Assignment One – Research, exploration and development

Assignment one – Local Communities

Read “The Photographic Brief” in Short,M. (2011) Creative photography context and narrative Lausanne:AVA Publishing, pp20-26…

The photographic brief

The first few lines may sound obvious but it is always good to remind ourselves that the brief itself ‘defines the context of the final output and, depending upon the nature of the brief, may also contain relevant information regarding conceptual approach.’ Within this chapter ‘the brief’ was broken down into three types; the student brief; the self-directed and the professional. The notes for students is obviously very relevant and a useful reminder for good practice. I’d like to think that the reading and research undertaken so far has given me some ideas on how to approach the topic I have chosen but I shall have to see after I start taking photographs. Throughout my preparation I have used colleagues at work to bounce ideas off, especially the art department where I have a good rapport with the art and photography staff. I also occasionally pose questions on the OCA forums and facebook page but don’t always get that many replies, but those received are always taken into consideration.

With the self-directed brief the relevant suggestions for me were to always be prepared to deviate from your initial ideas and allow time for new directions to evolve and develop. I like the idea of choosing a place and photographing it at the same time to see whether it is the time or place that is interesting, unfortunately with the time limits set to complete assignments this one isn’t so practical ;o) However, photographer Michelle Sank also commented on how important it is for her to have interaction  and to be ‘very connected’ to her subjects.

The professional brief explains how important it is to discuss conceptual, practical and financial considerations, gathering as much information as possible at the first point of contact. It is important that a brief is responded to in an appropriate manner and as Ansel Adams stated a photograph is:

a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed…

so I guess once again you ought to semi enjoy or thoroughly research that which you are capturing.

Having read this chapter I can see why the first assignment is to photograph something we know. In theory this should help us create images that convey meaning and enable us to be able to change direction if something is not panning out as hoped and  still have an idea of how to visually present it as it is a subject we know well.

I continued to read on and have made the following comment both here and within the exercise on semiotics:

Short continues in Chapter 3 by commenting on the process of picture making and how the photographer’s connection to the subject can influence the audience responses and reactions. Once again emphasising how important it can be to have intimate knowledge about your chosen subject, or at least a passion about it. She references Don McCullin, Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland.

Don McCullin, from an interview he gave for The Guardian in May 2010; he realised he changed from being a ‘gung-ho’ war photographer into someone who cared more about what he was capturing than securing approval from his peers or employers and climbing the career ladder, when he was covering the Biafran War in 1969. She writes: it occurred to him that his purpose should be to highlight the unacceptable. (p70)

Of Berenice Abbott’s love of New York after a decade in Paris McCausland wrote: Only from passion and fantastic passion does any sense of reality in art, or life, come. (p73)

This course is research heavy, there is a lot of theory to read and digest but as Liz Wells  tells us ‘theory informs practice.’ (1997, p.3)

The brief – to produce a small photo essay of 10 images that demonstrates my engagement with the lives, experiences and histories of my local community and its people, the one lens and one focal length again no problem …the short commentary…no sweat once done (!) printing, that I can also do within reason…need to service my printer I think or check out 3rd party outlets…the Aims bit…this may prove a bit tricky as I work too hard to get OUT into the local community and am rather antisocial…be an active participant-observer… more shudders…but on thinking about it there are a few opportunities I could explore…thinking of my links with scouting/uniformed groups….private tutoring, as long as I get permission to photograph…relationship with local shopkeepers…a few ideas to develop on perhaps. This was summed up by the quote in Context and Meaning from George Rodger, British photojournalist who said:

You must feel an affinity for what you are photographing. You must be part of it, and yet remain sufficiently detached to see it objectively. Like watching from the audience a play you already know by heart.

Then the reflection..again that I can do..usually the “oh my gosh what a load of rubbish I’ve created” but it’s a reflection none the less…

Before reading the chapter outlined within the coursework I had a quick read of the first chapter, ‘The Photograph,’ which was easy to follow, echoed some of the points from previous research and backed up some of my own theories about images; how or why they are taken. Relating directly to this was the following quote:

Successful photographs are a result of the photographer engaging, on both practical and conceptual levels, with a set of criteria relating to the context of the photograph and the brief. Short, M. (2011, p9.)

My first step after reading “The Photographic Brief” was to determine what exactly was meant by local community, I know that sounds quite strange but in looking up the various definitions it certainly sparked ideas of different groups to approach. As mentioned above my first thoughts were to utilize my links in the local scouting/network groups or to approach local shopkeepers. The Network was straight forward as I have links to them. As for the shopkeepers? This I would have done by writing a set letter to a large number, then calling in person or telephoning ahead to make sure that I could call in at a convenient time. Being that my life is pretty hectic during the days and also three evenings a week, although I really liked this idea I didn’t know if I would have the time to complete it…maybe an idea for another time. I contacted Russell, my tutor, with my thoughts and suggested areas of research:

Initial Idea

At 19 my son is a member of the local Network group, which meets on a Monday, and is currently obtaining his DBS to be a Scout Leader on a Thursday, helping out at the group which he has attended since a Beaver.

To a lesser or greater extent I have also been involved due to fundraisers for trips to Austria, Switzerland, Namibia etc, attended Church Parades, Quiz Nights ….. I’ll look at some photographers who were embedded within communities, like Chris Killip and Martin Parr with The Non-Conformists, and maybe some more recent bodies of work showing the “young people of today.” Next week they are doing a “Ready, Steady, Cooking with Fire” and I have already asked if I can come photograph the activity…should provide a variety of opportunities to play with shooting at night, camp fires, team work and the eclectic mix that is Nathan’s Network Group! If I don’t capture enough from that one evening there will be other planned activities over the next few weeks… or I have a huge pile of rubbish in my garden that needs burning to be able to repeat the exercise! Hopefully should be able to complete within a few weeks as long as I get some decent shots.

He came back advising me that these seemed sound ideas, to also check out Chris Steele Perkins (which I have done) I really like his work can see how it would fit into the context of my ideas for assignment one…especially his set of images for Open for Business which could tie in with shops, also his use of the props which help identify character traits/occupations in both Open for Business and A Place in the Country, blog entry to follow at some point.

I had, in May last year, attended a friends 25th Wedding Anniversary party where her son and his friend ‘played’ with wire wool and fire poi, having taken a few shots with my new camera – first shoot in the dark and not knowing where the buttons were or what they did – I felt confident I could improve on these for some bonfire/sparkler shots…

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Decision made, I jotted down why I thought the Network Assignment would work within the parameters of this brief:

  • they are an association
  • share and have certain attitudes and interests in common
  • I can gain access
  • I can gain permission to shoot
  • opportunities to re-shoot if necessary
  • opportunities for varied shots
  • mixed genders and ages
  • possible opportunities to cover different activities
  • they agreed I could shoot it
  • they wanted to use my back garden for the activity

The activity night chosen to cover was Ready Steady Cooking with Fire
reasons for this activity:

  • opportunity to use creative lighting
  • simple narrative to cover of a themed activity night
  • reveal other side to pre-conceived ideas of “the youth of today”
  • reveal both sides the responsible side – cooking- the relaxed side – drinking and campfire songs after
  • mix of characters showing different strengths, leadership qualities and personalities

I created a storyboard of different images I could go for, did a little more background research into photographing fire did all the camera pre-checks, choice of lens, clean lens, full battery, tripod…just had to wait and shoot it. I chose to initially use my 24-70mm 2.8 lens at a focal length of 50mm as it would enable me to take some wider shots than at 70mm (obviously), group shots etc, and I could crop in for final images if needed. I would have to be careful about shooting portraits too close as 50mm focal length on a full frame can cause slight distortion. From using a 50mm lens and reading some articles online it is useful for street photography, full-body portraits, walk-around shooting, all of which I could possibly be wanting to shoot in the style of.

It is also a focal length that falls within the ‘standard’ range and I wasn’t looking to achieve any really close macro shots (although you can get fairly close and then crop in for smaller detail to a certain extent and I love the really shallow dof you can achieve) nor distorted wide angle images.

I do have a 50mm 1.8 lens but it does not like the dark very much and can ‘hunt’ for a while before focusing. I find now that my eyesight is going and wearing varifocal glasses I rely more on auto focus than ever before. Even though I set the dioptric adjustment I’m not that confident anymore to manually focus and also speed would possibly be of the essence with some shots.

Problems encountered

Ha! Best laid plans of mice and men (and photographers!) If it could go wrong it will go wrong:

  1. Despite telling my son it was going to rain all week and to cover the firewood he only did so two nights before meaning it was all a bit damp, being kind, and wanting to be able to shoot something, I gave him some money to buy some dry logs
  2. We did have a huge tree cut down in the spring which was dry but needed chopping, it was agreed, in advance that one of the lads would be bringing a large portable light from his garage and an axe, and would chop it up on the night, good chance to shoot action shots with different lighting – he didn’t, so I didn’t…
  3. The activity, Ready Steady Cooking with Fire…the young lady who was supposed to be running this evening had to work late…activity cancelled
  4. Different activity would take place, completing building a game they had started to make the previous week, still pile round to mine as they love a bit of a fire and a singsong..they turned up but had decided among themselves to not bother with that in the dark but to just enjoy beer and fire…
  5. Ok. I thought, capture them sitting around laughing and joking, do a re-run the following week if possible with the actual activity… but no…my son hadn’t ordered the Magic Mystic Fire or picked up sparklers as promised and in running to the local Firework shop that afternoon discovered it was only open at weekends until it was closer to 5th November…
  6. We lit the bonfire…which was more smoke than flame..I had a beer or two to drown my sorrows… and went back to the drawing board…

Back to the drawing board! I decided to run with another idea that I had initially dismissed, not that the shoot itself would be easy, it would actually be quite challenging to do successfully, but the access was fairly straight forward. Once again I contacted Russell to keep him updated:

Second Idea

As I mentioned in my introductory email I work in school as a learning support as well as a cover supervisor. As an LSA I work very closely with students with … individual educational needs  and I work very closely within the school community supporting these kids and helping them access the school curriculum and in some cases a more active social life. Obviously I have more access than most to behind the scenes stuff in a school and it made me think about Taryn Simon, who photographed hidden places in America; Alec Soth’s use of landscape and ephemera sparked some ideas.  Also having been to a William Eggleston talk was thinking about how he photographed the “banal” and “everyday” and how a lot of school things that appear that way can be a huge challenge for my students. My challenge would be how to show their difficulties, traits and personalities through the way we support them without actually photographing them, permissions and safe-guarding etc. I have some ideas that hopefully will prove workable. This should cover the local community bit, my participation in it, and how passionately I feel about the topic.

As well as looking into the above mentioned photographers I did a quick peek at Paul Kenny. Although a landscape photographer I really liked the way he photographs the same places over many years and documents how they are changing and the impact that humanity is having on them. This made me consider the impact that I have on the lives of my students. In one of his bodies of work he uses images that he originally discarded which resonated as well as his use of square cropping and square panels to make collages. Reminds me of how we try to fit people and students into boxes, pigeon-hole them, square pegs in round holes. I am on the mailing list for Beetles and Huxley and a while back he had an exhibition there, I was lucky enough to buy the catalogue which is exquisitely put together. Grahram Clarke writes ‘the square format…suggests a voyeurism…as well as making the entire space of the photograph of equal significance.'(1997)

Alec Soth also came to mind as he captured the lives of people living outside of society.

Fortunately he thought this may work and asked for some preliminary shots so that’s where I am at…about to mail some over and see what the feed back is…

Assignment one – Local Communities Take 2

Second decision  made, I again jotted down why I thought the school idea would work within the parameters of this brief:

  • the school is an institution
  • it has the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common – both with staff and students
  • having a particular characteristic in common – individual educational needs
  • demonstrates my engagement with the lives and experiences of my local community and its people
  • I have access
  • easily have permission to photograph school building etc – would have to gain extra permission to use the students – so an interesting challenge along the lines of the photographers within the Time & Motion Studies  exhibition, to try and communicate an idea about the world with a subject that isn’t obviously photogenic. Also use the inspiration of Martha Rosler’s The Bowery  where she did not include images of the people just their surroundings and various artifacts, and Taryn Simon who photographed places the general public never or rarely have access to.


Initial ideas of what to photograph:

  • hidden things – physical and metaphorical
  • barriers to learning – physical and metaphorical
  • inside shots
  • outside shots
  • different lighting
  • equipment used to support
  • close up shots of books
  • observational skills around the building, look for the unusual in the obvious
  • unusual perspectives
  • different times of day
  • individual invigilation rooms

As with the previous attempt I created a storyboard of different images I could go for, did a little more background research into the photographers mentioned above as well as taking on board many things read during the coursework exercises. Like Quentin Tarrantino I decided to be a thief picking up inspiration from many directions:

I steal from every single movie ever made,” Tarantino once said in an interview with Empire magazine. “If my work has anything, it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together.”

My learning log page has all other research and thought processes documented.

I made my choice of lens, made sure it was clean, that I had a full battery, tripod, cable release etc…and went off to shoot. In this instance I chose to use my 1.8 50 mm lens as I possibly wanted to take advantage of the very shallow depth of field it offers and I could still crop in for final images if needed. It is also smaller, lighter and less obtrusive when wandering around.

Like a flâneur I wandered around the school, inside and out, thinking about closed doors, locks, and barriers – all physical barriers which prevent all of us from accessing people and places. I went along one Sunday morning as it was slightly misty, the school was locked and I hoped to gain inspiration from things hidden from plain sight, from not being able to get close to things and feeling some of the frustrations that must be experienced by some of our students when they don’t understand, bit like me reading Sekula on first glance! As well as photographing certain things that might have appeared obvious I wanted everything within the frame to be there for a reason and for some of them to have to be read into. As I walked around the school different ideas formed, I gradually moved away from the obvious locks and barrier ideas, came up with more metaphorical images and creative ways in which to show my presence. I used long exposure and reflections as well as some of the work I wrote to assist the students.

As I was unable to photograph the students directly I wanted to either reveal their difficulties, or their characters, and somehow the methods employed to assist them. As a single parent working part time within the school I also work several evenings a week and this impacts greatly on my time to photograph and study, so I grabbed the very few evenings available to me after school to quickly snap some test shots, no tripod etc, did a brief edit of what I had taken, disregarded those I didn’t like straight away and emailed the rest to Russell, as requested, with brief explanations:

 I’m going to send you some test shots for the assignment, some I am fairly happy with as they stand, others I know they are just ‘test’ shots and were snapped to see if the idea would work. I want to re-shoot using a tripod and remote release so I can get a better position or depth of field, bearing in mind with some I am shooting indoors and don’t really want to be using a flash. I also decided that I wanted to crop the images square and some were not taken to be able to do so! I put them into the email as I wanted to have the explanation with them images but if you prefer them sent as attachments or uploaded to my blog etc etc (which I will do in due course to show my thought processes) please let me know.


I made this decision, to crop square, based on the idea that with our students they don’t always see the whole picture and neither do some of the teachers/the rest of society when they look at them. The saying ‘square peg round hole’ and a ‘one size fits all education’ keeps cropping up so I feel the square crop is apt. From an early stage they get categorized and put into boxes and people don’t always see their individuality, especially with students with ASD who vary greatly.

The images I particularly want to re-shoot are the plastic boxes. Within the IEN dept we have plastic boxes for our students rather them using lockers, as it assists with their organization. From the outside they look the same (just like kids in uniform) but when you open them up they are so very different inside. I want to re-shoot the row of three so I can crop it square. I want to re-shoot the boxes photographed from above for the same reason, also because the lighting is not uniform, I want to stand them on a plain white or black background and I want to have more depth of field, or experiment and see what works better by taking several to find out.


The night shot is not particularly sharp so would like to re-do, or scrap maybe. Totally wrong aperture…but was hand held and, as I say, a snapped test shot. The idea behind the initial shot is that we open doors, handy member of staff willing to open the door, and get them to reflect on their learning – reflections in puddles- and hopefully shed light upon any issues they have. I need it to rain again if I am to re-do :o) I also have some other ideas that I would possibly like to shoot this week to give me some more choices of edits to use, to show how we help our dyslexic students or those who use personal laptops for assessments/exams.




I have taken several different shots of our school field through railings to show that some of our students have difficulty accessing sport – our school quite heavily supports sport especially rugby. I have made a triptych of the same view but taken with varying aperture to show different depth of field, this illustrates that although many may have difficulties their degree of difficulty is not the same. The other two shots do something similar so I need to make a choice. I rather liked the spider’s web which continue the visual metaphor of feeling trapped or caught in a situation you can’t escape from. I think I prefer the blue gate due to the round hole in the lock to the other single shot but I like the creativity of the triptych.


I shot the barrier to the school car park/entrance from an unusual perspective to underpin how, as learning support, we have to approach barriers from a different direction.


The Press button for Reception sign is cropped to reveal the problems some have asking for help or even seeing that help is available, all they see is the big black barrier in their way to the place they need to be.


Back in the IEN where we work 1:1 with a few students we have posts and help signs on the wall to help them communicate, one is a numbered list that they can indicate at what point they are ok, or stressed. I cropped this image deliberately with negative space in the centre to underscore the difficulties they may have with their social skills and how we try to close that gap. I think I’d also like to re-shoot this as it looks a little soft as well, but maybe that’s just eyes are getting a bit tired!


Not so sure of this one, I liked the idea but not sure it works as an image, too much furniture in the room to get the angle I really wanted…I like diagonal of the chairs but not sure the pattern can be seen and all it looks like is a grubby floor! Hmm I don’t know maybe if I look at it again later it may look better :o) I do like it as it is the only actual classroom shot….Basically lino has been placed over existing parquet flooring and as the terms have gone on and the floor gets more worn and grubbier, the pattern begins to show through…the ‘creative’ idea behind that was something about hidden details, hidden talents, I mean parquet flooring is lovely and they have slapped lino over the top! Guess it was too badly damaged to repair..and that is where my mind was going. Sometimes teachers write these kids off but we persevere and they get the academic results they need and become well-rounded adults. 


In case of emergency…sums it up really! There are days when all we want/need is a sugar fix! This is permanently pinned to our office notice board along with thank you cards from grateful parents and students. I thought this showed humour, which we need and use as a strategy, as well as our participation and impact on the students lives.


the next image is straight forward, close up of a thank you card, but focused on the student’s name as they are our main focus, plus it means our names aren’t seen!

Anyway…these are the ideas that I have had so far, any feedback will be gratefully received. I have updated my assignment 1 page to reflect the stage I am currently at…

I received a positive response:

The box idea works really well, the simplicity and identical (bar colour) of the container and the possibility of varying the contents is a strong visual metaphor. From a variation point of view; the gate(s) also, particularly the last image with the reception button. Also, I think the partly cropped images of text – although a more subtle approach – will work in the context of a set. The abstraction of chair legs,the signed letter have less impact for me, the former being too subtle perhaps, and the latter too obvious even though you make good use of field.

The idea of using a square format with oddly composed subject matter is a good idea for presentation especially the idea of the way society looks for uniformity.

While they all work as static images – still life in a sense – it might be worth exploring the idea of some peripheral activity/action to add an additional narrative dimension (as in the night shot) – I’m thinking of the fence triptych, chairs, gate.

I think you’re pretty close to completing this

Hope that helps

…so set about re-shooting the images I wanted to and moving forwards with other ideas that had been bouncing about my head.

I used a black velvet cloth as a backdrop for several of the still life type images; having used this cloth for several years I know it is easy to transport, non reflective, heavy weight and absorbs the light. Care needs to be taken with the direction of the nap otherwise I do not achieve the deep, rich, jet black background I require. It was either draped across a table, pinned to a noticeboard or used flat on the floor.


My tripod has a three way head and the legs can splay out to lay it flat or balance on surfaces, which made it easier to shoot straight down looking into the boxes…


All other shots were taken using the camera hand held or the standard tripod set up. A minor problem I encountered was the cable release started to become a little temperamental so I switched to using the timer mode for long exposures as to avoid camera shake.

Normally, I use Adobe Bridge to upload and filter my images. This puts them into the relevant folder on my PC and adds a basic OCA Student metadata template. I have as yet to create custom templates for each assignment…adds to ever-growing list of things to sort…but as I actually hadn’t taken that large a selection of images I filtered and selected manually, copying the files I required to another folder and edited a selection of the chosen images. Once I had done that I was left with 19 images that I now had to make some creative decisions with. Was I going to include them? Would they work better as a triptych or a diptych, which were the stronger images that actually conveyed a sense of the people, place, the issues and my role within this community?

Some of my test shots remained in the final cut as weather conditions nor time were kind to me. Time is mine enemy as I could l do with spending a day going through a shooting exercise finding sweet spots of lenses and the exposure range etc but until that happens I must concentrate more on the buttons I am pushing and the decisions I am making.

Below is the selection of final images I had to choose from:

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After much deliberation and playing about in Photoshop I decided on the following…..

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I asked for and received peer feedback which was interesting, useful and pleasing that most of my ideas and messages came across.

Image 1 -Tryptych

Composed using frames within frames these were originally test shots, taken by hand on a slightly misty morning. The ISO ranges etc chop a bit to avoid camera shake. I would have re-taken them but we did not have the prevailing weather conditions again when I was available, so have stuck with what I have. If the opportunity arises before final submission there is a possibility that I will try again, using a tripod and a more consistent ISO.

Post processing was kept to a minimum with a  few tweaks to clarity and colour balance, straightening the images and cropping in Photoshop before creating the triptych by extending the canvas and using layers, align, rulers and grid lines.

peer feed back

Lorraine – That trapped feeling being made to be somewhere alien, somewhere you don’t belong, where people don’t understand you!!

Nash – Am I in a prison?

Gary – Special Privileges ~ rugby is quite elitist still which coupled with the fencing makes participation doubly imposing. If you didn’t have time constraints would have been nice to convey the triptych shots as different seasons as time moves relentlessly on.

Image 2 – Locked Gate

Again the locked gate showing an actual physical barrier to overcome. The shallow depth of field represents how they cannot fathom what is being asked of them or see a way around it. The spider’s web is a metaphor for how trapped they feel and the dew symbolises the many tears that are shed in frustration, especially this time of year when many cannot handle the colder temperatures. I think the blue gate and cold temperature of the image give this photograph a cold unwelcoming atmosphere. The silken threads of the web lead the eye across the frame to the circular hole, another metaphor for the areas that some students miss out on. The cross head of the bolt also seems to comment ‘no’.

As already explained in the email between Russell and myself, there are many reasons why I chose to crop all the images square and in particular I feel this photograph works well to express the ideas of square pegs and round holes and the expectation from society of uniformity and the claustrophobic feel of the framing underscores the trapped sensation experienced by the students. The different sections created by the vertical and horizontal lines of the gate indicate how we section off society and pigeon-hole people. I was pleased with the contrast, in both this and the previous triptych, between the hard geometric lines of the fences and softer organic forms of the trees as LSA’s we try to soften their route through education.

peer feed back

Lorraine – for me similar to the fence, the idea of being locked in an alien environment.

Terry – I see a system that worked well once upon a time, but now needs some serious overhauling.

Nash – Locked in and in need of repair… same could be said for students and staff

Rachael – I get the sense of having no escape too. Either to stop them running or maybe more metaphorical that they can feel stuck in a place they don’t understand/feel part of, emotionally and educationally.

Image 3 – Press the Buzzer

Looking at the settings used for this I could have lowered the ISO and still been able to have a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the camera. I need to remember more about equivalent exposure, but the mathematics of it does tend to go over my head.

peer feed back

Rachael – Don’t get this one but will probably smack myself when i read your log…..
Ok so now I’m gutted that i didn’t just say i was bloody frustrated that i couldn’t figure out what the sign says coz that’s exactly the point!!!

Gary – Bit confused, very stark and echo Rachael’s comment about not be able to read the sign but then thought maybe it conveys the garbled communication that certain children produce.

Jayne – Ahhhh, I get it now! Nice!

Image 4 – IT3 Dyslexia Diptych

By using a tripod I could select ISO 100 to achieve sharper images and not worry about camera shake with the longer exposure times.

We have very strict rules about keeping IT rooms locked and not consuming food or drink within them, in IT3 for some reason the same signs are stuck on both sides of the door. This is fine when the lights are not required but as it gets darker and the lights inside the room come on the writing illegibly overlaps in a fashion I can only presume is experienced by our dyslexic students.

Originally shot at 2.8 I noted that some of the sign was not in focus so increased it slightly to 3.5. It was quite dark and needed a longer exposure but I didn’t want to risk introducing grain.The second image is a staged shot with a replacement sign and overlay to illustrate the improvement seen, I used a tripod, timer and black velvet cloth for the backdrop. I did slightly and selectively reduce the exposure of the backdrop in raw to get the deep, jet black background I was after.

I chose to display these two images as a diptych for ease of comparison; the problem and the solution. The window on the door continues beyond the frame and yet again creates a slightly uncomfortable ‘off’ feel to the final shot emphasising that something isn’t quite right, reiterating that not everyone feels comfortable in ‘normal’ situations.

Post processing was kept to a minimum with a few tweaks to clarity and colour balance, straightening the images and cropping in Photoshop. With the IT sign I also had to slightly adjust the exposure, with the red overlay I used edit>transform>distort to ensure a perfect rectangle as I had taken the image at a very slight angle. To create the diptych the images were resized so the sign and overlay were the same and positioned using  layers, align, rulers and grid lines.

peer feed back

Lorraine – ok this one I can really associate with, the fear in seeing something like this and trying to guess what people want from you.

Terry – Over-regulation? Loss of common sense? Nobody takes responsibility for their own mistakes, so we’ll make sure they don’t make any?

Gary – Mixed Messages ~ the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

Image 5 – Cushion and foot rest

ISO 100 as I like to take sharp images, f11 as I wanted to show enough detail of the normal chairs on the opposite side of the table but to not have the background in sharp focus taking the eye away from the main subject, the cushion and foot rest. Using a tripod and timer has allowed for the indoor lighting conditions and the need for a slower shutter speed. The minimal colour palette helps make this a more successful final composition.

Beyond a few tweaks in camera raw and cropping in Photoshop post processing was kept to a minimum.

peer feed back

Nash – Effect on health …. truly a vocation not a profession!

Rachael – Opportunity to work with sen pupils away from the rest of the class in a calmer, more intimate environment

Gary – One size doesn’t fit all, uniqueness

Image 6 – Opening Doors

In order to obtain a sharp image throughout the frame I used f14, ISO 100, a tripod and timer mode. This meant a fairly long shutter speed so I had to ask my volunteer to hold their pose until I said they could move! I was pleased with the silhouette achieved; to ensure a figure to ground composition he was asked to wear a dark coat over his light shirt. Once more the simple colour palette makes this image work.

The original shot was taken during light rainfall and I had hoped to re-shoot under the same conditions, as I wanted to capture the reflections, however I don’t think that them being absent detracts from the above shot, as the different crop shows more of the bright windows and the sixth form sign which compensates and adds different information.

I noted the bright area on the top left hand corner and experimented with cropping it out or reducing the brightness. However, I quite liked the fact it was a little distracting as it leads the eye around the frame, forming an implied triangle with the other two lights and signifies the distractions that some of our students face during studying.

Once again a few minor tweaks in raw on clarity, contrast and shadows then cropped in Photoshop and a curves layer was added to just slightly darken the foreground.I also tweaked the colour slightly by using a levels adjustment layer and the white point sampler.

peer feed back

Rachael – Staying after normal school hours to help kids get important work done. Extra hours put in by you and the pupils to get them to where they need to be.

Gary – institutionalization ~ the darkness works well but the overpowering building image conveys inflexibility which is a shame

Image 7 – Extra Time Diptych

It can be noted from previous images that the school’s logo, signage and colour in general, is blue and this links in very nicely to the blue glow from the Microsoft Windows basic screen saver.

Rather than a static image of a computer I decided to capture the reflection of the screen and ‘on’ light on the shiny surface of the table. This reflection is a metaphor for the reflection we ask students to undertake when completing tasks and also that as an LSA I have to reflect on what strategies are working; does anything more need to be put into place? Taken in a darkened room with a tripod and using the timer mode I was pleased with the simplicity of this composition, the bright spark adding a little extra visual detail. The dark backgrounds also represent the isolation felt occasionally by the students as well as representing the 1:1 invigilation that they participate in during the exam period.

The second image within this diptych is fairly self-explanatory. Once the written work is completed the extra time section must be shown by either using a different font type or colour, a memory stick is always provided and the student must work on the lap top backing up on the flash drive as they go along just in case of worst case scenarios we don’t want them to lose their work! This particular flash drive is called an Easy Disk, which I found to be ironic as our students don’t find things easy most of the time. It is then my responsibility to deliver the papers to the relevant member of staff, along with duplicates for our records and delete anything from the flash drive and lap top to ensure it is ‘clean’ for the next assessment/exam.

Once more the black velvet cloth was used as a background by draping it across the table; camera set on a tripod I used timer mode again, which was useful as I could move to the other side of the table, lift and hold the cloth to provide a seamless black backdrop. The shallower depth of field means you focus on the words ‘Easy Disk’ and ‘Extra Time’. The word school in the background is blurry, again highlighting the issue some students have with focusing their attention. The blue lanyard leads the eye out of the frame and ensures that the black background is not a completely negative space. When cropping this image square I again left the white area in the corner, to cause a distraction and give the image a slightly uncomfortable feel. Due to the simple colour palette and black backgrounds I think these two images work well as a pair.

Again post processing on these two images was minimal beyond cropping , extending the canvas in Photoshop and resizing to create the diptych. Before printing I also tweaked the colour balance as I felt it had a slight colour cast.

peer feed back

Terry – Hand written documents, and hand writing, are a distant memory. Also, the ability to spell is no longer relevant, spell check will sort you out.

Nash – Blood, sweat and tears in a memory stick!

Gary – Melancholic Assistance ~ blue overload works but overpowering sense of pupil isolation

Image 8 – IEN Task Boxes

There are many metaphors within this image; the blind illustrates people’s closed minds towards learning difficulties, and sometimes the closed minds of our students, the boxes yet again showing how we pigeon-hole students, looking for uniformity; the locked cupboard doors a further indication that students have to rely on adults to open doors to enable them to achieve. The reflection in the window is me :o) Whilst setting the camera up I spotted I was in the frame and deliberately stayed put so my participation could be physically seen but not in an obvious portrait.

This is how the boxes are stacked in the cupboard, I did contemplate swapping the green one out for another blue but chose to keep it as it shows that there is individualism between students. This is revealed even more in the following image.

Once again post-processing was minimal, a few tweaks to clarity, use of the straightening tool, a boost to vibrance in raw, then cropping in Photoshop.

peer feed back

Rachael – So this one’s hard as i can’t see any clues as to what’s in the boxes but I’m assuming it’s sen specific resources to help you help the kids

Gary – Not sure the content is important but colours convey conformity and a little sadness when they should be celebrating the owners more behind them

Image 9 – Boxes Triptych

Placed on the black velvet cloth they were photographed from above with the tripod legs splayed out and balanced on tables and cupboards.

I felt these worked better as a triptych than three individual images. As I could not raise the camera high enough over the boxes without H&S issues or risk to my camera I had to resort to extending the canvas during post-processing in Photoshop, I also used edit>transform>distort to straighten some of the edges where I had not realized the boxes were not exactly square on or exactly underneath the camera, but bearing in mind the digital manipulation that Manuel Vasquez used I think I can get away with this minor tweak…Also a recent article discusses ‘The Perils of Creative Documentary’ on PetaPixel.

Again I slightly reduced the exposure on the cloth to make the boxes pop against the black background. Once more the black background isolates the subject matter revealing the segregation that students sometimes experience.

peer feed back

Lorraine – for all those people who don’t fit in a box, who have to find an alternative way.

Terry – Society seems to be more concerned with making sure everything fits inside a box, rather than making the box fit the person.

Rachael – Different boxes for different kids? Shows the organisation (or lack thereof) of each pupil and what kind of subjects they focus on?

Gary – Organised chaos ~ exterior is conventional but inside everything is sending mixed messages

Image 10 – Ghost in the background

Another metaphorical shot, this time along the lines of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and illuminating a pathway. I didn’t want to have a portrait of me travelling down the walkway as I wanted this series of photographs to be more about them with my participation in the background. I therefore experimented with a fairly long exposure of 10 seconds. I stood still for a short while and then moved before the shutter closed. The result is a ‘shadowy ghost’ which I did enhance slightly in camera raw in Photoshop.

peer feed back

Lorraine – The long corridor, the feeling of how long can I delay the point where i’m going to fail.

Terry – Similar to the gate: ‘We can protect you, but only up to a point.’ (The leak being the point where you have to start looking after yourself.)

Nash – Long Hours

Rachael – this actually just feels really lonely. Maybe getting at how isolated kids can feel from others when they have certain difficulties, even when surrounded by hundreds of other pupils

Gary – Light at the end of the tunnel ~ all the hard work will pay off in the end


Before I started the photographic shoot I had several sets of aims; those set by myself and those set within the brief and assessment criteria.Some fortunately overlap. My aims were to show:

  • the difficulties encountered by students supported within my department
  • hidden things – both the hidden difficulties students have and the unknown strategies we use to assist
  • some of the solutions and strategies we use to overcome these difficulties
  • create less obvious more metaphorical images that should still be understood by the audience
  • be creative with different perspective, lighting, shutter speed, cropping etc
  • use inspiration and learn from some of the photographers studied in the lead up to completing assignment one
  • how I actively participate within my local community and the impact I have on the people
  • get to know my camera a little better and improve my technical skills

The aims of the brief were:

  • to produce a small photo essay of 10 images
  • these had to demonstrate my engagement with the lives, experiences and histories – being a participant-observer of my local community and its people
  • within a single theme
  • discuss ideas with my tutor
  • use only one camera and one lens
  • provide a short commentary explaining my ethos and rationale
  • submit 10 unmounted quality prints
  • send all relevant supporting work to my tutor

The Assessment criteria is based on :

  • demonstration of technical and visual skills
  • quality of outcome
  • demonstration of creativity
  • context

As far as my own aims are concerned I feel these were met as far as the final photographs chosen fulfill everything I hoped they would. On showing them to my work colleagues they could all understand the meaning behind the images. I am going to post them onto  some OCA forums and to non-photography friends to get some peer feedback; it will be interesting to see if they elicit similar responses. I will update this page as soon as I get replies….this has now been done under individual images and at the bottom of this post…

I was pleased that despite the missing captions/text a lot of the messages of isolation, miscommunication, fear, frustrations, barriers and need for conformity came over. They may have come over more bleak and depressing than I had intended, maybe that would be addressed if I swapped some of the images over, a case of the left out images may not have been as strong as the individual images put in, but would have worked better as part of the series? Will wait for tutor feedback on that too.

I tried to be creative with different perspectives, lighting, shutter speed, unusual square cropping and the use of triptych and diptych to show contrasts and think these worked well. I dare say this could have been pushed further but did not want to explore too far with extreme digital manipulation or mixed media at this stage in the course. Too busy getting my head around what documentary means… I am annoyed at myself for still not always thinking ahead or understanding the exposure equivalents and sometimes not adjusting colour balance before shooting. Fortunately in the situation I was in I could re-shoot straight away but that won’t always be the case. Boils down to the fact I need to get out and take more photos. Tardis anyone? I also need to be more careful when using my tripod about setting up on a level…lots of my images were a little drunk until I straightened them in Photoshop…

I borrowed from lots of areas of study, Alec Soth taking photos of people on the edge of society, the ephemera around them not always concentrating on the people. Taryn Simon who photographed areas hidden away from public view, William Eggleston’s knack for photographing the everyday and managing to see it from a different perspective, Paul Kenny’s square cropping and Martha Rosler who did not want to further exploit people from The Bowery and photographed their surroundings. By using equipment used by students I borrowed the idea of props from Chris Steele-Perkins.

I also met all the aims of the brief, apart from sending it all off to my tutor, that will be done in the next few days. I can send a link to this blog but need to print the images. On speaking to Russell he advised me to not spend too much time on the prints, he wanted to compare the results to the online images rather than worrying too much about ‘the prints.’ I therefore printed them without too much concern over borders for handling etc but did still try to focus on correct colour balance and sharpness. Printed on Epsom semi-gloss paper using an Epson Printer and Photoshop colour management.

I can also safely say I can tick all four sections of the assessment criteria but would hate to comment at which level. I think that my visual awareness, observational and compositional skills are good and if I hadn’t confessed to some of the oops moments with the ISO etc I don’t think that is noticeable as far as the end product is concerned, but know that is a weakness I need to work on. I felt my images communicated the ideas I was trying to put across but the proof is in the pudding and await the audience responses with bated breath…


This was a very interesting exercise to undertake and backed up some of the findings from the earlier exercise, where people had to comment on or caption my 5 personal images. Personal experiences really impacted upon the level of engagement and understanding of my photographs. It also emphasised that with some of the more metaphorical or subtle images the provision of captions/blurb would have aided comprehension/my intention. It also revealed the importance of the platform/image size you use to disseminate your work.

I have printed in full all the responses received via photography students/ working photographers I know, educationalists and the general public, for inclusion in my learning log but have post some of the responses here.

Catherine –OCA
The images are great in terms of composition and processing. They do give a bleak outlook though. What I’m reading is lack of essential maintenance but attention to security and institutional colours which have a hardness about them. No green, outdoor areas. You’ve photographed in the dark so is that signifying working late, offering education late?

Signifies that I was shooting when the kids had all gone home as difficult to get permissions… plus was a challenge to myself to be able to represent them and their needs without actually photographing them…and this time of year by the time they had gone it was dark…a few were shot during the day, we actually have huge playing fields but our ASD kids aren’t great at team sports so the fences and gates show the barriers they face and therefore in some ways that has worked as you felt there were no green spaces

On reading my blog – I’ve got it now – just shows the difference between Facebook and a blog because images are much clearer on the latter and I realise how much detail I missed.

You’ve given much thought and detailed organisation to this assignment and your description of the contextual background adds so much more.

Jayne – OCA
The locked gate for me, having and working with sen kids signifies the added security often needed so they don’t do a runner.

The boxes could have something to do with putting people in boxes (ASD, ADHD, SPDL, etc, etc).

The boxes from above look like some of the elements of school life students have to cope with, academic stuff and PE which can come with many problems for SEN students.

The chair shows equipment used, maybe there’s more to it though.

The sign on the door, unreadable and then readable – something to do with dyslexia?

oh you got the dyslexia one spot on, also the boxes… we use them for organisation for them…they all look the same from the outside, how we put them into boxes, but when you open them up the individual kids personalities show….the locked gate is school security but also a metaphor for the problems they have with PE

Ah, like it! I only thought the locked gate because they had to install new locks throughout when our Jordan started school. He was a bit of a runner! 😂😂

Dave –  OCA  
Jan, firstly I must say I liked your photographs as a series and they are technically well executed. It is interesting how you have chosen to exclude members of the community in a project that is about the community and your role within it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that and I imagine you’d have all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles to overcome to include the school children in the series.
The dichotomy between the frustrations and the attempts to address them is captured in the 10 images. I’m not sure how you see the balance in this but for me, and I am someone with a particular mistrust/dislike of institutions – so I have a bias – is that the balance tips more towards the frustration.

I am curious about your use of triptychs and diptychs is the series. For me they seem to disrupt the narrative flow – although I did particularly like the door sign image. I’m currently on the Foundation in Photography course and hence I’ve still got a lot to learn. You may have a good reason for the inclusion of this device and I’d be interested to hear your reasoning behind it.

Lastly, I spotted you twice! Was it deliberate act to ‘hide’ your self in some of the photographs or a happy accident? I appreciate the brief was that you had to include yourself but you are quite well hidden. Perhaps the most difficult question of all, by including yourself in this way are you part of the frustration or the attempts to address it?
Thanks for giving the FB group the opportunity to provide feedback. I hope what I’ve written makes sense and is helpful and constructive. You’ve produced a strong set of images and good luck with the assignment.
Hi Dave, and thanks for your full reply, that is just the type of response I was after, comments and questions. The exclusion was to do with permission of parents/school etc to allow me to photograph students, also I didn’t want to feel as if I was exploiting their issues by directly photographing them and labelling them as they are already done so. Having just read up about The Bowry by Martha Rosler it was something I felt strongly about. It was also a challenge for me personally to see if i could capture their personalities and frustrations without the obvious portrait shots.
I think the balance does tip towards the frustrations as this is what the students face 100% of their day, dyslexia never has a rest ASD never has a rest, physical disability never goes away, it is always there to be overcome.

The triptych and diptych formats were used for several reasons, the images put together ‘work’ together a problem/solution or solution/result or as an image of 3 together they told a narrative together rather than as individual….also I could only submit 10 images so by sandwiching them together I could cheat and include more ;oD It also shows a different approach and creativity to presenting work which is an element that needs to be explored within this module.
It would have been very easy to include a self portrait but the challenge was again to include me, but more creatively. The first image I was setting up and saw myself reflected and initial response was oh I’d better use the timer and move…and then thought no hang on opportunity to include myself. The last one was deliberate.

Many would argue we are part of the problem lolol but far more would argue without us the students would have no support at all. We are a band-aid, a sticking plaster working within a system that sets students up to fail, not just the SEN…but that is a whole different political debate! As a department we work really hard and on the whole our students get damn fine results, go onto uni, winning prizes at prize giving that are genuinely deserved yet a lot teaching staff think we are an inconvenience in their classrooms, undermine their authority and disregard our level of expertise and knowledge. A lot of the time I feel invisible and undervalued by the system, but not the students…although some hate the nagging ;oD

Allan -OCA
Hi Jan, I like your concept and can relate to your views of the outside world!! Having worked with schools the rings to jump through would be impossible and I agree that the exploitation problem might be difficult to avoid. I think there are a few too many close ups for me, in my own work I used to be close up the whole time but I’m finding (in my own head at least) that more environmental information allows a broader and deeper reflection on the image and it’s intentions. For me there isn’t quite enough reference to the use of the building it could be in many respects any public building – for instance – the side on image of the coloured boxes on the cupboard bear no labels so they’re just container boxes? I don’t think the shadows of yourself in the images really work as they become self portraits but perhaps this something you want to achieve.

Sorry – trigger happy – I really like the night image of the building with the guy walking in, you get the sense that it’s a school and after a long day in the classroom etc so it works well. I like the open tray shot as well. There’s plenty to work on, you could just drop a couple of the images which don’t say much more than others in the series so I’m sure you will pull together a strong final presentation! all the best.

Hi Allan, thanks for the feedback it is always welcome…makes me think about why I used the techniques I did etc

The close ups were deliberate, cutting out lots of external information as I was trying to convey that the SEN students dont actually always see the whole picture, they dont get all the information or if they do they can’t process it so disregard it, or dont remember it or both! :0)

The use of the building in some respects is irrelevant as the intention was not to represent the school rather the characters and issues experienced by the people within.

The boxes dont have labels…they are what they are, containers for text books and exercise books, they are bland, generic and could be used anywhere and that was also the point how some teachers view the kids as empty vessels to be filled and don’t see the individualism. The only labels they have are the student timetables stuck on top of the lids and I can’t include them due to privacy and data protection as they have the kids and teachers names on…

Thanks again for the critique and for taking the time to respond :0)

Lorraine –personal experience with SEN and works within education
ok I’ve commented on the individual photos don’t know if they are any good, some I’ve looked at them with personal view point xxx

Overall I feel my images held together as a narrative set due to the square cropping, which provided a visual punctuation ( although this may need tightening up with the experimentation) the inclusion of symbolism peculiar to the subject matter and the visual metaphors.

All I need now is tutor feedback…which I have now received Tutor Feedback PDF and my response is here.

The final set of images for final submission are here.


Clarke, G. (1997) The photograph: A visual and cultural history. New York: Oxford University Press.

Short,M. Creative photography context and narrative Lausanne:AVA Publishing. (2011)

Wells. L, Photography A Critical Introductory. Routeledge (1997)