Posted in Assignment 3 ~ Spaces to places, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Willie Doherty – Ambiguity


The following is my investigation into the inclusion or exclusion of captions in photography. Artist study, Willie Doherty

Willie Docherty is an Irish photographer focusing on the pain, trials and tribulations of Ireland.  “He  (Doherty)does not deal with the explicit, but with hidden histories, tensions and antagonisms inscribed in the familiar, everyday surface of things” My tutor suggested it due to this inclusion of text yet I found my thoughts went further than text and more into the meanings gleaned from captions and the thoughts of the viewers when no such captions are provided.

I looked at the work of Willie Doherty and admittedly felt it it hard to put a meaning too without any context or narrative. The text is overlayed in a bold direct fashion across the image using typography hierarchy, the text has the role of bold uppercase with the photo being noticed secondly almost like a pale lower case. ‘God Has Not Failed us’ one such image reads then the eye is drawn beyond into the photo of a seemingly abandoned house, the shutters hanging askew, the feeling of emptiness. The two images present a double-edged sword, is the statement ‘God has not failed us,’ words of strength refusing to accept the situation, refusing to lose hope or is it written sarcastically, ironically, ‘God has not failed us’ yet here is the proof. It is impossible to know the story without any background. Even if the viewer knew it was in Ireland, which story was it?

That is where I feel photography essays are made up of two important elements, possibly three if typography is a feature. One, the photo, two, the caption and three, the typography. Like two cogs, each is redundant without the other. The caption can still tell a story but the photo is needed to provide the emotion, or the double meanings, the story between the lines. Yet as I write this I feel constricted, two paths appear, do you need the caption or do we like to create our own stories. On one hand, with the caption, we are offered some more insight, a clue in a crime scene and we can make of it what we will. I read a review of Willie Doherty’s work and realised it was about the conflict of Ireland. Exploring the images is like being at a crime scene and finding several clues which will in turn lead you to deeper revelations.

“Re-Run (2002) is a silent video installation by Willie Doherty, featuring two looped projections of a lone male figure, endlessly running across the Craigavon Bridge, over the River Foyle in Derry.”

Without the historial knowledge of the bombings of the bridge the viewer may interpret the image with their own imagery. They may relate the running to a situation in their own lives, running away from pain or fear…or running to a new future. The figure runs endlessly trapped in a infinity loop, someone who felt trapped in their lives would transpose their body into that of the figure so they were watching their own story playing out. Their feelings towards it may have nothing to do with the bombing of the bridge and the story Doherty is telling.

“Historically the only means of traversing the city’s two sides, the bridge was frequently bombed as a result of its strategic significance. A deceptively simple set-up, the camera catches the figure from the front as well as from the back in this double projection; even a cursory understanding of the site complicates the narrative”

Yet which is the strongest? Without the caption a photo can seem like staring through the window into someone elses lives. The window becomes evocative of a dolls house, you see the people, you see their characters and their surroundings and you create your own truths and stories out of that. Yet we can never know for sure whether the stories we are telling are the truth and that is where the beauty is, in the ambigious. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, sometimes the power of the photo comes from our own understanding. A piece of paper with the starting sentence which we then take as our own. The viewer is as much responsible for the final destination in the mind as the photographer.

This reminds me of Bergins work which I wrote about earlier here, he was asked to create the series for UK76 yet added his own words thus changing the whole meaning of the piece, thus becoming a completely new creation. Without those captions how would they have been interpreted? There would have been no double meaning as we are only shown one image. Does that mean to have a double meaning there must be two layers to the image, a caption (pushing the the meaning gleaned from the image in a new direction) and the photo itself.

This is something to be included in Assignment Four, writing a critical essay on a subject of which I’ve chosen Photography and Plato’s Cave, how the viewers interpretation will always be different to that of the photographer.


Willie Doherty’s “Unseen” | Art Agenda

Forged in Derry: punishment beatings and burning cars

Willie Doherty – YouTube


Posted in Assignment 3 ~ Spaces to places, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Typography Artist study – Les Monaghan

My tutor Les Monaghan used typography in his moving Desire project. He suggested I review his own work and I do not take that lightly. To review the work of my tutor was very uncomfortable at first but he told me that if I hated then I should just write why I hated. Luckily I couldn’t hate it. Les photographed people in a shopping mall asking them their desires. It was very heartwarming to discover that the majority of people had wishes not for themselves and their careers but for the world and for others. Journalism often portrays the world as a dark place with only wrong doings and the selfishness of people, but projects like this reminds us all that the majority of humanity is good. And in those good people are the hopes and dreams for a safe new future.

The Desire Project – Les Monaghan

The text works as a statement, rather straight and to the point, a matter of fact and in it’s simplicity it complements the whole piece by letting the images do the talking. I wonder whether a font replicating handwriting would have worked as though the person was actually talking to you. Perhaps if each subject had written down their desire, so the image would instantly become more personal, the photo of the person with their handwriting. Each image would stand out with the writing speaking as much as the photo, allowing the viewer a unique glimpse into a deep part of their lives.

James Smolka created a series called Falling Sickness featuring images and  letters from those who had been diagnosed with epilepsy. The photos are taken by the photographer but what is so personal are the accompanied scanned images of the letters the subjects wrote. The two images together seem such a contrast, a straight on image showing the person yet it is the writing and the letters that show the emotion. The pain of the suffererrs.

While reading about the photographers intention for the images I felt the lyrics in the musical ‘Hamilton’ described his project quite aptly. If you replace the word death with illness.

“Death doesn’t discriminate,

between the sinners and the saints

it just takes and takes and it takes”  Wait for it – Hamilton

Death doesn’t descriminate, nor does love or illness, only people do that. And he created this project to show exactly that, the many faces of people with epilepsy, from all races and sexes and ages, illness doesn’t discrimate or choose.  And nor should we. The use of handwritten letters also adds to the character, the more different styles of writing the more the idea of illnesses targeting anyone is reinforced. While I feel Les Monaghans series works in its simplicity I don’t feel his approach would have worked in Falling Illness

As it’s such an exposing and emotional series, a simply font would have erased such emotion.  Our handwriting is as individual as our fingerprints and I feel it reinforces the message.



Posted in Assignment 3 ~ Spaces to places, Coursework, Research and Reflection

John Kippin – Typography

Before I began researching the photographers my tutor mentioned I did some research into typography. The three main points in typography that affect the appearance, emotion or intended response are

Hierarchy. Just as in photography, the hierarchy, is essentially the lead in line drawing the viewers eye to where you want in the image. This is achieved by making the starting text larger or bolder. Or changing the tracking (the space between initials)  Kippins. The final one is Leading, the space between the words.

The placement of text in John Kippins photo reiterates the message perhaps as effectively as the photo itself. The tracking between the characters is wide, spreading it out enabling the words to hide in the landscape, as though it is decaying and falling apart like the plane. A pale font colour complements the aircraft perfectly. For my assignment I want the words to feel like they are in a timelapse, leaving behind the echoes, yet not hiding them in the landscape. The words don’t draw attention or assault the senses, the two objects are one, an echo of the other.


John Kippins – Hidden


John Kippins – Invisible

Again, the words reflect the images message. There are two main elements in the photo and both are in line with each other, as though the text is echoing the object. You can imagine the text as a stealth assassin copying the element and hiding the way wearing grey and standing against a wall causes you to fade away.

Of course neither are hidden or invisible as the viewer can see them but the words entangle with the story almost like an invisibility cloak, somehow the viewer accepts what they say and sees the object as invisible even despite the nagging part of the mind saying ‘but this isn’t’ invisible. It isn’t hidden. I can see it”

It is my understanding that John Kippins is a photographer who mixes politics, current issues and perhaps unveils those things that the world allow themselves to turn their back on. One image especially hit me. On its own the photo is of broken ice or glass, I think it is ice.  And this conjures up images of the ice caps melting, the onslaught of global warming. Underneath is just one word, one simple word that encapsulates such power and emotion, causes your heart to ache, to sing with anger and injustice and a burning desire to fight.


It’s such a causal word and one that always fills me with such frustration if someone uses it. It shows they don’t care. Whatever, it’s nothing to do with me. I don’t care. I think that’s the most powerful word that he could have used. A plea like ‘help’ or ‘what will you do’ would be strong and inspire change but a flippant ‘whatever’ creates a turmoil of emotion. I myself stared at it with a heavy heart feeling the emotions described above. This rage of emotions is felt in another image, the typography is subtle here and not created by the photographer. Instead, it features a dead shark, bloodied staring out with dead eyes, it’s expression a sharp toothed grimace. I assume it’s a victim of the heartless fishing trade which traps all sorts of creatures on it’s pillage to desolate the seas. Or perhaps the sick shark fin soup industry. There is a scrap of paper stuck on its head with a number. 118. That use of writing in an image is so potent. As though the dead shark is just an item in an auction, that it wasn’t swimming in the sea moments ago. Now it just another number in the massacre, another shark lost. Like a prisoner or a slave with it’s number branded. The number on the shark ties in with the flippant ‘whatever’




Posted in Assignment 3 - Preparation, Coursework, Part three ~ Landscape as political text, Research and Reflection

Tutor Feedback beginning Assignment Three

As aforementioned, my tutor suggested presenting my assignment work as an initial idea as opposed to a completed assignment as it would be approached like that in Universities. I sent some written work, ideas for the assignment and two photos and we spoke on the phone about it.

This is a way I would love to approach assignments in future. Having ideas instead of a completed assignment was so refreshing. We spoke about artists to reference, ideas to explore. As the main emphasis on the assignment is the written work he suggested several photographers who used text in their captions. He also recommended some amendments to change in the written work. “Don’t write ‘it’s a rough draft’, I know you work hard.” “Change ‘my personal opinion is’ to ‘my understanding of place is.”


Artists to research in regards to typography and presentation

Victor Bergens – Willie Doherty  – Les Monaghan (my tutor) – John Kippins

Karen Norse – Barbara Kruger – Ken Lum – Julien Waring – 

Bates, Balls and Barr

I asked around on the OCA photography Facebook page and was recommended to look at the work of

Georges Perec – An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris – Tom Wood – Roni Horns ‘ Another Water’ – Sophie Calle (who sparked the idea for the assignment)

I mentioned how I often found it hard to find certain photographers or artists to reference against my own work. He recommended finding one such artist and then researching their CV, who had they had a gallery with, who was their agent, what other artists did they present. The most helpful piece of advice he said was that you couldn’t just google the artists or read generic photography books, you needed to focus your assignment on one theory such as psychogeography, in my case, and then find the top names in psychogeography. As when it comes to assessment they will look at your work and think ‘That’s psychogeography, why didn’t they reference X and X.”

This made so much sense to me and I found it so helpful.

To Do

  • Find an article on whether words or images are more powerful.
  • He recommended seeing how the Snippets assignment looked like in different languages such as Vietnamese.
  • Les liked the idea of experimenting capturing Snippets at different places such as Blackpool seafront as opposed to quiet Lytham so I will go ahead with this.
  • Remove the capitals and experiment with different fonts. He put the emphasis on ‘lots of fonts.’


Posted in Assignment 2 ~ A journey, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Tutor Feedback – Assignment Two

I had a great Skype session with my tutor, Les. My assignment was recieved very well and the majority was positive with the emotions and meanings evoked and also the ambiguity of the meanings relying on the viewer to interpret, He described some images such as the man in the smoke as ‘really quite disturbing’ bringing dark connotations into the mix of terrible people, evil lurking in the darkness and the vulnerability of a young woman in the dark woods coming across this man. Les also described the accompanying poem, that I wrote, as having the same value as the photos which I was very pleased about. We discussed how one walk could bring to light such stories. He also liked the fact that the images were all taken on the same day as the light was consistent throughout which reinforced the idea of a journey.

There were several main points we discussed.


We discussed the effect of typography in a photographic essay, or more the effect of unsuitable fonts. When I added the poem I used a generic font focusing more on the words and the effect of the reverse out writing rather than concentrating on the shapes and the effect the typography offered. Les described it as a viewer, how one would look at the photos, be moved or drawn in, then the poem, reading the words; if the typography is unsuitable then another element takes the viewers attention, the shape of the words, which may be beautiful to study yet takes away the value from the images. I have written a piece of literature and Les said he wanted it like a book, like literature. There shouldn’t be any half way point such as italics to replicate handwriting. If it’s to be handwriting it should be actual handwriting and vice versa.

He showed me examples from his bookcase where the photos had been captioned in his wife’s handwriting compared to one which had a standard comic sans font which drew away from the images.

I will experiment with how the text influences the photos by using a font such as Baskerville and also with my own handwriting. Though I’m not sure how I can use the reverse out with such a method.

Human inclusion

Assignemnt Two Eight
There was a soft stillness And I felt it all around I felt it in my heart, my mind And thrumming through the ground

Les discovered a small figure in the distance in a pale blue shirt who immediately detracted from the images. He said, “Once I’ve noticed him, he’s all I see and I really want to live in this thing, read your words and live in that space.” Though not usually advocated by Les we decided to clone the blue man out as he acted as the punctum, yet not in the manner intended or desired.

The man in the smoke

I passed through a lonely place Where so many would feel fear Yet all I felt was comfort And I felt them all grow near. And as the ashen smoke rose And stained the bright blue sky They mourned their fallen families Those who they had watched die. So many of us may be scared Of walking through the door They may fear the forests But the forests fear us more

Les described the image as ‘disturbing’ and spoke of the dark connoations the image evoked in him. “We know they (people) exist as you are there but it makes it more of a shock that he is looking directly back at you.” In his own work there was such an image of a man looking directly at the camera and it was argued he should remove the image as it detracted’ We had a long discussion about the pros and cons of removing him but the image evoked such feelings that he recommended keeping it. I also felt it was the powerful image in the set as it’s so unexpected this man in the forest and the threat or help he may offer the protagonist and in that respect, the viewer. The answers are dispersed in ambiguity which is where the power of the series lies. Heliked that the photos would generate one response which was swiftly changed by the words so he wasn’t sure if it was a positive journey or something dark.

He also wrote of the final part of the poem before you see the man, the words ‘danger, family, bright, die, scared, fear’ and how they contribute to the shock as you turn the page and see the man staring at you. Almost like a jump scene in a horror movie. Interesting as I likened the winding path to the scene in the Shining where the viewer is taken around the long corners and never ending corridors. ‘implied threat…say you’re not there but it says your name under it, well suddenly there’s a man in the forest and the author is a women, there is an implied threat. But suddenly your words

The exit sign


Les wondered if the exit sign was too ‘heavy handed’ a little too symbolic to those who haven’t done the research

The Danger sign

Assignment Two - Three
For every corner that I passed Another would surely wind There seemed to be no end of it The labyrinth of the mind

Drawing on our dicussions of typography, was the Danger sign too obvious, did it cut the ambiguity with it’s direct reference to something dangerous instead of it being clouded in mystery?

I will think about the inclusion of these signs though I would need another element that acted as punctum.


Overall it was a great discussion, I feel I have completed the assignment to the best of my ability and now will continue with the next part and research Typography. For the next assignment we are trying a different approach and instead of sending Les the completed assignment I will treat it as though in a physical University where you would go in ever week and work on the imaes. I will send him some photos, outline some ideas and then discuss that in depth.

Posted in Coursework, Research and Reflection

Grundy Art Gallery Exhibition Review

“Everything is created twice, first in the mind, then in reality” Robin P Sharma

Yesterday I attended an art exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. I’d visited one or two exhibits a few years ago. I realise I am rather selective when it comes to fine art. If I see an exhibit featuring a huge inflatable balloon that fills the room I disregard it as it bears no connection to my studies. Yet, that said, if you perceive the world in such a way, everything links together, every subject bound, some distant, some more obvious. I was chatting to the museum curator and who knew that a comparison of an old painting could also be quite a strong comparison for a steam engine retired from the public and festering in the dark.

Therefore from now on, I will view everything in regards to my study. After all visiting only photographic exhibitions is surely one-dimensional thinking.

There were two exhibitions. Paper, Canvas, Neon displayed a variety of work from the Grundy Art galleries permanent collection. It was diverse encompassing a broad spectrum of materials, mediums, geography and dates. From an original of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Dove’ “used to illustrate the 1949 Paris Peace Congress, that became an international symbol of peaceful and political action, to the panoramic vibrant painting of a sun lounge on Blackpool seafront by Keith McGinn.

Next was the focus of my visit. Before seeing the exhibit I’d done some research on Tahi Moore’s installation, ‘Kim Wilde’s Heart of Darkness’ The exhibition was described as showing ‘images of mountains…seductive beauty…lights and resonance.” It sounded intriguing and I was excited to visit.


The name was inspired by Kim Wilde’s song ‘Cambodia’ I listened to the haunting song, of a husband sent to Cambodia (presumably for war) and how he returned but he never truly left Cambodia. LIke all the greatest art, the song ending is open for interpretation. What happened to the wife who searched for him in Cambodia? If she saw him again why did he never return from Cambodia? “And if she held him close He used to search her face as though she knew the truth lost inside Cambodia.” I interpreted it as her husband did leave the country yet only in the physical sense, emotionally, destroyed by the horrors he saw he would forever be lost inside Cambodia.

As it turned out the only thing the exhibition shared with the song was the title and even then it was obscure how that was related. I walked into a room that was blasted with light. Three wall-sized screens showed a few-second loop of unbearably shaky footage of the mountains, soft out of focus lights blinking and another landscape flickering on and off. This was disorientating enough without the several TV screens on the final wall blinking on and off with literary quotes from Macbeth, Othello and King Lear.

All of my initial thoughts and expectations of the exhibit drained away. I stared at the screens revolving myself in a slow circle trying to define some meaning from the exhibit. Try as I might I couldn’t and I realised it was because the flashing lights, the onslaught of images and disorientating visuals were apprehending my own mind and I couldn’t think. I recorded an audio note and I literally couldn’t string a sentence together. Was this the desired effect? I wasn’t sure. I recalled what the museum curator said earlier, “When you go to the exhibit, take your own interpretation but you should know that a conversation with the photographer was quite intense.” He told me how Tahi Moore would be talking about one thing and then leap back to something two weeks ago in the same sentence, running several different conversations with different people all in the moment.

All the screens and projectors were connected by wires that linked into the centre of the room. As far as I know the wires were not a part of the exhibition, yet why show them so obviously; however when I saw them finally the exhibit started making sense coupled with what the curator said. Were these images to show the personality of the photographer, had he portrayed his true self to the viewer. I was inside his mind, the wires on the ground connected to each other like the dendrites and synapses relaying information to the brain. That is the meaning I took from it but without the curator’s words, I fear I wouldn’t have taken anything from it. I’d have been sat staring at a computer screen trying to turn thoughts into words yet the thoughts being as blank as the piece of paper pinned to the exhibition wall.

I guess even though we take our own interpretations from art we are always swayed by others perception and sometimes adopt others views as our own, creating a rather triumphant feeling that we understood the art. Yet can we truly ever understand art? As Susan Sontag said the way we view images is just like we are still stuck in Plato’s Cave, we create our own stories from the shadows on the wall but we do not know the story of shadows the photographer is telling.  I will discuss this in one of the next blog posts.

I chatted to the curator after visiting the exhibits and he told me some fascinating trivia about pieces in the gallery and when I was leaving I bought one of the art magazines they had. To my surprise, he dashed off and gave me several back issues of the magazines for free! I was so touched by his kindness.

So while the exhibit was different to my expectations, so too is everything in life, no disrespect to the artist but I actually felt more drawn to the song and the hidden meanings and how in respect to the next part of the course especially, a space becomes a place and sometimes while you physically may leave that space, emotionally there is always an imprint of you left behind, either in the place or the place in your mind. Perhaps I could create images of the echo of memories for Assignment Three.

Posted in Assignment 2 - Preparation, Assignment 2 ~ A journey, Coursework, Research and Reflection

Assignment Two – Plan B – The Trees

I know what’s been missing from my Assignment.  All this time I have jumped from one idea to another, the reflections in the water, the path of Moss Road but that little cog of inspiration hasn’t slotted into place. And until it does I never stop searching. As I stood in the wild I felt the comfort of the trees, I needed the trees. My exploration of trees was not to stop at Assignment One, it was to become the roots of all of the assignments, guiding me.  It was then I realised what had been missing. My assignment needed a story, something dark, something different that I always include. It needed psychology and emotion. That was what it was missing.

Sometimes to find the path you’ve been searching for, you have to wander down many, right to the end if necessary before realising that the destination is not the one you had planned. And as with this assignment and the last one I have explored many ideas, wound down many roads before arriving on the forest path that I find myself on now.

Researching the Edgelands I felt excited, inspired and motivated. However, when I arrived there, they were beautiful and wild but I realised I was missing something. Trees. It was in that moment that I realised what trees mean to me. They are a safe harbour, they are friendly giants, I feel at home among them. I reflected on my thoughts during this unit, of trees and how they may be seen as a place of danger but are actually a place of safety, I thought of what the trees meant to those who took a different path in the suicide forest and the passage I wrote below 

 I often return to my tutors comments on our first skype call, “We come from forests – that is the place where we store our fears”  It is the place where we store our fears yet it I also feel that the forest calls to them, the fear is overidden, they return to nature, from where they’ve come, perhaps there is a feeling of safety, the trees like comforting arms there to take away their pain, to shield them from their suffering and that of the outside world. Whilst the forest may bring others fear, the way the branches close in on each other blocking out the outside world, that is in a way it’s appeal, it is a place where you can hide, a place of escape, it is like the journey undertaken by the souls of the departed in Greek Mythology. Instead of the winding river Styx, they tread the path of the forest.  The forest is not a scary place, it is named Mother Earth for a reason and it provides the comfort they need, whether it’s to send them back to their lives or for them to start a new journey in a new layer of the world.”

I felt that the trees were saying something different. I want to create images of a journey (not of the suicide forest, purely, seeking the trees as comfort)  What if the trees were trying to help, saying  ‘Why do you fear, leave your fear behind, come escape the light, the light is isolation but there is comfort in the dark, you’re alone in the light, we can hold you, come deeper, we are friends. Now you are safe. I can see with every image the trees getting darker, closer together as you go deeper, it’s a journey both physical and psychological. Each tree would have a sign on it saying the words.’

With these ideas flashing in my mind I recorded a quick audio note to clarify my ideas with a rapidly drawn mind map. When my mind is wandering, sketching down ideas and pictures leads me to clarity.  Everything came together as I drew. I could see the assignment images so clearly in my mind.

2017_09_05 10-11-53



Questions to ask myself.

I wonder what the signs on the tree should look like. Is pure white too stark, not natural? Do the words need to be physically in the photo or manipulated in later. I can see it as a video with music. The trees are not witches fingers. They are comforting arms of mother earth and they hear you. They are there for you. Why is the light always positive and the dark negative? I think there is comfort in the darkness. I wrote about my thoughts earlier in my learning log when I was looking at Jesse Alexander, the course writers sublime cave images. I will scan them and include them in the next blog posts. I feel excited for this. This is what I’ve been searching for.