3.1 - Practice and Research one projects

project plan 1.0

It has taken me ages, but I have finally managed to get going and get my project plan to the point where I can share it with my tutor and get on with the rest of the course. I’ve eaten up a lot of time doing this, but it hasn’t all be wasted, I think, as I now have a fairly good idea of what I’ll be doing for the next three months or so, as I work through remainder of the first part of the course.

fig.1: glyph 1 – one of the themes I’m going to be looking at here is how we ‘read’ the things that we see around us and in turn create things to be read by others…

If you have access to the OCA’s google shares, you can read the whole plan here, but for those who haven’t, here are the main text bits where you set out your stall.

What are you going to do for your practical or creative project(s)?

I am going to return to the subject-matter I was working through at the start of the pandemic, three years ago now: the huge volume of stuff that I have amassed during my twenty five years of living in London. My shelves and bookcases, my cupboards and spare rooms are filled up with things, with stuff. I want to squash the chaos that threatens to engulf me down from three dimensions into two…

I will look at selected items from places within my house to try to work out why it is there and what can be done with it. I want to see whether it can be made to make some sort of coherent sense and be turned into an understandable story of sorts  and ideally to process it  – mentally, physically, photographically – in a way that subsequently will allow me to get rid of a large proportion of it… 

I will not only experiment with the artistic representations of objects, within the genre of still life and also look at other related, vernacular attempts to create meaning from the everyday: lifestyle features in the papers and on television and self-promotion through social media; archaeology and forensics; advertising…

Put simply, I am going to take lots of photographs of some of the objects taking up space in the place where I live. Then, in the second half of the unit, I will combine the resulting images to see if they can be made to take on some wider, associative meaning for others as well as for myself.

What does your research explore, and what is your topic or outline research question?

My research will build on three, connected strands of reading.

  1. I want to look at the way the transition from analogue to digital has affected what Villém Flusser described as ‘the photographic apparatus’. Am I simply following commonly held ideas of what ‘photography’ expects me to do with my camera – the program – or do I in some way determine the pictures that I produce.
  2. Then, drawing on Victor Burgin’s recent, short polemic, Returning to Benjamin (Mack, 2023) and the striking statement reproduced in its blurb:‘Benjamin found that the medium of photography and film had dissolved the auratic quality of art. If this is the case  Digital technology has dissolved the very category of “medium” itself,’
  3. Finally, as yet with no single, specific text to pin it to yet, I  increasingly wonder, what is it that I – and by extension anyone with a camera or a phone or some other device capable of making digital image files  – am attempting to do with all this digital photographising?! Surely it has to be something more than simply laying down deeper and deeper deposits of unviewed, digital silt!

A first stab at a question might be, ‘What does it mean to talk about a work of art in this age of digital replication?’ Or possibly just: ‘What sort of a photographer am I?’

Why have you chosen these practice and research projects?

We live in an age of plenty, surrounding ourselves with stuff. Much of this stuff is not strictly necessary for our survival. But we still want more. And yet more. We are told that the economy must grow, but also that we must consume less. 

‘Photography’ does not occupy a space outside this system of ‘more and more’.  Just as Iz have accumulated more stuff than I can ever use, and more books that I can ever read, I have taken – and continue to take – more photographs than I could hope to look at in any meaningful way. 

I am not alone in this. We take all these photographs and – thanks to the internet – share them with each other to an unprecedented extent. Why? What is compelling us to act like this?

My research will look at the cultural forces that determine our photographic behavior and try to relate it to more general ideas how we behave as a society. Practically, I am working through ideas of what it might mean to make digital art at this time…

And so now all that remains is to stop procrastinating, press publish on this and to get on with it!

3.1 - Practice and Research About

a bit about this log

I’ve set up this site to collect the various things I am producing as I work my way through the final stages of the Open College of Arts’ Bachelor’s Degree in Photography. Eventually (I hope) it will consist of three sets of posts, one for each of the three level three modules: 3.1 – Practice and Research, 3.2 – Context and Audience and 3.3 – Major Project.

As the second and third modules are designed to build on the work done for the preceding one, I’ll not be creating separate logs for each one, although I will split them off into separate categories to keep things more obviously distinct from each other.

You will be able to see everything in standard, blogging reverse-chronological order by clicking on the chirgwin – third at the top left or you can access my work module by module, by using the pink navigation menu at the top right of this WordPress window.

As for me, I am straight, white and male; I am middle class and wear glasses. I am comfortable with computers and can usually get them to do what I want them to do. I have worked, pretty much continuously, in a variety of roles – some creative, some less so – in the broadcasting industry since I graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in English Literature and Film & Television Studies in the mid nineteen-eighties. That seems an awfully long time ago.

I grew up in Orkney and now live in London with my partner and ten year-old daughter. I have a twenty year-old son who has just moved out of his mother’s house in Glasgow to live in a flat of his own.

When I was ten, I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera and have been taking photographs ever since. I learnt how to process black and white film in my teens, but really started taking what I was doing seriously after buying a digital point and shoot at the airport on my way to Moscow for work. A couple of years after that, Flickr proved a revelation and set me on a course of increasingly systematic photographic (self-)discovery which led me to start studies with the Open College of the Arts, shortly after my fiftieth birthday.

The posts that precede this one summarise my time so far with the OCA, but if you’d like more detail, my earlier blogs are here:

3.1 - Practice and Research one

ex.1.1 – make a glossary

‘Establish a glossary to define the terms that are most helpful in understanding your practice and research. Identify words that describe your practice or that you come across through your research.’

– PAR Coursebook, p.19

This will be an ongoing piece of work, so I have set up a container for my new glossary over on Spaces (and added a link to it to the main menu at the top of this log, which of course will only work if you have access to the OCA’s OLE). There are a couple of reasons for doing it like this: first, I didn’t want incomplete stubs to clog up this time-based stream of posts – at the moment there is only a small number of entries, some of which only exist as prompts for further writing when I’ve time – and also, because I wanted it to be organised alphabetically instead of having the individual posts that will make it up sorted according to their posted date.

I could have done that here, of course, by setting up a specific page which only displays posts from a ‘glossary’ category and is accessed via a menu item; it also turns out that, by with a bit of further customisation of how the home-page behaves, I could also exclude any glossary posts – both stubs and completed entries – from the main flow of the blog. However, I’ll stick to working this way for now – my current priority is to start writing glossary entries – I can always play about with the structure later…

3.1 - Practice and Research About


‘In short: Photographers’ intentions are to inform others and through their photographs to immortalise themselves in the memory of others.’

– Vilém Flusser : Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983)

I hadn’t had a break from my OCA studies since I started The Art of Photography in April 2014, so – feeling tired and mojo-less on completing the final assignment for Landscape, Place and Environment – I decided to take three months off to recharge my batteries and gather my thoughts a bit before pressing on with the third and final level of study for the Photography BA. The three months inevitably expanded to be more like six, as I organised LPE for assessment and then worked through the new process for moving from level two of the BA to level three.

Part of this consists of writing a short statement of intent and compiling a selection of our earlier work in preparation for a discussion with one of the course leaders. I think this was a really useful exercise so, by way of an introduction to where I think I am at photographically as I commence with Practice and Research, here is a rewritten version of that statement.

By the time I had completed the second level of the OCA BA course, I had come to the conclusion that the main thrust of my further study would not centre on a direct examination of landscape. Rather, I wanted to return to the themes I had begun to examine during the preceding course, Digital Image and Culture when, as the pandemic limited my ability to get out and about, I became increasingly focussed upon the sheer mass of… well… stuff that I had managed to accumulate during pretty much my entire life.

A lot of it had been gathered while travelling, but I suspect I have used photography as a way of making sense of the world around me ever since I was given my first camera, aged ten.

Over the last thirty years, travelling widely for work, I have always tried, to set aside a day or so to go out with a camera and see what sort of place I have visited this time. I found that a repeat trip usually produced better, more interesting images, freed from the need to take pictures that simply reproduced what it was that I expected to find there in the first place. I had always thought that my primary subject matter was linked to this idea of place and of its meaning to me. 

At first I hoped that – having recorded the contents of my study/studio – I might reach a point where I would be able to get rid of some, if not all, of it but – probably inevitably – it quickly became an exercise in curation rather than one of zen minimalism. I began to use the photographed objects to create a picture of the person who had amassed them. There is still much to do if I am to clear my shelves and cupboards, while making some sort of sense of who I am and how I got here.

I had hoped that I would be able to incorporate some of this into my work for LPE, but never managed to do so satisfactorily, in ways that dovetailed with the assignments. So now, freed to define my own project, I would like to continue this examination of minimalism – in the Maria Kondo, as well as the narrower, artistic sense – and continue compacting my accumulated junk into two rather than three dimensions. I shall combine the resulting photographs into collaged virtual, or physical, groupings and try to attach some greater sense of meaning to the resulting Schwitters-esque ‘hypermertz’ and to link the objects to the places and times when I first acquired them.

This could tend towards something baldly autobiographical of course, but I do not want to make elliptical self-portraits or digital ‘equivalents’ that pickle my emotional state at the moment of their making. While drawing on the work of – among others – Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch, I shall try to sidestep the situation described by Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her 1983 essay, The Armed Vision Disarmed, where politics and history were first pushed to one side and then elided altogether as the revolutionary formal experiments made by Rodchenko et al in the nascent USSR were adopted and adapted by photographers in Weimar Germany and then the USA, losing their political payload.

My work can still be political, in a ‘the personal is political’ sense, even if it does not touch directly on the activity of multinational (or indeed national or local) corporations. I struggled to engage photographically with the climate crisis in the large-scale, activist sense examined in LPE’s revised part 5; I find it much easier to reflect on my – and by extension, society’s – need to curtail our use of carbon and to consume less through an examination of the detritus resulting from my own lived experience. 

I like to experiment and push myself technically, and also to make sense of what I am doing with reference to theory. I grew up absorbing much of the prevailing photographic orthodoxy during the fag-end of modernism; but now, I am much more comfortable artistically with what has followed, and with the conceptual approaches to images and image-making associated with post modernism and whatever it is that has followed on from that… 

I think the work I produced for Digital Image and Culture – both in the exercises and in terms of assignment outputs – was more interesting than my work for Landscape which I feel was a bit too staid and not nearly fun enough! Now, moving on, I want to recapture the playfulness and excitement that I felt during DIC, investigating ways that I might combine the various strands of my OCA work, linking mementos to memories to places and on to a bigger picture of where we might be collectively. 

The series of posts that follow this one contain the seven groups of practical work that I selected to support this statement of intent, interspersed with more specific contextualisation. I hope they will provide me with a number of thematic starting points for the series of projects that make up my response to the level three courses.

3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-history 1

This Guy… (The Failed Minimalist)

This first selection of four pictures illustrates something I would like to develop further as I start this third stage of the OCA degree. The second half of DIC allowed me to examine some of  the mass of stuff that had moved house with me a year or so earlier and which hadn’t found a home yet.

fig.1 – this guy expands to fit all available space (expanded)
fig.2 – this guy doesn’t know when to stop
fig.3 – this guy can be read like a book
fig.4 – this guy fails to keep things in perspective

The title for the final assignment’s set of twelve images came from a remark made by fellow-student Nuala Mahon, at Forum Live: ‘You look at all this stuff and you wonder, “Who is this guy?”’

3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-History 2


Travel is an ongoing theme that runs through my work for the OCA. Here are three journeys – one made during Landscape with the other two during Digital Image and Culture –  visualised as four narratives of movement.

fig.1: Against the Current – A Journey (LPE A2, revised for assessment, 2022)
fig.2: Unfolding a Cyanotype Map of the Lea (LPE A2, 2021)
fig.3: Arlanda Airport Express (DIC A1, 2020)
fig.4: Frankfurt to Munich by ICE (DIC A5, 2020)
3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-History 3

Landscape, Place and Environment; Assignment 1 – Beauty and the Sublime

At the end of any journey (including the return leg) lies a destination. Taking photographs is one way of making sense of where you find yourself when you get there, even if you only do so by making comparisons with the place you have just left.

fig.1: Orcadian Photographs (2013-2019), 2022
fig.2: Sea Stacks (2020)
fig.3: Towering Cliffs (2020)
fig.4: Fearsome Symmetry (2020)
fig.5: Livestock (2020)
fig.6: Sites of Ritual Significance (2020)
fig.7: Effects of the Light (2020)
fig.8: Shelter from Lowering Skies (2020)
3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-History 4

Various Modules – Installation, Presentation and Display

I am completely comfortable with using a camera to take photographs and then edit the resulting images. The question is how to display them afterwards. From the beginning of the OCA degree, I have made efforts to develop a range of ways to  show work to an audience, both physically and online.

fig.1: ‘Sea Stacks’ Postcard (2021) – LPE A1 outtake
fig.2: No Fun! – Triptych (2022) – Three 30cm x 30cm Prints; LPE A5
fig.3: Disputed Territories – Part (2022) – Installation Option; LPE A5
fig.4: Elmfield Road, 75 Years Later (2015) – TAoP A5
fig.5: Flotta is… the Flat Island (2021) – Installation View, LPE A3
fig.6: Looking for America – Alice @TPG (2018) – Purloined Installation View, IAP A2 redux
fig.7: Looking Ruff – James and Me @NPG (2018) – Purloined Installation View, IAP A2 redux
3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-history 5

Context and Narrative – Life During Wartime

I try not to be too solemn and – where possible – introduce ideas of chance and ludic playfulness into the work I am making. This is visible in its purest form in my submission for the fourth assignment for Context and Narrative: Putting yourself in the picture.

fig.1: Instructions for Participants (2017) – CAN A3
fig.2: Four Random Simons (2017) – CAN A3

3.1 - Practice and Research About

Pre-history 6

Identity and Place; Assignment 4 – Words and Pictures

Three diptychs (from a series of seven) which drew inspiration from Martha Rosler’s Bowery series and incorporated text from the 2014 Kensington and Chelsea planning application to clad Grenfell Tower. Included to show that if there is an identifiable trigger, I can do work that is politically engaged.

fig.1: Untitled #1 (2019) – IAP A4.1
fig.2: Untitled #2 (2019) – IAP A4
fig.3: Untitled #3 (2019) – IAP A4