Gaslight Photography

Assignment 5 Revisited

My last tutorial for Body of Work has been and gone, It was a bit of a roller coaster but ended up as a success, at least in my eyes – I’m not so sure about David’s view !

I’d printed the portfolio at A3 because the type of image only really works at a large size. For the assessment I’ll be getting the images printed at around A2 size but for the tutorial I wanted the images to be large enough for the impact of their size to be apparent. Since A3 is the maximum that I can print that would have to do for now. It was lucky that I did because David’s first comment was that I had a technical issue that was apparent when printed at the larger size but not at A4 size which I’d printed at for the earlier assessments.

At that point I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to reshoot everything in the next couple of months, at the same time losing the change of seasons that was essential to the portfolio. The issue was that the images were soft at the edges and this detracted from the whole image. It was obviously a technical issue when David pointed out but what was I going to do?

Luckily, when I pressed David as to which particular images were affected it was obvious that they were the autumn images that I’d taken earlier with a walkabout lens and crop sensor, fully intending to reshoot them with a full frame body and better lens for the assessment. I’d been intending to do this to ensure they’d be printable at A2 but hadn’t registered the problem in terms of the soft edges.

The full size image shown here doesn’t really show the problem but if I really zoom into the top left corner the issue becomes apparent

The issue was obvious once David pointed it out but luckily it was only apparent of those images which I intended to reshoot so panic over.

There was a minor issue with the white balance on a couple of images causing the two to stand out from the others. One had the technical issue so was being discarded anyway but the other didn’t really have a problem with the WB in the sense that it was “as shot”. Nevertheless it stood out from the others so needed to be adjusted or discarded.

A really interesting suggestion from David was the idea of shooting (or cropping) at 5×4 ratio instead of the default 6×4. David’s view was that the 5×4 ratio connoted high end imagery through it’s association with larger format cameras and also made the portfolio stand out from the norm. He admitted that it was very much an individual and subjective choice but it made me think about it.

After playing around with a couple of crops I realised that the 5×4 images actually worked better for my theme in the sense that they created more of an impression of a “portal” than the standard, landscape 6×4. I appreciate that it’s totally subjective as David suggests but in comparing  the two forms of the image below I feel that the first (6×4) creates a sense of vista whereas the second (5×4) creates the portal impression that aligns with my intentions.

A portal isn’t the main message of the image but it does align with my intention to show the imaginary barriers or boundaries that lie just off the main tourist paths.

David made an interesting comment when he suggested that my images were similar to some that he was making for his current project, they were just “prettier” than his. That puzzled me for a while since it wasn’t my intention to make “pretty” images and I certainly hadn’t done so in the past. Then I realised that my aim was to show the attractive or interesting areas of the Park that were available to those who stepped of the tourist route so, by necessity even if by accident, I’d made the images more attractive than would be my normal method of working since without that attractiveness there’d be no incentive for the tourist to explore.

I’d been slightly concerned about my intended approach to the Assessment – I’d intended to just make sure that the images spoke for themselves with a series of c12 high quality images at a large size, professionally printed. I’d notice that other people were doing things around the images e.g. books, accessories etc and was concerned that my approach would be regarded as too simple (though I still intended to take that approach). Comfortingly David agreed that it was the best approach for such a portfolio – concentrate on presenting the images, keep it simple and focused.

There were a number of other, useful comments made during the tutorial but one final suggestion was to look at Fay Godwin’s “Paesaggi” on YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JE8I44Ak7o ). It’s a video of her talking to the camera while out at work on a portfolio. It’s a fascinating video of a true master at work and well worth a view. It’s subtitled in Italian which, if you understand the language, creates an interesting, sometimes alternative, interpretation of Godwin’s work.

So overall I was pretty satisfied with the way that the tutorial went. I feel that I’ve got a reasonable portfolio to present at assessment and I’m content with the way that I intend to present it. At the present time I can’t ask for any more than that!








Moving On

So what is the connection between a bear and my portfolio looking at boundaries in Windsor Great Park?

I suppose that here’s a loose connection since, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Disney took over my hunting ground to film Christopher Robin or Winnie the Pooh Mark II but that’s tenuous at best. The real reason is that my original aim in starting this course a number of years ago was to improve my wildlife images through understanding other areas or genres. While waiting for my feedback on Assignment 5 I was in Canada, photographing grizzly bears during the salmon run. The main problem being that there were scores of bears but no salmon as the run was late!

However there were plenty of images of bears to capture but I found that I was just as interested, if not more so, in the opportunities for stylised or slightly abstract images of the surrounding mountains.













Now I’m not claiming that these images are great art or anything but I found it interesting to examine why I was taking these images rather than just concentrating on the bears  (which were the point of the trip!). It was then that I realised that a number of things from the successive courses had come together over the course of the Body of Work module.

Throughout the various courses there’d been this constant phrase “finding your voice” or style, genre, method etc. Various tutor and assessor comments suggested that I had my own style but I had no idea what it was, possibly because I found so many of the genres interesting. Then, as described before, this module had been a messy and disjointed in terms of progress but that had meant that I did a lot of exploring around my theme and a lot of related research in Contextual Studies. Somewhere in all that it seems to have gelled, I no longer feel as though I’m following somebody else’s direction (though I’m happy to follow people’s guidance!) but, instead, I’m happy to go my own route and actually create something that I want instead of what the course requires.

I’d obviously researched numerous portfolios for other modules but during this module I found the research more relevant to what I wanted. I think that this is because in previous modules there was an element of constriction, my research was for a particular purpose or end i.e. the aim or subject of the module. Here my research was freer, less confined to a particular purpose, so it was more relevant to me and my directions and thoughts.

Two in particular were Awoiska van der Molen and Ingun Alette Mæhlum  both of which I described in earlier posts. The two were very different but both created that undefinable sense of place that I was looking for and, I think, had always interested me without understanding why.

The images above are a direct result of these two and of Jem Southam’s work in that they are my interpretation of the place. The mountains and trees are obvious characteristics of the area (British Columbia) but using the mist and light in a (semi-)consistent portfolio is my interpretation of what it felt like to be there.

In summary, the rough and unedited portfolio above is a crucial indication to myself that I’ve actually learnt something from this whole course, not just “learnt” but learnt something relevant to my photography and what I want to do.

I’m still waiting for feedback on my last assignment let alone the results from the assessment on this module but, irrespective of those, however good or damming they might be, I actually feel as though I’m getting somewhere that I’m happy to move on with after the course finishes.


Body of Work Assignment 5

After numerous iterations I’ve finally decided on the final portfolio, reducing over 1,000 images, firstly down to 12 and then back up to 17. The final portfolio is larger than I intended but when I went down to 12 there were too many gaps, the transitions between some of the images were jarring rather than having the images flow into one another and creating the impression that I wanted. That’s not to say that the images are homogeneous, there’s plenty of transition, it’s now where I wanted it to be.

Anyway, the images are










All now printed out on Permajet Fibre Base and in an envelope with my introduction and evaluation for the delight, or otherwise, of my tutor.

It seems strange to have got to this stage since I feel that I’ve got to the end but know that I’m going to be modifying it for the assessment so it’s a bit of a contradictory feeling at the moment. Still, it’s definitely a milestone in my course.

I’ve evaluated the portfolio in another post so I won’t go over it again here. Generally I’m happy with the story that it tells but I can’t get rid of the feeling that there were other, better ways to tell the same story.

Incidentally, it’s possible to click on the images to see them in a larger format but there’s a new gallery available from the menu at the top, simply entitled “Assignment 5” in the “Portfolios” section, which gives a larger format and is easier to follow.

I’m already thinking about how I’m presenting for assessment but first I need to amend the portfolio after discussions with my tutor then start again probably!


Assignment 5 rejects

I’ve narrowed the images down to a portfolio of 16 images, now 17, which I feel works well in that they work together and tell the story that I want without being too obvious. Most of the rejected images were left out without too much regret but three images caused me a problem since they work well, just not well enough within the sequence.

I’ve already written a lengthy post on the process of editing the images down to a final selection and the difficulties that causes so I won’t repeat myself here  but the final sift which resulted in these being discarded was the most interesting part of the process.

Each of the three satisfies my requirements in that they show the boundary to the Tourism Space and also what lies beyond, hopefully tempting the visitor to explore and step through the boundary but they just don’t work. I’m posting them here simply because I’m trying to understand why they don’t work. The latter image in particular works well and I really like it when it’s printed at a large size but it doesn’t work in the sequence.

There’s a lot of stuff in the course notes about this issue and it’s a necessary part of the final editing process but I still find it both difficult and interesting to try and understand why some images might superficially meet all of the criteria but when placed physically next to the other images they just don’t work.

In some ways, when I place them within the portfolio they almost create a “red herring” in the way Agatha Christie might have included one all those years ago but instead of leading the reader to suspect the wrong person as the murderer here it leads the viewer down a blind alley, there’s no way back to the remainder of the portfolio or sequence.

It’s strange to feel that in editing for the final portfolio I’m actually writing a story with a beginning, middle and end, something that I hadn’t considered until I realised why these three did not fit.


Body of Work Evaluation

The evaluation for the module which is supposed to be presented with the final portfolio was an interesting exercise, being a mixture of objective review of the course and a subjective review of where I am at the moment.

One of the questions that we’re asked to address is the question of influences. I’ve addressed it in the document which I’ve copied below but it was really difficult to answer since there were so many and if I had to answer the question during the module it would change frequently.

Probably the answer that would have come up most often would be Jem Southam, not just for Painter’s Pool or The River Winter but his overall approach and his attitude to his surroundings. To take it slightly outside of pure photography I was very influenced by Ken Harrison’s Land project which introduced me to the concept of Sehnsucht, reminiscent of the Welsh Hiraeth.

For me, the common attribute between Southam and Harrison which has helped me in my course is that both are very focused on a sense of place, a common phrase in all forms of landscape photography (and painting) but not always successfully communicated.

The other key influence was my own work in Contextual Studies which again help me understand the difference between space and place, or at least formulate my own thoughts on the subject, and with that helped me understand the concept of boundary vs border, a key element in my portfolio. The image above shows the border between Chile and Bolivia with the trench being the actual border but the whole space could be construed as the border whilst the boundary was the official with a stamp in a small hut.

Anyway, the document that I’m sending to my tutor says it all and, as usual, just scrapes into the word count limit laid down by the OCA so I’ll include extracts in it below rather than the complete document.


Body of Work – pleasing myself and not others

I’ve always hated the use of the word “Journey” in this context but looking back through the module, and indeed through the entire course, I can definitely see a meandering path that has led me here.

At the beginning of the very first module my first love was wildlife photography and the aim of the course was primarily to improve in that genre. Throughout the early modules and even at the beginning of Body of Work my analysis of the “improvement” was heavily influenced by the question “What does the assessor/tutor want to see?” It’s only now, at the end of the module, that the question has changed to “What do I want to make? What do I want to show other people?”

Without question that is the key element that I’ve learnt from this module. There are numerous other learning points such as the need to pay attention to every element of the image. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve returned to a scene because a stray, out of focus leaf was obvious on examination back home but that leads to another point, the iterative process that leads to the portfolio that I want in the end, the amount of work that has to go into getting that image.

“A sense of place” was another key lesson from this module. Yes, I’d understood the concept before and scored well when I tried to invoke it in Landscape but it was only on this course that I really came to understand it. This was largely because of the influence of a number of photographers ranging from the little known Ingun Mæhlum to Jem Southam and his work, The Painter’s Pool, both of whom included time within their works to emphasise the sense of place. Time was emphasised again in Tuan’s Space and Place, a book that was key to my Contextual Studies work but heavily influenced my thinking in Body of Work.


All of this took place rather late in the module because the first year was one long low point, largely caused by the unfortunate change of tutor when my original tutor resigned. This was no reflection on either my old or new tutor and was totally self-inflicted but it came at just the wrong time when I was mapping everything out confidently but had to stop, revisit and readjust whilst finding the new tutor. This meant that I lost focus and lost my way for a lengthy period which coincided with my busiest period outside of the course.

Conversely, some good also came out of this period because my natural way of working in all fields of endeavour is to mull things over in the background and then produce when I have a clearer vision. So, even while there was no concrete evidence of progress, I was gradually becoming more comfortable with my aims. I’m sure that my tutor was frustrated by a lack of progress at this stage but I found that the best way to get back on track during this phase was to explore the area, simply looking out for artificial boundaries for the visitor or “artefacts of control” as my tutor called them, a phrase that stuck with me for the remainder of the course.

At the same time this allowed me to progress with Contextual Studies and I found that the work which I did on that module became inextricably linked and invaluable to my thoughts in Body of Work. It was the process of understanding what a boundary meant to different people that focussed my mind on the boundaries that I would come to examine in Body of Work. Without doubt, this synergy between the two modules was one of the high points of this course.

The technical aspects of the course were interesting due to the fact that they were inextricably linked to what I was trying to achieve. In the early assignments there were too many technical issues to detail; simply because they tended to be associated with individual images. What was needed for one image might be the opposite of that which was needed for a second and so forth. As my ideas became more solid around a consistent portfolio so did the need for consistency in the technical issues become more relevant.

I’ve already mentioned the need to ensure that every element that I wanted to be in focus should be. Such a trivial and simple statement first learnt in Photography 101 but when you have a complex woodland scene it becomes ridiculously complicated. However, this question of focus would become even more important as I determined whether I was photographing the boundary, what lay on the other side or both. Did I want to emphasise the obstacle or the “Through the Looking Glass” opportunity much like LaTour’s The Berlin Key.

When I first started on the final portfolio I had cut down my equipment to a single lens, thinking that a short lens would be ideal for these “landscapes” but soon came to realise that some scenes needed 200mm or even 300mm to ensure the correct depth of field given the cluttered environment that was involved. It was a very trivial technical decision but ridiculously important and necessary, changing the way that I thought of the environment in which I was working. To ensure that I showed a scene intimately in the way that I wanted I sometimes had to go further away, something which was against all of my instincts.


[While I was trying to edit the portfolio down], I realised that the two primary categories that I was narrowing in on themselves created a sequence or a trail into the heartlands of the Park as a viewer passed by the barriers and came across the hidden elements. As a result, the final portfolio works to demonstrate different types of barriers to the viewer and, at the same time, creates a journey into the depths of the Park. This bi-faceted approach has meant that the sequencing of the images has become even more important, an interesting and difficult exercise.

Coupled with the issue of editing up to a hundred or so images from any one site to get the ideal view and feeling of that particular boundary effect the editing process was incredibly complex but necessary. In the end I found it essential to try and keep the overall portfolio in mind whilst editing i.e. before the portfolio was finished – an interesting exercise in cause and effect.

All of this has increased my confidence in what I’m trying to do. I would hesitate to call it a personal voice simply because that, to me at least, implies or connotes a single message whereas I have a number of ideas that I’d like to progress. Returning to influences for a moment a photographer that has interested me during this module is Dieter Telemans and his work on water issues in Africa. There was one image with women drawing water from a well but the image was dominated by the scars made in the wall of the well from the ropes over the years of hard work. It’s the subtlety and depth of the message that I’d like to develop over a number of different subjects so I’d suggest that that is the personal voice that I’m on the way to developing.


When I first started on this subject for my portfolio the issue of an audience was at the forefront of my thinking. A local subject such as the portfolio that I’ve created here has a ready audience amongst the locals and visitors to Windsor and this, together with the issue of being able to show progress, was the reason for such a local subject.

I’ve considered many options in terms of presentation but keep coming back to a simple approach which fits well with the subject but also with the intended audience. The aim of these images is to lead the viewer through the boundary, to escape into the other side. A small print would constrict this feeling of escape or of passage whereas a large print would facilitate the feeling of passing through to the other side. Similarly a book would add another level of control or boundary, contradicting the aim of the portfolio. Therefore I’ve decided to go with the traditional and simple approach of large, fine art prints though a complementary book with a larger set of images is something that I’ll produce for SyP.