Category Archives: Introduction

Introduction #2

Introduction to Context and Narrative (‘C&N’), part 2.

The definition of ‘Narrative’, as per the course notes, is:

Narrative: noun (Oxford English Dictionary)
• a spoken or written account of connected events; a story: a gripping narrative
• the practice or art of telling stories
• a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or
conform to an overarching set of aims or values. (Boothroyd, 2017:16)

The course refers to narrative as the visual flow in either a single photograph, what is within the frame, or series of images where the photographer builds upon the elements to support narrative flow.

Jeff Wall’s photography provides a narrative in a single image and as a result everything within the image has been painstakingly considered.

Using narrative (within the frame) together with relevant context (outside the frame) produces more meaningful photography and this course encourages this with the aim to supporting students to find their personal voice.

Also encouraged at this early stage, and at the end of the degree becomes a requirement, is reflective writing.  To make notes of what has been done and the decisions that have been made, then to reflect on these to assess what went well/what didn’t and what worked/what didn’t to aid personal growth as a photographer.

Every decision made should be considered and have a reason behind it, to justify why the decision was made – rightly or wrongly.  The only way to really achieve this reflection is to make appropriate notes at each stage to ensure a record has been kept to refer back to.  As a result I am going to keep a diary of my progress on the course, noting the reading and research I carry out, and anything else which informs my photography to aid my reflective writing process.

And so to Part one – The photograph as a document…


Boothroyd, S (2017) Photography 1 – Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.


Introduction #1

This is my introduction section to Context and Narrative (‘C&N’).

The course starts by defining what ‘context’ is:

Context: noun (Oxford English Dictionary)
the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood. (Boothroyd, 2017)

I also found an interesting article on the WeAreOCA website called “Context… what is it?” (WeAreOCA, 2017) which also gives an explanation as to why context in academic studies is a key component.  It is “…to make connections between [cultural] theory and practice…”; to understand “…how our work relates to the work of others…” and to be “…aware of the work of as many others…” so “…we can reflect on where our work stands in respect of current practice.”, noting that “…work without context is often vacuous and/or self-indulgent.”  A link to the full document is listed under the references section at the end of this Blog.

We are constantly bombarded with visual messaging, both obvious and subliminal, in every part of our daily lives; images on our cereal packets; advertising on the subway; pop-ups on our work screens; adverts in shop windows, on buses, on packaging…. and so on.  It’s amazing to think that our brains can absorb all of this messaging day in and day out.  Although I believe our brains are very good at assessing personal context, then filter and block most of these images out as irrelevant.

All this messaging is to get us to buy something… the life that we want or rather the life that advertisers/brands want you to desire and as a result buy their products to achieve. Whatever is said, it is a form of manipulation.  News is going the same way but that’s a topic for another day.  Let’s face it no-one’s life is going to improve significantly by buying a £200 pair of shoes, which will probably give you a corn for your troubles – happy to be proved otherwise.

So to advertising, page 15 of the course notes introduces Judith Williamson, who wrote a number of critical reviews called Advertising on the topic of decoding advertisements for Source magazine.  The one we are asked to look at is an article which featured in the Autumn 2013 edition which looked at an advertisement for Apple.

The article raises a number of concerns and diametrically opposed positions, for example, Williams writes ‘in 2010 eighteen young workers attempted suicide at Foxcomm facilities [Apple’s supplier in Longhua], fourteen of them successfully.’  There were appalling working conditions at the facilities, hence the suicides.  After the Foxcomm scandals, Apple moved some of its manufacturing to Pegatron who were ‘just as bad’ employing under-aged children and pregnant women.  And yet Apple chose to show a privileged Chinese/Asian girl in their advert.

On the one hand you have the appalling working conditions of the Chinese/Asian workers making the product and on the other, Apple’s advertising which portrays the Company as the bringer of life enhancing products to a child who appears to be of the same demographic culturally as the exploited workers.

I subscribed to Source magazine as I want to comment further on a couple more articles as I found this a very interesting area.  Once that blog has been written I will put a link to my post here.

Next in the course we are introduced to Joachim Schmid (born: 21 May 1955) a berlin-based artist who works with found images.  He collects and categorises images found, and, including his own, has found that photographs can be grouped into similar compositions/subject matter.  The example given in the course notes is wedding photographs; most if not all include a bride and groom photograph on their wedding day. All married couples want this shot and it is one of the ‘stock’ images a photographer is expected to capture on the day.

That said, photographers are starting to get a bit more creative with the composition of this shot and instead of the usual two people standing bolt upright next to each other there are: silhouettes on the beach, couples on staircases, couples sharing a hobby together in their wedding attire etc.  Creative photographers are almost sought out now by some couples who want to capture something a little bit different to everyone else’s wedding photographs.

The course notes then move on to Erik Kessels (born: 11 March 1966) a dutch artist, designer and curator.  Kessels “printed every photograph uploaded on flickr during one 24 hour period.” (WeAreOCA, 2013).  This raises the issue of the over saturation of photographs and indeed photographers.

It would be a dream for anyone with a particular passion to be able to make a living from it. However, making a good living from photography is probably out of reach for most even those producing exciting and creative work.

To excel in any industry you need to 1) have a good network within the field you want to work, 2) be given the opportunity to prove yourself within the relevant market, and 3) be given access to an environment (when learning your trade) which is supportive of experimentation and have the tools to enable you to do this.

As a mature student studying a part-time photography degree through distance learning I realise and accept I am disadvantaged in a lot of ways if I was looking to start a new career in photography.  As above, I would have to 1) build a new network from scratch which is tough given age and lack of useful contacts, apart from tutor and a couple of other students in the same situation, 2) being a distant learner and not affiliated physically to any location or study group I am outside of the market without an ‘in’, and 3) there are no facilities or equipment available to enable experimentation, only those that I can afford to provide for myself which is a limitation.

Ok so there are a lot of barriers for someone such as myself entering in to the world of professional photography in a ‘saturated’ market.  That said the reason I decided to study this degree was to pursue my hobby to the next level of understanding and that is being achieved so it’s not all doom and gloom as the above may suggest.  It’s also important to understand and be realistic about why you are studying and after you graduate what the next step is going to be….


Boothroyd, S (2017) Photography 1 – Context and Narrative, Barnsley: OCA.

Williamson, J (2013) ‘Advertising – Apple’, Source: The Photographic Review, Autumn 2013 (76), pp. 8. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 23/06/2017).

Peter WeAreOCA (19 June 2017) Context…what is it?, Available at: (Accessed: 23/06/2017).

Wikipedia (2017) Joachim Schmid, Available at: (Accessed: 30/06/2017).

Wikipedia (2017) Erik Kessels, Available at: (Accessed: 30/06/2017).

WeAreOCA (2013 ) An Interview with Joachim Schmid, Available at: (Accessed: 27/06/2017).

WeAreOCA (2013) Dealing with the flood…, Available at: (Accessed: 30/06/2017).

Before you Start…

This course interestingly has a re-cap section on the things you should consider before starting a degree course with the OCA.  C&N together with EYV are mandatory modules for Level 1, with EYV being the recommended starting point but the start of C&N also has an ‘introduction to degree learning’ feel about it.

Now you could take the view that once you have completed EYV that you don’t need to cover old ground but I decided that as it had been over a year since I eagerly started EYV I would remind myself of; the requirements of the course, the reference material and support available and to further familiarise myself with the student site and WeAreOCA, and I’m glad I did.

So as suggested I have done the following:

  • read the introduction to each part of the course to give myself a familarisation of the course content,
  • contacted my tutor, Andrea Norrington, when I enrolled to introduce myself and subsequently we agreed a deadline for A1 of 31 July 2017,
  • re-familiarised myself with the course guide ‘An introduction to studying in HE‘,
  • watched the video on how to use the OCA website (although this is a little out of date now), and
  • printed out the essay writing and Harvard referencing guide for ease of reference.

I tried to find the studies link/page to plan my study online but I could not find this anywhere so presume this function is no longer available.  As a result I have noted my study plan in my note book instead and will ensure that I am sticking to my weekly leaning hours goal.  There is a framework suggested as part of ‘An introduction to studying in HE – quality time‘ section.

And so with all that done it’s time to move to the course Introduction…


The Open College of the Arts (2012) An Introduction to Studying in HE, Available at: (Accessed: June 2017).

The Open College of the Arts (2012) Using this website, Available at: (Accessed: June 2017).

The Open College of the Arts (2012) Academic Essay Writing, Available at: (Accessed: June 2017).

The Open College of the Arts (2012) Academic Referencing, Available at: (Accessed: June 2017).

And so to begin C&N with some inner dialogue…

“No longer a newbie to studying a degree,
No longer a newbie to the art of photography.”

by me 2017

This is my first blog post for Photography 1, Context and Narrative… It took a while coming but here it is, on this page, a reality.  And relax….

Actually NO, there is no relaxing not now with approx. 400 hours of degree learning for this course ahead of you… this is more like a year in the life of…..

Why does that sound so daunting?

Don’t worry you have made a learning schedule and are committed to stick to it.

It shouldn’t be so difficult I love photography, right?

Well, when you get further in to your studies there is a lot more writing and not so much photography.  

But ultimately I will be informing my photography with the things I have learnt / am learning?

Yes, that’s right.  So enjoy it, soak up the challenge and the new information coming your way and you will be fine…

OK, let’s do this!