Assignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Asssignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration

Final version : Tales with Valeria

I know I’ve been full of indecision regarding the subject theme – veering backwards and forwards between the Common and the Holga images. I’ve really appreciated my tutor’s pre-assignment comments and support.  In the end though I just knew I had to do something more definite with the Holga set. It was like the thought fox in Ted Hughes’ poem, nosing its way into my early waking moments and nudging me throughout the day.

I had some very encouraging comments when I placed the first four images on Flickr, including from Clive one of the tutors which gave me a boost and spurred me on to continue with something which is very new for me.

There is something about the doll that intrigued me from the start – a slight oddness. Flaxen plaits; pretty dress; retrousse nose and downcast eyes but I could imagine a whole lot of other thoughts below the surface – something wilful. She reminded me of those two rhymes , “What are little girls made of’ and ‘There was a little girl who had a little curl ….”. There’s a book I’ve had for many years – “Women who run with the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes , who is a Jungian psychoanalyst as well as being a cantadora, a keeper of old stories. The book concerns the inner life of women and the theme that runs through it is that there is within every woman a Wild Woman that has been repressed.

“We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed” (Foreword, 1992)

The book is filled with Dr. Estes’ own written versions of tales and poems which have been handed down in the oral tradition in different versions for generations. One of her versions is of the Russian Vasalisa tale – a dying mother hands her little daughter a doll, telling her that if she ever loses her way or needs help, she should ask the doll what to do.  The doll guides her and there are adventures along the way, including a meeting with the fearsome crone, Baba Yaga, who gave her a skull with fiery eyes.

In my previous post, ‘Holga Lens – working with light in a different way’ (under Reflections) I described how I liked its soft and slightly surreal effect. It can seem to make inanimate objects look almost human and living creatures almost inhuman. Reality is blurred and I think it is an ideal medium to use for photographic images in fairy stories. ( I have also experimented with processing photographs to give a more ‘painterly’ effect as well). I began to think of ideas for scenarios and bought some more ‘props’ cheaply through eBay– a book on wolves; 2 old versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1933) (which is another story!); red riding hood clothes for a patch doll; a decorative ‘birdcage’; two magnetic, retro, french dolls, and a Snow White doll. I wanted Red Riding Hood to turn the table on the wolf and go out hunting him. My idea was to use pictures from the films ‘Wolverine’ and the Twilight series but then I had a better idea with less issues re copyright. I bought an image from iStock – a handsome, muscular young man in a wolf-type pose.

I didn’t have any difficult problems regarding sequencing or captions, it was placing different format images on the page which was (is) the challenge. What’s the best page format when you use landscape, portrait and square images and want to have one on a page rather than several in magazine style? I still haven’t worked that out.

I think that the images actually suit a smallish book and the 7×7 one which Blurb do seemed ideal. In fact I’ve already started a prototype using their software.  For the Assignment though I decided to start from scratch, using a Blurb template plug-in in InDesign so that I could utilise some of my learning. I also decided here to use a standard portrait format which is larger. I did this thinking about the prints for assessment but there is a disadvantage here because I think that photographs from a Holga lens can look good on a monitor but, printed, are better smaller because the larger they get the more blurry they can look. Anyway, I’ll wait for feedback and take it from there

It took me a while to think of a name for the doll. I went through the alphabet and made a long list. In fact, at one point I even decided to maybe have a competition on Flickr.  I decided to call her Valeria and here she is:-

(Open it in preview mode and then view as two page display).

Tales with Valeria


Working through Part 5 took me even longer than Part 4 and I really struggled with it but I did enjoy working with the Holga lens and doll. It brought me back into touch with that part of me that likes myth, legend and fairy story and wants to understand the lessons that these are trying to impart. I discovered a different way of telling a story through images and seeing it through a different lens.The camera can’t be controlled in the same way with the Holga lens and you have to see where the light falls through that pinhole and search for the image.

My tutor gave some positive feedback on an initial look at my first four images and also some research references.  She suggested I have a look at Olivia Parker’s work, and particularly Weighing the Planets  The images certainly appeal to me and I immediately thought of something I could do if I acquired an old wooden, puppet!

My tutor also suggested to read some of the books by Marina Warner and Angela Carter.  I have already read some of Angela Carter’s work but have now bought Marina Warner’s ‘From the Beast to the Blond’.  This is a comprehensive, well-researched and literary review on storytelling, and its practitioners and images through the ages. Her book is basically in two parts – the Tellers and the Tales and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

This is just a beginning really…….


11th April 2012



Estes, C.P., Women who run with the Wolves, 1992, Ebury Publishing, The Random House Group Ltd

Warner, M ,  From the Beast to the Blond, 1995, Chatto & Windus Ltd, London.,


16 Comments on “Assignment 5 : Narrative and Illustration”

  1. CliveW says:

    Excellent Catherine! I want to know what happens next!

    Do we have to wait till People and Places? ‘ }

    Now you’ve found it don’t let it go. ‘ }

    • Catherine says:

      Thanks Clive. Initial feedback from my tutor is very positive also. I’m edging closer to that Blurb book I think. Off to a weekend workshop on environmental portraiture today and caught myself wondering whether I should take Valeria ‘just in case’! One of the main things coming through to me is how to allow my way of looking at life into other types of work.

      • CliveW says:

        ‘how to allow my way of looking at life into other types of work’ yes exactly.

        You’ve picked up an important thread for you, find other ways of exploring and manifesting it; mine that seam.

        A lot of people are still casting about trying to find theirs so don’t abandon it and go back to square one on the basis that your photography should be all things to all people. Think about authorship; serious writers, film makers and artists of every stripe discover their personal tropes and then investigate them.On the whole they don’t flit around like dilettantes trying to cover every base in their chosen medium.

        Dennis Potter said he felt like a farmer who went to plough the same field every year and the act of turning the soil would bring new things that had been buried there all the while to the surface.

  2. Eileen says:

    Valeria seems to suit her somehow. Like Clive, I am looiking forward to the next instalment!

  3. Catherine says:

    I’m pleased you like the name Eileen. I’d thought of a whole long list but that one came through clearly. The challenge is how to see life through her eyes but still stay ‘me’!

    • Eileen says:

      That’s an interesting last comment Catherine. Surely everything she does is you, like everyone and everything in your dreams. It’s just a question of which part of you wants most to be heard.

  4. vicki says:

    Really interesting post Catherine. Enjoyed hearing your thoughts as the ideas developed in your head! I’m with Clive and Eileen on this–I want to know what happens next having seen the fiirst draft. Will look at the links you have posted for readings. Was the book on Fairy tales and subversion any good for you?
    Also thinkng the Blurb book 7×7 might be a better option??

    Think that making your own images from scratch when you hav a story/idea in mind will be so rewarding for you!

    And have a challenge for you—cn you think of a name for my doll?

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Vicki,

      Hope you’re enjoying the sun. Yes – the book by Jack Zipes was good. I was in such haste to complete I omitted to mention it. He’s also referred to in Marina Warner’s book as, in one of his later books (1989), he provided the first full translation of the Beauty & The Beast tale (nearly 100 pages long). 7×7 square does seem to be a good option. Re the name, will this make me a Fairy Godmother? What I did was I went through the alphabet in my head and wrote down letters which had a good ring for me, then did the list. Of course, I’m now thinking of Valerian and sleep/dreams.

      • vicki says:

        Really enjoying sun—but being careful. Fill you in via email! Have to get round to planning some light coursework once the jetlag wears off!!

        Have posted a link to a page on my blog, which you might find useful—Ventura and some of Simonutti’s work. Link is quite far down the page!—dark-side…/

        Was the ventura images that prompted my purchase of doll, although I have no plans to create suuch elaborate sets!! More of a self-portrait/psycho-analysis approach. Glad you found the book useful!!

      • vickimartine says:

        and another one—who is interested in fairy tales is Jamie Baldridge- his links are also on that page I mentioned.

  5. marmalade says:

    Hi Catherine. Bit late to this discussion, but think you’ve found an intriguing presentation and beguiling subject matter…very accomplished. The eyes shut somehow resonate strongly for me…the fairytale unfolds before her, we’re willing her fairytale to happen, yet she can’t see it…part of her is still kept shut…and the eyes can tell so much, but not shut, it is kept secret. It reminded me a little of Deborah Parkin’s work who photographs children with their eyes shut…it portrays the ‘angelic’ in the ‘cherub’.

  6. Catherine says:

    I’ve very much appreciated all the comments and certainly take on board the fact that the doll is an alter ego of mine in some fashion (along with quite a few other beings). I’m still digesting it all, including a discussion on the OCA Flickr site so another blog post will be along shortly. thanks again everyone for the feedback.

  7. This is really great!!! wondered what you’d been up to. You’ve obviously used your time very productively. The cover shot is really beautiful and sets up the whole piece so well. Wondered if you might introduce a few more toy-like characters…..

  8. DrJoolz says:

    Lovely blog! I have had a good look around. It feels a bit rude – like rummaging round in someone’s house. I am sorry about that! I like the way you put references at the end of posts. This is really useful I think – although hyperlinks are god it is great to also have them listed at the end.
    I enjoyed the Valeria work, but also the images for the Village Voice.

    • Catherine says:

      Thanks for looking and glad you enjoyed Valeria. You’re very welcome to rummage around as much as you like as I wouldn’t put anything on there that I wouldn’t want people to see – hence the problem I had with the Village Voice. Re the references, pleased you found this useful. I’ve only just got used to embedding the hyperlinks where possible but thought it would still be helpful to list them at the end.

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