Tag Archives: OCA

OCA Residential Study Weekend 1st and 2nd September


Well it’s a little bit late in coming but I’ve finally got around to putting some of my reflections from the residential weekend onto paper (or screen) While it’s a couple of weeks since we were all there (it seems like a lifetime away now) there are many more blogs detailing the speakers and the subjects so in order not to replicate these, I’ve gone for what’s stood out for me.

Arriving in Leeds and First Night

I arrived a little later than planned travelling from work but wasn’t disappointed by the hotel, I had reservations about my room being on the ground floor near the lift but it was lovely and quiet and so plush. Although it was so large I felt a little lost in there. After dropping my stuff I went exploring in Leeds but was disappointed by the drizzle coming down that stopped my plans of an evening stroll with the camera. However I did take the free time to do some valuable work on assignment 5 of DPP and to rid my head of all things work related prior to the two days. I’d initially planned to travel up on the Saturday morning but changed it to the night before and I’m glad I did as I think this certainly cleared my head and put me in the right frame of mind for the weekend.

The hotel

I’d located the hotel a week before when I’d been in Leeds so I knew where it was, while the Friday night in the bar was crazily busy early on, for the rest of the weekend it was quiet and the opportunity to spread out and have the free space at break times and during the portfolio session was really helpful. It felt like a good place to study and certainly had plenty of charm. While we didn’t have drinks provided with the lunches (some juice might have been nice) the food we had was more than adequate with chocolate brownies at break and bowls of chips to fuel us at lunch. I did also learn never to dip a hard biscuit too after it decided to break and there was no elegant way of retrieving it! I certainly felt we were well looked after which we might not have had if we’d been in a chain hotel. I’d definitely return!

The conference facilities

The room was a little small and cramped at first, especially with the cameras and lighting set up for the filming. After a shuffle about where we moved the chairs into a more relaxed configuration we did have more space. Things were a little tight for space (and time) with the book review session, the patio door brought some welcome fresh air into the room and some unwanted air noise from the flights overhead! Only on the Sunday when we’d all checked out did the size of the room become a problem, people plus luggage and cameras made it more of a squeeze so a room to safely store the luggage would have been helpful, even if it was just extending the lease of a hotel room to share.

Day 1 (Saturday)

The first part of the day began with an introduction from all of us and what we wanted to get out of the day and then we progressed to a session on moving between the levels as we seemed quite a mixed group with people at all different stages of completing level one, two and three courses. While this was quite an interesting session, I did feel that coming to the final course within level one that I would have liked more of what I need to do to improve and I found that I was still wanting to know more about how I can improve and specifically more on the academic writing to accompany my work as opposed to presentation for assessment. However on the positive side we did get some tips from Peter during the portfolio session that I can use.

Guest Speaker- Mishka Henner

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mishka Henner, I’d looked at some of his stuff online such as the Less Américains work and I have to say that it just didn’t grab me so I went into this session with no expectations and I have to say that I totally changed my mind after hearing him speak.  Henner essentially uses the images available to him through sources such as Google street view and forms these into coherent series such as the Dutch Landscapes and also No Man’s Land. A lot of the discussion was about the appropriation of images and whether there had been any communication or agreement between Henner and Google for the use of these.  The ideas he has and the output through websites and books were quite refreshing and he does seem to have a number of ideas bubbling on the surface. We got a very real world talk on the pitfalls of his work, the high cost and low turnover of his book sales and how he can be subject to vitriolic criticism through the internet for some of his work. I appreciated his honesty and openness and certainly came away from the session impressed. After all the email debate on speaker to choose and different options where I very much had my view from what I like and what I want to hear about, I have to say that Henner was absolutely the right choice and thanks to Eileen for her hard work in sorting this out.


We ended the day on a photobook workshop, splitting into groups and reviewing a number of photobooks against a criteria list we were given and for the final book we were given saying a few words about our findings. While this was interesting to get my hands on some books that I hadn’t seen before and to think about them as a whole, so considering the text, the layout, the size, the material of the book etc. as well as the images in how it projects the work as a single product. There were some downsides with this, we managed to break out as small groups so weren’t restrained to being in the room, however I found that we didn’t have enough time to look at the book effectively and to read the introductory text within, also as we were in groups of 5, we didn’t all get enough time to look through the book before we had to form our ideas and then move on. In the end it was Gilly from our group who spoke most on this with some contribution from me. I liked being introduced to some different books and would happily have spent more time looking through them, I can see ways of improving this session if we were to do it again and I think that the biggest issue was time and number of students per book.

Day 2 (Sunday)

Peter Haveland “Semiotics, symbolism, and metaphor”

Our Sunday began earlier than the Saturday had and at just after 8 I managed to make it down for breakfast, we all seemed a little quieter than we had on the Saturday and I felt this continued into the first session but I think we all needed a bit more time to come round and some more coffee. After all 9am on a Sunday morning for a lecture on semiotics didn’t sound like the best of plans. I was worried about whether I’d stay awake, not because I wasn’t interested but I’d done the student thing of going out the night before, making the most of a night in Leeds, I went celebrating my best friend’s birthday at a rock club, which unfortunately was much better than expected so I stayed later than planned. Despite only having around 4.5 hours sleep, I survived and the session from Peter was quite interesting.

It wasn’t what I expected and at some points did seem to be stilted and rambling but I enjoy listening to tutors and I could see where the subject of semiotics could be useful. We got some recommendations of some books to look at and I’ve since sourced a couple of my own from the library to give me some more background. I think I would have liked there to be more emphasis on reading our own images and how to convey this when we write about them though, but hopefully I’ll be able to do more once I’ve got some background reading out of the way.

As an update on this since my original draft, I actually picked up an introduction to media studies book that gave me some pointers too and was very much an overview of some of the topics we touched on in this session.

Jesse Alexander “Genesis and evolution of a major project”

I hadn’t previously met Jesse before this event nor had experience of him as a tutor so I was coming to his work quite open and without any previous knowledge. He spoke to us on his MA project ‘Threshold Zone’ which he had started and evolved and changed through to presentation of this on light boxes and inside caverns. The overall subject area of underground really fascinated me, while Jesse spoke of how he found these spaces uncomfortable and challenging to be in, it sparked thoughts of exploring urban areas and urban decay, themes that were running in my head for the project that I was working on at the time.  We also saw ‘Turnstile’ an artwork comprised of a series of photographs from an abandoned nuclear bunker (again an interest topic for me) that he’d put to Patrick Allen’s narration of the Protect & Survive public information videos from the 1970s. Not really being old enough to remember the cold war fear, I found that the juxtaposition of the abandoned bunker combined with the advice on what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion and what I can see now as useless and naïve advice on keeping safe quite chilling and showed that while photography has an impact on its own, this can be enhanced and added to by the appropriate narration or soundtrack.

I came away from Jesse’s presentation wanting to know more and it’s certainly something I’ll be looking into when I have some more free time.

Guest Speaker- Peter Rudge from Duckrabbit

I went into this session without much of an interest in film; I have to admit that for me I like still photography and have never really had the inclination to extend this. Peter came across as a really interesting guy and I could have listened to him for longer. It was hard hitting at times as he showed us some example videos such as the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) one with a pregnant young woman who has to be driven over severely uneven ground to the hospital, so much so when the 4×4 hits a large hole and vehicle bounces we are left wondering on the impact on her and if she and the baby will make it to the end of their journey. It certainly opened my eyes to a different use of photography, the mix of stills with text and a soundtrack overlaid but interspersed with video really helped to hit the point and I could see where this would work. At the moment time and resources don’t allow me to pursue this but I won’t rule it out for the future and it could be an interesting extension of my work.

Portfolio Session with Peter Haveland

This was the one session where I felt I was prepared and then at the start of the session seriously out of my depth. I knew that for assessment my images needed to have a white border and not to be presented in sleeves. However as mine were printed to the edge, I’d put them in portfolio sleeves in order to be able to transport and handle them. Suddenly seeing everyone’s work out of sleeves and with borders certainly made me feel less than prepared, even more so when I realised that I was the only person who had brought a selection of images that weren’t in a cohesive series. As a result I felt that I didn’t get great feedback, in fact by this point most of the obvious comments on presentation had been made a few times to the other students so there wasn’t really much left to say anyway. I was really impressed by the other students work; some of the images were stunning and so imaginative. Just being able to see these in person and close up was so beneficial. We were in the atrium so had a nice amount of light coming down, I’m not sure the other students had the same conditions and it might have been useful to have seen their work too. The comments from Peter were once again more than useful and very insightful on what happens at the assessment events and having only been through one so far, tips on how best to present and improve are always welcome. Since the weekend I’ve printed some different images for portfolio review and feel I know better on how to present my work which I wouldn’t have been aware of previously.

Wrap Up and Journey Home

At the end of the sessions we all squeezed back into the main room to just recap and to thank everyone and then it was all over and time to head home!

Despite getting to the station in plenty of time, the train was delayed so I spent about 40 minutes waiting on the platform, head crammed full of photography ideas and thoughts. Once I was on the train I managed to get some draft notes written up on my thoughts so that I could share them with the rest of the group and to try and make sense of everything that I’d seen and heard.

Final Thoughts

Taking a weekend out to spend with a lot of people I didn’t know and a few I’d only met either online or at study visits was quite daunting and when I walked down to breakfast on the Saturday morning I felt a little bit nervous. Once we’d all started chatting this soon went out of the way and we all got on surprisingly well in both the short space of time and the smallish meeting room. I feel that I didn’t quite get around to speaking to everyone but I think I made some new friends out there.  It was more than worth it, and while it was a long weekend the schedule was certainly manageable but that’s possibly a benefit from the fact we had all committed ourselves in both time and money and were all open to getting the most out of the weekend.

So famous last words on the weekend? I can’t wait for next years!

OCA Study visit- Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

I went on my first study visit with OCA on the 15th December 2011 at the new Open Eye gallery at Mann Island in Liverpool. The exhibitions I saw were ‘American Power’ by Mitch Epstein, and ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Chris Steele-Perkins.

This was my first study visit so when the details came through and it suggested some prior reading and listening, I was keen to be as prepared as possible. As I hadn’t has any experience of either photographer I was interested in knowing more to me to get the best of the visit.

study visit 001

Mitch Epstein- American Power

When I looked at the American Power website, it encourages the viewer to look at their daily relationship with energy or ‘power’. With the purpose of heightening the awareness of the toll of using and producing the vast quantities of energy needed to keep modern society going.

The images in the exhibition were:-

– POCA high school and Amos Coal Powerplant

– BP Carson refinery

– Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

– Las Vegas

– Martha Murphy and Charlie Biggs

– Century Wind Project

– IOWA 80 truckstop

– Biloxi

The large format of the images and the smaller than usual number of images in the exhibition really added to the subject. I felt that the viewer took longer to look at and appreciate the images. For the POCA high school image, I felt that I needed to stand back from the image to take it all in. My eyes at first were drawn to the red of the American footballers tops, its only then that you notice the power plant in the background towering over the town.

As a contrast, the BP Carson refinery has so much detail in it, that as well as looking at it from afar, you also need to go closer to look at the detail. The trees at the top corners act as a frame, and the contrast of nature v man made can be drawn. The US flag really grabs my eye and reminds me that oil is such a big part of American life and history, Only when you step back from the image can you get a sense of the scale, and that’s where the large format of the prints adds a scale that isn’t available when viewing images over the modern techniques such as websites, slideshows etc.

Las Vegas

I found the contrast between the fantasy side of the holiday resorts, the pyramid and the castle, compared with the left of the image where it was all flat car parks with a huge number of cars showing the level of support needed for the entertainment and leisure industry that is so predominant within the city. In the background there is ‘Trump’ tower standing head and shoulders over the city, and further back the desert and hills that have not yet been taken over by commercialisation.

Century Wind Project

This is a contrast between two differing sides, the town and on the edge, a wind farm. It focuses, I think, on how nature can be harnessed to provide energy.

IOWA 80 truckstop

In contrast to the other images, this focuses on what springs up from the power industry, with businesses around the haulage firms providing a living for families, opposite to the view that power/energy is a destructive and negative entity at times.

Martha Murphy and Charlie Briggs

I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing in this image, it provoked more questions than answers at the time. What had happened, what was the relationship here, what did the objects and symbolism mean, if anything? It also didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the series. However when I got back home, I went onto the American Power website again and looked once more at the image and the back story. It wasn’t;t what I imagined, they weren’t a couple, they were employer and employee looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The American power here is about the natural elements and the sheer power of human spirit.


This image was one I’ve seen on the publicity for the series of the images, and when I was first viewing it on a PC screen, I couldn’t grasp what I was looking at. Only when I stood in front of the huge image, did I realise that I was looking at upturned cars, mattresses and bedding pinned onto the trees after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Its the large scale that added so much to the content, allowing you as the viewer to get a better perspective and the small number of images encourages the viewer to take their time to take all the detail in.

Study visit mitch epstein


Chris Steele- Perkins- The Pleasure Principle

study visit 002

I found this to be quite a contrast compared to the Mitch Epstein exhibition. It didn’t have the same impact. I found that there didn’t seem to be any obvious correlation between the subjects, it doesn’t flow as a series. It could also have benefited from being more selective in the number of images it included. Also the images were quite small,so for some of them such as the cricket match needed to be viewed on a larger scale.

The title of the series was ‘The Pleasure Principle’, yet to me while it had some images of the 1980’s balls and parties, that could be under ‘pleasure’ it didn’t seem an accurate title, it seemed to me that some fell under excess and with this the images of the elephant and cricketers didn’t seem to fit in.

Images on display were:-

– Prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s admirers at the Conservative party conference

– Blackpool beach

– Golden mile, Blackpool

– Prince Edward at Berkeley Square ball

– Juliana’s summer party x 2

– Hypnosis demonstration at Cambridge university ball

– Berkeley Square ball

– Nightclub London x2

– British Movement demo, London

– Ballroom dancing, Blackpool

– Territorial army practice repelling a Soviet invasion

– Circus elephant, Crystal Palace

– Photo opportunity during a territorial army exercise

– Cricket match, Hampshire


– The photographer has managed to become invisible and get the images with the subjects not being aware, and continuing as if they were alone


– Choice of images, not enough similarity between them to be a linked series


I really enjoyed my first study visit, I got a lot of benefit from sharing the experience with other students and discussing and debating, the contrast and message of the images. For a good few hours, this was well worthwhile and its good to meet fellow students, so I’d definitely go on more future visits and I’ll certainly keep an eye on events at the Open Eye gallery.

The Open Eye Gallery

Parts of the gallery are excellent for display, high ceilings, spotlights, and clean neutral colours, however some of the space has bright natural light that reflects on the glass framed images so you need to move about the gallery for the best positioning.

Study visit chris steele perkins

Exercise: The Lighting Angle

For the subject, we had a curved sculpture that I felt would be quite good for the shadows and light to fall onto. I set this up on a white portable studio to ensure that it had the required neutral background as well as providing a neutral base for the sculpture. I set the camera up on the tripod with the ISO and white balance fixed to allow me to take the images consistently and moved the light through the required positions taking an image every time.

The order is



Behind 2

Behind 1

Behind and to one side

Behind and to one side

Behind downwards

Behind downwards

Direct ahead with flashgun and no diffuser

Direct ahead flashgun no diffuser

Direct ahead with flashgun and diffuser

Direct ahead flashgun with diffuser



Front downwards

Front downwards

Light at the front

Light at front

Light behind

Light behind

Light directly above

Light directly above

Light directly down with no diffuser

Light directly down no diffuser

Light slightly in front

Light slightly in front

Right downwards

Right downwards

Same level

Same level



Exercise: Outdoors at night

While I will do this exercise, at the moment, I’ve not got easy access to the required situations and locations to enable me to complete this, so I will move onto the other exercises and come back later to this. I feel that out of all the exercises under this subject area, taking images outdoors at night is the topic I’ve had most experience in as I’ve previously taken shots of car light trails when using my film camera, and I’ve also spent time with a tripod and shutter release capturing the illuminated seaside amusements of Whitby.

Exercise: Cloudy weather and rain

The part of this required me to photograph the same view in sunlight and under cloud. I kept the white balance set to daylight for this. The first images of this were taken on a day when the sun was in and out of the clouds, and while I waited for the sun to clear the clouds, I don’t feel that it was bright enough to give me the effect that I wanted. I’ve included an example of that here. My later attempt was on a much brighter day with a lot of wind so that the clouds were passing over the sun much quicker and I feel this is more the contrast I wanted to show.

Building- Cloudy

Building- Sunny








For the second part of the exercise, take three photographs outdoors, on an overcast day, that make good use of the enveloping, shadowless light. Look for some detail that has pronounced relief, and an object with strong colour.

For this part of the exercise, I specifically looked for a subject that had pronounced relief, I was in a park in Liverpool and as there were a number of trees, I took one image of a section of the trunk, and as there had been a lot of leaves suddenly coming off the trees, they had gathered in the hollow of the tree roots so I took an image of that as I like the detail and the colours.

The other image I took needed strong colours and I found that a string of flags put up for the power boating event stood out for me on the cloudy day.


For the third part of this exercise, you will need rain.

For this part of the exercise, on a day when we had sudden heavy rain, I took some images leaning out of the window; this meant that as only the lens was exposed to the elements, that I could get a shot of the rain hitting the street from above.

The second image was taken just after this one when I saw that the rain drops had settled onto a Canadian maple tree we have, and the raindrops accentuated its colour and I really like the glistening water drops.

Exercise: Variety with a low sun

Frontal Lighting

For this image, I positioned the rhino statue in full sunlight. Taking into consideration the risk of appearing in the shadows, I positioned myself carefully and used the live view feature of the camera to ensure that only the shadow of the subject was in the image. As the rhino subject was a matte finish, I wanted to also undertake a second image as a comparison. The second frontal lighting subject was of a glass and metal hanging ornament, this was quite shiny so there was some reflection and some minor shadows where the sun cast these onto the wall behind the subject.

frontal lighting 2Frontal lighting

Side Lighting

I undertook this part of the exercise straight after the above, and in the space of the few minutes between setting up the images from the first and second frontal lighting, the sun had moved from the back of the house, round to the front (it was late in the day) so I moved the subject and positioned it on a wall where I was able to get the right balance of the sun coming from the left of the image casting half in sun with the other half falling into shade.

Side lighting

Back Lighting

For the back lighting, I positioned myself behind the subject and shot into the light, as recommended I took multiple exposures to ensure that I got the best image that wasn’t too dark or too light. The image I’ve included here is a silhouette but still maintains some colour tomes in the subject and the sky.

Back Lighting

Edge Lighting

I couldn’t find an area that had a black background, for my original subject to be positioned against so I decided to focus on a willow tree in our garden; I composed the image with the sun just positioned outside of the viewfinder. In order to get the most appropriate image, I bracketed the shots and I’m glad that I did this as some were over exposed due to the sun coming in from the right hand edge of the frame. I’d like to redo this part if I get opportunity as edge lighting is something that I’ve not had much experience or exposure in.

Edge lighting2

Exercise: Light through the day

At this stage in time, I’ve been unable to actually fully complete this exercise. I’ve attempted this on a number of occasions but have failed to get the full breadth of images required. The closest I’ve come is a series of images from 5pm onwards until around 8:30 when the sun set. I’ve been constrained by time, while I’ve had time off work to complete this exercise, the weather on those days has turned out to be mixtures of cloud and showers, so I’ve had to halt this for now and if I get a combination of a free day and the right weather conditions, will replicate this.