Category Archives: Reflections on the Real

‘The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter.’ Bertolt Brecht, 1931

‘Reality doesn’t exist before our experience. Photography is one of the tools that help us construct reality. It is not an innocent medium.’ Joan Fontcuberta, 2014

What is it to photograph the Real? What has come to be considered ‘natural’ and ‘correct’ in a documentary image, showing the ‘truth’? What is the Real within photography? In the words of photographer, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, it is simply an ambition to record ‘that which was never really hidden, but rarely is noticed.’ Photographic realism avoids nostalgia, romanticism, or sentimentality in favour of clear-eyed and critical (social) observation.

Reflections on the Real: Evaluation

I was excited to start this module after visiting several galleries and exhibitions over the summer that really got me thinking about the many ways of representing the real, and all the ideological preconceived perceptions there are of “the real”. In particular the very first exhibition I visited, Consumption at the V&A in London, had me musing over just how materialistic we as humans have become. This was specifically apparent in Hong Hao’s My Things. Over the last 12 years, Hao has been scanning in objects that he consumes in his day-to-day life and has collated them to make enormous prints that are awe-inspiring to see first hand. His visual diary of his life was fascinating to see in itself but also had me considering what my own “things” would look like were I to do the piece; and what my sisters “things” would look like and my friends “things” look like- it was all building up, this internationally accessible piece that everyone could relate to and mold to fit their own circumstances. It was this internationally attainable element that began to govern my thoughts and led me into the open arms of Alberto García-Alix.

The Place of no Return surprised me as an exhibition as I was not expecting to engage with it or enjoy it as much as I did. However, I left The Photographers Gallery in London, heavily reflecting upon what I had just seen and experienced. The first point that hit me and related to My Things was the time span the work was produced over. I realised that despite only having 12 weeks for my own project, the essence of years and time was crucial to the success of this piece and that I could not expect viewers to leave feeling as reflective as I was leaving The Place of no Return without this element of time to concrete the credibility of my work. Time seemed to be an important factor in expressing reality for time is something everyone is a part of, there is no escape from the years and therefore no disillusionment about the physicality’s it brings.

The parallel was also clear about the self-involvement with the work, both artists’ own lives were the principal components of the pieces and so instantly the viewer trusted that what they were seeing was “real”. Visual representations of the person whose work they are viewing, over a long period of time couldn’t seem closer to the truth. The notion of trust and honesty that comes from people who have nothing to hide from you meant regardless of whether or not you liked the pieces, the viewer was able to believe the authenticity that came out of the work and regard the images as the truth. It was this notion of time and self-involvement being regarded as the utmost veracity I was initially interested in exploiting.

My first real ideas for this body of work was to con the viewer into believing that what they were seeing was the truth, when in fact it was a fabrication of the truth or a complete manipulation by myself. I wanted to use the term “Documentary Photographer” to give credit to the authenticity of my work and lead people into a false sense of security when viewing my final book. Through the medium of Photoshop or “set up” shots, I wanted to create a book of lies that were not revealed to the viewer until the very end, to exploit their unassuming trust that what they had just viewed was real. After seeing Amirali Ghasemi’s Tehran Remixed: Party Series from the True to Life? exhibition in Birmingham, I was inspired to pursue this idea further. Ghasemi’s work is “an attempt to break through and to experiment with documentary photography and manipulate it in order to tell stories” and that was just the avenue I wanted to go down. I then came across Zilla Van Den Born’s digitally manipulated travel adventure that she shared via social media and this had me considering how real are our lives that we share with the world? We take the truth for granted yet all somehow manipulate what we decide to show the world in return, be it through image filters, colour editing or simply which images we select to upload. I wanted to use these manipulations in my own work.

After researching Trish Morrisey for my presentation I was interested specifically in the album and in particular, intruders of photographs. Dino A. Brugioni’s author of Photo Fakery: The History and Techniques of Photographic Deception and Manipulation puts into words perfectly what I was visually aspiring to do. The familiar saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a common phrase thrown about in today’s society as “we all have a tendency to accept all photographs as being true representations of what they depict” (Brugioni, D. 1999). I wanted to create a photo album so personal and “Close to Home” that there would be no question of its authenticity, one that society would find uncomfortable to view due to subconscious ideologies we are all engraved with; I wanted to digitally manipulate my very own wedding album. After using Photoshop to doctor myself into other people’s wedding shots (anonymous couples from Google images) I realised that this would not be a strong enough body of work and so I came to divorce.

And so the idea for “I Do” (as it was known at the beginning), which was gathering in divorced persons thoughts on their failed marriages and ex partners and placing these next to their loved up conventional wedding photographs, was born. I knew that this would mean I would not be using any of my own images for this module which I felt very strongly was the right thing to do. I wanted the raw emotion of genuine wedding photographs, once prized and now discarded or hidden, as I felt this would produce a far stronger and emotional body of work that people could connect with or relate to. Once I had actually tracked down divorced people and finally got them to agree to take part in this, it was much easier gathering quotes than I thought it would be, many were very happy to share their opinions and I would receive near essays from some! However it was proving more difficult gathering in the photographs as many had actually got rid of the evidence so could not submit an image with their reams of words. It took quite a long time to get a substantial amount of words and images combined, as it would not suffice with only a few. Inspired by My Things and The Place of no Return I wanted to make this a universal piece with as many individuals involved as possible ranging over decades of time. I felt this was the only way to produce the strongest body of work possible.

Once I had the images and text in InDesign, I began the lengthy process of trial and error with how to display the information I had collected. I needed to keep the readers engaged for the entirety of the book, which meant having an interesting and interactive layout that would keep the viewer wanting to turn the pages. I couldn’t get trapped into creating another wedding album showing all the happy couples one after another as this would not keep people captivated, which is what my first draft was. It was too dry and characterless with poorly presented text that did not do the honesty of the words justice. I felt I owed it to the people who submitted words on a difficult and personal subject to present it well and uniquely. I chose to use black and white a lot in the book with only a spattering of colour as I felt this would provide the tone I was after of universality and duration of time. It is not an easy subject to represent and so I wanted to fracture the book (i.e. not have a set layout and common alignment for the words and images) as I felt this would visually represent some of the pain and chaos divorce had caused these people and the general disruption to their lives. Perhaps I should have used a few more fractured images like I had on page 23 but I didn’t want to make the fractious approach too obvious through one main technique. I felt the more approaches I used to distort the images, the more universal it would become; no two divorces are the same.

I was very pleased with my final online version of “I Don’t”, after numerous versions I felt the final one represented the message I was trying to get across, that being in love is unpredictable and whilst marriage is represented to us as an absolute, the reality is that they don’t all work out that way. I hoped that as the reader turned the online pages they were keen to see what the next side would bring them, for there was no obvious pattern to the layout or placing of words, as there is no one pattern of marriage. I felt also that the online version brought something that the printed book could not, and that was our need to share our lives online with the world today via social media. Facebook is how many people learn of others successes and failures in relationships and I felt it relevant then that there was an online edition of this book.

Saying that it was very satisfying to hold the final printed copy in my hands and turn the pages like chapters of peoples lives. I was very pleased with the thickness of the pages, they felt durable and strong and pleased with my choice to have a soft cover rather than a hardback. I felt this physically represented the vulnerability of love and marriage and how fragile it can be and yet inside the pages are sturdy and enduring, just as life must continue and human nature prevails. Whilst my decision to have the final paragraph of text on the back cover page is somewhat unconventional, it was deliberately done to represent that there is no conventional marriage or divorce and that this process took courage for the people involved. I felt the sturdiness of the back page cover was a strong and individual place for the text to be, much as the person who submitted those words.

Overall I am very pleased with my final book and blogging process throughout this module, I have much preferred online research than previously using paper sketchbooks! I believe I have created a completely unique one-off book that no person shall ever be able to replicate. For every page of it is personal, from the images and words used to the layout; for every person’s existence and life is unique which requires reflection on the real.


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Accompanying Proposal Statement

“How real are our perceived reals? What we the consumers deem make up our day to day lives, that seem so crucial to our happiness at those times, become things of the past very quickly as we move on to the next generation of realities. Are our present reals ever real if they all become a reality of the past? As consumers we are forever drip fed what the real’s of our day to day life should consist of, be it a coffee in the morning or falling in love and getting married- our representations of the real that we deem as reality, are simply fixations of someone else’s realities before us. We consume our real life whilst swearing by its own uniqueness.”

This is an extract taken from my first blog post for “Reflections on the Real”, a journey that has opened my eyes to the consumerist world that we live in today, bringing to light the many positives yet also many flaws in how the modern man and woman are conducting their realities, primarily based on our ancestors traditions and conventions lain before us. From the word go of this module, I have considered marriage as a reality most of us presume shall happen, falling in love and tying the knot is something the majority of people will forecast for themselves when regurgitating their life plans. Yet time has not been kind to the protocol of marriage with divorce rates at an all time high. It has not been a convention for divorce to be included in our so-called life plans; we are not primed for the reality of such events and never prepare or expect it, yet we all (most) expect marriage? You may ask how is it then, that in this modern era of independent woman and free men, all of whom pride themselves in their agreeable perceptions of reality and “how it should be”, are we surrounded by such idealistic ideas and notions. As Shakespeare said “The course of true love never did run smooth” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene I. We all know it can’t always be plain sailing for everyone’s reality of love and marriage but we don’t ever presume that it should be our own destiny to lead so drastically on a different course than first imagined.

Within this body of work I have tried to bring to light the harsh reality of marriage, as we know it today. With real words and real photographs of the once in love and happily married, to now tarnished love birds who, if they do not despise each other, are distant reminiscence’s of each other’s pasts, I have put together a montage of truth, wisdom and sometimes advice of those who’s realities did not necessarily meet their expectations. From the pure honesty and emotion that seeps out of the included words like tears from broken hearted eyes, juxtaposed with the physically broken smiles of images from once happy memories, I hope to shed light upon the unavowed reality of marriage and just how fractious it can sometimes be. I do not intend for the piece to be regarded as all doom and gloom for from such hurt there are tales of undivided love since divorce. I am merely collating many peoples stories that illustrate how society has an ideal reality outlined for all of us that we all expect we shall follow, when really that is simply not the case. Each individual reality is its own unique thing and cannot be based upon preconceived ideologies or human convention.

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Final Book

This is my final version of my book “I Don’t” that I shall be sending off to Stroma ( for print.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 15.51.54I had never outputted work with crops and bleeds before so it was useful teaching myself that for future reference! Steve was very friendly and helpful and I’d recommend using Stroma to anyone after a high quality printers for their own work. My images were all at 300 dpi to ensure the highest resolution and quality when printed and they were all originally scanned in above 4MB to aid this, I have converted them all into CMYK to also ensure the best finished/printed product possible.


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Book Alterations


My book has come a long way from my original draft, I’ve changed the layouts of images, added, removed and manipulated images,  made the text more legible (!) drawn inspiration from other photo books and changed the size of the actual book to make it bigger. These are the latest steps I made towards my final version…





Changed images from RGB > CMYK for print









Though lots are minor tweaks and changes I felt it necessary in order to really perfect my layouts and vision for the book, I wanted everything central or completely opposite from central! It needed to stand strong with purpose and not look like a mistake which would have been an easy accidental final product with my manipulation and unconventional arrangement. I needed the book to be fractured like the marriages yet strong and aligned like many of their lives now since their divorce.

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Photobook Inspiration

In his fantastic 2009 TED Talk, Steven Johnson explores how the English coffeehouse of the Enlightenment was crucial to the development and spread of one of the great intellectual flowerings of the last 500 years. This tendency for physical places to transcend their mere utilitarian function and serve as hubs of (sub)cultural development is evident throughout history, from the cave fire pit that sparked the dawn of communal storytelling to today’s coworking spaces that offer fertile ground for collaborative betterment.

In South African Township Barbershops & Salons, photographer Simon Weller explores the peculiar cultural and social hubs of South African townships, salons and barbershop, which too transcend their mere function as places to get your hair cut and serve as pivotal places for the local community to gather, gossip and exchange ideas. Weller contextualizes the rich and vibrant photographs of the shops and portraits of their patrons with fascinating essays that expound on the aesthetics of these hubs and their signage though interviews with the owners, customers and sign designers.

This book and these images have inspired me to be more creative and “graphic-design” like with my layouts, using alternative fonts/type faces/photos etc with the characters in the images interacting with each other and the words.

When Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans, killing 1,836 people, damaging and destroying over 76,000 houses, and leaving many homeless, photographer Jennifer Shaw ( found solace in capturing the turmoil with a plastic Holga camera. Hers is a story both incredible and true — from the dramatic birth of her first child on the very day of Katrina’s first strike, to her struggle with depression and her husband’s rage episodes, to their eventual return to New Orleans in time for their son’s first Mardi Gras. Hurricane Story is part memoir, part fairy tale, part poetic story of exile and homecoming, told through 46 beautiful, dream-like images and simple but powerful prose. The Holga’s rudimentary functionality, with its limited control over exposure, focus and lighting, further intensifies the story’s haunting, cinematic feel, drawing you into a seemingly surreal world that sprang from an extraordinary and brave reality. The use of first person and dream like images has encouraged me to make my images even more entwined and interactive with the first person text I am using- whilst I have not written over images (I tried it without success!) this book has made me think of new ways to link words and photos so that they tie together rather than being two separate elements, their integration with each other is crucial to the successfulness of my book. 

“Like a mournful fairytale, Jennifer Shaw’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book for grown-ups.” —Josh Neufeld, creator of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

Jeroen Toirkens book Nomad is a fascinating and strikingly beautiful visual anthropology of the Northern Hemisphere’s last living nomadic peoples, from Greenland to Turkey. A decade in the making, this multi-continent journey unfolds in 150 black-and-white and full-color photos that reveal what feels like an alternate reality of a life often harsh, sometimes poetic, devoid of many of our modern luxuries and basic givens, from shiny digital gadgets to a permanent roof over one’s head. His use of black and white images mixed with colour has emboldened my decision to have a few colour photographs within the mainly black and white book- it makes them that bit more compelling and entrancing when one suddenly appears. Nomad is a stunning exercise in perspective-shifting, it invites you to see the world — our world, and yet a world that feels eerily other — with new eyes, embracing it with equal parts fascination and profound human empathy. I hope that with my own photography I shall be as visually eloquent at capturing the human condition as Toirkens. The case of his book is also extremely enchanting as the linen fur instantly puts your mind in tune with the nomads and their lifestyle- it is an interactive book physically and mentally, something I hope the truth of my collected quotes will do to viewers of my book.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 17.21.59

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Another book layout…

Looking at the previous versions it is clear that the new images add something else to the book and the inclusion of new quotes certainly drives the work and brings to it deeper impressions of married lives. However, my treatment of the images themselves needs to be more carefully considered and worked on. It isn’t currently working to layout the photos as they are – I feel that I need to ‘intervene’ more with them. That is, have I considered fragmenting the imagery? Cropping elements from them – a hand, a look, the smile, etc and then placing these ‘new’ images on the pages so that we view small elements that become animated by the texts and also mitigate against the potential stereotypical wedding photography. I need to consider this so that the work becomes more authored by myself with more critical awareness of the uses of photography. It is still a work in progress and it needs more interruption from myself to elicit a more authored piece of work by refining the view into these lives by imparting a more critical awareness of the potential for the text and images to work together.


Firstly I noticed that all of my alignments were off and that everything was further to the right than it should be so I have changed that now and everything is neat and central. Pgs 4-5 with the mass of quotes was too daunting at that size and all the same font so I have reduced the text to 10.5 leading 12.5 and changed the fonts for different paragraphs (Georgia, Devanagari Sangam MN, Palatino and Corbel) so that it is easier to read and looks less “busy” and intimating on the page! I then moved the picture on pg12-13 immediately after these quotes to open up the work followed by the quote on p14-15. Pg 22-23 text was not really working so I broke up the bullet points and included them as quotes with the rest of the work at the start of the book. As the text was smaller, p35 didn’t work how it was so I made the photo cross the gutter and become a double page spread next to the text which worked a lot better.


I didn’t like p34-35 with the double page spread being so enlarged and wanted to get the full doorway in so opened the image up in Photoshop and created a larger frame with extra black spaces continuing from the shadow of the door so that I could get the correct perspective when using the image in indesign. The text was still too large so I put it at 9.5/11.5 leading, this has meant that it does not align right to the edges of the grid so for now I have repeated some quotes on p5-6 whilst I am waiting for the last few to come in.


p34-35 didn’t have the same boarder as the other pages with images on so I had to re-do the grid preferences on those pages to create the white boarder around text and image so that it flowed as the rest of the book does.

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New book layout

Feedback from first draft:The draft book does well to really communicate in quotes peoples’ personal difficult/negative experiences of marriage. These quotes are the strongest element of the draft series due to their impact and insights into other lives. Although you have considered how to sequence and place images and text, as it is, the book does not work in its present incarnation. There needs to be a renewed sense of purpose and a decision on how to use the images with text and vice versa. It maybe, that you will consider a book of two halves/sides that reflects the nature of a relationship between two people. One half displaying quotes and the other half with images. This might provide a stronger and more critical context for your exploration and engagement with this subject. Following, the design and layout, particularly the text (see front cover) needs much more enhancement and attention. Try to use a larger book size for the final series and reconsider the type fonts and design ideas. The cover page only needs to display ‘I do’ to signify this subject perhaps? This may communicate more succinctly and allows space (literal and other) for the viewer. Although this is a draft version, the production values can be improved and with more attention to detail. Overall fascinating insights to be further developed and enhanced as above. Consider more interplay between the images too.

I have taken on board the initial constructive criticism of my first draft and have adjusted my book accordingly. I have changed the name of the book and added a front cover photo, split my text between the front and end of book with only a few quotes in the middle, I’ve used a smaller text (size 12) and kept all the words at that size unlike before, I have used font type “Palatino” and used the grid system much more effectively on indesign so that my text is clearer and tighter, looking more professional and is easier to read, I used an online tutorial to help me with this. 

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 14.07.57

I have also had more quotes and photos come in which I’ve now included and they add an extra level of depth that I didn’t have before. This layout is far more sophisticated and more engaging than the last, however I have already noticed elements that I want to change again for my next draft to further enhance the impact of the words juxtaposed with the images.

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