Tag Archives: story

Making it up as asked?

For assignment five, I have been given a fairly open brief, to create either a single image or a series of images to elaborate on the same theme.

I have chosen to create a single image.

“As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – issuing various forms of narrative, using yourself as subject matter, telling stories and reading images.  The only stipulation is that you produce work that has been controlled and directed by you for a specific purpose.  Remember to create a story with a specific context like the artists you’ve looked at in Part Five.  This means you need to have an artistic intention, so a good place to start would be to write down some ideas.  This could then form the basis for a 300-word introduction to the piece.  You may find it helpful to draw storyboards to help you visualize your ideas.”

I have produced an image taken from a narrative that I found through my research, I then story-boarded to find the appropriate image and I chose this intended picture in order to link it to a metaphor for today’s society.  This image has been created in context of a short story that acts as my 300-word introduction to my work.

“The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image.”

I have used a ‘No Pets’ sign and a pet dog as my props,  I have used two models to act out the characters in my image, The female model was dressed as a business woman and the male model as a smartly dressed man in a country suit with walking stick and hat both suitable for a smart gentleman out for a stroll and a man dressed for his funeral.  I chose to use the location of my local church that I felt suited the image.  I used speedlights, light modifiers, coloured gels and manipulated the white balance controls to achieve my desired affects.

“If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this.  Also consider the symbolic meaning of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach.”

My choice of costume is modern, Graham’s country suit is of a classic style and still popular today.  Ann-Marie, was wearing her normal business suit that she wears for interviews and corporate meetings.  Ann-Marie represents ‘Lucifer’ and I naturally didn’t want her in a Devil costume, holding whips, or sporting a Satanic tail; so I thought that simply dressing her in a sharp business suit and some lighting can imply a hidden layer to her true identity.

I have included snap-shots of my location and lighting set-up with sketches and notes as to how I planned and carried out the assignment.  I have written a 1000 word piece including the 300-word narrative.

Going through the criteria for this assignment, I feel that I have done everything as asked; so I just hope my Tutor likes my final work.



Planning my assignment 5


When researching for my last assignment I read ‘One Way Street’ a selection of essays by Walter Benjamin and I read an essay about Franz Kafka, an author I had not come across before and I made a mental note to lookout for his work.  My Tutor picked-up on my comments in my blog and recommended that I read some of his works a.  Therefore I decided to read his works looking for ideas for my next assignment.  To get myself started I made notes on the oxford dictionaries meaning for ‘context’ ‘narrative’ and the suggested rules.  As I read his works, I took notes in order to help me find some mental visions that might be turned in to physical pictures.  admittance-to-the-law










I have read through from cover to cover ‘The Essential Kafa’ and I have been inspired by a parable type story in the novel ‘The Trial’.   This short story is about a country gentleman who seeks access to the law, but the man is told by the doorman that he can not grant him access.  The country gentleman decides to wait until the doorman is given permission to grant him access, he waits all his life only to learn at the moment of death that the door was exclusively for him.  However, this story led me to another similar story that I thought might make a stronger narrative in one picture.


A man and his dog  a-man-and-his-dog-were-walking-along-a-road

This story was used in a T.V. episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘The Hunt’,  first broadcast: January 26, 1962, Created by Rod Serling.  I am unable to find a reliable source that can confirm the original author of this story.  Some internet sources suggest that it is an old religious tale by an unknown however, Earl Hamner Jr.  an American television writer and producer is credited for the story of ‘The Hunt’ in The Twilight Zone therefore I assume that the story is his.  The gist of the story is that a man is on a road to Heaven and he is accompanied by his best friend which is his dog.  Along the way he comes to a gate with a man standing by it, the Traveller asks the man where they are and the ‘Gateman’ informs him he is at the gates of Heaven; but when the man tries to enter with his dog he is told that dogs are not allowed and the Traveller is forced to decide between entering the gates or staying with his best friend.



I believe that this story has a stronger narrative to produce as a single photo.  My idea is an image of the Traveller looking down at his dog as the Doorman or Gatekeeper tells him no dogs.  Also I can use this scene as a metaphor to modern society and how our capitalist life style sometimes tests our moral metal.  The Traveller is faced with a dilemma, should he be selfish and enter the gates alone for the imagined paradise beyond or stay outside keeping company with his best friend and putting his friend first.  I believe that we are currently living in a very selfish world and that this test is being applied in one way or another every day; so I think this story is very relevant to our current life-styles.

For the location, I think that my local Anglican Church is perfect.

My first thought were the gates to the church but this would present problems of traffic, pedestrians and a difficult background; so a doorway is a better choice and the arched style ideal for the implied idea of a Holly entrance.  Choosing a doorway eliminates the problems of traffic, pedestrians background and allows me to move my camera further away if required.  I shall mount the camera to a tripod for better composition control and if I need to resort to Photoshop i can easily merge more images together.

My ideal location is the Choir Vestry doorway, my wife sings in the choir and I have spoken to the Vicar who is happy to allow me to use it as my location.  I have a Labrador dog and a friend who has modeled for me before who can play the Traveller and a friend of my wife’s is happy to model as ‘Lucifer’.  My thoughts for the Devil is a very pretty smartly dressed young lady, to represent the metaphor for temptation.  She will be lit by a speedlight with an amber gel in a soft-box to give her warmth and another speedlight located directly behind her with a red gel in a large reflector dish to create a red rim-lighting / halo to suggest the source of the heat and a hint of danger.  The traveller and dog will be lit by either natural day light or another speedlite (un-gelled) for daylight white balance.  The camera will be set to tungsten or similar to trick the camera to create a cold look to the Traveller and dog.  The Traveller and dog are between worlds and this region of space I imagine to be cold. Hell on the other hand is hot and should reflect this by using the corrective gel to alter the white balance for my Devil.  By taking advantage of the white balance I can create a division between the worlds outside the door and that of inside and this warm contrast to the overall cold image will act as my punctum to the picture.








As you can see, I made sketches and drew a couple of storyboards to help me with ideas.

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.


Working log for assignment 5, my initial thoughts.

9/9/16 – I am beginning my planning by going back to the start of this C&N course and re-reading the introduction and reviewing what I have learned in order to help me focus on what I need to achieve.

Up to now my assignments have been successful and my Tutor is very keen that I produce something that can top my achievements with this final assignment. So I want to produce something that is good and sophisticated enough to work well but at the same time try not to over complicate the work and try to keep the idea simple.  Well that’s the plan.  As I work out the project we will see if I can keep to this.

Keeping in mind my essay for my last assignment – I must be sure that every single element in my picture has a reason to be there and they must in some way contribute to the narrative.  The frame / choice of composition must suggest a greater context.  Lighting has also been mentioned and I am comfortable with using speedlights soft-boxes, flags etc.  I relish the opportunity to create a professional type set-up.  I thank my TAOP course and the section on lighting that I had spent extra time working on, I learned so much about both the basics and advanced photography skills on that course.

My plan is to produce one single photo; but it must suggest that it is part of a story.  All stories have a beginning, middle and end and my picture must suggest a previous moment that is leading to the next.  The picture must be readable and must have both a studium and punctum element on order for this image to really stand-out.  All the elements inside this picture must assist this process or they should not be there.  If I can meet these goals I am at least half-way there.

But the first half of the journey is to find the subject.  I intend to use my past brain-storming techniques and I have yet to do the last exercise of section five which is an interview and perhaps an idea may germinate from this.

Clive, my Tutor has recommended an author Kafka that I came across whilst reading Walter Benjamin and perhaps an idea may present itself from one of Kafka’s short-stories.

This last assignment is both exciting and a little scary; but life without a little fear is like a meal without a little herbs and seasoning, plain and dull.


Exercise – Project 1 – Autobiographical self-portaiture


I have been looking at the images by artist such as Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus, Sally Mann, Elinor Carucci, Richard Billingham, Tierney Gearon and Gillian Waering.

Francesca Woodman

Photo by Francesca Woodman. This lined image is available to view on line: http://bibliotecaiie.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/francescawoodman.jpg

Francesca Woodman’s images I find both a little erotic and disturbing.  Woodman clearly a lot of pent up sexual-tension with an artistic voice wanting to be heard.  If I was to say that there was an element of narcissism in Woodman’s photos I think I would be wrong.  I think that she was probably insecure about herself and her looks, yes she was very self-indulgent which may sadly have lead her to her death.  I believe there are indications of her moods of depression in her images.  We all sometime feel that we could just disappear and I think that Woodman acts out some of these wished imaginings in her photos.  I personally, think that Woodman’s images don’t need accompanying text for the images to be appreciated.  However, they communicate best as set.

Woodman clearly had mental-health issues and I wonder that perhaps the wider issue here is the stigma attached to this form of health-issue and the lack of understanding and help available for sufferers.  Many artist suffer from depression as many artists by there nature are bipolar in some degree and perhaps educational institutions such as schools and colleges / universities should also watch for this and offer counselling and support.  Woodman committed suicide in 1981 and over 30 years later we are still loosing talent through our lack of understanding of how to help.

Elina Brotherus

Photo by Elina Brotherus. This linked image is available to view online on her website: http://www.elinabrotherus.com

Brotherus has used her naked body to put ‘a spotlight’ on herself.  I think that her nakedness not only reflects her sense of vulnerability but also her lock of power and sense of naked honesty.  She uses nakedness to grab the attention of the audience / viewer in order to pass on her intended message.

For me Brotherus images instil mixed feelings of sympathy and admiration for both her struggle and sadness and her honesty and dignified strength.

Some may interpret Brotherus’s work as a little self-indulgent; but I would disagree.  Brotherus has used herself as a subject to bring to peoples attention issues that are often hidden.  These issues she has experienced for herself and therefore can tell the story from the inside.  By using herself as the model and subject she enforces the truth and her own honesty.

I don’t believe that this style of images can be imitated purely for image sake by ‘outsiders’.  These images come from the heart and therefore if mimicked would lack the context that these images were created to represent.  These images have been made to represent the artist own feelings and emotions and whilst the images can be replicated the emotional message the originals carry can not without some honest intent from the new artist.  In this way only another artist going through similar experiences can produce similar work and would then have his or her own style and signature.  Anything else would be a false facsimile.

As mentioned above, I believe that the motivation of these artist are to raise awareness of issues, that are often hidden from public-sight.  Naturally these issues have to be close and personal to the artist in order for the artist to be able to be an insider and produce honest and truthful images.


Project 2, Exercise – Metaphor – working log.

For this exercise I chose the poem ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ by Stevie Smith, 1902 – 1971.

I first read this poem over 20 years ago and re-discovered it when searching for a suitable poem for this exercise amongst the books on my book-shelves.  This particular poem was published in, The New Oxford Book of English Verse, Chosen and edited by Helen Gardener, Oxford University Press.

Not Waving But Drowning, immediately resonated with me as my wife is going through a very difficult time with her family. However, I will not attempt to produce images that make reference to my personnel issues in this exercise; but I will explore other ideas to complement this poem.

I have discovered an interesting short recital by Stevie Smith of this poem on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKHWEWOrL9s

My idea is to take this poem and turn it in to a narrative of my own.

I began by writing down key words and phrases and then looking for ideas.

I also typed and printed the poem which I analysed and looked at each line and each paragraph


The first paragraph of this poem for my story is a man who is drowning but is not aware of his peril.  Nobody heard him, because perhaps, he didn’t know how much danger he was in.  However, his friends and family may have been able to see the danger; but dismissed it, thinking that he could cope.

For the second paragraph I interpret that our hero has now met his fate and his friends and family are making excuses for themselves.

In the final paragraph our hero has now drowned and is protesting against the excuses and as he now realizes – all too late, just how much danger he really had been in.

As I have thought this through, I was originally thinking of producing as many as 7 or 8 images.  But then having discussed my ideas with my wife, she reminded me that I am searching for metaphors to convey my feelings.  After a nights sleep I returned to my notes, re-read the exercises criteria and focussed on, “develop metaphorical and visceral interpretations rather than obvious and literal ones.” “Don’t attempt to describe the poem but instead give a sense of the feeling of the poem and the essence it exudes.” Re-reading these lines and referring back to my notes, I realized that I only needed three images in total – One for each paragraph:  An image to represent his drowning in his own folly and an image to represent his friends discussing his fate; and a final image representing his loss.

I decided that before I could go any further with this exercise, I had to do some more reading to research ideas.  I first turned to a book that I read when preparing for my last assignment with Art of Photography course, Illustration and Narrative, The Fundamentals of Creative Photography by David Prakel and published by AVA.  I re-read the chapter on Communication which briefly covers semiotics.  I then read Photography by Stephen Bull, published by Routledge.  Chapters 3 and 4 helped me formulate my final ideas for this exercise.  Chapter 3 provided me with a better insight in to the theory of semiotics; but it was chapter 4 on advertising that the proverbial penny dropped and I saw my solution in how to use semiotics for this exercise.  The answer was the theory of relay and example mentioned in this book (page 68) a bank using images of conveying a feelings of joy with the caption, “This is what saving feels like.”  This one passage provided me with the answer to my problem of finding the idea of simple images that can work in relay to my poem.  The first two images will be relay and my last image will be both indexical and relay.

I then went back to my notes and the ideas began to form.  The first image that began to materialise was the middle image and I thought of a wake.  I wanted a fairly simple representation and all the wakes I have ever been to include a fair amount of booze; so I thought of just a picture of a mix of half filled glasses on a bar to represent the mourners.


I originally had an idea for my drowned victim having been overwhelmed by debt and thought an image representing brochures, catalogues, and unpaid bills pilled up high might make a good representation and so I sketched it as in idea; but on reflection I didn’t feel it was strong enough.  Then I had the idea that drowning could be a metaphor for being overwhelmed by success or the pressure to succeed and drugs are becoming more and more common in the professional high flyer corporate world, with the use of cocaine becoming very common.  I then sketched out some ideas and also looked on the web for images of drug use in order to provide a realistic looking image.  My final image came to me when I was sketching the drug ideas, I thought of a body in a morgue and I found an image on line of naked feet with a label attached to one of the toes.  This I could re-produce easily myself.  Not my idea, but I doubt there is such a thing as an original idea anymore anyway.

I decided that with the resulting images, I would turn then from colour to black and white as I feel that black and white conveys more atmosphere / sense of feeling and emotion that colour does not and was best suited for this poem.


This is the first image I made.  I used a silver and crystal cocktail tray, icing sugar, a razor blade, a rolled up old Turkish note and my mobile phone with a suitably chosen image downloaded from the internet.  I first tried using strobe lighting but couldn’t get a good image due to the reflection; so I used natural light and two reflectors to direct the family-of-angels for the reflected light off the star etched in to the crystal tray.  I used black felt material under the tray to get the jet black background.  Camera was on a tripod, 105mm, f/2.8, prime-lens, 1sec, f/11, ISO-125, manual focus.  Adjustments made in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale in Photoshop.


This is in fact a self-portrait, using a white mattress cover and sheet on my bed, I set my camera on a tripod, set to self-timer, 20 seconds, manual focused using edge of the bed as a focus point.  Marked mattress cover with Cello-tape to indicate the boundaries for my feet.  I used my Sekonic light-meter to get an incidence reading for a correct exposure, with my feet pointing towards the window; so using just natural light to keep it simple.  24-120mm f/4 zoom, @ 70mm, 1/125, f/4.5, ISO-320, manual focus.  Adjustments made in Lightroom with grey-scale conversion made in Photoshop.


I had an arm-band from previous funerals that I draped over a picture, re-introduced the mobile-phone with the same image and added the drinks glasses and bottles to suggest the people  chatting about the dead-man.  Again I kept it simple by using only natural light.  The camera was mounted on a tripod, 105mm f2.8 prime-lens, 1/5sec, f/5, ISO-320, manual focused.  Adjustments made in Lightroom and converted to grey-scale using Photoshop.

My original idea was to start with the image of the drugs, then the image of the drinks and finally the image of the feet; but when I uploaded the images and reviewed it I felt that it worked better by starting from the point of view that he is already dead with the explanation of his death being the last picture.


Reflections for Assignment I

Adjusted_Res-2002 img477

Shaun Mullins – 512659 – Photography 1 Context & Narrative – Assignment 1

I am pleased to blog that I received a good report for my first assignment for this course ‘Context and Narrative’.

This assignment was very similar to my last assignment for ‘The Art of Photography’ course which covered the subject illustration and narrative.  For that assignment I had to find or invent a story / narrative that I could produce photos for both as a book / magazine cover and to illustrate the story itself.  Having already researched a method of best practice to both prepare and carryout the work effectively, I put the same methods in to practice with this assignment – Namely, my brain-storming and storyboarding.

I took a risk when I decided to just used a mobile-phone as my only method of recording the images; but I felt I could create a better sense of authenticity for my particular story.  I found Clive’s comment that I had created a character for myself very interesting.  It hadn’t occurred to me.  Nor had I ever considered creating a character for myself.  Moreover, I would not have expected that by even having such an idea it would have made any positive contribute to the work.  However, this is a new dynamic for me and something I will consider further.



Clive’s comment on my coursework, is valid.  The exercise for street-photography didn’t go too well for me as I feel very uncomfortable just taking pictures in public like that.  Clive’s comment, “kaleidoscopic presentation of the street-photography and the dizzying angles.” is a fare comment as it was the result of my desperation to try and get some images of interest whilst working in an uncomfortable environment.  Maybe, in a capital-city or historical-town full of tourists it is much easier to work with a DSLR; but in small provincial-towns and villages you get a lot of negative reaction from people that borders on aggression.  To be honest this is not a field of photography that rocks my boat; but I will probably try again, I may book a street-photography course with Nikon and if working on my own I will prefer a more discreet camera such as that on a mobile-phone.

I am very grateful to Clive’s useful feedback and tips; I shall take them all on board.

Overall this assignment and this first section has been a very positive experience.