Reflection on Assessment results and feedback

I got my assessment results for The Art of Photography last week and was really pleased to be given a mark of 67%.  This was above my expectations and makes all the hard work very much worth while.

The marks were broken down as follows:

Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills – 27/40

  • “Complete fluency of technical and visual skills”

Quality of Outcome – 14/20

  • “Highly effective work presented in a professional way, showing strong judgement. Highly effective grasp of ideas and communication of visual ideas”

Demonstration of Creativity – 13/20

  • Creative, takes risks with imaginative and successful outcomes, evidence of a developing personal voice”

Context – 13/20

  • Very articulate and self aware, very well researched, demonstrating a developed intellectual understanding”

The Overall Comments and Feed Forward state:-

“This is a submission of a very high quality. The overall quality of the images produced is high, the research that accompanies them is thorough and well-directed.

The general layout of the submission is also very good. You have clearly met the briefs throughout.  More importantly, you have managed to avoid cliché and produce an original set of images which are very engaging.

You are now in an excellent position to take the technical and analytical skills you have clearly developed in the Art of Photography and begin to develop an original body of work based on themes that you yourself select.  You should aim to develop and maintain this high standard”

I was really happy with both the marks and the accompanying comments and I feel that the assessors seemed to understand where I was going. In particular I was pleased to see that Quality of Outcome was banded as ‘excellent’ as this allayed my fears about the expected quality of the prints that I submitted.  I have only just started having my work printed and it caused me quite a lot of angst at the time however it would seem that I am on the right track.

I’m also pleased that I got a reasonably good mark (27/40) for Technical & Visual Skills. Obviously there is still room for improvement here but I can now be confident that I’m getting to grips with this aspect and can look to concentrate on improving my weaker areas of Creativity and Context.

From both the Overall Comments and Feed Forward and the marks/comments I received I can see that it is my creativity which needs the most work.  I don’t find the creative side of photography particularly easy so I did expect to receive a lower mark here, however I now need to work out how I can improve on this going forward.  I’m not quite sure how to achieve this at the moment but have taken the comments on board and will try to be more experimental and take more risks with my work to see if this pays off.

My overall mark was three marks short of achieving the next band so it looks like I am going in the right direction, albeit with the need to up my game a little if I want to be on target at this early stage in my studies to achieve a First at Level Three.  I read from the comments that I’m almost there but just need to push myself forward, to pay a little more attention to certain areas in order to improve my grading.

The overall mark and feedback has given me a massive boost in confidence and I realise that I need to start to believe in myself.  I think that TAOP has given me a good grounding both in photographic practice and knowledge of contemporary art and it is this that I need to take with me to the next module.   As suggested by OCA I’ll be sending the feedback to my current tutor and will ask her for her assistance in working on my weaker areas.

This will be my last post on this blog however you are welcome to follow my progress through my next OCA Level One photography course ‘Context and Narrative‘.

 

Advertisements

The Art of Photography: course reflection

I finished ‘The Art of Photography’ course in mid-June and straight away moved on to my next Level one module ‘Context and Narrative’.  I’ve now sent TAOP off for formal assessment in November and decided that it would be useful to look back over my progress since I started the course in January 2013.  I won’t go into specific detail here about each section as I feel that I’ve covered these on my blog already but will discuss my thoughts in more general terms.

I started the course with a reasonable technical knowledge of how my camera worked and which buttons to press, but what was sadly lacking was any knowledge of contemporary photography and the theories that underpin it.  Visiting exhibitions, looking at the work of photographers and other media artists together with a lot of reading and internet research has started to address this and I’ve now moved on from superficially looking at an image and taking it at face value (do I like it? – yes/no – move on) to being able to see at least some of the questions that the photographer is asking the viewer and to formulate a considered response.

Progress:

I had originally aimed to complete TAOP within a year but soon realised that this was an unrealistic schedule given the amount of time I had available for study; in fact the course took me nearly a year and a half.  Looking back I see now that I spent too much time on the exercises, in particular writing them up – all I really needed to do was to be able to recognise – and hopefully achieve – the relevant point that they were making and then move forward.

Reflection against the course outcomes:

Use the principles of composition when planning and taking photographs using suitable cameras, lenses and other equipment

Having a reasonable understanding of how my camera worked definitely helped as it meant that I could concentrate more on the course content rather than worrying too much about the technical bits.  Yes there were some areas where I was a bit sloppy in the beginning (I nearly had ‘check shutter speed against focal length’ tattooed on my forehead at one point) but by making a conscious effort to slow down when taking photographs and run through a mental checklist I found that these things improved.  I feel that my compositional skills have developed through what I’ve learned but also by looking at the work of other photographers and being brave enough to try out new ideas, even if they weren’t always successful.

Demonstrate skills in the control of qualities of light, and colour, and demonstrate creative outcomes using these skills

Using artificial lighting in photography was a new concept for me and one that I struggled with at first.  To be honest, I found this part of the course the least enjoyable and it turned into a slog by the end, with assignment pictures that were not particularly creative.  However I feel that my lighting skills have improved (from a starting point of zero I guess the only way was up) and I can now see myself shooting artificially-lit still life at some point in the future – something that I would not have contemplated prior to the course.

Working with colour was a revelation; similar to light, there was a lot of theory but I find that this has stuck and looking for the ‘correct’ colour proportions when I’m out shooting seems to have become an ingrained habit, even if on occasions I ignore it completely.  It was this section of the course where I realised I had the confidence to let go of the assignment brief at its face value and to turn it into what I wanted it to be.

Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the principles of graphic design in photography through a single photograph or a series

Learning to tell a story in Narrative and Illustration had a huge impact on me as I finally realised how to bring expression into my work, something I had wanted to do in my mind for a while but seemed unable to transfer to in-camera.  Although my layout skills leave a lot to be desired, this is something that will be useful to learn at a later date when my time is not constrained by an assignment deadline.

Reflect on your learning experiences

At the start of this course I was painfully aware that both reflective writing and critical thinking skills were new areas for me and therefore things that I would need to get up to speed with as soon as possible.  To a certain extent these have developed over time and it has been helpful in particular for me to look at how students at the higher levels structure and present their written work.  The research element of the course I have thoroughly enjoyed but am aware that I can get carried away and lose direction if I’m not careful; I have limited study time available and need to use this wisely so this is something I will try to address in my next OCA course.

I also struggled with my lack of knowledge of art and photographic history and practitioners which made it difficult for me to contextualise my own work as well as compare the work of contemporary photographers with others.  However I have been able to visit a number of exhibitions as well as carry out some fairly extensive reading and I feel that this area has improved greatly.  Attending the OCA Thames Valley Group meetings has also helped here and it has been useful to discuss photography on the online forums.  I now feel confident enough now to discuss and debate other artists’ work (albeit currently at a fairly superficial level – I am expecting this to improve as I move on up through the course levels) and I’m finding it easier to analyse different photographs and artists although I still do get a little stuck from time to time.

Reflection against my aims for the course:

I also looked back at my very first post on my blog where I had outlined some general aims that I had for the course:

To find and develop my photographic artistry and creativity; to create pictures (‘Pictures with Soul’) rather than just take them

I think the turning point here was my project on the Ipswich Waterfront for the final assignment. I became emotionally involved with the story and I think that this showed in my images.

To try and find my style and be able to put my own individual stamp on my work so that, good or bad, my images are recognised as mine

I’m not so sure that I’ve achieved this, but I don’t see this as a bad thing, more that I’m still experimenting to find ‘me’.  At the start of TAOP I did feel lost regarding a style (or rather a lack of it) and felt I was searching for something but was just not sure what.  The second section ‘Elements of Design’ reinforced my love of images with strong graphic elements and I then felt that I had permission to follow this path.  This direction continued through to Part Three ‘Colour’ and it is here that I think a style was coming through.  However my Ipswich Waterfront project changed my vision and for the first time I was conscious that I had moved on from taking ‘pretty pictures’ to creating images with expression and that were not purely descriptive.

To move away from just taking images that I’m comfortable with

A big tick in the box for this one. This I think is partly due to the course requirements but also to a concerted effort on my part to stretch myself by experimenting with the unfamiliar.

Areas for improvement:

Apart from continuing to develop my photographic skills generally there are a couple of specific areas that I feel I could work on in particular.  My post-processing skills are fairly basic and I have started to address these – I now have Photoshop CC and am doing some self-study with the help of a book and exercises in order to improve.

Printing was a concern for me leading up to assessment and I became quite worried about it as I wanted to send some quality prints for assessment in order to strengthen my submission.  I decided from the outset that I would get my printing done by an outside lab and with some help from Peak Imaging and a few test prints I am now able to produce prints that I am pleased with.  I included a sample of prints in my assessment submission and it will be informative to see the comments I get from the assessors on these.

Where am I now as a photographer?

I’m not sure really.  I started this course with a love of modern architecture and felt comfortable that this was the direction that I wanted to pursue.  However Assignment Five was a huge turning point for me – I became emotionally involved with the project and realised that I had crossed the line from taking purely descriptive photographs to creating images with expression, which is something I want to continue.  I’m not quite sure how modern architecture fits into this so I think that I will be following two paths at least in the short term.

From the very beginning of the course I realised that working on projects really suits me.  I enjoy the research and planning as much as the shooting and I now much prefer to see photographs presented as a coherent body of work rather than singleton images.  I’m still not a lover of having people in my images, but have grown to realise that the odd person in the picture can enhance it in certain situations.  However the idea of portrait/wedding/new-born photography really does not interest me.

I’m also aware of a developing interest in spatial awareness, of having and using space in an image, although at the moment this is something that I appreciate in other people’s work rather than being able pull into my own.

What next?

After finishing ‘The Art of Photography’ course in June I started my second OCA module ‘Context and Narrative’ so this will be my priority in the short term.  At the moment I am unsure of my final Level One module; when I signed up with OCA back in August 2012 I registered to study People and Place as my third course but I’m not sure now that this appeals so I may look at Understanding Visual Culture.

On a personal level I will continue with the Ipswich Waterfront project I started in Assignment Five.  I’ve also realised that through my TAOP work I now have the beginnings of a portfolio so I am considering setting up my own website in order to showcase some of my images. Another area that I am currently looking into is submitting some of my images for stock.

Conclusion:

For the most part I’ve really enjoyed TAOP.  Yes there has been the odd sticky moment and it has been occasionally hard to find the time but overall I am really glad that I signed up for it. I’ve found that I need something to focus on with my photography, some sort of direction, otherwise I flounder and TAOP has provided this.  Distance learning suits my lifestyle and I am also lucky in that I enjoy working independently; thanks to the purchase of a netbook I’m now able to use my weekday commuting time for study, freeing up precious family time at home.   I realise how much I’ve learned over the past year and a half and I am certainly now a more confident photographer.  Has my photography improved?  My gut feeling is that it has, but I think the final say on this has to come from the assessors in November.

To finish this post I would like to give my grateful thanks to my tutor Norman Moulsley who has been extremely supportive throughout, quietly encouraging me in the direction that I wanted to go in and always on hand to provide guidance and critique when needed.

Assignment five – amendments

My final assignment for ‘The Art of Photography’ course was well-received by my tutor and I was pleased that he felt my work displayed a personal voice. He did however feel that I could improve my cover image by adding some embellishments to the text.  Bearing in mind that my graphic design skills are pretty close to zero this did not come as a great surprise.

My original submission for Assignment Five (Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative) can be found here.

Cover

_DS21595-Edit sRGB 1000-2

Original image

The suggestions made by my tutor were to include the date on the cover and also my name. Whilst making these amendments I also increased the size of the text at the bottom left and lightened the colour.  Whilst I am aware that these improvements will not win me any prizes for graphic design I feel that the cover is now more attractive and eye-catching to a potential reader / purchaser of the magazine.

Cover

Amended image

Assignment three – amendments

I was very pleased with the feedback that I received from my tutor for this assignment – I had really enjoyed shooting this series of images and I feel that this showed both in my work and the subsequent feedback. However, my tutor did suggest a couple of improvements which I will discuss in this post.
My original submission for Assignment Three (Colour) can be found here.

Colour harmony through complementary colours (iii)

170mm, f/11, 1/350, ISO 400

Original image

Whilst my tutor found this a fascinating image with interesting qualities, he directed me to the histogram (which showed slight underexposure) and gave me some ideas as how to increase the overall vibrancy of the picture.

Amended image

Amended image

I tried my tutor’s suggestions and increased the exposure, contrast and vibrancy in Photoshop. I much prefer the amended version as these changes have really brought the image to life, making it spark. I think that with the original image I lacked the confidence to really push the sliders for fear of overdoing the post-processing, but if I had checked the histogram (as my tutor tactfully pointed out) I would have seen what needed to be done. So lesson learned – always check the histogram!

Colour contrast through contrasting colours (iii)

Of the four images that I submitted for this section of the assignment, my tutor felt this was the weakest; whilst he commented favourably on its composition and the capture of the reflected building he felt that the subtle colours let it down.

11: Contrasting colours

Original image

In hindsight, I feel that I took my eye off the ball with this image slightly. I think that I was so pleased to find the composition and reflection, also in the right colour combination, that I let the most important word (i.e. ‘contrast’) of this part of the brief slip from the front of my mind when choosing this image as part of my assignment submission. My tutor got it spot on here with his comments in my view and in light of this I have therefore decided to replace the image for assessment.

_DS2264311a Contrasting replacement

Replacement image

I looked out for a suitable replacement shot for a while without success but then came across the colourful buildings in the Central St. Giles development just off Tottenham Court Road in London. A number of recently-constructed buildings in various bright colours, I felt that they fitted my theme perfectly. I took a number of shots of these adjacent green and orange buildings and chose this one because of its abstractness and the way that the blue of the windows adds additional interest. I took this image using a polariser which has helped maintain the vibrancy of the colours.

I’ve also included a sketch to show the balance and movement in the replacement image._DS2264311a_Contrasting_replacement

Assignment two – amendments

I was very pleased with my tutor’s feedback on my second assignment and even more pleased that he did not suggest that I make any changes to the images that I submitted.  This latter point was probably a very good thing as I had taken some of the images in Jersey so it would have proved to be an expensive re-shoot.

My second assignment (Elements of Design) can be seen here.

However, subsequent to my assignment submission and feedback I went along to an image critique evening held at my local camera club, run by advanced members of the club including an area judge.  I had the idea in the back of my mind that I could dip my toe into the camera club competition world  (our club is very friendly and encourages everyone to enter its competitions, whatever their standard, in order to hopefully learn and improve) and maybe enter some of my Elements of Design images into the forthcoming Digital Projected Image competition.  At the critique evening, two images (out of the five that I took along) were deemed as ‘competition possibles’ and the following changes were suggested:

Distinct, even if irregular shapes

200mm, f/10, 1/500, ISO 320

Original image

It was felt that this image could be improved by cropping the image on the left-hand side to remove the tiny piece of shadow. I had already considered this option before submitting my assignment and had rejected it at the time on the grounds that I didn’t want the image to look too neat and ‘manufactured’ but having thought about it again and comparing the two versions I felt that the advice was valid and that the crop did improve the image by removing a distraction.

_DSC8157-Edit-2-Edit-2 sRGB 1000 96 ppi

Amended image

I subsequently entered the amended image into the competition (October 2013) and was pleased to receive a score of nine out of ten in the novice section from the judge – not high enough to gain a placing but gratifying nonetheless.

Rhythm (ii)

Apex, Bury St Edmunds

Original image

When this image was displayed on a large projector screen it was noticeable that there was a dirty mark on the paving slab in the bottom right-hand corner and it was suggested that I remove this in Photoshop. I was a bit annoyed with myself as I felt that I should have spotted this when carrying out my original processing to the image.  I was very pleased that the amended image also got a respectable score ( nine out of ten); again just out of the places but a real boost to my confidence.

_DSC8629-Edit-3 sRGB 1000 96 ppi

Amended image

Both these amended images are now included in my assessment submission.

Assignment one – amendments

My tutor was very positive in his feedback for my first assignment, however there were three images where he felt improvements could be made and he provided with me with constructive comments on these.

My original submission for Assignment One (Contrasts) can be found here.

The first pair that I chose to demonstrate was ‘continuous / intermittent’ and my tutor suggested improvements to both images.

Continuous

My tutor commented that whilst he liked the composition and concept of this image, the camera settings I had used (180mm, f/10) had only focussed on the front bicycle wheel and he gave me some advice as to how to have more of the image in focus. I must admit that I had tried to be creative on the focussing front with this photograph (and also with my ‘intermittent’ image), throwing a lot of the image deliberately out of focus, but I took on board his comments and realised that I can be too smart for my own good sometimes.

Picture 1 a) continuous

Original ‘continuous’

As I liked the concept of my original image I returned to the same Boris Bike docking station (it’s reasonably easy to take photographs there without either getting run over or being in the way of pedestrians) and re-shot the image, using my tutor’s advice to have a small aperture setting and to focus on the midway point. I was pleased with the outcome and consider it to be an improvement on the original image.

Picture_1_a)_continuous (replacement)

Replacement ‘continuous’

Intermittent

As with ‘continuous’ my tutor liked the composition and concept of this image but had the same thoughts regarding the lack of overall focus. I had tried to be creative on the focussing front with this image also but took on board his comments.

Picture 1 b) intermittent

Original  ‘intermittent’

I went back to the docking station to retake the image however, as for my original shot, it took a while to find the opportunity when there were spaces in the rack. This time I had my tripod with me, which made life easier, and I was able to re-shoot the image using a smaller aperture and a mid-way focus point.  Again I can see a definite improvement on the original.

Picture_1_b)_intermittent (replacement)

Replacement ‘intermittent’

Rough

Another image that my tutor felt could be improved was ‘rough ’ (from the pair ‘rough / smooth’). I had commented in my submission that I wished I had been able to use a tripod so that the camera was a fraction higher and my tutor agreed with this comment, also saying that he would preferred to have seen more in focus, referring me back to his earlier comments on settings concerning my ‘continuous / intermittent’ images. Again I took these on board and decided to retake the image.

Picture 3 a) rough

Original ‘rough’

When considering whether to choose a new subject or whether to re-shoot the original image I decided to keep with the subject and to re-shoot it with the same composition in order that I could see exactly how the settings suggested by my tutor would change the image. As the pavement by the building is very narrow I felt it unfair (and dangerous) to make people walk in the road so was again unable to use a tripod to gain extra camera height. However I followed my tutor’s advice with regard to settings and consequently took a shot that was far more in focus than the original and which I am pleased with.

Replacement 'rough'

Replacement ‘rough’

Overall I was pleased with the feedback that I received for Assignment One. I felt that my tutor had taken the time to be both comprehensive and constructive in his review and had provided his feedback and suggestions for improvements in a very positive and encouraging manner.

These three replacement images are now included in my assessment submission.

Exhibition: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

After the OCA Study Visit to the Prix Pictet exhibition I went along to the Photographers Gallery with another OCA student to take a look at this year’s Deutsche Börse competition.

This is an annual exhibition sponsored by the Deutsche Börse Group and where the aim is to ‘reward a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year’ [1].  There were four nominated photographers in the running for this year’s prize and the first thing that I noticed was that there were no ‘true’ colour images in the exhibition – three of the photographers worked in black and white and the fourth in infrared – and I wondered whether this was coincidence or a deliberate choice by the judging panel.

The first work that you see, and the winner of the 2014 prize, is ‘The Enclave’ by Richard Mosse.  Mosse documented the war in the Congo, shooting with Kodak Aerochrome infrared film that was formerly used to by the US military as a surveillance tool to detect camouflage in the landscape.  However his images are not just about the landscape, they also include the soldiers who are fighting in the conflict.  The resulting work, displayed as very large prints, is sublimely beautiful with the jungle landscape depicted in bright pink and red hues due to the infrared film.  Mosse also included quite lengthy captions alongside the photographs explaining each image and describing what the issues are in the Congo, which I thought was a good way of bringing these to the pubic’s attention.  I found these images breathtaking, although the question of ethics and whether war should be beautified in this way does rear its head.

Alberto Garcia-Alix – Autorretrato / Self Portait

 Unlike the other three entrants who were nominated for their exhibitions, Garcia-Alix was selected for his book ‘Autorretrato / Self Portrait’ published in 2013.  The black and white images exhibited here were nearly life-sized and reflected the artist’s life over nearly forty years.  Very narcissistic and showing excesses of drug use and sexual practices, I got the impression that this work was a mixture of honest self-reflection (self-loathing even) and staged self-portraits, the latter trying to make some sort of point (I’m not quite sure what).  I really did not like this work, finding it distasteful and uncomfortable to look at in places.  I was reminded of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, although Mapplethorpe’s images do include a beauty that I felt was lacking here.

Jochen Lempert – Jochen Lempert

There seems to be an ongoing debate in photographic circles as to whether nature photography can be regarded as art and Lempert’s exhibition I believe shows that this can be possible.  Another body of work solely in black and white (low-contrast in this instance), Lempert composes his images to encourage contemplation rather than instant recognition and the manner of his presentation (unframed images taped to the wall) invites further investigation from the viewer – is this an ecological statement?  I think the key to Lempert’s success is that he has managed to represent nature subjectively, at times in a poetic way, rather than in an objective manner which is so often the case with nature photography.

Lorna Simpson – Summer ’57 / Summer ’09

Simpson’s exhibition comprised of two elements – archival images and self-portraits. Simpson purchased a set of photographs of an unknown African woman in a variety of poses (there is also an anonymous man who occasionally appears) and then set about recreating similar poses herself as a series of self-portraits, finding similar locations to the original images.  This was an intriguing piece of work but I am not sure that I understood the reasons behind it and what Simpson was trying to say. I am assuming that she is touching on gender and race but at this early stage in my studies the more complex reading of this work eludes me.

In conclusion I consider that Mosse was a worthy winner as his work does grab the public’s attention, mainly by being different.  It is something new and stunning to look at and has also succeeded in bringing a forgotten war back into the public eye.

I spent some time thinking about what I had taken away from this exhibition that could influence my own practice. I don’t feel inspired by any of the four photographers’ work; yes I enjoyed Mosse’s images but I don’t have any desire at the moment to dabble in infrared.  In the end I decided that my main take-away was my lack of ability to read more complex work such as that presented by Simpson, and a lack of interest to dig deeper into work that at first glance does not appeal (I’m thinking Garcia-Alix here).  Hopefully I can address both these points as I progress further in my studies.

References:

[1] Deutsch Börse Photography Prize (online).  Deutsche Börse AG.  Available from http://deutsche-boerse.com/dbg/dispatch/en/kir/dbg_nav/corporate_responsibility/33_Art_Collection/25_photography_prize  [accessed 07 August 2014]