Informing Contexts


Week 1 – Photography – The Shape Shifter

This weeks presentations were looking at the consumption of photographs, context and their production, and also the place of our work/practice in photography today.

I found the presentations very thought provoking. It has certainly made me reflect on the intentions of my work and how I anticipate their consumption by their audience.

A particular point of interest was of the discussion surrounding the ideas, concept and intentions of the 1992 Benetton advertising campaign using the image of David Kirby dying of AIDS surrounded by his family.

A re-coloured, cropped and retouched version of the original black and white image taken by Therese Frare in 1990, the image to me displays the harsh reality of the AIDS disease, not just for sufferers, but also for their families. I remember the shock value this image held around the time of its release and I consider how the image would be received had it been released now. For its time it was a very brave and bold move by Benetton, and the family of Kirby. It is easy for one to question the ethics and motivations behind this image. Now knowing the backstory behind its production I am more understanding of its use as a tool to raise awareness for the AIDS crisis, however, as a clothing advertisement I still struggle with its use on a moral level.

Advertising is a prime example of the use of hot topics and controversy to sell a product. Those advertisements which have been banned or censored seem to spark more appeal and interest than anything on a standard billboard. A prime example being the press surrounding the recent Iceland food campaign before Christmas 2018.

Iceland Foods (2018). Say Hello to Rang-Tang. Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2019].

Notes from presentation for my CRJ production.

I would contextualise my images as art portraiture, particularly my more recent works. They are not taken using technically perfect photographic means and the use of multiple exposures and blurred lighting effects leads them more towards an artistic/aesthetic context.

As some of my images use the reinforcement of lyrics or wording to support the context in which they were produced, and some do not this means my work can be consumed in a variety of ways by any viewer. For example some may rely on the words to interpret the image, however some may judge the image independently, without influence.

What do I feel is the nature of the photograph today?

I feel the photograph for me has moved on from a document of a certain time, a nostalgic trigger of moments past to a means of artistic and creative expression.

In terms of the photograph and its modern use, I feel photography, particularly within social media, is now being used to express a falseness about our lives. It has moved away from a tool portraying the reality of life, to portraying the moments chosen by individuals to express the high points and excitement of individuals lives to create a false impression of their existence.

Further notes from the case studies presented this week.


Week 2 – The Index and The Icon

At this moment I am actually playing catch up due to losing ten days after an unexpected stint in hospital. Although I am disappointed that this led me to reschedule all of my planned work so far, I have been trying to reflect on my intentions for the project and my aims for this next portfolio.

I found this weeks presentations and reading very enjoyable. One of the aspects I enjoyed during my degree studies was image theory and the theory of semiotics. Having been some time since my studies it is taking some time getting used to the phrasing and language however I am finding the subject very enjoyable and enjoying revisiting texts by Barthes, Sontag and Wells alongside the suggested reading materials provided.

Upon watching this weeks presentations we were encouraged to consider the photograph as a sign and consider the kind of truth that photography might offer.

For me, when comparing the photograph to visual art, paintings or the written form photography is the truthful medium (in its unedited form). Words give license to enhancement or the dramatisation of a scene. The same can be said of an illustration or painting which is an artists representation of a scene rather than the photograph which can be a direct “real world imprint”.

I can see where, particularly in the digital age, manipulation and enhancements raises questions to an images authenticity. The image is no longer authentic when alterations are made as it is not a direct caption of truth, it becomes a representation of a scene. For me this is the case for Gardener’s 1863 image Home of the Rebel below. Knowing he moved the body of the soldier to several locations before producing the shot he desired and that the conflict is staged it becomes a lie. A representation of the acts of war rather than a truthful depiction of conflict.

Gardner, A. (1863). Home of the Rebel. [image] Available at: [Accessed 11 Feb. 2019].

Reflecting on points made in the presentations, I do not feel that photographs hold more veracity than paintings. Although the camera is a scientific toll aimed to accurately capture a true account of that which is happening in view of the lens, paintings and other visual arts can capture such realism. Both art and photography provide visual pleasure and not all types of photography intend to document for the purpose of accuracy in story telling. I guess it depends on what type of photography is being used as an example and the context in which it was created.

When considering the Las Meninas representations I was more taken by the Picasso ‘The Maids of Honour’ than the Joel-Peter Witkin ‘Ladies in Waiting’.

I feel Picasso’s piece is a modern homage to the original piece. To me the, although a very unique and abstract perspective he is communicating the same message and giving the same perspective conveyed in the original piece. Wikin however gives a more sinister tone with a more voyeuristic feel in the darker sense of the word. He has made changes in many ways, including the positioning of the characters and the use of human bodies. The fact they are deformed bodies is not the uncomfortable aspect, more the voyeuristic way in which we are led to stare at them, questioning the relevance and comparison to the original piece.

Las Meninas, Joel-Peter Witkin, 1987

Also the use of Picasso’s Guerinica-esque figure connotes war and powerful political statement of a darker nature.

This opinion is not due to the gorey reputation Witkin upholds in the art world. I am very familiar with his work and his photography and these assumptions were made considering these pieces alone.

Picasso, P. (1957). The Maids of Honour. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].

Witkin, J. (1987). The Ladies in Waiting. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].


Week 3 – Constructed Realities

Having finally made it to a webinar session to meet Michelle and our group I felt considerably better this week with the material. Being off my feet having been signed off work for another two weeks pending a review for test results I had begun to panic about being behind and keeping up with the group. Michelle was great and really put my mind at ease. We discussed the ideas surrounding my project and my intentions for the next shoot. Despite being unable to shoot at the moment she reassured me I am heading in the right direction and gave me some pointers to look at so I left feeling reassured that I can pull everything together in time.

This weeks presentation material approached the construction of photographic images and the use of facts or fiction. Again very thought provoking, the material led us to consider where our position lies on contemporary photography and the intentions and motivations behind our work.

Working in the photographic and media department in a school of art my usual days are spent saturated in imagery. I have always been a very visual person who finds inspiration from many mediums. One thing I find working with learners, particularly at FE level is they look for reassurance in their work. I enjoy discussing their ideas and the motivations behind their pieces yet it is interesting that I keep my own work closed off and it is only since starting my MA that I have begun to display my work and begin contextualising my pieces.

The ideas of being a trickster, luring people into an idea when the image is actually a falsified representation rather than an accurate documentation of a story are interesting.

Although I believe the images in this session hold an untruth, I feel the word ‘lie’ is a little strong as a means of description. There is an expectation in modern life for the advertisement to lie or display untruths in order to convince the consumer to but a brand or a product. Advertisements are constructed to sell and therefore influence the deconstruction and of the image and its interpretation by the consumer. 

Within my work I try to avoid the construction of images wherever possible. Within my music work in particular I aim to document the performance of the artist, the stage and the reaction of the crowd as it happens naturally. That being said I do also work with the constructed image within the studio work I produce for album artwork and headshots. The images I make are constructed in order to communicate the bands message, their style and personalities and to emphasise the albums message. I would not say I was a trickster, my intentions are to use props, styles or techniques to enhance the image and to create a story for the reader. 

Reflecting upon my MA practice and my portfolio for my previous module, although at the time I was only semiconscious of this, all of the images taken were natural and unconstructed. My aim was to document the band and the culture of their music and how it adapts within family life and the home setting. Although some may look constructed I can assure they weren’t. In fact the image below was included in the final set because I was so enamoured by Heidi’s natural reaction to the alien in the room (me and the camera). Her childhood innocence and honesty regarding the situation shows. She is not taking part in the usual musical activity with Dad and sister because she is too inquisitive to what unknown entity is going on around her. This to me symbolises there are things the camera cannot change, such as the innocence and honesty of children. 

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 10.46.13 copy.jpg
A shot from my When Did Punk Rock Become So Safe portfolio
My notes from this weeks presentations.


Week 4 – Into the Image World

This week was all about the construction of images and how we read them. Again another one of my favourite aspects of photography and visual arts, image deconstruction.

Looking mainly at advertisements, this week we looked at examples of dominant reading (examples clearly displaying the advertisers intentions), oppositional readings (a conflicting opinion) and the negotiated reading of an image (the potential conformed or accepted reading).

Here are my examples of those readings.

I have always been uncomfortable with advertisings sexualised stereotypical influence on youth culture and advertisings place within the ideologies of popular culture. That being said I thought it would be interesting to look at an example of the female gaze as opposed to the male gaze or voyeurism. 

BuzzFeed. (2013). Alyssa Milano And Mark McGrath’s Not So Subtle Candie’s Fragrances Ad Campaigns. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2019].

Here is the Candies fragrance advertisement from 2002 featuring singer Mark McGrath from the band Sugar Ray.

Candies were a company in the US renowned for their risquè sexually driven advertisements aimed at youth culture and teen audiences. This advertisement was banned in some publications and subsequently a more ‘appropriate’ edition was released for teen magazines. In terms of semiotics, syntagmatic substitutions were made to certain details to tone down the overtly sexual connotations dominating the image (condoms were removed and his towel was raised to cover his bottom). 

Mark McGrath Candies Advertisement

The company was renowned for shock tactics however the video version of this advertisement was actually banned from being aired on television due to its highly sexual message. It would be interesting to know if that would be the same if the advertisement  was released today. You can find it here;Mark McGrath Candies Advertisement (Links to an external site.).

To me, the image has been constructed with McGrath as the dominant feature. Although the female character is sexualised in her position, she is clothed and covered by McGrath. He is clearly the sexual desire of this image, slightly exposed buttocks, the angles enticing your gaze toward him, his body position, her legs surrounding him portraying his position of dominance etc. His finger clearly points to the stack of condoms on the counter (a direct sign of the activity about to ensue), or perhaps this is the advertisers trick for us to actually notice the cologne/perfume bottles situated behind them. 

For me it is a classic example of the modern macho persona, the narcissistic cocky gaze into the mirror, for his gratification or the viewers?

This weeks presentation notes.

Week 5 – Gazing at Photographs

Another very interesting and insightful week, we have been exploring the ethics of looking.

One question which really got me thinking was “when does an inquisitive gaze become a rude stare?”

As much as we probably avoid admitting this we all stare. Sometimes vacantly whilst thinking, sometimes long and hard in an inquisitive nature of something in our view. I have never really seen my own practice as voyeuristic as I am usually photographing bands in a room full of people who have a public gaze on their performance. That being said the work I am currently producing (as can be seen in the family shot above) is an insight into very personal part of a musicians life, the unseen moments in their own private world. I have come to realise this could be construed as voyeuristic in nature. This could in itself make an interesting talking point during my interviews.

We looked at some of the work of Mary Alpern from her 1994 series ‘Dirty Windows’. This is the first time I have seen her work and I found the pieces and the concept very intreguing.

suite of 4 photographs from the windows series (4 works) by merry alpern
Alpern, M. (1994). From the window series #4. [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

The works comprise of a series of voyeuristic black and white images of men and women engaging in acts of sex and drugs, at a brothel near Wall Street in Manhattan.

I absolutely love the gritty realism of the images content combined with the grainy tones and contrast of the prints. One has to question the ethics of the ways in which the images were taken and out part played in their viewing as a voyeur.

My images are created with the concept of providing insight to the realism of family life for musicians and performers. I wouldn’t say they are voyeuristic as they cannot be classified in the same context as the example we see here by Alpern. They have no sexual message or motivations or exploit my models in any way.

In my family I certainly stand out as the realist. This doesn’t always go down well and at work it can be difficult and I can certainly be misread as negative when I am just trying to be realistic. I see the world as very black and white and as matter of fact as I can. Although I appreciate the concept of fantacism and those who have a very romantic view on the world I certainly do not see the world through rose tinted glasses. To some extent I think living and working in a deprived area could be a contributing factor to this.

Once considering ourselves as the viewer we were then shown some advertisement campaigns for charities and various organisations supporting people with disabilities.

I find in this modern day one of the things that deters me from watching regular television is not just the amount of advertisements but in particular those for charities and organisations which seemingly use guilt as a tactic for donations. The mere fact that I am writing about my avoidance of such advertisements due to my guilt of not donating shows how these advertisements resonate with my conscious.

Scope (2016). Scope Charity Advertisement. [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

I think this campaign is great. It is honest, open, funny and realistic. it certainly addresses common behaviours I’m sure we have all seen in a work place environment for sure. I really hope it has helped to change some peoples awkward attitudes towards those with ailments or disabilities.

Scope (2016). Scope Charity Advertisement. [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2019].

Surprisingly the advertisements you see for organisations such as MENCAP and Alzheimers to me remove the identity and inner voice of the individuals they are supporting. The campaigns go for a darker, more negative approach which is interesting when they could convey the positives of the support they provide for those in their care to promote fundraising and a positive message.

This weeks notes.


Week 6 – A Sea of Images

This week we focussed on the reproduction of images and the appearance of the world around us. Once again the content has been very thought provoking.

Global magazine National Geographic was the main talking point within this weeks text and presentations. Although this is a magazine I am pretty unfamiliar with I am aware of its content and the images within its pages. Coming from a working class family it was always deemed a very upper middle class publication, hence my reasoning for not seeing its pages. That being said, for me viewing it now it reminds me of the Readers Digest publications my Grandmother was so fond of.

After my Grandfathers death (many years before I was born), she clung to his subscription, retaining it until her death a few years ago. Despite fond memories of receiving their books as a child and seeing us receive books as gifts in our childhood my Mother was quite happy to cease the subscription as her house became a small library slowing becoming out of control. We often joke of the bizarre material they cover and question who in the world other than my strange family own these books. Living in a very working lower class house hold this juxtaposition of intellectual reading material now stands out to me quite boldly. I still have these books covering similar subjects such as ancient tribes, myths and legends of far away places etc so I can in some way resonate with the ideology’s contained within National Geographic and the stereotypical perceptions they sold of the non-western world.

It is hard not to be impressed with the impact those yellow borders and iconic fonts have had on the world. As their key policy was to display “absolute accuracy”, it would seem photography and the camera were the perfect tools for such a publication, however their images displayed very stereotypical views of non-western tribes as primitive creatures decades behind civilised society. As we know photographs record the image but only the frames the photographers choose to shoot, therefore their photography was used as a method of displaying these countercultures in the primitive fashion to demonstrate western societies cultural dominance and superiority.

When I think of indigenous people I do envision these perfect, polished images like the one below of a documentary series by Edward S. Curtis of a Native American Indian tribe.

Curtis, E. (2009). [image] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2019].

This is not due to my own personal visions of those natives, I feel this is due to the influx of such images and being surrounded by them growing up. In adult life I am more culturally aware of the difficulties faced in such cultures and as such question the reality of the living scenarios for such tribes men and the way in which they are treated by western society.

The images tend to be technically perfect, clean, well lit and very aesthetically pleasing. Indigenous people appear to be as inquisitive about the camera and the people they are meeting as we are of them and there appears to be an innocence displayed in their gaze.

National Geographic (2019). NG Live!: The Unconquered: Brazil’s People of the Arrow. [image] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2019].

It is very interesting to me how these images shape the way we perceive those we have not, and most likely will never meet.

To connect with my own body of work, my intentions are to give an inside view to the personal family lives of performers, musicians and fans. this subject has made me consider how important it is to document their vision and their cultural beliefs as apposed to my own. I aim to document them as individuals but I wish to do so in their own natural way, I do not wish to document them from my own perspective in order to display their lives as a stereotypical or mainstream view of punk. I really need to consider when shooting how they are being represented, what I aim to represent and above all what I am trying to say/document.

My notes from this weeks content.

Week 7 – Tutorials and Catch Up.

So this week I should have had my one to one tutorial with Michelle. Sadly I have been very poorly this week with complications still following my hospital admission and have been back and forth to the GP for follow up appointments. I was devastated when I realised I had actually missed my appointment.

I frantically scripted an apology email to Michelle who has been fantastic and very understanding. I explained my panic from still not having shot any images for this assignment!! I am now going to spend this week concentrating on shooting and my project development. I intend to update my contextual research and project development sections from this week as things progress.


Week 8 – Responses and Responsibilities

In this week’s content we have been looking at the use of images as a means to evoke change and their powers of persuasion.

Again another insightful week and one in which the subject can connect to my own research project. The origins of punk and its roots in the 1970’s are well documented in regards to the social and economic changes of the time firing up the youth culture of Britain. It had, and still has great political and social motivations and a desire to evoke change in society’s attitudes and values.

The presentation content for this week certainly gained mixed reviews. I myself found it insightful. Having viewed a vast amount of war correspondence and journalism photography during my degree and perhaps becoming a little desensitised to shocking imagery I found it interesting discussing with those who chose not to view such content when displayed in the press. For me shocking images showing bodies or the carnage of war show the stark realities of war and I think it is important people realise the pain being inflicted on the innocent parties in the countries which these atrocities occur. Censoring images only gives the more power as I discussed in the forum discussion below.

The discussion which led on concerning censorship was very interesting and we each had varying opinion on the subject. I have not included all content as it is quite lengthy but as this is the first time any of my posts have really had any learner feedback I was really appreciative of the feedback and the discussion.

In terms of my own images I am not really aiming for social change to be made, I merely intend to give an insight and understanding of the life of punk rockers, to visually communicate the importance of their culture and the influence music has on everyday life for them. As stated previously social and political change is historically a motivation for the movement so it will be interesting to see as my project progresses if this begins to come across within my images.


Week 9 – Enter the Academy

This weeks content looked at the function of photography, what is meant by the term “art” and the value art possesses.

Whilst reading and researching for this module I have come across many arguments for and against the use of photographic work in art galleries. I personally believe that photography does have a place within a gallery setting. Now we live in a world of digital capture and storing of images I believe it is even more important to print and display works (particularly in large format) to show the true value of the photographic print.

Printing is an art form within itself, a craft and deserves to be appreciated as such. One can pull more detail with the eye when viewing a printed image. The dynamics of a piece can be altered in print as it can open up details to the viewer which could have become lost on a digital screen display.

To view images solely on screen is to me nonsensical. Printing images and viewing them up close is a vital part of the editing and sequencing process for me. This could be down to my traditional methods but I never really get a true sense or essence of an image without seeing it in print form be it book, photo, creative process or magazine.

Galleries for me offer the time for contemplation whilst viewing an image. You have time to digest all the details of the image and decode each piece.

Week 10 – Speaking Photographically

Approaching the final weeks of the module and the easter break and I can honestly say I am nervous and feel completely out of my depth. Due to hospital stays and constant check ups/tests etc it has been incredibly hard to focus my energy on my work and I was very upset to admit that I have had to apply for an extension on my module course work having been unable to shoot anything. This is a first for me as I have completed all other qualifications without the need for such a process, but being completely burned out and in need of bed rest I have had to admit defeat and retreat to completing what I can, when I can. Progress may be slow but I intend to complete all assignments before the end of the module break so the work does not overflow in to the next module surface and strategies.

At this point I would just like to say how great the staff have been regards my current situation. Everyone has been incredibly supportive and I cannot thank them enough. I won’t lie I have toyed on many occasion the idea of walking away, feeling unable to complete my work but each time they have picked me up and inspired me to continue.

I found this weeks content really interesting, looking closely at the work of Daniel Gustav Cramer and his body of work ‘Trilogy’ we had to critically analyse his pieces and make observations and critically analyse our own body of work.

Cramer, D. (2003). Woodland #5. [image] Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2019].

Having never seen Cramer’s work before this was an interesting exercise as my opinions were complete first impressions. Communicating through nature his images portray isolation, smothered spaces with no exit, dark, ominous overtones with no sense of time or imprint of man.

This work is very different in comparison to my portraits which are all about a man made world and the trace of man. They are time relevant and very personalised. I guess a common ground for both of us as photographers is our wish to communicate the unseen in this world.

Cramer uses nature and lack of human presence to portray a world that still exists naturally without human interaction. I show the personal lives and worlds of musicians and fans, the elements they keep away from their public persona, unseen by their audience and the rest of the world.

The content and task have made me start to think more critically in regards to my own works and my approach as a photographer. Now I have shoots booked and will begin the production of my portfolio I can begin to think about my intentions, how I will portray my ideas and where my project is develop in the future. With only one more module before the final major project it is imperative that I answer these questions now.

Week 11 – Peer presentations and feedback

This weeks task was to complete oral presentation critically analysing our own body of work and the photographers who influence us. On completion of the presentation it was to be submitted onto a forum for peer feedback. Although I had started the presentation I was unable to submit due to ill health and being behind. This was actually very stressful as I felt I had missed a deadline without authorisation!! As this is the first task I have missed I managed to talk myself down and I have been trying to read and study texts when possible to complete the critical review assignment.

Now the module content has finished I aim to focus on shooting my portfolio and the production of my assignments. Over the coming weeks I will be updating the project development and contextual research sections of my blog with more detailed information about my body of work. Fingers crossed I can bring it all together soon.