Category Archives: Assignment 2

Assignment 2: “60 Points of Pain”

The brief:

Photographing the unseen. What kinds of subjects might be seen as un-photographable? How might you go about portraying them using photography? Implement your ideas, aiming for a tightly edited and visually consistent series of 7-10 images. Include an introduction of around 300 words.

Introduction

When I received the date for my long awaited knee replacement surgery, I immediately realized I had my subject for Assignment 2 – pain. I would be my own research guinea pig, documenting my thoughts, feelings and daily happenings during this long recovery process. Initially I thought it would easy. I would take my camera with me to hospital and document my experience there.

Once home and eventually able to sit for a short while at my computer I communicated my ideas with my tutor. I happened to mention to her that at one stage I was experiencing really weird Salvador Dali type dreams. She encouraged me to go down the dream route for my assignment. Immediately I was stumped, but I started doing some research and found a few photographers who inspired me. While I have not done any dream interpretations, I have tried to apply a dreamlike-state to my images.

While doing some research I came across an article by a medical student, Stephanie Wang Zuo, about “the notion of the resistance of physical pain to language” and she referenced Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain which she had read as part of her course. What really intrigued me was the statement by Scarry (p. 80) that “physical pain is not just language-destroying, it also destroys the objects of consciousness”. If pain is that difficult to express in language, how much more so in pictures? I realized I had to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. What I did not expect were the feelings that this assignment would invoke in me. I feel very exposed, naked and uncomfortable as these images are very personal. Scarry (p. 87) definitely had a valid point when she said “pain and injury do throw you back on yourself”. The title of my project refers to the 30 staples that closed my surgical wound.


 

Reaching for pain relief
Fig 01
Can't sleep
Fig 2
The ticking of the clock is like the throbbing of my leg
Fig 3
A barrier to pain
Fig 4
Pounding pain
Fig 5
Self-inflicted pain
Fig 6
Pain Shield
Fig 7
Surreal
Fig 8
Captured by pain
Fig 9
60 points of pain
Fig 10

Emily Dickinson encapsulates perfectly what I am trying to convey in a poem:

Pain has an element of Blank (650)

Pain—has an Element of Blank—
It cannot recollect
When it begun—or if there were
A time when it was not—

It has no Future—but itself—
Its Infinite contain
Its Past—enlightened to perceive
New Periods—of Pain.

Below are my contact sheets for this assignment.

Contact Sheet 1
Contact Sheet 1
Contact Sheet 2
Contact Sheet 2
Contact Sheet 3
Contact Sheet 3
Contact Sheet 4
Contact Sheet 4

 

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

My equipment used for this assignment were my 18-55 mm and 18-140 mm lenses together with my Nikons D3000, D7200 and Olympus TG630. My tripod and remote shutter release were also used extensively. I have tried to keep my series of images to a muted palate, the only splashes of colour being the items supplied by medical institutions. I experimented mainly with long exposure and multiple exposure. I found it quite difficult to be my own model during multiple exposure shots, less so with the long exposures. With the exception of Fig 10, all images were done in camera.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

I felt as if I was working in the dark for the most part of this assignment. I had a few new features on my new Nikon D7200 that I used quite extensively and it involved a lot of trial and error to get the images I was after. I mainly used long exposure and multiple exposure features to create the set. I put some test images up for peer review on the OCA Facebook Level 1 group and received some constructive suggestions and positive feedback: “I suffer with chronic pain, I showed these images to my wife and she said that’s you in there too, can’t commend you enough for doing this as your assignment as its a really hard thing to visualise is pain” and “I found ‘Pain relief’ & ‘self-inflicted pain’ particularly poignant. For me the dreamlike quality works on a lot of levels – the potential side effects of medication, the psychological impact of constant pain, the search for relief. At least that’s what I would relate to my experience.” This was a huge relief for me as I had been afraid that my images would not speak to anyone.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

I was advised to take more risks and this is by far the most riskiest project I have ever done. I experimented until I was close to tears. I found it quite nerve wracking to be in front of the camera in such a personal capacity. Some ideas that I had didn’t see the light of day as I just could not get them to work. I had very much wanted to present an image like those of Sarah Byrne, only in a darker manner. I really struggled with this technique and was not satisfied with the results I got. So I thought that I would shelve that technique and move on with the assignment. I think I have been inventive, while at the same time staying true to my story.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

In preparation for my assignment I looked at the following photographers (my details remarks can be found on their pages):

  • Oscar Gustave Rejlander – I really liked his ghostly tableaux and would like to try something along those lines when I have an opportunity to shoot more than one person.
  • Grahame Weinbren – his composite images in his Nights video blending the old/new/fictional and real together.
  • Duane Michals – his sequences series triggered my humble efforts
  • Nassim Rouchiche – an Algerian photographer’s images that really resonated with me and helped to illustrate the invisibility that I was after.
  • Pedro Meyer – Meyer came to my attention during the exercise we did on Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project. I particularly like the way he presented his work in such a personal manner, providing the narration in his own voice using still images in a video format  extremely poignant.

Due to my knee surgery, I only managed to get to one exhibition where I hobbled around the gallery on crutches. My detailed notes are on the relevant exhibition page linked below.

I did some research into Postmodernism which I’m still trying to get to grips with. While doing research for part 2, I came across an interesting documentary about Giles Penfound on Storytelling with The Art of Photography, which deals with conflict photography.  I also took a look at the video clip recommended by Russell Squires about the painter Vermeer and his use of the camera obscura in making his paintings – Vermeer’s Camera and Tim’s Vermeer. I found this to be incredibly interesting and would love to see the full documentary on this fantastical experiment.

I managed to read Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author. I find that I am becoming more accustom to Barthes’ manner of writing and he is becoming easier to understand. I also tackled Catherine Belsey’s A Very Short Introduction to Poststructuralism. I understood some of it, but a lot of it went over my head. I think it would be handy for those of us who don’t come from an art background to have a short historical overview of all the ‘-ism’ or various art movement periods with bullet points on each one’s main characteristics.

In retrospect, I have enjoyed this assignment, even though I still harbour ambivalent feelings towards it.

Reference List

Dickinson, Emily. Poem 650 (Pain – Has an Element of Blank) [online] Available from: http://genius.com/Emily-dickinson-pain-has-an-element-of-blank-650-annotated [Accessed 26 September, 2015]

Geddes, Jennifer L. On Evil, Pain, and Beauty: A Conversation with Elaine Scarry. [online] The Hedgehog Review/Summer 00. Available from: http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/archives/Evil/2.2IScarry.pdf [Accessed 16 August, 2015]

Zuo, Stephanie Wang (2014). Poem About Pain. [online]. The Medical Student Press Blog. Available from http://www.themspress.org/blog/poem-about-pain/ [Accessed 16 August, 2015]

Bibliography

Smith, Elizabeth Irene. The Body in Pain: An Interview with Elaine Scarry. Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 32.2, September 2006: 223-37, University of California, Santa Cruz

Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback

I received my tutor’s feedback on Assignment 2 and to put it mildly, I’m over the moon! Apart from the amazing feedback that I received, she also gave me a few ideas on how to push my assignment even further – ideas which I will definitely be trying out. Her comments are below. My reflections are in italics.

Overall Comments

 An excellent assignment Lynda, well done! You have pushed yourself out of the comfort zone and produced images that communicate both a personal and universal experience of pain.

Thank you!

Feedback on Assignment

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:

In this assignment you experiment with a range of technical skills to explore how the unseen, in this case pain, can be communicated. The techniques you explore both in camera and post-production, suit your conceptualizations; layering images, slow shutter speeds, broken patterns interrupting dis-jointed compositions, all work to convey a psychological experience, there is a dream or should that be nightmare-ish, quality to the work.

The subdued colour palette you utilize confirms the sense of un-reality, of other-worldliness. I especially enjoy the portraits where parts of your face overlaps the other, suggesting many different selves, it reminds me of the work of Francis Bacon and Edward Munch, there is a ‘darkness’ to the work but also a very human experience rooted within it. If the work were too far abstracted I think we would loose this aspect and possibly it would be harder to relate to. As the work currently stands I feel you have a good selection of images that compliment each other.

I agree. I was worried about going over the top with the abstract, but its good to receive confirmation that I applied the right amount.

I would recommend moving away from too many images where your face is represented and towards more where there are other elements of your form/body. This way the viewer is able to identify more with the work, it becomes less about you and more about the universal experience. However I do feel you still achieve this within the set, my comments are directed more towards the editing and sequencing of the work.

I can see the point of including images of my body (it would have been my leg), but at the time when my leg was the most “interesting” I was not really physically up to hopping up and off the bed to frame shots. The majority of the images of my leg that I managed to take were very much top-down images and compositionally quite drab, so I did not include them.

Have you considered how you will present the images? I feel they would work well in a book layout, with some sort of sequencing. Another point to consider might be how you could use text to anchor the work or disrupt the flow of the narrative in some way.

Truthfully, I have not considered how to present the images. I agree a book layout may work well and I will definitely try it out. Since reading this report I have a few ideas bubbling in my head regarding a book format. I do have some captions in mind for the images and will include them as well.

Quality of Outcome:

As explored above technically the work is excellent and there is fluency between the technique and the concept/idea. Thank you for including the contact sheets as this gives me greater scope for analysis of your working process and final editorial choices.

The contact sheets I included were from my final selections. There were many more images, many of the same ‘image’ as I was trying to perfect the technique I was using at the time.

This is indeed highly effective work, as the feedback from your peers confirms, however I feel it could be made stronger in its presentation, I’ll outline what I mean below.

When presenting images as a sequence consider the impact upon the viewer – think of it like listening to an album, if I hear power ballad after power ballad I become exhausted and less appreciative of the qualities of each song, so too with images.

Each of your images is so dense, so rich with meaning, that in viewing one after another, one becomes almost fatigued and a little numb. This is where some thought to the editing and sequencing can help. The photo book is a good structure to experiment with in this respect – I don’t mean a hard back published online book, it can simply be a photocopy, folded and stapled together for low cost, it’s more to get you thinking about the way in which the images impact on the viewer and how to create flow within the narrative.

It is very gratifying to hear that my images are rich in meaning. I really was quite worried that I might have misinterpreted my theme. I had never considered that the viewer might become fatigued – definitely something to keep in mind for the future.

Continuing with the album analogy, think of any album you enjoy listening to, I’m thinking of Neil Young’s Harvest right now, there are several ‘big ballads/well known anthems’ interspersed with quieter reflections/mumblings and tracks that take your mind somewhere else, before bringing you back to the themes of sadness, heartache, loss etc.

Good analogy! I’ll go over Freeman’s The Photographer’s Story again. I understand the idea of pacing and climaxing the sequence. It’s probably a question of practice, trial and error to get it right. Its something that I will work on.

This is why it’s good to see the contact sheets as I can see there are some quieter images on them. I would suggest possibly pairing some of the images up into diptychs and seeing if you get a different reading from them. You might also like to try putting them into a book layout to see if again the meaning changes. You could write up these reflections as part of the assignment – although this is not mandatory, just a suggestion/development point.

I’m not sure if my tutor means I should pair some of the images with my current assignment images, but I shall get clarification from her via email. I do rather like the idea of diptychs though, but also wonder if mixing straight photographs with abstract photographs would work cohesively. Again something to raise with her.

Thank you for the referencing of the extra work on the contact sheets, the feedback suggested that you include and annotate some of the decisions where you felt you had not achieved what you set out to do as this could be rich pickings for future work, whilst giving a holistic view of your process.

Demonstration of Creativity:

Your work is strongly creative and experimental in approach and I am extremely impressed in the jump you have made from assignment 1, you’ve really pushed yourself in what must be a difficult situation. This takes a lot of courage, especially to then share it with your peers on the OCA forum – I can not commend you enough, well done!

Thank you!

You mention some other ideas, referencing Sarah Byrne, that were too ‘dark’, I would be interested to see these, even if they were just contact sheets, perhaps with a few annotated reflections. This way we can actually see the work developing. Often it can be the things and ideas we dismiss/overlook that become our richest resources when developing the work further.

I think there is a slight misunderstanding here. I mentioned trying to make images similar to those of Sarah Bryne, but I wanted to make mine ‘darker’. Bryne’s images are very light and fresh looking. I did include two of my attempts in my contact sheets. They are on Contact Sheet 3 (_DSC0661) and on Contact Sheet 4 (_DSC0268). I haven’t given up on trying to perfect that technique, but I wasn’t having a lot of success with it and found I was spending too much time on it so decided to shelve it.

In your reflection you state that you feel ambivalent towards the assignment, this puzzles me…. I wonder why this is as. My interpretation of the work and the feedback it has received from your peers is that you have been very successful in communicating the unseen, spanning the personal and universal in your work, you should be proud of what you have achieved.

My ambivalence largely stems from my insecurity about whether I was interpreting my theme correctly … and the fact that I was unsure about the images. Abstract photography is really very new to me and I think it needs some time to percolate within me before I will be able to discern what is good or not.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

Context

I’ve already feedback regarding peer learning/sharing above so won’t repeat myself here, only to say continue the good work!

I understand it has been difficult to get about to shows etc. given your operation so please don’t feel as though this is a priority at present. As soon as you are recuperated do continue to visit those shows which are of interest to your practice.

That is my plan. I have some catching up to do.

Overall your reflective writing is excellent, you consider both the merits of and the further development of your work. You are articulate and self-aware and use a wide range of research sources.

I have outlined some general reading below following your comments on getting an overview of art movements and critical discourses.

Suggested reading/viewing

 Context

  • The Story of Art -E H Gombrich – caution this is a weighty tome! And one which is written from a Western perspective (omits the rest of the World’s contribution of art!) however it does sketch out developments up to Modernism and is worthy of a good skim.

I note there is a pocket edition available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Story-Art-Pocket-Edition/dp/0714847038

  • The ‘Art in Theory’ series (various authors) is also worth a look. Again quite weighty, the series is broken into varying time frames/eras including; 1648-1815, 1815-1900 1900-2000.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Theory-1900-2000-Anthology-Changing/dp/0631227083/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444133648&sr=1-1&keywords=art+in+theory+1900-2000+an+anthology+of+changing+ideas

Please note I am not suggesting you buy these from Amazon, merely using them as a point of reference for ISBN numbers.

I had mentioned in my feedback that it would be good to have some sort of reference about all the various (what I call) “-isms” … structuralism, modernism, constructivism, etc. Something that could put them in order for the lay person like me with no art history background. Thank you for the recommendations. I will certainly take a look at them.

Pointers for the next assignment

  • Consider the sequence and flow of images and how they relate to each other in their presentation.
  • Include work in progress/material previously dismissed within blog/journal to show development. You could password protect this content if you were not happy to show publicly.

I’m definitely going to have a re-read of Freeman’s text as mentioned above. I found it invaluable to get peer input from the Facebook Level 1 group. I had amazing feedback there, so will most definitely use it more often. I did actually show work in progress on my blog on two occasions for this assignment, but I think I forgot to link to it. I will amend that in my assignment so that it reads correctly for assessment.

Post Feedback Email Exchange with Tutor:

After reading my tutor’s feedback I posed these questions to my tutor for clarification:

Do you mean I should pair some of the images on my contact sheets with my current assignment images for the diptychs? I’m also wondering if mixing straight photographs (i.e. non-abstract) with abstract photographs would work cohesively?

and received the following reply:

The feedback suggested that you might experiment with pairings as you see fit to see what associations develop, there is no right or wrong in this situation, it is your work and your story.
The comments relate to structure and flow, the sequencing of images. Look at the work of other photographers with this in mind and see how they create structure.

Thank you for the referencing of the extra work on the contact sheets, the feedback suggested that you include and annotate some of the decisions where you felt you had not achieved what you set out to do as this could be rich pickings for future work, whilst giving a holistic view of your process.

Assignment 2 Revisited

In her tutor report, my tutor suggested I take a look at playing around with the sequencing of my series of photos or possibly bringing in some quieter images that I had in my contact sheets. She likened viewing images to listening to a ballad. When I was in the process of creating my surreal photos I noticed that I was keeping to the same basic overall colour palette – that of muted shades of brown and I found that this seemed to anchor the surreal effect that I was trying to achieve. I also did not want to break the dream effect that I was trying to create with the double and long exposures by bringing in a straight colourful photograph. This would have created an “awake now” effect, I think. Perhaps, if I expand this body of work at a later stage, I can incorporate more of the other images.

However, I agreed with my tutor’s suggestion that I needed to resequence my set of images and provide captions. After putting some time distance between the completed assignment and coming back to it now I can see the need for that. I printed out the photos on regular paper and played with the sequencing at home, then I created a contact sheet in LightRoom and shared that with my fellow students on our Facebook Group. A few mentioned they preferred the original sequence (thanks guys). Someone suggested putting all the lying down images together and all the upright images together. I didn’t like this as there wasn’t much of a break in tonal values when I did this. Another student made some very specific suggestions about the sequencing which I have implemented to a large extent below. The one image’s position which was not up for negotiation was my final image which I think explains all the aforegoing images – the big reveal in a manner of speaking. I believe there is a better flow and rhythm now.

Here then is my new sequencing of “60 Points of Pain”.

 

A barrier to pain
A barrier to pain
Self-inflicted pain
Self-inflicted pain
A morphine induced dreamlike state
A morphine induced dreamlike state
The reverberation of pain
The reverberation of pain
Pain-related insomnia
Pain-related insomnia
Reaching for pain relief
Reaching for pain relief
Pain Shield
Pain Shield
The ticking of the clock is like the throbbing in my leg
The ticking of the clock is like the throbbing in my leg
Captured by pain - no escape
Captured by pain – no escape
60 points of pain
60 points of pain