Some final reflections on Positions and Practice and the reactions of classmates to marks and the future

I have to say that photography, while it has technical aspects which can be evaluated relatively objectively, is in the end an artistic endeavour and as such is subject to people liking or not liking your art, but they really have no right to judge whether it is correct as an artistic work. Yes this course is supposed to push and challenge us to explore beyond the current bounds of our comfort zones and we should venture forth into uncharted territories if only to discover those are not places we would like to work in the future.

Those of you who are more established professionals are in something of a more difficult situation it seems to me, because you have in part made a statement as to who you are and what your practice is about and it represents your current livelihood. If that is working for you I don’t think you should be changing on the basis of the first modules grades or comments. I do think what has been evaluated is worth considering how it relates to your current practice and whether there may be things that could enhance that practice. I think the MA is an opportunity to explore different directions and alternate perspectives as a way of confirming past decisions about your current practice or informing paths to expand, enhance or redirect your practice. For those of us with a cleaner slate and no reliance on current practice for income, it is wee bit easier I think because we only have the future to concern ourselves with for the most part.

I firmly believe what we get out of this course is in our hands. The coursework is only the barest minimum of what is required to earn the degree. Everything else you put in and take away is entirely up to you and should be directed at satisfying what you hope to achieve from the course. Except for certain genres of photography where the briefs are completely restrictive, we otherwise have the latitude to do whatever we please and create something with which we are satisfied. If others happen to like it, it is a bonus and if then they want to buy it, jackpot. But I doubt most of you are doing this to just hit the jackpot and suspect that if you produced something that was commercially a success but in your mind a poor piece of work that did not express you as an artist, you wouldn’t be very satisfied. So I have to believe if this is a credible program the tutors ultimately want each of us to be certain who we are as practitioners and confident about what we do. In these early stages they will poke and prod, challenge our assumptions, make us doubt ourselves as steps on the road to self discovery and establishment of certainty in our own minds of who we are and what we want to do. So explore, test your boundaries, but when you know yourself and are 100% committed, stand up and fight for those convictions as artists.

Repeat Photography vs. Rephotography

Gobbledygook?  Splitting hairs?  Who cares?  There is no consensus on the definition of these terms and in fact in the literature, they are often conflated and somewhat understandably so since the two are closely related in technique and overall purpose, and any distinction between the two one might choose to make could certainly be argued for or against.  It would probably make a good topic for a debating society.

In the book Repeat Photography (Webb 2010), Chapter 1, Webb, Turner and Boyd write “Repeat photography is an excellent technique for evaluating landscape change over time, as amply demonstrated by the holdings of the Desert Laboratory Repeat Photography Collection and those of numerous other researchers. First used in the late 1800s by glaciologists as a simple method to monitor glaciers, repeat photography experienced an upswing swing in use, largely by American scientists and mostly after World War II. In recent years, repeat photography has become well established globally as a technique to address a vast array of research questions, such as fire effects and recovery, land-use effects, changes in archaeological features, the location of historic routes and trails, and assessing perceptionsof change. It is also commonly used to do regionwide assessments of landscape change, typically with respect to general or specific land-use practices and climatic fluctuations. While photographic technology has evolved and become more accessible, the fundamental techniques of repeat photography have remained unchanged since its inception in the late nineteenth century. The increasing number, variety, and locations of repeat photography projects are directly attributable to the creative minds and needs for documenting landscape changes of those who practice this technique.”

Robert H. Webb. Repeat Photography: Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences (Kindle Locations 283-290). Kindle Edition

In Chapter 19, Photography and Rephotography in the Cairngorms, Scotland, UK, Robert Moore states, “Comparison between vintage images and contemporary rephotographs provides powerful evidence of change to landscape and lifestyle. The process of rephotographing a location also offers an opportunity to collect additional information and knowledge edge about the area depicted (Klett, chapter 4).”

“The study is ongoing and seeks to record documented  change using rephotography.  Its purpose is largely educational and interpretive, with the rephotographic technique being used as a tool to reveal change, foster a connection and understanding of the landscape, make links with human involvement in the processes of change, and inform-perhaps guide-future management practices. By definition, rephotographers are drawn to locations and make photographic compositions determined up to around 150 years previously. Usually, the initial images were taken by another photographer, but in some notable long-term studies (Webb et al., chapter 1; McClaran et al., chapter 12) a single photographer or group of photographers may have returned to a location many times, over many years.”

“During the twentieth century, a number of individual photographers made significant landscape studies in the Cairngorms, among them Seton Gordon don (Gordon 1912, 1921, 1925), Robert Adam, Walter Poucher (Poucher 1947), and John Markham (in Fraser Darling 1947, Pearsall 1950). Of these, Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967) is perhaps the most significant exponent; he is remembered for his prolific Scottish landscape work and his documentation of rural life, much of which changed dramatically or even disappeared completely within his lifetime (Rohde, chapter 18). In a 1958 interview, he revealed something of his motivation: “Suppose I catalogued (Scotland’s) wildlife and its topography as a permanent record against industrial and other changes of the future. Suppose I were to preserve for my own botanical interest, the land as I see it in my lifetime” (Bruce-Watt 1958 quoted in Smart 1996). Adam’s collection of negatives-some 15,000-were made from the late 1890s to the 1950s. They form a major documentary resource that has been featured in many book publications and magazines and is now archived in the University of St. Andrews Library.”

“By faithfully replicating a view, it is possible to begin gin to make sense of the landscape change, particularly in terms of human intervention and influence. Rephotography allows the two dimensions of the original image to be interrogated and compared on like terms with a contemporary counterpart.”


Robert H. Webb. Repeat Photography: Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences (Kindle Locations 4886-4893; 4906-4912; 4919-4921). Kindle Edition.

One can see even here among the leading experts in the field of repeat photography and rephotography, there conflation and confusion in the use of the terms.  Is it important to make a distinction?  Again a point which could be argued, but for the purposes of my project, I believe the answer is yes.  

As noted above, rephotography usually begins with a historical photograph taken by someone else.  The technique requires research to locate the original vantage point and composition, and determine the time of year and day in order to replicate as closely as possible the original image.  So a rephotography project begins with a certain number of unknowns which must be resolved in order to capture a contemporaneous image that replicates faithfully enough the original image so that they can be meaningfully compared.

While some repeat photography projects begin with an old photograph taken by someone else, it is more common that an individual or team identify locations with perspectives chosen for their scientific relevance to the subject being studied and those sites are revisited and photographed on some periodic basis.  The subtle distinction being there is not the element of the unknown in repeat photography.  Both are meant to provide a basis for meaningful evaluation of changes to subject area, and the techniques for imaging are largely the same, but the starting point is different.

So in keeping with this interpretation, and for the purposes of my project, the Repeat Photography elements will be those for which I choose locations and make the original  and subsequent images that will be used for analysis of physical and ephemeral changes to the landscape of Coul Links.  If I am able to find any historical photographs of the landscape or cultural features on Coul Links, they will used as the basis for the Rephotography elements of my project.


Week 11 – Reflections on Proposals

Much of the week was spent finalizing the Research Proposal and the Work In Process Portfolio.  In the time since the submission of the Oral Presentation, I have been able to spend time on the site doing surveys, verify fixed site locations, run aerial photo mission profiles and begin imaging of flora, fauna and cultural features on the Coul Links site.  Further research and reading has helped to provide more insight into how to do what I plan to do and has revealed that while the project will bear similarities in techniques applied by others in the past, it will also be unique in its scope and its integration of several photographic approaches.

It was interesting (as well as sometimes confusing) to find no clear definitions, and in fact often conflation, of terms like repeat photography and rephotography.  In the end, photography is a creative process and how I choose to adapt various methodologies and techniques to reach a desired outcome is completely independent of what anyone before me has done or how they have chosen to define a particular approach.  I will discuss more in a separate blog post how I have chosen to distinguish between repeat photography and rephotography.

My research project is principally a natural science technique based project that may require some adaptation due to the compressed timeframe in the MA and may result in a slightly non-traditional result compared to a purely scientific approach to a repeat photography project.  To my mind this is perfectly acceptable as long as I am able to convey the story I am attempting to tell about this place over a period of time.

A large part of my time in my nearly 20 years in the aerospace industry and even more in 15 years of consulting work involved working on major proposals.  Most were large scale, complex and high value projects ranging from $100 million to $1 billion plus.  The U.S. Government is generally very prescriptive in the Requests for Proposal on content requirements, page counts, fonts and formats.  Within those constraints it is up to the proposers to determine how best to tell their stories and sell their solutions.  The consultancy for which I first worked was at the time considered the best in the business and had developed a proposal process that had been instrumental in winning nearly every billion dollar program defense and space program in the prior 20 years.  The process was disciplined and iterative one that began broadly and with each iteration increased the level of detail.

Creative work proposals may be generally less prescriptive in form, but nonetheless need to serve the same function as a billion dollar proposal.  One needs to understand the question or problem the client wishes to answer/solve and develop a strategy for creating a solution. What themes will be necessary to convey that story and then what detailed information can be provided to substantiate the proposers credibility and capability to perform.  In the case such as the MA Project proposals, we are not responding to a client brief per se as would be the case in future when trying to embark upon creative personal work.  In this case the principles described above still apply except that one needs to convince someone to buy what we are selling even though they may not have realized they want it.  We often used a series of 7 words beginning with the letter C to convey the essential elements of any proposal; Correct, Compliant (with requirements), Credible, Concise, Coherent, Consistent, and Compelling.  Capture those attributes well and one is likely to have a winning proposal.

Week 10 – Communicating my Practice

With my eye, and by extension through my camera, I seek to discover the nature of things; to, as Sontag writes, reveal hidden realities; and to, as Berger wrote of Impressionist painters, see the visible in continuous change.  I see what others do not, because I look in places and ways others do not.  Light, colour, patterns, textures and dynamic moments of things in nature and of nature are my principal subjects, though things man-made can occasionally capture my attention.

I am driven by wonder and curiosity.  I use my camera to help me discover, and perhaps reveal to others, the what, where, when, how, why of the world around me.


Week 10 – Theory in Practice Forum

As part of our course work this week we were asked to find an example of effective theory in practice and discuss why we thought it an effective piece of communication.  I cited an example from the book Repeat Photography.

From the Preface to Repeat Photography, Webb, Boyer and Turner (2010)

“Repeat photography is nearly as old as photography itself, with broad scientific, cultural and historical applications.  In a rapidly changing world, this technique graphically shows how landscapes respond to a variety of natural and anthropogenic processes.  As a scientific tool, repeat photography is unique in that it can be used to both generate and test hypotheses regarding ecological and landscape changes, sometimes with the same set of images.  From a cultural perspective, it provides a time capsule showing how towns, favorite places, archaeological sites, historic buildings, and even people have changed.  Rephotography has long been used medically to monitor a variety of conditions, ranging from tuberculosis to retinal deterioration.  Aquatic natural and cultural features are now monitored with underwater repeat photography.”

This opening segment to the book succinctly communicates the overall concept of repeat photography without delving into any specific detail about the technique.  It also clearly articulates the utility and broad range of applicability of repeat photography.  It does both in both instances without resorting to overly academic or esoteric language making it accessible to virtually anyone.  While this book is targeted toward an audience of scientists who would apply the techniques of repeat photography to their specific disciplines, this foreword in a few sentences explains the concept such that a non-scientist or non-photographer can appreciate.

That in my mind makes this passage an effective piece of communication.

WEBB, R., BOYER, D. and TURNER, R., 2010. Repeat Photography; Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Week 9 – Critical Perspectives in My Practice

As each week passes I find myself peeling back yet another layer of the onion that is my photography practice, and in doing so am beginning to understand more clearly what motivates me to photograph what I do and why in the way I do.  I have been asked to think about things I have never given thought to and frankly never cared about.  I am not certain all this introspection will result in my being a better photographer, but it may result in a better connection with viewers of my work, which also heretofore has never been much of a concern.

Much of the course for me thus far has been involved the development of a new vocabulary and framework that has is allowing me to better articulate aspects of my practice and its motivations, and to engage in discussions about the work of others.

My photographic practice is principally ontological and based in naturalism.  I am discovering that my photographic practice is motivated and informed much as the rest of my day to day existence.

General Systems Theory developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy and which derived in part from the work of Kant and Hegel has been an underlying foundation to much of my professional life and personal philosophy.  These theories also resonate with me in the critical examination of photographic work as much or more than some of the others to which we have been exposed in this course.  There is no single way to view anything and my background in applying systems theory to my world view informs my examination of  photography.  The widely accepted thoughts of Barthes, Sontag and others have bits of wisdom in their thinking and utility in their approach, but they are not by themselves universal in application.  Admittedly this is all new and my thoughts are far from fully formed, and it is entirely possible that I have missed something in the current accepted practice of critical review that will become illuminated over time.

I think a photograph can be considered an organism in Kantian, Hegelian and Bertalanffian terms.  It is what the author created only at the moment it is viewed by the author for the first time.  Notice I did not say at the time the image was captured, because we all have been surprised at times by how different what we thought we were capturing actually turned out to be when we first see it on the screen or in the print.  It is only then, when the author make the final creative decision on the form the photograph is to take, that is has the pure intention of the photographer.  From that point on, the photograph is alive and it is ever changing.  While the form remains constant, the interpretation of the content, the emotion evoked, the knowledge imparted, the entelechy of that image is different every time another set of eyes is put to it.  Even the  author may find in returning to an old image that it conveys a different meaning or emotion than was originally intended.

In some ways it is not that different than the way Roland Barthes describes the way we look at photographs in particular: “that whatever they grant to vision and whatever their manner, a photograph is always invisible. It is not it that we see.”  He discusses that the original image by the photographer is in Eden, and as soon as it enters the public domain of circulation it is becomes culturally coded and it undergoes a transformation where the viewer will read and / or respond to an image, and this may change its original meaning.
Rudolf Stichweh, in his journal article on Systems Theory discussed the work of several theorists and the relationships between their respective work.  I think their are elements which are relevant to the critical analysis of photographs.  Among the topics discussed were Niklas Luhmann’s (1927-1998) writings.  “Systems for Luhmann are systems consisting from communications, and as such they are based on a way of processing informations which Luhmann calls meaning.  Meaning is formally similar to information as it is based on something being a selection among plural alternatives. But what is characteristic of meaning and thereby constitutive for social and psychic systems, as the two types of systems making use of meaning, is that the alternatives not chosen are still remembered. One can come back to them, one can criticize selections in pointing to the alternatives which were available, one can write history on the basis of this dual structure of meaning.”  The last section above seems to offer a practical way to approach critical analysis and accounts for the likelihood of plurality in interpretation of a photograph as well as a system for using that plurality to further analyze and critique the work.

Hodgson’s discussion about whether something matters and whether photography is at risk of being trivial is an interesting one.  Everything matters to someone and nothing matters to everyone.  Somewhat cynically, I would argue that everything is trivial except to those who it is not.  It is matter of scale.   Art, literature and music are incredibly important to civilization as a form of creative expression and a record of our societal evolution. I would find it difficult to live without music and books others create, or without means to express my creativity purely for the joy of creating.  That said though, I think virtually every individual piece of art, literature or music is trivial.  It is an extremely rare piece of art, literature or music that has the power to exert significant influence over anything.

Photography as a whole exerts a great deal of influence on modern society.   In the last 100 or so years the world has transformed from consumers of the written word to consumers of visual communications.  We are inundated with photographs.  Again I would assert that most of them are indeed trivial as individual pieces of work, and perhaps even universally in certain genres of photography.  With the number of people in the world and the number of cameras, it is increasingly difficult to even create an image that “matters” on a broad scale.  As I stated earlier, every photo will matter to someone.  However, I would also assert photography, because it can be so contemporaneous along with the current ability to disseminate an image around the world in near real time, has the unique potential to “matter” and be non-trivial as an individual image than any other form of visual communication.


Arnold, D. (2011). Hegel and ecologically oriented system theory. Journal of Philosophy, 7(16), 53-0_3. Retrieved from

LUHMANN, N., 1995. Social Systems. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U.P. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U.P.

Stichweh, R.Systems Theory.

Week 9 – Critical Theory Exercise

The photo I have chosen is one from my project work at Coul Links.  I was photographing the steading buildings when I encountered this object.

Coul Farm_31Mar18-4481.jpg

In examining this photograph from a purely indexical point of view, one would see a lug wrench in an advanced state of corrosion such that the layers of iron have begun to separate and give the impression the end of the tool is blossoming.  It is also possible to observe the tool is balanced over the top of a fence that is constructed of a wooden top rail with metal mesh below whose hexagonal shape mirrors that of the wrench.  It is a close up (macro) still life in genre.

If one were to examine the photo from a semiotic perspective and attempt to perceive “the difference between what we see in the picture and the actual reality it depicts” (Bate 2016) there is perhaps much more to be concluded from the photograph.  One might discern from the type of fence that this photo might have been taken on a farm.  The state of well weathered fence and the corroded lug wrench balanced atop it suggests the farm is no longer a going concern and has fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect.  A farmer on a running farm would be very unlikely to leave a tool in the open, abandoned for such a period as to allow that degree of corrosion to occur, and if the tool were broken it would not be left in a place such as this where an animal could run into it.  The blossoming rust at the end of the of the wrench serves as a metaphor for the disrepair and decay that is going on around it throughout the rest of the buildings and farm property.  This photo asks the question “What else is going on beyond the boundaries of this image?”  Absent other images, this photo requires us to imagine and an extrapolate from the close up view the author chose to use about what surrounds it.

BATE, D., 2016. Photography; The Key Concepts. 2nd edn. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Week 8 – Reflections

This week’s material was principally to do with the effects context had on the interpretations, and perceptions of the significance, of a photograph.   Where and in what form a photograph is published, and who is viewing it can affect its meaning dramatically.  Even the same photograph published in different contexts can convey entirely different meanings as in the example of the spectrum of meaning attributable to the wedding photograph described in the Walker article in this week’s readings.

In the Liz Wells book, Photography, A Critical Introduction, she references Sontag’s view that “referential nature of the photographic image both in terms of its iconic properties and indexical nature…testifies to the actuality of how something, someone or somewhere once appeared.”  While in response, Kozloff argues “for a view of the photograph as a ‘witness’ with all the possibilities of misunderstanding, partial information or false testament that the term ‘witness’ may be taken to imply.”  Further Kozloff states “The presence of the photograph reveals how circumscribed we are in the throes of sensing.  We perceive and interpret the world through a set of incredibly fine internal receptors.  But we are incapable, by ourselves, of grasping or tweezing out any permanent, sharable figment of it.”  Wells a few pages later refers to Roland Barthes conclusion “that it is reference, rather than art or communication, which is fundamental to photography.” To Barthes, “The photograph is always about looking, and seeing.”

So how does this inform the discussion of context?  I think the perceptions of the meaning of a photograph can be influenced by where it is seen and how it is presented, but in the end, absent any semiotic clues as to it purpose, the resulting interpretation is utterly and entirely up to the viewer.  With all the fallibilities of witnesses, those interpretations are subject being very superficial, or of reading much more into the image the author intended, or to being so influenced by the life experiences, political motivations, likes, fears, etc. as to result in a complete misunderstanding of the author’s intent.  And indeed, it most probable the person standing next in the queue will come away with other than an identical conclusion than that of the first viewer.

How much control over context and meaning do we as photographers really have?  To what extent can we control a narrative with our work?  Is it even possible with a photograph alone, or are words always necessary?

I am inclined to believe the answers to the first two questions are relatively little and the third, that words are necessary.

The task for the week was to begin constructing our Work in Process portfolio website galleries.  We were to explore various platforms to evaluate their attributes.  I built galleries on my existing photography website hosted on my owned domain and a second one in this WordPress CRJ.  I also began experimenting with Exposure, SquareSpace, and took a stab at building a website from the beginning using Adobe Muse.  I looked too at Adobe Portfolio, but quickly determined the coding requirements were beyond my skill level and frankly outside my level of interest.  On the other hand, none of the other sites were perfect.  Each had advantages and disadvantages either in the way photos could be displayed, to the ease of adding text, to variety and flexibility in themes and the ability to customize.  Some were more intuitive than others.

I have yet to conclude which solution suits me best and intend to experiment some more over the coming weeks as time permits.  I will likely make my 4 May submission using Exposure.

The peer and tutor reviews of the portfolio were interesting and I initially found a few of the comments quite puzzling with respect to my practice.  Upon reflection though, it occurred to me the comments were in part a reflection of the their practice.  For example, one comment had to do with the fact that it looked as though I was cropping significantly and that the resulting different sizes of photos was detracting from the aesthetic of my page.    I also realized it came from someone who primarily works in film and does portraiture where the distance to the subject and the composition are easily controlled.  I on the other hand am photographing much smaller subjects, often moving and at great distances meaning I have much less control over composition in the camera and have to make adjustments in post processing.  As I thought about the comment I could see how it impacted the web presentation, and that being said, I began to try setting my crop sizes to a more standard aspect ratio to see what impact it might have of the results and what compromises it would require.  There is little impact to the landscape and environmental portraits in general, but there may be some in the tight portraits of birds in particular due to their size and distance from the lens.


WALKER, J.A., 1997.  The Camerawork essays: context and meaning in photography In: J. EVANS, ed, London: Rivers Oram, pp. 52-63.

WELLS, L., 2015. Photography: a critical introduction. Fifth edn. London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.