Project : Narrative – Preparing for the Exercises

The Art of Photography: Part 5

Project : Narrative – Preparing for the Exercises

I’ve been growing through another stuck phase where I can’t see a clear way forward.

There’s something going on in my head which is making me feel really apprehensive about these coming exercises. I’ve got this very large block inside me about being ‘artistic’. I’ve always wished I could draw (amongst many other wishes) and, indeed, I’m going to drawing classes at the moment, but I know that there’s a strong voice which repeatedly says, “You’re not artistic”.  This parrot on my shoulder has been with me for almost all of my life. All I could ever do for my children was draw them a cat on a mat or a house. It’s even worse because one of my uncles was an ‘artist’ and my father had an artistic flair. Everyone said he needed to have something in his hand to draw with when he was talking (quite gallic). I wave my arms and hands around similarly but they don’t have a pencil in them!

I never feel I’m any good at arranging things – flowers; icing Christmas cakes; laying tables; choosing the colours to go on walls; colour-coordination and working out what goes with what. I’m not too bad with words, and photography  is becoming a means for me to express my creativity in a different way and satisfy my urge to communicate. Here we are, though, talking about narrative and illustration and putting pictures together to make an impact!

Somehow or other I’ve become stuck on the term, ‘magazine layout’.  The final assignment brief relates to illustrating a story for a magazine with a cover picture and then a ‘narrative’ picture essay.  What I’ve turned this into is, “I have to do a magazine layout as well as produce the images” and, because I’m interested anyway in the idea of eventually producing my own book, I’ve been focusing on page design.  This isn’t coming easy to me (for all the aforesaid reasons) and I’ve gone into tunnel vision mode:

It made me feel quite down and thinking I’d never reach the end of this module but, thankfully, I’ve had enough presence of mind to email my tutor about my choice of subject and she suggested we speak on the phone.

I’ve had several ideas for a subject for Assignment 5 the  two I came down to were Geocaching or something on the theme of my local Common. I’ve always been interested in treasure hunts (Remember that Kit Williams book – ‘Masquerade’ – where he actually hid a golden hare.) I thought it would be interesting to do a geocache search if I could find one not too far away and photograph my route.  To that end I registered on a website which gives loads of information and also downloaded an app for my iphone. I felt very enthusiastic about this idea although, unfortunately, the energy hasn’t yet turned into action because the weather is much too cold at present!

I visit our local Common just about every day. It’s just across the road from where we live; the dogs love it and I’ve taken many photographs there over the last 18 months.  I had various ideas around themes, including one on the areas bordering the Common (such as Fairoaks Airport, McClarens and the Muslim Burial Ground). My latest one was to photograph people as they walk on the Common and to talk to them as well about what the Common means to them.  I’ve even sounded a couple of people out on this already and they were very willing. One of them is actually a ‘Commoner’ and has many interesting stories to tell.

I explained my ideas to my tutor and we discussed them. Her question regarding geocaching was whether it would be a good idea to photograph something when I’m participating in a completely new experience. That’s a very good question which brings into play action research and that range  between observer; participant observer; observer participant and participant.  I would really need to get the experience of geocaching myself; get to know some other participants and then ask their permission to photograph them.  This could take some time.  Also, of course, the weather isn’t good at all at the moment and time isn’t on my side either re getting in the Assignment. I’m not going to let go of the idea entirely though because I’d still like to do it at some point.

My tutor thought the Common idea could be very good but suggested I consider streamlining this down to one day.  This would enable me to show passing time; how the light changes etc. She said I should do no more than 10/12 photographs and emphasized that I do not need to compose the images into  an actual magazine layout as such using software. I could think of it as a simple booklet/pamphlet with double-page spreads. The front ‘Illustration’ shot needs to be a powerful image which will take the viewer in and make them want to see more.  Then, with the double page spreads I need to think about how images will look together in terms of contrast/contradiction/juxtaposition. Alongside the actual images I could do a ‘draft’ layout – as a hand-sketch or by cutting and pasting etc.

This advice was very helpful; made considerable sense and it calmed me enough so that I now feel ready to move on.  Normally I actually work much better when I have several projects on the go at the same time. I’ve become quite proficient at multi-tasking over the years.  However, this time anxiety has been getting in my way with the result that each potential figure of interest has been too hazy to emerge brightly into the foreground. I’m still interested in the idea of creating a book though but, as my lateral vision is coming into play now, I think I can run two or more things together at the same time.  I think I have a more natural tendency towards telling a story using photographs as illustration, as opposed to letting the photographs tell the story themselves. I need to explore the two approaches and how this looks in practice so that I can find a combination which suits me whilst challenging my creativity.

11th February 2012


11 Comments on “Project : Narrative – Preparing for the Exercises”

  1. vickimartine says:

    I like the commons idea Catherine-go for it; and keep th other for later. As for layout, well, you know you can do that!!

    • Hi Vicki,

      Good to hear from you. Yes – I think it’s the Common for me. Re layout – well it fits together nicely in my head – it’s just getting it onto a page.
      Hope your holiday is going great.

      • vickimartine says:

        Layout – you will get it on the page – it just takes a little time initially, like all things!
        Holiday – what holiday! Spent the day working on my journal. Weather has been mis – nowere near like UK – but not enough to frolic in the sun!! Hopefully, that will come!! I need the break!! Take care!

  2. John Umney says:

    Oh Catherine, you do have a tendency to beat yourself up, even though you always come out the other side with good work! I’ve never been able to draw or paint despite studying art at school and passing the exams! The geochaching sounds a good idea, you’ll be able to combine prose with it. Certainly the Common sounds a good bet as you are on “solid ground” as it were. I’ll be watching with interest! Good luck.

    • Yes I know I do John. Its just one of those things like being able to ‘copy’ in terms of drawing but not draw from my imagination, or learning to play the piano and being able to read music but not play by ear. I’ll still do the geocaching when the weather improves. Actually, so far as I can tell there isn’t one on the Common – mmm mmm!
      Thanks for the good luck wishes.

  3. Saadia Mahmud says:


    I just wanted to let you that I follow your blog regularly. I find your posts really enlightening and helpful. This particular post so resonates with me and I am just trying to complete assignment 2! My artistic abilities are on par with how you have described above. I so relate with your feelings. Anyway, I wanted to drop you a quick note to tell you to preserve. Hang in there. I am sure you will do well. All the best. Saadia.

    • Saadia Mahmud says:

      Uh. Preserve?? Typing on an iPhone is so painful. I meant persevere. 🙂

      • Hi Saadia,

        so nice to hear from you and I’m pleased you find my blog helpful. Have you got a blog yet?
        Actually I thought preserve was quite good – as in preserve my sanity! Thankfully I feel much calmer now and writing it all down for the blog helped me.
        Best of luck with Assignment 2.


      • Saadia Mahmud says:

        I do have a blog. It’s

        No where near as extensive as yours but I am working on it. 🙂 and I do agree with John. Given the quality of work I don’t understand why you beat yourself about it. I guess this is one of the downsides of distance learning. In a live classroom setting one tends to draw comfort and get support from fellow learners faster. In any case, like I said so looking forward to seeing your final project. 🙂

  4. norma bellini says:

    Both you and I know that, psychologically, the best way to deal with a problem is to begin to write about it and then let the words flow over as many tangents as necessary. I think you have succeeded in doing that here.

    Yes, the Common is a better idea – ‘A day in the life of ….’ My mind is running wild as to how I would approach it. As for geocaching – hang on to the idea, build on it, and by the time you reach Level Three you may find it a very useful subject of choice.

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