Assignment 5: Winter Blues

Those familiar with this blog will recognise that some considerable time has elapsed since my last entry. I’ll be upfront and tell you this was down to a bout of ‘winter blues’. I entered Part 5 of FiP around the end of 2017 and with the falling of the mercury and the shortening of the days my energy and enthusiasm ebbed away. And to be fair there was lot to ebb away: the feedback I received from my tutor for Assignment 4 was really positive and constructive and I bounced out of Part 4 on quite a high. I was beginning to see how FiP was helping to develop me as someone who expressed their creativity through photography. I would never have said that of myself at the beginning of this journey.

But I can’t help but feel I’m hiding behind the label ‘winter blues’. Yeah, I like a lots of others get a bit down-in-the-dumps in the colder months but last winter was a bit different. Readers of this blog will know that the last couple of years have been difficult, with my partner having had treatment for cancer. But thankfully, the treatment has been successful and last December, a year after her operation, she was told it hadn’t returned. Naturally, there was ‘whoops and shrieks’, and ‘high fives’ all around and it meant we could start living our lives again. And while it was immensely positive news to hear, looking back, I have to acknowledge the whole experience had left me somewhat washed-up and washed-out.

So, that was my mindset at the start of FiP Part 5. I did consider turning the camera on myself for this final assignment, the beauty of which, allows the students to chose their own topic. Not unrelated to the stresses and strains of recent months I had started to gain weight. My keenness for cycling had diminished to about zero and I now had a wardrobe filled with clothes that didn’t fit anymore. The grand plan was start 2018 with a new zeal: eat less, drink less, get back on the bike and burn some calories; after all it worked before. But no, in my state of mind this wasn’t going to happen.

I did try to photograph this, what amounted to a New Year’s resolution for the Assignment 5, and while avoiding the obvious self-portrait approach I found it just too intimate. I suppose I was recording a personal failure and it wasn’t something I wanted to share with the world. Hats off to artists like Jo Spence who could do just this sort of work but at the time, it wasn’t for me.

Throughout the ups and downs of the last couple of years I’ve never really stopped taking photographs. Even when the motivation was too low to press on with my studies I still carried my camera with me. It’s mentioned in more depth elsewhere in this blog but I have become interested in trees. And there is one tree in particular that I keep returning to. I suppose it has become something of a muse but I keep visiting it and photographing it from different positions and in different light throughout the calendar. It’s an old lime tree that clings on to existence despite its broken boughs and dead branches. It looks like it’s lived a life and feels quite allegorical for the journey my life has taken of late.

In mid January (2018) I called by the tree to take some images in the morning light. This wasn’t FiP photography, it was my own on-going work. For FiP I was still trying to get my head around the ‘autobiographical’ dieting theme. I took a few shots, for some reason the auto focus wasn’t behaving itself and so I switched to manual, I took some more and then moved closer to the tree. I lifted the camera to my eye and there in the viewfinder I found a solution to my Assignment 5 problem.


FiP Ass 5 0011


FiP Ass 5 0016


FiP Ass 5 0012


FiP Ass 5 0013


FiP Ass 5 0014

Winter Blues


I wasn’t looking for a solution to my photographer’s block and perhaps that’s why it was all more surprising when it revealed itself. But looking at the out of focus branches in the viewfinder had a resonance with my mental health at the time.  I certainly had some of the NHS website’s symptoms of ‘winter blues’ (lethargy, tiredness, reduced enthusiasm) and the images I went on to make connect with how I felt at the time. I took take several out of focus photos, often recording varying degrees of out of focus for the same image. Over the coming days I returned to the tree and explored this theme several times.

This exploration continued in postproduction. I’m not one for extremes of manipulation but I have explored enhancing the vignetting in some of the images. The most time consuming of all was the idea of producing the images in a square format. I felt this somehow connected with the difficulty in decision-making I had been experiencing with my photography. The square format being neither up nor down, landscape or portrait seems to echo this state of mind. However, while I still like the concept, the square image series did not work as well as the one made in landscape format. The latter reflected my state of mine better than the square format.

Well, there it is, Assignment 5 completed. I’ve attached the contact prints for both the square and landscape versions to allow others to compare, and constructive feedback is always welcome. I consider it an exploration of my mental state at the beginning of 2018 as described above. And in case anyone is left wondering, I’m now feeling a lot better and getting back to my old self – I’m even back on my bike!

Contact Sheets: Landscape Ass 5 v1 –

Contact Sheets: Square Ass 5 v2 –





Assignment 4: Responding to a Theme

For this Assignment I had to create an assembeled photograph for a given theme. Though it was possible to create one’s own theme, I chose ‘Power Struggle’ from the options in the FiP Workbook.

My interpretation of ‘power’ is electricity, particularly nuclear generation that occurs on the Suffolk coast. We have two nuclear plants sitting next to each other: one is being decommissioned, the other coming to the end of its life and then there are plans to build a third – Sizewell C.

Being anti nuclear by inclination it might seem my thoughts would be clear and concise. But it’s complicated. While I could bring up arguments about the risks to human life and the environment and even point out connections between nuclear power and the nuclear weapons, there are more prosaic and pragmatic factors involved.

UK governments are not very good at thinking in the long term and so for years overlooked the fact that many of our nuclear plants were coming to the end of their working lives. While renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, have had seen an increase, this has occurred because of a move away from coal powered plants. Being ‘carbon lite’ nuclear is often categorised with renewable but the dangerous radioactive legacy of nuclear will be with us for centuries. So, it seems our governments have painted themselves, and us, into a corner where we are still dependent on nuclear in order to keep the lights on!

The Suffolk context adds further layers of complexity. The Suffolk coast is an empty rural location. While some jobs exist in agriculture and tourism the area needs good, well paid jobs. The power stations have provided this for many years and the building of a third will continue that tradition. So, very often the visible objections to the furtherance of nuclear power centre around the congestion and inconvenience the current plans for construction will cause. This of course seems like ‘Nimbyism’ and it may well be, for plenty of folk who live in the picturesque coastal villages have retired there or are weekenders visiting their second homes.

The final issue I’d like to bring up is a real paradox. The Suffolk coast is famed for its understated beauty. So much so it is actually designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The range of different and endangered habitats is quite remarkable: heathlands, acid grasslands, and wetlands with some of the largest reed beds in the country. These in turn are the homes to a variety of scarce and declining species, be they birds, insects or mammals. Both NGOs and local authorities do a lot to protect and enhance these places, yet it seems OK to build nuclear power stations in the midst of them all.

Here is my assembled photograph:


Ass 4 Power Struggle


The Photographs

I chose to represent them in a patchwork (similar to Exercise 4.4). All sitting together in this way with no ‘breathing space’ between them reflects my somewhat pragmatic position on nuclear power. The placing of the individual images is less concerned with what they might have to say but how they look as a group. The key exceptions being the top left and bottom right.

Left to Right – Top to Bottom.


  1. I found this dead adult Herring Gull under a set of power lines when shooting for Ex. 4.11. Almost certainly it collided with the cables. This bird of a boisterous, larger than life species, a survivor into adulthood (4+ years) had its struggle for life terminated by the power lines. Finding it in this way cemented my ideas for this assignment.


  1. The need for electricity – we need to keep the lights on.


  1. Sizewell A. No longer generating. A huge monolith, it looks like a tombstone.


  1. Solar farm near the A12. Locked in some sort of struggle of its own perhaps, it needs CCTV surveillance. Note the ubiquitous pylons in the background.


  1. Those who will build Sizewell C had a consultation road show but it felt more like we were being told rather than listened too.


  1. The local villagers kick back. They don’t want a campus for over 1000 construction workers built in their neighbourhood.


  1. A Bittern: an example and symbolic of both the sensitive habitats and the species that live in them.


  1. The famous East Anglian large skies dissected by the power lines in this part of Suffolk


  1. Wind power: an alternative to nuclear. Again, note the power lines…


  1. Brought up in the Cold War, images of the potential of nuclear weapons are lodged in my memory. These wind blown grasses in the dunes at Sizewell are allegorical of the results of nuclear warfare.


  1. The village of Theberton will see over 1000 lorries per day drive through it during the construction of Sizewell C. Construction will take 10 years. This image also implies that’s all they are thinking about right now…


  1. These power stations are part of the national infrastructure. They are secure places aiming to keep out the public, environmental protesters and terrorists


  1. This bleached out human character on a barn door in Eastbridge, where the builders’ campus will be located, suggested to me that the views and opposition of local people will matter not, compared to those of the multi-nationals who are looking to profit from the new power plant.


  1. This is where the radioactive waste from Sizewell A was transferred to special trains. This could be used to bring materials and people to the new construction site. Local objectors feel this would be better than using lorries.


  1. These pylons dominate the landscape and literally tower over every one and every thing they pass. They seem symbolic of a powerful State that will disregard the local over national needs.


  1. So far the sea is an under exploited resource of power generation.


Contact Sheet for Assignment 4 

CS Assignment 4





Preparation for Assignment 4

So far in FiP I’ve approached the work in a very linear manner. I opened the workbook, started at page 1 and worked my through. I did the Exercises in numerical order and completed the Assignments at the end of each chapter. For FiP I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, after all it is designed to be a developmental programme and so each stage follows on from the last.

But now I’m thinking seriously about moving on to the BA course where the Assignments have a greater significance than here. I suppose, in the degree it would be possible to fail an assignment or be given a lower mark that might influence the final outcome. Hence for Part 4 and picking up from a comment by my tutor made, I’ve adapted a slightly different approach this time.

Throughout Part 4 I have been fully aware of the Assignment. As I progressed through the Exercises I’ve been considering how I might approach the final Assignment and even found that one of them overlapped with my preparations for it.

The proof of the pudding etc will come in my tutor’s reaction to my work but I do feel this has been a useful change in my approach. Rather than turning the page at the end of chapter and discovering what’s needed for the assignment, this time when I reached that point I had a coherent set of ideas in place for me to pursue.

Assignment 4 is about following a theme. While it’s OK to create your own I chose one from the list offered in the workbook and selected ‘Power Struggle’. Living in coastal Suffolk the fact we have 2, nearly 3, nuclear power stations close by is never far from one’s mind or line of vision. While I would naturally lean towards an anti nuclear standpoint, any developed or considered understanding of the situation would recognise that it is a complicated and nuanced situation.

In an attempt to focus the thoughts over the theme of ‘power struggle’ and the local nuclear situation I produced this mind map. Please excuse the poor handwriting and bad spelling (such a shame the Bic biro doesn’t come with a spell-checker…)


Ass 4 Mind Map

Exercise 4.12 Presence/Absence

I really can’t imagine my life without birds. If I hadn’t have taken notice of the birds seen on family holidays in the Lake District then I have no idea what kind of life I’d be leading now. Coming from inner city Hull, Cumbria was a culture shock! And while mountains and lakes were obvious differences I also noticed interesting and colourful birds we didn’t see back home.

That initial childhood curiosity was an embryonic phase that ushered in a life-long preoccupation with birds. For the Christmas of 1976 I got my first pair of binoculars and I’ve not looked back since. Birding has influenced so much of my life. I screwed up my A levels because birds were more interesting than studying. When I finally did get my educational act together birding informed where I went to university and since then has influenced career choices and even where I live now. And, yeah, I met my partner while out birding. So, if over 40 years ago the young me hadn’t been curious about the Chaffinches, the Pied Wagtails and the Wheatears, I have no idea what the middle-aged Dave would be doing now or where he’d be doing it.

Below is my response to Exercise 4.12. It is an allegoric exploration of how the absence of birds from my life might be interpreted.


Ex. 4.12 Presence Absence


Personally, it is an uncomfortable thing to consider and to look at. This image suggests more than an alternative life trajectory were birds didn’t figure very much. The absence of the pictures and the appearance of the hooks that held them in place are suggestive of some kind of memory loss.

Having completed this exercise, the results remind me of the work of another OCA student, Rob Townsend. He recently shared on-line some images on a theme of dementia, where faces were ‘scratched out’ from family snap shots. These could be inferred to either depict a loss of memory or, even the ‘loss’ of family member whose condition meant they no longer recognised their loved ones.

This exercise turned out to be quite a ‘heavy’ subject and nothing like the purely hypothetical journey I thought I was starting at the beginning. Acknowledgement perhaps, of how a photographic project might evolve over time and adopt a life of its own beyond the initial idea.


Exercise 4.11 Emulation

In Part 3 I did a rather tongue-in-cheek ‘rip off’ of the Betchers work in Ex. 3.7 but for this exercise I’ve been guided more their approach to image making. I did consider using the exercise as an opportunity to photograph trees again. But I felt the result would look rather similar the work I produced for an earlier Part 4 Exercise.

I think this emulated approach would work well with leafless trees but I’d need to wait a few more weeks before that will be possible.

In stead I’ve chosen a subject matter for which my curiosity has grown out of my small preoccupation with trees. Driving through the Suffolk countryside I look out for trees that suit the sort of images I want to make, however, this has also led me to notice and consider other features within the landscape. Seemingly more common the types of tree I want are ‘telegraphy poles’. The use of inverted commas is appropriate: more often than not these pole carry electricity and not telephone wires. Every so often a line simple poles with two wires on it gives way to more complex set ups with multiple wires and boxes fastened to the pole. I don’t have faintest idea what these are all but I find myself visually drawn to them.

So here is my emulation of the work of Bernd and Hilla. Electricity transmission poles.


Ex. 4.11 Emulation


Emulation or copy? I can point to divergences between my approach and that of the Bechers. I’m working in colour, though the subject matter and the grey overcast sky renders the photos somewhat colourless. They displayed individual images on a gallery wall in a grid formation while I’ve produced a grid as a single image in Photoshop. However, perhaps the greatest difference is that I’m not seeking to record and present an historic record of these transmission poles. Just noticing them in my local countryside and beginning to identify differences in form and structure stimulated my interest – much in the same way than my interest in trees developed. Visually both occupy a similar space within the landscape, one a feature of the natural world while other very much a part of human industrialised society. All of that said I’m not too sure of the extent to which I have emulated their work or just copied their approach.

Project 3: Learning From Other Photographers

Using the ‘mind map’ approach in my sketchbook I undertook quite a thorough reflection on my photography to date. It took some time having mulled over it for a few days before putting my thoughts on paper.

The most significant learning point for me is that I’m not turning out be the photographer I thought I would be. When I last studied photography at a formal level, we studied ‘the greats’ Henri Cartier Bresson, Ansel Adams etc. The younger me was enthralled by HCB and at the beginning of FiP I’d have said that I’d want to produce work like his. The reality is that photography has moved on a long way from my early studies and FiP has exposed me, not only to a wider range of photographers but also broadened my appreciation of what photography can be.

Throughout this reflection exercise one theme has underpinned my thinking: and that is I consider myself still to be on a learning curve. Feeling there is still much to learn my reflection addressed the five key genres (see the scanned pages from my sketchbook)


Project 3 -1


This Project then asked a more narrowly defined question about what sort of photographs do I want to take. That is a little easier to answer. My own work centres on the natural world and I’d like to take this further exploring the overlap of the natural and human world in my local landscape. All of that said my mind remains open to new possibilities and idea of staged photography is one I’d like to explore too. On a personal level I’d like to photography cycle racing but I don’t think I’d be approaching it from the perspective of a sports journalist. (see the scanned sketchbook page)


Project 3 -2a


The next part of the Project was easy too. I started to look through my copy of Photography: the Whole Story to find a photographer whose work impresses me. There is one image that I found jaw-droppingly impressive the first time I saw it and that is Andreas Gursky’s Paris, Montparnasse.



Andreas Gursky’s Paris, Montparnasse in situ on a gallery wall


For the next exercise we are asked to consider a photographer’s work that impresses us and then to emulate their work. Gursky’s work here serves as an introduction for I discovered he was part of the Dusseldorf School, a group of photographers who had been taught and influenced by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Despite it’s monumental size Paris, Montparnasse still retains an objectivity in approach that was found in the work of the Bechers. I have already written about their work in Part 3 of FiP:

(see: )

Their work appeals to me on several levels. While I like the subject matter, I’m primarily drawn to their pared down aesthetic. Their deadpan approach to camera angles and use of monochrome in flat light creates it own aesthetic. Combine this with their grid like, repetitious approach to displaying the subject matter and their work then creates a taxonomy, an historical record of industrial architecture.

So for the next exercise I have chosen the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher.



Hacking , Juliet: Photography the Whole Story (Thames & Hudson) 2012



Exercise 4.10 Processing Technique

How do they do that? How did she get those muted colours? Why can’t I do it? These are the kind of questions I’ve been asking myself for a little while now. Scrolling through Instagram or leafing my way through the BJP I’ve seen the odd photograph that impresses me for it post production qualities. In my ham-fisted way I’ve dabbled, trying to achieve similar results but to no avail.

And then, as time inevitably marches on, I reached page 137 of FiP Workbook (2014 edition). In only four pages I have been taken along a post productive road to Damascus! With a few clear directions I’ve achieve the sort of ‘analogue film look’ that had eluded me. What’s more, there was a ‘Brucie Bonus’ as this Exercise also introduced me to Photoshop presets where those multiple adjustments in a curves layer can be save and used again. Overall, I’m very pleased with this bit of FiP!

So here are three, paired examples showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’, or rather the other way around…


Pauline with a ‘film look’

Ex 4.10 film AFTER 3

And before

Ex 4.10 film BEFORE 3


Aldeburgh Beach Lookout’s pebble table with the analogue feel about it

Ex 4.10 film AFTER

And before the post production

Ex 4.10 film BEFORE


My Mam and Dad in with the ‘film look’

Ex 4.10 film AFTER 2

And before…

Ex 4.10 film BEFORE 2