showcase the important spoils of activity connected along a watery flow. It also allows for a less straight approach to the work, which I find more difficult when dealing with a ‘natural’ landscape.

Could be a way forward for A2. Will need to work up a PS template file to ensure a consistent layout.

Escaping linear perspective?

‘We suffer from the tyranny of linear perspective’ and it is as problematic unpicking meaning from what we see in the world as it is from representations in images. I’ve explored in words the idea that space is shaped from culture and is contested and normalised by dominant narratives. How might this be represented in images?

I’ve experimented with the idea of unpicking meaning through composite images. This is as much about testing process as outcome at this stage.

Privatisation of the canal bank and alternative lifestyles: image blending

Urban development : simple collage using PS layers
De-industrialisation: using found image, resizing and perspective warp, blending

I’ll put this out for comment before taking it further – could be an approach to A2 BoW as a play on the thinking in my CS A5. These test images are still more or less straight images – I’ll experiment further with more extreme collages. There is perhaps a connection to Dada in the thinking – a protest against the normalisation of space?

Quick refs

Power Games | The age of the image

I watched episode 2 of James Fox’s (art historian) BBC series The Age of the Image – ‘James Fox explores how mass communication and new technology helped 20th-century image-makers transform society, from Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda films to the moon landings.’ ( . It was a slick enjoyable programme with rich content from throughout the twentieth century. The theme ‘power games’ stated that all images are political was developed by showing the misuse and use of power – from Stalin and Nazi Germany to the American black protest movements.

A central idea was ‘if you control what people see, you control what they think’. This is something I’ve addressed in my dissertation draft ‘understanding the canal’ and how it is a contested space. Watching the images in the programme pulled me back to thinking about how I might visually represent the canal. In these grim times, I was toying with the idea of working with the ideas of canal time and the materiality of water from an aesthetic perspective, rather than a deliberately political angle.

However (and as my CS tutor suggested as an aside in my tutorial), perhaps there is a more nuanced approach that deals with both aspects. One idea I will try is contrasting the canal as a regulated space with the fluidity of water and canal time.

OCA North study visit | Vic Allen, Dean Clough Galleries.

Vic Allen is the Executive Director of ACDC, the charity that runs the art galleries at Dean Clough Mill, Halifax ( Vic kindly offered to speak to the OCA North group (8/3/20) about the process of putting on an exhibition and everything connected with it. Dean Clough hosts a large programme of around 30 exhibitions per a year in its galleries and operates on an open submission basis.

Vic discussing handling art work, with his original Bill Brandt ‘Snicket’ as a model. Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon.

Vic spoke for several hours – a valuable opportunity to hear an open and honest account of the workings of galleries and the art world. I note here just a few points that seem important to me at this time.

  • On the art world – there are often very set ideas about what the ‘art world’ is. Vic’s advice was to make your own art world and quickly recognise that the idea that buyers of art are ready and waiting somewhere in the world is a myth. There is no system and sometimes the way people think things should operate holds them back from making progress.
  • If you are approached with opportunities, thinking carefully about which you accept and recognise the difference between success and fulfilment.
  • Collaborations with other artists tend to bring more people into an exhibition space – more connections.
  • On the importance of exhibiting – allows work to be seen in a different context, feedback (including curatorial) is mechanism to move practice forward and gives a sense of progress. Advice is to exhibit whenever possible to get work into the work. Be aware that show is not the destination – it is just part of the progression.
  • Philosophical diversion into the nature of art – Vic’s perspective is that art and culture are antithetical. Art should be about breaking a sense of habit and challenging norms, whereas culture (dominant culture) is about standards and fitting in. Vic used nice analogy about a matriarchal monkey and rice in the sand. Encourages artists to think about ‘artistic values’ – galleries are a bit like car show rooms and have little to do with the process of making art itself.
  • Practicalities of packing art work – a) grid of masking tape across glass (if glass breaks it holds it together and stops it damaging work) b) wrap in anti-scratch packaging material c) pack in bubble wrap (bubbles outward and secured with parcel tape d) use corner protectors (home made with cardboard or pipe insulation works. Generally – always buy bulk supply as far cheaper than from the high street.
  • On approaching galleries – know the gallery and what they put on (visit regularly to decide if it is a fit); target gallery thoughtfully; for leads, look at where like artists are exhibiting; go to openings regularly and network; support other artists.
  • On making submissions to galleries / for exhibitions – be prepared to show work during networking; have no expectations of acceptance; have solutions and go with specific work to make life of commissioners easier, remove barriers to ‘yes’. Take care of presentation – but do not go over the top, otherwise there is no space in which the curator can operate and there could be a perception that the work is already out there in other spaces if too polished. Ideal pack would be covering letter, artist statement, specific request about exhibition (including in which space). Avoid sending digital media if possible – never sure how it will be viewed (colours etc) and is not helpful in round-table group review situations.
  • On framing. Vic shows a lot of unframed work (feels it adds authenticity) – eg use bulldog clips, map pins (see through), bluetac (lots and avoid white as it melts), magnets (though attract to kids), polycarb sheet over art work direct on wall). If framed, use mirror plates (halfway up frames) – these are screwed into wall (therefore secure) and painted over so they blend in. Check any gallery specific requirements.
  • Other – having website (up to date) is recommended; can be browsed by curators looking for something specific (amongst others things). Important to develop own contacts database.

In conclusion, this was a Sunday afternoon well spent. The OCA North group also discussed making a proposal for a group exhibition to ACDC – if successful, this would most likely take place around September 2021.

Along the Hackney Canal | Freya Najade

After quite a time immersed in the world of words and finally finishing my first draft dissertation (A4 CS), the wettest February on record is over and I’m feeling the call of the image. A fellow student kindly pointed me in the direction of Freya Najade’s work, Along the Hackney Canal.

The photographer shares some images from the book on her website ( . On her LensCulture gallery, she provides information on the project:

Along the Hackney Canal is a long-term project, which I started to work on soon after moving to Hackney and falling in love with the canals and marshes. I am particularly drawn to this area for its beauty, which is different from the perfectly ordered English gardens and parks, or the wild, uncivilized nature of oceans, mountains and forests. The further one follows the canals to the east and north, the more indecisive the landscape seems to become, between civilization and wilderness, trimness and griminess, vital beauty and gloominess. The city appears and disappears trying to juxtapose nature and centuries of human urbanization

Freya Najade, source:
By Freya Najade, source:

The images show ‘beauty’ – many have a painterly quality and the even litter in the canal appears otherworldly in its watery dance. I do not know this particular canal, nor I have seen the full work, but what is shown mostly has pastoral overtones. There is one photograph of an improvised keep-out wall with broken bottles concreted in along its top. This provides a forceful stop amongst the pastoral – it would be interesting to see in the context of the full book.

There is a marked contrast between this project and Debra Fabricius’s Urban Drift (, which focuses on decaying buildings along Regent’s Canal and shows photographs that are less well crafted – I don’t know whether for deliberate effect or unintentional. There are more words explaining this project (perhaps too many), which left me with an feeling that the concept may have been worked on more than the images.

When searching for this work, I wandered into a YouTube video with Martin Parr explaining to a student Skype meeting that everyone is a photographer so your photographs need to be different from everyone else’s to stand out – a difference he suggested by presenting a unique view and a strength of connection with the subject matter.

Whether I like Freya Najade’s photographs or not isn’t relevant; what I perceive is a strong sense of connection with her subject matter and a personal perspective on it . Which is why I’m inclined to give it attention and look a while. It feels genuine. It is the importance of this personal connection that I am reminded of by looking at this work.

THE IMAGE – pseudo-events

As my writing on ‘meaning’ of the canal has progressed, I’ve increasingly thought about the malleability of meaning and the challenges of seeing fact through fiction.

I today revisited Daniel Boorstin’s 1961 book, The Image | a guide to pseudo-events in America . It struck me that despite the age of the book, its ideas are perhaps even more relevant today than they were 60 years ago. Boorstin refers to the ‘graphic revolution’ – capacity to mass produce images in the media and through film as the enabler of his pseudo-events. Today the effect has been amplified through the rapid and vast exchange of digital images.

Central to Boorstin’s idea is ‘a thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life’, created through illusions of imagery that people are willing to accept / not question because of extravagant or excessive expectations of the world. This idea is explored at length through various environments, for example the news, celebrity, tourism.

There are some interesting ideas and eloquent descriptions of so called, pseudo-events and their effects that are relevant to the reading of publicity materials about the canal. There are also photographic specific references, that are of broader interest. I’ve noted these in my research folder and will consider reflecting them in my dissertation.

… the menace of unreality … of replacing ideas by the images … aspiration by the mold. We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so “realistic” that they can live in them.



Industrial Ruins – Space Aesthetics and Materiality

My CS research is mostly housed in my research folder (Zotero based) that sits beyond this blog. This has the obvious benefits of being easily searchable and capturing citation information that can be called directly from Word with the Zotero plugin. So, why spend time posting here?

I’d always planned to make a note of anything particularly noteworthy, that might be included in an update to my literature review assignment (though with a 1,000 word limit that will need to be highly selective). But it now seems the blog is being used to police the level of student engagement – a kind of compliance tool beyond what I require for my own purposes. So, there is another reason to at least periodically post updates here!

I’ve been looking at the idea of industrial heritage and how places that are not maintained as culturally significant ultimately fall to ruin. Ruins are something I’ve always been attracted to – the chaos and non-conformity with regulated space, the layers of time and stories in their decaying fabric. And, I’ve read many of Tim Edensor’s papers on the subject. However, I’ve only now come across his 2005 book, Industrial Ruins – Space Aesthetics and Materiality .

The book is like a bible of industrial ruins, beginning with an introduction that explains Edensor’s passion for the ruined form. What I enjoy most about the book is how it challenges commonplace perceptions of ruins as simply sites of failure that are not worthy of cultural attention (a sign that capitalise ideology has no interest in publicising). It deals with the contemporary uses of ruins, how they disorder space, their materiality and the ‘spaces of memory and ghosts of dereliction’.

It has proven a rich source of ideas for how I might deal with the underrepresented industrial ruins along the canal side.


Time Mapping the Canal

Open Canal Map provides and open-source Google Maps overlay for the UK canals . This is an image of the Skipton-Leeds stretch of the canal but the map itself is interactive and allows canal users to add information to the route (Skipton top left and Leeds top of bottom right quarter).

Source: Google Maps / Opencanalmap

In common with all standard maps, there is no time dimension – this is left to the user to estimate based on mode of travel and time of day. The CityMetric explains Chris Clegg’s Canal Time Map , which maps places according to 2 hour time blocks of travel by narrowboat on along the canal.

source: / Chris Clegg’s Canal Time Map

Slow TV has been used to offer something of the experience of a real time journey on a canal but doesn’t convey well the distance covered in what seems a long viewing time of 2 hours. However, Chris Clegg’s map reveals that the journey from Skipton to Leeds on a narrowboat would take approximately 14 hours (it takes approximately 1 hour to navigate the Bingley 5 locks rise alone). In contrast the train journey following nearly the same route would take approximately 40 minutes. Perhaps more surprisingly is that it would only take approximately 8.5 hours to walk the route (per Google Maps), though one could not also carry a heavy cargo.

There is something important about this disconnection with contemporary time-distance in the canal experience. It connects us with history – when the canal was built 200 years ago it was considered a vast improvement on alternative modes of transport and spurned the industrial revolution!

It is a dimension to consider while photographing the canal.


Meaning as a framing narrative

As work on my essay assignment 4 progresses, it becomes clearer that writing about the canal is a framed story for a broader narrative about finding meaning and understanding.

I’ve just bought a used copy of Stuart Hall’s Representation: cultural representations and signifying Practices and was drawn to Hall’s ‘circuit of culture’

Source: Representation: cultural representations and signifying Practices

Hall discusses the idea of the production and circulation of meaning and the inter-connectedness of the components of his model. I find that his model integrates other concepts I’ve researched (eg semiotics) into something that allows clearer thinking about the complexities of the interrelationship involved in unpicking meaning out in the world. For example how representation can challenge identity if we find ourselves at odds with a particular representation – we sit outside the normal, or become othered.

I will use this model as a basis for analysis during my ongoing work.


OCA North study visit | Miranda Richmond

Miranda Richmond spoke at the OCA North meeting in Halifax on Sunday 12th January 2020. She is a painter who works in the tradition of David Bomberg and was married to Miles Richmond an artist in the Borough Group. She has exhibited widely across the north of England and in London and currently has an exhibition in Dean Clough which is on show until 24th January. Her website is here:

By Miranda Richardson, source:

As well as enjoying her work, I was interested in her process of making and how that might be related to photography.

  • She talked about the idea of disappearing into the landscape and being at one with it – trying not to bring thoughts to bear on it and letting work shape itself through a process of mark making. I found myself faced with the recurring theme of ‘eastern’ perspective (specifically meditational) that my tutor had advised to treat with caution in the context of academic essay writing – what is perceived as mystic thinking can be problematic. However, while I’ve decided not to write about it, it does form part of my practice and a feeling I also experience when making music. There is something about art which can take us beyond ourselves.
  • Miranda showed us her sketch books and was asked how long she typically spends on sketches in the field (some drawings, some water colours) – 1.5 hours. This is longer than I would spend in any one spot with a camera, though I’m aware that many photographers will spend this long in a single location, either for traditional landscape or street photography. My photography practice generally incorporates walking and a route – this works against the idea of spending substantial time in any one place. This is particularly true of my photographs along the canal which have involved an AtoB route for logistics. Next time I’m out, I’ll experiment with working a single spot.

I was left with a suspicion that other arts could be more focused on the process of making and the visual output than the contemplation of context, meaning and intention that seems to pervade photography. Perhaps if the balance were tilted more towards the making, some photographic work would become more visually compelling and stand without elaborate contextualisation.

The problem of the ‘grand narrative’ in analysis of research

I attended another useful tutor-lead video meeting during the week – interesting to hear what others are doing and one fellow student talking about how she is learning about how she learns. I suppose meta-studying.

Grand narrative and micro-narrative are terms that are being used in our meets to discuss CS research themes. I think how we describe things is important to our understanding, and I find these terms problematic in the context of individual research. I think of grand narrative, or metanarrative in the way the term was defined by Jean-Francois Lyotard and described in critical theory (Macey) as a narrative legitimising knowledge in the context of historical events, and claiming to have universal status, explaining all other narratives. A concept that Lyotard rejected through the lens of postmodernist thinking; for example the enlightenment grand narrative, after two world wars and the genocide of the Jews.

I understand the structure that is being described with in research, but don’t relate to the grand descriptors. After some research of my own (and discussion with an author friend), I’ve settled on the terms ‘framing narrative’ and ‘framed stories/narratives’. This also speaks to the ideas of frames of vision and frames of understanding, without suggesting a broader world and historical view.

Quick references

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. (s.l.): University of Minnesota Press.
Macey, D. (2001) The Penguin dictionary of critical theory. London ; New York: Penguin Books.
Wolf, W. and Bernhart, W. (2006) Framing Borders in Literature and Other Media. Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS, THE: Editions Rodopi. At: (Accessed 17/12/2019).

Benjamin (1936) »Digital Reproduction (2019)

I’ve previously journeyed from Angelo to Berger to Benjamin back in time to 1936 to the origin of an idea in a different world.

By Then&Now [YouTube]

But the ideas in Benjamin’s landmark essay and Berger’s much later work in the 1970s endure. I’m interest to understand how they have been recontextualised for the digital age and with the passing of history. References are noted below.

Douglas Davis notes that Benjamin’s logic on the devaluing of the ‘aura’ of originality was correct, but hasn’t been realised (as the world is not necessarily logical). He points to the thriving auction houses all plying their trade based on selling original and authentic items.

What has become less certain is the connection between seeing and knowing; James Brindle observes that as we are faced with seas of images and vast information resources in our lives, the world has paradoxically become more confusing – infinite meanings as we move further from the source. ‘The more we see the less we know’.

Perhaps most importantly, Jia Fei and Douglas Davis both suggest that the aura doesn’t reside in the thing itself but in the moment we ‘see, hear, repeat, revise’. Jia Fei argues that art will become social objects defined by conversations. She refers to the way social media (Instagram specifically) is used to share reproductions of art and interactions with art.

To borrow from Berger, one might say, ‘The relation between what we see and what we know is unsettled and fluid’. The only certainty is ambiguity. This reminds me of my disenchantment when I realised the canal was not what I expected; what I thought I knew was not what I saw. I think there may be something in overlaying this unsettled relationship with the ideas of understanding places through cultural geography.


Art in the Age of Instagram [TEDx] (s.d.) Directed by Jia Fei At: (Accessed 13/12/2019).
Davis, D. (1935) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction’ In: Leonardo 28 (5) p.381.
New Ways of Seeing, Machine Visions [BBC Radio 4] (s.d.) Directed by James Brindle At: (Accessed 13/12/2019).


I’ve continued the trail of Angelo’s reference to Berger’s ‘The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled’, noted in the previous posts, back to Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Much of the essay is built around the idea of loss of ‘aura’ through mechanical reproduction, but my interest is in the origin of the idea of the tenuous connection between seeing and knowing. The root seems to be in the following paragraph:

During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organised, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.


Benjamin suggests that the fabric of changeable social traditions is reflected through the uniqueness of art (p6). However, the decay of ‘aura’ (or interest in the uniqueness) through mechanical reproduction separates artefacts from social tradition (it is destabilising). At the time of writing (inter-worldwar Germany), Benjamin perceived this as problematic – ‘the adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope’.

Benjamin’s concerns are of another age – they are now an actuality. ‘The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled’ but without being mindful, we may forget. More importantly, does this mean that we are condemned to live in permanent uncertainty, with anything we hold to be true illusory? It is this ambiguity that I am interested in exploring through my work and meanings forged through cultural geography.


Walter Benjamin (1935) ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (An Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995)’ In: Leonardo 28 (5) p.381.

Ways of Seeing – revisited

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve referred to Berger’s classic during my studies. I revisit it again to consider what I can learn from it in the context of cultural geography – my previous post notes how Berger’s ‘ways of seeing’ was used as a model by Hillary Angelo to examine the shaping of meaning.

The pivotal phrase is ‘The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled’ (p7). Berger uses this as a motif to build his argument throughout the first chapter of the book, crediting Walter Benjamin and his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935) as a source for his ideas. It next seems necessary to revisit the source of Hillary Angelo’s source!

The phrase is central to the understanding of the condition of ‘meaning’. It infers that nothing is quite how it seems and that seeing and understanding is a learned cultural experience. However, I question whether this peculiar to visual representation – it seems to pervade all texts and even original perception.

Is it possible to perceive things as they truly are? Or does the perception always say more about the viewer? Does the question even make sense?

The urban lens as a way of seeing

Hillary Angelo’s essay From the city lens toward urbanisation as a way of seeing: Country/city binaries on an urbanising planet draws on Berger’s idea of ‘ways of seeing’ to examine and challenge how landscape is viewed and understood.

It talks about meanings emerging from different places, times and people – importantly with different power, resources and knowledge.

I think there is a useful connection between the visual and the understanding through the ‘way of seeing’ that might be used to build a connection between research and practice. I intend to revisit Berger to explore this idea further.

Regarding power relations, Angelo notes that ‘making-do’ will disappear with urbanisation. This is something I have noticed along the canal. I felt the ‘making-do’ added personality and a sense of humanity to places. It could be something to draw out as a contrasting theme – I intend to explore this visually.


Angelo, H. (s.d.) ‘From the city lens toward urbanisation as a way of seeing: Country/city binaries on an urbanising planet’ In: Urban Studies 54 (1) pp.158–178.

On straight photography

I’ve been on a long break from photography, while enduring a long commute to a client for a three month project that turned into six months. This left me with little available time, other than that found during train journeys. There was time for reading when the quality of the Northern Rail carriages allowed and watching downloaded films or television shows. There was also iPhone photography (#iphotography), some of which I posted to my @snappedpixel Instagram account.

I’d already been reflecting on straight photography and how much of it lacks visual reward – a shot of something banal that is justified by an unseen concept (and unknown, unless context is provided). Andrew Conroy’s presentation to an OCA North meeting made me question further – his work contained a mix of straight and ‘manipulated reality’ (Fixing Shadows); when asked which he enjoyed more, it was the manipulated works. Talking to painters after Andrew’s presentation they confessed to being generally non-plussed by some straight photography, observing that without knowing the concept, they simply didn’t find it interesting.

The academic blog Fixing Shadows contains a discussion on straight photography and what its opposite might be – how to define it without the pejorative reference to pictorialism. The general view was that it is far easier to define ‘straight photography’ than its other. One respondent noted he found it a shame/amusing that the photographic world had been come obsessed by such questions, and would benefit from spending less time debating and spend more time making images.

I decided to experiment with ‘manipulated photography’ using my iPhone and the icolorama app which allows a high degree of control over manipulation (in contrast to the automatic filter based apps).

Leeds Train Station, by Andrew Fitzgibbon

I found the process of augmenting the captured ‘straight’ shot to convey my internal perception rewarding. In the Leeds train station shot the red and blue tones are exaggerated as is the blurriness of the steamed window. I experimented with other manipulations that are shown on my Instagram feed. My conclusion is that as long as one begins with a pre-visualised manipulation it can be used to express an artist intent through photography – though there is also room for the unexpected ‘accident’ in the process.

I’m about to return to camera based work for the course, and will not be as attached to straight representation after the ‘iphotography’ experience.

Quick Reference

Fixing Shadows blog:

Berlin gallery visits

Back in the summer, I visited a couple of photography museums while in Berlin. C/O Berlin, when the ‘food for your eyes’ exhibition was showing ( and Museum für Fotografie (MfF)(, which is the German national photography museum and houses the work of Helmut Newton.

source: by Ouka Leele

The museums are across the street from one another, yet are world’s apart in their presentation of works. It is this I consider in this post – the exhibition spaces and representation of photography.


MfF was mostly given over to the works of Helmut Newton – glamorous and carefully executed fashion and portrait photography, mostly in monochrome. And after a while looking, much like eating too much chocolate. The presentation was uniform, with the same style and size of frames used in the main galleries – the frames were all hung portrait; with landscape aspect photographs, small in the vertical framing. The presentation was easy for the eye to follow the flow, without the frames distracting because of their uniformity. It surprisingly did not appear odd to have landscape photos taking little space in the portrait orientated frames. However, the overall impression was perhaps that of a neatly ordered library.

In contrast C/O has a highly contemporary feel and was much busier than its neighbour. The presentation was deliberately irregular (almost chaotic), and visually unsettling. Perhaps partly down to the number of different artists on display. It created a sense of liveliness in the gallery, with visitors uninhibited and engaging with one another and the works – shaping a context that didn’t suit contemplation, but made the gallery energetic and welcoming.

The experience has started me thinking about how I present my own work and the use of alternative spaces. Outdoor spaces, places that are not conceived for art exhibitions – how might different contexts be used to shape the perception of the viewer.

Slow TV

My tutor suggested I might enjoy a BBC ‘slow TV’ programme of a journey along the Kennett & Avon Canal. Unfortunately, it is currently showing on iPlayer. But what is ‘slow TV’? I had no idea, so with a little research discovered a TED Talk by the Norwegian instigator of the genre. It’s linked below and well worth a watch.

Slow TV is real-time TV is real-time TV and Thomas Hellum explains his creative process and audience engagement with the programme in his entertaining TED talk. His initial film was a 7 hour train journey across Norway. Following its success, he made a 5 day live programme aboard a boat travelling around Norway’s coast line – and included footage of those following the journey from other boats and the shore. The showings attracted record numbers of viewers.

Hellum analyses the success:

  • Very little scheduling of what will happen during the programmes, with a readiness to accept things are they are found.
  • The use of uncomfortable long shots of each view – not the rapid cutting from shot to shot that is common in TV. By holding the shot for longer than normal, Hellum suggest that viewers begin to notice things on their screens and creative their own narratives for what is happening. As they might do if they were on actual journeys. He tells of one man, who having watched the train journey, rose to collect his bag from the overhead shelf in the carriage, only to realise that he was in his own living room!
  • It seems that this kind of viewing is a televisual phenomenon, through which the audience are held captive by their TVs in expectation of something interesting happening. I suspect this anticipation of something happening is crucial to the engagement.

I’m not sure that the concept of slow-TV could be adapted to the photographic medium with the same success, but there is encouragement that an audiences is prepared to engage with contemplative visuals (and sound) for an inordinate amount of time. In addition, there is a surprising willingness to engage with the banal when presented in an engaging format. Hellum stresses that he only makes one or two of these programmes per year so that a sense of ‘event’ is maintained.

Great Canal Journeys & Poetry


Stuart Heritage comments in the Guardian, ‘I get why people might not want to watch Great Canal Journeys. Ostensibly, it sounds awful – a couple of plummy old thespians pootling down a waterway – but once you’re in, it’s almost unbearably poignant.’ . This is my experience – I watched a couple of episodes to see how other stretches of canal compared to the stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool I’ve been looking at – and found myself compelled to watch more; not just journeys along a canal but recollections of life and love by Prunella Scales and Timothy West. The poignancy of Scales’s fading memory (she has Alzheimers) apparent while the two talk, as if there are no camera present is at times painfully moving.

The whole series is available on More4 . I’m using this post to note anything of interest to my own study of canals and will update as things catch my attention.

  • Leeds & Liverpool canal (series 3, episode5) – noted that this was an extraordinarily quiet stretch of canal (the journey passed through the route I too am following). The contrast is apparent from the other canal journeys included in the series. Simon Armitage (Yorkshire poet) joined the journey and read a poem about water – from his Stanza Stones series


Be glad of these freshwater tears,
Each pearled droplet some salty old sea-bullet
Air-lifted out of the waves, then laundered and sieved, recast as a soft bead and returned.
And no matter how much it strafes or sheets, it is no mean feat to catch one raindrop clean in the mouth,
To take one drop on the tongue, tasting cloud pollen, grain of the heavens, raw sky.
Let it teem, up here where the front of the mind distils the brunt of the world.

Simon Armitage
  • Also mentioned in the Leeds and Liverpool episode was a traditional boat painter – on the L&L stretch the style is called ‘brights’ (I suppose reflected the textile heritage. Ginny Barlow.
  • The Rochdale Canal (series 1, episode2) referred to the poems of Ted Hughes who was born on the canal and wrote about it when it was disused and abandoned. The poem read was ‘stubbing wharfe’, about liaison in a downbeat pub with Silvia Plath. Hughes once collaborated with photographer Fay Godwin, for the book Elmett. An article by Michael Nott contrasts Godwin’s perspective on landscape as nature, with Hughes’s on landscape as culture. I’ll explore this further, as I research cultural geography.

… The world was all before us. And around us 
This gloomy memorial or a valley, 
The fallen-in grave or its history. 
A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels. 
The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution 
That had flown. The windows glittered black. 
If this was the glamour of an English pub. it was horrible. Like a bubble In the sunk Titanic ..

Extract from Stubbing Wharfe by Ted Hughes


Nairn: transpennine canal in 1972

Photograph by

The BBC are sharing Ian Nairn’s journey’s across Britain, first broadcast in 1972, on BBC iPlayer. One of the episodes shared is a journey exploring the post-industrial North through a narrow boat journey – starting north of Manchester and concluding in the Leeds canal basin (where the canal joins the Aire and Calder navigation).

Of interest to me was how the canal had changed between 1972 and my present day experience of it. Nairn characterised it as a neglected, forgotten space, where there were great opportunities for development. At the time many stretches of canal had been neglected and were not navigable – Nairn’s journey followed an indirect route.

My observations:

  • Nairn and the film showed neglect and disuse – the canal and environment are unrecognisable from today. No cleared footpaths, empty derilict buildings / old warehouses, nothing in the way of new development. It was the image of a grim post-industrial landscape with traces of activity that had once been. Nairn himself championed considered development of such places and was clearly exasperated at the lack of any development.
  • The Skipton canal basin was unrecognisable from its current state – it was utterly unused and unkept. Now there are bars, cafés, boat hire businesses, outdoor clothing store and a curry house. The canal space reinvented – just what Nairn was calling for. Why do I have an antipathy towards photographing this aspect? Perhaps because it is photographed by every tourist with a camera phone – I need to let go of prejudice and accept the cultural geography for what it is.
  • The spaces in between towns remain similar – the are surrounded by agricultural land. Perhaps changed little over hundreds of years. The idea of time standing still on certain parts of the canal comes to mind.
  • Perhaps the stretch of the canal that captured my attention more than any other in the program was the approach and terminal in Leeds. Kirkstall was a field of factory chimneys, which have long since been flattened, but left as empty undeveloped ground. The chimneys made the space more interesting – like statues commemorating past industries.
  • The canal basin in Leeds centre, behind the train station, is now surrounded by hotels, offices, bars and restaurants. In 1972, it was desolate and neglected but close to the heart of the city.

There is a geography of time evident from the comparison of 1972 to now. How place changes to space and back to place in the same spot, with the only things moving being time and, of course, culture.


How Pictures Work: Down the Rabbit Hole with David Campany

“Photographs show, but they don’t tell; they don’t explain. They are good at the what but not the why.” — David Campany


An interview featured in ‘In the In-Between’ online journal resonates with me as I continue to contemplate the reading of images and construction of meaning, while making sense of the canal and what I might create from walking its route.

In my first essay I discussed the forming of meaning (or interpretation), and Campany’s comment below reminded me of Gombrich’s observation along the lines of meaning being fixed at the destination of communication rather than the origin.

“…I don’t really write about what images mean (I don’t really know what they mean), although I’m very interested in the processes by which meaning is made, unmade, remade.” — David Campany

Though Campany does go into acknowledge that there can be a collective sense of meaning in images that follow the conventions of their visual cultures. Rather than the psychology of perception, this might be thought of as the crowd-psychology of perception – perhaps related to the like-culture of social media. This leads to a discussion on the prevalence of cliché in fragmented cultures and an insistence that photographs should communicate something rather than be comfortable with their inherent instability.

Photography is a tool used in numerous ways, just as the tool of writing. I’m increasingly interested in how it might be used in reflecting how we process the visual world to make meanings; the psychology of perception as a close relation to the coding that is the subject of semiotics. Does this invert the concept of ‘representation’ of reality to become the representation of internalised meanings shaped through perception and context and experience of the beholder? What might it tell us about ourselves, or help others understand more about themselves and their perceptions?

Quick references (accessed 28.6.19)

Understanding more about philosophy

In my reading on visual culture, I find the philosophical ideas are referred to, often without explanation and an assumption of familiarity. Photography can be concerned with everything and its conceptual framework is wide-ranging, making it a challenge to fully grasp all aspects.

It is impossible for me to study philosophy in any depth within the context of this photography course, but having never studied the subject I needed to fill gaps in my understanding of philosophical thinking so I can at least contextualise philosophical references when I come across them. I needed an over-view of thinking.

As a first step, I read Stephen Trombley’s A history of western thought . This tracks the evolution of Western thought and observes the connections between the various strands. A mini-mindmap of the book is attached.

The interplay between historical events and philosophical thinking is emphasised throughout the book. Nothing operates in a vacuum, even some what appears to be obscure philosophical thinking. Thinking is always contested – often aggressively and oppressively. The dominance of Christianity over thinking for centuries is an example of this, with its crusades, inquisitions and book bans. Power relations lead to self-interest in promoting certain perspectives. Thought evolves in response to events and knowledge – there is rarely a single moment in time that marks a change in thinking. For example, the enlightenment is described as ‘a tendency’ rather than a movement.

Trombley suggests that there are three thinkers that have influenced c20th thought more than any others – Darwin, Marx and Freud; respectively providing new frameworks for thinking about evolution (and therefore Christian beliefs); social relationships of capitalism (previously thought of as pure economics without the humanist perspective); and notions of human consciousness (how we may not be fully aware of our thinking that is influenced by the subconscious).

I have the overall impression that many original philosophical texts are dense and not straightforward to understand. A part of a course in photography, a general understanding of relevant thinking is mostly sufficient for my understanding. There are only a few texts so concerned with visual culture that would call for reading as original works, but overviews of the thinking of certain philosophers is something I will look at.



Book: photography and zen

Western conceptual thinking and therefore conceptual thinking about photography is unsurprisingly dominated by Western ideas. I’ve been influenced in various ways by Eastern thought at different times in my life, firstly as a teenager playing Judo. Later as a guitarist, embracing the ideas of ‘Zen Guitar’ and more recently through the study of mindfulness. Also, while unaware of the conceptual thinking, being ‘in the flow’ while making street photography, which is what first encouraged me to study photography seriously.

I would characterise these practices as experiential – there are concepts and philosophies that can only really be understood through experiencing their practice. They are not simply conceptual. I am interested in how I might use these ideas to shape my photography practice and whether there is a research perspective for my contextual studies work. Also, whether there is a genre connection to psychogeography in this thinking. For example Umberto Eco’s essay Critique of the Image proposes various codes of recognition in the process of perception . These introduce bias into the perception of the significance of things; what is important and therefore, what might be a worthy photographic subject. Contemplative thinking can help put aside these biases and help interact with objects in their pure form.

I begin this exploration with the book Photography and Zen by Stephen Bray . Notes are below. My reflections on the reading are:

  • Realising the ‘interconnectedness’ of self-other-thing as a totality changes both perception and behaviour. We no longer think of self and other but together. There is some Western philosophy that draws on these ideas that I should explore further – Fichte and his ideas of ‘inter-subjectivity’ and Schopenhauer and his ‘negation of desire’.
  • Bray offers a number of photographic influences. With Chögyam Trungpa in particular deserving further research.
  • On a practical level Bray suggests two traps of photography: 1) producing stereotypical images and 2) abandoning convention, making images to please only ourselves and becoming completely unconcerned about others – using the term ‘spiritual materialism’ to describe this. Finding a right way, he suggests, is between the two extremes. To me, some conceptual photography falls into the latter category.

Bray’s conclusion to the book is interesting ‘ one of the dangers of photography is that, whilst it enables expression …, it can also become a substitute for living’.



Book: modernity and postmodern culture

The CS course materials talk briefly about the concepts of modern and postmodern in the context of visual art. I often feel a woolliness when these areas are discussed; either that the person talking has not firmly grasped the meaning or that there is no solid meaning available to grasp.

Jim McGuigan’s Modernity and Postmodern Culture provides a wider discourse on the subject area (ie broader than visual art) and I looked to it for clarity. It is, incidentally available from the UCA library as an ebook. The text is dense and would serve as a useful reference. However, my reading this time was to coordinate myself.

Attached below is a mindmap of summarising ideas that were useful to me. I note as text a few points I wish to keep in mind and some useful quotations from the book itself.

Understanding that the terms modern and postmodern are primarily about ways of thinking about what is happening across all elements of culture (including the non-elite) and that any reference to material reality (including art) is secondary. So art itself is better understood as exhibiting certain characteristics of the terms rather than helping to define the terms. It is also helpful to think of the terms as not referring to a certain historical period, but as an attitude towards the present. Part of a model / system for thinking. So modern art may have been more popular in a certain period, but it does not preclude art that exhibits those characteristics being produced at any other time. And it is not to be conflated with intellectual discourse that continues outside of material fashions.

Post-modern is defined in terms of modern, so modern must be understood first. McGuigan explains that modernism is a legacy of the 18th century Enlightenment movement and quotes characteristics proposed by Peter Hamilton (ibid, 40):

  1. Primacy of reason and rationality, tempered by experience and experiment.
  2. Empiricism – all thought and knowledge is based on empirical facts (things humans understand through senses).
  3. Science is key to expanding all human knowledge.
  4. Universalism – reason and science can be applied to every and any situation.
  5. Progress – idea that condition of human beings could be improved.
  6. Individualism – concept of the individual being the starting point.
  7. Toleration – we are all essentially the same.
  8. Freedom – opposition to feudal and traditional constraints on belief, social interaction, sexuality etc.
  9. Uniformity of human nature – always and everywhere the same
  10. Secularism – frequently anti-clericalism.

While it might be impossible to meet all of these characteristics, the rationalist functionality materialised in architecture in particular: concrete tower blocks that largely proved to be uninhabitable. McGuigan references Charles Baudelaire (ibid, 46) as having an essentially aesthetic view of modernity, rather than expressing conditions of knowledge: ‘modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent’. There is an important distinction between the intellectual and the aesthetic.

Before moving to the postmodern, the author offers a personal view that the ‘project of intellectual modernity is revisable and, in theory, renewable … there were always alternative positions … contradictions … and struggle.’ This seems coherent within the characteristics quoted above – one wouldn’t expect its ideas to be fixed. However, perhaps for the purpose of labelling, some commentators prefer to fix them.

Postmodernism supersedes modernism, but into exactly what is uncertain, hence the open terminology ‘post-‘. Some ideas of what it might mean are noted in my mindmap. A whole chapter of the book is dedicated to Manual Castells’ The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, which is important to understanding our culture now in the context of the information age (notes in mindmap). Castells is quoted (ibid, 127):

Our world, and our lives, are being shaped by the conflicting trends of globalisation and identity. The information technology revolution, and the restructuring of capitalism, have induced a new form of society, the network society.

Castells’ work is concerned with the reshaping of the capitalist model and relations of production, power and experience through information technologies.

A quote from Ulrich Beck’s book Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity offers another perspective on postmodernism (ibid, 140):

… everything is ‘post’. We have become use to postindustrial … With postmodernism things begin to get blurred. The concept of post-Enlightenment is so dark even a cat would hesitate to venture in. It hints at a ‘beyond’ which it cannot name …

McGuigan later quotes Eric Hobsbawn (ibid, 164) with a similar view on the problematic ‘post’, ‘… when people face what nothing in their past has prepared them for they grope for words to name the unknown, event when they can neither define nor understand it …’. McGuigan, himself offers, ‘at its worst, postmodernism encourages and ironic detachment and nihilistic indifference when confronted with the complex problems of a rapidly changing world. At best it opens up new terrains of criticism …’

McGuigan concludes with a call for us to do more than simply throw our hands up at the absurdity of it all (the modern world) with the ‘ironic detachment which is the epitome of postmodernism’. He calls for different modes of reasoning for different functions (ibid, 171) – ‘instrumental reason is useful but blind. Ironic reason is fun but irresponsible. Critical reason is vital.’

I’ve not much concerned myself with visual culture in this post, but I think it will help me with an intellectual understanding of the modern and post-modern and allow me to better contextualise visual culture, which is secondary to the intellectual aspect. There is a connection here to my Self & Other level 2 critical essay, A very postmodern anxiety in which I express a dissatisfaction with the postmodernist critical perspective on photography. I will revisit this as I explore visual cultural aspects.



On Facebook

I dislike Facebook for many of the things it seems to represent. Particularly its primary guise as a well-meaning community that connects ‘friends’. Whereas its raison d’être is making money through data collected and the mediation of ‘news’, promotions, and opinions with little obligation for responsibility over the veracity of information. I watch with interest the current debates on social media regulation . Someone once commented that Guy Debord would have found the idea of a ‘facebook friend’ the pinnacle of the society of the spectacle.

As photographer interested in identity and therefore community, it is perhaps impossible to ignore Facebook as it has become a superhighway of communication and ‘groups’ can be a useful source of information about the interests of the online versions of physical communities. I’ve therefore set up a group for my body of work project @29Miles, mainly as a channel for interaction with Facebook groups related to the canal. For example the canal boat owners group could be a source for volunteers who are willing to be photographed on their boats (if I decide to advertise for volunteers, rather than relying on chance encounters). The group also provides a way for volunteers (ad hoc or otherwise) to validate my activity as a photographer.

The idea of a ‘Facebook’ community is perhaps something that could be referenced in my contextual work around identity.


Paul Hill: landscape photography is just not about the land – or photography

Another Paul Hill post – he’s struck a chord with me! I spotted this video when looking for something on John Blakemore, but a fellow student’s referencing of it in her Paul Hill study visit write-up prompted me to spend an hour or so watching it. It was time well passed

Notes taken as I watched are below. I’ve only typed what are the relevant points for me at this time.

Paul’s thinking about landscape and genre is unconventional and refreshing. He dislikes the concept of genres, describing them as ‘ambiguous and vacuous compartments’, suggesting that work should be ‘driven by the desire to say something, rather than to show something’. This is contrary to the view expressed by Bate considered in an earlier exercise. I’m with them both – they are necessary and useful in some contexts, but not to be taken too seriously or something to become too attached to. However, he does offer a description of landscape photography as, ‘everything you can see when you look across imagination and reality’. This reflects a psychogeographic and mindful approach to photography.

Towards the end of the video, Paul summarises his thoughts (after having bemoaned the clichés of landscape photography and ignorance of what it might be):

What you point your camera at is, of course crucial, but it is only the starting point of what could be a journey of self-discovery, rather than an exercise in making decorative clichés.




John Blakemore

During a recent OCA visit, Paul Hill recommended looking at the work of John Blakemore. I located a recording of John discussing his work at an ‘On-landscape’ conference . The video is over an hour long and features John talking through his journey in photography. I note a few lessons from his talk.

He once taught photography and described the ‘3 Rs’ of photography: Relationship (that this must be developed with your subject over time); Recognition (an eye for when and what to photograph); and Realisation (the process of bringing the work into the world). When he is not preparing for exhibition work, he realises his work through photo books that he makes himself. He talks about sequencing and using ‘formal devises to contain the flow’ and how he’s never been interested in the single image.

He is renowned for his monochrome prints and work and that is what appears when searching the web. Examples of this can be found in the Hyman collection . However, he talks about recent colour work and how he gives up control of everything to do with post-processing. His interventions at the point of capture and realisation in book form.

In his landscape work, he mentions focusing on details that imply the broader scene. This echoes the idea of knowing many things from one thing. He comments on enjoying the loss of scale that a small detail can contain – ‘transcending its obvious subject’. He is a photographer whose work is primary driven by the visual form; he doesn’t talk about the concept for his work, just what he wants to show (visually).

What struck me is how little interest Blakemore and Hill have in experimenting with photography technology. They appear to work with tried and tested tools – Blakemore commented that he only uses two lenses, a 50mm and a 90mm (both marco) and Hill that he prefers wider angle lenses; 28mm or 35mm. He in particular likes to be unencumbered by anything that restricts his ability to move freely in the landscape, so has always shot 35mm film (and now, I think, a digital Panasonic Lumix for colour work). I have a preference for wider angle lenses when out walking and making street photography. I like the idea of selecting one lens and sticking with it for my project – a consistency in angle of view throughout. I’m currently more inclined towards 50mm as it works better in drawing in specific areas of detail along the confines of a canal path, whereas the 35mm lens is more greedy in what it takes in.

Unfortunately, I could find no trace of Blakemore’s workshop contents online (or video of him running one), so I’m just left with Paul Hill’s mention of John asking everyone to sit with their eyes closed for 10 minutes and take in their surroundings before photographing the first thing that caught their attention. I could be described as a meditational practice – I was curious to see it in action!


Paul Caponigro

During a recent study visit, Paul Hill recommended looking at the work of landscape photographer Paul Caponigro. I found two useful resources; a YouTube video in which Caponigro talks about his relationship with photography and examples of his work on the website of a gallery representing him, including pdfs of catalogues .

Caponigro discusses his philosophy on photography in the YouTube video. He has what could be described as a mindful approach. He talks about Ansel Adams and Minor White as influences, but preferring White as he had a more spiritual approach; saying he looks at things not just for the actuality but what else they are. Caponigro suggests that to be a good photographer emotion is more important to work on than technique. He aims to ‘see everyday with fresh eyes’.

Caponigro’s work is concerned with the observation of the forms of nature, which his images sometimes show as other-worldly abstractions. This would reflect his mindful philosophy of seeing beyond the everyday. This quality in the images of showing something other than we might see in the familiar makes them compelling viewing.

If I think back to my earlier photography, my interest was mostly in the form of things. What studying photography has encouraged me to do is analyse images for meaning and theorise their context. Despite the mantra ‘shoot first, analyse later’, it is very difficult to resist left-brain take-over and enter a constant state of analysis. After all, formal education is dominated by the pursuit of logic and analysis. A bit like improvising on a musical instrument, I need to let go of the analysis while playing the camera and go with my instincts.


Paul Hill : study visit

Paul Hill in archive room of Birmingham Library
Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

Here are my reflections on the excellent OCA study visit to the Paul Hill archive in Birmingham library on 6 April. Thanks to Amano for organising it! Thank you to Paul for giving his time – I felt privileged to experience such an influential photographer speaking first hand about his work and photography in general. The notes include only points that I feel a need to address in my own practice – a full account of the day’s discussions and information that I absorbed would be too time consuming.

Hand written notes are below. I found the discussions around Paul’s monograph White Peak Dark Peak particularly valuable and focus mainly on those.

The monograph includes work made over a period of 10 years and is centred around Paul’s walking around his local Peak District Hills. It is shaped by a local perspective on the landscape – a connection and understanding developed through recurring visits over a long period of time. The antitheses of a photographer who might visit with the sole purpose of seeking the spectacular (for example the ubiquitous wispy waterfalls that frustrate Paul). Paul talked through individual photographs (shown as prints) and a mock up of the book. Printed versions of the book were also displayed.

In terms of Paul’s practice, he mentioned several times during the day ‘zen-like’ work. This, combined with photographs made during long walks and an instinctive reaction to what he sees, placed his work in the psychogeography genre in my mind. A place where I increasingly see my own work located, while struggling with the cumbersome term (one that Paul did not use himself). It is perhaps timely to revisit books on ‘zen’ photography and the relationship of psychology and photography as context for psychogeography. Paul also recommended looking at the work / practices of a couple of other photographers: Paul Capinegro and John Blakemore (10 minutes of eyes closed before photographing in workshops).

The work is all in monochrome, though Paul commented that he hasn’t shot monochrome since the 1990s and now works with digital colour. At the time, he was exploring the patterns in the land and worked on a post process that retained details in the mid-tones to reveal those patterns. This was also why skies were mostly absent – they weren’t his interest. Paul described himself as a formalist, interested in the visual appearance and not so much driven by the conceptual. Though acknowledging that there is inevitably an underlying concept, even if it is not the primary motivation for the work. I have a visual preference for full tonal ranges and enjoy that some areas might be lost in shadows – adding a sense of mystery or foreboding perhaps. However, Paul’s explanation of his practice at the time allowed me to understand why he chose to process the images how he did.

Paul spent considerable time talking through the mock-up of the book and his process for arriving at the layout and sequencing of the photographs. Including details of why he chose to place certain photographs together on spreads and when he chose to leave the space of a blank page. Much of this was to do with the subtle connection of form revealed in the photos. Central to the process was printing of images and laying them out on an open floor to take in an overview. He still works in this way today, despite being a big fan of Blurb for sharing personal work and making a mock up of his later monograph Corridor of Uncertainty , which he also talked through during the day. I’d been considering printing postcard sized versions of my own project work as it progresses – Paul’s practice has given me the final nudge.

A thoroughly enjoyable (if long day with my travel) that happily connected well with the current direction of my own practice.




Mark Power: on being on the road.

In the April 2019 issue of BJP, I read with interest Mark Power’s reflections on photographing on the streets as he travels across the USA . Some of his observations seem to serve as good advice to me as I begin my photographic journey.

Like other photographers, he emphasises the importance of printing work to get a sense of a project’s progress and guard against making the same pictures over again (ibid, p39). For my own practice, I intend to start making small prints of the work I think is of value so I can easily experiment with sequencing in the space I have available (and conserve paper).

There are some interesting comments on Power’s approach to working on the street. He says that he prefers to walk as ‘pictures collected on foot are naturally more subtle’ (ibid, p39), so rather than describe his project as a road trip, he prefers to call it ‘a series of urban hikes’. I’ve been thinking about the approach to the canal and the large stretches of emptiness between the towns it joins up. To capture the portrait element to the work, I think I will need to divert from the canal path into the surrounding urban areas (where there are more people). So the idea of attaching a ‘series of urban hikes’ to the canal route would be a good way of describing the approach.

Power concludes by discussing the complexity of projects and that the world ‘cannot easily be packaged in a simplistic way’ …

Discovering where [the] journey leads is probably the whole point of the trip. As Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard famously said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”.

In the OCA course material we are advised not to be in too much of a hurry to fix our projects in a particular direction, but to let them unfold. Kierkegaard’s aphorism is a nice way to remember!


Book: Psychogeography (pocket edition)

In the context of genres and placing my own work, I feel there may be some connection with psychogeography. When I think back to the beginning of my serious photography, it was in street photography and the pleasure of wandering unfamiliar streets. Though, I had not heard the term ‘psychogeography’ back then.

I read Merlin Covey’s book Psychogeography earlier in my OCA studies and revisited it now to understand more about the genre. I note here points relevant to my own work.

While psychogeography is strongly connected with Guy Debord and the Situationist International movement (founded 1957), Covey argues that its practice and reflection in literature (even if not labelled as such) pre-dates Debord with English writers like Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731). Particularly influential is Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which gets a nod in later psychogeographical works including the films of Patrick Keiller (London and Robinson in Space). Importantly, it is not a practice that should be too strongly attached to wandering the streets of Paris, even if that is where the term was coined. Debord defined the term: ‘Psychogeography – The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment , consciously organized or not , on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’ However, Covey is enthusiastic in connecting the practice to the streets of London and authors writing about those streets.

It is seen as a practice associated with city streets, kicking against the flows organised by town planners: ‘the mental traveller who remakes the city in accordance with his own imagination is allied to the urban wanderer who drifts through the city streets ; the political radicalism that seeks to overthrow the established order of the day is tempered by an awareness of the city as eternal and unchanging ; and the use of antiquarian and occult symbolism reflects the precedence given to the subjective and the anti – rational over more systematic modes of thought .’ . I may find following the route of a canal, even if I step away from it on occasion, a very different experience to wandering a multidimensional city. I think for a psychogeographic experience, it will be necessary to step away from the path and explore what lies around it in the towns and cities along the route. At the same time, wandering too far would make the work no longer about the canal. I feel that this would be the practices of a genre positively shaping my practice, rather than it being an adjustment of practice so the work better fits a genre.

The practice involves a mindful approach that challenges our usual perceptions, as Covey suggests, ‘transforming our experience of everyday life and replacing our mundane existence with an appreciation of the marvellous … street and the stroll was a crucial practice in its attempt to subvert and challenge our perceptions.’ . I think bringing a mindful or contemplative approach to my work will be important to its success – otherwise I could miss what is hidden in the banality of long empty stretches of little used industrial-age motorways.

Covey observes Debord’s concern about the ‘banalisation’ driven by modernity and mass consumerism, and alludes to the ‘spectacle’ – the essential emptiness of modern life is obscured behind an elaborate and spectacular array of commodities and our immersion in this world of rampant consumerism leaves us disconnected from the history and community that might give our lives meaning’. . I don’t yet know what I will find along the 29¼ route, but I suspect commercialism may be limited. I’m perhaps more likely to experience modernity through suburbanism. As psychogeography concerns itself with the negative psychological and geographic impact of modernism, my work could also be aligned to the genre through this.

Covey’s work concludes by examining psychogeography today, citing writers such as JG Ballard, Iain Sinclair and Patrick Keiller. Interestingly for my project, Ballard regards the ‘city as a semi-extinct form’, he thinks, ‘the suburbs are more interesting than people will let on … you find uncentered lives … more freedom to explore imagination and obsessions.’ . I think this thread and Ballard’s work is worth following up – the notion that the banality of the suburbs dissolves community and is replaced by self-obsession.

Covey’s book has cemented the idea that my own work could be placed in the psychogeography genre. Also, an interest in revisiting Robinson Crusoe (last read as a child) and looking at JG Ballard’s work.


Coverley, M. (2012) Psychogeography [Kindle edition]. (Amazon Kindle) (s.l.): Oldcastle Books.

Society of the Spectacle: Guy Debord

Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle was introduced in the course material within the context of psychogeography as a prominent text for the Situationist International movement, to which psychogeography links itself. I’ve owned a copy of the book for some time but confess have never read it as I was put off by the dense text and no real imperative to read it. However, as the ideas of psychogeography are relevant to my project, I’ve now read it and include a few notes here.

  • It is not just me who finds the text dense and I found out that this style was apparently typical of the Situationist movement. There is a Guardian online ‘Big Ideas’ podcast , in which the work is discussed and provides a simplified overview of the work.
  • While the book was originally published in 1967, it felt contemporary, as if Debord had predicted the future. It is a grim and relentless attack on the flaws of contemporary society as (or perhaps more) relevant today as it was in 1967.
  • The book is wide ranging in its scope, and my notes sketch only ideas that may be relevant to my work. The references are to the paragraph numbers – the whole book is labelled in this way, like a bible of discontentment.
  • ‘The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images’ . This understanding seems critical in the context of visual culture – it speaks to the idea that meaning is derived through culture and society, not through images themselves. It also plays to the deception that images convey reality and do not need reading or decoding. Therefore, Debord argues that ‘… life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation’ . Arguably, just parts of the world were once subsumed into religious ideology, many parts of the world are now under the spell of the spectacle (resulting from capitalist ideology).
  • Debord talks of a sense of alienation as the dominant images destroy understanding of life and what is important to self; ‘The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere’ . To me this connects to the mindful contemplation of space that is part of psychogeography – stepping back with a fresh perspective and trying to see things as they really are. It also speaks to the attraction of the spaces in edgelands (a canal can be one), where the spectacle is mostly absent – there is little commercial interest in these backwaters and they offer a place of escape.
  • As an aside, Debord references the ‘chronicle’, which one might equate to the ‘archive’, as ‘the expression of the irreversible time of power … the owners of history have given time a direction, a direction which is also a menaing’ . This echoes Allan Sekula’s thoughts on the archive.
  • Chapter VII deals with territorial domination and is particularly relevant to my work.
    • Tourism ‘the opportunity to go and see what has been banalised’ . I’m not sure that holidays on canals (at least in the UK are hugely popular as ‘there is nothing to see’).
    • Urbanism is the modern method for solving the ongoing problem of safeguarding class power by atomising the workers who have been dangerously brought together ..’. As one walks the edgelands, there is an awareness of the urban sprawl and the apparent absence of community spaces within the ‘mass of thinly spread semi-urban tissue’. It had not occurred to me that this might be by design, rather than economic disinterest.
  • Finally, I mention Debord’s definition of culture; ‘is the general sphere of knowledge and of representation of lived experences within historical societies divided into classes.’

I’m pleased that I eventually read this book as it contains some special thinking that looks outside of what we are immersed within. It helps articulate what many people may intuitively feel about the world and explains an attraction to the edgelands.


Social definition of photography: Pierre Bourdieu

This work was originally published in 1965 and features in Visual Culture: a reader . It addresses the question of photographic genres in the context of popular culture and how photography is defined socially. While the language and the division of critical perspectives along class lines now seems archaic, the discussion remains relevant. Potentially it has heightened relevance in a contemporary context, in which images are shared prolifically online.

I note aspects of interest to me at this time:

  • ‘… that which is visible is only ever that which is legible’ . If we cannot read or understand a photograph it remains invisible. The ability to read or understand is partly dependent on education and experience, and the implications of limitations are explored by Bourdieu.
  • Building on the idea, Bourdieu argues that while popular reading of photographs might embrace the idea that they agree to reality, it is not the case. However, to be read successfully, they need to conform ‘with rules which define its syntax within its social use’ , otherwise they are not understood and dismissed. Anyone who has taken a photo of something mundane is likely to have experienced this. He explains that popular photographic aesthetic is based on prohibiting certain possibilities (eg photographing into the light, or blur) and anything that fails to acknowledge these rules may be read as a failure. Therefore, if non-conforming work is to have any chance of being read broadly, it needs to be explained and appropriately situated. Perhaps in a genre that connects it with art rather than the vernacular.
  • Bourdieu discusses the idea of ‘natural poses and postures’ and observes that these are based on cultural ideals of what is natural, rather than actualities. And that the cultural ideas often reflect norms stemming from social relationships. For example, ‘the convergence of looks and the arrangement of individuals objectively testifies to the cohesion of the group’
  • Popular judgement of photos is then against norms, ‘whose principle is always ethical’ . Bourdieu explains that genres help to situate photographs amongst the norms and ‘the ordinary use of photography almost completely excludes any concern for the universality of the picture … [and is concerned] with what it is for one person or for a group of people.’ . As artistic photographs might escape conventional genres/categorisation, unless they can be placed as ‘a competition photograph’ – it then has a social function.
  • Bourdieu discusses a technology aesthetic, which seems prevalent in contemporary vernacular photographs and camera clubs. He sums up, ‘the judgement of taste is the appraisal of a disparity between the realisation … and a real idea or model.
  • In concluding the essay, Bourdieu discusses the legitimacy of various creative activities in the sphere of art, placing photography in a category that is fighting for that. He suggests that ‘it is no accident that passionate photographers are always obliged to develop the aesthetic theory of their practice, to justify their existence as photographers by justifying the existence of photography as a true art’

While the work was written over half a century ago and photography is widely accepted into the art establishment, my feeling that this acceptance is not universal or understood – photography is increasingly open to everyone at the level of pressing a button on a camera or phone to make some kind of image. Whereas it is self-evident that playing a musical instrument, for example, is more of a rarified activity.

What is slightly concerning that this need to justify and theorise can perhaps take over the activity of making images. Where does the analysis stop and the image making begin – do we choose to be photography theorists or photographers? Perhaps there needs to be just enough theory to justify the work we make as art.


Bourdieu, P. (1999) ‘The social definition of photography: Pierre Bourdieu’ In: Evans, J. and Hall, S. (ed.) Visual culture: the reader.London ; Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications in association with the Open University. pp.162–180.

Responding to the archive: Nicky Bird

The BoW course material includes Sharon Boothroyd’s interview with photographic artist Nicky Bird in which they discuss Bird’s use of the archive. For reference, Bird’s work can be viewed on her website . As I read, I attempted to distill the attraction of working with archives:

  • By their very nature, there is an element of nostalgia – they involving looking back to a past time that is perhaps perceived to be better than the present. While an artist may not feel or intend to be nostalgic, nostalgia is a powerful trigger in viewers (as commercial advertisements anecdotally suggest).
  • Discovering something previously ‘hidden’ creates an interesting and even exciting narrative. ‘It was lost but now it has been found’. A redemption or intrigue. There was something of this in Taryn Simon’s work also.
  • When working with source negatives or prints (as Bird did with some of her work), there is the possibility of discovering alternative readings of photographs, which had perhaps been heavily cropped for the purposes of publication in magazines or journals.
  • When dealing with analogue prints (as opposed to digital screen copies) there is a physical connection through touching and feeling to the past that ‘brings home that this is part of someone’s life’. I intend to work more with physical objects in my up coming work – I’m perhaps experiencing a digital / screen fatigue, with convenience and portability giving way to a wish for physical connection. Something perhaps to research as cultural development.
  • Working with found photographs or an archive, inevitably involves a process of collecting and organising. In general activities that involve collecting are popular – they perhaps speak to a sense of bringing order or control to a life that otherwise appears chaotic. There maybe some comfort in this.
  • Finally, for Bird, ‘it is connected with class’. The importance of social history in understanding social structures and thinking beyond the experience in which we are currently immersed and may find difficult to see beyond or question as it becomes normative. This aspect requires careful contextualisation of the archive for it to become of real value – something that could be difficult with found photographs. I examined Allan Sekula’s concerns about the archive and they are relevant to this aspect.

When I begin to research my 29 Miles project, I’ll be looking at archives and historical reference material. Even if I don’t use them in my work (I’m not currently planning to), this thinking about archives will perhaps help me be better prepared to read them.


Allan Sekula on reading an archive – the clearing houses of meaning?

I’ve always felt disquiet when viewing archives, but have never been able to understand quite why. Allan Sekula’s essay Reading an archive: photography between labour and capital has helped my understanding. With the separation of authorship and control a space is opened with the potential for representation, misrepresentation, self-interest; a ‘clearing house of meaning’ . In the extreme, there is the potential for the archive to erase the original meaning. Conflations of meaning that are difficult to unpick.

Sekula uses the example of the archive of a commercial photographer, Leslie Shedden, from a mining town, to critically examine the archive concept. He observes that it is not unreasonable to label photographers the ‘proletarians of creation’, with the power resting with the owners of the archives – free to change meanings as images (or even the whole archive) is exchanged. But an archive is a convenient banquet of images, so how should we consume it while being fully aware of what we are doing?

These are the points, I’ll aim to keep in mind:

  • ‘meaning is not extracted from nature, but from culture’ – knowing and understanding the original context for images included in an archive seems important.
  • the archive has a quasi-capitalist perspective, organised through bureaucratic processes, and is not generally of the people. Archives ‘maintain a hidden connection between knowledge and power’ . They can ‘disguise history as representation over interpretation’ and extend cultural dominance. Being aware of power and its influence on representation may be advisable when viewing archives.

Sekula considers how Shedden’s work might be used in the context of an archive and the difficulties with various approaches and photographic culture itself. He describes conflicting directions as ‘a dualism between the myth of objective truth on one side and art / subjective experience on the other’ . Ultimately, Sekula suggests that ‘we need to understand how photography works within everyday life in advanced industrial societies: the problem is one of materialist cultural history rather than art history’ . In other words, if the critical perspective used doesn’t encompass the actuality of a situation, it struggles as a basis for analysis.

I’m not sure that there is much to recommend in becoming to attached to the meaning of a polysemous photograph, but there is something to be said about properly understanding what is being presented as authoritative. Like reading a newspaper, some scepticism is advised.


Sekula, A. (1999) ‘Reading an archive: photography between labour and capital’ In: Evans, J. and Hall, S. (ed.) Visual culture: the reader.London: Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications in association with the Open University. pp.181–192.

Taryn Simon – which genre?

Taryn Simon is introduced in the BoW course materials. I followed a trail and stopped at a TED Talk of Simon discussing and showing her work . Her work is investigative – she explores hidden sites and deception through images. She says that her interest is in ‘the space between image and text’. And has a compelling hook to explain that, ‘at best image floats away into abstract fantasy, but text acts as a cruel anchor that nails it to the ground’. This creates a brutal image, but her work The Innocents speaks to what can happen if the limitations of images are not recognised. It deals with wrongful convictions based on the misuse and careless use of photographic evidence. Her closing remark is, ‘distortion is a constant and our eyes are easily deceived’.

How might this type of work (The Innocents) be situated in within the genres proposed for this course? It features tableau but its main thrust seems to be conceptual – how images mislead. So the categorisation doesn’t work that well in this case. If I call it portraiture overlaid by the conceptual (traditional genre, with meta-genre) it is clearer. If I use Terry Barrett’s categories and call it ‘ethically evaluative’ it goes direct to the function of the photos in this case. This serves as an example of the shortcomings of labelling, using work that highlights the limitations of photography.

I found Simon’s work fascinating and an example of how text is essential to the understanding of some work. Without context to explain, the concept would have been missed. While I enjoyed the work, it is not an approach that appeals to me – as she says herself, she spends very little time making photographs and most of her time trying to get access to people and places.


Staged photography: Jeff Wall

A brief note on a brief video of Jeff Wall advocating for staged photography at SFMoMA . Having come from looking at the extreme of Gregory Crewdson’s work, it was interesting to listen to Wall advocating a middle ground and observing that a lot of photography is staged (eg some of Cartier-Bresson’s). His point is that it should not be thought of a choice between staged and straight photography but as a continuum, with different positions along it.

This is an important concept for my own work, where I’m concerned with people not looking as if they are staged. However, I should perhaps be thinking more in terms of staging people, without them looking staged. This thinking changes my process to one of increased intervention, but with the specific aim of work not looking as if it is staged.


Research point: Gregory Crewdson

In the context of ‘tableaux vivants’ (living pictures) as opposed to ‘nature morte’ (dead nature – still life), I look at the work of Gregory Crewdson.

For this research, I watched a 50 minute lecture by Crewdson, in which he also shared his images on screen. It was hosted by Haggerty Museum of Art and shared on YouTube . I took notes, with times in the video noted in the left margin – attached below.

Crewdson’s work is hugely influenced by cinema and he mentions Close Encounters and Blue Velvet in particular as having influence on his own work. He talks about a tension between beauty and sadness and stillness and unease and wanting to create work that is somewhere between the real and the cinematic. While he enjoys the narrative qualities of cinema, he explains that he was drawn to photography because of its limitations in conveying narrative; how it leaves open ended questions. This works with his aim of representing tension.

While I’m already familiar with Crewdson’s work, I was unaware of the extent of his engagement with cinematic processes in making his images that he discusses. For example the use of sound stages to create buildings and rooms from scratch based on architectural drawings, and the use of snow/rain/fog machines. His work Beneath the Roses took 8 years to make, ‘on a cinematic scale’.

Crewdson talks about his cinematic approach to post-production and how he can take months compositing a single image (‘why they have amazing focus’). Also, how the final image will have little connection to the actuality of what he saw. While post-production is seen as a separate and significant event by many photographers, Crewdson’s seems close to cinema.

While I have neither the means or inclination to embark on tableau vivant to the scale and complexity of Grewdson, I’ve gradually become more interested in staging photographs (during Self and Other) and may well do so in my upcoming work.





The OCA BoW materials briefly discusses genres and outlines what are called traditional genres before proposing ‘narrative genres’ that are said to have become common phrases used by artists. It is these narrative genres that the course material intends to work with. The inference could be that they displace or are more relevant than traditional genres. What we call things is important, and here I reflect on the use of genres before moving on to look at how work might fit within genres.

Attached are some short notes. In making these I also referred to Terry Barrett’s book Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images , in which he discusses genres at length and also proposes his own system for categorising photographs (not photographers).


The important messages for me is that ‘genres’ have developed based on different descriptive / categorisation needs. It is not necessarily that one approach is better than another, more that they serve different purposes. I would suggest that the genres mentioned by the OCA can be thought of as meta-genres; genres about the traditional genres, referring to the narrative structures within the traditional genres. Barrett’s own approach proposes functional categorisation, describing how the images are being used (they could transition between genres depending on context), which is related to how a photography might be read or decoded.

I understand that labels and categories are helpful to enable us to make sense of the world, but they inevitably simplify by introducing a binary dimension to complex texts. I feel it helpful to use genres, but to also keep in mind their purpose and limitations.


Paul Hill, MBE

I’m beginning to think about the upcoming study visit, OCA Study day: Library of Birmingham archive room with photographer Paul Hill. Before thinking about any work in progress I might like to take along to the event, I’ve looked at Paul’s work. I have his book Approaching Photography and Hill’s own website is generous in sharing information and examples of his work .

My notes from a quick reading of the book are attached. It is intended to be a primer and the material dates from the 1980s (reissued 2004), but includes advice and suggestions that I still find relevant. Hill concludes by reminding us that the authenticity of our way of seeing is pivotal to the value of our photographs – after an earlier caution that ‘intention can be destroyed by flashy techniques that have little substance …’. In the upcoming study visit, it would be interesting to ask him, what advice he might add to the book now we are immersed in an internet and mobile media age.

Hill’s website includes some of his writing as well as examples of his work. What he has to say on ‘style’ is important to the idea of ‘finding a voice’. He says ‘Style gives an image that visual impact that acts like a magnet to the eyes . Stylists make ‘showstoppers’ through their command or subversion of conventional techniques that expose us to unique ways of seeing . Their personal signatures are more compelling than the subject matter alone .’ . I feel this could add a critical perspective to my upcoming consideration of ‘genre’.

I enjoyed viewing Hill’s work online – it looks like an embodiment of the advice he offers in his book; unique and authentic. There is a good online display of his White Peak Dark Peak work at the Hyman Collection . The sky is absent from many of the photos, giving a perspective on the land without the drama and distraction of sky. Incomplete from the perspective of the eye in an actual landscape, but more complete as a photographic perspective.

Notes on book



Research folder set up (Zotero)

After some research and a discussion thread with other students, I decided on the Zotero application for my research folder (required for this course and to be submitted as part of assessment). Things I liked:

  • Free and widely used across the academy
  • Integration with sites (through the Zotpress plugin) – note that it is not available for So generating any inline citations can be done from the research folder, ensuring it stays complete. Also automatically generates bibliography in a post based on the citations.
  • Large attachment files can be linked rather than using up limited free Zotero cloud space (I’m using OCA GoogleDrive for any large files). This should avoid upgrading Zotero cloud storage, but it is not expensive if needed in the end.
  • Extensions for web browsers that allow links to online resources to be automatically sent to research folder.
  • Plugin for MS Word for essay citations and bibliography
  • Built in formatting for UCA Harvard referencing
  • Ability to set research library up as a ‘group’ so that tutors and assessors can be provided a link to access online, including any attachment documents.

A rough diagram of my configuration that I used to help my understanding during set-up:


Update note (diagram): after some use, I decided to use Zotero’s own cloud storage for scanned documents. Attaching reduced sized pdfs should make the free storage sufficient for my purposes and if it proves necessary the first level upgrade is just £20/year. I have more faith in maintaining the integrity of my online research folder this way, than spreading attachments to a Google Drive.

Here is an example of an intext citation using the Zotpress widget . A short code link is generated through the Zotero Reference widget (installed into sidebar) from a search of the Zotero research folder.

Automatic bibliography

This is automatically generated from the citations in the post, using a shortcode

Skim Contextual Studies materials

What struck me is this requires good organisation from the outset – there needs to be a trail of everything read over a large amount of material. The requirement for a ‘research folder’ to be kept and submitted as part of assessment wasn’t something I’d anticipated – something I’ll check with others on what they found works / any difficulties encountered.

I plan to put a process in place so the organisation of materials takes care of itself as I progress and I can hopefully then focus on the analytical and creative areas of writing.


Skim BoW course materials

Good to get familiar with the materials before starting work. It’s going to be a very different way of working to the previous course modules. How will I know when it is finished? is important for me – not much risk of procrastination, but I’m often keen to move on to the next idea so need to guard against that and under-producing. This time the end is the end and the result is the result. A journey to be enjoyed and engaged with profoundly!