A4 – initial ideas and research

My chosen brand for this assignment is Foul Play magazine, a new independent publishing initiative. The founders have a passion for the ‘true crime’ genre which is moving into the mainstream as a result of the popularity of the podcast Serial.

“We reject sensational exposés and instead choose to investigate the cultural and social significance of crime.

Rather than encouraging readers to revel in macabre details of a human being’s demise, we direct you to look at what led to that crime or how its aftermath was dealt with. Sometimes we’ll find corners of the story that may seem insignificant, but we think are worthy of our time.

Foul Play is not looking to profit from pain or hound people for the perfect paparazzi shot of a murderer. We won’t be tapping any victims’ phones for a juicy scoop. We report about crime remembering that there are humans on both sides:  the victim and the perpetrator.” Source: https://www.foulplaymag.com/about/

I have an uneasy relationship with this fascination for crime. I don’t like reading thrillers or viewing anything anxiety-inducing and I would never watch a horror movie as it would disrupt my sleeping and peace of mind tremendously.  Even memories of watching Sixth Sense over a decade gives me shivers.  And I have always wondered about people who relish the genre.

And yet, millions of people find this to be not only great entertainment but also, paradoxically, a way to overcome anxiety and confront natural fears head-on.  For a lot of women, this is actually soothing. The theory is that repeated exposure, with perceived distance and safe context, can reduce the amygdala response to horrible things. We learn that if the association does not always have a negative outcome, we become less fearful.

Dr Mathias Clasen from Aarhus University:  “When our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers in the East African savannah, it was important that they were prepared for possible attacks by predators and vermin.  They had to train their reactions to stressful situations, and the desire to do so became stored in their DNA – which we still carry today. When we watch a horror movie, we’re satisfying that desire. We’re training our danger preparedness.  We use fiction as an ‘emotional simulator’ to broaden our horizons. Horror fiction exercises our reactions to what’s terrible and frightening.”

Clasen talks about his interest in taking mental journeys ‘into the wild’ where we can have terrifying vicarious experiences. He also observes that some of the horror fiction that resonates with us is metaphorical (eg the Exorcist and the generation gap in the 70s which alienated many parents from their children) or just very primal (the Zombie phenomenon being related to a revulsion to rotting flesh or our natural fear of sharp-toothed predators creating a fascination with vampires).

This is ancient and universal. People have been telling scary stories around campfires for thousands of years. This helps children to learn about good and evil, about where danger may lie. Imagination is a huge part of our humanity and, when combined with fear, it can take us to very dark places.

Here is an interesting example: https://www.myfavoritemurder.com/about

My Favourite Murder takes a humorous approach and has a massive following of ‘murderinos’ but it also has some serious feminist messaging around staying safe, while still being sexy, avoiding bad decisions and the dangers of ‘toxic masculinity’.

Matching the Foul Play brand profile 

I would like to explore the edges of things: exploit the crepuscular hours – the moments when day dissolves into night; the construction and ambiguity of a scene; the sometimes fine line between innocence and guilt, victim and perpetrator.

  • Feeling of isolation (small figures in a large space)
  • Use of shadows – playing on fears of the dark
  • The victims, if portrayed, must still have agency

Things to avoid

  • The images should be non-sensational, no gratuitous gore
  • Jack the Ripper associations
  • Hawksmoor associations
  • Beautiful, dead women
  • Weegee-style realism?

Initial scenario ideas

  • A large, creepy figure semi-camouflaged to create a start when seen
  • Matt sitting at his desk, in the dark, shot from outside the window
  • A woman banging on the large church doors
  • A bike and a spilt-open bag on the ground lit by street lamp
  • A figure in car headlights (holding a knife)
  • A man with a shovel (behind the swings in Allen Gardens)
  • Shot from the ground (POV of the victim)?
  • Hands through (prison) bars
  • Digging up a skull (or washing in the sink)?

Possible locations

  • Denis Sever’s House (would need to be pre-arranged, probs not enough time)
  • Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (too heavy-handed?)
  • Vacant lots and building sites (can’t always get people in)
  • Use ‘desire paths‘ metaphorically? (deviating from the established way could expose the walker to danger but also indicating the strength of human will and collective action)
  • Isolated parts of the local parks (will people think these are actual crime scenes?)
  • Paths by the railway tracks

Key issues to explore

  • Construction/ambiguity/chance
  • Denotation/connotation
  • Cultural prejudice to the horror genre (not just where there is an absence of morality or poor aesthetics)
  • Feminism and true crime
  • The interplay of culture and biology


Flight Patterns, 2014 – Juan Fernando Herran. We saw some of this work in Arles this year. The aesthetic is appealing but also the idea. Herran has captured the movement of drug runners and criminals on mopeds as they conduct their illicit business in Columbia.

From the Arles catalogue:

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 14.10.35

Gregory Crewdson.  Many of his images have the eerie stillness I would like to capture, often containing elements that ask more questions than give answers.


I asked my Facebook friends to share some examples of images or movie moments that they find to be eerie. Some people opted for straight horror (such as Ringu or The Shining) and clearly, for others it was a very personal response to images seen as a child such as this one where something usually cute and comforting looks evil:


Or where something evil takes on the form of someone familiar, such as your Dad:


This image only becomes truly chilling when you know the backstory:


This is uncanny and unsettling, made more so if you have seen this moment in the movie:


I had not seen this image by Peter Doig before but Michael Colvin mentioned it as a good example and I agree. It is simple and mysterious, placing the viewer in the position of the hunted, although we have no idea if this is a good or bad cop.


There is more information here including the reference that it is based on a still from Friday 13th.

The Blair Witch Project is famous for being terrifying for what it didn’t show. The documentary style and hype about whether it was real or not, helped. But how brilliant to be able to make twigs and stones and marks on walls so chilling. The ‘best’ frights come from being given space to let our imagination run wild.


This is all well and good. I know what I would *like* to create. The more valid question at this point is “What *can* I create with very limited time and resources?” I guess I better let my imagination run wild.



Posted in ASSIGNMENT 4 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Assignment Four – planning

Unpacking the brief

This assignment is designed to simulate the circumstances where a brand marketing team would require a photographer to be a visualiser of their ideas or make a visually-led contribution at a creative meeting.

The end product is supposed to be a calendar showing two months per page so requiring six images plus a cover shot. The images also need to be suitable for billboard ads.

Other requirements:

  • Choose a brand that is personally interesting
  • Find a brand which creates a calendar already
  • A relateable market
  • The calendar must be exciting and creative (not revolving around featuring the product)
  • Always keep the company’s marketing identity in mind
  • If the company has a slogan or strapline that it includes in its images, accommodate that on each page, suitably placed on the image
  • Include the company logo
  • Print and bind calendar
  • Should be A3 sized

Challenges and opportunities

How many companies actually produce calendars anymore? I rarely see one in business except in the paper and printing industries, for obvious reasons. The market seems to be largely made up of celebrity pin-up calendars, pets, hobbies, nature, travel and art.  So, I am not going to worry about finding a brand that already produces a calendar – way too restrictive.

The images that I want to make may not seem ‘exciting’ enough to be on someone’s wall for two months. So I shall just aim for images that someone, somewhere within the target demographic may like to have on their wall, at least temporarily. I have always aimed to buy calendars with images I love enough to cut out and keep, sometimes on the walls more permanently.

Presumably, as this is Gesture & Meaning, the images should really incorporate the human form or some allusion to the human condition. This means using strangers in a street style or finding models. Time is against me so I may have to be extra creative here.

The brief states the calendar should be A3 which may create issues when binding. Jesse implied that there is room for manoeuvre with image size for the final output (eg he felt the A4 for assignment three could come across as a little amateur and suggested I go smaller). So I am not going to decide on size or format yet until I have produced some successful test images.

It might be good to add other campaign assets into the mix eg social media tiles, a digital version of the calendar, collateral for web advertisements, data visualisation to illustrate the brand, merchandise (fridge magnets?) etc

Assumed aims of the assignment

  1. Create exciting and appealing images (seven in total)
  2. Demonstrate the successful matching of imagery to a brand and its marketing objectives
  3. Show an understanding of creating images for a specific medium (eg calendar format and outdoor)
  4. Analyse how the brand is currently using imagery and if it is relevant to the current market and demographic or if there needs to be a shift
  5. Provide evidence of careful research and analysis of relevant marketing and advertising campaigns to help inform the work

Next steps

  • Choose brand
  • Research and analyse
  • Develop initial ideas
  • Create a Statement of Intent



Posted in ASSIGNMENT 4 | Leave a comment

Portraits without people


I have been thinking more and more about portraits without people and what is and what isn’t and this will be an interesting challenge in the ‘advertising’ section of G&M, which I have just begun.

This is brilliant:

Zoe Leonard’s 1961 (2002- )

“… is a conceptual and sculptural self-portrait, titled after the year of her birth and composed of vintage suitcases marking each year of her life. Amplified annually with another valise, this dynamic record marks not only all the years she has lived but also those to come. 1961 charts the passage of a lifetime by invoking travel, adventure, romance, and escape, though at its core is the melancholic reality that as the artwork grows, the artist ages, inevitably approaching mortality. The secondhand suitcases vary in size, color, and design, with individual tags and distinctive deterioration accentuating difference. In this way, Leonard uses the lives of others to describe her own. Allowing the suitcases to stand empty, the artist posits her own life as a cipher for the events, individuals, and emotions lost to the inevitable passage of time.”


So simple but visually interesting and conceptually good.

This is an area I would like to develop in my own work to understand where the lines can be drawn. One could argue that almost any traces of the human constitutes some kind of portrait.




Posted in Exercises - part 3 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Exercise: Targeting an audience

A few interesting ads in a random issue of ES magazine…

The first thing I noticed when researching the Kenzo brand was that Wikipedia warns: “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement. Please help improve it by removing promotional content and inappropriate external links, and by adding encyclopedic content written from a neutral point of view.”  A stark reminder of how much proliferation there has been in terms of platforms for brands to promote themselves.

The Kenzo ad is a striking image of a woman in clown make-up wearing a sweater with a harlequin design. The background is orangy brown, as is the clown wig and the diamond shapes of the sweater. It has a bit of a Claude Cahun vibe. The KENZO word logo, which ties in Japan with Paris, is prominent and the header text reads Cabiria, Charity, Chastity; a film by Natasha Lyonne.

I have no idea who Natasha Lyonne is. We are invited to follow Chastity on a surreal journey through a parallel plane, as she realises that “in order to face her future, she must first reconcile her Vaudevillian past.” https://www.kenzo.com/en/chastity  Oh, the human condition of having to deal with the past before being able to live in the future. How relatable.


The site includes a page with ‘Previously on KENZO.com’ header as if it is a media platform.

Kenzo has had mixed fortunes since its launch in 1970 but Carol Lim and Humberto Lean, joint creative directors/head designers for the brand since 2011, have ensured that it now reaches a new generation of millennials and Gen Z. This has been achieved by shaking up the sleepy vintage feel with a return to the streetwear origins and a focus on youthful energy, confidence and fun.  The tiger logo has helped to make Kenzo more desirable and opened up merchandising opportunities beyond the core products.

They have also been incredibly bold with the rebrand as this ad directed by Spike Jonze shows.

Like many brands, Kenzo is also supporting a ‘good cause’, in this case, the Blue Marine Foundation for sustainable fishing and to protect the oceans.

Combining social purpose with sales messaging is always problematic. It is often dismissed, or even condemned, as merely virtue-signalling.

Brands can, of course, become huge parts of our lives, as advertising constantly tries to claim: emotional touchstones that evoke happy memories of interaction, sharing, success, failure, love and loss. But to be successful as advertising there always has to be a drive towards the commercial imperative.

For many marketers the key performance indicators are pure metrics: how much press coverage is achieved, what the analytics say about the number of ‘likes’ or retweets or traffic generation on a landing page. And it is easy to see how a marketing director could be seduced by the idea of the good cause.  However, the alleged link between lofty brand ideals and accelerated business growth has been challenged.

It feels dangerous for our society to tacitly encourage advertisers to create an illusion that we become good people by consuming a certain brand. This is, at worst, a tasteless exploitation of social problems for profit and, on a practical level, it often backfires (eg the Pepsi/Kardashian ad and the recent controversy over a new Dove campaign).

The cause has to be central to the brand values.  This is why the Samaritan’s ad works so well. It is authentic.  In commercial thought-leadership (or at least conversation-leadership) there has to be humility and not always casting the brand as the hero.

An inspiring example is the Ricoh Save the Memory project.

https://petapixel.com/2015/03/11/how-ricoh-returned-90000-photos-to-victims-of-the-2011-tsunami-in-japan/  This will have genuinely benefitted the brand and for all the right reasons.

In contrast is the paco rabanne #MyMillionProblem campaign which I find to be nauseating.  The ad (positioned on the glossy outside back cover of the ES magazine) features a male and female model with tousled hair and impossible cheekbones, snapping their fingers while looking at the camera with all the privilege they can muster (which is a lot). The photo is high-clarity greyscale with the gold of the scent bottles standing out prominently in the foreground. The website features a game so you can choose how to spend your millions (helicopter or convertible sports car?). This is classic aspirational advertising – luring the viewer into an idea of opulence and the ultimate “first world problems”, one-percenter choices. If you buy this scent, you will feel handsome, confident and sexy.  You’ll get the beautiful girl. You will glimpse what it is like to be one of the super rich.

The product is aimed at men but a woman is included to attract the viewer and imply she may be within reach, if you just buy this aftershave.  The product is positioned as a high-end scent, directed at a wealthy and exclusive audience. The male model is quite ‘preppy’ and the clothes suggest a formality combined with a casual breaking of the rules. The gaze back at the camera is powerful and arrogant.

Another ad in ES was for Oxfam online.

Initially, I felt this image did not succeed as it fails to show the scale of the stock which Oxfam is claiming to have. However, it did catch my eye and enlighten me about Oxfam’s online offering and the scene invites you in to explore what feels like a backstage set. The ad is aimed at people who are confident enough to wear eclectic outfits and have a social conscience but are also looking for a bargain. I suspect these would mostly be women with young families or childless Gen X.  The “I’ve still got it” crowd.

The images for the Oxfam campaign were shot by Julia Fullerton-Batten, a fine-art photographer who specialises in staged and static images which have been heavily processed to create her distinctive style.

General observations

  • Prolific use of hashtags
  • Links to videos or interactive digital products
  • An emphasis on authenticity
  • A return to core brand values
  • Women do most of the purchasing!
  • Advertising is often about reassurance that you have aligned with the right brand
  • Mystery and effective storytelling are relentlessly appealing
  • Most of us consent to being manipulated
Posted in Exercises - part 4 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

365 Project

When I mind-mapped my intentions for 2017, ‘make more art’ came out as one of the core aims, closely tied in with ‘make time matter’ and ‘self-education’. An obvious tactic for practising photography is to push myself to make more work. Rob Townsend, one of my fellow OCA students has championed the photo-a-day approach for several years so I have decided to try it.

In order to ensure it was achievable, I left some wiggle room by not committing to uploading a picture each day but to aim to take at least one, ready for a batch upload (approx once a month at the moment).

Sad, stressful things happened this year and I have missed a few days but the momentum remains and selecting what to shoot and then the process of editing the images has certainly helped me with my practice.


  • Opening my eyes up to the opportunities close at hand
  • Allowing me to evaluate what is catching my eye and then assess why
  • Gives me a boost as I don’t feel like I am slacking or losing my mojo quite so much
  • Encourages me to think about developing themes (such as banana skins and my ‘Redundant’ series)
  • More confidence in including phone pics in my online gallery
  • Finding treasure in the mundane

What I must do more

  • Documenting failures; learn; move on
  • Take more shots of people
  • Develop some of the themes into projects
  • Print some of the images

    IMG_0042  AY2A9944AY2A9933  AY2A9072AY2A9023  AY2A8363AY2A8328  AY2A8312AY2A8178  AY2A8502AY2A8171  AY2A7977AY2A7965  AY2A7956AY2A7947  AY2A7905AY2A7941AY2A7893AY2A7861  AY2A7805AY2A3093  AY2A2604-2AY2A1716  AY2A153020171002_192358
    20171001_213042  20170928_08004420170919_191208  20170912_135720

    20170903_143550  20170825_23334420170824_13462320170823_18434720170821_08105320170818_17592520170816_074525  20170814_07390920170813_16305520170812_19382620170808_18505920170805_14363820170801_07584920170729_12301220170725_08124020170710_074700  20170708_14595220170707_07531920170706_08083320170704_184156  20170703_19173120170702_165205  20170701_21383120170629_19133920170530_144938  20170529_173215  20170525_13430620170528_192402  20170523_075814(0)20170517_16092120170510_10575420170505_132726  20170504_161442  20170430_135508  20170428_16180420170426_121143  20170425_141249  20170424_14292420170423_101344  20170420_144054 20170413_120444  20170412_11481220170409_12465020170401_14462620170329_135646  20170327_150918  20170316_142022

  • 20170322_164351  20170321_153717 20170314_125546  20170311_22351320170310_152358  20170301_12471520170225_134402  20170222_13510820170217_11215920170216_183034  20170205_13572620170126_11565320170120_13372420170112_15002920170111_122540
Posted in Research & Reflection | 4 Comments

Wolfgang Tillmans 2017, Tate Modern – OCA Study Visit 6.5.17




I found this show to be inspiring and liberating. Tillmans holds a special place in my heart as I remember being deeply affected by his snapshot aesthetic early on in my journey as a photographer.

Seeing his photographs, (which did not look so different from the ones I was getting back from Bonusprint at the time) stuck on a gallery wall back in the 90s, with no frames or text baffled and delighted me.  It seems much more ordinary now although several of the students on the visit appeared to find it disorienting. Not knowing where to look can be unsettling and everyone felt ‘disrupted’ by the end.  In his own words: “I don’t expect anybody to understand this exhibition.  It’s about resonances, and the connections between us.” https://aperture.org/blog/wolfgang-tillmans/

According to the Tate pamphlet, “2017 is not a retrospective. Each room in the exhibition has been specially configured by Tillmans as a personal response to the present moment. Ever conscious of his role as an artist, his work engages us with themes of community and sociability, empathy and vulnerability.”


Tillmans has said that music is at the heart of his work and he wanted to use the space as a form of theatre. His open approach to imperfections allows abstraction to emerge from mistakes.  This ensures that the exhibition succeeds in showing us a new way to look at the world.  Here is where his casual genius shines through. The interest in the mundane is intense and unashamed and is saved from being trivial by an undercurrent of politicisation.  His manifesto of “If one thing matters, everything matters” appeals very much.

His manifesto of “If one thing matters, everything matters” appeals very much.


Points of interest

  • Using bulldog clips to weight the prints
  • No descriptors so the images have space to be themselves
  • Exploration of the capability of photography and printmaking – translating 3D into 2D
  • Use of double exposures and juxtapositions (eg severed agave chunk next to newspaper article about the atrocities of IS); creating fragments
  • The Truth Study Centre – focused on ‘how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level’
  • Some prints very high up on the walls – too small to see – like memories you cannot grasp; the position of the images makes you move around and change your eye line.
  • Lots of empty space and reflections
  • Collaged layouts with some prints obscured by overlaps
  • The feeling of some of the work being unfinished
  • Organised by themes but also by colour – doesn’t have to be an elaborate project if you have enough confidence – very liberating. The rooms represent different dimensions of the artist as expressed by some of his world views or interests/ideologies (eg the simultaneity of a life as a sexual being as well as a political being, the importance of safe, inclusive and free spaces for people, fluid borders, connecting the time in which we live now to a broader historical context)
  • Acute awareness of fragility – attentiveness to textures and surfaces
  • Placing emphasis on the strength of an individual image in the self-curation

From the accompanying pamphlet

“That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke,  is essential to its conceptual meaning.”

“Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.”

Abstraction coming from the “coexistence of chance and control”

“By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.”


The above self-portrait, taken using a damaged mirror inside a prison, was the stand-out image for me.  It is aesthetically appealing, very painterly but also is a metaphor for the impact of confinement. Prisoners have no control over their bodies or their representation. Brilliant.


The weed image was massive and really draws the viewer in, showing such beautiful, warm fragility. The scale elevates this to being something spectacular.


Beautiful but dizzying images of the sea “energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.”

My overriding feeling, looking at this huge body of work, is that Tillmans is really interested in the world and that he loves people. A tonic for the soul.

Posted in Exhibitions | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Shortest Distance: the images


Posted in ASSIGNMENT 3 | 1 Comment