A4 tutor feedback and my comments

Tutor’s comments with my (very informal) annotations in blue.

Overall Comments

For Assignment 4, you chose to explore a complex and challenging concept through a reworking of Exercise 4.4, ‘Artificial Light’.

‘… considers our consumerist society and our dependency on “beauty”, “acceptancy”, “normalcy” and how these phenomena condition us, often with our misguided, as well as harmful, expectations of them.’,

As you say in your introduction, this allowed a high level of control in the studio and a chance to refine your approach to conveying mood and meaning.

Working with limited resources in an adhoc studio, you have produced a compelling (and disturbing) set of images.

As with the previous three assignments, the work has been developed from highly focused research and exploration.

 Assessment potential

 Assignment 4

 I understand your aim is to go for the Photography/Creative Arts* Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment.  In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.   

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

This is a strong and disquieting set of images, one I feel achieves what you set out to do and bring to the attention of the viewer the sheer wastage through the contemporary fashion (and laws) for perfection (EU and major supermarket chains), and this terrible waste. Although at the time of writing, I notice that Tesco have started to offer misshapen fruit and veg – as did Terry’s chocolates in my youth. Yes, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall also mentions this tactic/research method used by supermarkets in his TV series. Too little too late? Still, something is better than nothing, I suppose…

You could have approached this in an eco documentary fashion showing tons of perfectly edible and nutritious products being plowed back into the ground – as the Italians have been known to do with their ‘tomato mountain’, and complement this with the dispossessed and starving. Wow, wish you’d’ve told me that before doing this assignment! Although, how would you have known that I was going to do this type of thing anyway? Possibly my lack of communicating with you could be something I will need to address in the future? (Thinking of the next tutor, that is.) Still, brilliant idea, and could still be developed for personal projects or even as a kind of adjunct to A4 – at least on the blog, so thanks for that!
But this set takes a different, more adventurous approach and, I think, offers an alternative vision, one that comments on the manipulation of genes and selective breeding. Yes, but do you think I should be wary of overcomplicating things? Am I running the risk of cramming too many ideas into one thing and inadvertently creating illegibility? I suppose I have kind of answered that question by the act of asking you it, haven’t I?

The Tomato, wrapped in wire, is the least ‘violent’ of the set, its  steel constraint, simple and effective.  The hard light and contrasting bright and saturated colours of subject and background (as in all the shots) emphasizes this idea of modification – a kind of false ‘purity’ of hue and depth. Yeah, as you say: “…emphasizes this idea of modification…”; I was looking to make them ‘sickly’, to exaggerate their form/texture/colour to coincide with our expectations of how the produce should be presented and sold to us on the stands, as well as to exaggerate the manipulation and tampering that seems to be going on.

The second shot of the apple punctured with screws creates a real tension; a symbolic visualization of torture and conflict not only between the steel and the flesh of the fruit but also the colour – silver against the green.  It could be a prop that the ‘pinhead’ character out of Clive Barker’s Hell Raiser series might carry with him.  I’m not sure about the selected focal plane which draws the eye to the back of the apple, and it might be better focused further forward so that the screws closer to the centre of frame are (also) sharp. Agreed, definitely Pinheadesque here (even if we are using screws here), although totally not intended but rather welcome all the same. Fair point about the focus, I see what you mean. I had tried to use a few different focus points (as can be seen from the contact sheets uploaded with the assignment) but to be honest, I was obsessed with the (progressively) submerged screws so much that I kind of neglected the other parts – at least with this particular framing. I think that was because I was quite pleased with the work I had put into sinking them in and just wanted to have that ‘penetration’ as a key point, and not unlike Barthes’ punctum (I think I’m beginning to understand his writing a bit more than before!), this aspect (being the screws) continually grabbed – and still draws – my attention.

The sweet potato wrapped in chain link has a similar feel to the first image, although the vegetable’s ‘mass’ calls for something a bit stronger.  The scratches/imperfections on the skin add to the feeling of constraint and struggle.   The focal plane and depth of field is better in this image, although could be a bit deeper to get some additional textural detail on the skin at the centre of the image.  This is a matter of personal taste at the end of the day as the composition works well. You know, I’d missed those scratches to be honest – they were a result of me cleaning the potato before shooting! The 42mm at F7.1 nicely framed the subject and still added a reasonably shallow DoF (although no where near as slim as the primes I’d been using) so that’s why we are still missing detail here (although I do like it this way).

The following, bell pepper superimposition is a strange image, like some hallucinatory vision out of the Ipcress File, although there is also a degree of absurdity which makes it all the more compelling.  It’s good to see you experimenting in this way, looking at the way double exposures can create a disturbing and unreal atmosphere.  It’s even more intense in the following shot of the radicchio and hypodermic needles; the vibrant, psychedelic colours creating a real feeling of unease.  This is perhaps the most abstract, and for me, the most successful shot of the set; so extreme, it really hits a nerve, and could be interpreted as a metaphor for the torture of man or beast. As I mention in my contact sheet notes, “In all honesty, I think the idea is the most successful of this assignment…” and I agree with you, it does feel psychedelic and extreme, and is definitely both the most dramatic as well as the most abstract shot for me too. What do you mean by “…a metaphor for the torture of man or beast.”? In what way? Forgive the ignorance, I am genuinely interested.

The final shot is a great composite, worthy of the best graphic novels in the horror genre. The steel wire appears to come out through the eyes of the black skull, and the green stalk of the tomato a kind of mad growth just tipping out of the frame.  The barcode and warning triangle are a nice touch to a very well blended set of images. Again, as my notes from the contacts also point out: “…as well as adding a stability to the double exposure thanks mainly to the triangle and the (intended) position of the wire through the eye and skull of the sign, and the (unseen at first [‘unseen’ meaning when I took the shot not after you noticed it too]) green stem coming out of the top of the skull.” I think the warning sign shot is a nice way to close this set, don’t you? The less ambiguous nature of the warning sign, the explicit visual (and implicit) warning message work well, I believe, as a way to clearly emphasise and clarify what this pseudo-fashion-come-advertising shoot actually means. Yes, I probably have been heavily influenced over the years (just look at the prep for A5!) by the comics I have been reading (since I was 13) so I will take that as a MASSIVE compliment, thank you!

My guess is this is a set that would get a strong reaction from most people.  The super saturated colour and grotesque imagery are reminiscent of the perfect advertising pack shots but also some of the high fashion images that can be see in today’s journals.
I have tried asking a handful of people what their impression of the series was varied: mainly confusion and incomprehension of the message from most people; only one or two got the warning feel to the set; it was only when I mentioned the idea behind it, and the intended message did it seem to click for the viewers. So, not that successful at communicate its intended image. Not that I find that that alarming – I quite like the doubt suggested, I want it to be there really: I want participation in interpretation NOT dogmatic regurgitation of what I’m trying to preach or prescribe. But still, I believe this project would need an explanatory text – if not under each photo – at least some sort of introduction to present the set. Perhaps even a title, something along the lines of Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2008) something like a paragraph, even a ‘strong’ title; a code number or more appropriately a sell-by date? I am really really looking forward to adding text to my images and will probably do a personal project on that, but I’d still like to keep it reasonably open to interpretation as not to exclude the viewer’s (equally) valid take on what they are looking at (bit like Duane Michal’s poetry).


 One again, you put a great deal of work into the four exercises leading up to the assignment – I’ve commented on these in our email correspondence.   The level of work is not only of a very high quality and demonstrates a real understanding of the principals of lighting, but also shows your tenacity, high level of interest and dedication to producing the very best work.
Thanks! I remember what my mum always used to say to me when I was younger: “If you’re gonna do something, do it properly.” which I still totally agree with. And I really am interested in photography, perception, learning, the mind, the self, life, and cannot see the point of just going through the motions with something like this – it needs to be real to work, needs to mean something to me or it is just a waste of time, like many things in life I suppose – what you give is what you get: the more we put in the more we get out, right? And to be honest, I could give more, but that would mean divorce, so this is as good as I can do, which just has to be enough, and is.


As above, your approach to research is exemplary, and this can be see in particular in 4.3 Artificial Light, where you explore all manner of examples from different media to gain an understanding – theoretical and through practical application – Carravagio, Hopper, Brassai, Sugimoto, Holdsworth and Shintaro.

Learning Log

In addition to the images, you offer a full set of contacts that show the amount of effort and exploration you put into this assignment. This is also accompanied by your notes and sketches revealing a detailed and considered workflow tailored for this subject and approach.

Suggested reading/viewing

 For the final assignment:

 The Lensculture Blog always offers some interesting work – search for ‘story’


Take a look at:


and Duane Michals’ work (ha, already all over this guy – but thanks!)


Sarah Moon, ex model, worked with Polaroid photography and produced some very interesting work with a narrative base. (Dreamy, weird, like the retro image quality and mixed media; find it weird though, not what I’m used to; have tried to contact her for an interview, no luck yet…).


Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

The final Assignment, ‘Photography is Simple’ requires you take a set of ten shots of the same subject with a progressive development throughout – so order (or narrative), is an important component in terms of presentation – accompanied by a 300 word statement ‘what’s it about’.

We can chat by email as you start to work through Part 5 of the course As I have already said in our emails, I have finished part five a couple of weeks ago. And A5 is done too, just tweaking it for you.

Thinking about the Festive Season, I’ve suggested a slightly longer submission date for the final assignment, but if you feel you’re ready to submit earlier, please go ahead.
Great, really appreciate that, now I can procrastinate with style!

Tutor name Russell Murray
Date 6 Nov 2016
Next assignment due 10 Jan 2017

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