Tag Archives: published

The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics


As part of my preparation for my final assignment, I decided to read the works of Franz Kafka in order to try and find some visual ideas for an image that was rich in metaphor.

Much of Kafka’s work was never published in his lifetime and thanks to his friend who saved his work from destruction against Kafka’s dying wishes we are able to read these stories today.

The Trial

Joseph K is a Senior Bank-Clark who one day awakens to find two men in his room to arrest him.  He does not discover for what crime he is accused of; but that his crime is serious and his guilt is assumed.  However, he is freed and informed that his case is under investigation and that he can continue to go about his normal business but he must present himself when required and he must build a defense.   Throughout the book we never discover what the crime he is accused of is, nor who accuses him or why.  He discovers that the Courts are all hidden in attics and all the Court personnel are only identified by a gold button sown to their jackets.

The whole story implies a form of neurosis of the mind.  Is K really a victim of a secret Justice system  or is he having some-kind of nervous-breakdown?  This story is full of metaphors.  I believe Leni to represent K’s idea of Justice, she is flirtatious, she is attracted to all of the Advocates clients; but she wants to help and she wants to be wanted.  The Advocate is K’s idea of a typical lawyer who does his best to string out the work as far as he can for profit.  I suspect that K meets the Judge in the Cathedral, he is the Priest and he gives K advise in the form of a story of a man who waits in vein to be admitted to the law only to discover on his death that the door he had waited at for so long was exclusively his.

I have been reading this novel as a result of my research for this course.  I learned of this novel through a essay written by Walter Benjamin and I am considering a couple of passages from this story to use as an idea to inspire an image for my last assignment.

The ideas are:

From the book The Essential Kafka, published by Wordsworth Classics.

The Trial:

First idea:  A portrait of a man sitting in a chair looking important, distinguished, implying authority, implying a Judge.  He is posed to suggest that at any-moment he is about to leap from his chair.  One hand grips the arm-rest the other holds a paper marker ‘Petition’ .  Behind his a blind-folded, pretty woman stands holding scales in her left hand and a sword in her right.  The idea is that she represents Justice; but her pose must also suggest the Greek female Goddess of hunting.  She should be dressed classically one breast exposed like that from the famous French revolutionary picture of Liberty charging forward.  (Chapter 6, The Uncle – Leni, page 81, lines 23-35 and page 109, Chapter 7, The Advocate – the Manufacturer – the Painter, line 32 to page 110 to line 11).

Second idea:  An open door, above the door is a sign that reads ‘THE LAW’ on the door a smaller sign reads ‘Restricted’.  A Doorman stands guard by the door and a Country Gentleman sits on stool looking dejected.  Behind the Doorman light appears to be streaming out from the doorway.  The Doorman must appear to look like he is on guard but is not appearing to be attempting to bar access.  (Chapter 9, In The Cathedral, page 161 – 162).

The Castle,

The hero of this story is just known as ‘K’ and is a Surveyor who arrives at the village below the castle looking for lodgings before reporting to the castle to begin work.  He discovers that he is not expected and is treated as an undesirable outsider by the villagers.  The Castle then confirms that he has been appointed and advises that he must wait for further instructions.  The castle appears to be inaccessible without permission and he is unable to find anyone who can grant him an audience with anyone in the castle.  This story is a nightmare vision of bureaucracy gone mad with tear upon tear of management that makes anything practically impossible to get done and all the servants that are the management of the castle are aloof from the villagers can only be communicated through unreliable messengers.  I believe that Kafka is describing metaphorically difficulties he had with his father and perhaps difficulties that he may have experienced as a Jew in post Austrian Hungarian Europe.  The story ends in mid-sentence as Kafka never finished the novel.

Metamorphosis – The Transformation of Gregor Samsa

Was this the dark foresight of a German speaking Czech Jew of the 1920’s?   Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find that he has become an giant beetle, he can no longer be understood by his family and his new physique repulses them and he is forced to live imprisoned in his bedroom with only his younger sister brave enough to show enough compassion to feed him and clean his room.  Kafka uses a dark sense of humor in his writing and provides no happy ending but suggests that as one thing comes to an end there is always the beauty of a brighter tomorrow.

The judgement

We are first told that the hero of this story is a successful business man living and working in partnership with his father and is writing to his friend in St. Peters-burg about his impending marriage.  These facts are all thrown in to doubt when he discusses his letter and engagement with his ailing father.

Letter To My Father

This is a letter that Kafka wrote to his father but never gave to him.  Addressing his feeling towards his father and venting his frustrations and anger to a man he has grown up to fear and resent.  In this letter we learn a little of what has influenced Kafka’s writings and imagination.  There is a very useful visual metaphor in this text.  Page 590, line 26.

The idea

To the left a man stands facing a sheer cliff-face that he is trying to climb; to his right a flight of stairs is being climbed by another.  there is a barrier between the two men; so preventing the man on the left from using the same path to ascend.


Photography a Critical Introduction, Edited by Liz Wells


Photography a Critical Introduction, edited by Liz Wells, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

The image on the front cover of this book was very appropriate for my experience when first reading this book: ‘Babel’ from Cockaign, by Gayle Chong Kwan.

The last listed book in my recommended reading list for the ‘Context and Narrative’ course to be read which completes my reading for both essential and recommended for the course. Phew!

I originally purchased and began reading this book for my ‘Art of Photography’ (AOP) course but I didn’t understand the relevance to my course and I also found it to be too heavy reading for me at that time and I only got half way through chapter one before putting it down.  I was keen to read books themed closer to the topics covered in the syllabus and additional technical books on composition, lighting, exposure, etc to bring me up to speed with my basic photography skills.  I felt that this book should have been listed in the essential reading list for my AOP course as none of the syllabus touched on critical theory and therefore wasn’t even appropriate for recommended reading.  However, this book was listed as recommended reading for this current coarse of Context and Narrative and in my opinion this should in fact be listed as essential reading.

This book is definitely worth reading once the critical theory of art in photography needs to be explored and understood.  There was much that linked to my current studying and I could see likely future links to my next courses, particularly chapter 4, ‘The subject as object: photography and the human body’ which discussed various forms of fetishism in art and explained what this word means in the art world.  Not just sex and deviant behavior but also desire and even a form of addiction which can be exploited by advertising, etc.

I still found it a heavy book and it took almost three weeks for me to read, but thanks to all the other reading that I have now done and the clear link it had to my current studying I was able to relate to the subject matter.  I am pleased that I have finally read this book and I realize that I made the right decision  two years ago to put the book down as I would not have understood a word and the messages that are now useful would have been missed.  I probably would not have thought to read it again; so missing a second chance to learn something from this book.

Photography: A Cultural History, 4th Edition by Mary Warner Marien


Photography: A Cultural History, 4th Edition by Mary Warner Marien, published by Laurence King Publishing.

I have just finished reading Photography: A Cultural History that I began reading back in late May and have finally finished reading today.  This book was very dry for me and I had to interrupt reading it by reading about four other books in the meantime.  However, I have persevered and finished it.  To be fair it is a good book all the same, as it tells a good comprehensive history of photography from conception to present day.   This book explaining the influences from art, politics and national cultures that has shaped photographic practices throughout the world from the 1830’s to present day with details on photographers / artist with examples of their work that have been of influence.

Certainly a must read book for any photography student and I do now have a better understanding of Surrealism, Modernism, Postmodernism, etc. than I did before.


One-Way Street & Other Writings by Walter Benjamin

One-Way Street

I have just finished reading this book of  Walter Benjamin‘s Essays that include ‘Brief History of Photography, published by Penguin, that looks at the early development of photography and works such as August Sanders.  Also included is ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ Benjamin examines how photography has made the great art classics more available to be seen by the mass public but by doing so he considers that there value has diminished in  virtue of the rarity for public access.  He then goes on to look at cinema as a new art form and how this form of media is changing and influencing art both politically and culturally.  There is an essay on surrealism and an essay about a Czech writer that I had not heard of but who sounds interesting Franz Kafka.

This book was a heavy read and took me a whole month to get through!  Alas, I am not a true intellectual and never shall be but I persevere with these type of books as I do get a better understanding (if only a tiny bit) of the theory behind my art.  And if I find myself maneuvered into an unwanted conversation with someone who tries to fob me off with some intellectual Bull I can at least confidently tell them that I have actually read the works discussed and put them straight.


Working log for Assignment 4

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

My task for this assignment is to write a 1000 word essay on an image of my choosing.

I can choose anything I like a from famous art photograph to something from the family album but the image must have scope to make a rigorous and critical analysis.

If choosing a well-known photograph, take time to research it’s context – the intentions of the photographer, why it was taken, whether it’s part of a series, etc.  Add all this information into the essay in order to be able to draw a conclusion from my own interpretation of the facts.

If I choose to use a found photograph, a picture from my own collection, or perhaps one from an old family album, use it as an opportunity to find out something new.  Look directly at the photograph for information.  It may be interesting to compare and contrast memory with the information being seen anew ‘reading’ the picture so intensely.

You must use the facts as a means to draw my own conclusion about what the picture means to me.  I may wish to apply what I’ve learned in part 4 regarding translation, interpretation, connotation, signs, punctum, etc.  Be sure to get the definitions correct!

Follow though association and other images that relate to the discussion. directly or indirectly.  Look at the broader context of the image and it’s background and specific narrative as well as my own personnel interpretation of it and what thoughts it triggers for me.  Follow these associations in a thoughtful and formal way.  Enjoy the process!

The first task for this assignment was to decide upon the picture, I had just finished assignment 3 and I was holidaying in Spain where I could relax empty my head and ‘re-boot’.  After the first week I was able to think again and ideas began to come to me, I had taken my laptop with me so that I could use it with my camera and I began to search for ideas.  My first idea was of a photograph that I came across earlier this year taken in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by an American photographer in 1944.  The image shows local Germans forced to tour the concentration camp and I was fascinated by the expressions each of these civilians made, some visibly shocked and ashamed others indignant and cold.  However, one night after a meal in the port we came home to the flat and put on the video and chose to watch Gone-with-the-Wind.  I hadn’t seen this movie in years and I was taken by the photography and some of the scenes that were so good.  I was particularly taken by the last image from part one.  Scarlet O’Hara has returned to Tara having escaped the siege of Atlanta only to find Tara pillaged by the invading Union army starving she eats a raw horse radish that she has dug from the soil with her bare hands.  At this point we see a transition in her from desperation to determination and the scene ends with her standing under a battle scared tree making an oath to god that no matter what she has to do she will never go hungry again.  This was a very powerful scene and a very powerful image provides a strong sense of foreboding for part two.

This was my first idea for an essay.  US Army photograph, 1944.


This image I photographed in the Spanish fruit and veg. market of Altea that neighbors my holiday home town of Calpe a year or so ago.  I saw this scene and discreetly pointed my point and shoot Canon camera and caught it right at the best moment.

This was the image that I was so taken with in the motion-picture and I was luck enough to find it on the web.

When I returned to England I emailed my Tutor my suggested options and asked for his opinion.  He replied the image from Gone-with-the-Wind.  I was pleased that he had suggested this image as by now this was my favorite option.

After carefully looking at this picture I highlighted the cloud formation to help with my essay.


I also looked at how this image is composed.


I then began to make a list of basic information to start the research process which I typed as a word documents. Preperation for assignment 4  I then began researching through websites and for additional ideas on essay writing I  read, Reading Photographs, Basics Creative Photography, by Richard Salkeld, published by Bloomsbury,  Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, published by Penguin,’One Way Street and other writings’ by Walter Benjamin, published by Penguin, the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 1975 by Rachel Rose.  The Bible and ‘Inferno’ by Dante Alighieri, published by The Folio Society.

As I researched I kept a record of the source on a word document that I could refer to again later.  Notes  Having accumulated my reference material I began to write my essay, at this point I was not concerned with the word count as I could cut away as necessary. Working Title I also included images in my basic work.   when I came up with a title for my essay I resaved the document under it’s new name and continued to work on it.  Draft-1-Its a Lilly! I then emailed my Tutor for advice on my word-count and he advised that I was allowed + or – 5-10%; so I made sure that when stripping away I had an idea of my safe envelope; so as not to take out anything unnecessarily Final Draft-Its a Lilly  I then edited down my list of reference material relevant to my final draft and added it Notes for draft .

Finally I checked with my Assignment criteria to make sure that I had understood and followed it.


I then read it to my wife and she pointed out that the only thing I had not mentioned was how the picture made me feel.  It was such an obvious observation but in my had not thought to mention it!  This is a good example of being too close to the work to be able point out the obvious.  this I easily rectified as the original attraction was the sense of foreboding and unease that this image conveyed.

The idea of the title for my work came through my research in to Technicolor and I watched several very good documentaries on YouTube that told the story of the development and use of technicolor which included an anecdotal story from an aging actor who played one on the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz who was puzzled why the always called out “It’s a Lilly!” at the end of a scene.

This time I only got one response from the Facebook OCA forum when I put out my request to critique my essay, but I took on board the comment that I should change the title for the last paragraph which I agreed with.  I decided to change it from ‘Conclusion’ to ‘So why the title’.  However, I also sent my work to a friend who I could rely on to give a good constructive critique and he came back with some suggestions to shorten a couple of sentences and punctuation corrections sending me his suggested amendments highlighted in red.   ShaunDraftEssay from this I made my final changes Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1




Jeff Wall’s Invisible Man

Invisible man by Jeff Wall is great constructed image, this picture has been inspired by a novel by Ralph Ellison ‘Invisible Man’ published in 1952 about a man who falls in to a forgotten basement during a riot and makes it his home.  He fills the ceiling with 1369 light bulbs that he illegally wires up.  This scene has been painstakingly constructed with every item representing the character and his psychological state.


Research Point – A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing by Diane Arbus

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966 photographed by Diane Arbus.  This image brings back memories of my childhood, as my Uncle and Aunt looked similar to this when I was just a toddler.  My Uncle had that Teddy-boy look of the 60’s and my Aunt had her hair in this style which must have been very common at that time on both sides of the Atlantic (I believe that it was known as the Beehive).  The image clearly suggests an awkwardness in the attitude of the husband and wife, neither appear relaxed or very cheerful.  The wife appears distant and unhappy whilst the husband is trying to make more of an effort; but there appears to be a mix of friendliness and sadness in his eyes whilst his mouth suggests a faint smile.  Perhaps they have argued, perhaps the husband likes the photographer Diane Arbus and his wife is aware of it.  Perhaps his young wife feels trapped, her life over before it really began torn by her youth and her duty and love as a mother of two young children, one of which is disabled and likely to be quit a handful on top of that of the baby.  The baby appears fairly quite and happy whilst the boy may be sensing his parents mood as he gives the appearance of acting and looking confused and restless.  I note that the mother has clearly spent time on her appearance with her cloths, hair, make-up and eye-brows.  Is this for the benefit of the camera, herself or for the trip out?

This picture is the subject of an essay by Liz Jobey and was published in Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.  Edited by Sophie Howarth and published by Tate Publishing.  (This book is currently out-of-print and I obtained a copy second-hand through Amazon.

According to Jobey’s essay this photo was taken on a Sunday in 1966 and the parents were taking their children out for the day.  Arbus had got to know this young N.Y. Brooklyn family and had visited then at their apartment and took some photos there as well as this one.  their names were Richard and Marylin Daurin, Richard was an immigrant from Italy working as a car mechanic he met his wife in high school and Marylin was still only 16 when they were married.  They had three children, the two in the picture is Richard Jnr. and Dawn.  Marylin was 23 when this photo was taken and she told Arbus that she was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor (which I suspect she encouraged by her choice of hair and make-up).  This image was first published in a special family issue of the British ‘Sunday Times’ titled ‘The American families’ with photos of the Daurin’s in the Bronx juxtaposed against the life-style of a wealthy Westchester couple.

When Arbus sent this photo to Peter Crookston the magazine’s deputy editor for the Sunday Times supplement she of Richard and Marylin, “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.”  However, Crookston re-wrote this for the caption as, “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is close in a painful sort of way.”  Arbus later wrote a letter to Crookston complaining about his miss-quotation.

Arbus, by her own admission had a way with charming people in to posing for her and she became famous for seeking out people of the fringes of society and taking their portraits.  These people whom many would derogatory call freaks would be mentally ill down and outs, dwarfs, transsexuals, etc.  Sadly Arbus committed suicide in 1971.