Developing the Theme

Subjects that could be considered un-photographable are feelings/emotions and for example (from an area that interests me personally) theoretical subjects such as mathematics or theoretical physics.

One cannot photograph a feeling directly, nor for example can one photograph quantum tunnelling directly, so one has to find an alternative – a metaphor. Here are some initial thoughts:

Expressing feeling/emotion:

  • For love, use soft focus on portraits
  • For happiness, photograph bright flowers
  • For sadness, use of rain and/or use of blue

Expressing Mathematics or Theoretical Physics

  • Leaf structure for Fibonacci series
  • Falling object for Gravity
  • Car crash or Newton’s Cradle for kinetics

These are rather shallow metaphors, but at least an easy route into the thought process.

It is also possible to act out the emotions, and in the end, this is the method I have chosen.

On further reflection I have developed a list of seven current or nearly current “emotions”:

  • Frustrated that I cannot pursue theoretical physics, stressed and unfulfilled by my job and somewhat content that I can pursue my other love, photography
  • Threatened by potential change in organisational structure resulting from a merger (crystallising in demotion or a sideways step into obscurity, for example)
  • Fear of redundancy combined with reduced employability due to age
  • Proud of my wife and children’s achievements
  • Love for my wife, combined with the usual angst of trying to get along with someone
  • My heart loves my muscle car while my head says I should have a small electric car
  • I just want to retire!

However, emotions are not static, nor are they lifeless; they change form. One could, and I have chosen to, apply the so-called 7 stages of grief to the emotions I am feeling, using the cycle as a framework to express one of the emotions visually. The seven stages are: 

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Testing
  • Acceptance

Over a period of a few weeks I have regurgitated each of my feelings listed above and eventually spiralled in on my most current and strongest emotion relating to a potential threat to my role in the organisation I work for.

Threatened by potential change in organisational structure resulting from a merger (crystallising in demotion or a sideways step into obscurity, for example)

I have taken inspiration from Duane Michals in how I present my images and using anchors to guide and inform the reader, however, I have attempted to provide stand-alone meaning in the accompanying text, thus hoping to transform the anchors into relays. I have also attempted to use verse as my relay, though I will leave the reader to judge how successful this has been.

Duane Michals, This Photograph is my Proof, 1967

I had considered going one step further by associating a colour with each of the 7 dimensions. The colour is somewhat subjective, but not arbitrary; colours do relate to emotional status.

The table below shows my current thoughts (pre-experience) around each dimension, along with the colour I associate with the dimension:

ShockI was aware in advance and part of the preparation for integration, so I suffer no shock so far. But the threat, though incipient, might be imaginary, so if or when it arrives, I’m sure there will still be a shock.Sallow Yellow
DenialFrom this moment on it is hypothetical. If there is a demotion or sideways step, the management above me will be obliged to validate their decision by some means. I expect that I will experience my denial of the valedictory reason and consider that I have been made a scapegoat.Pale Grey
AngerHow dare they make me a scapegoat, after all I have done for them. It is almost treasonous. Venom will drip from my every pore, from every utterance from my lips. I am ready to leave, to run away to better climbs that of course will await me.Red
BargainingDo I bargain with myself, slowly metamorphosing from victim to culprit, or do I bargain with the company, as I need to be loved and I need my salary? I could bargain for the best job available under the circumstances.Beige – a bit muddy
DepressionThis is all my fault. I have done a poor job and my future is bleak. How can I get another senior job with this hanging over me?Blue
TestingIs it all that bad? Has it made me better? Can I grow from this experience? Yes, this is about growth.Light Green, like tender shoots
AcceptanceLet’s just move on to my next challenge, my next ambition. A new beginning.Purple – the Emperor’s colour

I have included an example of one of the images following the theme above:

I decided to post the seven images I had produced on to the OCA Discussion board for review by my peers, and after reviewing their critique (not all of which I agreed with), I made the following changes:

  • I removed the colour aspect, partly to reduce the number of layers that viewers have to interpret and partly because in hindsight I did not feel it added anything to the interpretation.
  • I removed the title from each image to reduce the signposting and to promote the viewer to think and interpret a little more.

One or two of my peers had commented that I should draw on more than one theme to create a bit of variety. However, I have stayed close to the brief by taking one idea and producing what I hope is a tightly edited and visually consistent series.

Technical Approach

I have chosen to act out my emotions, and as I am not using a model, I mounted my camera on a tripod and set the timer to 2 seconds.

I used my camera’s app on my phone to allow me to change the focus spot and to take the picture from where I was posing.

I am not a great actor, so it was often difficult to find a natural pose, while hiding the phone, and one case, hiding the phone proved too difficult.

I chose to use a square crop and lightened the background to maximise focus on me.

Finally, I recoloured the image to the colour I associate with the dimension, though after further review I removed this step.

Body of Work


Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

(Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

I feel that I had technical control over the shoot, having planned it in advance, set up my equipment up and controlled my composition even though I was the subject. However, I felt after the event that I would improve with further practice, and that the result would certainly benefit from further preparation.

I am reasonably content with the design of the images, but again my control over my expressions and body language would only grow from further practice.

Quality of Outcome

(Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment)

The 7 images are consistent with the emotion they represent, at least consistent with how I see the emotions. The viewer may feel otherwise and certainly others that have seen these, have thought them ambiguous. Perhaps, though, that is part of the depth to the theme. Emotions are complex and there is not a clear delineation between the phases; they blur and overlap.

I am a little ambivalent about whether it is better to have them untitled or not, but I accept that a more contemporary approach would be to increase ambiguity. Perhaps on a future iteration it might be worth considering up mixing up the images and text to leave the viewer a puzzle.

Demonstration of Creativity

(Imagination, experimentation, invention, personal voice)

This was a particularly difficult assignment for me; should I produce something based on metaphor, or should I act it out? Should I produce something totally off the wall or straight.

There are so many ways this assignment could be done, and I am not sure mine was one of the most inventive or imaginative.

However, I did push myself out of my comfort zone, and perhaps that is of value.


(Reflection & Research)

My take on this assignment is very much along the lines of Duane Michals in terms of composition and technique, though not theme.

Michals’ work and his way of explaining his experience to himself was what in the end allowed my to proceed with a solution to this assignment.

Tutor Feedback

My notes of the constructive criticism provided by my tutor during my tutorial and my subsequent reflection are as follows:

  1. Add additional references of photographers working on performance (and self-portraits) beyond just Michals, e.g. look at Susan Bright’s Autofocus, Martin Parr, Jim Goldberg, particularly white straight male (similar to me), to demonstrate where I am getting my inspiration for Assignment 2 from, in particular the acting and use of text. I can also emphasis Michal’s influence more. (Remember your inspiration comes from somewhere, and the supposed defaults and assumptions you make are the result of what Bourdieu called habitus.)

Michals remains a strong influence for me, at least terms of the juxtaposition of image and text, and the way the text is laid out. Having purchased and reviewed Susan Bright’s Autofocus I can see a resemblance to the output, but not the motive, of Erwin Wurm’s work (Bright, 2010, p215), seen below:

Erwin Wurm, Be Indifferent about Everything, 2001

Bright also exhibits Martin Parr’s self-portraits, in which he displays a “laconic gaze and firmly shut mouth”. Perhaps the similarity here is the performance.

Martin Parr, Autoportrait, Amsterdam, 1999

I see a much stronger resemblance to Jim Goldberg’s work, for example, the image below:

Jim Goldberg, Susie rm 54, 1977
  1. Try and bring out why I want to be heard in Context. Have a think about audiences and where the work could be presented.

The subject matter is of current and significant importance to me. The outcome, which at the stage is still in the future, and therefore uncertain, will impact my livelihood and perhaps more importantly may impact on my relationship with my wife. The subject matter will be of interest to others, as we all go through this type of life changing career issue.

  • Signpost the development of the assignment more – show the images without text and show the images with colour, perhaps as contact strips – explain more why I took the path that I did. These stages will enable you to look at your process.

The images as shot are shown above. Without the relay text I considered it would be difficult for the viewer to make much sense of the narrative, i.e. the images are too ambiguous. I therefore chose to use text and particularly verse.

  1. Consider handwriting the text to emphasise the personal nature – it is my story. References are Michals, Goldberg etc

I have reflected on the alternative of handwritten text, which could be considered more natural and therefore a more authentic. However, I am from a generation that finds it easier and more natural to type rather than write, so in the end I believe that I have already taken the most authentic and personal approach.

  • Describe the ambiguity of the images and the use of text to guide the viewer.

See point 3.

  • Reference again why I use the caption in the way that I do.

See point 3.

  • Reference why I use B&W and the choice of white balance.

I chose B&W and the white balance because I believed it would connect more directly with the emotions of the viewer. This is a rather traditional view, that colour would distract from the narrative.

  • Reference the exercise in Project 3 where I act out a situation. Note why you made each decision that leads to the final work – think about how different this assignment submission is to Assignment 1.

I attempted to act out a situation in Project 3. I felt emboldened to try the same technique again for the assignment, though this time, adding text.


Bright, S, (2010). Autofocus. London: Thames & Hudson.

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