Assignment 3: A Staged Photograph

I feel an explanation is required. Due to circumstances beyond my control I’ve not been able to complete this assignment as per the course notes. It hasn’t been possible to make a link between this assignment and the earlier Part 3 exercise. Realising this was going to happen, for several days I’d been mulling over how I was to complete the assignment. Staged photography is not the kind of work that comes instinctively to me and it felt like an impossible task. I suppose it’s all about the drive and the urge to create and if that isn’t present then what may follow is forced and thus lacks sincerity.

A few days ago I took trip down to London and visited a few galleries. Now this turned out to be an amazing coincidence as one of those was the Gregory Crewdson ‘Cathedral of the Pines’ exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery. (I’ve written about the exhibition elsewhere on this blog: click on the Non OCA Work tab). Another was the National Gallery, which we cut short as it was ‘rammed’ with visitors. Nonetheless, a slight break in the clouds of Italian teenagers allowed me chance upon this:

The Cognicenti

I turned to my partner and said ‘Look, it’s just like our study!’ I was curious enough to record the event and take these pictures.

Picture Lable

This simple act combined with the Crewdson exhibition had clearly planted a seed that a few days later started to germinate. OK, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the assignment as per the book but the assignment also requires a comment or two on the development of my photography at this point in the course. And there I found the solution to this assignment…


Cognitive Dissonance with Lucida


Firstly, it’s a self-portrait and it’s a parody. It’s not meant to demonstrate or suggest that cognitive dissonance is occurring. Rather it picks up and plays with the word cogniscenti. Here I am struggling to get my head around Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ and I’m guessing I’m not the only one ever to have found it a steep learning curve.

I’m sitting in our study with its pictures on the walls and various objects that create echoes of painting by the unknown Flemish artist. The room was prepared for the shoot and this did include using a duster and a vacuum cleaner! The cognoscenti in seventeen-century Antwerp had paintings but I’ve got photographs. They pour over books and so do I: 2 dictionaries and various photography textbooks, all of which were required in my cognitive struggle with Lucida. In recognition that this is Assignment 3 I’ve also included photos from some of the Part 3 exercises and my ‘significant object’. I’ve even placed a suggestion that all of this has driven me to drink!

Technique-wise I had to use a wide angle as the room is small. And I used a softbox to illuminate the shot. Relying on natural light would have left too much darkness in the corners creating a mood that is absent from the original painting.

Lighting & Camera

Even so I had to open the wardrobe doors to get the lighting and camera configuration I wanted. My approach turned out to be quite meticulous. Lots of test shots were taken and examined just to get the props in the right place. For example: the OCA workbook was placed on the printer to break up the large expanse of black in the bottom right-hand corner of the image.

This might not have taken me to the extremes adopted by Crewdson but I did enjoy the directorial role staged photography creates. On reflection, I feel my image owes more to Tom Hunter whose work I researched earlier in FiP. It’s possible to see the influence of early European landscape painting in Crewdson’s work but Hunter actually mimics or recreates works of the great masters of European painting. My attempt at staged photography inverts the Flemish original and renders a parody of the mature student of photography’s attempt to understand one of the key text of the subject.


My FiP the journey so far…

I am so pleased to have signed up for this course. It has opened my eyes to what I could achieve with a camera. For example, while I don’t know if staged photography will ever become part of my work I’ve had a go and enjoyed it. When I signed up for this course I could not have seen myself creating such work. Technically I’ve improved too, both behind the camera and particularly so in postproduction. The exercises have taken me into areas I wouldn’t have generally gone and so given me the opportunity to expand my photographic repertoire.

Looking at the work of other photographers has been an interesting aspect of the FiP. One of my original hopes for the course to was broaden my understanding of photography as an art form and the opportunity to research the work of others has certainly facilitated this wish. Moreover, studying the work of others helped in my own artistic understanding and practice.

Another aim I identified upon enrolment was to develop my own artistic voice with the aid of FiP and I feel strongly that is occurring. It is important to me that in addition to my OCA studies I follow a path of my own. While I have varied photographic interests one aspect that I feel is developing well is that of my relationship with the natural world. Although this feels a little ad hoc at present, it is coalescing somewhere around the intersection between the natural world and the human one. One other thing I have learnt is the importance of research in one’s own work. This came as quite a surprise to me at the time but makes so much sense now.