1. Photographing the unseen
Start by doing some reflecting in your learning log. What kinds of subjects might be seen
as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography?
List a few examples of things you’re experiencing now or have recently been thinking
about. This doesn’t have to be too in-depth or revealing, but it can be if you want. Equally,
it might be something as apparently trivial as how you’re going to fit everything into
your busy day. At first you may come up with literal examples, but the more you think
about them the more those ideas will develop into specific and more original ones.
Make a list of at least seven ideas. Try and keep to things you have a personal interest in
or curiosity about. Keep a notebook with you at all times and make notes when ideas
strike you as interesting. (This is good practice for all stages of the degree and beyond.
Ideas books are something to be revisited time and again for ideas and hints for the
photographer you’re becoming.)
Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series
of 7–10 images.
2. Using props
This option is about photographing an object to suggest a narrative.
Choose between a white shirt and a handkerchief for your object. Once you’ve decided,
make a series of 7–10 photographs which tell a story about or including your object. You can make your photographic style anything you like. You may wish to include the
prop in all of your series or just some of the images, depending on the narrative.
Bear in mind that the story is being alluded to through the use of the prop and its
location – and characters should you choose to include them.
Draw a storyboard before you start to help you consider the progression of the plot and
how you’ll set up the shots.
Now implement one of your ideas. Aim for a tightly edited and visually consistent series
of 7–10 images.
Whichever assignment option you choose, send your series to your tutor by the method
agreed together with an introduction of around 300 words. You should also send to your
tutor the relevant pages of your learning log or blog url.
OCA, Photography 2: Context & Narrative, p. 69 
This page holds a detailed timeline of the project(s) undertaken for Assignment 2, of Context and Narrative.
[26Jan20] As noted on the C&N assignments page, I am likely to take the first option, although I have bought a s/h book on napkin folding, just in case I am diverted to the second. Seven ideas needed. The two I thought of initially, back in November, were quite literal:
1/7 use a long lens to photograph things not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps the tops of buildings and maybe the tops of churches.
2/7 at the other extreme, use a macro lens to shoot small objects, again not normally visible.
Minox digital spy camera
Some more ideas today (26Jan) as this is now the active project,
3/7 the obvious untakable subjects involve voyeurism taken to the extreme of illegality under Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 . Clearly a non starter to one who baulks at standard street photography.
4/7 but illegality of a more frivolous kind does have some appeal. The religious establishments that forbid interior photography and frustrated me in Asg1 brought to mind the fact that it is illegal to take photographs in most of the Houses of Parliament. The idea of flouting that regulation and using a concealed camera in the House of Commons is attractive and I learned today that Minox, famous for their 9.2mm spy cameras, marketed a 5MB digital spy camera (fig. A1) in 2008. Here's an AmPhot article on the press release . The camera was not particularly good, to judge from the comments, but I would been prepared to venture £50 and run with this project: unfortunately, the only example found on sale online was $345 from ebay .
Box B Private,
5/7 I recently became aware of the work of Alison Jackson, who uses doubles to stage tableaux that would embarrass the real subjects (fig. B1 being a prime example). While artifice on this scale would be outside the scope (and the budget) of this assignment, digital manipulation could be used to a similar effect, but would run the risk of legal action.
Suggestions 1 and 4 are the most likely to be tried. I will return with the last two.
6/7 [27Jan] I recall when I first visited Tate Modern (so that must have been some time in 2000), I was struck by the design of the toilets and waited until I was alone to take a photograph. This has become an occasional series that includes (from memory, I have none of the images to hand)
The Albert Hall, before they were modernised
Regents Park College, a strange combination of Edwardian and sheet aluminium
Greenwich Picturehouse, very minimalist
National Portrait Gallery, closes soon for 2 years - better get back there
These are, under normal circumstances, unseen by around half the population, so qualify for a nomination. It might be illegal too, so that introduces a hint of #4.
7/7 [30Jan] I am struggling with #7, but here we go. Street beggars can be unseen in the sense that some people ignore them and avoid eye contact. Beggars would therefore qualify as a subject but I have no intention of photographing them.
30th Jan, Toilets
A quick foray to the NPG (before it closes for refurbishment) and Tate Modern (where, I thought, this idea started). One important factor in this project is that one does not linger over the subject. My tactic was plan the shot, then to pretend to wash my hands (but not get them wet), while waiting for the room to empty, take two quick snaps and exit.
This worked, but I failed to find the toilet that I thought I remembered at Tate Modern: I tried four, they were all small and ordinary (albeit determinedly monochrome) and I photographed the last one. The facilities in the nearby Globe Theatre were entirely mundane and were not photographed.
While the capturing of the images involves a certain amount of adrenalin, the images themselves are, so far, unexciting.
7th Feb, Tutor
I had my Asg.1 chat with my tutor this morning that went well. We ran through my ideas for this assignment and none were disapproved of, so I can run with Tops of Churches and Gents Toilets for now.
I think that I need to carry a wide angle zoom with me for toilets. Wendy recommended a forthcoming show at the Barbican (Masculinities) so that's another toilet shot to be had.
I need to identify some interesting church tops now. There's one between Hither Green and Lewisham and one just before London Bridge, visible from the train, but I've no idea how to get to them on foot. There's an very ordinary one nearby (as yet unphotographed) that raises the question 'why bother', especially when contrasted with the splendour of St Paul's.
On the matter of presentation, my formal documentary instinct suggests that I should also provide an establishing shot of the church and of its notice board, perhaps on the same A4 sheet. There's a recent quote on establishing shots.
I might have some chances this week to work on Asg.2 and I have had some thoughts on the workstreams. There are three which will become two.
1. Tops of Churches is the backup and I'll grab those whenever the opportunity arises.
2. Gents' toilets are not interesting enough to sustain a series.
3. The Forbidden Zones is the most interesting prospect and I will include the most interesting toilet in that - perhaps Greenwich Picturehouse. The target is 7-10.
2. the House of Commons is not sitting next week.
3. photography is banned in Sir John Soane’s Museum, open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm
4. Westminster Abbey - damned expensive to get in though.
... this could be a struggle because, presumably, I want a decent photograph, not any old grabbed shot (HofC excepted - there any will do).
Police stations, banks and even supermarkets tend to discourage this sort of thing.
Box E SP with spy pen
2 Mar 2020
I have bought a Spy Pen on ebay. It is surprisingly good (I was quite surprised it worked at all). Fig. E1 is a test shot. I'll try to change the date.
Another possible subject, a law court - the old Bailey?
Progress at last, progress in the Forbidden Zones, I went to the cinema this morning (we were the only patrons), sawThe Photograph(!) and took a few.
I might have to break with tradition and drop the 6x7 stipulation for the warning screen (fig. G2) as I like the lights at the top and the fire extinguishers bottom right (fig. G1). I will probably use G1 for the assignment submission header page.
in G3 are good but it is a pre-film trailer, when some lights were still on so probably shouldn't be chosen.
F5 is rather too distinct, so it's G4 or G6. I would prefer the confusion of G6 so perhaps go back to the Raw version, increase the contrast and emphasise to colours … that's now done with fig. G7: much better detail on the right hand side and a delightful purple artefact far right.
Guessing the camera settings was quite fun (see below). If I was doing it again, I'd sit right at the back, take the wide angle zoom and go for the Full Sugimoto.
Two more have been processed from raw. I will have to go with fig. G9 because of the seats.
This is not a very exciting option, it is very much a backup in case (as seems likely) I fail to produce 7 Forbidden Zones in time. Two snapped today, so time to catch up with these and others I have shot, as encountered previously.
I have five available, two have been processed so far. The layout I have decided on aims to show the top of the church, i.e. the item of interest plus, as documentary additions, the identifying noticeboard an image of the whole building. Fig H1 shows the extraordinary topping that started this project. Fig. H2 is at the other extreme, a simple topping that has suffered over time and goes unnoticed.
Limited but gratifying success with the spy pen. It is difficult to be certain when it's off and when it's on; it's difficult to tell whether you are taking a still image or a video (I took more of the latter than the former and have had to resort to screen grabs from the films).
Nevertheless, if I had taken some shots in the HofC (which, of course I might not have) then they might have been satisfactory (figs. J2-J3). It can be stated that security is similar to an airport to get onto the site, that there are a lot of stairs to the HofC Visitors' Gallery and you have to hand over any bags and your telephone before you get in.
After possibly not taking any photographs at the House of Commons, including possibly not taking a photograph of a Gents' toilet there (fig. J4), I headed to the John Soane Museum where photography is banned and where I did deploy the Spy pen (figs. J5-J8).
Photography, while it is allowed in most of Canterbury Cathedral, is banned in the Crypt where they happen to house a Gormley sculpture and where I happened to be on Monday 9th (fig. J1).
The score so far is G8 for the header page then, of the 7-10 required, G9, J1, J2, J8.
Three more needed - a law court, a Gents' toilet (J4 at a push) and I have a possible candidate in Greenwich market this weekend.
I had discussed the project with a colleague who suggested a stall in Greenwich market selling, what she referred to as, "lurid landscape photographs". I headed there this morning. It was quite difficult to find as the signs are, regrettably, rather small. I had considered asking the photographer to pose beside his signs but thought better of it as his complicity would have undermined the spirit of the project. Accordingly, I precoded with caution and surreptition.
To Bromley for the last two shots of Asg.2. (I would have gone to the Tower of London for one more shot of the Crown Jewels, if it were not for the entry charge of >£20, even for concessions, and the current virus threat). At last an interesting toilet and, couched in similar terms to my outing of 12th March: if I had taken some shots in Bromley Magistrates' Court (which, of course I might not have) then they might have been satisfactory (fig. L2). The security was similar but lower key, perhaps comparable to a local airport, with body and possessions scans, retention of camera, but I did get to keep my mobile this time — presumably the banning of all phones from the courts would not be popular with visitors.
[17Mar] Although, as instructed, seven projects were outlined, only three were ever really going to run — gents' toilets (gents), the tops of churches (churches) and forbidden zones (forbidden). It soon became clear that the available toilets are too similar to sustain a worthwhile series and so gents was subsumed into forbidden. Forbidden was by some distance the more interesting project, but there was always doubt whether enough subjects would be found: churches was only thebackup.
Yesterday (16th March) I achieved the minimum target of seven in the forbidden series and they will now be prepared for selection. would have liked to get one more target, the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London ('stealing' a shot of those would have brought a symbolic cachet to the series) but virus restrictions (and also cost) have prevented that.
Some of the shots I had in mind were illegal, or at least in breach of regulations which could lead to significant punishment, and if those had been taken, they could never be published. This may be pretention or overreaction, but for these subjects, the intention is to submit for assessment images obscured by blurring with the real images (if there are any) in a sealed envelope with a warning. This might be absurd, or it might be a sensible precaution … or somewhere between those two extremes.
All seven shots will be submitted and, given the nature of the subjects, there is not a great deal of choice in images:
1. Cinema -
one to submit (G7 or G9) and, additionally, the blurred warning (G8) for the header page.
2. (what might be the) House of Commons
(J2 or J3)
3. Gormley at Canterbury (J1)
4. John Soane Museum (J8)
5. Greenwich Market (K1 or K2)
(what might be) a Magistrates' Court (L2)
7. Gents' toilet (L1)
Let us note in passing the absurdity of some of these restrictions:
Cinemas, understandably, don't want films to be
pirated, so that makes sense;.
Every moment of parliamentary debate is broadcast and available online in video so stills are obtainable. The members of both houses want to control the images made available so that they can protect their dignity.
Canterbury Cathedral allows photography on the ground floor but not in the basement.
The restrictions in the John Soane Museum are perplexing: it is a cluttered and often dark but eminently photographable.
The vendor in Greenwich Market justifiably wishes to preserve his aesthetic intellectual property and I have no wish to interfere with that, hence the low resolution images for these and all photographs on this site, mine and others'.
Restrictions in all toilets are commendable.
Courts of law are, in my view, right to ban photography of vulnerable people at sensitive moments. Pricking the pomposity of the judiciary, however, is another matter.
and, incidentally, I seem to recall that on a family visit to the Tower of London as a child (so early 1960s) that photography of the Crown Jewels was not permitted, but I also think I remember seeing them on Blue Peter.