Informing Contexts – Grades – Where To, Now?

mickyatesCambodia, ContextualResearch, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, ICWeek12, Ideas, Informing Contexts, Photography, Plans & Notes, Practice, Reflections 1 Comment

I have just received the grades for Informing Contexts – 69% overall, pretty much in line with Sustainable Prospects,  Surfaces & Strategies and Positions and Practice. A good grade, though I admit to feeling a bit ‘flat’, as if one looks at grades over 18 months I seem to be at stuck on some kind of plateau.

It was a consistent set of grades – 67% for the Critical Review, 71% for this CRJ and 69% for Work in Progress, though the lowest of the MA overall. I know one should not read too much into the absolutes, but the trend is food for thought.

Feedback was delivered differently this time, by learning objective rather than activities. First, the key deliverables against Learning Objectives:

Critical Review:

The weakest result was on ‘Professional Location of Practice‘, the strongest on ‘Critical Context / Writing Skills‘.

Critical Research Journal:

The weakest result was on ‘Professional Location of Practice/ Critical Context‘, the strongest on ‘Critical Analysis / Writing Skills‘.

Work In Progress:

The weakest result was on ‘Communication & Decision Making‘, the strongest on ‘Technical & Visual Skills‘.

There is a clear message on ‘Professional Location of Practice‘, and I’ll come back to that in the summary. Written feedback was as follows:


You have shown a real commitment to this module reflected in your engagement in all weekly tasks, forums and attendance at webinars where you have contributed significantly to your peer group as well as taking on critical feedback about your own practice and developing your portfolio.  An excellent work ethic.

LO 1 Technical & Visual Skills

Your choice of using infrared is well placed in relation to your concept and the notion you discuss in your Critical Review of the negative being a symbol of the real. Your photographic format is well chosen and the conciseness it affords works effectively.

LO2: Visual Communication and Decision-Making:

Your placement of the imagery in a simple but concise presentation along with the text enables the viewer to interact with the work in an immediate manner. The metaphor created by the unpredictable content in some of the  images and the sometimes unrelated text makes for a strong interpretation of the difficult history you are trying to convey.

LO3: Critical Contextualization of Practice:

You have referenced relevant theory and practitioners in relation to the exploration and development of your concept. It would be beneficial to unpick this research in more depth so we get a real understanding of how the artists are deploying photographic language and content to establish a narrative or metaphor.

LO4: Professional Location of Practice:

You discuss the intent and audiences for your work in your CRJ and demonstrate how you might output your current work. In your Critical Review it is much less so it would be good to demonstrate in more detail how you would achieve this by referencing the dissemination of other practitioners that are relevant to your practice or by creating a virtual book or exhibition display.

LO5: Critical Analysis:

You have used your research journal to investigate the interpretation of your concept in new and insightful ways and you contextualise this well in relation to Barthes and Strauss, for example, as well as cited practitioners.  You are also adept at peer feedback. Explaining in your Critical Review in more depth terms such as the indexical, concerned photography and the styles of photographers such as Meiselas, Sekula and Schwager would be helpful in relation to appraising your work.

LO6: Written and Oral Communication Skills:

You have demonstrated a real enthusiasm in your CRJ and your oral presentation and you support this well with some theory and visuals. Within this you cover a lot of ground so it would be good to focus in more depth into some of the concepts and associated practitioners and theorists you communicate about.


Subsequently I had an honest email exchange with Michelle, and it is worth noting some highlights.

I really appreciate your comments and your advice on my work. I feel that we built an increasing and helpful understanding as the module progressed. In fact, I think that the IC WIP is my best work so far in the MA. Certainly my Cambodian friends and colleagues believe that, and that is important. I did not start this MA just to prove I knew how to do research or write, but to improve my photography.

Since the beginning of the MA, I have often  felt reticence on Falmouth’s part regarding my project, for varying reasons. Occasionally there have been champions of the project and the work, but not always. I have reflected that a more easily focused project might have been more to Falmouth’s liking, and in fact I heard that said several times. I am minded that way when I consider other projects that are being produced by peers.

My project reflects a long term set of relationships and issues at a fairly deep level, and can move in many different ways. So, it’s complex – but then so was Fish Story or Kurdistan. I have always been very conscious of this complexity, and, as a rather thorough user of the CRJ, the twists and turns have been faithfully recorded over time, rather than everything in any one module. That said, I have found myself having to repeat what it is all about. Of course it is normal to hone the clarity of a project, and introductory comments are needed.

Stepping back to the work, I did feel that the latest WIP started to pull things together nicely, and I had hoped that would be appreciated. So the grades just awakened my background thoughts. Rather, I see a trend which is at that I am at best standing still.


Extracts from Michelle’s helpful reply:

As you say the project is multi-faceted so it can go in any direction and each one is valid. In this module the continuous reshaping of the exploration bore fruit.

With this kind of work, people can react in different ways, with some being more positive than others regarding the references it brings with it. However I know that this is what most artists/photographers who are dealing with strong social/political issues face, with some viewers being for and some critical of their practice. So the upbeat side of what has happened in the MA could be seen as a practice run for when this work is disseminated into the public arena.

Even though I was aware of the work, it was helpful for me at the beginning of the module to hear you discuss the project and where you left it last and how it could progress although I understand the frustration that this can cause! I think it is always important to do what you want to do, and the MA is about making a strong case for that underpinning it with extensive research, which you do well.

I certainly feel that your practice has advanced considerably. In relation to the written work I think you have so much knowledge that it just needs some focussing in/down on the main aspects, and perhaps not trying to cover too much. I definitely don’t see you as standing still. It is often at the end of a course that the work can really reach its full potential.


This has been a good module, and the summary seems to me that the Cambodian project is on a decent track photographically, though of course there is much to do and experiment with, especially on impactful public presentation in the FMP. In terms of the research of professional practice – both mine and others – it’s likely that the way I am doing things is not exactly what Falmouth wants.

If I am honest, there has always been a discrepancy between my tendency to forge ahead with things, and the need to explain things to others – not just in the MA, it is a bit of a theme of my professional life. In this case, perhaps as I do not (at the moment) have ‘big plans’ post-MA for a photographic career, there is also a balance between my own needs and that of the MA to consider. Perhaps my motivation for this, my second Masters, which seems different to many of my peers, is at work here?

Related, it is good to note that the research side of the program has taken me into some old and new areas – rekindling my reading in philosophy and ethics for example. Whilst not directly appropriate to the MA, I am grateful for that.

I need, to paraphrase, to be careful that I  ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21).

Food for thought, going forward.


I would like to thank Michelle for both guiding and pushing me along this module. And I must once again mention Ashley, Danny & Gem as being both delightful, professional friends and challenging peers.

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