Contextual Research, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – Inspiration from Dorien Plaat’s Art

I am drawn to and influenced by many things outside of photography.  At this current moment in time, I am particularly influenced by the work of the artist Dorien Plaat.  I find her work compelling; the images portray vulnerable yet proud individuals.  Their eyes make such a strong contact with the viewer that you know they exist; she painted real people with real emotions.

Figure 1: Dorien Platt. Collages of work


Figure 2: Dorien Plaat. Transgender 1.

Their faces speak to me.  I want my work to have that impact on the viewer. I have been photographing many different people over the last few months. Some are models but most are not.  They are just ordinary people who want to feel proud of who they are and the journey they have taken. Some have a history of cancer, mastectomy and other illnesses; others have battled with mental illness and a feeling of lack of self worth. Others have never considered themselves someone that photographers would want to use for images.  All are amazed when they see how beautiful they are in images.
Dorian’s artwork images below are truly inspiring to me.  They show beauty in all people.  This is where my own practice is going – beauty regardless of size, colour, race, disability, age or gender.  Real people with real emotions.




Figure 1: Plaat, D. From 2016. schilderij-en | [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 September 2016].

Figure 2: Plaat, D. Transgender 1. From 2016. home-en | [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26 September 2016].


Coursework, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – Mental Health Dialogue

One of the images I presented in week 1 at the webinar considered the miserably poor vocabulary we have for mental illness. Through photographs we can visually explain how people suffering from mental health issues may feel.  The emotions are difficult and we find it hard to express these in words.

The image portrays a person tormented by mental illness. They feel isolated, worthless, ashamed and judged.  They are reaching out for help, unable to verbalise how they feel for fear of rejection.  Photographs have the power to open dialogues on taboo subjects, raising awareness and enabling those suffering to talk about it.

There is more to come on this project, taboos and stigma need to be broken.

Figure 1: Sutherst 2016
Coursework, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – Week 1 – Reflection

Well, what a first week on the course!

My brain has certainly been put through it’s paces.  My understanding of a global image has been questioned through this week’s activities.  I don’t think I had really given much thought to what a truly global image was before this week started.

In the webinar, it was refreshing to see that different people had interpreted the theme differently.  I found the task of presenting 3 of my own images that I feel relate to the theme of the global image very challenging.  I had not perceived any of my images as global.  I wanted them to make a difference to people’s opinions, but had not considered them in a truly global sense. I had considered their impact and message in sense of the UK and western world, and not how they could be interpreted differently around other parts of the world.

Figure 1: Sutherst 2016

I took the photograph of the burger van at a recent horse show I was photographing.  I noticed it because it stood out like a sore thumb  to me and I could not see how anyone who want a photograph of them and their horse taken in front of it.  It (and the portaloo off to the right) made me change my position so that I could take photographs that people would want to buy.  I was surprised how offensive I found this humble burger van.  I obsessed over its presence during the show.  It struck me that we in the 1st world have become lazy and need to have other people provide for us wherever we go.  The burger van represents the word ‘plenty; to me and acts as a counterpoint in my mind to 3rd world famine.  During the course webinar, another student remarked that burger vans are the same everywhere.  They all look the same.  If it didn’t say ‘Great British’ on the front, we would not know where this image was taken.  The image has no sense of cultural identity or location.

The portaloo picture below also demonstrates that 1st world need for all amenities wherever we are.  Again all I could think about was how some 3rd world countries do not have any sanitary facilities. We live in a very unfair world.

Figure 2: Sutherst 2016

I chose the next image as it was taken to challenge the western world perceptions of size and beauty.  We are bombarded everyday with images and other forms of media that tell us who we should be and how we should look.  The resulting pressures can become so overwhelming, that some people will go to drastic lengths to change something about themselves. UK size 14 is now considered ‘plus size’ in the modelling world, when in reality it is a true reflection of our society.  In order to be employed in the modelling industry, where the norm is so much smaller, these ‘plus size’ models often find themselves having to offer fetish work in order to earn a living.  This is a sad state of affairs.

This image would definitely be viewed differently in cultures where big is better.  The message in the countries would be very different to the one I was intending in the western world.  This has made me reconsider how I might tackle this in my portfolio and future practice.

Figure 3: Sutherst 2016

The third image that was presented was challenging the stigma of mental health issues and I will post a blog about this shortly.  It is such a powerful topic that I felt it warranted a blog separate from this reflection blog.

Throughout the webinar, listening to others present their work and the subsequent discussions, I was acutely aware how differently images are perceived by others. As a photographer wanting to make a difference with my images, I need to make sure that I consider how the message might be interpreted around the world.  I need to get inside the heads of others and look objectively at what I am trying to portray – what is my actual message and does my image really say that?

I also had not considered the power of the hashtag.  This week has really opened my eyes to the global context of my work.  I thank the course leaders and my fellow students for that.

Coursework, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – Global Image Challenges

In my opinion, the one of the most important challenges that the global nature of photography poses is the inconsistency in censorship of graphic images between traditional media such as television or newspapers and new media which is accessed via the internet.

There is a phrase in journalism called the “breakfast test.” The thinking behind this is that if a reader will be repulsed by the images contained in the newspaper whilst sitting at the breakfast table, then those images should not appear on the front page, or in some cases anywhere at all in the publication. However, anyone who then conducts a search on the internet can see these uncensored graphic images from a multitude of sources. Young audiences or the “YouTube” generation in particular are exposed daily to graphic visual images. This has resulted in younger consumers becoming desensitised to the graphic nature of the images.

But should newspapers and other media censor what they believe is suitable for us to view? Should the harsh realities of conflict and disasters be hidden from us because someone else deems the images to be too graphic for us to deal with? With the availability of the full graphic images now available just a click away, should the ‘breakfast test’ be considered no longer valid?

Had the media and army not censored images of the US army in Vietnam taken by combat photographer Ronald L. Haeberle, the war in the country may have ceased quicker. Haeberle used 2 cameras to record the actions of U.S troops. Images taken on his army issued camera (in black and white) were either censored before publication or chosen because they did not depict any Vietnamese casualties when published. This gave the American public a false impression of the war. Haeberle also took colour photos on his own camera. He did not submit these to his superiors, but rather kept them and later sold them to Life magazine, which did not censor them.

One particular image, And Babies, depicted about a dozen dead and partially naked Vietnamese women and babies. They lay in contorted positions, strewn across a dirt track. They were massacred by US troops on March 16, 1968 during the My Lai Massacre. This image is now iconic, having been used as an anti war message by the Art Workers Coalition.

This image changed ordinary Americans views on the war and was used extensively in anti-war protests. Had other images like this been shown earlier in this conflict, could these lives have been saved?

More recently, when the Boston Marathon bombings were reported, newspapers used a picture of a man being rushed into hospital. An internet search for images of the event shows the image less cropped. The man’s legs were in pieces. It is a tough image to view. Newspaper and magazine editors made the decision to publish a cropped version without the true extent of the gore getting in the way of communicating the need for urgency of action and the tragedy of the event.

A photograph can document reality in an instant. Documentary images such as Haeberle’s can make waves of impact in a very short time. The photographs offer a way of truth telling in times of conflict or disasters. They expose difficult and often disturbing scenes that can raise the consumer’s awareness of the issues facing the world around us. These issues include famine and death; drug abuse and prostitution; people trafficking and the refugee crisis. This awareness can be used to ultimately change the public’s opinion on government policies and reactions.

My concern is that with censorship of the images published by reputable newspapers and media outlets, and the uncensored images that appear all over the internet, will the consumer look for the more graphic images online or trust that the photo editors are presenting us the whole story? Journalists now need to reconsider the appropriateness of the ‘breakfast test’ in today’s more accessible internet environment. Conflicts should not go undocumented and atrocities should be depicted. Maybe then more emphasis and support will be given to negotiating peaceful solutions to these conflicts.

Coursework, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – The Global Image

Such a heartbreaking image. Aylan Kurdi aged 3, drowned along with 11 others when the boat they were in capsized on the way to Kos. The image shows the Turkish police documenting and recording the tragedy. The boy was a refugee. Propaganda had us believe that refugees were terrorists to be feared and refused help. This photograph changed everything. The Syrian crisis finally had a human face and we began to think differently about the plight of the Syrians trying to escape war and conflict in their own country.

Europe faces a daily struggle with the number of desperate people trying to find a new home. Publishing this photograph can be seen as a form of propaganda in its own right. We now have more empathy towards the desperation of the refugees as a result of this and other similar images.

Debate has raged over whether we should publish such graphic and grim photos. In my opinion, we as photographers have a responsibility to raise awareness of the tragedies faced by others. The image achieves that and so should have been published. However, we must be mindful that we do not sensationalise the tragedy.

Figure 1: Reuters/Nilufer Demir/DHA. 2015           



Figure 1: Reuters/Nilufer Demir/DHA. 2015  From Nidhi Sinha. 2015. Alyan Kurdi’s death spurs outrage over refugee crisis – Livemint. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2016].

Coursework, Positions and Practice

Positions and Practice – First Thoughts

During the introduction stage of the course, we have been asked to post a photograph that answers why photography matters to us.

One of my peers, Dayana, has posted a striking photograph by Francesca Woodman – From Space 2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977.

Dayana has commented that the image leads us to believe that the subject is emerging from the wall. However for me, this isn’t the whole story and this image really set my brain whirring. I found myself just staring at the image wondering whether the woman was hiding herself away from the room and any occupants that were there. It evoked a sense of sadness that the subject may have felt ashamed of her appearance and was trying to hide in the background. I want to know why she feels that way and how I could help her to become more confident and free of the feelings that have made her want to hide. I am really inspired to look at further work by the photographer – thanks Dayana 🙂

Figure 1: Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.



Figure 1: Woodman, F.  House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976.  From Victoria Miro. 2016. Francesca Woodman | Victoria Miro. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 September 2017].