Assignment 5: Planning and Reflection

Assessment criteria: Context

Reflection, research, critical thinking…

Why is ‘Context’ such an important part of the assessment criteria?

 The word ‘mutable’ is sometimes used by writers when discussing photography:

Mutable: capable of change or of being changed (Merriam Webster online dictionary)

Some take this mutability (ability to mutate) so far as to say that photographs are essentially empty. Allan Sekula, for instance, says that photographs are a fragment of the world with just ‘the possibility of meaning’ (1982, in Bull, 2010, p.41).

 The meaning depends on the context – where the photograph is published or displayed, the caption or other text with it, the sequence of images around it. As you continue to take photographs on the OCA photography programme, you’ll also be developing a context for them, shifting the emphasis from formal and aesthetic concerns to include what you feel about it and want it to mean.

Preparation and Planning

Use the North East coastline as inspiration
Use the inspiration of Ray Carofano of using dereliction and decay as a starting point
Take a fishing boat and document it’s life (or one like it) from build (birth) to end of life (death) in the boat graveyard.
Document the increasing fishing industry after it’s decline in the 1970s. Parkol Marine have a full book of orders until 2018.  The boats in North Shields have increased from 7 to about 20 today.
I made copious notes about possible subjects.
Example of my notes
  1. The Build
  2. Detail of the Build (Courtesy of Parkol Marine, Whitby)
  3. More build
  4. Setting sail – shot still to be taken,  if can’t be achieved use Seahouses Harbour shot
  5. Landing the catch in harbour
  6. Detail – landing the catch (in this case. crabs and lobsters)
  7. Fishing Boat fishing – unlikely to get this shot – rethink needed – maybe a shot of the fishermen
  8. Detail – equipment, nets or pots?
  9. Graveyard – overview
  10. ?overview/?more detail
Presention – thoughts
  1. As shot
  2. Black & white
  3. Carofano style
  4. Find poetry or song lyrics to attach to the photos.

Choosing final selection

In coming to the decision of which shots to use, I printed off my contact sheets and made some notes.  I then laid 20 out full size prints (A4) and analysed which order would work best and then I took these prints to a group day for feedback.  I also posted on the OCA forum and Facebook page for feedback.


Whatis it  about

When I was thinking about a subject for this assignment I came across a boat graveyard in France and inspired by the work of Ray Carofano who I compared in exercise 5.2 and who has photographed dereliction and decay, I thought this might make a good subject for the assignment.  I had already started to take test shots of beaches, the sea and boats, so this extended my thinking.

However, after taking a series of shots I thought that the subject was a bit narrow and it was difficult to think about the mutability (or the meaning) of the series, how I might present them and how or where they would be viewed.

I thought slowly revealing the site and starting with detailed shots moving through to the whole area might be an option.  Then when I was reviewing this idea I thought about where the wrecks had come from and what kind of people worked on them so I came up with the idea of portraying “The Life and Death of a Fishing Boat” based on  the notion that the fishing industry was in decline.  I focused on two areas in France (boat graveyards) and three areas in the North East – Seahouses, North Shields and Whitby .  All are different in their contribution to fishing boats.  Seahouses (primarily crabs and lobsters) and North Shields (a mixture of white fish and crabs, lobsters and prawns)  are active fishing ports and Whitby has the nearest fishing boat building yard.  The work of Peter Loud and the way he portrayed the size and scale of the ships was an important influence on how I approached my assignment.

In my research  and through talking to fishermen I discovered that despite the perception in the north east that the fishing industry was in decline because of the imposed quotas of the EU and the development of the 200 mile limit imposed by Iceland and Norway, it appears the decline was much more complicated.  The reasons include the  under investment of local ports, particularly that of North Shields, and the migration of cod and haddock to more northern waters which resulted in the larger trawlers who fish for a week at a time landing their catch in Scotland.  This changed the type of fishing from North Shields,and saw an increase in smaller vessels which could only fish in daylight and an increase in fishing for crabs, prawns and lobsters.


I decided on a documentary style of presentation and after careful consideration following my research findings, decided to present the series from the wrecks through to the building of new boats and then images of active fishing boats.

I am very grateful to the staff of Parkol Marine Engineering in Whitby, for allowing me access to the boat building yard.  This presented challenges for photography because it is a very active small yard which currently has at least three vessels in the building process, one of which was just starting and the new keel had just been built taking up a large proportion of the outside yard and as it is a building site it had many hazards, trip as well as others found in such environments.


Having researched captions with photographs and following comments from my tutor I decided to include the words of relevant poems and songs with the images.    Shwarz M.E. and Tierney -Tello M.B. (eds) suggest that by using such a textual strategy with the images works to insert the reader into the scene  increasing the relationship between the spectator and subject to be more dynamic and complex.  Karen Knorr in her “Marks of Distinction” produces an almost humorous  and certainly a rather sarcastic approach to her subjects by adding text to them.   In my first attempt at adding text I didn’t want to go down this rather unconventional route but wanted to give the images some meaning in the way the boats had been, would be or were being used.  With this in mind I researched and found poems and song lyrics to help illustrate them.


There are many contemporary photographers who shoot sailing vessels and racing yachts but fewer who shoot fishing boats.   There are many images on Flickr and I took inspiration from some of these.


Screen shot (accessed 18\10\2015)

Corey Arnold a commercial fisherman, has documented his life at sea since 1995.   His documentary demonstrates the hard life of fishermen whilst at sea.  He has exhibited globally.  I tried to book a trip on a fishing boat to take some shots at sea but the weather was inclement with gales and high spring tides and so this was not possible.

I was born in Wallsend where shipbuilding was a significant employment for many men including my brothers.  Peter Loud has a portfolio of the last ships to be built on the Tyne including this one of the propeller of the Everett F.Wells (1976) which inspired my shots of the fishing boat build.
Peter Loud (accessed 18/10/2016)
Assessment Criteria:  Context
If each of the photographs in my final selection were viewed as stand alone images they would not necessarily have a great deal of meaning.  By showing them in the context of the series the information seen in them take on a different context.
The images of the boat graveyard told only part of a story and although some might be seen as artistic it was not immediately obvious what in fact they were.  The image of the porthole in my final selection is an example of this.  If I had chosen to submit this image on its own it is likely to be seen as an abstract shot but by placing it in the context of the documentary style it is clear that it is a porthole.
Originally, I thought that the documentary would start with the boat build and move through to the boat graveyard but the more I thought about the improvement of the fishing industry I wanted to move through the story to end on  a positive note and I am pleased with the way this turned out by ending with working boats.
I did want these shots to be more creative and out of my comfort zone so decided to edit them Lightroom and Photoshop.  I increased the colour palette and the contrast between the rusting shots and the sea worked quite well but those of the wrecks and the working boats looked over processed and did not sit well as a series.  I then returned to the original colour palette and processed them to give a more uniform and softer feel.  I also considered presenting them in black and white or processing them in the style of Carofano but the working boat shots especially lost movement and became flat and less interesting.
Overall I am pleased with my final ten.  I am pleased with the way they tell the story and that the words direct the viewer to think a little more about the shot and series.
If I were to approach this again I would choose the time of day for shooting more carefully and make sure that it was consistent throughout the series.  Most of my shots were taken in the afternoon, partly because that was when the working boats came in and partly because of travelling around France to the two graveyards.
Schwartz ME, Tierney-Tello M.B. (eds) (2006) Photography and writing in Latin America: double exposure.  University of New Mexico Press, USA
Knorr Karen (?) Marks of Distinction, Thames and Hudson, London




Assignment 5: Fishing Boats


Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.

What is it About?

 My set of images is about Fishing Boats. Having been brought up near the sea and in a shipbuilding town, boats have always fascinated me. Until recently I had a fear of water and so the bravery of those who made their living from the sea had a particular significance for me.

I chose to present in a documentary style for my assignment. I chanced upon a grave boatyard in France and likened this to the decline of the fishing industry. However, during the course of the assignment and through my research I discovered that the fishing industry is in fact enjoying a rebirth.   My research took me to a boat-building yard Parkhol Marine Limited, in Whitby, who has a full order book until 2019. Additionally, the fleet based in North Shields has grown from an all time low of 7 boats to more than 20 today.

I also discovered that the type of fishing has changed from largely cod, haddock and herring to more crustacean fishing for lobsters, crabs and other molluscs. Ironically, much of these are exported to the Far East and the herring, which were once famous in the North East, are imported from Scandinavia.

All images were taken over a period of about two months with a Canon 5D Mk3 and either a 25-104mm or 17 – 40mm lens, with the exception of the boat sailing into port which was a Sigma 120 – 400mm lens. I kept the ISO low at 100 and all were hand held. I would have preferred to use a tripod in the boat-building yard but because of the space available this option was not possible. This does not appear to have affected the clarity or focus of the images. I have taken a series of shots documenting the “death” and “rebirth” of the industry with a mixture of detailed and wider shots.

Most of the shots were taken during the day in the summer months.  This has given them a uniform style of mainly, bright skies.  Had I taken them at sunrise or sunset they would have taken on a different quality and maybe rendered them more interesting.  However, for the boatyard shots and the fishing shots I was dependent on the time of others and the tide.

Jo Spence Study Visit

The visit took place at the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, led by tutor Wendy McMurdo.   Wendy had arranged for gallery director Ben Harman to give a brief introduction to the exhibition.  In the event Ben stayed for most of the morning giving an excellent commentary on the curation and history of Spence’s work.

Before the visit I had done a bit of research on Jo Spence and had formed a kind of affinity with her as a person.  Jo was a political activist and feminist who challenged the “norms” of gender, sexuality, immigration and inequalities in the 1980s.


Image result for jo spence: Jo Spence on the front of Spare Rib magazine.

Through her diverse analytical documentary projects including her own struggle with cancer, the exhibition confirms for me what I had perceived in my research.  The exhibition was divided into one of her last works of self-portraiture which includes photo therapy (a technique she developed with Rosy Martin to work through personal issues of sexuality, family and class), her early work in the 1970s  in her Children’s Educational Workshops, developed with collaborator Terry Dennett. and a section entitled “The Polysnappers” which was a collaborative work with fellow students Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro and Charlotte Pembrey called Family, Fantasy and Photography for their degree show. This work has been unseen for 35 years.

Image result for jo spence children's educational work

Children’s Educational Work contact sheet

The exhibition was raw, powerful and impressive.  It was superbly curated and a credit to the gallery for bringing together the work of this important social documentary photographer.  Skye Sherman in her column in The Guardian describes Spence’s work, “As raw as a scraped shin”  and I think this sums it up perfectly for me.  It hurts, makes us feel uncomfortable and sorry (for ourselves and maybe for others too).


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Spence using plastic skeleton’s in a humerous way in her Final Project  series

My affinity with Spence began by recognising in her many of the women I knew in the 80s who were also challenging the accepted norms and stereotypes in society.  As a social science graduate  of the 1990s, I also identified with the struggle to challenge those norms documented in the exhibition.  I was particularly looking forward to the Children’s Educational Workshops she led.

It was in fact The Polysnappers that really stood out for me a pictorial documentary using both original photographs of Spence and her fellow students alongside contemporary newspaper cuttings and advertisements.  In this post-feminism era this work is important in reminding us how far life has changed for women and those with different sexual persuasions but reminds us how things have remained very much the same for many sections of society.  Although, some things may have changed it is important that we remember how things used to be and how things haven’t changed much e.g. for the young, those who are disadvantaged and living in challenging circumstances, and immigrants.  Many of the topics depicted in Family, Fantasy and Photography can still be seen making headlines in todays newspapers.

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In my view this work should not be lost and should be on permanent display somewhere.