BA Phot

C&N Preamble


Preamble - Project 1, Eyewitness - Exc. 1 - Project 2, Photojournalism - Project 3, Reportage - Exc. 2 - Project 4, The gallery wall – documentary as art - Exc. 3 - Project 5, The manipulated image - Exc. 4 - Exc. 5 - Upsum

C-B and surrealism - irony - Late photography - McMurdo - Meyerowitz - objectivity in citizen journalism - Pickering - Rosler - Sanguinetti - Seawright - street photography

Before you start - Introduction - Context - Narrative - Reflective writing - Welcome Pack

See the blog, 1st December for consideration of the referencing used on this page.

[9Nov19] I am working from the free online course extract for now and will formally apply for the course next week [14Nov] now done. There is a lot (16 pages) of preliminary material before the actual course begins which I will summarise as this Preamble.

Before you start

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[11Nov19, p.5]

Exercise I

Write 250 words on what you are doing and why and send this to your tutor:

Your tutor is your main point of contact with OCA. Before you start work, make sure that you’re clear about your tuition arrangements. The OCA tuition system is explained in some detail in your Student Handbook.
If you haven’t already done so, please write a paragraph or two about your experience to date (your profile). Mention any skills you already have that you think are relevant to the course. Comment on why you want to study this particular course and what you hope to achieve as a result of taking the course. Email your profile to your tutor using your new OCA email address (maximum 250 words). Your profile will help him or her understand how best to support you during the course.
Also arrange with your tutor how you’ll submit your assignment work (e.g. whether you’ll email images as JPEGs or send prints in the post) and how you’ll deal with any queries that arise between assignments. This will usually be by email or phone.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of submitting at least some images as prints to help you prepare for assessment, if you choose to go down this route. [1] C&N p. 6


I am a person of age who has enjoyed photography for more than 50 years. I started the course with EyV because my photography was increasingly moribund and I saw this as an organised and structured way of being forced to photograph different subjects and also gain some insight about what I was doing by studying current photographic theory.

While the photographs I produced for EyV were largely technically competent individually, I struggled to produce coherent series for the assignments and look forward to making some progress on this in C&N.

I have suffered two strokes in the past few years and these have affected my speed of thought and my speech with the result that I would prefer to communicate in writing as this gives me the time to organise my thoughts.

In EyV I submitted assignments 3-5 as physical prints and would like to continue this with C&N.

Regards, Nick

Exercise II


Learning Log and Blog
The instructions here [1, p.7] appear very similar to those for EyV. I intend to take the same approach for C&N, unless instructed otherwise.

Learning outcomes
The student is expected to,

• create images that demonstrate a practical and conceptual understanding of the
appropriate use of techniques
• demonstrate an emerging critical awareness and ability to translate ideas into
• conduct research, development and production in response to the themes raised
in this course
• show a critical understanding of contemporary imagery in relation to historical
practice and theory. [1] C&N p.8

Formal assessment
links to - and then goes on to be much clearer and specific than EyV,

For assessment you’ll need to submit a cross-section of the work you’ve done on the
• Assignments Two to Five, together with the original tutor-annotated versions
• your learning log or blog url
• your tutor report forms.[1] C&N p.8

Assessment criteria
p.9 Again, very similar to EyV, Technical (40%), Quality (20%), Creativity (20%), Context (20%). Here's EyV.

The expectations are similar to EyV because these are both level 1 courses. In addition to the course material links,

Exercise III

Log on to the OCA / Research /Resource types / Online libraries. and explore.

Read and print the guide to Harvard Referencing - already done, and see here

Exercise IV

This exercise is about planning your studies. The course amounts to 400 hours of study. This works out at around eight hours a week over a year.
• Draw up a study schedule. When are you going to work?
• Where are you going to work?
• Get in touch with your tutor and arrange a date for the submission of your first assignment – and subsequent assignments if appropriate. You can also plan your study online at: [1] C&N pp.11-12

[13Nov] I intend to work through C&N more quickly than EyV. As a starting point, I will allocate one month for each of the five Parts interspersed with another month for each of the five Assignments. Thus, Part 1 December, Asg. 1 January, Part 2 February etc. This will allow contingency for the Parts to overlap with the Assignment months, but I will aim to deliver the Asgs at the end of Jan 2020, March, May, July and September.

The work arrangements will not change from EyV

That’s the end of Before you start, next the Introduction.


[14Nov19, p.13] This section explores definitions and usages of the eponymous Context and Narrative.


[p.14] the course material quotes the OED, "the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood" (OED), which is a fine starting point.

Towards the end of EyV, Terry Barrett's Essay, Photographs and Contexts was introduced [2]. Let's see if that turns up. Barrett defined three aspects of context, (to quote my own summary)
internal context — picture, title, date and maker
external context — the presentational environment
original context — the causal environment: the location, circumstances and intention of the maker.

[15Nov] Applying the specifically to photography, the course material continues,

The context of a photograph and its surroundings (i.e. what’s outside the frame as opposed to what’s inside the frame) are fundamental to how it comes to exist and how it is consumed. No photograph exists without a purpose, background or context. Whether on a billboard, on a gallery wall, or in a family album, the meaning of a photograph is influenced by what surrounds it – and not just its physical location. [1, C&N p.14]

It is suggested that most of the photography we see is advertising (I'm not sure that's true in my case), intended to influence us in various ways, and that we should be aware of the fact. Similarly, we should be aware of the meanings which can be drawn from the photographs we take and try to ensure that we are in control of that. There is also an ideological context and we should be aware of what other photographers are doing to "to position yourself within contemporary photographic practice" ([1] C&N p.14).

Apple ad
Box A
Unattributed Apple ad.

We are directed to an article by Judith Williamson [3] on advertising, published in Source magazine and available here. Williamson analyses a magazine advertisement for an Apple Corp. iPad comprising a large photograph, a short column of text and the strapline, "Designed by Apple in California"(fig. A1). She describes the image quite elegantly, the single source of illumination bringing heavenly light to the girl and her bracelet, but, rather excessively, claims that it "suggests we are witnessing a scene of annunciation - she is being touched by something ethereal, even godly". She contrasts the pretentious, partly "gibberish" advertising copy with the working conditions of those physically producing the Apple machines in the Far East which she compares to English factories in the Victorian era. While Apple's text seeks to evoke poetically the pleasure derived from using the product, Williams describes this as "commodity feshism" and states that users should be mindful of the workers who made them. Williamson notes that ad proclaims, "Designed by Apple in California", but (and thus implying superiority) makes no mention of where it is produced and further suggests that the girl in the ad's perceived mixed race oriental heritage reinforces this attitude through some form of unidentified ambiguity.

The course material, describes the article as, "an excellent example of a critical approach" and adds that the Williamson series, "often [leaves] one dumbfounded at the depth of manipulation that seems to be going on behind the scenes [in advertising]'".
It is generally acknowledged that pay and working conditions in Far Eastern "sweat shops" are a disgrace and there is occasional outrage when a particular case is investigated and made public (cue corporate hand wringing, insincere apologies and statements approximating steps have already been taken to ensure … ). Nevertheless, Williamson's piece is exaggerated and it is naive to suppose that advertising in general will constitute anything other than cynical pretension and falsehood designed to shift product.

No mention is made of the fact that it is a rather cleverly conceived, prettily staged and well executed photograph.

Joachim Schmid
© Joachim Schmid
Vernacular photographs from
the collection of Peter Cohen,
Box B

[16Nov p.15] Next to Joachim Schmid who collected and organised thousands of photographs, originally from flea-markets and more recently from online sites such a Flickr. He produced books of images by subject (96 according to the course material). The example shown is wedding couples with flowers (fig. B1). [9Oct20] Schmid also pops up in I&P..

Rear Ends
Box C
Rear Ends,
Handy and Elsener

Similar work was done by Peter Cohen in the US and an example shown in the inaugural exhibition at the V&A's new (in 2018) Photography Gallery: fig. B2 shows a subset of the display.
Shortly before starting C&N, I came across a copy of Rear Ends, gathered by Roger Handy and Karin Elsener [4]. What surprised me was that this apparently racy volume had been issued by the reputable art book publisher Abrams in 2007. I bought it in a degree of dudgeon with the intention of using as Exhibit A to illustrate, when the need arose, how public norms have changed since 2007. As luck would have it, it transpires that the front cover (fig. C1) is the only controversial image in the book: the contents are in Cohen's vernacular.

The course then asks why so many people take such similar photographs? but does not give an answer.
In the case of wedding photographs the answer is that it is an occasion of significance, the photographs are a way of recalling the event and certain standard arrangements and poses have become traditional. In recent years this has extended to an ever wider list of subjects (kittens, food, every social event, etc.) through imitation on pernicious social media (I am uncertain whether these are memes or tropes).

The course shares a published interview with Schmid in which he described himself as a "gatherer" in the socio-anthropological sense rather then a collector as the purpose of the exercise was analysis rather than acquisition. The interview mentions the obsession described in Italo Calvino’s Adventures of a photographer which is available here.
Schmid is asked how the availability of digital snapshots has changed his practice and he describes how much more efficient the process has become. My personal reaction to this aspect is that whereas assembling and organising physical snaps has an intrinsic interest, processing vast volumes of digital material is a soulless activity: this might be comparable to the attraction of film cameras rather than digital: the difference in terms of output is relatively insignificant but in terms of process is profound.
Incidentally, Schmid's answer to the question why are many snaps so similar is self-evident and pretty similar to mine above.

[18Nov p.16] And so to Erik Kessels. This link is to a short post on comparable work which mentions:
1. Kessels' 24 Hours of Photographs, where he printed every image uploaded to Flickr in a particular 24 hours and toured them as an exhibition (fig. D1). There is a question to be raised here over attribution rights.
2. Alec Soth in 2013 bemoaning the proliferation of photobooks (link) who in turn quotes,
3. Robert Frank as saying, “There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art any more. Maybe it never was.”

Box D
1. 24 Hours of Photographs, Erik Kessels, exhibited in Eglise Ste-Claire, image from TenSentencesMax
© the artists or their estates

The post ends by asking the reader why they take photographs and contribute to the flood?

In my case, I take photographs to capture (in some way) moments that merit it (in some way) and in doing so, try to create images that are better (in some way) than others'.

Context, summary
This section started with a sound dictionary quote stating that context provides "the circumstances that form the setting" of (in this case) a photograph and thus contribute to understanding it. Terry Barrett defines the internal , external and original components of context.

Through Judith Williamson we were warned to be aware of damaging interpretations of images which did not occur to the image maker.

We then examined, through the work of Schmid, Cohen and Kessels, how so many photographs are alike which led to the question, so why bother?


[19Nov p.16] Back to the OED for a definition of Narrative — an account of connected events; "a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values" (C&N quoting the OED).

It is worth quoting the opening paragraph of this section of C&N in full,

Individual photographs and series of photographs hold within them their own narratives (i.e. what’s within the frame). This course will refer to narratives both within single pictures and series of photographs. By ‘narrative’ we mean the visual flow, the coherence of the set of images, or the construction of the single image.[1] C&N p.16

The importance of frames is stated here in C&N, in EyV and frames were central to the analyses of John Szarkowski [5] (see below) and to Stephen Shore [6] who wrote that the  frame creates relationships between the components of the image.


The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame. This frame is beginning of his picture's geometry. It is to the photograph as the cushion is to the billiard table. Szarkowski, The photographer's eye, p.70

In Durden's Fifty Key Writers On Photography (2013) [7], in the section on Cartier-Bresson, he quotes C-B's L'imaginaire d'aprés nature (1996, p.27), where the artist states,

If a good photo is cropped, even ever so slightly, the relative proportions, the play of proportions, are sure to be destroyed, and besides, it is highly unlikely that a badly composed shot will be saved by tying to frame it anew in the darkroom, cropping the negative under the enlarger: the integrity of the initial vision is lost. Henri Cartier-Bresson, L'imaginaire d'aprés nature, p.27, tr. Durden, quoted in Fifty Key Writers On Photography

Durden goes on to observe that Bill Brandt noted C-B's view and responded, "No rules in photography … I'm interested in the end, not the means." (Bill Brandt, Bill Brandt (1993) p. 15, quoted in Durden' Fifty Key Writers On Photography).

[24Nov p.17] The course material continues,

The overall narrative within a series of photographs should be consistent … [you] should be able to see patterns in your images that uphold your overarching set of aims or values [1] C&N p.17

The narrative thread, it goes on, "is why photography holds such a close relationship to film and literature", though as was noted in the blog a few days ago,, Alec Soth does not concur,

If photography were a true narrative art like filmmaking or fiction-writing, you'd have certain narrative conventions like the feature-length film, the television program, the novel, the short story, etc. But photography functions more like poetry and, like contemporary poetry, is usually free-verse in nature. There are no standards for beginning, middle and end. It's up to each photographer to create her own structure. Alec Soth, quoted in Sasha Wolf, Photo Work: forty photographers on process and practice, pp.240-1 [8]

C&N concludes that the photographer can choose not to pursue a narrative approach, but should have a reason to do so, rather than, "submitting a random selection of disparate images that don’t hold together as a narrative".

Note that the reason I am quoting these sections at some length is that I struggle to achieve any narrative depth and produce a random set of technically competent photographs linked by subject, which is not the same thing at all.

Jeff Wall is given as an example of a narrative within a single image, one key example of this being his Picture for Women, 1979 (link).

It is emphasised again [p.18] that the photographer should try to be aware of the way an image might be interpreted, describing the "broad context (outside the frame) and specific narratives (within the frame)" [my emphasis].

The Narrative section ends by saying that as EyV sought to dispel some technical myths about photography, so C&N seeks to dispel some conceptual myths.

Reflective writing

[p.19] The process of reflection has been mentioned several times in the previous 17 introductory pages and it is emphasised here at the end. It is insufficient, if one is to excel in this course, to take effective photographs, one also has to describe and explain what one is doing and why. There is a great final paragraph,

Overall it is our hope that you’ll combine technique, personal intention and contextualisation in the final outcome to produce compelling and coherent practical projects that evidence a depth of research and personal vision. [1] C&N p.19

mine too.


1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and Narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

2. Barrett, T. (1997) 'Photographs and Contexts', in Goldblatt, A. & Brown, L. (eds.) A reader in philosophy of the arts. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. pp. 110-116.

3. Williamson, J. (2013) Advertising, Source magazine, Autumn 2013.

4. Handy, R. & Elsener, K (2007) Rear Ends. New York, Abrams.

5. Szarkowski, J. (2007) The photographer's eye. Revised 3rd ed. New York: MoMA.

6. Shore, S. (2007) The nature of photographs. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon Press.

7. Durden, M. (2013) Fifty key writers on photography. Oxford: Routledge.

8. Wolf, S. (2019) Photo Work: forty photographers on process and practice. New York: Aperture Foundation

The full OCA C&N references are specified at the end of the course material and are repeated here for ease of access.

Page created 09-Nov-2019 | Page updated 09-Oct-2020