Coul Links Project Update

After the oral presentation run through with the tutors a couple of weeks ago, there were some suggestions which prompted some rethinking of the project parameters.  These ideas were further cemented in the 1 to 1 session with Gary and the discovery of some relevant work by others.

The most significant modification is that the project can and will go ahead regardless of the outcome of the Highland Council decision on the planning application.  The land at Coul Links is in it’s our right an ever changing landscape that supports a rich and varied biodiversity throughout the year.  It is a site subject to dramatic changes through the various seasons of the year, both physically and in terms of the wildlife that inhabits it.  It is subject more subtle changes on a day to day basis with weather and light, which depending on the direction and angle reveals characteristics of the landscape not necessarily visible at other times.  It is a dynamic ecologically with plants that appear and thrive at different times of the year, and with the ebbing and spreading of native species, as well as the encroachment of invasive species.

Should the planning application to build the golf course be approved, Coul Links will undergo a rapid and dramatic change that is man-made and documenting those changes as they occur and how those changes affect the surrounding areas directly and indirectly.

Although I was essentially planning a large rephotography effort, I had not been familiar with the term.  Learning that vocabulary opened a rich bibliography of relevant resources upon which to draw, such as Repeat Photography (Webb), Mark Klett’s work on the “Rephotographic Survey Project” and  “Yosemite in Time”.  I was also introduced to Sophie Gerrard’s project “The Dunes”, which while different in focus, bears some resemblance the circumstances in my project.

Now that I have arrived back in Scotland I will be able to capture some of the imagery I will use as the reference bases.  The particularly harsh winter NE Scotland experienced this year has flooded the area behind the fore dunes quite extensively and considerably more than in recent memory.  It gives the appearance of one enormous dune slack rather than the typical isolated ephemeral dune slacks.  It is a glorious example of how dynamic and ever changing the Coul Links are in the face of the forces of nature.


GERRARD, S., , The Dunes. Available: [Mar 15, 2018].

KLETT, M., 2003-last update, Yosemite in Time. Available: [Mar 15, 2018].

KLETT, M., 1979-last update, Rephotographic Survey Project. Available: [Mar 15, 2018].

WEBB, R., 2010. Repeat Photogrpahy. Island Press.


Week 7 – Micro-project

This week’s second exercise involved pairing up with a classmate and devising a brief for each other that should take no more than a couple of hours to complete. I paired with Simon Johnsen.  I provided Simon with the following brief:

I am interested in places over time and my major project is about that mainly. For your brief, I would like see what you do with this concept and would like you to pick a place in your village that has either a distinct change in appearance or activity level through the course of a day. Pick a perspective you find most interesting and photograph that place at different times of day and or night in the course of one day, or over several days as you can fit it in. Prepare a small series of at least 3, and as many more as you wish or have time for, showing how that place changes in time.

Simon provided me with the following brief:

I want to see how you adapt to a loss of control so I want a set of 12 shots, you have to pick a starting point, walk in any direction for 5 minutes, stop and take a photo and then carry on walking, you have to make the shots as diverse as possible but try to create a narrative through the series.

I was pleased to get this brief and a bit intimidated at the same time.  I know I have rarely gone into a photo shoot with a prescribed outcome let alone an outcome that included a cogent and cohesive narrative.  I wrestled for a couple of days about where I would go to enable me to capture diverse images and be able to put them together in a narrative while being constrained to having to move a particular amount of time between images. One of my classmates (who shall remain unnamed) I could find a place I liked, walk around in a circle for 5 minutes and take another photo and that it would meet the letter of the brief.  True enough perhaps, but I thought it didn’t meet the spirit, and I was looking forward to the challenge of doing something other than nature photography and trying to tell a story.

I choose to go to a town about 30 minutes away from my home that I knew had a concentration of visually interesting places in reasonable proximity to each other.  It is also a town with a rich historical background and which is known for at least two very prominent affiliations; horses and atomic energy.  Aiken since it’s founding has always been about horses.  Founded by railroad men, it became known as the Aiken Winter Colony and the wealthy, primarily from the North East, came with their horses to enjoy the temperate weather.  Currently, there are 72 different equestrian disciplines being trained in the Aiken area.  Even though for this project I chose not to focus on it, the second area for which Aiken is known in the Savannah River Site, which is home to a nuclear power plant, but more significantly was one of the principal nuclear weapon design and production facilities throughout the Cold War.

While I have been to Aiken many times, and was generally familiar with the town, this project took me to specific places I had not been before.  It turned out to be a journey of discovery for me too and I hope I have been able to reflect it in the work I produced.  It is entitled, 5 Minutes to Somewhere, and here is the link where it can be found.

5 Minutes to Somewhere

Week 7 – Faux Pas

The first of the exercises this week was to post an image that was captured by accident or was a mistake somehow, but that in the end was an image that held some interest or value

I was shooting photos from my deck with my 600mm lens when I noticed reflections in the windows of the wood behind the house.  To my eye the reflections were clear and intriguingly patterned, but the windows were just inside the minimum focal distance for that lens. When I downloaded the images, I was quite surprised at the stick creature running through the wood that appeared in front of me as I had not seen that shape with my eye when capturing the image.  Though abstract and far from the crisp realistic images for which I usually strive, I found the result hauntingly beautiful.

Stick Creature-3685

Quite interestingly when I designed and built this house, I found  slab of granite that I thought was the most amazing piece of natural art.  It is 5′ x 8′, weighs 750 lbs, and hangs on the wall of my dining room.  I was attracted to this particular piece of stone because of the colours, the striking veining that made it a Rohrshach test, and the particular image I saw when I looked at it.


The similarity to the reflected image is quite remarkable.  Chance; serendipity; my life is punctuated by aliens or woodland creatures?  No matter, I glad they are here for whatever reason and by whatever means.

Week 6 – Reflections

This week’s work was focused on the preparation and presentation to the tutors of our oral presentations.  I took the time to look at the exemplars that were posted and found them diverse and revelatory.  There were things I liked and disliked about each, but all displayed impressive depth and critical analyses of their influences, motivations and inspiration.  These are things I have not given enough thought before.

In the tutor review I got some very valuable feedback on the presentation content and the project which allowed me to think about the project in a different and more sustainable way.  It pointed out deficiencies in the depth of my research that I need to rectify.  I have been so focused on trying to decide what I wanted to do and how I might go about it that I hadn’t focused enough on critical analyses and research.

After the review I had a better frame of reference to re-examine and understand the exemplar presentations which helped a great deal in preparing the next draft of my oral presentation.  I have been struggling a bit with technology trying to find a platform to make the presentation come to life as I envision it.  I believe the content is now nearly nailed and the project Coul Links in much clearer in my mind and in the presentation.  A couple more tweaks on the presentation platform to improve the polish and I will be there.

Coul Links Small-0613

Coul Links Dunes and Dune Slacks (Dec 2017)

Week 5 – Reflections

This was an full and interesting week with the coursework on ethics and the formulation of my oral presentation.  I hesitated to review the exemplar presentations until after I had completed my first draft, and when I finally did, I realized I had a way to go both in terms of polishing the presentation and more importantly in terms of truly contextualizing the project and giving it a critical basis.  The peer reviews were quite favourable on the topic I chosen, and not nearly critical enough on the depth of the content or the way it was presented.  But it was a good start and only the point of departure for further refinement.

On the topic of ethics, in saw a Facebook post from Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor and Chancellor of the School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkley.  He has a book about to be released on the loss of common good.  Below is an excerpt from that book that he posted on Facebook.  While his intention was not directed at photographers, but I think there is relevance to photographers nonetheless as it speaks to ethics.  It postulates the seemingly increasing ethical lapses across business, politics and personal behaviour are due in no small measure to an erosion of the concept of common good.


As photographers, we operate within societies in which moral attitudes and boundaries of propriety have changed to the point of where it is often not clear whether civility has disappeared completely.  I am not naïve enough to suggest that the genie can be put back in the bottle, but we as photographers have choices to make every day in who or what we photograph and how; where we choose to publish and how we want our work to be used.  And we have the choice to use our art to attempt to elevate or to contribute to the decline of societal values.

Week 7 – Chance and Serendipity, Creative Restraint

Do you see chance as a key part photography? To what extent does it play a role in your own practice? How might you develop your work by embracing change or making new opportunities? What arbitrary parameters might you impose upon yourself to expand the creative possibilities of your own work?  

These are all questions asked in this week’s lessons.  In my practice and throughout most of my photographic experiences I would say chance and serendipity have played and continue to play a significant role.  I have always and still do shoot almost exclusively out of doors.  That alone introduces one of the biggest factors of chance, the light.  Is it there, what is its quality, am I in a position to use the light to its best advantage?  Yes, it is possible to preplan and to position oneself where the angle of the light is optimized, and watch the weather forecasts with the hope of getting it right, but in the end whether it all comes together is a matter of chance and beyond the control of the photographer.

When photographing wildlife, there is a great measure of chance and serendipity in play at all times.  Again planning a preparation can improve one’s chances, but in the end it is just a matter of chance whether something, anything, you might want to photograph will show up, and if it does whether it will be in a position that allows a good image to be captured.

I don’t find that I am at all fussed by these elements of chance and serendipity.  I have  always been drawn to the interactions of colour, light and patterns.  It is to an extent, a basic biological phenomenon of vision, but a talent to recognize in a timely manner the significance in any given moment.  For a photographer it is essential to be able to recognize those instances quickly and have the skill with one’s equipment to take advantage of the opportunity.  I believe this to be true whether one is doing street, sports, nature, reportage and likely other genres of which I have yet to think.

The concept of boundaries is an interesting one and deserves thought and discussion.  Art Morris, in his book The Art of Bird Photography and in instructional videos he has done, suggests when photographing birds to confine your field of intention to a 15 degree wedge in front of you with the sun directly behind to get the optimum lighting conditions for good bird photographs.  I find in areas I work frequently that set up is often difficult or impossible to achieve, and that I as a consequence endeavor to cover too broad a field of intention.  I think it might be wise to slow down, be more patient at times and accept that for the truly remarkable photograph, I might need to wait longer for the subject to come to me and the light to be right.  I think sometimes I have succumbed to the desire to get the shot, but as I have become more skilled, I need slow down to a degree and work to get the best shot possible.

I also believe I have been operating principally on the self imposed constraint influenced by so much of the wildlife photography I have seen over the years of creating portraits of birds.  This is true also because I never gave much thought until now of contextualizing my work and only sought to take good photographs as stand alone objects.  Now that I need to consider context, I am beginning to realize there may be other ways to tell a natural history story and the portraiture is only one piece.

MORRIS, A., 2003. The Art of Bird Photography. 1 edn. New York: Amphoto books.


Coul Links

A great deal of time these past two weeks has gone into deciding upon which project to pursue and how to go about it.  Ultimately I returned to the concept I had when I applied for the MA programme, and began preparing the draft outline for a proposal and the oral presentation on the project titled Coul Links.  Once decided, it was relatively straightforward to pull references and begin researching those documents and sources to compile a bibliography of relevant sources and data that would support execution of the project.  The Oral Presentation is complete and form to submit following this week’s review with the tutors.

In the Coul Links project I have found an evolving story that allows me to blend photographic skills and interests with knowledge and experience in biology, project management, construction and one of my other life passions, golf.

My research for this module and hopefully through into the Final Major Project will be centered around this extraordinary parcel of land in North Eastern Scotland which is embroiled in controversy over the primacy of the economic needs of the region vs. the desire to preserve and protect from development a unique natural environment.

The developers have submitted their planning proposal to the Highland Council to build a world class golf course on one of the last untouched parcels of links land in Scotland. The site lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands of International Importance site, and within the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. The site also has potential historic and archaeological significance.

The application has been extremely controversial sparking strong debate and heightening emotions on both sides of the argument. Highland Council are meant to take a final decision on 17 April.

In this project, I will use documentary, landscape and natural history photography to document the construction of the course and buildings, to assess impacts to the landscape, flora and fauna of the area, and any archaeological discoveries.

Still photography, and aerial still photography and videography will be used to document the base state and change states over time in the landscape overall, specific habitat areas, as many species as possible’ steading and other buildings on site that are to be repurposed, and the construction process itself and the people undertaking it.

I plan to do archival research through the History Links Museum and Cambusmore Estate from when the property operated as Coul Farm.

Ultimately I hope to span the proposed 18 month construction cycle (assuming approval of the planning application)

There are some factors which weigh on the success of the project. On the plus side I have established relationships in the community and with the developer, from whom I have received permission and support to undertake the project.

The principal concerns lie in the approval of the project and the timing of that approval. If the plan is rejected I will proceed with the work for this module, but will probably rethink the Final Major Project. If the approval is delayed it could impact my ability to complete the project as my Final Major Project and that too may require adapting the plans or pursuing a different subject.

For the work in this module and prior to my return to Scotland, I will be continuing to hone my skills in natural history photography and post processing. I will be using the Planning Application documentation, in particular the Environmental Statement to further research the planned development. I will use mapping resources to identify candidate fixed sites with adequate ranges and angles of view to capture the baseline and change states. I will also be practicing with the drone to refine the flight and mission planning processes to ensure repeatable perspectives for the aerial photography.

Upon returning to Scotland at the end of March I will be coordinating with the Project Management team, confirming and selecting the fixed point locations and beginning the baseline state image capture. I will establish the drone mission profiles and begin the baseline state capture from the air. I will also be photographing the native species and areas of primary environmental concern. And lastly I will be starting on the archival research.

Week 5 – Power and Responsibility

In this weeks first forum we were asked to look at the photograph of the refugees crossing into Slovenia from Croatia taken by Jeff Mitchell shortly before the Brexit vote that was used by UKIP in a way totally unintended by the photographer, and to discuss the ethical judgements in relation to the taking of, publication and or use of photographs.  Refugees cross from Croatia into Slovenia in October 2015 (c) Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

“Is it fair to depict vulnerable people in a political campaign without their explicit consent? Can the photographer object to the use of the image? What is the purpose of documenting the refugee crisis? And does it incite hatred?

“It is always uncomfortable when an objective news photograph is used to deliver any political message or subjective agenda, however the image in question has been licensed legitimately,” said Getty Images, but did not comment further.” (1)

“The photographic agencies sell the pictures, they never ask what they’ll be used for.

Newspapers use the pictures to make a point according to their political slant.

The photographer’s original intention isn’t even considered.

By adding a few words, Jeff’s intention was changed 180 degrees.

His picture had changed the situation all right.

Just not in the way he intended.” (2)

The Jeff Mitchell photograph reminds of the discussion and comments I made in the first week’s forum on the Global Image.  I doubted then whether an image can truly ever carry universally uniform meaning, and here is an image which in the photographer’s mind intended that outcome, but as the Trott blog above noted, a few words changed the intention completely.  Getty as the intermediary abdicated all responsibility as indicated in the Al Jazeera interview above.

So even the most ethical and responsible among us truly have no control once the rights to our images are released to someone else.  Until we as photographers can somehow imbed in our photographs the intention with which we took them, there will always remain the risk that those images will be misused. Photographs rarely can stand on their own, and the words that go with them matter.  Whomever controls the words can control the message of the photograph.  I suppose if we as photographers wanted to represent ourselves and with each image sold issued a contract with limitation on its use we could mitigate some of the risk, but in reality we would likely end up spending more time in solicitor’s office than on photo shoots.  And the risk would not disappear completely because there will always be the unscrupulous who will seek to improve their own fortunes at the expense of others.

Unfortunately, I believe this is just but one more symptom of a general decline in ethical standards across the globe in which moral responsibility is often seconded to the desires of greed and power.  We are inundated, no bombarded, with images constantly in print media and television trying to sell us something we likely don’t need, but which advertisers are trying to condition us to believe and want.  Economics and power are, and always have been, powerful human motivators.  The most cynical of views would argue since news outlets have grown into profit driven multimedia conglomerates with shareholders to satisfy, the decisions of should we or shouldn’t we publish seem often to made on whether or not it will increase revenue.  Certainly, this is not universally true, but it happens enough to create the situation in which Jeff Mitchell found himself.

Getty used the excuse that they licensed the image legitimately to absolve themselves of responsibility.  Should the licensing agreements be required to reflect the author’s intentions?  Could photographers or agencies survive economically if they did?  Once that photo is in the public domain, is it even remotely possible to control how an image is used?  One needs only to look at Facebook and other social media to see memes created from legitimately licensed images to realize it is probably not.

So for photographers what is the answer?  I think we can only keep taking photographs, do our best to photograph what we feel to be morally and ethically responsible, deal with generally reputable outlets for our work, and hope our work gets used within the bounds of the intentions we had when the image was captured; at least until we can figure out how to bury our captions 3 dimensionally behind or within the image.


SAFDAR, A., , Brexit: UKIP’s ‘unethical’ anti-immigration poster. Available: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. [Feb 27, 2018].



Week 5 – Ethics and Responsibility: My View


Jade (Feb 2018)


I was taught long ago that responsibility, accountability and authority (RAA) are inextricably linked.  If I accept responsibility, I therefore must be willing to be held accountable for that responsibility, but only to the extent for which I hold authority.  As a photographer, I have RAA until my image is passed into the hands of someone other than my own.  I may be able to retain some authority over the use of my image through a licensing arrangement, but I will never have any authority over a viewer’s interpretation of my work.

When I have a camera in my hand I am responsible for what or whom, and how I choose to photograph.  I believe I have the responsibility to photograph them honestly, hopefully always objectively, and that I am responsible for their well being in as much as possible during the photograph and after.  As such, I try to not to take images that are embarrassing or demeaning, or in any way make my subject intentionally uncomfortable.  When photographing wildlife, I interpret their tolerance of my presence as consent and an indication they are not disturbed or distressed.  If the species is rare or endangered, I have a responsibility to protect that location so it cannot be exploited.  I am fully accountable to my subjects for my actions, including which images I choose to publish and where I choose to publish.  When granting rights for use of my images, I will take steps to limit, where appropriate and possible, the uses of those images, fully recognizing this is an increasing difficult proposition.

I would like to hope that a publisher would be to an extent responsible to me and my intentions.  I realize in this day and age that is probably a naïve perspective, but I hold hope that there are still many ethical people and organizations in the world.

Week 4 – Evolving

The Face to Face workshops, Symposium, Portfolio Reviews and this week’s collaborative projects have provided more interaction with other photographers than I have ever had before. The talent was extraordinary and caused me at moments to wonder if I belonged among this company and course.  I was astonished by the varying perspectives photographers took in how they approached the same subject, and I was even more surprised at how varied the feedback was on my portfolio of work.  I have to say the emphasis I put in on bird photography was beginning to leave me feeling a bit boxed in  and I am thankful to Paul Clements who, in an informal review in which I also showed him some of my other work, told me to go in what ever direction I wanted and just because my admissions portfolio was wildlife and natural history based it didn’t mean that was what I had to do.  Quite liberating that; and it opened my mind to some other possibilities.

Collaborations during the workshops and this week in the exercises showed again varying perspectives can contribute to an outcome.  But as I got to thinking about photography and the stereotype of it being a solitary experience I began to realize it is never a solitary experience.

“Photography is conventionally understood as a practice engaged in by solo, even solitary, operators. True enough, typically only one eye and finger are responsible for pressing the shutter release. However, photography encompasses much more than button pressing, and many hands are often involved in the broader photographic process of printing, editing and distributing images. The popular image of the photographer as someone working alone — from the intrepid photojournalist to the introverted artist — is therefore something of a fiction.”  (Palmer 2013)

We as photographers are always collaborating.  We collaborate with our equipment.  We collaborate with the light. We collaborate with our subjects.  We collaborate with our consumers and we collaborate with everyone else in between who might be involved with bringing our image to a consumer.  So while the notion of a lone photographer trekking off to a far away place to capture an image is romantic, it belies the degree of collaboration required to bring that image to view.

The project I am proposing to do will require a great deal of collaboration.  It will require a combination of documentary photography, landscape photography and wildlife/ natural history photography to tell the story of the Coul Links project.  It will require me to work with the team developing and constructing the project to stay attuned to their schedules and plans.  It will require some collaboration with outside groups to understand their concerns and objections to the development so that I can if possible record the actual results of the development and its impact on the SSSI site and the species that exist there.

I can sense that I am evolving, and am beginning to better understand the overall objective of this course, and to find my voice.  It finally occurred to me that that if I were doing a Masters programme in Organic Chemistry, I wouldn’t just be doing a set of elegant experiments to demonstrate reactions that were independent of each other.  I would need those experiments to relate to each other in a way that would lead me to a evidentiary conclusion; that is to prove or disprove my hypothesis.  Similarly then, a series of beautiful photographs without a story that binds them together would not answer the question being asked of me as an photographer in pursuit of an MA.


PALMER, D., 2013. A Collaborative Turn in Contemporary Photography? photographies, 6(1), pp. 117-125.