Note for Assessors

This is the final posting in this blog before ‘freezing’ it for assessment and moving on to the Identity and Place course, the blog for which will be found here. This blog is based on the OCA standard template and navigation should be self-explanatory.

All material relating to the formal assignments will be found under the top menu heading ‘Assignments’ and organised with a separate sub-heading for each assignment. For each assignment, the first posting is a ‘naive response’ or ‘initial thoughts’ on the brief, posted before starting work on the relevant section of coursework. Subsequent posts show the evolution, development and realisation of my project, followed by tutor feedback and my first response.

Non-assignment coursework, will be found under the top menu heading ‘Coursework’, organised with separate sub-headings for each Part of the course and second-level subheadings for each Project.

Other material, what OCA regard as a learning log rather than coursework, may be found under the other two headings, ‘Research & Reflection’ and ‘Soddments’.


Remember the Killing Fields

This is a self-directed small project, used in a camera club ‘panel of prints’ competition, presented here because it fits with parts one and two of the C&N course.

The images were taken at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, just outside Phnom Penh. Visiting at least one ‘Killing Fields’ memorial is an essential part of visiting Cambodia – remember to take tissues. The place has a beautiful setting with an ‘untended park’ vibe, dotted with features and reminders such as the sites of mass graves and a central stupa, four storeys tall and filled with skulls and some other bones. This was my take in six  images.

Hanging plan killingfields

The prints were displayed in black window mounts, 50x40cm, tight butted together to show a black background. The two central images and the skulls are from the main stupa (the top row centre image is taken from just inside that door in the lower centre image). The top left image is a detail of personal memorials on the fencing around one of the mass graves. The flowers at the bottom right were outside the stupa. I spent some time in Lightroom balancing colour and contrast between images. The colour ‘look’ comes from boosting vibrance while reducing saturation.

Overall, I hope I did justice to the place. The set was well-received by club colleagues and the judge.

Assignment 3 – camera club epilogue

So far, I have kept my OCA work and my camera club (Invicta PC) images separate. It is a bit like introducing your friends to your family, or vice versa, and hoping each set doesn’t embarass you in front of the other. The two worlds are very different, and I have noticed a bit of scorn poured in both directions.

Camera club image judging is very much about the aesthetics and the formal and technical elements of the image, almost entirely ignoring context. However, in my opinion, the best of club work is better composed and of higher technical quality than I have seen in some ‘art world’ exhibitions. They are different and I hope to learn from the best of both.

With that in mind, I entered five of my assignment 3 images in Invicta’s ‘panel of prints’ competition last night. I left out ‘the camera collector’ because it is too similar to ‘the photographer’. They were displayed in a single row of five prints.

Hanging plan selfies

In addition to the expected ‘he looks like a dodgy character’ comments, I had several members telling me how much they liked the set (and one on Facebook telling me I had missed out the police mugshot).

The judge’s comments were interesting. He started with the assumption that the panel was entered as humour. This could be a rare example of external context entering the judging – I was present and well known to everybody. He also picked up on the overall narrative of the set, that we all play many parts, and liked that I had put ‘the day job’ in the centre of the panel (which was pure happenstance). His treatment of formal elements went much beyond my intentions, commenting on things like the similarity of hand positions in images 2 and 4, and 1 and 5.

Altogether a positive experience and something I will do again. I’m not sure how my ‘roadside memorial’ set (assignment 2) would go down, though.

A Philistine’s progress – on re-reading Terry Barrett

I am currently reading Terry Barrett’s ‘Criticizing Photographs‘ as a prelude to making a serious start on Part Four (Reading Photographs). I will blog a review when I finish it, but I am already finding scope for a bit of personal reflection.

Actually, I am re-reading the book and this is the second copy that I have owned. I originally bought it in 2010 when I had just joined a camera club and was hoping to get some insight into how judges evaluate images on competition nights. I found it useless for that purpose, full of irrelevant and off-topic material and promoting a view of ‘art’ that  I did not recognise, so I disposed of it.

Now, seven years on and two years into the OCA degree course, I have a second copy which I am re-reading with different eyes and finding it quite fascinating. It is dealing with topics that I recognise, and I am now familiar with (or at least have heard of) many of the photographers, critics and photographs that he references.

The point of this post is a realisation that my horizons have broadened since starting this course. I am not knocking camera club judges (and I have seen some snobbish comments about camera clubs on the OCA Facebook and forum pages) but I recognise that there are different ways of looking at photographs. The club approach looks at images in a formal, technical and aesthetic way but does not look behind them at the meaning. Judges will often say that they are only interested in the image as presented, not in the process by which it was made. On the other hand, the technical quality and composition of club competition images is superior to many of the examples that the OCA course promotes. I hope that, by immersing myself into both cultures, I can become a photographer encapsulating the best of both worlds.

Exercise – childhood memory

For this exercise, I am working with ‘found material’ from a family archive (literally). Some years ago I digitised my father’s collection of Kodachrome slides dating between Christmas 1958 and the mid-1970s. My starting point is an image from 1961, taken on my first day at school (despite the passage of 56 years, I can remember the day but not the photograph). It shows my father and his Ford Consul, with me sitting on the bonnet in my new school uniform.

I decided to use this exercise to explore the idea of memory when crystallised into physical form through photography. In particular, I was interested in the various forms it can take. A secondary influence is the ‘Drosté effect‘ where an image is recursively repeated within itself.

I made a print from the scan and photographed my hand holding it. This represents the photograph in its traditional physical form, a ‘hard copy memory’ as it were, such as we can see in countless family albums of the 20th century.

I then re-photographed the resulting image on my laptop computer screen. This represents the 21st century manifestation, where our memories are held in an insubstantial electronic form and viewed on a screen (computer, tablet or smartphone). Effectively, this is a memory of the way memories used to be kept.


Finally, I uploaded the resulting image to this blog. We now have a memory of a memory, distributed via (and discussed on) social media, which pretty much describes the prevailing current use of photography.