Category Archives: Assignments

Response to tutor’s comments on Assignment 3

My tutor was away for the whole of August, so I have only recently got the feedback on Assignment 3. It wasn’t as poor as I was expecting, for which I am thankful, but there are definitely some changes which will have to be made before it goes for assessment. Here is a link to the full feedback: 3.HollyWoodward. Going through it in detail, my tutor’s comments are in italics and my responses in plain type.

Overall comments

Overall you have submitted a sound assignment and provided really strong reflective research. Your critical engagement and subsequent analysis has provided the work with depth. The final images do require further interrogation as there is a variant within your composition and this affects the narrative. A little more consideration at the time of shooting and editing would help. I think though that it is a project that as you suggest you should continue with. You raise some interesting points about the role of the female artist and thus supply an interesting foundation for the project.

Good news that the concept was ok, and my tutor was clearly pleased with my background research and my contextualisation in terms of the changing role of the female artist. I agree with his suggestion that some more work is needed on the images, as I outlined in my own reflection on the project. It would have been helpful if I had had a clearer idea before I started on the narrative I was aiming for. I took loads of photographs, but relatively few were suitable for my final project. Fortunately, I have both the option to return and make more photographs of the subjects, and also to collect some new ones next weekend, as the rival Swindon Open Studios is currently taking place.

Feedback on assignment

Points to address:

Clearly you have had issues with your ability to find appropriate subjects. I think that maybe you should try and be less anxious in the future about what you photograph as this has clearly held up your progress. Your overall contextual input is great and it is really apparent that you are enjoying this journey of discovery. I guess it is the ‘fun’ part, taking the images that is harder for you! Remember that you are on a learning journey, you are expected to make mistakes but you will progress through your photography, problems and making images.

Fair point about worrying about it all too much. On the whole, I find not having regular set deadlines to be a positive incentive to my work, but it does leave my mind open to a degree of dithering and uncertainty which would not be possible if a shorter time frame for each assignment was required.

I think that maybe things you could have expanded upon is the location. I find it really interesting that it looks like their studios are within their domestic spaces – sheds in the gardens, rooms in the house etc. In some way you have presented a romantic version of the female artist and idyllic view of the English female craftsperson, it feels very middle class, be interesting to see how a mixed audience respond!

Yes, the studios are all in domestic spaces, which was a part of what I was trying to show. And those spaces are generally very plush, so the middle-class comment has validity too. I was most impressed at the size of the houses the shows took place in, and also their wonderful gardens, and actually asked whether having a lovely location was part of the requirement for inclusion in the event, but apparently not. Just serendipity, they said. However, Marlborough is a very middle class area, and I can imagine that some people might be put off entering because they felt tat the event was exclusively for people with lovely houses and gardens. Possibly not a deliberate bias, but one that has perhaps affected the overall fell of the event. It will be interesting to visit some of the Swindon studios, as I suspect they may show a wider range of studio types. For instance, I attended one yesterday in someone’s garage.

Composition on the whole isn’t an issue but I would say that there is a variation of the way that you deal with your subjects. Image 1 and 6 (yes focus is an issue, be aware and take more time at the time of shooting) have a different dynamic to the other images. Here the artists are directly looking at you, the other images depict the subjects engaged in their work, this is a very different perspective that affects the cohesion of the narrative. This is something that you should be reflecting upon and making more considered decisions at the time of the shoot and indeed during the edit.

I agree with this in retrospect, although at the time of shooting it did not seem to be an issue. My original idea had been to photograph the artists with a direct gaze, but my interest in how they go about doing their work became more important as time went on. I like image no 1 a lot, but perhaps it should be changed for something where the artist is at work. For me, no. 6 is the least successful, and I need to have a rethink about it.

With reference to image 6 you should concentrate on just trying to get the face the correct balance, mixing daylight and fluorescent will prove to be problematic due to the different spectrums of light balance. Again though, I would suggest taking more control at the time of shoot. You have that lovely big window to the side allowing for natural light, maybe with more planning you could have turned off the artificial light.

I think he means No 7 here, and I completely agree with the comments. I definitely plan to go back for another shoot with this lady, as the lighting just doesn’t work and I am sure I can do better. It will be easier without all the other people about who were visiting at the same time as me.

I think that you should continue with this project and reflect further upon your contextual input as it has got interesting connotations.

Ok, there’s still some work to do here before submission for assessment, but that is fine. I have the contacts to return and reshoot some of the images, and there are a couple of other artists of whom I was unable to get a reasonable image that I might add as well.

Suggested reading/viewing

Photographers etc to look at:

Barbara Yoshida:

Maurice Broomfield:

Brian Griffin:

Something for another post.


Assignment 3 – personal reflections

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I am happy with all of the images, except as I mentioned in the assignment itself, the slightly yellow cast on the last image. I feel that numbers 1 and 3 are the best, and ideally I would like to revisit the other artists to make more similar pictures of their workspaces.

Quality of outcome

I would describe the quality of outcome as adequate. The images themselves are functional, but I believe that the contextualisation of them as being not only working spaces, but also expressions of their owners’ identities and their relationship with their partners brings another viewpoint. I enjoyed visiting the artists and we got on very well, so I see that aspect and the consequent possibilities of doing further work with them as being as much a part of the outcome as the images themselves.

Demonstration of creativity

I don’t believe that these images push the boundaries of creativity, but my interpretation of the assignment brief did not allow much room for experimentation. A review of the numerous blog posts which were the route to my finished assignment show that I tried various ideas, but did not feel they fitted the brief adequately.


It has been some considerable time between the submission of this assignment and the previous one. During this time I have not been idle, as shown by the exhibition visits and personal research in the Research and Reflection section of my blog. This has been supplemented by a large amount of collected ideas and learning, particularly around the ideas of place and time which are kept in my two sketchbooks. Alongside this, I have also been working on a project on the concept of time, which I hope will go on show next year at the Thames Valley Group’s exhibition.

I have found the prescriptive nature of this assignment difficult to merge with the personal work, which is most probably the reason for the time it has taken to produce.


Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

Assignment brief

Find out about a community that you don’t know much about and tell their story. What window into this world can you access through your role as photographer?


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:

Assignment 3 – Home is Where the Art is

The 20th century rise in woman’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. And for a woman, 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.

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:


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 have struggled to settle on a subject for several months, and tried out several different options without success. 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, but 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 Kate 513940 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 was 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.

Looking at the series I have produced, I have particular concerns about two images. No. 7 has a slightly yellow cast from being taken in artificial light and this does not fit the visual palette of the other images. Despite considerable effort, I cannot seem to remove this without losing detail in the image. 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 nos 1, 2 and 4, which I feel capture the person as well as their environment. Regarding possible gaps, the inclusion of some painters would have added another element to the series, and I will try to achieve this over the winter.

Assignment 2 – tutor’s comments

I received my tutor feedback for assignment 2 yesterday, and it can be read here. 2-hollywoodward-tutor-report. Overall, it was positive, although he seems to have picked up on my feelings of frustration with the work, and maybe I should tone that down for the assessment.

Overall Comments
You have submitted a good assignment and demonstrated some excellent research and an ability to engage in critical analysis. It’s clear that you have worked very hard on the assignment. Your input is solid and although you aren’t entirely happy with the final images, I’d suggest that you have learnt a lot and the experience has been very beneficial. There are some points that you can address with the final selection and also points to bear in mind for future assignments. A little more controlled application at the time of taking the images would be beneficial and help you to produce images more aligned to your aims. Keep up with your focus and commitment as it is evident that you are progressing well.
Having left the images to one side for a while, I am now feeling better about them, and am coming round to the belief that they were among my better work. I take his point about controlling the portrait shoot more – I had never really done a formal shoot  before, and there is  much to learn about how to manage the meeting in order to get what I want out of it. Up to this point, I have largely been taking photographs of the client without direction, and this needs to change in future. I need to read some books by photographers who talk about this aspect of portrait photography, and two books I own need to be reviewed in detail, Jane Bown’s Faces and Gregory Heisler’s 50 portraits. I also plan to visit the Taylor Wessing exhibition in London in a couple of weeks and will review that from this viewpoint too.

Feedback on assignment 

You have produced an interesting assignment, and one that you have clearly laboured over! The submission is appropriate and reflects upon the brief’s criteria. The premise for the project, photographing Parish Councilors is fine and demonstrates that you are considering the context of your work. The theme holds the series together and allows another layer to the work rather than it being just a set of random portraits.
The final images demonstrate your ability to apply critical analysis. On the face of it they are a set of classic minimalist portraits. They demonstrate a uniformity within their framing and camera position. Through your visual research you have identified an appropriate visual strategy. The main inspiration appears to be Joel Sternfeld’s ‘Stranger Passing’ a solid body of work. However, as you have realised, producing these types of portraits is not as straight forward as it appears.

Previously I spoke about interacting with the sitter but make sure that you are in control. You should be directing the shoot. If you are too passive you will not make an interesting shot. I think that it’s this control that is missing from a few of your shots and in some way your reliance on wanting to show your personal relationship has affected the outcome. Regarding their facial expressions, if you look at Sternfeld you will see that the majority of the sitters are almost expressionless, like the lady at the garage, this allows the image more ambiguity and gravitas. Often it appears that it is a fleeting moment, this needs working on by the photographer.

Feedback on individual images

Your first portrait is the most successful as we discussed previously. No changes required for this one.

The guy at the phone box is not a bad portrait but I don’t think it’s what you had imagined, the smile is over familiar and the pose a little contrived. Hard to see from contact sheet but shot P1520046 looks like it may be a better option, remember though what I said about framing options.

I have posted both images (before & after) below. My concern about the second one is that the subject is in shadow in what is otherwise a bright, sunny image.

Man in the woods, again not such a bad shot but maybe would have been better him still and more effectively posed, how about shot P1520991, sitting down but still full frame, again can’t see his expression though.

The second image was my alternative selection for this person. However, when I consulted my peers, they had felt that the fact he is seated distracts from the coherence of the whole series. For myself, I prefer it as an image, as it is more static than the walking one.

Yellow coat lady, I like the way she is standing, also note that she is not smiling feels more compelling. Again look at composition, should have shot landscape in camera she should ideally be shifted over to her left slightly, let the window frame her, window frame sticking out her head is annoying.

As it happens, the original photograph for this image was taken in landscape. I have cropped it differently above, as suggested by my tutor.

The final image is nearly there but it lacks a certain element to pull in the viewer, image P1530048 when cropped may be stronger. I think that you have neglected a stronger shot, (Amanda) images P1510890/P1510892 or P1510902, look good from what I can see on the contact sheet, try them in the final set. 

Here are the before and after selections for image 5. Again, the second was another that I had considered, but rejected on the grounds that the positioning of the subject was out of kilter with the other images. However, that is no longer an issue as the overall positioning are now different, so I will include it instead of the first.

The other images he suggested were:

The first of these had been in my original selection, but was discounted by my peer group on the grounds that the background was not very informative. I prefer it to the second, so will reinstall it in the overall group, at the expense of the telephone box one, which I think is the weakest of the set.

So, after tutor feedback, the suggestion is that I go with the set below.

 Suggested reading/viewing

Have a look at these portrait photographers:

Rineke Dijkstra:

Hannah Starkey:
Pieter Hugo:

Plenty of reading there to keep me going.

Assignment 2 – Those Who Do

It is a modern axiom that 90% of people complain about their local services and only 10% try to do anything about it. This is a series about Parish Councillors, who are part of the 10%. Each of these people has been formally elected by the people of their parish to an unpaid group whose aim is to maintain and improve services, activities and open spaces in the village. It is the lowest rung of government, making decisions that affect communities are the level of villages and very small towns. Until recently, the role was fairly low key, but the current financial pressures on town and county councils is forcing them to delegate service to parishes across the UK under the Localism agenda, and groups  like this are taking on more and more work which was previously undertaken by larger local authorities. The role is often practically difficult and thankless (see the comment about complainers above) and each person’s motivation for becoming involved is different.

The series looks at some of the people who are sufficiently interested in their local environment to take up the challenge of being a parish councillor. I am a member of this particular group myself, and am therefore photographing them as an insider;  they all know me, although not necessarily very well. I am interested in the diversity (or perhaps lack of diversity) visible among the group, although it is fair to say that they are a realistic reflection of the community they serve, in terms of age range, ethnicity and economic situation. This part of rural England has little of the multicultural flavour of the big cities.

The journey towards making the series has been documented in the series of posts here. Particular photographers who have informed this selection are Joel Sternfeld, and especially his series Strangers Passing and American Prospects,  John Myers’ series Middle England and David Hurn’s Tintern Photographic Project. The aim was to produce a series of images where there is a clear interaction with me, the photographer, but which also indicates how they relate to their home environment.

The images are shown full size below.



Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Technically, I think this assignment is better than my first one. The subjects are in focus and their positions in the images are pleasing. Each expresses something about their personality in their faces and the way they are standing and also something about their relationship with me, the photographer and a member of their group. I have learned a very useful lesson about how to interact with my subjects during the shoot too, as it became clear through the early ones that they all needed time to relax into the situation, and to chat with me about what they would like to show in their images. Finally, the idea of using some of the as yet untaken images as pictures around the Parish Office was a mistake, as it meant that I was trying to combine two separate ideas in the same project, which was confusing for me when deciding how to shoot the subjects. I have a tendency to overcomplicate the scope of my assignment ideas, and this was a lesson learned for me. Simplicity of purpose is best.

Quality of outcome

I believe the series achieves what I was looking for. Admittedly, this turned out to be some distance away from my starting point, but the final result is a truthful portrait of some of my fellow Parish Councillors and what interests them, albeit that not enough visual information is given to firmly pin down their areas of expertise. The series also hints at some of the issues that exercise my local community, and I leave the viewer to decided what they might be. None of the subjects has seen the results of their shoot as yet, and I must show them, as I would be interested to know whether they feel comfortable with the results.

Demonstration of creativity

This has been the part of the assignment that I have found most challenging. As can be seen from my previous posts on the preparation work, there were several false starts which did not achieve the effect I was looking for, and I think I was probably too focussed on showing  a sense of place in each image, rather than allowing the subjects time to relax and inhabit their space. Unlike assignment 1, the location is Home for all the subjects and they feel at ease in their environment, which shows in the final images. For my next unit, I intend to spend more time researching the idea of spaces and places and how one can express these concepts through images.


Returning to my original starting point of study for this assignment, I see that I have not in fact strayed too far from my original ideas. The difference has been more in how I interpreted them. The work of John Myers and David Hurn was useful in setting the scene of current life in rural Britain, but my final creative choices were more informed by the work of Joel Sternfeld, and particularly his Strangers Passing series. Upon reflection, other more subliminal influences should include the series Sleeping by the Mississippi and Broken Manual by Alec Soth, which | saw last year and which I found very affecting, particularly in terms of how the subjects were photographed in their personal environments.

I have visited a number of exhibitions this year in support of this assignment, not all of which I have written up as yet. They include Made You Look at the Photographers Gallery, An Ideal for Living at Beetles & Huxley and a number of shows at the Brighton Biennale, the most relevant of which were The Dandy Lion Project and ReImagine. So far, I have not written up all of these as yet, but I intend to do so over the next few weeks.


Assignment 1 – Reflections on tutor feedback

I have already posted about the video conference that my tutor and I had regarding assignment 1, so this post is about my reflections on what he has said in his written feedback.

Overall Comments

You have submitted a really strong first assignment. The images although
straightforward reflect upon your conceptual concerns. Your reflective text
outlines your inspirations and demonstrates your good understanding of the
portrait and in particular the notion of ‘typologies’. Bearing in mind that this is one
of your first attempts of photographing strangers I think that you have been
successful. This assignment should help you with your confidence to take further
portraits. It is a good grounding for future assignments. Do though make sure that
you push your creativity and be prepared to experiment as you progress through
the course. Continue to apply yourself to research and reading. Presently this is very good
and it’s clear that you have great enthusiasm for the contextual concerns related
to photography practice. So, continue to apply yourself during the next assignment, remain focused and be prepared to spend some time with your camera exploring.

All good so far. I can see what he means by pushing creativity and experimenting in this module, as it would be very easy to make all my work about pretty pictures of people. As we discussed yesterday, the work should be about placing people within their environment, the Place part of the module being as important as the Identity.

Feedback on assignment

• You have successfully completed the assignment
• Your submission fulfils the assignment brief
• The portraits are direct and based on a sound idea
• The images are enhanced with the information
• It’s a quirky idea, fun and reflects the sitter’s stance
• They do follow in the tradition of typologies
• Based on sound research and historical perspectives on photography
• A good introduction into producing portraits
• In future make sure that you take control of the sitter
• You justified your contextual concerns here
• Keep on practicing taking portraits

Again, mostly good feedback. The concept of taking control of the sitter had not really entered my mind before this week, and I agree that in my next assignment, I should be more directive about how and where they should stand. I’m finding the relationship and power bias between the photographer and sitter very interesting, and thinking about it, in my recent exercise 2.1, I did not offer the sitters the opportunity to choose their own favourite from the series I took – I made the decision  on their behalf, and in future, where possible I should involve them in the final decision process.

You have demonstrated through your research your commitment
• Your coursework will help your creativity and confidence so do continue to work
through all exercises
• Start to push your creativity, be prepared to experiment
• Try not to be too conservative, this is the time to experiment
• Keep a record of your technical process, this will help it to become second

You have evidenced excellent contextual skills
• Your research at this point is great, continue to add to your log
• Reflections are sound and offer a real insight into your concerns and conceptual
• Continue to reflect upon the artists that have inspired you
• Continue to add to your self initiated research
• Looking at and visiting exhibitions will enhance your understanding
• Reflect upon both historical and contemporary work

Learning Log
• Your learning log/blog is well produced
• It is coherent and easy to access
• The folders are relevant and support your learning
• Keep an eye on the content in each folder; tweak the content within the
assignment and research folders so it can be seen
• Your critical engagement is clear to see
• It’s great to see your involvement with external groups

So, overall it has been a good start. I now need to start thinking more creatively about the next assignment. And as a final note, my tutor suggested I had a look at the work of Bettina Von Zwehl and James Mollinson (James and other Apes). Whilst very different from my assignment and from most of the other photographers I mentioned, I found it quite fascinating. In both series, all visual clues have been removed, and so one is left with just the face (apes) and head and shoulders (Zwehl’s series). It has the effect on making one concentrate on the similarities and differences between each model. The most interesting part though was to see the two series side by side, and to see that there was easily as much variation between the chimpanzees’ faces as between the womens’. It really makes one wonder how we can assume that animals of a species all look roughly the same – they don’t, at all.

Assignment 1 – tutor feedback

Noted from feedback this morning. The rest will come by email, to include refs.

Chris liked the way the blog is laid out – clear and accessible. There were a couple of links missing, but I have already sorted those out.

He said he also liked the idea for my assignment, thinking it quirky and using the assignment to look at an idea (flyers at the Festival) rather than simply taking pictures of five unrelated people. H also thought the text added value to the images, providing an explanation and another layer to the story. As a tutor he is much more interested in the context and concept than technical brilliance. We briefly talked about his own work, and how he is interested in injecting some humour into his images. He says his work is as much about the places he photographs, and the process of understanding them. He was complimentary about my research and references too.

We then discussed the significance of the smile in portraits. See my previous post here. I said that I thought the smile was an important part of the mask the subjects were wearing, as they promoted their shows, but that I had a niggly feeling that the smiles gave a snapshot aesthetic, which had not been my intention. We discussed how almost any expression is a mask, and that it is practically impossible to get to the essence of a person. He referred to the deadpan aesthetic, and Thomas Ruff’s influence, which had come from architecture, and tried to remove subjectivity, treating people like buildings. However, as a photographer, one should have control over the shoot and if a mask of any type is used, that is fine as long as it was the intention and can be explained.

We also touched on the photographer/subject/viewer power relationships, and how the photographer has most of the power. I have mentioned this in another post. I said that in the assignment series, I felt that I had most of the power, and we agreed that in a more collaborative portrait sitting, such as the one I have just done for Exercise 2.1 (same ref as above) the sitter has more agency. One should never forget though that the photographer has a lot of power in any portrait, in the setting and selection process.

Chris finished by saying he thought my reflections were good and also my research. The message was carry on, you are doing fine.

Moving on to considerations for assignment 2, he said that this one was more about the place than the person, and what tied the person to the place. He will be sending me a bullet pointed written report, but suggested in the meantime that I look at the following work:

Philip Lorac diCordia – Heads, and The Hustlers

Alec Soth

Joel Sternfeld – Stranger Passing

Bettina von Zwehl

Joel Meyerowitz

Stephen Shore

I like the video tutorial and felt it was very useful to enable us to get to know something about each other. Chris said that he usually did tutorials by phone, but was happy to have a go at video feedback.

Edited to add: Chris was admirably quick at sending me my feedback and it can be found here:tutor-feedback-part-1