Nicola South        Student number: 514516


Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

  • I believe the image is well composed and balanced.
  • I have meticulously arranged the props to give visual cues to the narrative.
  • I hope that the image is aesthetically pleasing, I chose the colours of the clothing to contrast with the harmonising colours of the décor.
  • There is clarity through most of the shot.
  • Working with my new lighting kit (soft box, umbrella and multiple speedlights) was a technical learning curve. I was careful to consider reflections and shadows. I was aware of the colour balance and made choices about it post production. I am pleased with what I have achieved, although I am well aware that I have a lot to learn to improve these skills.
  • I believe that the image shows that I have good visual awareness.

 Quality of outcome: 

  • In my choice of theme and the way that I have presented it I have used much learning from this part of the course, in particular my research of relevant photographers.
  • By choosing a theme which has a context in common with other work in Context and Narrative I hope that I have strengthened my message/meaning.
  • I believe I have combined the presentation of a disquieting moment with an aesthetically pleasing image which viewers may linger over.
  • I have used the props and furniture to layering order to lead the viewer around the narrative.
  • My introduction should communicate how I have conceptualised my ideas to the reader.
  • I hope that I have provided links between a contemporary situation and the visual motifs of a classical painting

Demonstration of creativity:

  • I took a personal risk working with this theme.
  • My concept of linking a classical painting with my modern narrative using some of the symbolism was creative.
  • I have blended fact and fiction in a creative way and hope it leaves something to the viewers imagination.
  • I had to be inventive when directing the actors, including myself.
  • I believe that I have shown that my personal voice is emerging.


  • I have researched beyond the coursework and used this research to build my own practice.
  • I have thought critically about the learning points my research has raised.
  • I have moved my learning and research beyond photography to the wider context of classical painting.


Nicola South        Student number: 514516

Assignment five

Making it up

Construct a stand-alone image of your choice. Alternatively, you may choose to make a series, elaborating on the same theme.

As the culminating assignment for the course you may wish to draw upon skills learned from Parts One to Four – using 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 visualise your ideas.

The aim of this assignment is to use props, costume, models, location, lighting, etc. to contribute to the overall meaning of the image. (Use flash/lights if required but available light is fine as long as it is considered.)

If the narrative is to be set in a different era then the elements of the image must reflect this. Also consider the symbolic meanings of objects and try not to be too literal in your approach. For example, don’t automatically use red roses in a love scene but try to be subtle in your ideas to obtain a more true-to-life scenario.

For this final assignment, you should also include an illustrated evaluation of the process you went through to produce your final image(s). Include snapshots of setting up the work and write about how you felt your direction went, how you found the location, props, etc. How did this process affect the final outcome? Write around 1,000 words in total (including your 300-word introduction).


IMG_7806 LR crop 1500.jpg

Image 14: Exposure 0.3 sec, Aperture f/9, ISO 200, Focal length 18mm.


I have continued a theme that appeared in other Context and Narrative assignments, domestic tension; my reflections on this theme engaged me fully with those assignments. The tableaux that I’m using to express this came to me immediately, as mealtimes are often stressful in our house. Following a spoiled meal I often resolve never again to cook a special meal, thus the title “The Last Supper” came to mind. I researched Da Vinci’s version of painting, along with other’s and thought it would be interesting to borrow some of its visual symbolism, motifs and choreography to add interest and emphasis to my modern tableaux- vivant.

My overall inspiration was Jeff Wall’s realistic set constructions, and subtly dramatic rather than cinematic lighting, to encourage acceptance of “tableau photography as an imaginative blending of fact and fiction, of a subject and its allegorical and psychological significance” (Cotton, 2015 p52). Lottie Davies shares his compositional devices, leading viewers round the story, I resolved to use this; I was also stimulated by her narratives of memories. Tom Hunter’s classically inspired modern scenes encouraged me to continue with my own fabrication of the last supper. The work of Frances Kearney and Hannah Starkey offered me the notion of obscuring faces to increase ambiguity, and Crewdson’s aesthetically pleasing but disquieting work gave me much to strive for.

For this constructed reality I wanted to achieve the look of a fabricated theatre stage, but with a rich seductive aesthetic, despite some disturbing detail. It is a narrative of memories, reshaped and refabricated to the minutest detail, as “What counts for us in the memory…is ultimately not its reference to the ‘objective facts’ of a particular moment but its capacity to act as a founding myth”. (, 2017). The props are the clues to the implied disturbance – the punctum. I want the reader to notice the deliberate way the photograph is set up, and realise their significance.  I hope that it the pictorial narrative in the image provides an ambiguous drama that will also carry some viewers narrative as well as my critique on part of an everyday life.

Link to research in learning log: 


Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson. (2017). Lottie Davies [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].


The process:

Subject: A supper, with the context of a tense mealtime. Some motifs, parallels and symbolism borrowed from Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”.

The-Last-Supper use 1.jpg

(, 2017)

the last supper  use 2.jpg

(, 2017)

Location: The dining room striped out and reshaped. I removed extraneous/distracting objects not essential to the meaning of the image. I experimented with different angles to shoot the table; I had originally intended to shoot it front on with the wall running behind and have an empty chair on the camera side of the table (as in Da Vinci’s Last supper), but it was ultimately more aesthetically pleasing  taken from a corner angle with teak door panels as a backdrop. I began with a chair on its side but thought it was too obviously disruptive. I spent ages on setting a pleasing angle for the shoot, eventually shortening the table to compact the three place settings and fill the frame more effectively from the diagonal.

Props: Table and chairs. Settings for a meal: slate mats, napkins, glasses, wine bottle, dipping oil, bread board and knife. The placements of these objects was critical for each place setting. I tried footwear placed by the washbowl, but removed it as it cluttered the scene and wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. I tried different places for the dropped napkin, the wine bottle and bread, both to layer and lead the viewer’s eye around the image and to balance it.

Symbols: Red wine, bread, spilled salt, washed feet, shawl, trilogy, and shocked reactions.

Actors: Before shooting knowing that I would only have my actor for short bursts, I set up and decided on everything that I could. In preparation I took practise shots of what I thought he should do. When I involved him I asked him to interpret my ideas as his own but he naturally adopted the pose I had suggested with the addition of holding the wine glass. I had more problems performing myself and had to release him whilst I took practise shots of what was effective for me in my role before continuing with the shoot. I had decided to obscure our faces to add ambiguity but ultimately that was only partial.

Lighting: I went for subtle rather than dramatic in keeping with my intention to show a constructed reality. I had some ambient light from one wall which is all windows, though thankfully it was a dull day.  I invested in another Speedlight, a 60 cm softbox and an umbrella and stand. I used the soft box as my key light to light my male actor, and switched between using the other Speedlight on my camera with a diffuser and bouncing it off of the ceiling and reflecting into the umbrella on the stand as a fill light; Pre-shooting I spent a long time experimenting with these, the power and the placement.

Lighting diagram:

lighting 1500.jpg

The shoot: My camera was on a tripod and with a remote timer to trigger the shutter on a timer, giving us time to compose ourselves between shots. I reviewed images between shoots several times and then reshot to improve lighting, or resolve other silly mistakes like leaving my notes on the table. I was limited in the amount of shots I could take with my actor which I found frustrating as my search for perfection increased each time I reviewed the images, whilst his tolerance and cooperation decreased.

Post processing: When reviewing the mages I was conscious not just of the slightly changing positions of the actors, but also any reflections, shadows, and the quality and quantity of light. I didn’t do much post production work on the image I chose, preferring to keep the lighting slightly low and not to mess with the slightly green hue given off the glass table and the walls.


It was a new experience directing a scene, and a large proportion of my time was given to the preparation. I was glad that I reviewed images whilst shooting and then adjusting as I continued.

The final outcome was affected most particularly by the one variable that I could not completely control, my actor, and thus I had to settle for less than what I considered was perfect. I did spend a few hours in short burst shooting and had many images to choose from. I guess were I a professional photographer paying an actor I would have had more control over this variable.

These contact images illustrate the process of setting up the shoot and some of the changes that I made before I began:IMG_7726.jpg

References: (2017). The Last Supper. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017]. (2017) The last supper [online] Available at: [Accessed9 Aug]

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.





Tableaux photography

Ideas drawn from: Chapter 2 Once upon a time in The photograph as contemporary art (Cotton, 2015).

Tableaux or tableaux-vivant photography:

  • Pictorial narrative is concentrated into a single image.
  • Roots in pre photographic art and figurative painting of the 18th 19th century and it relies on the cultural ability to recognise a combination of characters and props as a pregnant moment in a story. It demonstrates a share understanding of how chorography can make a story recognisable. (Cotton, 2015 p49).
  • Photos of “something that we know is significant because of the way it’s set up in the photograph, but whose meaning is reliant on our investing the image with our own trains of narrative and psychological thought” (Cotton, 2015, p49).
  • Compositional devices used which are “similar to renaissance painting, the angles and objects …directing us through the picture and leading our understanding of the action and narrative (Cotton, 2015, p50).
  • Rich aesthetic, seductive to the eye but that can be misleading and ultimately disturbing.
  • The set of the image also has the look of a theatre set viewed from on stage.
  • Use of actors and crew redefines the photographer as a conductor or film director.
  • Dramatic use of light.
  • Cinematic lighting used not to recreate a film effect but to give the photograph maximum meaning “help us accept tableau photography as an imaginative blending of fact and fiction, of a subject and its allegorical and psychological significance” (Cotton, 2015 p52).
  • Visual motifs in a contemporary photograph confirms that modern life “carries a degree of symbolism and cultural preoccupation parallel with other times in history, and art’s position of being a chronicler of contemporary fables is asserted” (Cotton, 2015 p55 ).
  • Possible use of faces turns away to add anxiety or uncertainty about the meaning of the image.
  • Can be without human presence “finding drama and allegory in physical and architectural space” (Cotton, 2015 p70).
  • Tableau photography can carry ambiguous drama that is part of the viewer’s narrative.

 Reference: Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Ideas from other research:

  • It’s okay to have an obviously staged/fabricated look (Hardy)
  • Use classic painting devices such as symmetry and reflection (Jones)
  • Imply a “disturbance” in the image, happened or about (Crewdson)
  • Manufacture modern fables (Crewdson, Hunter)
  • Decide how explicit or ambiguous to be: Faces turned away to heighten ambiguous meaning (Kearney and Starkey), have empty rooms (Hardy)
  • Meticulous composition and detail in the props (All)
  • Use layering with props and furniture to create multiple layers of meaning and takes the viewers eye around the image through the narrative (Starkey and Hardy), Compositional tricks to lead the viewers eye.
  • Props: Personal props, material signs of my life (Davies), Personal symbolism like Davies red dresses and hair.
  • Actively involve the actors so that they inhabit their roles
  • Colour saturation
  • Use of windows and natural light
  • Crystal clarity in focus throughout the shot
  • Recreating memories collect good factual evidence, can treat recollections as tales and myths
  • Can be constructed or composed from different shots collaged




Research for tableau photography

Sarah Jones (b 1959)

I began exploring her photography to learn more about motifs in Tableau photography. This image The guest room bed (2003) is part of series where girls posed in impersonal rooms.


(Jones, 2017)


(, 2017)

Cotton (2015) suggests that “the bed becomes a motif, its symbolism drawn from art history”, she suggests Manet’s Olympia and that her pose is drawn from paintings of reclining female figures in paintings and sculptures. David Campany comments that in her images the “baroque opulence and austere purity collude, while the emotional tenor switches without warning from melodrama to quiet revelation.” (Jones, 2017). Certainly the girl uncomfortably caught in the flash highlights the stages relationship between the photographer, subject and the location.

Her well-known later studies of adolescent girls uncomfortably caught in the flash of the camera in domestic settings draw attention to the staged relationship between model, photographer and location.

sarah jones.jpg

 The dining room (Tate, 2017).

This image interests me as I am considering staging my tableaux around a table. This is a balanced composition, the girls posing formally in a formal room, she has used devices often used in painting such as reflection and symmetry. This is part of a project (begun in1996) made with the help of her friends the teenage girls exploring their parental homes “The dining room, The sitting room, The garden” and their individual characters, within which they appear awkward, uncomfortable or possibly mentally absent. These works are titled by their location referring to the place, rather than the human subjects of the image which suggests a theatrical tableau rather than a portrait. “The images lie in between a reality which is described and one which is performed, confronting the viewer with questions about photographic representation” (Tate, 2017) . The gallery label suggest that the compositions highlight the restless teenage tensions and lack of interaction with their environment.

Frances Kearney (b 1970)

I came to her work with an interest in a device in tableau photography to turn the face away in order to give anxiety or uncertainly to the meaning of the image (cotton 2015). Her series Five people all thinking the same thing (1998) is concerned with the passing of time in a domestic setting, the subjects are often absorbed in what Kearney has described as “lost time” (, 2017). The ambiguity in the images leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions about the characters, their lives and possible meanings of the props and locations.

Five+People+Thinking+the+Same+Thing+I.+1998.jpg  Five+People+Thinking+the+Same+Thing+V.+1998.jpg

(Frances Kearney, 2017)

Hannah Starkey (b 1971)

Hannah Starkey also uses the device of faces turned away to add ambiguity to the characters. Her work reconstructs everyday life in careful settings, captured with a sense of detachment, “with the concentrated stylisation of film” (Gallery, 2017 (1)). It’s suggested that by adopting filmography, her Starkey’s images are intensified with voyeuristic intrusion, offering these private moments to the public.  Her lone female figures increase this sense of personal and emotional disconnection, either with them disconnected from a group or with metaphoric physical divides such as tables or mirrors.



(, 2017).

Cotton suggests usefully that where both Kearney and Starkey’s images have faces turned away, the viewers are not given enough information to make the characters the subjects of the images, and that they must instead make meaning from interior spaces and objects; in fact the only clues that we are given to their identities are the interiors and props (Cotton, 2015).

In an interview Starkey is asked about the staged and cinematic and their centrality to her work.    She replied that she doesn’t think of herself as a staged photographer, but composes instinctively, storing up observations and visual influences and then communicating it in a burst of photography. She says “I prefer the term ‘constructed photograph’ because it describes the reconstruction of the real as an act of redefining the real to reveal a psychological truth. Constructing the elements of the narrative into the frame of a photograph is second nature within photography” (Elephant, 2017).

She is also asked about the “obstructions” in her work, and says that she likes layering as it makes the eye work harder because the obstructions block the viewers gaze and slow down the deciphering of the picture “I think of myself as a storyteller and good stories have multiple layers of meaning. By incorporating windows, mirrors and reflective surfaces into my work I can take the eye on a visual journey to the heart of the narrative in the photograph and then back out” (Elephant, 2017).



(, 2017)

Anne Hardy (b 1970)

I’m interested in tableau photography without humans in it. Anne Hardy’s photographs picture of abandoned rooms could suggest surreal fictions. She builds the minutely detailed sets in her studio, just as you would for a theatre performance. Her “photographs compound a sense of disjointedness and isolation. Their hermetic aura and invitation to scrutiny affirms their uncanniness or ‘unrealness’” (Gallery, 2017 (2). She also uses layers which heightens the embellished constructions and the fabricated nature of the reality.


 (Gallery, 2017 (2)

Hardy says “It’s like pulling up the lino in your kitchen and finding another five layers beneath,” she says. “We like to cover everything in a veneer” (Lack, 2017).


 (Aperture Foundation NY, 2017).

She takes care to ensure that nothing is envisaged beyond what the camera shows, avoids overloading the set with allegory or signs but retains the essence of a fabricated scene (Cotton, 2015). Hardy relates that she wants “the psychological charge of the work to come from this combination of myself, the viewer, and the imagined potential of these spaces and objects” (Aperture Foundation NY, 2017).

Learning points:

  • It’s okay to have an obviously staged/fabricated look
  • Can use classic painting devices such as symmetry and reflection
  • Can use faces turned away to heighten ambiguous meaning
  • Can use layering with props and furniture to create multiple layers of meaning and takes the viewers eye around the image through the narrative
  • Can have a constructed image which is unpopulated.


Aperture Foundation NY. (2017). Interview with Anne Hardy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Five People Thinking the Same Thing III | Kearney, Frances | V&A Search the Collections. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Elepahant. (2017). 5 Questions with Hannah Starkey – ELEPHANT. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Frances Kearney. (2017). Five People Thinking the Same Thing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Gallery, S. (1) (2017). Hannah Starkey – Artist’s Profile – The Saatchi Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Gallery, S. (2) (2017). Anne Hardy – Artist’s Profile – The Saatchi Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Jones, S. (2017). Sarah Jones ARTBOOK | D.A.P. 2013 Catalog Violette Editions Books Exhibition Catalogues 9781900828437. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Lack, J. (2017). Artist of the week 64: Anne Hardy. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Olympia, 1856 by Edouard Manet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Maureen Paley | Hannah Starkey. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017]

Tate. (2017). ‘The Dining Room (Francis Place) I’, Sarah Jones, 1997 | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.


Lottie Davis (b 1971)

Is a multi-award-winning and BAFTA-nominated fine art, portrait, travel, editorial and commercial photographer based in London, UK. Her fine art photography is mainly concerned with narratives of memories, the tales and myths that we use to structure our lives. She is inspired by cinema, theatre, literature as well as classical and modern painting. “She employs a deliberate reworking of our visual vocabulary, playing on our notions of nostalgia, visual conventions and subconscious ‘looking habits’, with the intention of evoking a sense of recognition, narrative and movement” (The Photography Show 2017, 2017).

I’m exploring some of her work as I have a germ of an idea about using a mealtime as a basis for my assignment and I am aware of her image “Sunday lunch”.


(Andreasson, 2017)

This image was taken as part of her Love stories (2012-14) series, recreating the moments that parents first met as photographic archive. To create her images she interviews both parties together then separately, as their versions are usually slightly different, then combines the information. This image was then faithfully recreated as the fifties, at the cost of £5000, though sometimes she creates the past meeting in a different period. I was interested how she links her series by putting the girls always in a red dress, and also how she asks the actors what they’d like to wear so that they can really “inhabit” the character. Davies describes how she used props that belonged to them as well as something from her own life (Andreasson, 2017). She also describes how she added the cat for some movement and to take the viewers eye around the table and back.

Her project ‘Memories and Nightmares’ focuses on images inspired by narratives of individual experiences, real and fictional; these were constructed by friends written accounts of early childhood memories or nightmares. Davies says that she uses memories as inspiration to celebrate memories and encourage us to tell us more about ourselves (Smithson, 2017).

This image resonates with me as one of my earliest memories is the day my sister was born.


 (Smithson, 2017)

 The story to this image, which was actually her own memory, “The day my brother was born” is:

“I am running down a corridor in a hospital, and to my right I can see a playroom with a dapple-grey rocking horse in the far corner. Usually I’d have gone straight in because the rocking horse was my dream toy, but I carried on running, thinking “I’ll go back and play later” (Smithson, 2017).

In this series rather like her “Love stories” where Davies puts her subjects in red dresses she gives the subjects red hair like herself.

I am interested in how in her work she dissects the meaning of memories, the way they are remembered and described, she says:

“What counts for us in the memory, it seems, is ultimately not its reference to the ‘objective facts’ of a particular moment but its capacity to act as a founding myth, a myth of the creation of the individual person”. (, 2017).

I also like her photographic mantra to treat subjects always with dignity and that “The camera always lies and every photograph is from a single perspective, that of the photographer, and so I try to be honest” (Wright, 2017). Her work is very imaginative and I like many of her starting points. I will return to some of her other work in the future.

Learning points:

  • Actively involve the actors so that they inhabit their roles
  • Detail in the props are critical
  • Add some personal props, material signs of my life.
  • Compositional tricks to lead the viewers eye.
  • Personal symbolism like Davies red dresses and hair.
  • Crystal clarity in focus throughout the shot
  • If recreating a memory collect good factual evidence
  • Possibility for treating recollections as tales and myths


Andreasson, K. (2017). Lottie Davies’s best photograph: a couple re-create moment they met. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Lottie Davies [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Smithson, A. (2017). Lottie Davies. [online] LENSCRATCH. Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

The Photography Show 2017. (2017). Lottie Davies. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Wright, Z. (2017). PhotoVoice » Ten Questions with… Lottie Davies. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.



TOM HUNTER (b 1955)

Is a London based artist who works with film and photography, drawing on real stories and people, often referencing classical paintings. When he prepared his masters show (1997) he was influenced by the 17th century golden age of Dutch painting in particular the way that they painted ordinary people.

His series “Living in Hell, are carefully constructed tableaux re-enacting incidents reported his local paper the Hackney Gazette is a homage to the pre-Raphaelites. “Living in hell” references Gauguin, the Le Nain Brothers, Constable and Ingres (, 2017). This image was inspired by Vermeer’s “Girl reading a letter”, except that this girl he is a squatter reading a possession order (Pulver, 2017):


(, 2017)

His others in the series are similarly inspired by the lighting of Vermeer. He waits for an extreme or graphic headline, lets it settle in his head then come up with an equivalent tableaux and creates the image in a Vermeerian way. It can be a guessing game to find which photo refers to which painting although his accompanying texts clarify this.


    (, 2017)


                           (, 2017)

In this image he is recreating an exaggerated version of “Four Figures at a Table” (c. 1643, The Le Nain Brothers). It accompanies a news article about a 71 year old woman living in an infested house; he has set up a modern take on poverty and added extreme elements such as rotting rubbish and cockroaches stuck on the wall. Globus suggests that “whilst the compositional relationship between many of the new photographs and their respective paintings appears strong, the narrative connection is often neglected, leaving the artworks to communicate on a superficial and aesthetic level” (, 2017).

His work “Rat in Bed, “is based on Gauguin’s 1892 “Spirit of the Dead Watching”. The nudity and the accessories make explicit what Gaugin implied – the girl’s sexuality (, 2017, 1). Hunter’s work is explicit, the rat crawling close to her naked skin, the newspaper headline referring to degrading housing conditions, whereas Gaugin’s picture is more ambiguous.

hunter hell.jpg

(, 2017)


            (, 2017)

Dormant reviewing asserts that “The artist manipulates our response to her situation, spelling out every nuance of the story, and so ensuring that every person who sees this work comes away thinking and feeling the same thing” (, 2017(2)). He suggests that Hunter is in the style more of Victorian photographers than the old masters and considers that the more Hunter distances himself from the masters painting the better his work is.

Cotton suggests that using visual motifs in a contemporary photography confirms that modern life “carries a degree of symbolism and cultural preoccupation parallel with other times in history, and art’s position of being a chronicler of contemporary fables is asserted” (Cotton, 2015).

My learning points:

  • Interesting inspiration or starting points
  • Meticulous composition
  • Colour saturation
  • Use of windows and natural light
  • Use of narrative connections
  • To decide how explicit or ambiguous to be
  • Manufacturing modern fables

References (2017). PHOTOGRAPHY: Tom Hunter’s “Living in Hell and Other Stories”. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2017].

Adams, T. (2017). Photography: Tom Hunter: Living in Hell and Other Stories. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2017].

Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson. (2017). The Le Nain Brothers | Four Figures at a Table | NG3879 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

Pulver, A. (2017). Photographer Tom Hunter’s best shot. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2017]. (1) (2017). Tom Hunter. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jul. 2017]. (2) (2017). A vision that robs you of your feelings. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Living in Hell and Other Stories | Tom Hunter. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Manao Tupapau (Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892 | VEZUR. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jul

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.




Research point 2

Crewdson’s work is deliberately cinematic in style…This visual strategy of elaborate direction, as in film, makes us lose our sense of reality and become absorbed with the alternative reality we’re faced with. Some commentator’s regard this is an effective method of Image-making, but for others it lacks the subtlety and nuance of Wall and DiCorcia’s work. What do you think?

 Jeff Wall (b1946)

Cotton describes him as one of the leading practitioners of the staged photograph, saying that “his photographs are evidence of a detailed comprehension of how pictures work and are constructed that underpins the best tableau photography” (Cotton, 2015).

He was encouraged to be creative from a young age and studied drawing and painting. He later moved into conceptual art.


   (WeAreOCA, 2017)

I have previously discussed on Jeff Wall’s image “Insomnia” (1994). Boothroyd deconstructs the image, describing how whilst the house is denoted by bricks and mortar, the comfort and familiarity of the home is clearly communicated by the use of props. The kitchen’s feeling of starkness and unease are connoted by its colours and lighting, all delivered to us via a series of signs and signifiers chosen and used by the photographer. The construction of the set gives clues what might have led up to this point in the image. She places the image in the wider context of film art and literature noting the artist’s influences and references (Marcel Duchamp, Dine Arbus, Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Dan Graham, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gurski). She also comments on the format of the image (in this case big, 2m x 1.75m) and what this adds to the author’s intentions – I guess that he wanted his works to gain attention. Wall states this image was made in response to the saying, “when a prince doesn’t sleep well, a nation doesn’t either”, as he wondered what happened when people of no importance undergo similar torments.  Cotton points to the compositional devices used which are “similar to renaissance painting, the angles and objects of a kitchen scene directing us through the picture and leading our understanding of the action and narrative” (Cotton, 2015). She also points out that the set of the image also has the look of a theatre set viewed from on stage.

When discussing his work Jeff Wall says “I begin by not photographing” (YouTube, 2017), as people relate to photographs by looking at what they see in a photo, and asking what’s going on. Observation is vital to him. His images evolve overtime as he creates them. He talks of a line of comparison, where his pictures have some relation to “normative photography”.  Sometimes he admits that his images are simply a pleasing composition, “straight photography” where he works without people; then he looks for the relationship of shapes between them – photographic seeing. Some of his images are composites and use painterly techniques taking elements out or in, as an artist you know when it’s finished (YouTube, 2017). The images are initially unplanned and accidental and he is alert to the possibilities that his emotional response brings to an everyday situation. He says that photographs either capture an occurrence, or an absence of an occurrence and he believes that in photography both are equal. Surprise is the disclosure, seeing the potential of something unexpected; I wonder if this equates to the “Punctum”. Wall suggests his work is like snapshots and are documentary to a degree. “He describes his work as “cinematographic” re-creations of everyday moments he has witnessed, but did not photograph at the time” (Hagan, 2017). By not photographing he can reshape to a degree with freedom, this recreation of his memories is central to his work. He says that art is about having he freedom to do what you want.

In his image “The nightclub” he replicated the location as it was impractical to photograph in one evening – a completely constructed reality. He doesn’t think this adds any artist distinction to the photograph but that it was just necessary, and this artifice should be unknown as I’s not important.

night club.jpg

 (The Brooklyn Quarterly, 2017).

“Every subject or group of subjects is fully occupied in her own sphere of the photo; unaware of the camera or each other. Most of the subjects are in mid-movement of some quotidian kind—yet they are all completely still, like mannequins” (The Brooklyn Quarterly, 2017).

He also works referring to the art of the past, as when a piece of art has struck him in a particular way just as a street scene would. Such as “Invisible man” which was the creation of an accident of reading “the Prologue” (Ralph Ellison, 1999-2001). It’s interesting that he talks of various starting points that can occur in his everyday life, from walking, to reading, to music to paintings. He believes that the viewer through their own associations form connections with images and make their own meaning (YouTube, 2017).

jeff wall after 'invisible man' by ralph ellison, the prologue 1999-2000 (1).jpg

   (, 2017)

Wall’s work is grounded more in reality than Crewdson’s, sometimes fictional but to me less disturbing. Unlike Crewdson he constructs realities to recreate them with some alteration, but not to create from scratch.

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia (b1951)

 His series, Hustlers, Streetwork, Heads, a Storybook, Life and Lucky Thirteen have a sense of drama and distinctive use of lighting. In the 1990s his Hustler’s series was images of male prostitutes in LA, paying them to be photographed. It was originally exhibited titled “strangers” labelled with their hometown, their name, their age and the money that they charged. He was depicting real people in contrived situations “the picture occupy an ambiguous territory between fact and fiction…extending the boundaries of documentary photography” (Lubow, 2017.)


(Lubow, 2017)



(SFMOMA, 2017)

His images are similar to film stills, with their preparation and theatrical direction whilst the authenticity of his subjects relate more to the traditions of documentary photography (, 2017). MoMA’s former Chief Curator Peter Galassi describes as “operating in the space between postmodern fiction and documentary fact.” (, 2017). His dramatic use of light is cinematic as is Crewdson’s.


Wall and DiCorcia differ from Crewdson is that their images often appear very normal and are not so obviously staged. They are however usually similarly elaborately prepared and staged just like Crewdson’s; some of Wall’s have taken over a year to photograph and use digital imaging techniques to create composite images (Golden, 2013.)

For Wall, DiCorcia and Crewdson “the labour and skill involved I reconstructing such a scene” is akin to a painter’s (Cotton, 2015 p 51). They all bring together actors, assistants and technicians, as cast and crew to create their tableaus rather like “a film director who imaginatively harnesses collective fantasies and realities” (Cotton, 2015 p 51).

Crewdson and DiCorcia both use dramatic cinematic forms of light, often filming at dusk or in Crewdson’s case the dark.  This is not to mimic cinema stills but just to create meaning and to help tableau photography to be an imaginative blending of fact and fiction.

Wall and Crewdson’s photographs may seem more subtle than Crewdson’s as they are usually grounded in some part of reality that is easier to access by their visual clues and references than Crewdson’s work; They are also more akin to documentary photography. Curiously when Wall replicates a location to change its shape or gain control of practical issues he does it only as it is necessary not as and artistic statement. I definitely can relate better to their work than Crewdson’s.

My link to my exhibition visit to Cathedral of he pines:


Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Golden, R. (2013). Masters of photography. London: Goodman.

Lubow, A. (2017). Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s ‘Hustlers’ Return to New York. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017].

O’Hagan, S. (2017). Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017].

SFMOMA. (2017). Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Eddie Anderson, 21 Years Old, Houston, Texas, $20, 1990. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Jeff Wall: room guide, room 6. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017]

The Brooklyn Quarterly. (2017). Postcard from San Francisco: Pier 24 Photography – The Brooklyn Quarterly. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017]. (2017). Trade: Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Hollywood Hustlers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017].

WeAreOCA. (2017). Beneath the surface. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Jeff Wall Interview: Pictures Like Poems. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.



Gregory Crewdson Cathedral of the Pines – The Photographers Gallery – July 2017

Crewdson produced this work between 2013 and 2014. He describes this as his most personal project where he “explores human relations within more natural environments” (The Photographers, 2017). In his gallery video interview he describes the series as searching for a meaning outside of himself, both separation and interconnection, intimacy and isolation. At the time he conceived this project he had undergone substantial personal changes and returned to a childhood location, rediscovering the trail The Cathedral of the Pines, through vast atmospheric pine forests; “it was deep in the forests of Becket, Massachusetts that I finally felt darkness lift, experienced a reconnection with my artistic process, and moved into a period of renewal and intense creative productivity” (Crewdson gallery talk, The photographers Gallery). He used family and friends for the first time which gives his work an intimacy that his other work doesn’t have.

Each image is an elaborately constructed melodrama, influenced by his memories of childhood when he listened to his psychoanalyst father’s therapy sessions. Every shot “is crafted down to the tiniest detail and contains a multitude of layers –narrative, photographic and psychological” (Plowright, 2017).  Crewdson “discovered an ability to read and understand a still image, to analyse the way an artist had framed, lit and composed a subject, as a child” he says that “It came very naturally to me…I grasped how a photograph is connected to our actuality, but also has way of fictionalising our realities as well.” (British Journal of Photography, 2017).

He staged 3 productions with crews over the 2 years; with an image in mind he formed scripts so that the actors knew exactly where to stand; Crewdson describes the carefully selected actors as empty vessels. He is particularly attached to certain props which appear repeatedly in many of the images such as dirty blankets, drinking glasses and books. Lighting is important in all photography but is the very essence of Crewdson’s images; He worked with quieter less substantial lighting than usual, making the most of ambient light usually if set inside with daylight entering from outside through doors and windows; he uses window frames frequently in these images, supposedly to reference the act of looking through the window at another world.  The images are strongly cinematic whether shot in or outside.

Crewdson believes that the project is about the viewer bringing their own associations, history and meaning to a picture and projecting their own meaning onto it. He considers himself a story teller but his photographs unlike other narrative forms have no beginning and end, are condensed and remain mysterious. He is:

fundamentally interested in the uncanny, which is almost by definition like trying to find an unexpected mystery in everyday life…It’s important to me that the setting for my pictures feels familiar. The settings, the props, the costumes, the subjects, they are supposed to feel ordinary, but then I use light and color and mood and atmosphere to charge it in some way.” (, 2017).

The images concentrates on one, to three figures, involved in an enigma or caught in a blank or reflective state, hinting at invisible challenges, though what these challenges are, and what fate awaits these blank figures, are left to our imagination.

The Disturbance (2014) was the easiest image for me to interpret:


(Moroz, 2017)

Where a clothed woman stares out the window at the snow and frozen lake with houses in the background. Looking closely you can see rescue workers on the lake, one with sledge. But questions still remain…What are they staring down at? What is her connection to the events?

In Woman at the window (2014):


 (Gallery, 2017)

This image again used the frozen lake but is shot from exterior, a naked woman staring numbly out at the frozen lake, by the corner of two windows. His familiar props, a glass, books and blankets are in the background. Her blank stare and nudity add the uncanny element to this photograph. Throughout the series, the subjects are in a recurrent state of undress. “I was interested in representing skin and a certain kind of vulnerability,” Crewdson explains. (Moroz, 2017).

In The Haircut (2014) Crewdson places the characters in the heart of the forest as with many of the images:


(, 2017)

The broken shed/toilet behind them appears in several of his shots. The two teenagers, one seated after a haircut stare passively, as is usual in these images. Why is there a bicycle on the floor? Does it connect him to his childhood? The dirty blankets are there again, but why is the tyre on the floor? As a viewer I know that everything is there for a reason. In the middle of this forest their actions are suburban which provides the uncanny element and an open ended narrative.

As in Woman in parked car (2014):


(Trendland, 2017)

He often shoots in the twilight of dusk, although the mist may be added for effect. A woman apparently in only her underwear sits in the cab of a car, whilst a man stands inside at the sink also staring into space. The driver’s door is open, why? The cabin door is open as many of the doors in his images are.

Crewdson achieves the look of the surreal by placing characters in uncomfortable situations, though often you have to look harder for the uncanny elements. In The Barn (2013):


(My Favorite Arts, 2017)

A girl with a non-expression staring at dead flowers on a bench, sits in a dilapidated barn with the door open. Look closely and where the floor boards are up, suggesting a hiding place, and dead birds lay on a shoe box lid, next to the void. As a viewer I am beset with questions that I have no answers to.

The work is extremely clever and causes you to reflect, though it is not art that I would want to enjoy on my walls; it is too disquieting even though some images are aesthetically pleasing to me.

My learning points:

  • I do not need to empathise with characters to appreciate a tableaux
  • The impact of disquieting, uncanny moments.
  • The usefulness of leaving plenty of ambiguity in an image.
  • The potential in fantasy imaginary worlds for photography.
  • The importance of real “looking” at a photograph.
  • Use clarity and depth of field when wanting a viewer to be able to read the detail in an image.
  • Disquieting scenes can also be aesthetically pleasing.



British Journal of Photography (2017). Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].

Gallery, V. (2017). Woman at Window: Lucy Soutter on Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines. [online] BLOG – The Photographers’ Gallery. Available at: [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Moroz, S. (2017). Photographer Gregory Crewdson and his eerie rooms of gloom. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

My Favorite Arts. (2017). The Barn by Gregory Crewdson. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Plowright, N. (2017). Loose associations vo.3. issue ii summer 2017. London: Loose associations.

The Photographers (2017). Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines | The Photographers’ Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Aug. 2017]. (2017). Discover Gregory Crewdson’s New Surreal Photographs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].

Trendland. (2017). Cathedral of the Pines. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.