E4.1 Re-assessing my practice

TASK: Re-assessing my practice

This exercise asks me to review what I’ve achieved so far on the course, and the tutor feedback and student and/or audience critique I have received, and re-assess my initial personal statement from Assignment One in terms of where I am now.

Note: I will add more non-photographic work over the summer.

Illustrations and media experiments
Colour photography
Monochrome photography

Body of work so far

How do I evaluate the body of work I have produced so far?
Looking back through my blog, sketchbooks, project work and other outcomes – considering my creative thinking, sketchbooks, development of ideas through testing and research, use of technology, writing, talking, reading or making mistakes just as much as creating ‘finished’ pieces of work.
• What are my favourite aspects of my work/working process and why have I gravitated towards these?
• How do I evaluate these aspects against my wider practice or whole body of work?

It is difficult for me to say at this point.

I have very much enjoyed working with photographic images and narrative. Developing photography software skills and approaches to narrative were key features of my aims. The work I have enjoyed has been largely also the work with which I have persevered and which I have been able to take to a professionally acceptable level with input from audiences in Kyrgyzstan and Cambridge Camera Club. These are presented on my portfolio website.

However because of multiple restrictions from COVID I was not able to continue work on location or in physical media before the deadline for submission of Assignment 5 to my tutor. I hope to partly fill that gap over the summer in preparation for assessment. In particular analysing my work in terms of the My Practice diagram above, and looking particularly at balance between ‘grunge’ and ‘humour’.

COVID restrictions and implications for progress by Assignment 5

My work in this module to time of submitting Assignment 5 to my tutor in March 2021 has been very much shaped by what was possible during the COVID-19 pandemic March 2020-March 2021. I had started in 2019 with screenprinting and photography in Assignment 2, with the intention of including much more work in natural media work, sketching from life and different printmaking media as the module progressed through Assignment 3 to 5. I had also anticipated being able to do more documentary and sketchbook work on location to free up my practice generally, and also inform my photographic interpretation.

But – as I and my partner are in vulnerable categories – the COVID pandemic meant that not only were my possibilities on location seriously constrained, I also lost access to my art studio because that was needed for self-isolating by our daughter and print studios were shut or not sufficiently COVID-safe. Digital art and moving image possibilities were also constrained because of a combination of my need to manage RSI and the fact that I was not able to visit computer shops to upgrade my system – I need to see and try equipment to make sure it fits my RSI requirements.

For all these reasons, my work in this module has been far more focused on photography, particularly revisiting and working with existing image sets than I had intended when I started out. My creativity with these images has also been based on software experiments, rather than the freshness that complementary sketchbook work on location can give.

What have I achieved?

I developed skills in:

Still to do over the summer

Assuming that COVID-19 restrictions are eased from summer 2021, I intend to develop skills in natural media further in ‘Sustaining Your Practice’. Planned in Summer 2021 in completion of projects in Assignment 5 assuming vaccination/COVID restrictions permit:

Main gaps

My work on this module has been more personal ‘stream of consciousness’ than political. My sociology background means I am uncomfortable forming solid opinions about what I want to say unless there is some basis in documentary research with people on the ground. Planned visits to talk to people in Cambridge and Cornwall were impossible because of COVID restrictions, and this is unlikely to be feasible even over the summer.

This is a gap therefore I plan to address in Sustaining Your Practice.

Tutor Feedback

What main points am I taking from my tutor feedback?
What are any common threads that my tutor has identified and/or three to five key points that I feel are important.
• What has my tutor identified as positive in my practice and what is my response to this?
• What do I feel I need to develop to move forward? Is this echoed in my tutor’s comments?

My tutor has in the main been positive about my work, and I have found very helpful his early suggestions and comments on:

  • to particularise the method and imagery depending on visual context or content, rather than mixing too many techniques in one image. I broadly agree with this – mixing techniques was something I only started to explore in the Illustration 2 Hybrids exercise and a number of Printmaking 2 assignments had encouraged mixed media with unexpectedly positive feedback from my Printmaking tutor on images I did not myself particularly like – though I had enjoyed the process.)
  • image manipulation: the more neutral or unfiltered the image the more considerations like sequence and narrative can be explored, as if the manipulation of images somehow locks them into their own singular moment more’. This is a tension I need to consider for each image depending on its purpose – whether I am aiming at something open-ended or clearly interpreted. Ambiguity may be more in the original image rather than my attempt to introduce it.
  • narrative – do not put too much ‘rage on the page’. One image does not need to do everything, but a sequence of clearly edited images can be part of a story that can the be developed. I need to continue to experiment much more with different approaches to narrative – within single images and also sequences.
  • creatively shooting off in different apparently unconnected directions can make the final images and narrative more restrained and powerful because the experiments have been done beforehand. This is an aspect of the course that I have very much enjoyed, and in the audience-based work on Kyrgyzstan led to some unanticipated positive reactions.

I am still at the stage where a lot of trying out ‘what would an image look like if I quickly do this in software’ is a necessary learning strategy both technically and aesthetically. This sometimes leads me to important technical discoveries and unexpectedly positive outcomes. It is often difficult to decide how much of this to show on a student blog where assessors want to see the process, rather than only the final product. But the creative prompts are where I should focus my time, rather than mechanical – but more systematic – playing around with blend modes and colours.

A key weakness in my work is collage/photomontage. My mind has a tendency to go off at tangents. I need to let this happen, but then have a gap and come back and work out how to move it forward when I have had time to come to some conclusions about what I am trying to communicate and degrees of ambiguity versus clarity required.

In Assignment 5 I have attempted to apply the creative prompts more systematically to both image development and narrative. As I review all the projects, developing new work in physical media over the summer, I will follow that process and also assess my work in terms of my Practice framework above.

What can I take from student and other feedback?

What can I take from student and other feedback?
• What can I take from feedback from OCA forums, looking at my own work, the experience of looking at other’s work and from the process of critique itself?
• What am I going to take from feedback from other professional networks? from potential audiences?
• How did I find the process of getting this feedback – if any – and how might I build in more opportunities to get feedback from other people in future project work?

I submitted some of my images to OCA student forum, and a few people were kind enough to respond in some detail. This was very useful as further individual responses together with the other feedback. But I think that the on-line forums are less in-depth for sustained communication beyond initial reactions than face-to-face meetings where people can get to know each other as in eg the study meetings before COVID.

I have sought feedback on two separate levels :

  • technical
  • content/communication/aesthetics.

My first feedback from Shutterstock reviewers was extremely helpful in helping me achieve, and have confidence on a purely technical level. Cambridge Camera Club zoom meetings and forums have been able to give more detailed and frank technical advice. The Camera Club Zoom facilitators also experiment a lot on line with different crops, monochrome/colour etc that everyone discusses together.

On a content/communication/aesthetic level Cambridge Camera Club has also been very helpful – although competitions and exhibitions are fairly conventional in their requirements, members also experiment much more widely themselves and gave useful feedback on the creative images.

Feedback from people in Kyrgyzstan has also been detailed and open in giving a realistic assessment of what people there like – the positive response to some of my creative images surprised me but lack interest in the documentary images that interest people here more.

I did set up a Facebook page, but only got quick likes/dislikes. I also joined other Facebook groups and posted images, but people only ever give positive feedback to anyone. Possibly – apart from lack of time – because people do not know each other and feel it is too open a forum to give a frank critique.

I very much value peoples’ time to give me detailed and honest feedback – it gives me more confidence in my ideas on how to progress even if it means tearing something up and doing things completely differently. I hope after COVID that I can join more face-to-face groups to have the interesting discussions that we used to have eg in critiques after Life Drawing classes.

Re-assessing my personal statement

  • How have I have articulated my practice, my thoughts about locating it within wider contexts, my working and learning process and my overall aims.
  • What do I think I have achieved against what I set out to do
  • Have I learnt anything new about my creative process or how I learn?
  • Have I plugged gaps in my knowledge or identified new areas to develop?
  • How has my understanding of the location of my practice evolved?
  • Do I want to amend my personal statement? If so, what do I want to change?

My personal situation has changed quite significantly since January 2019. In particular for (non-life threatening) health reasons I have decided not to travel any more for work. At the same time many new UK-based opportunities to continue work with international development agencies but using on-line written, illustrated (drawings and photographs) and/or animations are opening up. I also now have support for my basic living expenses from pensions. A combination of these two things mean that most of my new creative work will be UK-based or at least Europe-based – either producing on-line illustrated or animated materials for consultancy work or developing new income-earning possibilities in photography and/or documentary books/illustrations. This requires a change in focus rather than significant change in content of my January 2019 Personal Statement.

In terms of my creative process, although my focus in this module until March 2021 has of necessity been largely photography-based because of COVID-19, going forward I aim to continue my work in multiple media, hopefully from late Spring 2021 as I finish this module. But not so much mixed combining multiple media in one image, apart from as part of Book Design as in Assignment 3: Teetotal Street. And aiming at a range of different audiences specific to particular media. Particularly Printmaking networks.

I have become particularly excited by the potential of using the range of Creative Prompts from E1.3 and Visual Dynamics exercises in E3.1 as ways of freeing up my practice. Also experimenting in different media with the same image, to see what difference it make in eg photography versus printmaking versus drawing.

I also wish to continue and extend my feedback and discussion networks – for both inspiration and feedback as well as potential marketing (not necessarily the same networks or audience). I feel much more confident now – having been forced to do so – to share my work and happy to take whatever is said in a detached and constructive light.

Outside the Advanced Practice module I have also been developing skills in animation and moving image that I intend to include in the final Sustaining Your Practice module and beyond.

My main gaps to be filled going forward to assessment are to revisit the most relevant of all my many sources of inspiration and consider now in much more depth what I can take from them to finalise the images I now wish to select. And develop my blog posts with that focus in mind.

Personal Statement January 2019

Image-making is a necessary part of my own process of making sense of life in our sometimes beautiful, but often insane world. In my ‘parallel life’ as global consultant in participatory development in Africa, Asia and Latin America I meet many wonderful, inspiring people. I see stunningly beautiful scenery – human rural and urban landscapes as well as ‘wild natural’ remote environments. I also see many shocking examples of violence, exploitation, environmental degradation, waste and powerlessness. 

The more I travel, the more questions I bring back about life at home  – where are our ‘developed’ lives trying to get to, why and at what cost? My image-making is a way of working through the darker side to come out the other end and ‘look on the bright side of life’.

 I work in a range of media combining drawing, printmaking, photography, collage, painting and digital media. Some of my work is experimental, exploring different media and effects in response to a wide range of briefs.

Alongside my own artistic practice I support processes for collaborative art, photography, video and web communications as part of peoples’ own documentation of their lives.

See also Course Plan January 2019 and changes by March 2021

Going forward in Sustaining Your Practice and beyond (MA in Graphic Design? taking Graphic Design 2 as a personal development course first) I want to focus:

  • continue to develop not only my photographic skills, but also skills in physical media like drawing/sketching on location, printmaking and painting and moving image/animation. As both sketchbooks and final images.
  • continue to explore different approaches to narrative – single images (including collage), sequential images for book design and for time-bound animation and moving image. Exploring the different implications of each.
  • to think much more again about more political work – alongside the more subjective approaches taken here partly because it was difficult to talk to people under COVID restrictions. And ways of approaching my visual communication in ways that provoke thinking – my own and in other people – rather than alienating them with preaching the obvious. And how to do this in different media.

For more about the framework I am developing for developing my own distinctive voice and approach, and assessing my work going forward see: