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.

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.

Diary project – initial thoughts

This is my ‘naive response’ posting for assignment three, prepared before working through the research and exercises of Part 3 ‘Putting yourself in the picture’, which is about self-portraits in reality or in absentia.

These assignment briefs are getting more and more open (is that a good or bad thing? – discuss). This one asked us to keep a diary/journal for a period of two weeks or more, then find something in it to turn into a project. No restriction on number or format of images.

I suspect that the most challenging part of the exercise will be keeping the diary and writing 2-3 pages per day over any period (I’ve managed Day 1 today, BTW). I am not a diarist; I record appointments in a diary – which has been in electronic form for the past 10 years – and that’s it. Do I keep it mundane or, like Gwendoline in ‘The Importance …’ do I make it something sensational to read on the train? I suspect mundane. Certainly, the first few days will be all about the events of the day, rather than opening-up my thoughts about them.

I am tolerably comfortable about being on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera, but being on both sides of it might become a challenge. And that sparks the first possible project. I have to produce a self-portrait mugshot for my Rotary Club members’ directory (actually, I don’t; I could ask somebody to take it for me), so I could do something self-referential, a self-centred project, looking at the process of taking a self-portrait. (Three hyphenated self-s in the same sentence there; maybe I’m onto something)

Otherwise, the strands of my life that could yield a project are work, sailing, saxophone and photography. During the two weeks I will be doing some dinghy instructing, practicing my sax, continuing my back-garden macro project and, maybe, photographing a pub-gig or two.


Chuck Close on Inspiration

While sitting around, and surfing around, waiting for inspiration to strike on Assignment 1, I found this great quote by Chuck Close. OK, time to get down to making some pictures.

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.

All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.

Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Chuck Close, quoted by Eric Kim

… but is it Art?

This is one of a series of occasional self-reflective posts; in this case, a stranger’s-eye view of this ‘art world’ that I have thrust myself into. I started on the degree course a year ago, in February 2016, having never studied an ‘arts’ subject at any level (even O-level) but with an educational background in science/engineering subjects and a day job in building construction problem-solving. I knew it would be a challenge and push me out of my comfort zone – that is one of the reasons I am doing it.

I have now completed EYV, read a lot, visited exhibitions and lurked (and occasionally contributed to) the OCA forums and other social media outlets, so I have more than my toe dipped in the water. However, I still have a problem with the question, “… but is it Art?” especially when viewing some of the more conceptual ‘works’. I was, therefore interested to come across the following passage in Salkeld (2014,152). The context is a discussion that anything can be a work of art but it does not follow that everything is a work of art.

What these examples have in common is that the institutions and discourses that constitute the art world have validated them.


The problem with this line of reasoning is that it might suggest that a self-serving and elitist clique has defined art in its own terms and is sharing an expensive joke at the expense of the general public. This would be an understandable, but nevertheless very cynical, view!

At present, I do take this ‘understandable’ view, and I do not consider it invalidated because a member of that same clique has described it as ‘cynical. I came to this degree 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 EYV, 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 a 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.

This post is intended as a sort of benchmark, a record of where I am at the start of C&N. I intend to review it at the end of the course to see if I have made what the art world would consider to be progress.

Salkeld, R. (2014) Reading photographs: An introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.