Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One -Tutor feedback

Following on from the phone call I had with my tutor Les Monaghan, he sent me this report of Assignment One. There’s nothing like such positive words to spur you onwards, I feel very inspired. Les has such a way of sparking, even more, fun into all the assignments, despite exploring fairly dark themes, or at least a divert from my usual colourful and happy photography, I feel inspired to continue down the road of psychoanalysis, childhood fears, nightmares and will do some appropriate contextualization, not just of photographers, but artists, writers, perhaps even textiles and mixed media.

“The key thing is your exploration, keep reading, thinking, remembering and playing!” Les Monaghan. 


Overall Comments

 An ambitious submission that fulfilled your brief. Further research always benefits a submission. In this case, it makes sense to hone down your submission to one, possibly two, ways of working. Great explorations though!

 Feedback on assignment Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Feedback notes from our phone conversation and some after thoughts:

Well done for challenging yourself and producing plenty of work.

Contextualization is always key whilst studying – who is influencing you, whose is the work that aligns with yours, look for historical and contemporary references.

We discussed how the work is serious, you are avoiding the glib in photography and trying to bring in theories and feelings. Very ambitious.

Your results look like you are searching, seeking answers in nature.

I wondered will this continue? Will you pursue psychoanalysis, exploring your childhood, ideas of the unheimliche?

Who else have you found working in this way or guided by these influences?

The ‘witches fingers’ is an exploration in its own right. We discussed what trees, and forests mean in contemporary culture, their resonances through fairy tales, whether we will ever escape our genetic memory of the forest.

I mentioned the forest in Japan, Aokigahara, near Mt Fuji, that is a notorious suicide spot, and that there has been work made there.

I suggested that you do some general research stuff on forests. We also talked about Liza Dracup, the photographer who retraced his grandfather and great uncle’s journey – Michal Iwanowski (, Sophy Rickett etc

We discussed your Rorschach ink blots, find art references for these, they could be a whole series in themselves, experiment, it could lead to a discussion of Barthes’ punctum and studium.

Those images that include movement, it might make sense to reference moving image work – The Cinematic he is a great resource

There are great experiments here, opening up lots of avenues for future work but for an individual assignment – or certainly the final submission – it makes sense to keep a really tight theme.

The rhythms and repetition that you’ve sometimes included really work. Editing is key, but we have plenty of time to look back over what you’ve produced the key thing is your exploration, keep reading, thinking, remembering and playing!

Take confidence from challenging yourself. There are a number of great starting points that you can build on here – there’s probably too many for an individual module but it’s good to see a thorough submission.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays Context

Some decent reflection on other photographers, please cite where you found them, it is always better to start with books. Reflective writing is the key to learning, and I think that you are evidencing your thinking well so far.

Using the arguments put forward by critics will help you gain understanding and progress your engagement with photography. Which is why its so important to read as much, and as widely, as possible.

Here’s an interim reading list that I usually send out to students, some of these are included in the reading for various modules –

John Berger: “Ways of Seeing“ *

Graham Clarke: “The Photograph”

Ian Jeffrey: “Photography: A Concise History”

Susan Sontag: “On Photography”

Roland Barthes: “Camera Lucida” 

– five relatively old but excellent entry points into discussing photography.

Susie Linfield: “The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence“ 

– contemporary, personal and easy to read, much of it in response to Sontag and Martha Rosler

Liz Wells: “Photography : A Critical Introduction“ and “The Photography Reader”

David Bate: “Photography: Key Concepts”

Stephen Bull: “Photography“

Charlotte Cotton: “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” *

Susan Bright: “Art Photography Now”

David Campany: “Art and Photography”

Ashley la Grange: “Basic Critical Theory for Photographers”

-essential, (at least the first four) contemporary general photography works

Gerry Badger: “The Genius of Photography: How Photography Has Changed Our Lives“

* also on DVD or online

Mark Durden: “Photography Today”

Steve Edwards: “Photography: A Very Short Introduction“

* It really is short!

[no author / Phaidon]: “The Photography Book“ *

Martin Parr / Gerry Badger: “The Photobook: A History“

Geoff Dyer: “The Ongoing Moment” *

Mary Warner Marien: “100 Ideas That Changed Photography” *

– for when reading gets too heavy!

 Anne Jaeger: “Image Makers Image Takers” *

– insights from photographers, commissioners and writers

* Asterisked books are the most accessible

Put any reflections or reviews on your blog.

Suggested reading/viewing Context

As well as some of the books above, here are some online resources – much better to start with some critical websites –

 Pointers for the next assignment

Keep reading! Let your own interests, feelings and opinions guide your photography, but remember you are working academically.

Tutor name: Les Monaghan
Date 02/06/16
Next assignment due 02/09/16
Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Personal Projects, Research and Reflection

Arboreal Study – Contextualization

With regards to arboreal photographers, I keep returning to Sally Mann’s works who I contextualised here.  Whenever I see her work I am ensnared by the dark imagination portrayed in these images. Especially this image which I likened to a sinister game of hide and seek, the feeling of hiding under a dark blanket and it suddenly being whisked away. I can see the tree portrayed as a sinister creature, a direct representation of human anatomy. To see it purely as a tree I have to focus so hard almost like I’m looking at an optical illusion and suddenly I can see the tree. Sally Man turns imagination into reality and reality into an illusion. Contextualisation

Photograph by Sally Mann

The way I’m viewing these images personify the trees and the more I think about this I do see them as living beings,  not just in a scientific and biological sense, but as spiritual beings, living forces that speak in their only language. I wonder do they feel pain, it is perhaps ignorant to hope that they do not when you think of the massacre of trees going on around this planet. How different would things be if the trees could talk? This feels like it’s leading me in the direction of a new project or assignment, ‘If the Trees could Talk.’


Photographs © David Nash


In regards to the personification of the woodland and the trees, what rules state that the personification has to end there? I was given the heads up by a fellow student who introduced me to David Nash’s arboreal art. I admired his carvings and wondered how I could incorporate them into my studies. I was pondering whether to continue investigating, then I noticed a specific art exhibit, the Wooden Boulder. Decades ago a 200-year-old oak tree met its end in the grips of a violent Winter storm, ending its legacy. Yet this wasn’t quite true, the vessel of the tree may have ended but its spirit had another story to tell. David Nash managed to gain permission to create from it a giant oak sphere which he planned to take to his studio. The only problem was the boulder was too large to move so he allowed nature to transport it, down the River Dwyry (in the Welsh town of Blaenau Ffestiniog) the boulder immediately became wedged between rocks and Nash was forced to wait six months until a sudden flood of rainwater shunted it into a pool. A year went by and the wooden boulder stayed in the pool, “There was a wild plum tree next to the boulder, so in the spring it was covered in little white petals. It was lovely.” It was round about then when Nash realised what was being created, a new story, a live exhibit, this wooden boulder was not pinned down in any stark gallery as a piece of modern art, it didn’t need to challenge (or confuse) the perception of fine art lovers; the boulder was the story! It wasn’t tied down by conventions of art, the wooden boulder was a living art piece in wild and living surroundings writing its own extraordinary story. It is never about the road, but the journey.

Over the next 35 years, David Nash has followed the Wooden Boulders painting, photographing and documenting its story, even giving it a voice.

‘The Boulder told me: if you take me back to the studio I’ll dry out and I’ll crack. The story will be over’ David Nash.

Its beauty comes in that the boulder has no boundaries, it could be anywhere right now, it may have needed a guiding hand at times to rescue it when it was trapped on private land or caught underneath a bridge. It may have been inanimate but its story brought it to life. I find it fascinating how whilst David Nash created the wooden boulder as a piece of art and set it free on the river to unleash its story, the true artist is the boulder itself. You don’t even need to be a person like myself with a wild imagination and able to believe that everything in inanimate has a voice, the Boulder created its own personal voice, it told a story and journeyed on an incredible venture.

To my surprise, the wooden boulder was last seen close to where I was on holiday in Wales recently. I will be returning there this year and would love to follow the journey of the boulder, and perhaps even see it myself, though it hasn’t been for such time. It’s only a shame that it won’t be in time for the second Assignment as that would have been a fascinating representation of a journey, a journey in a physical sense, a journey of discovery and a journey of art.

Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Re Tutor Feedback

I had a fantastic chat with my tutor, Les Monaghan who brought up lots of interesting topics and showed me new paths to follow for the course. He especially encouraged me to continue exploring into childhood fears, psychoanalysis and especially trees, the significance of the Witches fingers and their place in cultures and myths. I’m very excited about this, it’s very thought provoking to investigate one topic more thoroughly and see where the different threads lead you, like wading deeper into a forest on unfamiliar paths.

In a University, Les said, you’d pin several images on the wall that followed a theme, and over the week see how it invited different responses. Depending on the different responses you might switch them around, add some new images or even replace them with entirely new images. He recommended that I take that direction by posting my images up here.

The reason being was, though he was positive and enthusiastic about my work, he saw many different stories inside my set for Assignment One and wondered whether I would like to extract just one story. As he says I have several months to decide before assessment. As the Assignment had kept shifting and taking on new forms, a little bit of all the former ideas had joined in and I had wondered whether there were too many pathways.

I had wondered as I submitted the Assignment whether there were too many narratives, as the assignment had kept shifting and taking on new forms, many ideas had come together the Rorschach ink blots, the witches fingers, even the motion. As the Assignment had kept shifting and taking on new forms, a little bit of all the former ideas had join

With that in mind, I looked at my photos for Assignment One and placed them in the following categories each designated in a personal slide show, my wall in the University following my recurrent theme “My images use the uncanny, to allow the imagination to possess the subconscious to see shapes, faces, monsters or dreams…Through imitation of Rorschach inkblots and fear I have portrayed my interpretation of the sublime through an alternate landscape, my fear landscape focusing on Freud’s theory of the Uncanny. A fear landscape in a physical landscape.”


Witches Fingers

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28th of June – 2017 “I feel quite inspired by the Witches Fingers, they are the images that relate directly to my personal experience and they carry with them a feeling of the uncanny. At the present moment I feel leaning towards creating more images like this for the final assignment”


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28th of June – 2017 – I do quite like the moving image set. I just wonder whether it’s strong enough to stand on it’s own?

Rorschach Ink Blots


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28th of June – 2017 – It’s hard to choose between the Witches Fingers and the blots as they both are strikingly different. Perhaps I can include these in a later assignment.

Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Assignments, Coursework

Assignment One – Beware the Witches Fingers

Assignment One – The Witches Fingers

Chloe Halstead –

 The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” Albert Einstein

Through imitation of Rorschach inkblots and fear I have portrayed my interpretation of the sublime through an alternate landscape, my fear landscape focusing on Freud’s theory of the Uncanny. A fear landscape in a physical landscape.

Choosing a theme

Like the growth of a tree reaching branches into new possibilities, Assignment One has grown with each topic I read. Psychoanalysis and Freud’s theory of the Uncanny, ‘Das Unheimliche’ was briefly mentioned in the course, I was curious and investigated in detail.

Heimliche, a German word, means ‘familiar’, ‘homely’ a place of ‘comfort or ‘reassurance.’ The antonym, Das Unheimliche is eerie or unsettling. The uncanny is a feeling of unease or fear when an object that is familiar appears at the same time, paradoxically, frightening and unsettling. Like seeing your home at night without the lights, it is both familiar yet the dark generates fear.

As a small child the branches of trees reached out like gnarled witches fingers, I felt they would pluck me from the world. I have a great love of trees, yet even now they create faces or shapes igniting that childhood fear once more, something that is unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Heimliche can mean secret or hidden and Unheimliche is ‘revealed’ or ‘exposed’ a new level is revealed to us of great discomfort. There is fear in the unknown.

Relating to the unconscious mind Psychoanalysis enters an almost fantasy world, nightmares, dreams and other tools recover deeply hidden roots from childhood which I wrote about here. The Rorschach test uses inkblots to discover a patient’s character, thoughts and fears depending on what they see.

I was disposing of a blurred photo when I felt the trees emulated inkblots. I showed a family member who seemed to feel the uncanny. I was surprised at how unnerved they felt as they saw monsters in the innocent branches.


I decided to challenge myself to replicate the inkblots through the trees, yet so as not to be one-dimensional I included other images, manifesting the trees as they appeared in my imagination. Monochrome lent itself to the darker workings of a fear landscape. Shooting B&W in camera I saw the world differently, new possibilities opened up, like following a rabbit into Wonderland. The trees were different, foreboding, taking me back to my childhood fear landscape I was depicting. The uncanny was around me.

I experimented with a variety of techniques

Intentional camera movement at slow shutter to create the effect the trees were moving, thrashing!

  • Swirling the camera during exposure. A twisted Hitchcock style image.
  • Using negative space of the canopy to form the blots
  • Different angles to increase drama
  • Use of water, ripples to distort and confuse.


While risky, I feel this has worked. Paul Fry a Professor of English described in a lecture how to encounter the sublime, was to be ‘possessed by experience…to become aware of the imagination.” My images use the uncanny, to allow the imagination to possess the subconscious to see shapes, faces, monsters or dreams. It fills in gaps as it does when people view the Marsyas Installation, a gigantic sculpture filling an entire gallery space, so huge one can not see it in its entirety so are forced to create their own interpretation in their mind. The unseen becomes seen in the negative space.

I didn’t want to emulate the inkblots exactly or I’d have created them from ink myself. I feel I have set out and conveyed my interpretation of the sublime, the images are dark, the black and white images complement each other, and they depict something familiar in an unfamiliar way. They are portholes to areas of the subconscious drawing them out from hiding. I want the viewer to see my fear yet find their own depictions of their lives. Everyone has something that scares us and when faced with something unsettling it has an inherent and inevitable way of being incarnated into the real world. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where people see faces in ordinary objects. A study found that the mind is constantly searching for faces and will generate them in any object or situation and I believe you can see such faces in my photos.

I had planned on including several fears but I feel it has worked better to depict just the one. I had to choose between focusing on the trees as ink blots or the trees themselves as witches fingers coming out of the ground and decided to merge both of them into the series which worked with the uncanny and my study into psychoanalysis.

Fear is something everyone shares. I asked others their fears and was fascinated to see the mixture of fears both rational such as the fear of being attacked by dogs after such an encounter or the way the imagination creates scenarios out of the most innocent of objects such as the fear of doorknobs. How something that once inspired fear now inspires happiness is an interesting phenomenon, from an agreeable horror to an appreciation of the sublime as something awesome and to be respected, it shows how life changes, thoughts differ and everything is in continuous movement.

Here is a diagram  (from my physical learning log) showing the direction the assignment took. All the rest of the pages are in my last post  End of Part One +Physical Learning Log 



The witches fingers echoed ominously in the dark still waters of Scotland. This is my favourite of the set, it has a sinister feel, you don’t feel like wandering too close to the water’s edge.
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Reminiscent of the walking trees in Lord of the Rings and a Monster Calls the low viewpoint is quite evocative of my childhood fear. Arms hurled outwards, a distorted face, it’s the epitome of my nightmares. It also feels like the fearsome Wickerman.
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I wrote on my learning log here about the terrorizing images of Joshua Hoffine in his series ‘Basement’ (the word itself capable of producing such images) and said “ I notice that whilst he uses graphic images that leave nothing for the imagination, these images are shocking but the ones are that are more permeable are those that are suggestions. The silhouette of a clown against the sheet in the garden with the disillusioning bright balloons just visible. The arms creeping out from the back of the couch.” With this in mind I shot the photo below, the trees reflect like the ink blots in the still water yet a hand reaches out, just like the witches my childhood imagination generated from the trees did. This is possibly my favourite image of the set as it is so dark and intensely different to my usual standard of images.
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With horrific hairstyles the trees stare down. Shooting in vertical extended the tree trunk. As you look up the trunk you suddenly realise it’s not just you who is looking closely.
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The trees look almost serpentine, thrashing and writhing; emulating the Rorschach ink blots, I introduced deliberate camera movement during the exposure. It feels evocative of Caspar Friedrichs ‘Tree of Crows’ I couldn’t decide whether the image had too much motion blur but it was the image that started the assignment for me.
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Glancing up at the canopy I saw forms and shapes! Just like the ink blots the imagination uses the negative space to unviel the unseen. Does what you see depict your thoughts and characters. I see a wolf, my mother saw a witch, my sister saw a grotesque face and my father saw a nose!
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A wolf ‘s head seems very clear to me here. Jikta Hanzlová’ used negative space in her woodland images yet focusing on the land whereas mine features the canopy shapes. I’m aware it’s similar to the above image but couldn’t decide on which, I thought I would ask my tutor for advice.

IMG_7884 3The trees get closer and closer swirling and writhing creating shapes out of their flailing limbs.

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The thick black silhouettes emulate the ink blots.


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This time the tree branches are photographed in the pond, the water distorts the defined image.
This image was added at the last moment when I was searching for an image that was different. This looks like a sylph plunging into the depths, but why they are diving in such dark waters are unknown and distinctly eerie!  There are all sorts of mysterious forms in the water (an eye here or panda face there) but I will leave the rest to be discovered by the viewer’s  imagination!


Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Taking the Photos

With the new direction for the assignment, replicating the Rorschach ink blots and fear of the Witches Fingers I started shooting. Below are all the photos I took at each location.

Carlingwark Loch – Castle Douglas – Scotland 

The trees hung over the lake like witches fingers, I loved the reflections in the still dark waters.

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A Lay-by – North Wales 

While Dad was double checking the map I wandered around the lay by gazing up at the trees that surrounded me. The forest felt so dense, unpenetretable, the barbed wire seemed to reinforce it. I experimented swirling the camera to create the efffect that they were moving.

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Lytham Hall – Lancashire  Boasting many acres of forested land, a wildflower garden and many woodland paths bedecked with snowdrops and bluebells there was an abundance of unusual trees, twisted, strange trunks, interesting formations. I’ve included all the image I shot there (hence the appearence of several duck photos)  When I glanced up I saw the Rorschach ink blots in the canopy.

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Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Artist Research –

Following on from my research into artists depicting fear I asked on the OCA Photography Level One Facebook page whether they knew of any photographers concerned with trees. Within two hours I had been provided with such a list of photographers, I am immensely grateful to them! Updating this list as I work.

Sally Mann

Photo by Sally Mann – There is a haunting stillness about Virginian born renowned photographer Sally Mann’s photos. The trees appear personified yet unsettling, the split across the bark like a sewn up mouth, it has tinges of the horror movie industry yet something more sinister, the out of focus background, the shadows in the background and the strong vignette all signify something uncanny.
Photo by Sally Mann – Light and dark fight each other, in the image below the tree seems to sinisterly welcome you into its realm holding back dark branches. Yet the more you look it felt like I had been hiding under a dark blanket and suddenly it lifted it up and peered in. Each image leads you in further as though you are watching something in the distance but that something is watching you as well. I would like to add this dark effect to one of my images, creating such shapes.

Jikta Hanzlová’

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Photo by Jikta Hanzlova –  I like the use of negative space in Jikta Hanzlová’s series ‘FOREST‘ where the trees and foliage just clip the edges of the frame allowing shapes to be formed in the negative space. Glancing up at the tree canopy I can see this effect strongly, the different leaf patterns and arboreal features create unique ink blots wherever the eye focuses.

Thomas Struth

Photo by Thomas Struth – Struth’s images are a wild tangle of a beautiful, yet quickly disappearing, world entitled ‘Paradise’ The photos emulate the real forest or rainforest, trees and vines arching together in an infinite claustrophobic loop, as powerful as it is impenetrable. Almost like the trees are linking together to hold man back. Sentries ready to fight, The jungle is alive in these photos and they allow no one past the surface.
Photo by Chloe Halstead (myself) Inspired by Thomas Struth my image of the trees reflected in the pond show the dense world in the water, I included just a little gravel to increase the effect of the water. Do you see the hand in the reflections?


Posted in Assignment 1 ~ Beauty and the sublime, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment One – Peer Review

Below are the photos that have made the shortlist. I have several in my mind which I believe are the stronger images but I want to hear an honest opinion as to which should complete the final set.

Through imitation of Rorschach inkblots and fear I have portrayed my interpretation of the sublime through an alternate landscape, my fear landscape focusing on Freud’s theory of the Uncanny. A fear landscape in an actual landscape.

Focusing on Freuds theory of the Uncanny where a familiar object, paradoxically, appears unfamiliar and unsettling, I want to depict my childhood fear landscape. As a very young child, I  was scared of the trees which reached out like witches fingers. Part of the assignment will depict the feeling of the trees looming over me, thrashing, reaching out to grab me whilst the others replicate ink blots (used in Psychoanalysis to determine character traits, thoughts, fear. I want my images to use the uncanny, to allow the imagination to possess the subconscious to see shapes, faces, monsters or dreams. I have to include 6-12 images.

I have never submitted an assignment in black and white but felt the monochrome would work well with the theme.

Slide show- Witches Fingers

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