Week Eleven & Twelve Reflections

mickyatesCambodia, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Ideas, Photography, Project Development, Reflections, SSWeek11, SSWeek12, SurfacesStrategies, Traces Leave a Comment

Bill Jay, in Occam’s Razor, 1992, wrote:

… all good photographers have a deep commitment to, and involvement with, their subjects, and through photography they are communicating their understanding and passion to others.’ (pg 18)

… a body of work by a photographer begins to reflect back to the viewer the author’s relationship not only to the subject but also to a unique life-attitude.’ (pg 19)

Formal education (in photography) has a lot to answer for. We have legitimized, sanitized, academized the medium until we are left with issues not substance, critical stances not action .. ‘ (pg 20)

If anyone had suggested that I might be submitting some semi-abstracted landscape fragments as the S&S WIP before we started this module, I might just have chuckled. But that is exactly what I have done.

And the idea that I might create some ‘artificial’ negatives to use in a public exhibition ..?

Equally, and rather priding myself on the ability to write a good presentation, had I known that two very trusted peers would trash my first draft, well, enough said. I’ll come back to that.

So, Surfaces and Strategies has been quite a ride. And a very good ride, too. I am not going to repeat the rationale for my choices of work to present, as these have already been blogged about – negative traces, here and landscape traces, here.

Perhaps one point I should emphasise is that I have often experimented with such imagery before – but not in the context of formal documentary work – more in an experimental, ‘art oriented’ way. So whilst this might be a surprise to tutors and other members of my cohort – and, indeed, to me in the context of the Cambodian project – I can see a logical, sequential development in my own practice. In many senses, it goes back to my painterly days.

Dusting Series, untitled. 2016.

I have also more clearly determined some of the parameters of the narrative I am pursuing in Cambodia. Time is an interesting component.

And I have become more analytical in what I mean by ‘intimacy‘.

It’s also worth noting that I have changed the way that my work is presented online, in subtle but I believe important ways – to be cleaner, easier to view and to be more consistent. That has impacted my CRJ, my personal photography website and photo blog, and Instagram. And thank you, Gem, for being instrumental in this and teaching me Instagram stories!

Some of the ideas on performance and collaboration are not really my ‘thing’, though I can very well see why those themes were explored to push our personal boundaries. Still, this module has been less theoretical than P&P, and more hands on, which has been very enjoyable – book dummies, workshops, exhibitions – topped off by creating the Landings contribution.

It all started with the ‘small books’ project, leading me to create and publish ‘26 Vinyl Records‘.

Whilst it is probable that I have not done as much writing about the books I have been reading for research purposes, new books have still been coming in. There is perhaps more on the Cambodian social and historical context than before. Certainly the bibliography is growing!

Yet S&S also has a strong philosophical underpinning, which I have found thought-provoking, starting with the thoughts of Vilém Flusser. Perhaps ironically, I just completed a successful workshop with a ‘post-industrial opium den’, Frome Wessex Camera Club. I am just collating their work, as I promised a prize to the ‘best’.

Stepping back, and as a teacher myself, I appreciate the logic of starting with Critical Theory (in P&P) and then moving to pushing practical boundaries (in S&S).  The Guest lecturers have made a positive contribution to this – although I have missed a few this module, and need to catch up over the next weeks.

Unlike last module, where I missed doing so, I have filled in the student satisfaction survey accordingly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gary and Cemre‘s personal contribution to my work this module. I think I managed to attend more than 2/3rds of Gary’s ‘office hours’, even when in Cambodia. And it has been a pleasure to get to know Cemre a little bit. Her advice and critique has been always constructive.. Gary admitted that he tried to match students with tutors, and it was a very good call. I hope Cemre agrees …

I should also say that I had a few odd online interactions with other tutors. I did not attend webinars with others, consciously choosing to visit with tutors that I knew understood what I was trying too do, without explaining myself over and over. But maybe I will try that more eclectic approach next module.

And I’d also be missing something if I didn’t mention my peers. The Cromarty Cohort has been (and will be) a huge source of strength and inspiration in this program. I feel blessed to be mixed with such a group.

In that regard, I noted above that I had some strong feedback on my draft OP, from Danny and Ashley in particular. Paraphrasing, I was told I had been lazy and not thinking (or talking) critically enough about my practice. In other words, I wasn’t doing justice to my work.

I went through an interesting cycle of response. First, it was ‘WTF. I’m proud of my work. What do they know?’.

Then it was ‘Their work isn’t that great either. I’ll show them’.

And finally (fortunately very quickly) it was ‘Damn it. They are right. I need to accept and build on their advice’.

A very human response cycle, I think. Their comments, well intended and insightful, made a huge difference. I essentially totally redid the Oral Presentation, in a mammoth all-day (and night) session.

I can only say ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’, to everyone that made this module both hard work and enjoyable.


Adams, Douglas. 1984. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. London: Pan Books.

Jay, Bill. 1992. Occam’s Razor. Tucson: Nazraeli Press.


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