Category: ASSIGNMENT 2

Assignment 2 – Revised


The work produced for assignment 2 was adequate but not exceptional. This has led me to reconsider the content in terms of interest, originality and presentation style. I have decided that blurred images would suit very well the literary work “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. This is a book first recommended by Peter Fraser during a talk at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool a couple of years ago.  I have read it twice already and find it a constant source of inspiration. Fraser talks of photographing from the unconscious, a practice which I have tried to follow on occasions. It is as if Calvino wrote the  book from the unconscious with remarkable success.

Calvino writes of a series of conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo (13/14 century). The story goes that Marco, his father and uncle were commissioned by Khan to act as his advisers on matters of the western world. They moved from their home town of Venice and lived in Xanadu, the summer capital of Khan’s Yuan Empire for many years and later on Marco Polo was asked to travel to lands far and wide to discover unknown cities. Calvino’s book describes Marco Polo’s conversations with Kublai Khan on returning from these Cities (55 in total). The descriptions are sometimes vague and often unbelievable, leading the reader to wonder whether they all really existed. It is a series of riddles which both fascinated and frustrated Khan. One theory is that the descriptions are simply parts of Venice which Polo knew so well but it is also known (or at least believed) that he travelled widely in China and branched out into such countries as Burma, India and Tibet. So it is quite possible that many of his stories had a true foundation.

Using this inspiration, my plan is to create a photobook in modern day style, probably coloured pictures, which describes some of the cities of today which would be discovered by Marco Polo if he lived in this era.


I am trying to look at this project through the eyes of an Architect and to imagine some of the challenges he would encounter whilst trying to create a new city in this modern world. This subject is topical for the UK following the recent announcement that new garden villages are to be created to help deal with today’s population issues. So I am looking through the eyes of a British Architect.

The previous assignment was a collection of blurred images from various Flickr groups. This time I will widen my search to include such sources as Artsy and to look at the government proposals for the new garden villages. The whole project raises serious environmental issues as highlighted recently by David Attenborough in Planet Earth 2.

Garden Villages

The 14 new garden villages will have access to £6m of government money over the next two years. These developments would include schools, health and shopping improvements.


Proposed Garden Town on the Essex Herefordshire Border

So it is true that governments in a small or in a big way are always looking to improve their estate and so it was with Kublai Khan.

From Manila to Manhattan

An article released by “Artsy” shows proposals for 2017 for ten world beating designs of buildings in various countries of the world. It is entitled “From Manila to Manhattan, These new buildings will define architecture in 2017”.


City Center Tower, Manila – Architect – Carlos Anaiz



Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg – Architect – Hertzog & de Meuron

These buildings in Hamburg, Manila, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Cape Coast, London, Berlin, Houston and Paris will have to wait another day to realise their success (or failure) but they are certainly exciting examples of 21st century architecture and would have given Marco Polo much food for thought.

Seven Utopian Experiments

Another article by Artsy shows seven utopian experiments from Le Corbusier’s Radiant city to a ghost town in China. The Chinese project was developed by artist Ai Weiwei and Architect Herzog and de Meuron. This featured 100 villas designed by architects around the world but the tremendous cost of building the city resulted in some of the country’s highest property values and so nobody lives there.


Ordos, China – Artist – Ai Weiwei, Architect – Herzog & de Meuron and others

Other architects of the seven projects include George Braun and Franz Rosenberg, Paolo Soleri and Frank Lloyd Wright.


Auroville (the city of dawn), India – Conceived by Mirra Alfassa

Most of these buildings exist today, some are a great success and some, failed and expensive experiments.

The Book Project

I have taken a selection of twelve of the photographs from the above two projects and modified them to engender a dreamlike property. The resulting pictures have been inspired by Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” and I have matched quotations from his book to the selected pictures.

I invite the reader to imagine what these cities would be like to live in and to consider the differences. Which are real and which are fictional?

Link to new book entitled “Invisible Cities”



I was excited by the idea for this rewrite and felt that the subject matter was excellent and showed a high level of creativity and was articulated well.

By exhibiting the pictures of cities in blurred form I am attempting to draw on the viewer’s imagination but I do wonder if there is too little detail in the photographs to allow the imagination to take off. I invite the assessors to see whether their imagination can respond to my idea and to consider whether they believe that my work, which uses other people’s work in a new context, is art. I firmly believe that it is.


Assignment 2 – Tutor Feedback and Reflection.

Tutor Feedback

“It’s clear that you have progressed. Your critical engagement with the assignment is excellent. Your reflective text responds well to your ideas and connects with your references and the context of archives. It’s evident that you are committed to trying to understand the wider issues of contemporary photography.

Your final submission responds to the brief. The book is appropriate as is the idea of blurred images, although, I think that there was greater potential for the idea. A further investigation and edit of the blurred archives / idea could have resulted in a more solid coherent output. However, for assignment two I feel that you are progressing really well and if you continue to apply yourself you should do well at the time of assessment.”

Obviously the first paragraph gives me great satisfaction. This is further reinforced in the detailed analysis of my  approach to research and referencing and the way in which research is linked to the final product. However, there is much work to be done in improving the final presentation of Assignment 2. Although  the comment is disappointing “There is greater potential for the idea ” I feel that I understand the dilemma and it will be worthwhile looking back and reworking both context and presentation style, using blurred images  once again. My current thoughts are to refer back to that very influential book, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and to develop a modern day interpretation of the cities referred to. This is challenging as the original book, published in English in 1974, looks back to the cities of the 13th century and I am trying to bring them forward to the 21st century. Whilst reworking, I will look to improve presentation style, in particular to provide more white space around the pictures to allow them to breathe and also to add a small amount of text to try to put the pictures into context.

In addition, I am currently referring to artists recommended by my tutor for reference, Thomas Mailaender and Julian Germain and will be bringing them in at a later stage.

Personal Reflection

On reflection, the most satisfying piece of work at the stage leading up to assignment 2 was the work on the family album where I searched for original photographs in junk and antique shops and applied my artistic thoughts to them rather than scanning the internet for such information. I was able to locate the album of a nun, long deceased and this led to a detailed analysis of portraiture and group photography between 1950 and 1980.Much has changed since these days and some of the changes are already referenced within my work.

Another successful piece of work was the repetition of motif where I researched the development of advertising for Chanel No 5. This may seem a very restricted subject but on further investigation the subject matter which I had to consider was vast.

The third exercise – Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land –  is a subject in which I have been interested since visiting his exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery several years ago. The exercise gave me time to look at a living artist’s work in detail, an indulgence which only comes when there is a specific project to pursue.

My disappointment is that these three successful pieces of work did not lead up to an assignment of the same standard, something which I am determined to correct before I move on.





Assignment 2 – The Archive

The Question

Produce a series of images in book form which use a readily available online archive (or archives) as their starting point or subject.

The Book

This is the link to my book” Portrait in a day”:

my book


To start work on part 2, I first reflected on my tutor’s comments for assignment 1 and have developed several strands in the exercises leading up to this piece. I have been “pushing my practice” through illustrating an interest in photography in social, economic and political representation. I have also been exploring different presentational styles with an eye on advertising imagery and the history of art.

Throughout my work on Digital Image and Culture so far I have been fascinated by the concept that so many of the references I have investigated do not seem to have any respect for picture quality in their presentation. They appear to have thrown the rule book out of the window. Joachim Schmid and Erik Kessels work on found images which, as long as they fall into a specific category, can be the poorest quality imaginable. Stephen Gill, in his project “Hackney Flowers”, used backgrounds which were purposely damaged and ageing. Corinne Vionnet, whilst working on her project involving popular tourist sites, used found images, sometimes of very poor quality, to create a more evocative overlay in the style of an oil painting. Similarly in the field of painting as art, Idris Khan is much more interested in finding a political statement such as in his series “Death of Painting” currently on display at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.


 Death of Painting

All the above examples have enhanced their presentation creating atmosphere and heightened reality.

In addition to the references provided in the course material, I have studied various videos about the artists referenced and visited galleries which display their work.

Another huge influence has been the book “Failed It” by Erik Kessels which describes how to turn mistakes into ideas.

Looking at other examples of the use of found images has provided me with many ideas. Projects which have been successful and have strongly influenced me are as follows:

  • Evan Roth – Self Portrait – a copy of every photograph which has passed through his cache. This gives me a very different angle on self portrait.
  • Miska Henner – Dutch Landscapes – This demonstrates tenacity in his search routines and finishes with a political twist.
  • Corinne Vionnet – Holiday Destinations – This finds beauty amongst the mundane.
  • Penelope Umbrico – Flickr Suns – This  work on thousands of sunsets teaches us how to deal with clichés, something which I am very nervous about.

Jesse Alexander has produced a list of clichés as has Martin Parr.. Kittens, swans, thatched cottages are on the list. It almost  seems like an I-spy book.

The best reference which I have come across to help me understand clichés is a paragraph in Susan Sontag’s book “On Photography”:

“Photographs create the beautiful and – over generations of picture taking – use it up. Certain glories of nature have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image – surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny, they now look too much like photographs.”

This is blaming photographic mass production for the loss of wonder. She says that photographs are the product of the aesthetically naïve.

Interesting also that this book (which I keep very close to my person) was published in May 1977, over 35 years ago and we have been moving extremely fast ever since.

The sense of superiority generated by the rejection of clichés is all too apparent within the art world. Adolph Loos, in his architecture,  promoted plainness as a virtue with his famous quotation  “Rejection shows advanced cultural superiority”.

In “The Meaning of Culture” by John Cowper Powys he comments on the role of the viewer and level of sophistication he / she brings to the subject.

“The less cultured you are, the more you require from nature before you can be roused for reciprocity. Uncultured people require blazing sunsets, awe inspiring mountains, astonishing waterfalls, masses of gorgeous flowers, portentious signs in the heavens, exceptional weather on earth, before their sensibility is stirred to a response. Cultured people are thrilled through and through by the shadow of a few waving  grass blades upon a little flat stone.”

I will carry this concept forward to investigate it further in future assignments.

The Project

For my own project I used Flickr which provides a huge archive of over a million subjects.

I started to investigate the various Flickr groups for inspiration. Although my previous comments suggest that I am surprised by the referenced artists using poor quality material, I have become inspired by them.

Flickr groups which interested me were as follows:

  • Aesthetics of Failure
  • Doors and Windows in Decay
  • Film Noir
  • Rothcoesque
  • Abandoned
  • Utterly surreal
  • Light Junkies
  • Stick figures in peril
  • Artistic Blur

As curator I had to decide whether to use any of my own pictures or some of my found images from a recent visit to the bookshops and antique stores in Hay on Wye.

My final plan was to look at pictures on Flickr showing blurred portraits using the influence of these evocative pictures by Robert Frank and William Klein (1954 / 55):

William Klein, New York, 1954-55 Robert Frank, Movie Premiere, H

These pictures have always intrigued me and this project follows on from some work I completed within the module “People and Place” where I took studio shots to try to recreate the 1950s feeling.

One of these pictures is shown next and although I was not fully satisfied, I saw this as a step in the right direction:

ColinC 1

The biggest problem with achieving the perfect picture was that I was working in studio conditions and I was constrained by the size of the space. The pictures by Frank and Klein were in situ and managed to capture the atmosphere so much better. Also they are in black and white which was appropriate to describe the glamour of the 1950s.

Apart from the above purposeful portrait, I photographed my grand daughter in Australia in similar style:

Australia 20101121 018C

This was a simple mistake but did very well in local club competitions.

All the above were shot to show the subject as a blur and because of the shape and strength of subject the blur dominated. When looking at the large database of similar images on Flickr I was led to investigate whether the pictures I was looking at were purposeful blurred portraits or errors.

I like to think I can see which of the flickr portfolio was a mistake but I don’t believe I could be certain.

What I do know is that there are some extremely successful (evocative) shots and it is these that I have decided to work with to produce my book.

The book is a pure set of found images, converted from colour to black and white where necessary in order to heighten their impact.

I have been strongly influenced by the book “Night Walk” by Ken Schles in which he shares some of his night time experiences with the viewer. I see this as a powerful self portrait and although in my case the images in my book are not my own personal experiences, they are the result of a brief slice of my life (the two days I spent working on putting the book together) and as such can be regarded as a self portrait in the same way that Evan Roth’s self portrait was developed.


I feel I have “pushed my practice” by considering the use of found images, something I have not previously considered.

The effect of the “less than perfect images” can be used to create an image which appeals directly to the viewer.These imperfect images carry powerful. social, political and economic messages. They can be used to artistic effect or to highlight a particular theme.

I have found by using the book to present my work that it gives me scope to investigate a subject in some depth. In a book one can juxtapose complementary photographs to develop a scenario. With print on demand it could also provide a commercial outlet for photographers , this could also be advertised digitally on facebook, twitter or whatever.

It is important to note that found images became legitimate inclusions in works of art many years ago (for instance Picasso, Gris & Duchamp). This is not something new, merely an acceleration of the use of such ideas.

The question I have started asking myself and others is:  Do I still enjoy taking photos? There is a lot of material available which is trying to persuade me that picture taking for pleasure is a thing of the past and I find this quite disappointing.


Kessels, E. (2016) Failed It. Phiadon

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Penguin Books

Schles,K. Night Walk. Steidl

Cowper, JC. (2008) The Meaning of Culture. Pornona Press