Assignment 2 – Self Assessment

Following completion of my second assignment for this course, I have made some notes about how I feel the outcome matches the course assessment criteria

Criteria Self-assessment
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. I believe the images have all been completed to a reasonably good technical standard and that they reflect my initial intention in terms of composition and lighting. It was difficult to work with certain images owing to the different colour temperature of the light sources and as a result I had to re-shot some of the images or adjust colour casts locally in post-processing. Because the shots centred around specific made-up props, it was sometimes difficult to balance the compositions between subject and periphery. In some case, I had to introduce new auxiliary props (like pieces of paper and envelopes, a cassette player, etc) in order to complement the main idea.
Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. Generally speaking, I am satisfied with the outcome of the project and the way I am suggesting this to be presented. The project evolved rapidly within a relatively short timeframe and its final form was only conceived two days before final submission, after the first photographic session led to a rethink. I believe the images I used in this series can convey the message that I am after, but at the same time I consider this project as work in progress and would like to continue thinking about different ways of portraying similar ideas.
Demonstration of creativity – Imagination, experimentation, invention. Like in the sets created for Assignment 1, these images are not what I would normally feel comfortable doing as part of my regular photography and consequently, this assignment was particularly difficult on the creative front, especially because its conception started from a theoretical, non-visual point of view (a series of abstract ideas not directly observable) and transferring those ideas into a visual plane involved a difficult trial and error process where the end results failed to live to my expectations on many occasions . As part of this assignment, I trialled several ideas before settling on the exploration of the passage of time and how we cope with technological advances. While the images came out in the end as I had sketched them, the contents and shape of the props used changed over time as a result of variation of focus in the series and the trialling of various options during the actual shooting sessions.
Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking. The main ideas for this assignment came from reflections, some of which were based on my own personal situation while others were inspired by stimuli around me: a TV show or a newspaper article. Visually speaking, the images are very similar to those produced by me in the first assignment: they are all made up images, mostly taken at home. The inspiration to try to come up with something drawn from my own experience, rather than something overtly abstract and detached came in a way from Duane Michals and his thoughts about photographing what we feel rather than what we see (1), while the idea to come up with quirky montages, with subtlety odd elements was also inspired by some of Michals’s series (some of the ideas I explored with the framed phone photograph image were inspired by his Things are Queer series), and more indirectly, by some of the strange, dreamlike images of Gregory Crewdson.

(1)See various quotes on this subject here: Art Blart. 2017. Duane Michals This Photograph Is My Proof | Art Blart. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 19 November 2017].


Assignment 2 – Photographing the unseen: process and selection.

Principal photography took place over two days and a total of 122 images were taken (see contacts here), although many of these were double takes, as I experimented with various apertures to determine the optimal depth of field. All the images were taken with wide to normal lenses (28mm, 40mm and 50mm) on a tripod mounted camera at the lowest possible ISO setting that would ensure sharp images. In most cases this was between ISO 50 and ISO 200, but one set of images (the playing of cards with smart phones) was taken at ISO 1600 due to the subject not being a still life. Most of the images were taken at relatively small apertures (f8 to f16).

Except for some shots taken in the interior of a car, all shots were taken indoors and contain in some cases a mixture of artificial and natural light. In some cases this posed a challenge during post processing, as the temperature of the light sources was slightly different in some cases and this required some rebalancing to minimise colour casts in some areas of the images.

The dynamic range of some of the scenes was quite significant and at some point I decided to try to create HDR images to lower the contrast slightly and see if this created better looking images, but in the end the pictures had too many artifacts from the HDR combination, so I decided to slightly overexposed and then recover the highlights and shadows in post-processing and go for a more moody, contrasty look.

Other than light and colour adjustments, some of the pictures were slightly cropped and some distracting elements (like logos or icons in some of the smart phone images) were cloned out).

The final sequence of images is shown below:


Assignment 2 - Image 1Assignment 2 - Image 2Assignment 2 - Image 3Assignment 2 - Image 4Assignment 2 - Image 5Assignment 2 - Image 6Assignment 2 - Image 7

I envisage the images being presented in a book, each photograph occupying one page on a two page spread. A sketch of the final presentation booklet can be seen here.



Assignment 2 – Photographing the unseen: introduction

For assignment 2, I have decided to develop a project around the idea of the passage of time and how this affects the way we do things through our lifetime. I have been thinking about several aspects of time (original reflections can be found here), including nostalgia, the lack of free time, wasted time and how that is related to our changing relationship with technology. I was thinking about all of this while, on a personal level, I was trying to swap my smart phone for an old-fashioned mobile phone without apps or Internet, for a few days a week. My experience with this was fraught with difficulty at first, and I had for some time a feeling of withdrawal, but in the end I got used to the old phone and was able to operate more or less normally without missing.  having to constantly check the Internet.

This experience let me to try and develop a series of images where old and new tech are interchanged for doing routine activities of our daily lives, to try to explore the struggle that older generations have in adapting to the new times. The initial idea was to develop a typological series, a catalogue of different activities like chatting, writing longhand, reading, taking notes, listening to music, stopping a door open, noting somebody’s Twitter handle or email address, storing or displaying photographs, etc, and how these things could be done using old and new technology in a way that was entirely plausible yet unlikely or impractical. The idea was to create images that on the surface were perfectly normal but on closer inspection show something which is slightly off, unusual or not right. In this, I drew some lose conceptual inspiration from the work of Gregory Crewdson (see my comments here) and in some of the series developed by Duane Michals (see my comments here), as well as his comments on photographing the unseen (1).  Some of the initial ideas I came up with are listed below:

  • Having a chat with a typewriter
  • Putting our smartphones in a photo album OR framing a smart phone
  • Hang a tablet for drying like if it was a photographic print
  • Write a cheque to a Social media company
  • Enter somebody’s email address in a phonebook
  • Make a mixed cassette tape from digital music or record podcasts in a cassette tape
  • Use a smart phone to keep a door open
  • Putting a post it note on an e-book reader
  • Marking the alternative GPS routes in a physical map
  • Sending a longhand written letter via email
  • Play cards using mobile phones as the actual cards

As I began to come up with sketches for these photographs and develop the props I needed to use, it started to become apparent that some of the images were related to each other: the same fictional names were used for the props, the activities depicted, like chatting and writing a letter longhand, were sequentially connected. The series then quickly shifted from a loose inventory to a sequence, and I ended up wrapping these photographs, which individually were still faithful to the idea of a technological mash-up, into a story about lost relationships and how these could be rekindled if we took the time to do so.


(1) See various quotes on this subject here: Art Blart. 2017. Duane Michals This Photograph Is My Proof | Art Blart. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 19 November 2017].

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 7: Time

There are many subjects around the idea of time. The passage of time, realising one is no longer young, is an interesting topic in itself. It is manifested in many ways. We tend to focus on the physical ones: grey hair, loss of muscle flexibility, tiredness, wrinkles; but usually the non-physical signs are the more interesting. Knowing first hand a historical moment that others have just learned by reference is one example of this. The generational gap in customs and culture. Looking at people dressing in a certain way for the second time around when most of them are dressing like that for the first time.

Another topic that I have been thinking a lot about in recent days is the usage of time. We tend to leave busy lives and many of us are working and studying at the same time. We also need to dedicate time to our families and friends, to a myriad of social activities outside work, and to manage all this is quite complex. But we are also spending a lot of time on things that may not necessarily bring us any joy. Where I work we have television screens blasting news continuously, albeit without sound (only images). Although I tend to ignore them most of the time, there is always something that captures our attention. And then, without thinking we end up checking the news in our phones or tablets. When we travel home, or when we get there, we are always looking at the Internet for news or entertainment. I guess this topic is somewhat related to the previous one, because I do remember the time when the internet was not as widespread and there were no tablets or smartphones and we used our spare time for other things, such as meeting each other or reading a book. I sometimes long these times and wish I could go back, but it is difficult, because there have been many benefits that have been brought by the new technologies (such as access to vast amounts of information in real-time: mails, the weather, train times, bus times, most of which help us save time or prepare for what was previously unexpected), but these benefits have come at the cost of great distractions (mindless video games, social media, invasive advertisement). The convenience of everything being now connected and readily available everywhere in real time also comes at the cost of relinquishing our privacy. But the worst aspect of this, the one I dislike the most, is that I think most of the time I spend in the Internet is just a waste or my time, that I could be using it to learn something new or to do something that I enjoy more. Or spend more time with real family and friends.

How do we connect these two topics photographically? I guess one way of looking at this would be to imagine doing all the new things we do today with the Internet, and that were not customarily done in the past, and try to recreate them with old technology. Likewise, it may be interesting to see what it would be like to do things that we used to do differently in the past with the aid of new technology.

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 6: The details

We live in what could be described as a “curated” world, surrounded by experts that are all the time explaining us complex things in a simple way. If you watch television this comes up very often, sometimes as a manifestation of pop culture. I was watching the BBC today and they were showing the forensic reconstruction of some person that was a famous prisoner in Scotland centuries ago. They were showing some interesting CGI but there was no discussion of how the technology works or what is used for. We only see the end results as some sort of novelty, something to capture our attention for a few seconds. The world is just too complex for us to understand anything but our own area of interest or expertise, if we have any, but if we were to see all the information, all the knowledge, instead of this curated view, we would end up with a huge headache or would quickly lose our minds. Perhaps the curated view of the world is necessary to preserve our own existence, but not being aware that our interaction with most everybody else is somewhat abridged could also have dangerous consequences. Without this awareness we would soon believe that we are qualified to pass judgement on matters that we have no knowledge of, and when this becomes endemic we could have the wholesale rejection of expertise.

I wanted to develop a series of photographs to illustrate the concept of the knowledge that lies beneath the surface of what we perceive. This knowledge, which I call the “details” for the purpose of this exercise, is something that is there but we cannot perceive or comprehend. The first idea that came to my mind when trying to illustrate this point was to take a series of images of high-resolution landscapes and then look at the images later in my computer, at 100% magnification and look for things that I have not noted when I first took the image, be it objects or patterns. These details were supposed to be images on a standalone basis, but I also thought about mixing the cropped images with their original sources, in random order, and allow the viewer to try to make sense of where the cropped images were coming from. This was intended as a way of illustrating the frustration that we often feel when there is something beyond our understanding.

I did some preliminary testing for these ideas, some of the preliminary images are shown below (including a mix of full images and crops):

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 5: Happiness

What makes us happy? Sometimes we pin our hopes of finding happiness on something or somebody and this turns out not to work the way we expected it. Happiness is an elusive subject, something that we may feel when we least expect and that is not there when we expect it to be. When that happens, we get frustrated. We get angry. The opposite of happiness takes place because, just like an untamed animal, happiness cannot be summoned, cannot be grasped, cannot be controlled and cannot be moved around as we please.

If there is no clear way to find happiness, is there a way of representing it pictorially? One way of tackling this is to think back about moments in which we remember being happy, and then take a picture representing or related to such moment. Another way would be to be on the alert for moments of happiness, and then take a picture of whatever is going on at that time, whatever I feel is associated with the generation of that happiness.

The above can actually end up being highly personal and consequently, impossible to decipher by the viewer. A third approach would be to distil the moment of happiness into its basis emotions and then look for ways in which such emotions could be represented by symbols or signs that could trigger a connection with happiness on the viewer. In order for this to work, the signs would have to have a near universal connection with happiness. A slight variation in this approach would be to try to use signs and symbols that elicit happiness directly in the viewers, rather than just an association with the concept.

But what are the universal symbols of happiness? If we Google happiness, and then look at images, we can see a lot of “smiley” faces:


So, smiling seems to be directly associated with happiness. But what actually makes us smile? A smile in itself is just a manifestation of something, the “happiness”, but that has been caused by something else. A few examples could include

  • A joke
  • Receiving praise
  • Being together with someone we love
  • Closing a business opportunity successfully
  • Victory
  • Our football team scoring
  • Reaching the top of a mountain / finishing a race / completing a goal
  • Sunrises
  • Sunsets

There are many other things that can make us smile but which are not necessarily related to happiness. We can force a smile before somebody takes our picture, for instance, because this is a general convention when taking social pictures. The viewer of such picture may conclude that those in the picture were happy at that time, but this may not actually be the case. The limitation of this approach is that the viewer can never know for sure if what is being represented is a derivative of happiness or not, although one could argue that we should not be concerned with such things in any case, for as long as the correct response is elicited (ie if there is an association with happiness or happiness is indeed generated). My concern in connection with this limitation is only in as much as it can generate doubts in the viewer as to whether the symbol is genuine or not (eg is the smile fake?), thus ruining the intention.

Are there other symbols that are specifically related to happiness other than smiley faces? Are there any colours, sounds or objects related to happiness?  Can a colour or object, in itself, cause somebody to be happy? Does happiness require action, a sort of interaction between people or objects, in order to flourish? We can, for instance sometimes associate an object with a prior thought or situation and that can bring us a small degree of satisfaction, like a moment of joy, but again this could be a very personal response.

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 4: Fear

Fear is something that we normally associate with the feeling that something bad is about to happen to us, but its manifestation is sometimes irrational. I am always afraid of watching horror movies even though I know that most of them depict fantastic situations that are unlikely to happen in real life, although from time to time there is the odd one resembling reality too much to keep you thinking about the possibilities. Sometimes we are fearful of change, even when the evidence that something bad may happen is not convincing. Equally, we are afraid of trying something new just because of the uncertainty that entails. I am not generally fearful of the night, but I am very often afraid of being alone in a remote area, particularly if I am taking pictures and need to spend time setting out a tripod. I fear that someone will approach me to ask me what I am doing or attack me. It is quite paradoxical that when I view these images later, they all look peaceful and serene, but I only remember being afraid when taking them. It would be an interesting idea to be able to instil that fear that I was going through when I took the image into the picture itself.

Another angle on the above would be to do a series of images on overcoming fear, and in the particular example of my own personal experience, it could be a series of photographs in which I gradually build confidence to overcome my fears when photographing in public. It occurred to me that this could be done using a prop, something that would be odd to see lying around (eg a white t-shirt) and take a series of picture of it. Perhaps this is something I would consider to do over time, even if I do not have time to develop the idea for this assignment.

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 3: Loneliness

Loneliness is an awkward feeling. One would normally associate it with people who live without company or introverts; but I have known many lively people who are always surrounded by others yet they feel the just as lonely as if they knew nobody else. Loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. I have just recently finished reading I served the king of England by Czech writer Buhomil Hrabal (1), where the main character lives worried about being accepted and appreciated by others and was only able to make peace with himself towards the end of his life when he was almost completely alone, in the company of a few domestic animals, and had the time to reflect and write his memories. However, while we all need our moments of solitude and self-reflection, too much of it risks us becoming completely detached from life; with us losing interest in everything else, and everybody else giving up on us.

And on the latter point, one should not forget that life can sometimes be cruel and does not give many second chances. There are many that fall out of grace at some point and immediately become marginalised. Somehow these people become invisible: no one pays attention to them, no one misses them. If we maintain contact with them is usually brief. Some of them manage to get out of the hole they have fallen into, but the majority of them are not lucky enough. There are obviously visible examples of this in real life, like rough sleepers for instance, but many others are more difficult to spot, as they may appear to be economically well off and may give the impression of being emotionally fully functional, but may in reality be internalizing their feelings.

I have been thinking about how to approach loneliness from a photographic perspective in recent weeks. An obvious way of dealing with this would be to capture “invisible” people, their experience and / or their environment. This is not appealing to me personally for a number of reasons. One of them is that it would require a multi-disciplinary approach in order to identify and properly convey these people’s experience, a project that becomes something more complex than a photographic series and would undoubtedly require more time and preparation. More importantly, this approach is too removed from where I want to go with photography at present, which is not towards the exposé type of documentary work and more into introspection / personal reflection. Consequently, there has to be other ways in which I can reflect upon loneliness in a photographic way. One approach would be to focus on images that evoke the feeling of loneliness and other associated feelings, but another, and perhaps more interesting, approach would be to look into the false positives, those signs that may be incorrectly interpreted as indicating a sociable person. A typical example of this would be an introvert that never leaves home but has thousands of friends in social media, for example, but there are possibly many other examples which are more subtle.


(1) Hrabal, B., 2017. I Served the King of England. Vintage Books.

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 2: Dissagreement

How do we deal with disagreements? I have been thinking about this a lot in the context of recent political events that have polarised public opinion, including the Brexit referendum and the independence referenda in both Scotland and Catalonia. From a purely observational perspective it seems we more or less follow the same mechanisms when dealing with disagreement: we shout and fight, we get mad with others, we put forward our arguments and most of the time we pretend that we listen to someone else’s. Then we sulk and retreat, in some occasions for a few minutes and some other times forever. The matter that we disagree with seems to be put in the back of our heads, but is it really there?

Perhaps more interesting that the external manifestations is the internal process of dealing with disagreement. What, from inside us, drives our reaction? Why is it that in many cases we are capable of reflecting ex post that the way we have behaved is incorrect but still do it again exactly the same over and over again? Why is it too hard for us to accept other people’s views, or at the very least cope with the fact that they are entitled to their opinion? More importantly, perhaps, how do we move on from the frustration that disagreement may bring, accepting that is a fact of life, rather than allowing it to surface every now and them and make us eternally bitter, with ourselves and with others? It seems, at least for some, that conflict and confrontation are hardwired into our human nature (a discussion about this can be found here), so this may explain our tendencies to disagree, to rebel against others challenging our closely held beliefs. The physical representation of disagreement in imagery has ranged from direct depictions of wars, insurrection and other atrocities, animals looking horns; to indirect representations via symbols of disagreement (eg thumbs ups / thumbs down, signs pointing in different directions, etc). But the process of dealing with conflict internally, and the stages this process goes through, may be harder to depict. One way of trying to make sense of this is to look at Kohlberg’s moral development theory (see link to the relevant Wikipedia page here), which describes various stages of moral reasoning within humans, typically moving up as we age (but in some cases with people being stuck in a particular stage for a very long time, regardless of their age) and which tries to explain the evolution of the motivations behind our reasoning when dealing with moral dilemmas, including conflicts / disagreements. Without going too deep into this, the stages could be summarised as follows:

  1. Obedience / punishment orientation: when actions / decisions are dictated by the need to avoid punishment
  2. Self-interest orientation: when actions are determined purely by a personal gain motivation
  3. Interpersonal accord and conformity: when actions are determined by social customs / norms and the need to conform to social standards.
  4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation: when actions derive from a desire to conform to legality and to maintain order / status quo
  5. Social contract orientation: when actions derive from a desire to achieve the greater good for the majority of people, understanding and respecting the opinions of others.
  6. Universal ethical principles: when decisions are driven by abstract reasoning about what is just, rather than on norms and conventions.

Most of the stages shown above are observable at some point of individual and social development, except perhaps for the last one which appears to be theoretical (Kohlberg believed it existed but could not find any examples of it)(1). While this theoretical framework about our moral motivations may be disputed by many (2), it does provide a basis for the graphic exploration of the different ways in which we deal with conflict / disagreement, perhaps by looking at ways of illustrating the behaviours associated with these stages, or by depicting signs/situations that may evoke feelings associated with such stages: punishment, greed, social conformity, law and order, respect for others and justice/fairness.  Another approach would be to emphasise, within the photo essay, only a few stages over the rest, by way of commentary on what one feels about the lack of evolution of our moral compass as a society and how the system seems to operate at one stage on paper (eg social contract) while many individuals seem to operate under a moral compass seemingly motivated mostly by self-interest or fear of authority / social order.


  1. Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development – Wikipedia. 2017. Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 November 2017].
  2. Kohlberg – Moral Development | Simply Psychology. 2017. Kohlberg – Moral Development | Simply Psychology. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 November 2017].

Assignment 2 – Initial idea 1: The moment of death

I have been thinking about the concept of death for some time, not only in the usual sense of the end of life as we know it, but in the more cartomancical interpretation of death as change, particularly permanent and irreversible one. There are potentially many of these changes throughout life, and sometimes it becomes clear when they happen, but in many other occasions we are not paying enough attention to notice, or we simply do not have the foresight to see them, only manifesting themselves many years later. The worst cases are those in which we refuse to admit change, even though it is painfully obvious, or when we are too pessimistic and believe there is inevitable, fateful change when there is still hope.

It is quite interesting then, that I have recently come across, as part of my research into Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself, a video (see link below) in which towards the end Calle talks about another work titled Pas Pu Saisir La Mort (Impossible to catch death), which consists of 11 minutes of video showing the last moments in the life of Calle’s mother.


She mentions in the interview that it was not possible for her to “…know if she was alive or dead. That moment that I have caught, where you don’t know, you could put your finger, like on the last book, the last mile, the last phrase, the last words, but the last second, the last breath was impossible to catch”(1). While I am not particularly concerned about the moment of physical death, I share her view that is quite hard to capture the precise moment when “death”, as a metaphor for irreversible change, takes place. In the case of Pas Pu Saisir La Mort, this was shown as successive persons putting their fingers in front of Calle mother’s nose and mouth, trying to ascertain if she was still breathing. In this work, the materialization of the concept is made clear by the context (somebody lying on their death-bed, people trying to ascertain), but in a more ideal sense, when we are dealing with circumstances that are less tangible, like broken relationships, falling out of grace with a mentor, leaving the village we were born into to seek a new life, it is hard to sense when permanent change happens.

I have been thinking for some time about how to represent this irreversible change in photography. In video, as seen in Calle’s work referenced above, the moment of change can be broken down to fractions of a second or slowed down to allow the viewer to digest and understand the moment. In literature, a moment can also be stretched over several paragraphs, freezing time even more effectively than movies. Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga was a master of this, particularly in his short stories such as Wild Honey (translation available here), Adrift (translation available here) and The Dead Man (original Spanish here, summarised in English here). A photograph, on the contrary, seems to contract rather than stretch time, showing just a frozen moment, fractions of a second. Unless that moment is followed and preceded by other moments, like in a sequence, it is hard for an image to capture the essence of a concept in just a moment. As a best approximation, one could imagine, for instance, that a carefully selected still from Calle’s Pas Pu Saisir La Mort could successfully convey the idea that we are in front of somebody who has just died. But that in itself does not fully evoke the feeling of uncertainty, the anguish or the resignation that change brings, particularly when one realises that the change has happened. Furthermore, those feelings may be fully interiorised by the affected subject, which further complicates their graphic representation.

My first attempts at trying to capture these feeling was through photographing temporary objects: bags, leaves, cigarette buts. These objects may degrade and change over time, some faster than others, but I was primarily concerned about their permanence among us, which is even shorter. A leave or a plastic bag do not stay still on a windy day, and many of these objects are swept on a daily basis. We see them today, and maybe again tomorrow, but then they disappear from our lives for ever, never to be seen again. That is the essence of change, expressed through objects to which we have no attachment and consequently, incapable of generating any concern or anguish to us, but change nonetheless.

Another possibility, which is one I could explore in this assignment, is to look for signifiers of permanent change, items that evoke the idea rather than the idea itself. There are many of these that are universal, others are more local and yet some others are quite personal, and sometimes it is hard to perceive which is which. An additional challenge with this approach is that some of these signifiers may be temporary in themselves, part of a change which we perceive as permanent but that with sufficient time, mainly beyond our lifetime, may actually turn temporary. At some point, it becomes debatable if a change is permanent or not and I think it would be interesting to see how my selection of signifiers tallies up against the opinion of the viewers.
(1) Venice Biennale: Sophie Calle | Tate. 2017. Venice Biennale: Sophie Calle | Tate. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 October 2017].