Assignment 5 – tutor feedback and response

I have now received, and had time to consider my tutor’s formative feedback on this assignment. Some rework is required and, as usual, he makes some pertinent and tangential points for further research. I have made some preliminary responses below, and I have some things to consider further and follow-up during my next course, ‘Context and Narrative’. Tutor’s comments in blue; my responses in black text.

Overall Comments

As this is your final assignment for this module I took the opportunity to look back over your learning log. This clearly evidences a sustained growth in your thinking and what I feel may be a willingness to explore and experiment with challenging ideas and themes in future modules.

I hope so. I enrolled with OCA with the intention of being challenged (OK, maybe challenging back a little as well) with a new approach to a familiar activity.

There are many interesting observations throughout the log particularly in your responses to the exhibitions that you have visited. I was amused by your honest description of your experiences at Chartwell House and can sympathize.

In the exercise viewpoint you selected Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare to discuss.

Actually, that image is selected for us. It was a useful exercise, as I had to look deeper into an image that I have previously glossed-over.

The interesting thing about this is that it is one of the few images that Bresson admitted to cropping. The analysis and reflection that you have engaged with since starting the module indicate a growing awareness of contemporary photography and a developing personal practice.

There was quite a lot to cover in this final assignment and it is clear that you engaged with a number of ideas prior to formulating your final piece. The photo-story that you shot covers the Christmas collection activities of the Rotary Club for charitable purposes. The location that you have worked in provided good opportunities to develop a theme and to cover the requirements of the assignment however the work has generally followed a formulaic pattern and perhaps needed to be considered in greater depth to develop and generate ideas that can move beyond the clichéd or immediate.

That worried me as well. I was following the advice usually given to writers, “Write about what you know”, but perhaps I was too close to the subject. I had some constraints in that I was supposed to be working as well as taking photographs. I believe that what I produced was a good reflection of my feelings and experience of this event but I have been doing it for so many years that reflection seems no longer necessary.

I would like to have seen you consider the implications of meaning surrounding the event. This could have been from a social, cultural and experiential perspective.

At present, I am not sure how I would do that. I will be looking for answers in future courses: Context and Narrative at level 1 and Documentary at level 2.

Is it appropriate that a collection like this take place in the first place? Is charity the answer to solving the problems that exist?

Yes, to the first question. The second question is more complex; charity may not be ‘the answer’ but it is certainly ‘an answer’. Rotary identified particular needs, and particular organisations working to fulfil those needs. It makes sense to work with existing structures rather than to attempt some sort of limited hands-on response.

Are the recipients empowered in any way by the event?

Yes. The recipient organisations have resource needs, some of which can be satisfied by purchasing goods or paying staff. Money donations indirectly address those needs.

How does the work reflect the diversity of ethnicity and its relationship to the event?

Not a relevant question in this context. Ethnicity is transparent to both the problem and the agencies working fora solution.

On the surface a simple enough event yet it can contain complexities of meaning that are not immediately apparent. Add to this the problem of how to communicate such issues through photography and you have a challenge.

One to follow up in future courses, as noted above.

You mention that it has the feel of a Picture Post story but this magazine also ran numerous stories that delved below the surface of the topic most notably in the reporting of the plight of the Korean prisoners of war by Bert Hardy and James Cameron. Overall very good development within the learning log and strong potential for development in the practical work.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

The work submitted is of good technical quality. You have followed a standard construct for the photo-story and in general this has worked. The image of the man with the boxes is out of place with the other sequence of images even though you know that it is part of the process of the event.

I agree. I wanted to show some of the pre-event planning, but this one should have suffered the same fate as the musicians’ rehearsal, and ended up on the metaphorical cutting-room floor.

As viewers the images show us interactions between people but in a number of these images the subjects are not always establishing a strong connection as one head is slightly turned away and there are also distracting balloons. In particular images 6 and 7 of the sequence.

Tricky, for reasons mentioned in the blog. The only three set-up images were 1, 9 and 10. Everything else was shot as ‘candid’. Images 6 and 7 were each my picks from short sequences. I was looking for interactions between the subjects which, of necessity, means that they are looking at each other rather than the camera.

I disagree that the balloons are distracting. I regard them as an essential part of the process.

I do not think that the image of the money on the table is necessary as the image of the money in the bucket already gives the information and is visually more interesting.

Again, I have to disagree. Image 9 is graphically good but it would be the wrong image to end on. Pouring coins from one bucket to another may appear a bit slapdash, and I consider it important to finish with something showing that the money is carefully counted and accounted for. I have other images from the counting process and will consider substituting one of those.

Having looked at your contacts I would suggest that there are stronger images there that could be used. Again it may be the case that the editing process needs to be critically thought out prior to selection. A good deal of time does need to be spent on this process.

I did spend a good deal of time on the editing process, including laser-proofing of the 40 in the short-list for final selection. I will go through the process again but expect many of the same images to appear again.


I was interested in how the image of Georgia O’Keefe prompted you to think of the image of Antelope Canyon and your analysis of why this might be. I did wonder if perhaps at an unconscious level the canyon image may have been triggered by O’Keefe’s paintings.

[Some example images]

The shapes, forms and colours in these paintings are strikingly similar to the canyon image.

Unlikely, as I have never consciously been aware of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings (a shortfall that I have made a mental note to address) so this is a happy coincidence.

I do like the images from the previous assignment that you have made into icons and these work well together in this format.

Thank you.

The first attempt at making a book was very brave and good. However I would remind you of the old design adage of form follows function. The external binding with string would obviously cause problems with placement on and off bookshelves. Also the stuck down image on the cover will get frayed at the edges. Nevertheless a good attempt.

I will stay with this book (subject to renewing some pages) for assessment. A partial slipcase, stopping short of the lacing, would serve to protect it but would make it slightly too bulky to fit into the clamshell box of assessment materials.

Overall this project feels unresolved at a visual level and I would suggest reviewing the contact sheets and perhaps rethinking the images.

Noted as above. 

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

There has been very good development in the learning log over the period that you have worked on this module. There is good reflection upon your own work, of other photographers, exhibitions visited and books read. Always some interesting comments from you some of which need to be questioned but this is something for you to engage with further in future modules. As a starting point I would suggest developing such comments as re Martin Parr

“As a viewer, I felt more like an insider than a voyeur. I also suspect that his City subjects are happier with the results than his Merseysiders.”   Why?

Badger tells us of controversy around Parr’s early work, including ‘The Last Resort’. He was an outsider at New Brighton (and, therefore, so are his viewers) but was working as a commissioned photographer for the City images. The improved access and contact with his subjects must influence the result.

“Much of it is fascinating and makes us think beyond what we see on the surface, but after a while I got bored with looking for the gimmick behind the performance.” What is the gimmick is it related to one piece of work, a particular artist or a genre? Why do you think it is a gimmick?

The whole paragraph (from my review of the Conceptual Art exhibition at Tate Britain) likened the exhibition to a talent competition for conjurors. ‘Gimmick’ is a technical term in conjuring, being the device or sleight that makes a trick work. What I meant (which I believe is clearer in context) is that I had to look for the central idea/concept/trick behind each piece.

“To what extent does our acceptance of a photograph as ‘art’ depend on its being presented in an art context – printed large and hung on a white gallery wall?” You seem to be interested in this question and it is worth pursing. Consider also what if work is presented in an art context but is described as not being art? As we commemorate in 2017 a century since the first showing of Duchamp’s Fountain it is perhaps a good time to re-visit the question of what is and what is not art.

 This is the central question that has been troubling me. I came to this course with a view of ‘art’ similar to the first part of the definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “Skill, esp human skill as opposed to nature; skilful execution as an object in itself; skill applied to imitation & design, as in painting etc.;  thing in which skill may be exercised”. Essentially, I have seen art as a supreme expression of a craft or crafts – which explains my impatience with ‘artworks’ that appear to lack or deride the underlying craft skills.

During this course, as a result of the course notes, tutor feedback and social media interactions, I have come to understand that OCA are working to a different definition, probably related to the next part of the COED definition, ” (pl.) certain branches of learning serving as intellectual instruments for more advanced studies…”. I have started the process of adjustment but suspect that, while adding to my understanding of ‘art’, I will not let go of my view that a level of craft skill is involved.


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