Define It

Street corner in Addis


This project aimed to short-circuit my existing creative process by suggesting a range of new non-linear prompts to respond to and learn from, each taking 5-10 minutes of creative activity. Aiming to fail and learn through the process rather than trying to create something I knew I could achieve.

Useful quotes from Course Text pp 49-50:

In all creative processes a number of possible ideas are created (‘divergent thinking’) before refining and narrowing down to the best idea (‘convergent thinking’)…But the Double Diamond indicates that this happens twice – once to confirm the problem definition and once to create the solution. One of the greatest mistakes is to omit the left-hand diamond and end up solving the wrong problem.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council.

If we make assumptions about what we can and can’t do we are locking off a range of potential solutions –

Downs 2011 p144
Non-linear creative prompts
  • Define it
  • Make it bold
  • Let’s look at the real thing
  • Introduce time, motion and sound
  • What is the key moment?
  • Create a variation
  • Connect play, fantasies and daydreams
  • Combine seemingly arbitrary content
  • Erase the distinctions between original and copy ??
  • Consider again your motivation
  • Make it obvious
  • Make it ambiguous
  • Remind yourself
  • Bounce around at speed
  • ‘We’ve got a problem Houston’

A Street Corner in Addis

For this exercise I chose a photograph of a street corner in Addis Ababa, taken on an old iPhone from the luxurious safety of a big window next to my breakfast table in an international hotel. This is one of a series of images I started to look at in Illustration 2 : Oromia Reflected Journey and am intending to take further in Sustaining Your Practice.

I spent 5-10 minutes on each of the images below, taking each prompt roughly in order – though as I went through and amended I found some of the images I had produced were a better fit for a different prompt. So I went back and redid the original. I was asked to ‘ fail and learn through the process rather than trying to create something you know you can achieve’. I used a combination of quick sketching and layering/manipulation on the iPad. (Click on each image for further details of how and why this image evolved.)

Street Corner Original Photo
Define It
1 Define It: This rapid graphite drawing encapsulates my initial feelings – the homeless person on the street, the furtive passer-by and the big wall crack between them.
Make it Bold
2 Make it Bold: This iPad drawing makes sketch image more dramatic with its tonal shapes and crop. Emphasising the crack separating the two figures. The figure in the initial photograph was darker than the passer-by and making him dark in this image makes him look very furtive in the way he is walking past. But in terms of communicating a social commentary, it might be better to have the passer-by visible in colour and the homeless person hidden in shadow.
Let's look at the real thing
3 Let’s Look at the Real Thing: This iPad drawing goes back to the whole scene, and draws over this as separate layers for the different elements that I can then experiment with in the following images. I made the homeless person ‘real’ through cutting down to the original photo. I am interested in the effects of contrasting actual photographs and illustration. This is also the ‘real’ view’ in that it includes all the elements in the photograph in their original (but simplified) positions and colours. This was the point at which I noticed the pink trainers bottom left.
Introduce time, motion and sound
4 Introduce Time, Motion and Sound: In this image I only add some thought bubbles onto the photograph – and earphones on the men with rucksacks shutting out the world around them. I would need to think more about how to add motion and sound as well into one image while still having some clarity. But maybe clarity is not the aim here.
Key Moment
5 What is the Key Moment: Here I redraw to introduce a moment of hesitation/decision. To just walk by. Or to go back and ask.
Create a variation
6 Create a Variation: This image goes back to the original photograph, uses a different scene and makes it colourful. The original photo was somewhat muted in tone because it was shot through a rather grimy window on an old iPhone.
Play, fantatises and daydreams
7 Connect Play, Fantasies and Dreams: Here I focus on the imagined dreams of the homeless person – the possibility of money, bank loan and maybe pink trainers. Is the homeless person a man or a woman? It is not clear.
Combine arbitrary content
8 Combine seemingly arbitrary content: I found this one quite difficult with this photo. But this is the shadow of poverty looking accusingly over frivolities like pink trainers. But not really arbitrary.
Consider again your motivation
9 Consider again your motivation: Here I change the focus to the man with the trainers. Maybe he is needing to go to the bank for a loan.
Street Corner Original Photo
10 Erase the distinctions between original and copy ?? I was not sure what this meant. I reconsidered the original photograph.
Make it Obvious
11 Make it Obvious: An attempt at clarification through line drawing. I would need to think a lot more about what I am trying to say with this one. And how to reflect that in the type of line.
Make it ambiguous
12 Make it Ambiguous: This one just puts the elements together. Is the man going to the bank? Is the homeless person envious? Resentful?. Need to think a lot more about what I might be trying to do with this one.
Remind Yourself
13 Remind yourself This image goes back again to the original photograph, and incorporates the idea of making the homeless person ‘real’ through using the photograph and the passer-by earphones from ‘addsounds’. It increases the sense of crowd and many people rushing by through repositioning the people – still taken from top view from my window.
Bounce Around at Speed
14 Bounce around at speed This rapid pencil drawing emphasises the rush past the sketchy figure of the homeless person. But this needs a bit of clarification.
We've Got a Problem Houston
15: ‘We’ve got a problem Houston’: I was not really sure what this one meant. It would have made more sense for the man on the left to be turned around and walking away.

Assessment and
further questions

In 2019 when I did the project, I thought my three best images were:

Define It
Define It – I like the graphite effect and the movement. I like the idea of focusing on the crack to clarify the idea of a gulf between the two people. But I prefer the crop from the feature image at the top of the page – this places the homeless person on the rule of thirds and emphasises the rapid movement off frame of the passer-by. I prefer this image to the iPad one because in the ‘bold image’ the colours are too flat and it lack the drama of the hand-drawn image.
Combine arbitrary content
Combine arbitrary content – although this image still needs a lot more work and thinking through. The concept of the spectre of poverty – caused by family breakdown, conflict or business/harvest failure – hanging over people and affecting the way many people live their lives is a very different focus. It has implications also in UK on how we view homeless people – though we have a much better safety net. This might be more interesting as an actual image if I use collage as for example in ‘Female Gaze’ from Illustration 1.
Remind Yourself
Remind Yourself – here the image is again clearer, combining photography (making homeless person ‘real’) and allusion to sound (earphones of the young men with rucksacks’). I need to think a lot more about the whether or not to include the idea of the bank sign – if I omit it then I need to spend more time to resize and reposition all the elements in the photo.

The image that I thought best reflected the type of approach I might take for at least some of my work in future was ‘Remind Yourself’ going back again to the original photograph, and incorporating the idea of making the homeless person ‘real’ through using the photograph and the passer-by earphones from ‘add sounds’. It increases the sense of crowd and many people rushing by through repositioning the people – still taken from top view from my window. Though I recognised that it needed a lot more work to really think through both conceptually and visually, and to bring to a good technical level.

Remind Yourself

My tutor thought this version reduced the physical distance between the passers-by and the homeless person, and increased the spaces between the individual passers-by, enhancing their physical and visual separation from each other. Undermining the sense of isolation in the original photograph.

On reflection in 2020, if I were to go with this image I would still go with roughly the same composition – as it is people rushing by close to the homeless person, acting as if they do not exist and almost tripping over them that is largely the point. But I might change the tonal structure to have the people in the street lighter and brighter and the homeless figure hidden in the shadows. Alternatively the homeless figure could be sitting in the blaze of the midday sun – aiming to be seen and in a spot where no one else would sit. A further question is whether I would add motion blur to the figures going past.

This raises a number of issues about what I might be trying to say:

  • Is the focus the isolation of the homeless person? their invisibility? their lack of options where and how to sit?
  • Is the focus the passers-by and the way they are all immersed in their own private worlds, not noticing each other – a different focus from my original sketch?
  • Is it that the passers-by are going in the direction of the bank, future and progress, while the homeless person is sitting stuck still?
  • Is it the relationship between them?
  • Am I just trying to reflect and comment what I see, or attempt to suggest how things might be different?

I would also like to get much more dynamism in my drawing along the lines of my very quick sketch.:

Bounce Around at Speed
This rapid pencil drawing emphasises the rush past the sketchy figure of the homeless person. But this needs a bit of clarification.

Reflections on the process

Reflections 2019

This process was very useful for promoting some lateral thinking around how I work with photographs. The potential of generating more arbitrary images has been more part of my imaginings with found images and textures. But I could use the approach more in documentary – well beyond Assignment 2a.  Exploration has always been part of my collage and photo-montage process – working on the iPad or with printouts with elements in different sizes, colours and levels of simplification to explore different possible visual relationships. But going back and forth between ‘obvious’, ‘ambiguous’, bold, reminding and revisiting  etc gives a more systematic approach to this exploration. Even though here I did not add much of the sound and movement or fantasy, these  elements were implicit in subsequent images.

The range of different permutations and combinations are endless. So the initial selection of images will be key. Though this will need to be a reiterative process if I am to really think around the ‘left hand diamond’. In documentary also ‘thinking around the problem’ is as much a question of research to think around the issue itself rather than just random generation of thumbnails.

It is also a process that I could use with any photograph to generate ideas if I am responding to a client brief.

The big issue as always will be time – here I was only working with one photograph rather than a series. Ways of Integrating research (content/conceptual as well as visual), convergent and divergent thinking and critique is something that I will think about systematically in practical detail throughout this module. Repeating the questions from this exercise, and probably identifying new ones.

Reflections 2021

!! To do