Final Thoughts on Identity & Place

So here I am. The third module of the degree finished and sent off for assessment, and it is time to review this module and where I plan to go to next.

Identity & Place has taken me nearly two years to complete, and I really struggled over the early assignments. Portrait photography is not my genre of choice, and I doubt I had taken a single deliberate portrait before I started this unit, which was why I signed up for it. However, once I had grasped the nettle and pulled, I began to enjoy some, if not all, of the potential for learning that I&P offered. As I was packing my images for posting, it is blindingly obvious that my technical and printing skills have improved significantly, although I would argue that there is still a long way to go, particularly with composition and lighting.

I would say I am happier with the quality of assignments 4 and 5 than the previous ones, and have been thinking about why that is. Assignment 4 had no people in it, being an exploration of a derelict building, while in assignment 5 the figure is only shown in silhouette, and so remains faceless, so neither get up close and personal with their subjects.

Two events were pivotal in stimulating a move forward in my work. The first was a bookmaking course I attended at the SW OCA group, and which was led by OCA tutor Polly Harvey. I have felt much more creative since taking that course, and have expanded my work beyond straight vanilla photographs towards something which explores the physical reality and materiality of the image and how it is presented. The second was the result of a chance post on Facebook that I happened to see, and which led to me to the POZERS Camera Club, a local group of women photographers who meet at a member’s studio and explore the potential of studio photography. Many hours of fun and learning have taken place there, and most of my personal favourite images of 2017. I had never previously considered that I might enjoy studio photography, with its connotations of ‘art nude’ (female, of course) and family portraits. However, this group is full of creativity and we are led by Alley, the studio owner, who has a background as a make-up artist and costume designer, and no end of whacky ideas, and I love it. Together these events have enabled me to step away from straight photography and to explore the medium in a more craft-based way.

Alongside the coursework, I have visited a variety of exhibitions ranging from Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini in Bristol to Joel Sternfeld, William Eggleston and Thomas Ruff in London, amongst others. Of particular interest has been those exhibitions such as Perry’s and Jane Corbett’s in Marlborough, which use media other than photography. The overlap of ideas and the potentially different ways in which those ideas can be made into artwork is myriad, and very inspiring.

At the end of the module,  I feel much more comfortable about finding my voice. That voice is almost certainly going to come from exploring the ways in which the image can be manipulated physically and digitally, and how different art forms can be brought together to make objects that have elements of each, and crucially, which are unique, as in one-off. Producing something material that is not easily replicable is the almost inevitable result of mixing photography with bookmaking, sewing, knitting, patchwork etc. and it seems to provide a fairly clear pathway forward for me, especially when womens’ arts and feminism are added to the mix. The other area I would like to explore further is the archive, and how it can be set up to provide a pool of primary research material into which I can dip a toe here and there to consider why we make photographs. So the obvious next module for me to do is Digital Image and Culture, which I will be starting very shortly. The new blog can be found here: .

In the meantime, I am involved in two OCA related collaborative projects:-

  • the Thames Valley group exhibition on the theme of Time, which will be shown in February 2019
  • a notebooks project to provide ideas and inspiration with the South West OCA group

I have also contributed to MA student Mathew Arnold’s project Grey Matters and forged some interesting links with local artists through the Marlborough open Studios event. Overall, I am very pleased with how much I have progressed during this module and look forward to seeing where the next one will take me.


A few thoughts about the family archive

This is more of a place holder than anything, as it is something I want to consider during my next module. I have been charged with sorting out my Father-in-Law’s many, many photo albums, and whittling them down to a size which might actually be appreciated as a memento for the family. He was a keen photographer in his middle years, although not particularly artistic in his composition and framing, nor technique. Having gone through about ten albums now, a definite theme is appearing. He liked taking photographs of the places he visited on holiday and also the flowers and trees around where he lived (he still does live there, but is now staying in a care home). However, looking at them from the point of view of either his children or a friend, the number of images that have any value is extremely limited. I have pulled out hundreds of photos of various holiday destinations in the UK and Europe, and am concentrating on keeping the ones with family and friends in them, and also images of the local area which might be of historic interest outside the immediate family.

It has made me think again about why we take the photographs we do, and how many of my 50,000 odd images my own family might be interested in keeping. Probably not very many, and if they are anything like me, the ones which they will want to keep are the images of loved ones. And after a couple of generations, even these will be of only passing interest as records of the facial appearance of our ancestors. Not a very happy thought.

However, just to make use of some of the discarded ones, I am keeping them and in due course will use them for collage pieces, possibly in the style of Joe Rudko, who treats old photos as the raw materials for beautiful patchwork style collages. In the same way that women in the past kept old clothes to make patchwork quilts, I will use the old photos to make something new. It seems fitting, bearing in mind all the work and expense my FIL went to in making his records.

Assignment 5 – Only Angels or Demons; reworked

This commentary has been altered to reflect the formative feedback of my tutor. The significant changes have been the inclusion of references to performance photography and collaborative feminist photographers, and the addition of two new images to the series, bringing the total up to seven. We also decided that they would be easier to present as a series of cards in a box, rather than collected together in book form.

Reflective Commentary

This piece of work was conceived and begun as a furious response [1] earlier this year to the way that women are treated differently in public life to their male counterparts. Since I wrote the original post in late September, the #metoo campaign [2] has taken off and women’s voices are being heard loud and clear for the first time, revealing the ways our lives are routinely subjected to harassment and sexual abuse, artificially created limits by men, and to different and much more exacting standards of behaviour in both public and private life. (See Mary Beard’s (2017) essay Women and Power: a Manifesto [3] for a full discussion on how this has been built into our culture from ancient times). We seem to be at a potential tipping point at present, with enough women being willing to stand up and share the ways in which so many of us are ridiculed and objectified both in the work and the home environment, that men hopefully will begin to understand a little of the limitations to which we are subject, but of which they have often been entirely oblivious.

The images for the piece were made during an all-female photo shoot, where we had gathered to explore our creativity through the use of props and lighting in a studio environment. The collaborative, non-judgemental nature of the event enabled us (the photographers, the studio owner and the model) to simply play and to explore our creativity together through performance without any input  or direction from men. The group follows in the footsteps of feminist collaborative work such as that of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin’s Phototherapy [4], as well as the performative work of, for example, Marina Abromovic and June Calypso [5], who used costumes, props and very considered poses to make their point.

Thereafter, I used some of the images to make a series of objects that are rooted in feminist avantgarde photography, but which refer to totally current feminist considerations.  The use of the female body as a means of making a political statement has been a feature of Third Wave Feminism, but I have concerns about the concept of reclaiming the body through the deliberate use of overt nudity – we have been there and done that – and I feel that there are other ways that a statement of feminist intent can be made without using that historic symbol of objectification.

The materiality and uniqueness of the handmade objects symbolises aspects of how women’s identity and function is represented in social culture, through themes such as performance, two-dimensionality and entrapment. At the same time, the handmade book makes reference to the tradition of women’s craft work, and the recent surge in enthusiasm for paper arts such as scrap-booking and card making. In both this assignment and Assignment 4, I use the form of the book and its connotations of credibility, gravitas and permanence as a means of expanding the semiotic aspects of my work beyond the images themselves into how they are displayed.

Separate posts here [6] and here [7] discuss the background and photographers that informed this work, but I must make specific mention of the Feminist Avantgarde in the 1970s exhibition political pieces [8] and Albarrán Cabrera’s use of gold leaf [9] to add depth, mystery and value to their images. which have directly influenced this work.


  1. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Exercise 4.5 – Fictional texts: Holly goes off-piste, again.’ [online blog] In: At: (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  2. France, Lisa Respers (2017) ‘#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault.’ In: CNN Entertainment [online] At: (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  3. Beard, Mary (2017) Women and power: a manifesto. London: Profile Books.
  4. Spence, Jo (1980s) ‘Phototherapy’. [online] At: (Accessed on 26.01.18)
  5. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Performance Photography’. [online blog] In: At: (Accessed on 26.01.18)
  6. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Background Research’. [online blog] In: At: (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  7. Woodward, Holly (2017) ‘Assignment 5 – Photographic Influences’. [online blog] In: At: (Accessed on 07.01.18)
  8. Güner, Fisen. (2016) ‘Feminist art of the 1970s: knives, nudity and terrified men.’ [online] In: At: (Accessed on 09.01.18)
  9. Lensculture (2017) ‘Albarrán Cabrera.’ [online] At: (Accessed on 07.01.18)

Note to the assessors

Dear Assessors,
Thank you for taking the time to evaluate my work.

My learning log is online at: For previous modules, I have presented everything on my blog, but this time I have made two supplementary journals, for a) formal research work and b) Experiments and practical/technical learning. Thus the online blog does not include all the exercises.

The blog is in descending date order except for the Assignments, which are shown in the following order:

  • final assignment, with amendments
  • tutor feedback
  • initial submission
  • preparatory research

Coursework which I have added to the blog can be found under the Coursework tab. and non-course specific Research, Personal Reflections and Exhibition Reviews can all be found under the Research & Reflection tab.

Included in my physical submission pack are:

  • folders for assignments 1-3, including the Introduction and Background Commentary.
  • a folder for Assignment 4, including the Reflective Commentary and a handmade book, which is the actual assignment
  • a box labelled We Choose to Roar, which is Assignment 5. The box contains the images and a Reflective Commentary
  • a notebook labelled Photography Sketchbook No.1, which is my experimental logbook
  • a copy of this post

Where links are shown for references associated with each of the assignments, they can be followed via the corresponding online blog post.

All tutor reports have been uploaded to the Google Drive, as requested.

Thank you for your interest in my work.

Holly Woodward

Assignment 5 – performance photography

Marina Abramovic

As part of the tutor feedback for Assignment 5, my tutor suggested that I look at the work of some women photographers who specialise in performance photography, and provided some suggestions. From these, I decided to focus on the work of Marina Abramovic and Juno Calypso, both of whose work features women’s figures to make points about their feminist ideals.
I’d come across Abramovic before, when she did The Artist is Present, a piece where she sat for days at MoMA looking at whoever was willing to spend a length of time (which was up to them) sitting in a chair opposite her. It was a huge success, with people queuing for hours to take part, and Abramovic says that it had profoundly moved her. She works with the idea of identity, but not just her personal identity but how others see her, and how observers interact with the performance. Thinking it through, I presume that she must be as interested in the observer’s view of her as they are interested in what she is doing. Performance art, by its nature is difficult to copy for the archive and much of her work has either been photographed as still or as videos. Which brings me to her influence on my work. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of images of her in various costumes and poses, all with her trademark use of single colour, high fashion clothing, mostly black and red. Here are a few examples below.

It’s interesting to consider Abramovic’s relationship to these images. Clearly she is subject, but there is also a strong sense of directorship as well. I don’t think they can be described as self-portraits, but they seem to fall in the gap between that and standard portraiture, where the image is taken by someone else. And one must not forget the observer’s contribution to the situation. Abramovic appears to be the very embodiment of Barthes Death of the Author, with the photographer, the subject and the audience all being essential elements in her performance. At the same time, one gets a sense of Abramovic as someone who craves attention, and who is willing to go to extreme lengths in order to court it, but who is also strong in her sense of self. A very complex person, whose performances can be unpicked to consider the idea of identity and who forms it – the artist/subject or the audience.

Juno Calypso

Juno Calypso is more a photographer in the convention sense. Again, I had come across her work, as a past winner of the International Photography Award. She works in self portraiture, but with her face concealed either by the camera angle, her hair or a prop such as a mask. Again there is a strong sense of female empowerment, but the content of Calypso’s work belies this; she presents herself as Anywoman in situations with which women are familiar – the gynae couch, getting out of the bath, preparing to go out, etc. All are shot in a vivid and slightly queasy 1950s colour palette of pinks and blues, and they are as striking for their composition as for their content.

As she writes on her website:
Secretly photographing herself at her grandmothers house or in bedrooms rented online. Joyce was used to reenact the private life of a woman (her own construct) consumed by the labour of constructed femininity, carried out to the point of ritualised absurdity. (Calypso, 2017)

Here we are looking at the rituals and performance that being a ‘proper’ woman requires – bathing, staring at oneself in the mirror, blow drying her hair. It’s all so normal, but it’s not. The character is not real, and her story isn’t either. The whole thing is a performance, and a comment on how women were portrayed in the 20th century. The odd thing is that what she is doing should be normal, but instead it is extreme and ridiculous and it makes us feel uncomfortable.

So how does the work of these two women relate to my own assignment? Abromovic’s work is about the performance first and foremost, and the use of ritualistic poses to make arresting images. She is also investigating how other people see her. Calypso’s work is almost the opposite. She appears to be alone in her images, in a separate world of studied perfection. Some of her images are very posed, while others pretend to be more documentary, but all of them are about the gilded cage of being the perfect woman, preparing to stand on her pedestal, ready to be admired. Of the two I prefer the work of Calypso – it tells the story of make-believe and female rituals undertaken in our private spaces which resonates with the work I have been doing. Her images also make me want to set up a counter narrative of the reality of bathroom rituals in the average family home, surrounded by empty shampoo bottles, flannels and children’s bath toys. And I like how her work makes me think about new ideas of my own.

Abramovic, Marina (2017) [online] At: (Accessed on 29.01.18)
Calypso, Juno (2017) [online] At: (Accessed on 29.01.18)
MoMA (2010) Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present [online] At: (Accessed on 29.01.18)

Assignment 3, reworked

Home is Where the Art is


Marlborough Open Studios is an annual collaborative event in which forty local artists open their homes and studios over four weekends to allow the public access to them and their work. It is a selling event, but the artists are all happy to talk about what they do without any commitment to buy. Over the course of two weekends, I was lucky enough to see the work of twenty two artists; two were photographers, and the others used a variety of media including printmaking, glasswork, sculpture and collographs. I have discounted the photographers from this project, as I did not feel comfortable about asking them if I could photograph their work. Men were also discounted, being in the minority (less than 30%) in what turned out to be a very female event. Other artists were happy for me to do so and were very willing to explain their techniques for me.
The background work which informed this assignment is outlined in the following posts:


This project is based on a series of visits made under the umbrella of the Marlborough Open Studios Art Trail. Each artist in the Open Studios has been selected by her peer group as being worthy to be a part of a group which showcases the best of what North Wiltshire artists have to offer. My thanks go to the following artists who allowed me to photograph them and their work environment:

Arran Miles, Susie Whimster, Sue Lashmar, Rosalind Hewitt, Belinda Harding, Julie Smith, Rebecca Spicer, Mary Wilkinson, Jacqui Melhuish, Jane Renwick, Mary Thorne, Arty Pumpkin, Kim Pethbridge, Lisi Ashbridge, Meriel Balston, Bryony Cox.

The 20th century rise in women’s autonomy based on their increasing presence in the formal workplace, and the consequent financial authority this brought has begun to allow women to demand the same amount of personal space within the home that men have always had, whether it be their own study for private contemplation or a larger space to explore artistic pursuits. It also brings into focus how women and their partners view the work that she does in “her” space. Allocating a specific, unique room for her creativity gives the undertaking a legitimacy which has previously been absent in the historically gendered view of art pursuits. As a woman, the possession of a personal studio in the modern world takes art from being a plaything to being a serious undertaking, which indicates independence and personal autonomy as well as financial stability. Her own studio is a strong representation of her identity and the value of her work to herself and to her partner, if she has one. Each of the women below has turned either a room within the home or an outside space into a studio, which enables them to combine work and domesticity. As noted in my response to my tutor’s comments, these women have comfortable lifestyles, with both time and space to pursue their interests, and an avenue for further study would be to investigate how, where and whether more economically deprived women express themselves creatively.





Rosalind Hewitt, glasswork



Kim Pethybridge, sculpture


Belinda Harding, glass sculpture


Mary Thorne, ceramics


Bryony Cox, drawing


Arty Pumpkin, mixed media



Sue Lashmar, glasswork


Reflective commentary

The purpose of this assignment was to reveal either a mirror of a community one knows and how it affects the photographer personally, or a window onto a community that the photographer did not previously know. A review of my blog posts for this assignment reveals that I struggled to settle on a subject for several months. My initial idea of using mirrors in the literal as well as metaphorical sense using photography en abyme is something I would like to return to later when my skills have improved, and I was advised by fellow students that the next iteration using my village’s annual carnival was not working. Thanks are due to fellow student Kate513940 for her suggestion that I look at the Open Studios for a more revealing subject, and something upon which I could base a windows project.

This was not a linear project, in which the order of the images is important. Of more interest to me was the question of whether to include some of the artworks or to focus purely on the spaces themselves. I decided on the latter because it was better reflective of my background research. My original plan had been to produce a series of diptychs, each showing the artist and one of her pieces, but this seemed too static , on reflection. I also looked at the possibility of showing the artists directly relating to me, the photographer, as the process of capturing the images was so voluble and enjoyable but did not have enough good quality images to produce a series. Like all events of this type, one is having to work “on the hoof” and allowing other visitors to speak to the artists, and so there was a limit to what could be achieved. However, the organiser of the event asked me if I would like to produce some photographs for next year’s catalogue, and suggested that it might be mutually beneficial for me to go back after the Open Studios was over and to spend some time watching and photographing individual artists at work. I may do this over the winter as part of my rework for assessment.

I have done some rework as suggested by my tutor, and have reshot the last one, of Sue Lashmar as I was unhappy with the lighting in the first version. The focus in no. 6 is not quite as sharp as I would have liked, but I think the image should be included as the composition and the artist’s expression are revealing. Conversely, I am pleased with numbers 1, 2 and 4, which I feel capture the personality of the subjects as well as their environment. Finally, the image of Bryony Cox has been changed from portrait to landscape orientation, to fit in with the rest of the series.

Exercise 5.1 – Traces and still life

During April 2017, I made a three week journey to Australia and for this exercise I have chosen to use a series of transient sculptures which were on display when I visited the Scenic World Park in the Blue Mountains. Part of the offer there is a 4km walkway through the rainforest, which has changed little since the Jurassic Period. The way the company has made the forest accessible (even to wheelchair users) while keeping intervention to an absolute minimum is by the placing of a raised walkway on stilts. And I was lucky enough to encounter this exhibition of outdoor sculpture while I was there.

The sculptures used either rubbish or found materials on the whole, but I was particularly struck by this series, which uses mirrors, rope, string and light to produce delicate, ephemeral marks on the landscape, which could easily be removed when the exhibition finished without leaving a trace.

The instructions for this exercise are ‘Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people‘ and the expectation appears to be that we are expected to use our homes and everyday items to make our still life images. However, I very much like the organised yet thoughtful way that the artists have used the landscape as both a backdrop and as part of their installations, making use of it to present their beautiful objects and also to comment on the way that we humans invade and take over wherever we go.

As a final note on this series, I was interested in the copyright issues of making images of sculpture in public places. This explanation seems to imply that, in the UK at least, objects in public displays ere ok to photograph, providing it is not for sale or personal gain to the photographer. Indeed, the photographer almost certainly has copyright of their image themselves. Museums and galleries can post signs telling visitors not to photograph anything on display, but it is impractical to enforce in a large unmonitored area. The rules may be different in Australia, however. Until just now, I didn’t know who made each of the sculptures, as I had failed to pick up a catalogue. After a Google search though, I discovered there is an online catalogue, which can be viewed here: